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PRIME - 2. Late Lunch

The Italians

“He’s waiting for you.” The curt greeting was standard for Marco. Officially an assistant, we all knew his real job was head of security for our grandfather.

“Oh, hey, Marco. Good to see you too. How’s the wife? Everything okay with the kids?” The face most would describe as carved from granite did not react. My attempts at drawing him out rarely elicited a response; the man was focused on his job at all time. His eyes were always in motion, searching for a threat. He turned them on me for a fraction of a second when I spoke. That was as much acknowledgement as I would get.

I hurried to catch up with Dante who zoomed past the bodyguard without bothering to look at him. “Wait up, dipshit.”

“Language!” Grandpa had heard me and his dislike of crass language came forth. “How about showing a little respect for the patrons?”

Not saying a word, I glanced at the other tables; only one was occupied. Luigi’s Place was always crowded at lunchtime but this late on a rainy, Friday afternoon the place was deserted. “Sorry, Grandpa.”

“Sit. I already ordered for us. Did you guys remember to lock up the house?” Typical of the old man to decide what we would eat. He and the restaurant’s owner were old friends and Luigi would prepare whatever Grandpa wanted, even if it was not on the menu.

“Of course we did. What do you think we are? Ten year olds? We even armed the security system.” Dante’s snappy reply was par-for-the-course for him. While most of us showed deference to the Martellini family patriarch, my cousin treated him as one of his cronies.

“As a matter of fact…” I was certain the malevolent grin presaged one of Grandpa’s surprises. “Sometimes I do wonder how old the two of you are. I feel like I have to send you to different corners of the room to keep you out of mischief.” I could tell the pause to sip his sparkling water was theatrical. He was setting us up. “I’m going to have to separate the two of you. I’m taking Tony out of the bowling alley.”

“What?” I was shocked. “Why?”

“You can’t do that, Grandpa!” Dante was halfway out of his chair, but the Vittorio Martellini stare drove him back into it. His next words were much calmer. “That’s not fair, Grandpa. Tony and I are a team. We took over the place when it was failing. We worked our asses off and turned it around. The alley’s a cash cow for the family!”

My cousin was right. The old bowling alley was a mess when we were given carte blanche with it. An old front for illegal gambling, it rapidly decayed when the family moved out of that line of business. Grandpa had been working for decades to legitimize the family’s enterprises; our task had been to reinvent Williamsburg Lanes.

Dante was the boss, but we worked side by side. We cleaned the place, checked customers in and out, ran the register, ran the café, ran the lounge; we learned the business from the ground up. Then the real work began.

After talking to countless customers and scoping out entertainment venues in the area, we came up with a plan to remodel. Grandpa bought into it and made the necessary funds available. It took a couple of years but you would not believe you were in the same place by the time we were done.

We kept some of the old bowling lanes and equipment for nostalgia’s sake and turned that section into a bar. We reconfigured some of the ancient, wooden planks to create a dance floor. The rest of the interior we pretty much scrapped and recreated with top-of-the-line equipment and finishes. Right now, Williamsburg Lanes was the hippest place in a hip neighborhood.

“Of course I can. I own the place.” Grandpa was not above throwing his weight around, and Dante’s challenge had not gone over well. “Careful I don’t fire you and let Tony run it by himself.”

“I don’t want that, Grandpa.” I was being honest. As much as I enjoyed working there, it was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. “Dante loves the alley more than you can imagine. If you want one of us to go, I will.”

Grandpa’s expression mellowed. Melancholy mixed with something else. When he spoke again, it was in a much softer tone. “Boys, the closer I get to ninety the more I realize I’m running out of time to achieve my goals. I swore an oath the day your grandfather was laid to rest, and I intend to keep it.”

The man with us was our great-grandfather. Before either Dante or I were born, a rival family murdered his son during a turf war. The disputed area was prime ground for streetwalkers, and the intruders wanted to take it away from the Martellinis. He left behind two young boys. Vittorio Martellini raised Dante’s father and mine as if they were his sons, leading to us thinking of him as our grandfather. On the day he buried his murdered son, Grandpa swore to distance the family from criminal enterprises.

“It’s taken a lot of time to eliminate all our ties with the other families, even after we sold or gave away our interests in certain businesses. But we’re almost done.”

Our server removed the antipasto platter we had nearly finished and brought out bowls of pasta smothered in rich gravy. I have no idea what was in it aside from tomatoes, but I could not shove the perfectly al dente penne into my mouth fast enough.

“Where’s the vino, Grandpa?” Dante asked what I had been thinking a moment before.

“Not today. I want us three with clear heads.” The old man didn’t eat as much anymore, he pushed the food away after having finished about half his serving. “You two eat, I’ll talk while you do.

“You guys did a great job in the alley. And yes, I do own it and you’ve been employees up to today. On Monday morning, Dante and I have a meeting with the family attorney. I’ll be transferring the title.” The smile and wink he gave Dante made me chuckle. The damn geezer sure knew how to make us shut up.

“What do you mean?” Dante looked and sounded incredulous. Silly of him, considering Grandpa seldom played practical jokes.

“It means you’ll own Williamsburg Lanes after we sign all the documents. I swore I would take care of the family. It’s your turn.”

The evil grin Dante displayed while staring back and forth between our grandfather and me presaged one of his hare-brained ideas. I was used to this. “Great! Since I’m the boss, I’m hiring Tony back.” He crossed his arms and leaned back; the evil grin became a satisfied smile.

“You’re so damn predictable.” Grandpa’s laughter was a rich counterpoint to Dante’s doubtful look. “If that’s what he wants, fine. But I’m about to make him an offer he’ll not want to refuse.”

My thanks to all the readers who showed the story's opening salvo a little love.

I'd enjoy hearing what you think of this one.

Copyright © 2020 Carlos Hazday; All Rights Reserved.
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My thanks to @Kitt and @Defiance19 for their assistance with the story. Without their help, this would be a mess. :P


Story Discussion Topic

Coming to Gay Authors next weekend... A revised and expanded version of a flash piece I posted years ago in response to a weekly prompt.  

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