Chapter 1

He arrived five minutes early and entered the bank, heading right past the line to the woman in the green suit he was told to see. He handed her his package, grunting under its weight as he put it on the counter. "Here's our deposit. Jimmy called. Are you Vermel?" He was short and sweet, just as he'd been told.

"Yes, my name is Vermel. Have you been drinking, sir?" The head teller smiled falsely. The young man wondered if there was something in the massive employee manual of the bank regarding how to ask customers this question (at 11:00 in the morning). It certainly wasn't in the text of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

"Uh," he started, and then remembered his lawyer's advice — 'deny-deny-deny' — and finished, "nope."

"Why don't you sit down in my office. I'll just be a minute." She was just as robotically cheerful as before.

Soon a very well-dressed man (ostensibly the branch manager) walked into the office and looked at, no, looked up-and-down the young man, and the young man's enormous Bloomingdale's shopping bag. Immediately the young man thought that his look, despite slacks, coat, polished shoes and tie, was a bit too disheveled.

WAITING

"Sir, we have a policy that when large sums of cash are deposited you need..."

The young man replied curtly "to wait until it's proofed. Especially if I've been drinking. Which I haven't. You work, and drink, until five in the morning and by eleven the next morning I assure you there'll be a little left in your system. Or then, has (insert name of bank) done away with the three martini lunch? Look, I have another appointment. I have the key to the box so just have the guard downstairs let me in down there and I'll go have lunch. You can count the small stuff without my signature."

The branch manager was obviously relieved. "You're with Jimmy's new place, aren't you?"

"Yes."

The phony-ass branch manager shifted personalities nearly immediately — reached out the glad hand, put on the hale-fellow-well-met as if everything was alright. The young man wanted a dead fish to suddenly appear in his own right hand so he could stuff it into the hand of the branch manager's own cold, clammy mitt. "My name's James. You just come and either see me or Vermel whenever you need anything. We're glad to serve you."

Vermel, of course, was the head teller who'd ushered the young man into the room in the first place. From now on, the young man decided that her nickname would be "Vermin."

When the big was separated from the small downstairs, and the young man stuffed the rest of his parcel into the huge safe-deposit box, "James" gave him the same suddenly deluxe treatment, and he could see that James had a vague look kinda like wishing the young man would, indeed, take him out for a three martini lunch. That was not to happen. The young man pocketed the key and headed over to a place on 57th Street he knew would be open, even if the lights weren't on. He ordered a burger, no bun, lots of tomatoes and raw onion, fries and a side of mayonnaise. And a double Stolichnaya and soda - the first of four.

THE THREE (KINDA) MARTINI LUNCH

By 1:00 the young man was ready for the wait. He walked back to the bank, greeted the guard and withdrew the rest of his tattered Bloomingdale's satchel from the box. He waited patiently upstairs, ignoring the annoyed looks of the young ladies running the little rotary counting machines. "PFTrhrhrhrhrhrhr," they counted a hundred bills at a time. The double-checking took about 45 minutes. As he walked out of the bank, James chased him down with a whole pile of various (empty) vinyl and canvas bags.

"Ah, er, won't these be more helpful in the future? I didn't get your name." (He'd forgotten the young man's name; Jimmy had already called it in this morning).

"We've got all the canvas bags we need, thank you."

What a fool! Imagine carrying $253,000 in cash in a huge leatherette bag (equipped with one of those stupid locks) with the bank's logo all over it anywhere on the streets of New York City, no matter how nice the neighborhood nor how close his car was. Worse than that, imagine the same scenario with a simple canvas satchel filled with what were obviously wads of cash. James was, obviously, clueless as to the way they got business done.

OOPS!

By the time he'd gotten to 57th Street and 9th Avenue, he cursed under his breath, looked around for a lurking cop and pulled a U-turn in traffic. He'd forgotten the change.

Returning to the bank, embarassed by his error, he took out the check from his pocket and asked Vermel for his change order. She made it tough for him; passing it through the Lexan door instead of walking to the employees' door on the side the way some of her underlings usually do. The boxes of quarters were soooo heavy. He had to lug them all the way around the corner to the loading dock, a place he'd rather not display a satchel full of money, despite the fact it was no more than $2,550.

He headed down a West-Side Avenue because he was, now, in fact late for his next appointment. He pulled across town through what seemed like swarming beehives of taxis. He stopped at the bakery, the cheese shop and the Italian store before pulling up to the hydrant in front of his next destination. At each stop, he carefully checked and double-checked the list of items to be put into his grocery bags.

THE OLD MAN

The trunk of his Cadillac was deep enough to put the envelope in the bottom of one of the shopping bags without passers-by really noticing what he was doing, not that they'd pay attention. He strode up the stairs and rang the doorbell.

"Are you from Jimmy?" A statuesque woman with upswept auburn hair greeted him. She was dressed modestly but her makeup was the latest fashion.

"Yes, should I come in?"

"Of course, of course. But the old man's gonna be just a bit late for you. Coffee?" Her offer was sincere, deeply sincere and quite in contrast to the phony cheerfulness he'd received at the bank, where far more money was at stake.

"I'd love some, thank you." She showed him into a sitting room, and closed the door as she left.

From upstairs, there came the faint noise of men arguing. Then a pounding noise. More arguing.

She arrived with the coffee on a tray. A pot of espresso with a bottle of good Anisette, two cups, two tiny, gilt-rimmed cordial glasses. "He'll be down in just a moment."

Her words had hardly finished coming out of her mouth and the old man appeared in the doorway. She left rapidly.

The young man shook hands with a bear of a man. The old man had enormous hands and a grip to match. The young man did his best to return the grip nearly as firmly. They exchanged names and the old man encouraged the young man to call him by first name; then the old man offered to pour the coffee.

"Please, allow me," the young man spoke quickly.

"Nah." The old man poured the coffee into the cups, and ignoring the cordial glasses, topped each with a healthy dose of the Anisette.

"Did you mind getting me a few things on your way over" his words were interrupted by a horrible racket just outside the door "here?"

The young man was startled by the noise. A thumping, followed by a distinct moan, then the opening and closing of the huge front doors of the house rapidly. Then silence.

"Don' mind that; that was a guy I had a little trouble with, if you know what I mean. Did you bring the package?"

The young man fished through the bag from Zito's bakery. He produced the envelope and handed it to his host. The old man got up and put it in a desk drawer.

When the coffee was finished and the young man had received another firm handshake, combined with words of gratitude, from the old man, the old man offered to show him out.

"That's okay, I'll see myself out."

YOU'VE GOT STARS IN YOUR EYES

The young man started his car and breathed heavily. For a moment he saw spots before his eyes. His hands shook; he dismissed it to the strong coffee but he knew otherwise.

When he got back to his office, the boss was waiting. The young man nodded and produced the bank slip from his coat pocket. He retrieved a bag from his office and dutifully brought the weighty bag of change back from his car trunk, hidden by the Shop-Rite satchel. Not a single word was said about any of the errands he'd done that day. He returned to his office, picked up his phone messages, and went downstairs where George had the phone extension on the bar and was probably on his fourth Scotch. Not a word from George, either. He was getting nervous. He made his first call; it was just a stupid salesman offering the rental of a postage meter. His hands were still shaking so hard when he hung up the phone, he poured George another Scotch and poured himself one, neat, double; with ice water on the side. As he took his second sublime sip, the phone's speaker clicked and the boss's voice crackled his name - angrily. He was summoned back upstairs.

THE BOSS CALLS

Prudence dictated that he not bring his cocktail upstairs. Something awful; no, horrible; had happened. Surely.

"You asshole, when you were at Balducci's couldn't you have picked me up some fucking salami?! Now you're gonna get stuck in rush hour traffic." He dangled keys, "take my car. A pound and a half - remember, the dry."

On his way out he veered back off to the bar and poured his left-over cocktail into a shaker glass and added even more Scotch. For the ride downtown.

What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, he thought.

Chapter 1     Chapter 3     Chapter 4     Chapter 5

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