The only conversation in the car came from the radio. Two popular morning disc jockeys were going on about organized crime running the disposal business in the city. I didn't have to ask why Penny was so quiet. She joked some about coming along, but I could tell she was annoyed by my last-minute vacation. A getaway to Florida with or without me had to be better than dealing with my two brothers. I was glad the radio filled the silence for a while.
Finally I decided to break the silence. "They're just finding out about that? The mob's been running the garbage business for years!"
"I can't believe you're running away from all this." We were not in the same conversation.
"You're leaving and I have to put up with your two brothers."
"I'm not running away. I'm just taking some time off. What's the big deal?"
"The big deal is with you gone, those two will be dumping everything in my lap. They'll tell me to deal with that guy Richards from Paragon. I don't really feel like playing tour guide to somebody who's probably gonna can my ass."
"He's not gonna can you. The fact is my brothers were made an offer and they accepted it. It's as simple as that. Richard's got nothing to do with it. He's just a guy doing his job."
"Yeah, that's just it. Your brothers were made an offer. Carman and Angelo purposely didn't tell you about it because they knew you'd never approve. They know you're a better businessman than both of them. They hated the fact that you were always one up on them."
"Looks like they were one up on me this time, Penny."
"Did you tell them you were going to Florida?"
"Well, what if they ask me? What should I say?"
"Tell them you think I went away. If they ask where, tell them you don't know."
Penny stared out at the traffic-clogged expressway, her hands tight on the steering wheel. Then she sighed. "Call when you get down there."
"I will. I wonder if Gino's down there. I haven't seen him in years."
For a moment, my old friend Gino's face came to me. I thought of a memorable night years ago. It had made us friends for life.
Gino was hired as a troubleshooter by his father, Albert Dallo, a long-time union guy. When there was a disagreement between the union and a hotel, picket lines would appear. But before the union could demonstrate, they had to check in with the local precinct. The police had to know where and when and who was being picketed and by how many participants.
Some hotel owners paid off the police to go to the scene and use their authority to discourage pickets by harassment and provocation. Any altercation was excuse enough for the police to disburse the pickets. The union had a list of the hotels that paid off and when they picketed one of those hotels Gino would be sent to make sure no one got out of line.
Lieutenant Jack Ryan was a big Irishman with acne-pitted boozer cheeks and coarse, red hair with graying sideburns that hung next to fleshy earlobes. He had a boxer's nose flat and slightly bent-and eyes that always looked bloodshot. In other words an on-the-take bully who used his position to take a cut from any money-making enterprise, legal or illegal. Gino had gone to a picket scene and found Ryan harassing the pickets.
"Hey! What's going on here?" Gino said.
"Who the fuck are you?"
"I'm with the union, officer. What's the problem?"
"Your pickets are causing a disturbance. They've been harassing people trying to get in and out of the hotel."
"That's not true, Gino." One of the members broke away from the line. "This cop's been busting our balls. He threatened me."
Gino glared at Ryan. "I'm gonna hang around and see that no one gets harassed."
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