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Monday, September 5, 2016

The Writer's Life 9/5 - Laborers

My thanks to Arthur, 71, riddled with arthritis, who stopped by the floating book shop and bought Killing. And here's an excerpt from it. Dante and Pete Jr. work at a place similar to the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. Dante, a Vietnam vet, is worried about his son, a Marine involved in the Desert Storm operation:

 They toiled at the construction of a booth, one of many that would be used in a coming exhibition. Dante had no idea how many he'd erected over the years. When the structures were completed, half the crew would be dismissed, Pete Jr. among them. Those men would not return until weeks before the next event. It was easy work and it paid well, even for the part-timers. The greatest difficulty was enduring the repetitiveness. It had ceased being challenging to Dante soon after he'd landed the job.
They were approached by a young man with flowing hair.
"Ay, Cheech," said Dante, taking nails from his mouth, offering a handshake. "What's doin'?"
"I come to see this gotz," he said in a deep, bored tone.
Pete extracted a five from his wallet and exchanged it for a tiny yellow envelope.
Dante frowned.
"Want some, Dan?" said Cheech. "It's dynamite stuff. It'll help you relax."
Dante's eyes flashed with anger, eliciting a titter from Cheech.
"See what I mean? You never change."
He failed to repress a smile. "Wise guy."
"I don't get it," said Cheech, beside himself, shrugging, hands together before him, a pose typical of the neighborhood. "You’re the only Vietnam vet I know who don't smoke pot."
"Bull. You wouldn't'a smoked it, either, if you had a C.O. like mine. He didn' wanna hear it. He said he'd shoot anybody who screwed up 'cause they was high, an' I wasn't about to test 'im out."
Cheech and Pete, listening intently, chuckled. They had profound respect for his combat experience and occasionally questioned him about it. He'd told them almost nothing. To them it was just a story. They'd been toddlers at its height.
"You marry that girl yet?" said Dante, eager to change the subject.
Cheech's expression changed from the arrogance that usually characterized it to annoyance. "I threw 'er out."
Pete howled, torso doubling over.
"Threw 'er out?" said Dante. "What about the baby?"
"She'll take care of it. She's still on welfare. She better take care of it if she knows what's good for 'er. I'll kill 'er."
Dante and Pete watched him walk away.
"He's such a giuche."
Dante smirked, shaking his head. "Whites on welfare - what a disgrace. An' it's a scam too. He should be supportin' 'er."
"Most people on welfare are white, you know."
Dante gazed at Pete skeptically. "Get atta here. You pullin' my leg too now?"
"It's true. Ask Benny."
Dante reflected a moment, then shrugged. "I don't care. Throw 'em all off, 'cept the cripples an' retards."
"I go nuts when I see 'em in the supermarket with food stamps. I force myself to give ‘em the benefit of the doubt."
Dante rolled his eyes heavenward. "Thank God my wife does the shoppin'. I wouldn't be able to keep my mout' shut. You know me."
"Cheech's into that racket too. He buys 'em from junkies at half price an' sells 'em for three-quarters to somebody else, or somethin' like that. I'm not sure exactly how it goes."
Dante's face went blank. "I can't believe the way he turned out. He was always a little nutty growin' up, but I thought he was a good kid deep down."
"He’s always lookin' for shortcuts, lookin' to get over on you."
"Now he's a bum, a minor league wise guy. An' you support 'im, Petey. You should be ashamed. You’re lucky I don' tell your father. He better not see that stuff."
"It's only pot," said Pete, annoyed.
"But the money they make from it helps the other parts'a their dirty business."
"In that case we should all quit our jobs. Who d'you think controls the union? Who's responsible for the racket we got here? How d'you think he got hired in the first place? His uncle, that's how. Anybody who works here is guilty by association, I don't wanna hear it."
Defenseless against the logic, Dante fell silent. What a world it was, he thought. Here he only wanted to make an honest living to support his family, and he was indirectly consorting with gangsters.
"You think he'd kill for 'is Don?"
Pete smirked. "Over pot? C'mon."
"But how'd he get set up? Maybe he owes somebody. I always thought he had no bawls. I can't see 'im blowin' somebody away, can you? Unless it's from behin' like a lotta the skifots do."
He wondered how wise guys would have fared in Vietnam. Then again, there had been a couple of repulsive men in his unit, and each had done his duty. He couldn't help but wonder at how strange life was sometimes.
"The other day we were in the record store," said Pete, hammer in hand; "and what d'you think he buys?"
"Jimmy Rosselli, Jerry Vale."
Dante's eyes spread with glee. "Yeah?"
Apparently Cheech had gone even further than was obligatory for the role. It seemed only yesterday he was backing his Cadillac out of the driveway, radio blaring disco into the night. He would beep the horn and wave indifferently to Dante, who would be seated on his porch, enjoying the summer night.
"Whattaya think of the hair-weave?" said Pete.
"It's a diff'rent shade than 'is hair," Dante returned, reaching for a saw. "It's almos' red. Who's that gonna fool? Mus' be a cheap one."
"I doubt it. You know how self conscious he is about it."
"I remember when 'is ol' man first dyed 'is hair. It was almos' purple."
Pete laughed.
"Then again, I should talk." He rolled his eyes upward. "I could use a weave myself." He wondered if a hairpiece would rekindle his wife's interest in him. "It'd hafta look way better'n that before I got one, though."
Pete grimaced. "I couldn't stand 'em sewin' it into my scalp."
Dante stared, puzzled.
"That's how they do it."
He winced. "He musta whined liked a baby. I could picture ‘im."
They laughed so hard they were unable to speak for a moment.
"Tell me," said Pete, "how d'you go from a fight one minute to laughin' the next?"
Dante shrugged. "I dunno. I always been like that. Even in 'nam I was laughin' after the little bastids tried to kill us. Stop laughin an' you might as well be dead."
"I bet Sandy's still grumblin'."
"If he wasn't grumblin' about the fight, he'd be grumblin' about somethin' else. He's a jerk. He gives union guys a bad name, him an' Cheech."
"A lotta guys do, just like in anything else. People'll always try to get away with whatever they can."
Suddenly Dante recalled his son, and all humor drained from him.
Vic's Short Works:
Vic's 5th Novel:'s 4th novel:
Vic's 3rd Novel:
Vic's Short Story on Kindle:
Vic's Short Story Collection:
Vic's 2nd Novel: Kindle:
Vic's 1st Novel:

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