There often comes a time when a person looks back in time and reflects. But what if one event from long-ago creates a decision to ignore or confront the past.
Steve Martino is about to make a life and death choice.
As many have done, one of Mario’s former disciples enters the candy store to reminisce.
Earlier in the fifties Steve Martino became one of several Hispanics allowed to enter his circle of trust. Steve arrived soon after the war from a tiny Caribbean island. In the states he lived in the lower eastside of Manhattan. About four years later at age fourteen he moved to Brooklyn.
Mario considered him unique due to his connection with four brothers. One became involved with a group of Red Hook hoodlums and another became a priest. During the early days pronouncing “Porto Rican” raised eyebrows and sparked racism. The invasion, as many described the Latino migration to the United States, had the same negative characteristics experienced by other ethnic groups before gaining acceptance. Suspicion, ignorance or just plain hate of foreigners creates an air of tension between newcomers and the local populace. Recalling clashes between Italian and Irish immigrants Mario smiles, knowing it’s simply an unavoidable ritual. He also remembers how Steve and his brothers put up with the bullshit on a daily basis. School was the worst since there was no place to hide. They were sitting ducks for every cheap shot of racism imaginable. But after several confrontations with local toughs the five brothers, as they came to be known, quickly gained status. Rumors spread rapidly, you mess with one and you mess with all. Although only two proved intimidating, rumors never separated fact from fiction. Between Steve and a brother with a nasty temper the other three lived a peaceful existence. He also had eyes for an older tall Italian gal but his shorter thin frame clashed with her statuesque form. Afterwards, the two year difference in age together with the moment she graduated dampened enthusiasm. Some call it coincidence but Mario still doubts he didn’t just happen to get married soon after she tied the knot with a guy named Anthony.
“How you doing Steve, haven’t seen you since the wedding. Where you been hiding?”
“I moved to Williamsburg, you know the area, near the bridge a few blocks from the brewery.”
“Oh yea, I hear it’s not a bad area. Not too many Italians though.”
“More like zero, it was my wife’s idea to be near friends but I’ve got my eye on an apartment near Prospect Park.”
Mario playfully pats his shoulder and congratulates him on his choice.
“There you go! We’ll be neighbors again. What’s going on with your brothers?”
Steve presents a concerned expression before replying.
“The whole family’s going in different directions. My parents are planning to go back to the island, one of my brothers moved out of state and the other three you know about. Robert has no plans of leaving Bay Ridge. The ordained priest was transferred to a diocese in Connecticut and his evil counterpart is still on the run, weird eh?”
Shaking his head, Mario’s normally jovial face transforms into a somber semblance. Gripping Steve’s right arm as a gesture of friendship he offers solace.
“Sorry to hear it, you guys were so close I didn’t think you would ever separate. Your brother Robert stops by every once in awhile, what a character, everybody likes him.”
They continue reminiscing, bringing each other up to date on neighborhood changes until Steve glances at his watch. With a startled look, he announces the possibility of his demise if he doesn’t meet up with a waiting wife.
They separate laughing with a promise to meet in the near future.
Staring at Steve’s figure moving down the street, Mario sighs. He considers every youngster a son he’s never had. At age fifty-two Mario advanced to a place in time where thoughts of having failed in nature’s scheme of parenthood periodically surface to torment him. His only consolation’s the dozen or more boys converted into upstanding citizens because of something he said or did. Evidence of this occurs each time a youth wanders in to offer appreciation for his influence. His method of do as I say and not as I do sometimes pays off. The thing most of his listeners appreciate is the manner in which the advice is presented. Mario uses a natural laid back attitude which serves to transmit a take it or leave it message. Those that refuse to follow his advice sometimes live to regret it. One such person is Al, Steve’s brother. As a teen, Al began idolizing mobsters. Mario picked up on his conversations and soon realized the probability of another youngster preparing to go down the toilet. When confronted regarding his beliefs, Al became defensive. Soon after, he stopped hanging out with the others. This sent signals the kid was sucked into the dark side, sponsored by some crazy mobster intent in dragging another poor young soul into hell. Whoever it was didn’t have to pull hard. Al didn’t need to be convinced, he was already sold on the idea to join the mob. The sad part is he was used like a cheap prostitute.
In the mob, regardless if you speak, act or seem Italian, Porto Ricans are not treated the same, unless of course it was to run numbers in Spanish Harlem. In 1955 the mob needed to carry out a hit that couldn’t be linked to any of the five families, Al was the perfect patsy. He’s been running ever since, rumors have it he’s already dead but occasional sightings dispute this. Mario’s interference and recommendations avoided violent reprisals against the remaining brothers. Although five years have passed since the incident, Steve continues to suffer from nightmares.
EXCERPT from FIVE UNSUAL STORIES for sale in authorsden.com
The plot includes a desperate man searching for an idea stolen long ago and his expected simple solution transforming into a life and death experience.