The Mobster’s Dollar
It was a wonderful autumn morning, just past eleven. The Chicago skyline sparkling in the distance, the paper boy strolling past me. I exited the welcoming suburbia road and entered the shady streets of the Southside. The factory gas and scent of tobacco crept into my nostrils. Already accustomed to the smell of Chicago, it was all transparent to me. After passing the salon and the pizzeria, I strolled into the butcher shop, embraced by the sudden cold air. I stationed myself into the line of two, and waited patiently for my turn to come. The bell behind me rang, and a stout man in a brown trench coat staggered in. He waved his hand and smiled broadly at the butcher. My pupils scanned him thoroughly taking in all the details my brain could muster in that fraction of a second. With his coat open loosely, I noticed a curved handle tucked into the inside pocket. He had dark red stains patched all over the coat. I’d seen enough action movies to know exactly what all that was. The sudden, swift closure of his coat startled me. I looked up at his greased back hair, and soon made way to his eyes. His formally smiling face was now cold. The smell of sausage slowly disintegrated into vomit. I felt an icy warmth fill my body like a bottle. A sudden burden dropped into my stomach, and I turned around quickly. I felt his presence shift closer and closer towards me, and I tensed up. I expected a hard jab in the back rib, but received none.
“I’ll have a pound of roast beef, half a pound of bison and a quarter pound of lamb shank.” I told the butcher.
“Its my mothers birthday today and I’m thinking of making a really big dinner for her I was wondering-” He ignored my story and retreated back into the cold world strictly inhabited by animal flesh.
Barely a second passed before I realized it was just the strange man and I. He started to roam the shop; positive his position in the stagnant line was secure. He analyzed the hanging meats near the front window. He caressed the red flesh and dug his finger deep into it. Then in one fluid, aggressive motion, he pulled back his fist and landed a solid punch dead center. The piece of flesh, dangling from a chain, swayed back about a foot. It continued to sway, and the man moved onto the next one. Once again, he caressed the meat, as if a precious item, and poked his finger into it. However on this one, his finger barely penetrated the core. The man frowned and moved away from the meats, to the other corner of the store. He noticed my eyes following his path, and shot me a cold stare; Just long enough to get what he was indicating. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him playing games with the prop butchery utensils. Grabbed the knives and twisted them within his fingers. The speed at which they spun showed he had handled these instruments before. Positively thinking, I pondered that he might’ve been a former butcher, very skilled in his craft. The Italian once again caught me staring, and slightly turned his head my way. I directed my attention elsewhere, suddenly noticing the sound of the air conditioning, and the variety of cars outside the store window. He had an angered expression upon him, and I assumed he was annoyed by my constant staring. My imagination roamed as I thought of the countless things that could’ve gone wrong. Stabbed, shot, struck in the back of the head, have a plastic bag quickly wrap my face. I realized I was over reacting, stereotypically profiling, and letting my imagination once again alter my state of mind.
“I have a pet lamb on my farm back in Italy.” He said suddenly. He had an obvious Italian accent, as thick as canned spaghetti sauce. “I call her Snow. Cause’ she’s white. Like snow. She’s the eye of my apple. She likes long walks and wheat crackers. She also liked to sleep in my room, sometimes in my bed too.
I winced at his analogy, and the fact that he slept with his pet lamb. I then realized that I had just purchased lamb shank, and thought he would use it against me. I also thought of correcting his analogy, but assumed he wasn’t the kind of person who liked to be corrected, or judged. I then thought, now was my chance to let him know I’m not worth hurting.
“That’s sweet,” I said, “ I know a place with great food for animals.” I had never checked, but I was assuming all pet shops had food for lambs. I looked over my shoulder to see him smiling, nodding his head in agreement. He asked where this magnificent place was, and I told him about the local pet shop, where the options were endless. He chuckled happily, and hugged me from behind, which I understandably had at first thought was a form of assault.
The butcher came back in, with my three paper encased meats. Fifteen dollars for three medium class meats was a great deal. I reached into my pocket, took out my wallet, and pulled out my plastic credit card. As if mute, he tapped the piece of paper behind him, which indicated credit cards weren’t allowed here. I checked the other fold of my wallet, and found fourteen dollars and an expired Burger King card. Double Whammy I thought angrily.
“You think you could spare a dollar? You can hunt me down if I don’t come back.” I asked the butcher with a chuckle. He looked me dead in the eye, then looked past me to the Italian. I turned to the man standing behind me, as I heard the butcher pull the meats out of the bag.
The Italian raised one eyebrow considerably and scanned my posture and clothing, as if to see if I were worthy of his dollar. He shrugged “Sure thing.” and pulled out a crisp dollar, as if he were always being asked for one. I took it, mixed with my money, and handed it to the butcher, in exchange for my meats. I turned back and started walking to the door, when a strong, rough arm grabbed my shoulder and spun me back around.
The man smiled slightly and gently slapped my face. “Listen” he said,“I want that dollar back. I don’t care what you have to do, I want it back,” he said. This was the deepest, most serious tone I’d ever heard. I looked at him smiling, but the attempted warmth was rejected by his cold stare. He tugged me closer, his breath creeping into my ear, around the side of my neck.
“A family friend once told me, ‘There is no good money or bad money. Only money.’” He shook his head, as if reminiscing. “Luciano was always good with quotes.”
He pushed me off, and I stumbled to regain my balance. He pointed at me and smiled a sly smile. He watched me until I left the store. I thought about what he said to me. ‘How would I find him?’ I thought, realizing I hadn’t even learned his name. I started to panic. ‘He certainly could find me faster than I could find him.’ I twisted my neck ninety degrees, checking to see if he was following me. ‘I should just move to Mexico now while I still can. Or maybe Canada. I could call myself something new, something cool. Like Steel or NightRider.’ I knew at that moment that I was starting to lose it. Maybe I was overthinking it. I hoped he was just joking. I still just hope it was all a big joke.