An Afternoon in Brooklyn

by Joseph Giordano

There was a knock on the door, and I froze like the flash of a strobe. My Glock was on the metal-top kitchen table, and the apartment entrance faced me. I clicked off the whirr of the portable fan. Sweat clung the shirt to my back. I wiped my palms on jeans. I dropped behind a wooden chair and steadied my aim with the seat. My temples throbbed. The wall clock ticked like a metronome. I glanced at the fire escape outside the window. A car honked, tires screeched, and a woman screamed for her kid to get out of the street.
The knock came again. Louder.
Should I shoot through the door? Maybe I had time to shimmy down the fire escape?
The muffled voice of my landlady, Mrs. Scaramucci, came through. “Mr. Tomasina, I’ve come for the rent.”
Was it a trap? Her voice was calm. I stepped silently to the door and looked through the peephole. The lens stretched her face like a float balloon. She was alone. I slid the Glock into the small of my back and cracked the door.
Mrs. Scaramucci’s flower-patterned housecoat hung down to her calves where elastic hose bunched up around blue-snake veins and tassel-toed slippers. She smelled like damp mold.
“Mrs. Scaramucci, rent isn’t due until the fifteenth of the month.”
She gave me a sly look. “Two men showed up at my door, grande e brutto. The ugly one had a glass eye. They asked for you.” She wallowed in the news.
My gut went queasy, but I kept my face impassive. Beppe Lerma’s nickname was mal occhio after he lost an eye in a bar fight. He baseball batted his opponent into a paraplegic.
I focused on my breathing to slow my heart rate.
Mrs. Scaramucci tilted her head. “I told them nothing; maybe they were tax collectors. If you’re leaving, I want the rent.”
Scaramucci collected rent in cash. Paranoia about an IRS audit kept her from fingering me.
“Mrs. Scaramucci, I’ll pay when it’s due. I’m busy.”
She peered past me. I closed the door and turned the dead bolt.
I went to the front room of the railroad apartment and peeked at the street through the screen. Meat hung in the window of the butcher across the street. A few patrons entered the sawdust-covered floor. The owner of the corner bicycle shop replaced a flat tire. He had greasy hands. A red city bus rumbled down the street. The window glass vibrated, and I smelled diesel fumes. Alternate Side Parking was in effect. Cars had been shifted from the day before. A gray puff of exhaust belched from a black Lincoln I hadn’t seen. Its tinted windows were rolled up, but there were a number of spent cigarette butts on the sidewalk near the driver’s side. My stomach churned acid. Probably Lerma got a hit on my description at the D’Agostino’s where I shopped. Now he and his crew waited to pop me when I came onto the street. Continue reading