BALL PEEN HAMMER: A ROMANCE - ROBERT CAPORALE
Margo orders Tony and Carlo to hustle Auggie’s defiant ass out the back door of The Empire Lounge.
Margo owns the Empire Lounge. She is a bartender by trade, and from her years of diffusing difficult nightclub and café situations she has become known on the streets as “The Diplomat” a person who adroitly negotiates disputes in three languages.
Auggie drags his feet as Tony and Carlo drop him onto the slick cobblestones of the back service alley.
The long narrow alley glows in orange shadows from the security lamps and stinks to high Heaven with stale booze, warm piss and congealed 55 gallon drums of rendered animal fat.
Auggie makes a move to get back inside the Empire Lounge.
Tony and Carlo step in front of the door and fold their arms.
Please, Auggie begs, just let me explain to the guy what I was doing...I meant no disrespect.
Margo says its for your own good.
I have to talk to the guy.
Auggie, the guy doesn’t speak English...he’s from Palermo. He’s here on a quick business trip.
I know a little Italian.
Enough to get a cap in your brain. Go home, Auggie.
It’s a simple misunderstanding...I know I can fix this.
Not a chance.
What kind of business is the guy in?
He doesn’t import olive oil.
Auggie thinks about that for a moment. Ohhh, he says.
Still I’m sure I can make him understand that I was admiring his nose not making fun of it.
Listen, Auggie, we’re driving the guy to Logan in a couple of hours to catch a flight back to the old country, Carlo says. And he’ll never be back here again. The end. Go home.
I left my tip jar on the piano.
I’ll get it, Tony says.
I know how much is in there, Tony.
Tony spins around, how about if I usher the guy out here to whack you, Tony smirks.
No one understands my wry sense of humor.
That’s because you’re not funny, Auggie, Carlo says.
Tony shakes his head and steps back into The Empire Lounge.
Auggie offers Carlo a smoke.
They light up.
What the fuck we’re you thinking with the nose gesture? Carlo asks.
It was a reflex action. I just finished my last set and sat at the bar to have a cocktail and wind down, Auggie says. Margo set me up with a Vodka Martini...three olives. That’s when I spotted the guy sitting across from me. I couldn’t stop staring at him.
Are you gay?
I was admiring the man’s nose.
Carlo shakes his head.
He has this quintessential Roman nose. I’ve seen it on paintings by Michelangelo and Da Vinci. The man has a perfect Greco Roman nose, big curved and beautiful...like the Barber of Seville.
You are gay.
So I gestured to the guy...like this, Auggie positions his long piano fingers over his nose.
Not a good idea.
I did not know at the time that the man was a hired assassin who could not speak English.
So you get his attention by flashing the clown-nose at him.
It was a complement, plus who knew he was so sensitive about the size of his damn nose.
He probably thought you were telling him his nose looked like a two car garage.
Auggie shakes his head and pulls hard on the cigarette and blows out the smoke and watches it swirl around like mercury in the stinking orange glow.
You just fucked with the wrong guy, Auggie...that’s all.
I have to learn to mind my own business.
We all do, Carlo nods.
Tony comes out with Auggie’s tip jar. The guy is looking all over the place for you, Auggie. The man is rip-shit. They’re trying to calm his ass down. He says he’s going to do you just on general principles.
He also says you are ugly.
I’m pretty, Auggie says turning profile.
All of a sudden the metal fire door bangs back open and the nose sensitive Sicilian is standing there looking a lot like Leon from Blade Runner. The man freezes Auggie with a dark deadly stare. A satisfied smile softens the Sicilian’s face as he pulls a pistol out of the back of his pants and points it at Auggie’s forehead. The tip jar slips through Auggie’s piano fingers and shatters on the damp cobblestones; coins scatter, paper money sticks.
The Sicilian’s dark eyes narrow as he gets down to business.
Tony steps aside.
Carlo jumps in front of Auggie waving his arms pleading with the serious Sicilian not to pull the trigger.
The Sicilian makes the clown nose gesture.
No. No. You don’t understand, Carlo begs, he likes your nose.
I love it! Auggie says placing his hands over his heart. Armoire. I really do love it.
The Sicilian shrugs.
Just then Margo steps around the Sicilian, and quickly sizes up the situation as perilous. She gently places her hand on the Sicilian’s forearm and says, in eloquent high-Italian, Nuncio, I can’t allow you to shoot my piano player.
He’s the only one I have.
Piano players are like broken glass, Nuncio says,...they are everywhere. Nuncio takes a breath and pulls back the hammer on the pistol.
Auggie knees buckle. He thinks he just pissed his pants.
Wait. If you shoot him here the cops will be all over me, Margo says. I’m already on notice with the liquor commission. A dead body in my back alley will surely lose me my liquor license for a time.
I have to shoot him.
Why leave a dead piano player behind to jeopardize an otherwise job well done. Your work here is finished. You did a man’s job, Nuncio. Flawless. In an hour or so you will be on a plane heading home. No loose ends. Nobody the wiser. It is not worth the risk.
Nuncio looks at Margo. What risk?
Witnesses, Margo waves her hand.
I’m inclined to shoot you all, Nuncio says.
Nuncio, I’m told you are a professional of the highest caliber with impeccable credentials, and I don’t have to tell you that shooting all of us will not please you’re employer.
Nuncio strokes his chin. Something must be done, he says. It’s a matter of honor.
You are absolutely right, Nuncio, something must be done to the piano player. So let’s figure out what will satisfy your pride short of killing him.
The negotiations sound touch and go to Auggie.
Maybe if you put the gun down we can think clearer, Margo says.
Not a chance, Nuncio says.
Do you have an alternative punishment in mind for the piano player?
I once had to break a jockey’s hands for winning a race he was paid to lose.
A broken hand is a good idea, Margo says.
Two broken hands.
How about just one hand so the piano player can at least wipe his own ass.
Why are you protecting him?
Are you two...?
OK, Nuncio says one hand...but I will have my way with his wife or girlfriend in lieu of the second hand.
You drive a hard bargain, Nuncio.
Nuncio locks his elbow. It’s either one broken hand and his woman or I take this guy out, right here, right now.
Carlo and Tony understand the ramifications of the Sicilian’s new posture and immediately squint anticipating a gunshot.
It’s a deal, Margo shouts out.
Bring me a ball peen hammer, Nuncio says.
We have a baseball bat behind the bar, Margo tells him.
That will work fine.
Margo sends Tony for the bat.
What about his woman? Nuncio asks.
Please tell me what is going on, Auggie begs Margo.
The good news is Nuncio is not going to kill you. The bad news is he’s going to break one of your hands with a baseball bat.
That’s the best you could do?
There’s more good news.
I get to have sex with him.