(from Death Be Not Loud: Ghosts Haunts & Tall Tales for Restless Nights by Jan Olandese. Consumer Warning: this is fiction – contains ghosts, but also humor!)
Dino Perelli, of Dino’s Deli (testifying at a highly classified, closed hearing with only FBI agents and a judge present):
“Mikey was always worried. The sky was always falling, he was forever lookin’ over his shoulder. Huh? How do I know? He was just made that way. You look for a winning lottery ticket, he looked for zeroes over Kansas. Do I think he jinxed himself? Could’a been. Stranger things have happened.
One day Mikey comes in for lunch.
“I’ll have the baked ziti special. Make sure there’s no onions in mine,” he threatens but without much energy. His blood sugar’s so low right now it won’t support more than a whine.
“‘kay, Mikey, comin’ up. Here’s your Diet.” Mikey always, without fail, had a diet root beer. If we ran out, we never heard the end of it. Mikey sat there, picking his straw out of the paper sheath without actually allowing any of his flesh the most fleeting contact the straw. (I always carried extras for those times he missed and a new straw would have to be prepared and docked, germ-free, into his beverage). While he was not on meds, he rode the obsessive-compulsive horse pretty hard. How Mikey made it as a button man is ‘way beyond me. But then I don’t make HR decisions for the Pazzos, I just serve ‘em lunch.
“Hey, Dino, you seen Eddie Big Nuts?” Mikey asks.
“No, actually now you mention it, he ain’t been in for like a week. We even got that capicola he likes, special order, just for him.”
“Mmmm. You’ll tell me if he comes by.” Mikey declared, he never asked.
Mikey “Guns” DiMorto left Dino’s after his usual ziti and diet root beer. (Tuesdays was always baked ziti). Burping a little, he dabbed his lips with an Egyptian cotton hanky. Mikey was nothing if not spot free. As he neared his car, he double-took! There, right in front of him and Dino’s, was Eddie. Well, sort of. He could see his Caddy right through Eddie! Eddie seemed to be striding across the street, it reminded him of the Beatles, on the Abbey Road album cover. Then, pfffffftttt, Eddie was gone.
Mikey was now very nervous. A seasoned street figure, he’d sat by, cool as a popsicle, the time Mo Mo the Blow stuck that guy’s head in a vise. Mo Mo’d been imitating Tony the Ant, but got it so wrong he got no info, no eyeballs, plus there were bits of blood-spattered brain all over Mo Mo’s custom tailored Italian suit. ! Marron! Che imbecile! Mikey Guns shook his head. Brain does not wash out. At least Mikey had known to stand back.
And Mikey Guns had rubbed out countless guys in the interest of the Family. No problem. Ice in his veins, that one. But ghosts? This was not his department. Seein’ Eddie like that gave him the creeps in a big way. It proved to him that his anxiety (which he knew was a subject of jest among his colleagues) was right on target. No question. He had second sight. The sky was falling.
Mikey picked out the number to Sal on his throwaway Tracfone.
“Hey.” He grunted (the less said, always the better). “We got a issue.” There was a pause while a voice replied.
“Where’s Eddie Big Nuts (not Eddie’s real name). He ain’t been around. No, not even at the deli. I’m concerned.” (No way Mikey was gonna say he saw ghosts. That would put a crimp in his career in a hurry).
Sal deAngelo, the Pazzo Family consigliere (testifying at the aforementioned closed hearing):
“Of course, ya gotta know, Mikey was “concerned” if he put on his socks in the wrong order. He was a stressato, an old lady. “Yeah, yeah, Mikey. Don’t sweat it. We got it covered,” I’d tell him. “You had to say that or he’d frazzle himself over every cockamamie thing: if a black cat crossed his path, if a black car cut him off, if his bookie showed up in a black shirt, if he got a fuckin’ black licorice from the gum machine. He had this thing about black, always somethin’ with the black this, black that. We blew it off, but to him it was Defcon Five.”
“What? No, you’re right, we usually don’t put up with this shit, but Mikey was without question the best hit man in the Upper Midwest. Guys like him don’t grow on trees. He was always careful. They never found half ‘a the guys he whacked and those they did were completely untraceable. He’d make ‘em look like moulie inner city gang hits, or the Colombians. He was a cultural artist, that Mikey.” (Shakes head).
“So after he hangs up, I’m thinkin’ maybe just this once he’s really onto something. Nobody has seen Eddie. (What? Yes, Your Honor, Eddie Big Nuts is also known as Tomaso “the Cad” Cadavere). Eddie got outta the can like three weeks ago and was supposed to check in with Little Dom. (Yes, Your Honor. Little Dom is the big one, Big Dom is the short guy). Never. Even. Showed. Now, we make allowances for guys like that. They go a little crazy after they let ‘em out sometimes. Okay. But this was pushin’ it. You gotta show respect at some point.”
(“Go on, Mr. DeAngelo”).
“Mikey had reason to worry. He’d fingered Eddie for running numbers. (I know, ratting, but this was business). The boss, Richie, made Mikey beef: it was payback for Eddie helping himself to the loot from that big” (Sal pauses and whispers to one of the agents. “I still have immunity?” The agent nods assent). Sal continues “that big bank heist, you know, at First Confederate of Alabama?”
“Eddie had had nothin’ to do with that so he didn’t deserve a cent. But some ‘a the guys were drunk, celebrating, and word kinda slipped out. Before you knew it, Eddie (a good listener) and half of the entire take were both gone (even Eddie didn’t have the balls to take all of it). The question was, where was the money? We’d find Eddie sooner or later. Then we’d know. Believe me.”
“Now, Eddie tells no-bo-dy. Even in prison, for the entire five years, not so much as a whisper. I mean he talks, sure: about gravy recipes, cars, the weather. But the two mill?” (Sal holds his forefinger to his mouth and says “shhh). “Now you gotta know, Eddie was tight as a clam, that guy: never spent a dime he didn’t hate to lose. Wouldn’t play cards at the club. Wouldn’t put money in the plate at St. Anthony’s. Didn’t tip. His wife, Gabriella, she hadda shop at Big Lots, she wore only flip flops and doubleknits, and her best bag was a fake Michael Kors from off the back of some truck. Marron! Poor woman. We knew he’s like waitin’ til he’s paroled to grab the money and go to, uh, I dunno, fuckin’ Ecuador or someplace. But no one, other than the guard who opened the gate the day he got out, had seen so much as his shadow. Don’t misunderstand: no one gives a shit about Eddie. We just want our money. Business is business. So it wasn’t in our interest to whack him: he was the only one who knew where it was stashed.”
Mikey Guns diMorto drove round town. He liked to think behind the wheel. Nothin’ like a long traffic stop to plan the next job. He was downtown at H Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard, the longest red light in town. Going over his steering wheel with a disinfectant wipe for the fourth time in the last ten minutes, while waving off the guys with Windex and paper towels, hookers and other local denizens, he asked himself where he would hide cash if he were Eddie. He has known Eddie for a very long time, since Fiorello La Guardia Reform School, where they used to counterfeit five dollar bills and sell “Marlboros.” His koan for the day: “What Would Eddie Do?”
As he sits there meditating (Mikey had attended a few zen sessions that time he was locked up for dumping toxic waste into the water supply for that high rise, Rump Tower), his El Dorado paused on Eco, he sees, heading through the crosswalk, who but Eddie, surrounded with moulin-, uh, I mean African American people (no disrespect intended). Well, it was their turf. Eddie stands out: the only one without cornrows. He’s walkin’ across the street, again like Abbey Road, lookin’ straight ahead. He’s wearing… what is he wearing, Mikey asks himself. A black dinner jacket? In the morning? He shakes the cobwebs out of his head but when he looks up, Eddie’s gone. Black, he thinks. A bad omen. Mikey shudders.
Mikey can’t believe it. No wonder nobody’d seen Eddie. Who’d look here? Mikey then eyes the sidewalk and again views the shade of Eddie, who is heading into a corner building
Time to see what’s goin’ down, Mikey reflects. He illegally parks the Caddy in a loading zone (he has a special forged sticker from the police commissioner like he’s a deputy or something. This is convenient when he’s on the job and needs to split). He follows Eddie inside and enters a large vestibule with discreet signage. Flummoxed, he stands there staring at listings for internal medicine “doctors” (he knows these guys, the Mengele-Amin Clinics, they’re prescription mills), personal injury lawyers “Hablamos Espanol!” (scum of the law trade, he says to himself), a Scientology office, and a mortuary.
Walking down the hall, he sees the door to the mortuary swing open. He peers in and there’s a coffin in the next room. Open. And Eddie is in it. He is sitting up and pointing his finger right at Mikey’s face! (“I knew it was something bad,” he congratulates himself, affirming his negativity as pure intuition). He looks away for a minute and next thing you know it’s just some other stiff, layin’ there in the demo model casket. But Mikey knows what his Third Eye saw.
Then Mikey, ever thoughtful, wonders why Eddie’s shade is there at Johnson and Washington’s instead of Corelli Bros, the Pazzo family funeral home of choice (Richie’s brother owned a percentage). Quickly his mind computes: two and two make … ah! He gets it.
That slime. Posing as a corpse to get shipped to a non-extradition country, one with a quota on Italians. The money, of course, could be easily stashed in the coffin. And the savings! He could see Eddie now, gloating. Mortuaries were obligated to ship the loved ones home, wherever, and if it happened to be a poor loved one, they took turns donating costs (to make up for the towering profits they made the rest of the time). It couldn’t have cost Eddie (that cheap bastard) more than a few c-notes for the whole thing. Brilliant. Way less than airfare. So that meant all Mikey had to do to get into everyone’s supergood graces was track the package when the Fedex guys came for it. The ghost? Naaah, just his super-tuned in second sight. He knew something bad was gonna happen. See? He was, uh, whaddatheycallit, psychic, like that Long Island Medium broad on tv.
So yeah, Mikey thought he had it down. But they paid Mikey to shoot, not think.
Anyway, Mikey is now convinced that he’s on top of it. He goes back to his car and waits. The FedEx man comes about an hour later. He goes in with packages and comes out awhile later with a coffin-sized crate (This Side Up) on a large hand truck. He hoists it into his van. The door rolls shut. But wait. A black car pulled in between Mikey and the FedEx van. Hooo boy, that’s two black things in a row, thinks Mikey. His stress level ratchets up. But he Just Breathes. Now, following the Fedex van, he suddenly sees Eddie in the back seat of the black car in front, waving at him solemnly, with a frown. What …?
The next thing Mikey knew, Eddie was right there in his own car, in the front seat, right next to him! Yes! And he could see through Eddie to the door. This was so crazy! But now he observed that Eddie was wearing only half a suit. His backside, the part that didn’t show beneath the gathered silk of his not-so-final resting place, was covered only by velcro strips holding what clothing there was in some semblance of respectability. (It was so like Eddie to skimp on a suit, even for eternity). Swerving off the road, Mikey’s car smacked the guardrail, then toppled over an embankment. When the engine caught fire, he was blown to tiny bits: if you could have seen him, he would have looked like so much orzo. (As strange, not to mention final, as all this was, there was some comfort for Mikey Guns in knowing that even at the end, Eddie had bought only half a suit instead of a whole one.
(Sal, back at the closed hearing): “What? The money?” Oh, yeah. Well, that’s interesting, it really is. So Eddie shows up in Peru some years later with a tan, a real bad wig (by now are you surprised?) sittin’ on the corner with a monkey, collecting alms. He was blind and missing his tongue and a few other body parts. Nah, I got no idea how that happened. Really I don’t. Actually, the monkey did the collecting. Eddie was outta that business. But, you’re askin yourselves, what was he doin’ alive? Hadn’t Mikey seen his ghost? Wasn’t he DOA?”
“Nope. All smoke and mirrors. Remember I toldja how Eddie had counterfeited his way through reform school? He was a technical genius. After he had time in the big house to cool his heels and think things through, he came up with this idea: that if he was dead, no one would look further for the money or, more importantly, for him. Fact: he’d ripped off Richie and Co., so he had considerably less shelf life. So there in his cell and talkin’ with other prisoners, especially one who had been a Hollywood art director til he got nabbed for massive tax fraud, Eddie worked on ways to project a hologram of his “ghost” where Mikey could see it, with the aid of a small projector attached under the front bumper of Mikey’s Eldo. Eddie could call up his “ghost” on demand, like a Tivo. When Mikey got near the mortuary building (as Eddie knew he would, since it was on the way to Mikey’s gumare’s place) again, a signal from Eddie would project this astral image to Mikey. Then he’d had the coffin rigged, a body double with a lifelike wax mask resembling himself. He knew there was no way Mikey’d get close enough to get suspicious.”
“So yeah. Eddie got outta the country. We didn’t find out til much, much later cuz, well, Mikey was the only one who knew the story, and he wasn’t exactly in a position to Just Share.”
“The money? Well. Mikey was wrong about one thing. It wasn’t in the coffin. Eddie was all about getting his ass outta Dodge and nothing else. No, we never did find the money. Believe me, we tried. (Sal smiled). There’s a reward if it turns up … ”
Gabriella Cadavere strolled down Rodeo Drive. She had had her features surgically altered so they wouldn’t know her in the old neighborhood. Nope. She’d also stopped at a fat farm on the way out here and now looked identical to all the other Beverly Hills women with botox, fillers, Clinique, and lipo. She was coated in Hermes: cologne, silk blouse, scarf to match, and Kelly bag. Her shoes were Christian Louboutin. Each pump cost more than the rent where she used to live. Yep. When Eddie (that cheap skinflint sonofabitch) thought he was going to sneak out with all that cash and not even flowers not to mention a cut for his wife! Gabriella’s inner boiling point was finally reached (face it, her subconscious had been steeping for years). All those cheap Ross Dress for Less clothes when the other wives wore Gucci and Prada? Pfft.
Sure, she knew where the money was. Eddie was too cheap (again!) to obtain a safe deposit box. He put everything in that stupid coffin. He thought she didn’t know. But hey, she knew he had run deals with those black undertakers before. How’d’ya think he got away with the counterfeiting for all that time? So when word got out big money was missing and then Eddie was AWOL, she put on her thinking cap, she did. Then she slipped into the funeral parlor disguised as a cleaning lady (given her clothing budget, she already had the look) and sure enough, located the “Cadavere” room (with someone other poor slob lying in state). She approached the coffin. She gently moved the corpse aside, felt around under it, and, badabing, there was the loot, right under the ruched “silk” liner. Yep. She’d removed the bills quickly, shoving them into her Walmart shopping bag, then gently patted everything back into place. Pausing, she crossed herself and said a quick Hail Mary. (Ya gotta respect the dead). She smiled, imagining Eddie’s surprise when, halfway to wherever, he reached for his stash. Heh.
She’d come a long way, baby.
Poor, blind, dumb Eddie Big Nuts aka Thomas the Cad Cadavere sat on his stumps on a boulevard in Lima. He’s thinkin’ to himself, “Damn, too bad I could never get that fuckin’ projector to work. It woulda been cool to scare the shit outta Mikey Guns.”
Sal left the hearing, pleased that his plea deal had gone through. Having imparted so much of value to the feds, he was off the hook, at least for now. He was almost bouncing down the courthouse steps (it was Tuesday, he could really go for the baked ziti at Dino’s). All that talk had made him ravenous. He looked up then. Right before his eyes, he saw Mikey Guns. Yep. No mistakin’ that white hanky he always carried. You could see right through him. He looked like those guys on the Abbey Road album. You know who I mean, them, yeah. Sal looked up to the sky. Maybe he was looking for Divine guidance … or, perhaps, for zeros over Kansas.