Billy was short, not short as a minute, but 4-10 short. And he was round. His apple complexion showed no wrinkles, even at forty-five. He might have passed through the world leaving no trace, but he had some particular gifts. He was graceful on his feet and quick with his hands, lizard tongue quick.
Fat Anthony and Vinny picked him off the streets when he was twelve and gave him a job. Plus the tools. A flick of the wrist and a blade or bullet was deep in someone’s chest.
At fourteen, Billy brought home in a month what his father earned in a year. At eighteen he bought his mother and father a house in Brooklyn and an apartment for himself on Bleeker.
He was in no hurry to get married, but when he turned forty, Vinny introduced him to his niece Simona. Angels hovered over the introduction and flitted about when the two were together. There was such an attraction her family advanced the wedding three months.
Billy was a happy man. Until last week. He and Fat Anthony walked into Umberto’s Clam House for lunch. It was late and they were in a hurry. They sat down before the table was cleared. The butcher paper covering the table was filled with drawings.
“Hey, look, this is good. This guy must be an ar-teeste,” Fat Anthony said as he moved the dirty plates around to uncover more sketches. “And look, what a babe!”
“You okay, Billy? You don’t look real good.”
“I’m fine, fine.”
The sketch of the babe was like a statue Billy once saw in a school book, Venus de Milo. The face looked like hers, but the body looked like the one he saw last night. This was a no-doubt-about-it drawing of Simona, the mole under her left breast, the birth mark high on her right thigh
Billy got up in a hurry. “Got to whizz.”
Out of Fat Anthony’s sight, he collared the maitre d’.
“That table? Who was there before?”
“I don’t know Mr. Carlino.” The maitre d’ shrugged.
“But you’re going to find out, right?”
“Definitely, Mr. Carlino,” the maitre d’ said with a bow in his voice. “I can check the credit card slip right now. The name is Michael Phelan.”
“Now you’re going to tell me where he lives.”
The maitre d’ made a call. Phelan lived on Bleeker, in Billy’s building, apartment 4A, two floors down
In the Men’s, Billy splashed some water on his face, took a couple of deep breaths and went back to the table. They had the seafood platter–shrimp, calamari, mussels, and scungilli, then clam linguini, washed down by a couple of bottles of Pinot Grigio. Talked about the new operation in Yonkers
“This one’s on me,” Fat Anthony said when the check came.
Billy was headed uptown, Fat Anthony downtown; they split at the corner of Mulberry. Billy walked back to his building, took the elevator to five, walked down a flight, and knocked at 4A. A tall man, mid-thirties, glasses, jeans and a paint splattered shirt, answered the door.
“You Michael Phelan?”
Phelan looked down at the small round man, annoyed
“Yeah, so? How did you find me here? My paintings are at Agora, down on West Broadway. Did they tell you to come here?”
“Let’s say I was sent by a mutual friend, said we had interests in common and I got something you might care about.”
“Let’s say I don’t care.”
“About this, you might.”
Billy reached into his pocket. A flick of the wrist, a knife, a little shove. Billy looked into Phelan’s eyes.
“Maybe you should have cared more.”