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PRIME - 3. Happy Hour

The Russians

“How come you still have this clunker, Grandpa?” Dante and I sat in the back with Grandpa while Marco occupied the front passenger seat. The partition between the seating areas of the ancient Lincoln Continental limousine remained down. “You could get a new SUV and have it modified so it’s bulletproof too.”

“Why waste money when this one’s still in good shape?” The old man spoke the truth; the mid-seventies gas-guzzler was always spotless, and the engine was meticulously maintained. “It’s one of the few material possessions I’m attached to.” He caressed the well-worn leather of the seat and seemed lost in memories.

Our ride was a short one, maybe fifteen minutes. We watched the streets of Little Italy recede, as the driver steered the Detroit monstrosity through Manhattan traffic. “You’ve been disposing of all your property for a while, Grandpa. Now you’re giving away the alley to Dante. You may end up owning nothing more than the Lincoln.” My tongue-in-cheek comment elicited a smile from the Martellini family patriarch.

“That’s the plan, my boy. That’s the plan. I want to exit this world the same way I arrived. Having nothing but family. Transferring ownership of Williamsburg Lanes to your cousin’s one of the final moves. There’s one more however, and that’s where you come in. We’re going to inspect a property I own on 9th Avenue.”

“Hell’s Kitchen?”

“Nope. Chelsea. Your side of town.” He gave me a knowing glance. Everyone in the family was aware of my sexual orientation, but the reference to the heavily gay neighborhood was one of a handful of comments acknowledging it ever made by the old man.

“Right. One problem though. I own a place in Brooklyn. In case you’ve forgotten.”

“I may be old, but I’m not senile. I know where you live. I also know you spend a lot of time in Chelsea. The place is as fruity as Greenwich Village used to be.” Vittorio leaned forward and tapped the driver’s shoulder. “Go around the block a few times if you have to. I want the car as close to the place as possible.”

It was our lucky day. On the third go around, a spot opened up on 9th Avenue near the corner of 18th Street. Grandpa pointed across the street. “That’s it.”

“Fuck, Grandpa. The place’s a dive.” Dante was correct. At least from the outside, the building itself looked okay, but the storefront was filthy. A graffiti covered, roll-down shutter blocked what I assumed was a plate glass window. I recognized the tag as belonging to a Russian gang active in other boroughs.

“Language! I haven’t been here in years, but I hear the inside’s worse.” Pursed lips accompanied headshakes. Grandpa looked uncomfortable.

He had said this was for me, and I was curious. “So what’s the deal?”

“The deal’s an old acquaintance of mine’s been renting it for years. A couple of his grandsons run the bar.”

“You mean like me and Tony running the alley?”

“Except for the fact this is not really much of a bar as it’s a front. They use it to launder protection money. Not sure what they do with the three upper floors. Considering the neighborhood, I think this would be a great spot for a club. You guys have proven you can tackle that type of project. Come on, let’s go inside.”

Grandpa led the way with Marco at his side; the driver trailed behind Dante and me. Before we reached the entrance, Grandpa stopped us. “Let me do the talking, boys. I don’t expect trouble, but the two of you”he nodded at our protective detail“stay alert. Some of these young Russians can be unpredictable.”

The inside was indeed worse. The cracked and peeling linoleum tiles may have been swept but the last time the floor was mopped probably happened years before, in the twentieth century. A couple of steps in the door, my shoes encountered a sticky mess. Most likely thanks to a recent spill. I was doubtful raising the shutter would have improved visibility in the dark, cavernous spaces; grime coated the inside of the window.

“We’re not open. Come back later.” The voice drew our attention towards the dimly lit bar. Blue eyes on a broad, Slavic face crowned by short blond hair met my gaze. The handsome but brutish looking young man went back to his task. We watched as he fitted a funnel into the neck of a Johnnie Walker bottle and poured the contents of another one into it. Passing off lower priced booze as top shelf brands was not unheard of. Here, I could not tell what he was using, but I doubted it came from Scotland.

Grandpa took a few steps closer to the man. “Are you Konstantin or Andrei?”

The wooden surface of the bar was marred with multiple scars, water rings, and cigarette burns. Filth was everywhere. Dust covered the liquor shelves, and smears of who knew what streaked the mirror behind them. It must have been very old, since it looked cloudy. A blurry reflection stared back at me.

“You know me?”

“I’ve known your grandfather for longer than you’ve been alive, son. So, which one are you?”

“I’m Andrei; Konstantin’s my brother.”

“Is he around?”

“Upstairs. Doing the books.”

More like cooking the books, I thought. The brevity of his responses surprised me. You could tell he didn’t trust well-dressed strangers walking into his place of business. Grandpa’s patience amazed me. I was ready to scream.

“Would you get him to come down? Tell him Vittorio Martellini wants to talk to him. I own this building.” Grandpa looked around while waving a hand in the air.

The man who showed up in response to a phone call from Andrei was definitely his brother. Although older, Konstantin’s resemblance to his sibling was obvious. Same facial structure, eyes, and hair. However, he was shorter and bulkier.

“Don Martellini…” The words hung in the air as Konstantin studied us. Grandpa did not bother to introduce us.

“Good to see you again, Konstantin. It’s been a couple of years, hasn’t it?” There was no attempt to shake hands in greeting.

“Yeah… What can I do for you? We’re getting ready to open for happy hour and don’t have a lot of time. I already paid the rent.” Konstantin’s terse language was something else he shared with his brother. He sounded defensive.

“Yes, you have. But I think you know why I’m here. Your grandfather mentioned he’d spoken to you.” Grandpa at last acknowledged our presence. He pointed at Dante and me. “I wanted my grandsons to see the place before we take over.”

Konstantin stiffened. “About that… I told my grandfather I did not want to close. I said I’d talk to you.”

“I’m sorry, son. There’s really no room to negotiate here. It’s been a month-to-month deal from the start. We’ve never had a lease. You’re paid through the end of the month, and that’s it. I don’t believe either one of us wants to get the authorities involved in eviction procedures.”

At a glacial pace, Konstantin took a couple of steps to the side. When he reached for something underneath the cash register, Marco sprung into action.

“Hands flat on the bar where I can see them.” It wasn’t a request. The veins visible on his shaved scalp throbbed. Our driver had moved in front of Grandpa and drawn a handgun with the longest barrel I’d ever seen. Marco’s matched it. “Tony, go back there and see what our friend was reaching for.” He momentarily pointed the gun at Andrei. “You, hand over the door key. Dante, lock us in.”

Grandpa’s smile suggested the Russians’ resistance to handing over the place was not unexpected. Calm and unintimidated, he was obviously in command. Even if it was Marco barking out orders at the moment. When I raised the sawed-off shotgun I found for everyone to see, the smile turned into a frown.

“I don’t think you understand, son. I said no negotiations. I’m afraid reaching for a weapon wasn’t your smartest move. Andrei, call your grandfather and put it on speaker.”

The younger brother tried to disguise his fear, but I could see drops of sweat sprout on his forehead. After a few taps, he placed the phone atop the bar between his brother and him. Grandpa moved to stand in front of them.

“Andrei!” The one word was all I understood. Rapid fire Russian followed it.

“Vladimir, how are you? It’s Vittorio Martellini. I’m at the bar with your grandsons.”

“It’s nice to hear from you, old friend. Is everything alright?”

“Not quite. One of your boys just tried to pull a gun on me.”

“WHAT?” The man’s shout made both Andrei and Konstantin shudder. “Are they both there?”

“They are.” Grandpa must have enjoyed the hint of fear in the two men staring at the phone. His smile returned. “It seems Konstantin did not understand what you told him. He does not want to leave at the end of the month.”

Anyone living in New York City learns a few words in languages other than English. Usually cuss ones. I recognized all the Russian I knew in the subsequent tirade. The brothers remained silent, but Konstantin’s face told us he raged inside.

A fraction of a moment after berating his grandsons, Vladimir resumed the conversation in placid English. “My apologies, Vittorio. Kids these days have little respect for their elders. Or their betters.” The emphasized last word made the siblings flinch.

“I’ve told them they shame the Egorov family with their behavior. I also mentioned they won’t have to vacate the premises at the end of the month.” Vladimir’s comment had both grandsons bowing their heads and looking defeated. “They have to leave today. I’m sending a handful of my people over. They’ll secure the property and post a sign out front letting patrons know the bar’s permanently closed. I’ll have everything of ours removed from the building by week’s end. Someone will deliver the keys to you then.”

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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Chapter Comments

5 hours ago, chris191070 said:

Great chapter. So Grandpa wants Tony to run a bar/club that's a dive at at the moment. The Russians weren't very smart in handling it over to Grandpa, instead of a month's trading they got less than a day. Fun times ahead for Tony.

Young men can be such hot heads. And often, they end up hurting themselves.

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5 hours ago, raveboy1 said:

I did not see that one coming at all!  Looking forward to where this will go.

I like surprising readers now and then. :P


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5 hours ago, mikedup said:

Interesting chapter, when you need to be a hardass you can be with excellent results

Well, thank you! If all else fails, brute force's always an option.

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3 hours ago, Butcher56 said:

I seriously don’t think those 2 are going to be doing to much of anything about the bar closing after their grandfather gets done with them. Konstantin was in no position to negotiate with Don Martellini nor was he very smart to reach for a gun. I hope that they don’t come back and start trouble with the Don’s grandson as he starts to remodel the building bringing it back to glory again or while remolding is going on. Don Martellini was being nice saying that they had until the end of the month and then they had to close for good, that was until Konstantin decided to try to pull the shotgun out from under the bar. 

I wanted to show how different the grandsons' reactions were. Tony follows his grandfather's wishes and is rewarded with his own business. Kinstanting defies his and ends up in deep doo doo.

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2 hours ago, pvtguy said:

Respect is a top value in the mob hierarchy.  It exists between Don Martinelli and Vladimir and was sorely lacking in V's grandsons.  Seems they will get a strong lesson from their grandfather, but I, too, think there's just too much literary opportunity for greater drama if they don't get the lesson fully without some acting out...

Great chapter, Carlos!

Thanks, bud.

You got the gist of it. Konstantin will be back in a future story in this series. Let's hope he's learned something.

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1 hour ago, Wesley8890 said:

I think konstantin might have a trip in his future....

SO, in an upcoming story, Konstantin approaches :X

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Great chapter! Tension and a sharp spark of drama are perfectly described here. But what makes me think the current occupants won’t go so quietly as it appears? Looking forward to more!

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1 hour ago, Sweetlion said:

Well, Tony needs to open PRIME, so our other friends can have fun in it.

Oh that Prime! Thanks for helping a sense reader!

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2 hours ago, JeffreyL said:

Oh that Prime! Thanks for helping a sense reader!

It hadn’t clicked with me either. 🤔

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