Ricco filled his mouth with wine and held it there, his thoughts still churning about what lay on the table before him. Finally, he swallowed. He looked up at Manny, his good friend and the man to whom he had often sought in times of need.
“She sent these?”
“She actually handed them over… to you?”
Manny frowned. “What does it matter? She’s just a whore trying to save her own skin. For all we know, she could have had some help.”
Ricco glanced down at the table. She’s just a whore trying to save her own skin.
“Yes or no,” he said. “She give them to you?”
Manny stared at him, and then shrugged. “Yeah,” he said. “She gave them to me.”
A growing emptiness filled Ricco, like his heart had just been sucked out and a deep, yawning hole took its place. To Manny, and probably everyone else, the items on the table meant nothing; they were trophies, most likely stolen by Tara herself, or, as Manny suggested, by someone trying to help her. And even if they had never been returned, their loss could have been fixed by walking into any nearby jeweler’s store. Looking at the necklace, though, a medallion hanging from a golden chain, Ricco knew it was the one item that could never be replaced. Passed down from his grandfather to his father, and then to him, the metal held more value than its price on the commodities market. Only the true heir of the family could wear it around his neck.
When Tony, his firstborn, came into the world with a sharp cry of defiance, Ricco felt as if nothing would ever be the same again. After all that he had accomplished—swimming against the tide of social morality to take up control of the family business, managing the daily ebb and flow of reefer, of Mexican Brown and other fine products—none of it compared to the task ahead. He was a father, and everything he did going forward would serve only one purpose: to push the family ahead until the day Tony could take his place. But time is a cruel mistress, it seemed. She could make a man lift his hopes and dreams, like a gleaming chalice, only to have it all taken from his hand and tossed aside into the blazing fires of misfortune. Not long after his firstborn took young Tara’s hand in marriage, the ceremony binding her beating heart into theirs, the family put on black and stood side-by-side, fighting back the anguish, as Tony’s body was laid into a hole.
A year passed before Ricco finally asked his second son, Marcus, to stand in Tony’s place and make Tara whole, a point that Marcus rejected at first. After all, she wasn’t born into the family; so, why should any child born to her lead it? But even after he reluctantly agreed, Marcus never had the chance to fulfill his role. The doctor called it an aneurism, a birth defect that nobody could have seen or known about. Again, the family put on black.
Still staring at the articles on the table—the ring, the watch, the medallion—flotsam to most anyone else—Ricco now saw a deeper meaning: three things for three sons. The power of three. He picked up the necklace and stared at it. With the loss of his first- and then his second-born, Ricco promised Tara he would make her whole, but she would first have to wait. His youngest, Nicolai, needed to grow up and become a man. In the meantime, she could live with her own father.
He never intended to make good on that word, however; he had already lost two sons to this woman and, family line or not, there was no way he would lose a third.
Manny’s voice cut through his thoughts then, and Ricco looked up. “What?”
“I asked how you wanted me to handle it.” Meaning: how did he, Ricco, want her killed—with a bullet to the head or with her feet cast into concrete, her body tossed into the East River? To Manny, Tara was a whore, a prostitute who had slept with another man, maybe several, and now walked around as pregnant as the morning sun. And there was no way the Giovannetti family could let that go; nobody in Uptown would respect them again if they did.
Ricco said nothing for the moment.
As if time had become more than just a cruel mistress, after the loss of Marcus, Ricco’s wife took ill—cancer, the doctor had said—and within a month the family put on black. Afterwards Ricco withdrew. Of course, the family business would be taken care of; it always had been. Beyond that, he wanted to be alone. Which worked out fine until one night, growing tired of the gloom, Manny suggested they take a ride to the Eastside. They could drink a few, probably more than that, and then catch a little easy time with some easy women. To his own surprise, Ricco agreed.
He didn’t remember much about that night. What he pieced together was that he had indeed spent time with a hooker he spotted on the corner. “And what will you give me?” she said. Though he didn’t have money on him at the time, he told her his name and promised to pay her double what she normally took. “But what,” she said, “will you give in pawn me to make sure you pay?”
The next morning, he couldn’t believe what he had done, the stupidity of it. He tried to find the woman, but she was nowhere to be seen and nobody had ever heard of her. Looking at the medallion now, though, Ricco knew there was at least one person who knew her name.
He turned to Manny, who probably wouldn’t believe the next few words he was about to hear.
“Leave her alone.”
S.B. : As an exercise at the end of his chapter on plots, John Dufresne (The Lie That Tells A Truth) issues this challenge: “Let’s do what Shakespeare did. Let’s borrow our plots.” This story is just that—a borrowed story, updated slightly for modern times. The original, if you’re interested is found in Genesis, Chapter 38. What is even more interesting (to me) is that the same characters in Genesis were later mentioned in the bloodlines found in both the gospels of Matthew and Luke. In some ways, fact is far more interesting than fiction.