tagMatureIn a Stranger's Eyes

In a Stranger's Eyes

bydarkoverlord6©

This story is for the April Fools Day contest 2019. Please remember to vote at the end, and thanks for taking the time to read my work.

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The car doors of the big sedan slammed shut as the two men sprinted into the nearby diner to get out of the steady drizzle that was falling from the sky. It was a typical spring day in the big city with folks shuffling to and fro on their way to whatever concerns gave meaning to their lives.

They had chosen the diner across from the seedy motel for their lookout rather than sitting in their car both because it offered a better vantage point and because it served a decent cup of coffee.

Lenny Lucchesi slid into the battered old booth by the front window ignoring the duct tape that covered a large hole in the upholstery. His nephew, Marco, took a seat across from him picking up a menu that was pinned between the condiments and the napkin holder.

"We don't have time to eat, Kid," said Lenny.

"Come on, Uncle Lenny, I missed breakfast this morning. I'll split a B.L.T. with you. How about that?"

Lenny shook his head.

The sad tone in the younger man's voice brought back memories of him as a child begging for money for the ice cream truck as it toiled down the street. He could picture young Marco, his chubby legs churning like mad as he fought to keep up with the other kids on the block desperate to stake his claim to a fudge bar. The memory was in contrast to the twenty-four-year-old who sat before him. This older Marco was chubby no longer. He had grown into a strapping young man with coal dark, curly hair and a five o'clock shadow that made him appear even more grown up.

"Can I get you, fellas, anything?"

Marco smiled at the perky red-headed waitress, and she beamed back at him with interest. Lenny smirked glancing briefly out the window. This was typical. Women usually fell all over Marco. He bore a strong resemblance to the actor Ryan Gosling, and Marco wasn't above working that quirk to his advantage.

"Just coffee I guess, and a danish if you could rustle one up for me, Gorgeous," said Marco throwing in a wink for good measure.

The waitress, whose name tag read "Trish," smiled even bigger revealing her smoke stained teeth.

"Sure...and you, sir?"

"Just coffee is fine," replied Lenny in his rich baritone.

Trish skittered away throwing one last look over her shoulder at Marco.

"Do you have to flirt with every woman we run into? You don't need that kind of distraction when we're on the job," said Lenny.

"You're just jealous because no self-respecting woman would want to look at your ugly mug," shot back Marco with a chuckle.

Lenny smiled and looked out the window again keeping an eye on the building across the street. The window partly reflected his own image back at him. He thought his nephew was being harsh for making a joke about his looks. In reality, Lenny was holding up pretty well for a forty-seven-year-old who had led the life he had. His short, dark hair was still mostly free of gray with just a few wisps around the sides to remind him he was definitely on the way down the mountain not up. The face that stared back at him was plain, but handsome, with wide-set green eyes, and firm lips. His nose had been broken a few times in various scraps, but he thought its slightly misshapen look gave him character.

"Who is this guy again?" asked Marco.

"You need to pay better attention when we're briefing on these things. I'm not always going to be around to watch out for you," admonished Lenny.

"Sorry...Geez. Who peed in your cereal this morning?"

"Never mind. His name is Stuart Parsons, and he owes the family money. He was given multiple chances to pay it back and is in default."

"Poor, Mr. Parsons. He should have gone to a bank. They don't send guys like us to find you when you don't pay back your loans."

"I don't think a bank was an option for a guy like Parsons," replied Lenny.

"I suppose not..."

The waitress returned with the coffee and Marco's danish pouring each man a steaming cup.

"Anything else I can get for you?" she asked never taking her eyes off Marco.

"Nothing right now...but maybe."

A sharp look from Lenny cut Marco off mid-sentence, and he sighed, "Nothing, thanks."

Trish walked off looking disappointed.

"Did you give my Dad this much shit when he was your partner?"

Lenny didn't answer right away. The question sent his mind back across the years to a different time and place — a dark alley on 5th Avenue, his brother's bleeding body cradled in his arms. The hit had gone sideways in every way possible. The mark was dead, but Lenny had a bullet wound in his calf to show that he hadn't gone down without a fight. His brother had fared even worse. The man they were after was supposed to be alone, but he had a bodyguard no one had counted on. That fellow had put two rounds in his brother's chest before Lenny had been able to bring him down.

"Lenny..." whispered his brother weakly blood frothing across his lips.

"I'm here Pauli...I'm going to get you out of here just hang on!"

A bloody hand grabbed at the sleeve of his leather jacket pulling him closer.

"Take care of my boy...Lenny! Please...watch...out...for...Marco..."

He had done as his brother had asked. Little Marco had been just fourteen when his Dad had died bleeding out in a dirty alley. The kid's mother had abandoned ship when he was still in diapers, and Pauli Lucchesi had raised him practically alone. Marco had come to live with his Uncle Lenny afterward, and against Lenny's advice, his nephew had chosen to follow in his father's footsteps. Being a paid assassin for the Riccoli crime family had its perks, but Lenny doubted it was the life his brother would have wanted for his only child. It was certainly a life that had begun to take a toll on Lenny who had seen more bloodshed then he cared to remember.

"I never gave him more than he gave me. You're a lot like your old man. He was a smart ass with a pretty face like you."

"Awhhh! Thanks, Uncle Lenny. I love you too."

Lenny looked back out into the haze of a dreary day. The moving crowd outside had thinned somewhat since he and Marco had taken their seats. The weather was probably discouraging people from wanting to go out. A stooped older gentleman in a worn trench coat approached the front of the hotel, and Lenny sat up higher in the booth.

"That's our guy."

"The bald dude in the trench coat?"

"Yeah. We're going to play it like this, Marco. I'll follow him in and get the room number. This should be a quick in and out, so I need you to cover the back in case he runs."

"Wait! Are you going it alone? How many times have you told me that two guys watching each others backs is a hundred times safer?"

"About as many times as I've told you never question what I'm telling you to do. Just go around back and keep an eye on the exit."

"Fine, Uncle Lenny..."

They waited for their mark to enter the building then Lenny dropped some cash on the table to pay for their order, and they left. Marco gave him a disgruntled look but did as he was told slipping across the street and darting down the alley next to the building to cover the back. Lenny marched straight into the lobby taking in the shabby furniture and paint peeling from the walls.

The Ritz-Carlton this place was not.

"Good afternoon. I'm looking for a friend, and I think I just saw him come in here. A bald guy in a trench coat. Did you see him?" Lenny asked the clerk while pulling back his leather jacket enough to reveal the butt of his 9mm handgun tucked in its shoulder holster. The gun combined with his general look screamed mob gangster, and it was clear from how pale the clerk's skin had gone that he had made that conclusion himself.

"I don't want any t...t...trouble," he stammered.

"There won't be any if you give me the room number."

The clerk looked around the lobby licking his dry lips, "3B."

Lenny nodded in a friendly way and walked over to the rickety looking elevator stepping inside and punching the button for the third floor. The noisy mechanism cranked into life carrying him upward. When he stepped out of the elevator, the floor was thankfully empty, and he paused to screw a silencer onto the weapon he pulled from under his jacket.

The door that read "3B" was so paper thin he doubted it would provide much protection for the man on the other side. He could probably shoot him through it and not even go inside, but that wouldn't be very professional. At least there was no peephole to give his mark a heads up on what was about to happen.

He knocked softly.

"Who is it?" came a scared sounding voice from the other side.

"Manager! We got a complaint about the noise coming from your room."

"I don't know what you're talking about. I haven't even been here until just now!"

"Sir, could you open the door so we can talk about this like men. It's a bit ridiculous talking through a closed door."

There was a long moment of silence from the other side.

"If you want to be this way about it I can always call the cops..."

That did the trick.

"O.K. Just hang on a second."

The door swung open but stopped at the end of the chain. Lenny could make out the side of Stuart Parsons face peeking around the corner of the aged wood. The one eye he could see widened in fear and surprise as Lenny threw his shoulder into the door easily snapping the thin chain. Stuart went flying backward as the door slammed into his chest landing in a heap on the floor while Lenny calmly stepped into the room shutting the door behind him.

"Please...Don't hurt me! I...I can pay the money back I swear!"

Stuart had raised himself part way up off the floor reaching out with one hand in supplication like a good Catholic holding out his palm for Communion. Lenny pointed his weapon taking careful aim at the center of Stuart's head.

"This isn't personal, Stuart. It's just business. You had plenty of opportunities to make restitution, so now comes the penalty for late payment."

"Please! I'm begging you! I swear I have the money! I just this morning got the last of it together...Please...Please..." begged Stuart.

Lenny's finger brushed across the trigger, but he hesitated. He had been in this situation more times then he could count. It was always the same, the begging, the whining, promises that it would never happen again. This situation ended in the past with a brief muzzle flash, and him vanishing like he had never existed. This was who he was, and this was the job.

Yet, still, he hesitated.

"Show me the money, Stuart."

Shaking like an old man with palsy, Stuart managed to pull himself to his feet and opened a drawer in the chest next to him pulling out a paper bag. He tossed it in front of Lenny sending banded bundles of cash spilling out of the open end.

"It's all there...All of it..."

Lenny toed the stack closest to his foot. Then leaned down, careful not to take his eyes off Stuart, and put the money back into the bag picking it up off the floor. He raised his weapon sighting right down the barrel.

"By all rights, you should be a corpse right now. You understand that, right Stuart?"

The bald head nodded.

"You're going to leave town, Stuart. I mean right now. You're going to leave and never show your face around here again. If I find out you're still here after midnight tonight, I will hunt you down and bury you so deep they won't find you for a thousand years. Do you understand?"

"Yesss...I...I understand."

"Don't fuck with me on this Stuart. I would have made it quick now. If you fuck with me and I catch you out, I'm going to kill you very slowly and I promise you will die screaming."

"I get it...I'm gone...You will never see me again..."

Lenny put away his gun and moved to leave, but turned back briefly, "Oh...and I would change pants before you go. A guy walking around with piss stains down his trousers is pathetic."

The rain outside had slacked off, and a few hints of sunshine were peeking through the gray clouds. Lenny sat behind the wheel while Marco sat next to him counting the contents of Stuart Parsons's paper bag.

"It's all here. I guess it was too bad he didn't get it sooner, huh?"

"I guess so..."

"Did he whine and beg before you took the shot? I hate when they do that, you would think at least once in a while you would meet a guy who wanted to go with a little dignity."

"It's easy to say that when you've never been on the other end of the barrel, Kid."

Marco laughed softly dropping the closed bag between his feet.

"You're in a gloomy mood today, Uncle Lenny."

"Must be the rain."

"I think the worst part is that look they get in their eyes when they know the end is coming and there ain't shit they can do about it. You know what I mean?"

"What do you say we talk about something else, or better yet nothing at all."

"O.K. Uncle Lenny I get it."

They drove in silence for a short while before Marco turned on the radio. He switched stations until the old car was filled with the sounds of what passed for music among America's youth today.

Lenny winced, "What is this noise?"

"It's called modern music, Uncle. Maybe you should try to get with the times."

"I don't know how you call this music," he shot back reaching down to adjust the dial.

Lenny found an oldies station and the music of a bygone era filled the car.

"Oh man! How do you listen to this crap? It was old even when you were a kid."

The music may have been old, but it brought back memories of his father. He had grown up listening to his old man play Bobby Darin records on their stereo before he left for the factory in the morning. These were the sounds of his childhood along with The Four Seasons and The Platters. It was the music that had been the soundtrack to many family events, and now that his Mom and Dad were dead it was the music that made him feel close to them again.

"You need to learn to appreciate the past, Marco. Just because something is old doesn't mean it has no value."

"Like you?"

"Fuck you, smart ass."

They both laughed.

Lenny pulled up a short time later in front of a brick apartment building. The neighborhood was nicer than the one they had left earlier, but still far from what would be considered affluent. Marco hopped out.

"Keep your nose clean tonight! I don't want to have to bail you out of jail again for getting drunk in the wrong part of town."

"That was a one-time thing, Uncle Lenny!"

"Yeah, Right. That was what you said when I got you out after that fight you had with that married ladies husband. I seem to recall that happening again a few months later."

"Can I help it if I'm irresistible to women? If their husbands were doing the job, they wouldn't need me."

"Goodnight, Marco."

His nephew stepped back from the car, and Lenny pulled away waving into the rear view as he turned the corner.

THE MEETING -

Lenny had been in The Don's home on many occasions over the years, but never on business before today. Don Luigi Riccoli had been head of the Riccoli crime family for more than thirty years. He had risen to power after his father had died of a heart attack on a fishing trip. It was Luigi who had first recruited Lenny to work for the family when he was just seventeen much to the displeasure of Lenny's father. Mike Lucchesi never wanted to see his son working for The Mob, but jobs were hard to come by, and he had been forced to turn a blind eye to his eldest son's choice of vocation. When his younger son, Pauli, had followed in Lenny's footsteps it had been even harder to bear, and Pauli's death had left Mike a shell of the man he had been. To the day he died, Mike had lamented that he didn't try harder to keep his son's away from people like Luigi Riccoli.

"Come in boys!" called Don Luigi from inside his ornately decorated office.

Lenny and Marco entered the room feeling like they had come for an audience with the Pope. Don Luigi had always been a short man, and slight of build, but the encroaching years had made his frail appearance even more prominent. He rose unsteadily from the large leather chair where he sat behind an oak desk coming around to shake Lenny's hand.

"Lenny, you're looking good. Still in fighting trim, eh?" he said playfully poking the bigger man in the ribs with his small fist.

"I'm doing o.k. Don Luigi."

"How about you, Marco? Staying away from the married ladies?"

Marco grinned but declined to answer merely giving a half-hearted shrug of his shoulders.

"Ah! Well, when I was your age, I couldn't keep it in my pants either!"

Lenny looked around the room at the trappings of wealth and power. He imagined that just the artworks on the walls alone could fund the running of a small city. His eyes settled on the far corner where Don Luigi's right-hand man, Carmine Salvatore, stood quietly back in the shadows. Lenny had never cared for him. For one thing, his hair lip made it appear as if his face was frozen in a permanent sneer, but even if that hadn't been the case, Carmine had a reputation for duplicity and backstabbing that was second to none. It was a puzzle why Don Luigi trusted him with so much responsibility. Lenny had often wondered if it was more a case of Don Luigi wanting to keep a watchful eye on his ambitious lieutenant, so he made sure he held him close at hand.

"I'm sure you're wondering why I called you here?"

"Since it isn't your birthday I have to admit to some curiosity," replied Lenny.

"Gentlemen. I have a problem, and I need your assistance. It's a very delicate matter and must be kept in confidence."

"That goes without saying, Don Luigi."

The old Don took a seat sighing as he spoke, "I am afraid that a war may be brewing between our family and that of Don Manzano."

The mention of Don Manzano brought forth a flash of memory for Lenny. He had met the head of the Manzano crime family once about five years earlier. A big, bull of a man with short hair slicked back on his head, Manzano had not made a favorable impression. He was a vicious sociopath who was quick to anger, and even quicker to bury anyone who he felt threatened his position. The Riccoli family had kept an uneasy truce with the Manzano family over the years based on mutual self-interest.

"I'm sorry to hear that war rarely benefits either family."

"Too true. Many members of the family would agree with that statement. I think this time it may be unavoidable though."

"How can we help you? You want us to take him out?"

"Oh! Lenny! I wish it were that easy! I surely do," cackled Don Luigi in his high-pitched laugh that dissolved into a coughing fit.

Carmine Salvatore moved for the first time since Lenny and Marco had entered the room going to pour the old Don a glass of water and helping him sip the liquid.

"Thank you, Carmine."

"No, Lenny. You could never get close to Manzano he is protected better than Fort Knox. I have a different job for you. The thing is a certain faction in the Riccoli family, namely one run by my cousin Donnie, has seen this chaos as an opportunity to force me out."

"They can't do that you can only resign; it's not like this is a democracy."

"No it isn't, but I am afraid they might try to get some leverage on me to force me to do that very thing while using my admittedly poor health as a pretext for resignation."

"What could they use for leverage?" asked Lenny.

"The answer to that question is where you come in."

Don Luigi pressed a button under his desk and a moment later a side door into the office opened.

"I think you've met my daughter, Grace."

"It's been a while..."

Lenny hadn't seen Grace Riccoli since her thirteenth birthday. She had been sent away shortly after to a boarding school in Italy. He had heard rumors of her return to the States the previous year, but this was the first time those rumors had been proven to be true. The years had indeed changed her, gone was the skinny girl with pig-tails and braces running around in her designer jeans. The Grace Riccoli that stood framed in the doorway was a full-grown woman now. She stepped into the light, and Lenny heard Marco draw in a breath. He couldn't blame him.

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