Everyone who knew Angelo Capodano loved him. He considered everyone around him to be his family, and he always made sure to help out family first. The rat-man would give out of his own wallet to pay his friends' debts and pull strings to land them jobs, rarely asking for anything back. If he owed a favor, he made it a personal policy to pay it back ten-fold.
His greatest boon was his ability to charm almost anyone. Angelo would invite himself over to an associate’s house for dinner, entertaining them with stories of growing up as a 5th child with no father in an apartment built for two. He would dance with his host’s wife, and, if berated, would offer his hand to the host as well. Impressive, considering most folks wouldn’t come within 10 feet of another rat-man.
He was very well connected, and it seemed like he always knew the right person for every situation. Angelo knew the old Mayor Whitecliff on a first-name basis, and even shook hands with the governor twice. He always maintained a positive impression on those he talked to. To the day when they finally took him away, I had yet to meet a single person who held a grudge against him. Although to be fair, I met plenty at the trial.
With the line of work we were in, that positive impression was kind of a necessity. Even though the boss did the best he could to hide it, we all knew that what we were doing could also be classified as “extralegal.” Angelo had a claw in so many restaurants, auto-part shops, and laundromats, we were surprised the man had enough time to sleep. With the time he put in, and the sheer volume of wealth he gave out without the expectation of repayment, the money he was making from his dinky little mom-and-pop shops just didn’t add up.
It was three years ago when the IRS made this same realization and looked into some of Angelo’s more successful ventures. The writing was on the wall, and the police took many of us in for questioning. Dozens of people close to the Don himself were interrogated, all to build the biggest money laundering case the state had seen for four decades. In the end, Angelo had the choice to reduce his own sentence by divulging the names of everyone else who worked with and around him. To his credit, though, Angelo may have been a rat, but he wasn’t a rat. He refused to implicate any other associate by name.
Even then, he couldn’t shield us completely from the arm of the law. Two of Angelo’s brothers are serving time for trafficking charges, and another one of his associates is joining him for an effective life sentence after accumulating hundreds of blackmail charges. As for me, none of my older “jobs” were uncovered by the investigation, but after finding my signature on the balance sheet of a pizzeria with profits that seemed just a bit too high, I got sent to the slammer for my own 6-month stint and received a hefty fine. It was a mess to try to fix up my life after that, but after a year of good behavior and careful management, I’ve gone back to doing what I was doing before I worked for the don. I have my own mechanic shop out on Maple Road and 24th Street. I’d be lying if I said it payed half as well as the old gig, but no one gets hurt, and at least I don’t have to worry about the fuzz anymore.
It had been a year and a half since I served my time when I heard anything from the family. It was a freezing January morning, and it had snowed two inches the night before. I had made a small fortune the month earlier switching tires, and had just invested in new brake lathe to speed up brake jobs at the shop. I had just parked my Toyota Celica in the lot when I noticed a skinny looking bastard with white fur standing in front of the main entrance. I recognized the familiar pinstripe suit, the trademark of a made man.
When I realized this, I cursed under my breath, drawing a revolver out from my glove compartment. Today wouldn’t be the day I got whacked. With care, I slipped the revolver into my coat and prepared myself mentally for an upcoming confrontation.
I stepped out of my car and slammed the door shut, catching his attention. He held his hands rested at his sides as he stared me down.
“Hey Tony!” I shouted. “It’s been quite a while, bud. Your car need an inspection or something?”
The rat’s fur bristled as he walked toward me. “You already know I don’t do business with scum like you,” he said, poking a claw into my chest when he finally reached me. “Maybe you thought the rest of the family wouldn’t notice when you cashed your chips as soon as things got tough, but that shit doesn’t get past me.”
I brushed Tony’s hand away and sized him up, checking him to see if he was carrying. “I didn’t say a word about you or anyone, and I served my time. I’ve paid off my debts and I’m allowed to fucking retire.” I pushed him aside and made my way towards the door of my shop. “If you want to hold that against me, Tone, go ahead. I don’t give a rat’s ass what you think of me, no offense.”
The rat snarled. “You may not be a dirty snitch, but you’re still a disgrace in my eyes, Manzarelli. When someone gets involved in our thing, they’re in it until death. You took an oath.”
“If you’re just here to berate me for cleaning up my act, then beat it.” I paid little mind to my former associate as I unlocked the door and started to open up shop. “I’m sure you have better things to do with your time, and I don’t need some thug sonuva bitch losing me business.”
The rat grunted. “Believe me when I say that I would have never reached out had it not been on the orders of the big man himself. He has a message for you.”
Tony reached deep within his jacket and withdrew a tied manila envelope, thrusting it into my hands. “Read it when you’re alone.” With that, the rat pulled his hat over his eyes and walked away.
I held the envelope in my grasp for a few moments, inspecting it for any signs of trickery. Then, looking around for any potential watchers, I stuffed the envelope in my own jacket and walked through the door. There, in the yet-unlit space of the auto-shop. I opened the drawer to my desk and shoved the envelope in, unopened. I didn’t want to start my day on that bullshit, so I figured I’d get around to reading it after work.
What followed was a mostly uneventful shift. My employees started coming in at about 8:45 AM, and handled most of the minor jobs. Some folks came around for a tire change, and some others came in for spare parts or an inspection. I spent most of the day filling out paperwork and counting revenues, and spent half an hour at the end of the shift teaching myself and my workers how to use the new lathe. All in all, a productive, if boring, day.
I grabbed my hat from the rack and was about to close up shop when I saw a curious sight. Two rat-men were getting into what looked like a heated debate across the street. It seemed as if one was getting winding up a punch when the bus arrived at the stop, and then the two figures disappeared when the vehicle left.
The exchange reminded me of the parcel I had received from my unwelcome guest, and I took it out of its place to hide once again in my coat. I started to sweat in the freezing air, as if the envelope was filled with hot coals. I waded through the fresh snow and jumped into my car, pushing the envelope into my glove compartment with my revolver. I didn’t want to take any risk of me getting seen with it. I drove back to my apartment, parked my Celica in the garage complex, and walked into the building, envelope held tightly to my chest.
The doorman of my building greeted me with a smile. “Evening, Mr. Manzarelli, how was your day?”
I kept it brief. My time in prison made me paranoid about giving away too many details, and I didn’t want to reveal the envelope to anyone. “It was long, to say the least. Need to sleep it off.”
“Understood.” He turned away from me, and I walked into a crowded elevator and punched the button for the 11th floor. After a near eternity listening to insufferable Muzak over the tinny speakers, accentuated by the full stop the lift made on each floor, it finally reached 11, and I ushered my own way out. Fumbling with my keys in one hand, I opened the door to my apartment and took off my coat, placing the secret envelope on my coffee table. Finally, safe from unwanted eyes, I tore open the top and removed the letter, reading through every word.
“To my comrade, Dominic,” it began, “We have had many a laugh and many a drink together over the last decade. It was you who helped me keep my finances in line so I could keep up with all of my work without the worry of needless expense. It was you who made sure my businesses ran smoothly in my absence. And it was in you who I confided my secrets in my darkest of days.”
“I write this letter not as a command for a subordinate or even as one of a bargain between colleagues, but rather as a request from a friend. I’ve heard rumors that you don’t associate with the Capodano family anymore. That you cleaned up your act, and that the rest left you to fix your own life only because you didn’t squeal. I’m impressed by your show of loyalty, and I want to catch up with you soon. No odd jobs, no book cooking, just a visit to an old friend. Come to Saint Germaine’s State Prison on Thursday of this week if you can. Thursday is when my guys are on duty and they’ll let you in no problem. Fill out the visiting form there.”
“It isn’t lost on me that you may think this little rendezvous risky, or otherwise a waste of time. I place faith in your good will that you’ll honor the wish of a friend. Until Thursday, I’ll wait for your visit.”
I held the letter in my hand for a few minutes reading it over and over, unsure of how to think or feel. I put the letter on my coffee table, and headed for the bathroom to wash my face. Leaning over the sink, I stared into the mirror at a pudgy 30-something mechanic. “It may not be as fancy as what I did before, but it’s a lot more honest. Pull yourself together, Dom! Do you really want to risk losing everything again just to see a friend you haven’t talked to in two years? What if this is some kind of trick to get back in your good graces? What if he wants to bring you back in the fold?”
Water poured from the spigot into the basin, where it splashed my hands and face and dribbled down my chin onto the floor. “You aren’t a Mafioso anymore, Dom, and you weren’t much of one to begin with.” I turned off the water, took off my coat and hung it up on the rack. My apartment was cluttered and messy, so I got to work making sure I put everything in its place. I checked all my drawers 3 times over, then returned to the coffee table, where the letter waited.
Grabbing it from the desk, I had half a mind to tear it into shreds until in the corner of my eye flashed a reminder of the life I had left behind. Framed on the wall was a picture taken years ago, one of my old associates having a laugh at the bar. In the center stood a plump Angelo Capodano, mouth open and eyes closed in the midst of a hearty laugh. On his right with an arm around his shoulder was a younger and more fit yours-truly.
It all started to come back to me in flashes. Every book I cooked to keep operations running away from the eagle-eye of Uncle Sam. The vacant stares of junkies, high on drugs I myself once smuggled. The cold mask of terror that continues to haunt me today, frozen on the face of a man who knew only a little too much. Every sin I had done as a part of our thing, almost all of which I escaped without consequence.
Consequence I escaped of course, with the help of Capodano himself. At the trial, he did his best to take the blame for or cover up my own crimes. It jogged my memory of all times we shared a table for a meal, toasting to our successes and forgetting our failures. All of the nights we went out, killing the time by flirting and dancing with pretty little things knowing that nothing could ever come of it. Even the late-night calls between us, the few times I got to see the true Angelo, behind all of the gangster swagger and bravado. A flawed man fighting against the law to bring himself and the people close to him up.
“The old rat might have been a devil for all of his misdeeds, but Angelo always treated me well. The man made sure I had a second chance to start over once I got out of prison. And how do I repay him?” Guilt started to weigh in my heart. “Not a letter, not a phone call, nothing! I let the big man down.” The room stood still and silent as I ruminated over my failures.
I looked once more at the letter in my hands, now stained with bitter tears. “No. This is my chance to redeem myself as a friend. I owe that much to him after all he’s done for me.” With my mind set, I pulled myself up and marked the date and location in my calendar. It wouldn’t have been right to leave the Don waiting for nothing, after all.