Antonia Pecorino wished, for the hundredth time that afternoon, she had taken the day off. It wasn’t the crush of bodies in the restaurant, or the mayhem of the kitchen – she’d coped well enough with busy days on many occasions, but she couldn’t remember a time when serving meals had been such a unnerving experience. During a lull in service, she peered through the kitchen door into the melee taking place front of house and examined the faces of the men in their dark suits and equally dark expressions.
She’d never seen so many shifty looking characters gathered together in one place – some of whom she recognised, not from their regular meals at Mascarpone’s, but rather because that was generally the last place you’d ever think to see them. The various families tended to keep themselves to themselves and, you could clearly see the way in which each faction distanced itself from the other tables. Behind the bottles of chianti and cigar smoke, hidden behind dark glasses were faces she knew of old: Canneloni, Gelati, Rigatoni, Ciabiatta, Fusili… names that had the influence and power to make or break lives, and none of them particularly predisposed to small talk and pleasantries.
Nervously, she glanced towards the doorway where a host of New York’s finest kept a watchful eye on the proceedings. Sherbet and the other cops – off-duty, of course – were making the most of the opportunity and working through the restaurant’s reserves of grappa, even so, Antonia could tell they were twitchy – never a good way to be with the sort of company assembled around the tables today. A flurry of movement in the far corner caught her eye, as one of the younger – and some would say, more foolish – of the bosses came unsteadily to his feet.
“A toast!”, shouted Toni Ciabatta. “A toast to our host, the most venerable godfather and man of the moment… Signor Don Mascarpone!”
The mood in the restaurant grew tense – there were many gathered here who would struggle to raise a glass to The Boss. Ciabatta laughed.
“Why gentlemen, is it so difficult to set aside our differences even on an auspicious a day such as this? So be it! May I suggest an alternative toast then? To our friends, and equally to our enemies, may we all outlive one another!”
Grudgingly, glasses were raised, but not without some hostility, directed both at Toni Ciabatta, and in fairly equal measure, to all those around them.
Ciabatta continued: “Gentlemen, we have drunk to our enemies but there is much to be gained from friendship. It is no secret that I take Don Mascarpone to be an old fool, well past his prime…”
At this, the group surrounding Mascarpone bristled, reaching for their concealed weapons, causing the cops to stiffen. A glass fell to the floor, the sound of broken glass now loud in the silenced restaurant. Toni raised his hands placatingly and lowered his head.
“Scuse! La prego di accettare le mie scuse. I’m sorry, it was not my intention to provoke. What I mean, is that it is no secret that I appreciate Signor Mascarpone’s contribution to our community over the years… but maybe, it is time that he has earned the right to, er… retire and perhaps give a younger and more able man an opportunity to build on what he has established. No?
Also, it is no secret that I am somewhat indebted to Signor Gelati – quite substantially indebted if I am to be honest”, here Toni laughed nervously, “and it is also no secret that my resources are somewhat limited at the present time… however, I have a business proposition that I believe will not only provide myself with the means to repay what I owe, but which will also, ultimately be to the benefit of myself, Signor Gelati and to our little community as a whole!”
The atmosphere in the restaurant was palpable – tension was running high and Antonia found herself involuntarily performing the sign of the cross behind the closed kitchen door.
The Sicilian’s voice was as dry and deadpan as his expression: “What exactly do you propose?”
Ciabatta laughed nervously once more.
“Simple. You and I become partners, and our old adversary, Signor Mascarpone gracefully retires to somewhere sunny and warm, where his rheumatism will no longer trouble him…”
“And if Signor Mascarpone does not wish to retire?”, the Sicilian replied, raising a quizzical eyebrow.
“Then we ‘encourage’ him to do so!”
The vast bulk of ‘Slim’ Rigatoni, moving faster than Antonia would have thought possible, exploded from behind Mascarpone’s table.
“Why you filthy…!” He blazed, drawing his weapon as he sprang forward.
That was the cue for complete mayhem! The restaurant burst into a free-for-all, the sound of gunshots and hysteria filling the air.
In just six minutes, it was all over – broken men lay strewn over broken tables; the groans of the wounded filled the air, and the bodies of both Toni Ciabatta and Julius Gelati lay still and unmoving.
As the smoke cleared, Detective Danny Sherbet lifted his head and slowly raised himself from his crouch. At his feet, Don Mascarpone lay, a dark red stain spreading slowly across his chest.
“Don! Don! I’m so sorry – this was all my fault!”, Danny exclaimed, taking the prostrate man’s hand in his own.
“Eh, what’s that?”, stuttered Mascarpone, awkwardly rising into a sitting position. He looked down at the stain covering his white dress shirt, and frowned.
“Mama mia! Will ya look at the state of this shirt!” – he looked Danny in the eye – “I tella you – this tomato sauce is a nightmare to get out in the wash!”