Now he remembered everything. It began with the murder – his murder. Who remembers such a thing?
He was at his old restaurant, Grimaldi’s in Whitestone, Queens, sitting across from Maria, the woman he sold it to years ago. Veal parmigiana, bubbling tomato sauce and mozzarella still sizzling on his plate. Alex was feeling his age, his knees ached, his shoulder sore under his custom-tailored blue sport jacket, the second Chivas just beginning to dull the pain. Too many years playing ball, too many late nights at the bar.
He felt the bitter winter breeze as the door from the street opened. Looking up he watched the kid with the Mets cap enter and walk up to the bar, brushing off the snow from his oddly light jacket. He looked out of place among the bar’s typical late-night clientele of tough guys in leather coats.
He turned his attention back to Maria, a beautiful woman, long dark hair, and a perpetual tan, in her late forties, who had accidentally become too close a friend for him to pursue romantically. He wished he’d caught it in time.
There was sudden movement, heads turned toward the kid in the Mets cap, who was approaching him – too quickly in a place where sudden movements weren’t welcomed. Alex knew right away he should have paid more attention, and that whatever was going to happen would be too late to stop. He tried to quickly get up from the table. Maria, her back to the action, looked at him, clearly puzzled. He saw the silver gun barrel pointed at him and then a flash, the sound of thunder, the smoke from the gun, a sharp burn tearing through his chest, and then, as
the kid put the gun’s barrel to his head and fired, a sense of imploding inside his head.
And then, again, just to be sure, more shots. Each a lightning strike inside his brain.
Yet his eyes still worked. He saw his plate of half eaten veal parm, now a darker shade of red than the tomato sauce that had been there. It was blood, his blood, blending with the molten mozzarella. He wouldn’t touch it now, not that he’d get the chance. Funny the things that run through your brain just before the power goes out.
Alex had slept well. At least that was what he thought. He felt renewed. Or was it . . . refreshed? Maybe like his old computer after he turned it off and then back on. Suddenly, he found himself recalling new things, scenes he thought he missed but had heard about from others. They had now entered his mind. He could see them, vividly.
There was more gunfire, as his cop friends bolted up from their drinks and dinners and shot the kid who murdered him. Good, he thought. Whoever the hell he was, he got what he deserved. Then the conversations they thought he couldn’t hear as everyone knelt over him, cushioning his bloody head. His friends didn’t care if they got blood on their clothes.
“He’s gone,” someone said. “It’s over.”
He could hear sirens in the background, cops on walkie-talkies, women, screaming.
Maria, the beautiful bar owner he had been having dinner with, “Oh my God, Alex, oh my God.” You can tell who you friends are when you’re shot dead in front of them.
Then there was the hearse...he loved black Cadillacs; the funeral, and the casket he had always thought he would want closed but now was happy it was open. Not that it mattered — from his viewpoint he could see everything; he was just glad they could see him.
Michael was giving the eulogy.
“I’m Alex’s brother. We were 10 years apart in age. . .
Alex’s loves were his friends and family – his son, George, all three of his wives, Pam, Greta, and Donna - he was the first one to admit he wasn’t a good husband - baseball - the Yankees, music - Sinatra, Johnny Cash - women, particularly younger ones. Oh, and he loved his dinners.
He was a great athlete and would have signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school if our parents hadn’t forced him to go to college.
As popular as he was, he took a neighbor to her high school prom, a dwarf, He knew no one else was going ask her. . .
He’d fight – often picking on the bullies, never the weak. . .
He was tough, stubborn and he had a temper, but underneath, he was vulnerable and he had a huge heart that he hid beneath the tough-guy persona we all saw. . .
Alex wasn’t built for old age. Perhaps he was fortunate to be spared those years.
We will miss him. If there’s a God, Alex is in heaven – and God will have his hands full.
From inside, he looked up at the white silky, cheap polyester ridges of cloth liner; the casket’s fabric acting like a frame around each mourner as they filed by: his son George had finally put a tie on, not bad for forty; his brother Michael; his old friends; and a few enemies.
He watched as his wives, the three of them in succession, each younger than the last, passed, in the chronological order of their marriage, by the coffin. They all had at least two
things in common: perfectly proportioned size 34D breasts, compliments of Alex’s good friend, Dr. Armand Simonetti, the famous Park Avenue plastic surgeon, and they all wore Chanel No. 9 perfume. He loved the scent. Even now, he could smell them through the funereal lilies. He gave that same perfume to all his wives – and lovers. It came in handy on those nights when he cheated on them; they’d never catch a different scent from another woman.
First came Pam, the original love of his life, the blonde, perpetually tanned cheerleader from high school. They married young, too young, yet had a great relationship both before they married and after they were divorced. Not so much in between. He would continue to see Pam after their divorce and throughout his next two marriages.
Then Greta Garbone, the horrific mistake anyone who is married three or more times must make, although she did give Alex his only child. Greta had married him because she thought he’d make her a movie star. Right after they were married, she changed her name from Rosemary to Greta, figuring it would look better on the movie credits. She wanted Alex to move to LA. “Yeah, we’ll move to LA,” he told her one night they were both drunk, “when you look like Angelina Jolie.” It all really soured when he tried to get her to star in a porn film. She finally ran off with a magician who she thought had an upcoming act in Vegas, but it turned out to be Asbury Park, New Jersey, instead.
As it turned out, it was Greta, bitter over her divorce and blaming Alex even for her split with the magician, who put him here in this casket. She and some much-older, washed-up Mafia guy, Joseph Sharkey, fell in love – and Sharkey hired the kid to shoot Alex. She got revenge and Sharkey got in her good graces. It didn’t end well for Greta, though, but that was another long story.
Finally, Donna Finkelstein, his widow and possibly the happiest person in the church. She would be rich now. That said it all.
His brother Michael, dressed in his stylish navy suit. They’d never been quite as close as he’d hoped. Michael was so different. More into books instead of bookies, so straight, hard to get close to. His wife Samantha, a good-looking blonde but not Alex’s type, too smart, pushy. Their daughter Sophia. Tall, good-looking, too. Another smart one. Nice. All of them, including Michael, who was a little snobby for Alex’s taste, but who didn’t act that way toward him?
Then his friends – all of them for most of his life – Russell Munson, Fat and Skinny Lester, Shugo the bartender, Joe Sal, “the surgeon,” who owned the biggest auto body shop in Queens, Jerry, Freddie the barber, the other Jerry, Raven, John, and so many more.
He heard the music as they were carrying him out of the church, felt the casket being tilted—they must have been going down the front steps of the church—followed by the ride in the back of the hearse. The drivers didn’t give a shit, they were talking about getting home for dinner. One of them stole the ring off his finger before they locked the casket.
He could smell the grass as they opened the rear gate of the hearse and carried him out to the – his – gravesite. It was almost over, like the last moments of a killer’s trial; soon it would just be him, trapped alone in the cell, the jury, judge, family all gone home from the courthouse.
The Greek priest Father Papadopoulos gave his sermon. What was he thinking? Did he really believe all this stuff he was saying? Alex would be the only person there who would know the truth.
People were probably thinking: It’s almost over. Saying to each other, You wanna meet for a drink? The sound of the dirt falling on his coffin as he was dropped lower and lower, being let down into the earth. How long would it take before the seal of the casket gave out and he was . . . exposed to . . . whatever else the dirt held? He wanted to open the lid, hoping against all hope that Fat Lester would reach down with his meaty hand and pull him up from the dirt before it was too late, before everyone threw their roses and walked away to go home or out for dinner, leaving him, alone, buried under the earth, at the mercy of the gangs who came at night, drank vodka, smoked weed and pissed on the headstones.
But he was still there.