W - What's in a name?
Joey made the trip to Di Lucco’s place every two weeks to chat to the old man about business. Since the accident the house, a steel and glass monolith overlooking Lake Michigan, was now the base of operations.
Up the elevator, always aware of the closed circuit cameras and out into the lobby with its plush blue, deep pile carpet. He crossed the lobby, rang the bell at the ornate oak doors and waited. The red light above the entrycom came on, they were looking him over. “Hi Bozzi, Joey Primera. Right on time.” The door opened admitting Joey to the marbled hallway.
“Your coat, Sir”, said Bozzi, disregarding, as usual, Joey’s attempt at familiarity.
Three years, Joey thought, three frigging years and never more than ‘yes, no” or “your coat, Sir” out of this guy. He cannot be human. Maybe it’s the effect of being cooped up with the old gimp in this funeral parlour, it sure can’t help.
Joey put down his attaché case and allowed the manservant to help him with his overcoat, which was respectfully hung in the rosewood closet. “Mr. Di Lucco will see you as soon as you have freshened up”, intoned the Butler, pointing to the downstairs restroom.
So the ritual continued. Before seeing the Boss you had to wash your hands and freshen up. It had been this way since the incident, big on hygiene. Al, down at the track, thought the Boss was getting a little crazy, “Ya, know, like Michael Jackson. That guy sleeps in an oxygen tent and his best friend is a Gorilla”. Maybe Bozzi was Di Lucco’s Gorilla. Ideas like that could get a man killed. If the Boss was slipping you certainly didn’t say it. Not unless you wanted your age stabilized.
Joey washed his hands slowly and methodically. “Let the bastard wait”, he thought, “he won’t be running this show for much longer”. He checked his hair, straightened his tie, smiled at his reflection in the mirror and returned to the hall. Bozzi was waiting. “Mr. Di Lucco will see you now, Sir.”
Retrieving his case, Joey followed Bozzi through the huge oak double doors into a well-lit room; natural light reflecting off the Lake, coruscating from the spokes of the electric wheelchair as Di Lucco glided across the room. Christ! Every time Joey came here it hit him. This crazy old has-been could hold the Super bowl in this place while Joey, who ran the business and got his hands dirty still, lived uptown on Belmont, near Wrigley Field. Ok, it was still a long way from the Southside where he began but also a long way to this vanity piece overlooking the Lake. Joey was still working in the rundown Southside with the rats and roaches and most of the neighbours just out on parole. He had done well, and yet Di Lucco kept him there, where was the justice in that?
“Come in, kid, sit down”, said Di Lucco, “Have a drink”. It was always the same on these meetings.
The old man stopped by the glass coffee table and busied himself with some papers. He looked shrunken and tired as he drew on his cigarette. The tip glowed brightly and, for a moment the man’s face was obscured by smoke.
Joey stared unpacking papers from his own case.
“Joey”, said the older man, with a broad grin. ”I want you to try something. Bozzi! Glayva, jug of water and four glasses”.
“Same shit, different day”, thought Joey “One day soon I’m gonna tell him where to stick it”. It seemed every time he came here there was a new drink or pastry the old man wanted him to try. He felt Di Lucco was treating him like some ignorant peasant brat who’d never been out in the world let alone a city.
“Sure, Mr. Di Lucco, I’d be honoured”. Joey knew that with these guys from the ‘old country’ you had to kiss their wrinkly asses the whole time.
Bozzi brought in the tray with the bottle, jug and glasses. “That’s Ok, Bozzi”, said the old man, “I can handle it from here”. Bozzi nodded in acknowledgement and left the room allowing the two men to start their meeting.
Joey poured a glass of water, unbidden, for the old man to drink. This was all part of the same ritual he had learnt over the past three years. The old man took a mouthful of the water, rolled it around is mouth and swallowed. As he replaced his glass he spoke. ”You’ve got to learn, Kid. To appreciate something good like this, you got to clean your palate first.” He beckoned Joey to pour the liqueur.
“Savour it. Roll it around your tongue. What do you think?”
“Good, very good Mr. Di Lucco. Just a bit sweet for me”.
The old man laughed. “Yeah, I got a sweet tooth. My doctor says I got a sugar jones but, fuck him. I’ll outlive that bastard.”
Joey smiled and continued to sip his Glayva. “Don’t try and take that to the bank, old man”, he thought.
Di Lucco quickly scanned the papers Joey had brought, moving them from one side of the desk to the other, slowly building up a pile of documents to his left.
“Good, good, very good”, he muttered as he replaced the last document. “You’re making quite a name for yourself. You’re doing some good work.”
“Thank you, Mr Di Lucco”.
Joey had often wondered what the hell the old man knew, sat up here in his castle. What did he know about names; down on the street the guys called him Il Dolce, the sweet one, and not always out of respect. Joey ran this show!
“Bozzi, hey Bozzi!!” The Butler returned to Di Lucco’s side. “A bottle of the Meursault ’75.” Turning his attention to Joey, he smiled. “I believe that this may be more to your taste. It ain’t crazy expensive like some guys gotta have, it’s a beautiful dry, white Burgundy. Try it, you did good, so enjoy.”
Bozzi brought the opened bottle, the cork still in place in the waiter’s friend. Di Lucco sniffed the cork, approving; he nodded and passed it to Joey who placed it on the table, unsensed.
The Butler cleared away Joey’s liqueur glass and replaced it with a long-stemmed wine glass, poured the straw coloured wine and, pausing only to refill Di Lucco’s glass with the sweet aromatic Glayva, took his leave.
“Now where was I? Oh yeah, you’re making quite a name for yourself.”
Christ, thought Joey, the old man’s finished, he’s off down nostalgia alley now. Every damn time the same bullshit. He fought to contain his agitation, picked up his drink and sipped absentmindedly.
“People are always given names, but no name will fit proper unless it’s earned. I was born Alphonse Michelangelo. That was the name my mother gave me, kind of her hope for me. That’s how she saw my name. I was proud of that name because I loved her and she gave it to me. When I worked in the stockyard, life was hard and I had to be hard to deal with it. My name was still Alphonse, but people called me Al, they gave me that short hard name. When I built my business by muscle and sweat people called me Boss. They gave me that name!” He paused. “Here, have some more wine, good, huh?”
“Yeah, great Mr. Di Lucco.” Joey refilled his glass, took a mouthful and waited for the old man to continue.
“So, like I said kid, names are given, they come to you. So tell me, what’s your name kid?”
“What do you mean, Boss”, Joey gasped. Trouble, this felt like trouble. His thoughts went to the .38 nestling in his shoulder holster and the stiletto in his right sock. If the old man did anything hasty he’d waste him and take the Butler as he came into the room.
“You’re makin’ a name, what kind of name are you makin’?”
“I guess I don’t know”, replied Joey with as much conviction as he could muster, wishing for an end to this uneasy audience.
“Try it another way”, said Di Lucco, “what’s my name?”
Joey looked blankly back. What was he being asked? He cleared his throat, “Il Dolce”. Christ, I actually told him, he thought. Joey drained his glass and replaced it on the table, freeing his hands, ready for action.
“It’s OK, Joey. I know what people call me. I got my eyes and ears everywhere. I know you got bid ideas. When they called you a crazy and a hotshot, that was alright, because you belonged to me. You worked for me and it’s what I think that counts. You always do good work for me and you don’t steal too much, so what the hell!
Joey felt his face glowing red. He was panicked and started to get up but his body would not obey his commands. He fell back into the plush armchair. He strained to reach his gun but still his body would not work. Now he wanted to scream but found he had no voice.
“But” continued the old man, “when people start to call you the “New Boss” and you start to believe it and get greedy”. He roared the word greedy and with the back of his hand swept the neat pile of papers onto the floor. Di Lucco paused and composed himself. When he spoke again it was slowly and emphatically.
“When you’ve lived as long as I have and you’ve got lots of money and, more importantly, the power that money brings, you can rewrite your history. Most people think my name is ”Dolce” because of the sugar Jones but, if they new the history of old Chicago they’d know. They’d know that my name was “Dolce Morte”, “Sweet Death”. That’s because I made sure my marks didn’t suffer, I gave them a ‘sweet death’ like dying in the arms of their lover, or OD’ing on their favourite drug. In your case it’s curare, so don’t bother to try and get up”.
Joey began to gasp for air as the old man stood up from the wheelchair. He stood triumphantly erect and hissed, “I am the Sweet Death and you are just plain dead”.
Walking round the table he slapped Joey hard with his open hand. Joey’s inert body tumbled to the floor to lie in a bed of his own paperwork. The old man returned to his chair, picked up his drink and roared with laughter. “Bozzi, get this piece of shit out of here.”