Episode 3: The Widow’s Tale – Part 1

I watched her as she wrapped her lips around the cigarette again. The tip glowed cherry, bathing her pale skin momentarily with the light of the fire that burns down below. Fair warning, if you’re into that Sunday School stuff. The glow faded but my feeling that this was not going to be an ordinary job stuck with me like a long needle just brushing the skin at the base of my skull. Best to move forward then.

“What sort of help?” I asked.

She gestured toward the darkness out of which she had risen. “May we speak in private?”

I looked at the shlubs lining the bar. Not much danger there. Still, she was my meal ticket and the booze wouldn’t be too far away. I gestured for her to lead the way. Before she turned she called out to Jake, “Another Scotch for Mr. Lowell, and another Manhattan for myself. Not so much Vermouth this time.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Jake said in the most polite voice I had ever heard him use. “I’ll bring ’em on over to ya.”

She flashed him a smile. “Thanks, Jake.” Jake smiled back. His face, surprisingly, was capable of the expression without cracking. She turned and swept into the booth in the farthest, darkest corner.

Among a certain type that booth is legendary. It’s the booth where Louie the Skunk shook hands with Precinct Captain O’Malley, giving Louie Control of a large slice of Midtown, the booth where Six Finger Frankie proposed to a dancer named Lorraine before she took off with Old Ed in Frankie’s car, and it’s the booth where Lumpy Gannett accidentally shot himself twelve times with his revolver. There’s a mystique surrounding that booth, and it repels those who don’t belong. Maybe the faint smell of corruption and blood speaks to some part of the human animal, pushing them away. If she noticed it she was unaffected.

I settled myself across from her in that booth and our drinks weren’t far behind. She sipped her drink delicately and nodded, dismissing the hovering Jake. I took a sip of my own hooch. “What can I do for you, Miss…?” I finally asked.

“Fanutti. Lola Fanutti. You may have heard of my late husband.”

The excellent Scotch turned sour in my mouth. Everyone had heard of Vittorio Fanutti. Until last winter when they hoisted his car from the icy East River with Fanutti still and blue in the back seat. The papers had carried it on the front page with lurid photos. Fanutti had walked the tightrope between legitimacy and the underworld; he had money and he was using the money to buy power. He planned to be mayor one day and what he wanted he usually got. People weren’t so worried about where a man’s dough came from in those days, as long as he spent it.

When Fanutti got hitched to a girl from out of town there was much talk but not much substance. She seemed to appear from out of nowhere, and the courtship was brief. The wedding was a spectacle, with all the big shots from the East Coast in attendance. Everyone wanted to know who the girl was. The rumor Fanutti denied loudly every chance he got was that she was a Contessa from the old country down on her luck. He denied it just often enough to make sure most people thought the story was true. I’d seen per picture in the society pages and I had heard that she was a real looker, but nothing prepared me for the real thing. She was a lady, all right, but she was no Contessa.

I sat across looking at Mrs. Fanutti and I knew I was out of my league. That the man had been connected there was no doubt. If she was coming to me that meant she didn’t want any of her former husband’s associates involved, which meant they weren’t going to be happy about whatever it was she wanted me to do.

I have two rules in life: know who the boss is and don’t make the boss mad. I kissed San Francisco goodbye, at least for another day. At least I’d gotten a couple of drinks out of her first.

“You’re about to tell me you can’t help me,” she said. The Kentucky in her voice got a bit stronger as the Manhattan reached her head.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I have a fondness for my shoes.”

“Your shoes?”

“Yeah, I prefer them to the cement kind. Especially when I’m swimming.”

“You haven’t even heard what I need you to do.”

“It doesn’t matter, sister. Not with the sharks you have swimming in your pool.”

“Please, Mr. Lowell. It can’t hurt you to at least have another drink and listen.”

I wasn’t so sure she was right, but she had a persuasive way about her.

Tune in next time for the conclusion of: The Widow’s Tale!

14 thoughts on “Episode 3: The Widow’s Tale – Part 1

  1. Well, it’s not Saturday anymore, but the good news is that since this crap pretty much writes itself this episode came out quite long and I split it in half. Next week’s episode is almost done!

  2. So where do some phrases come from? “she was my meal ticket” is so familiar to us all, but what the heck is a meal ticket? I’ve never had a meal ticket. I pay cash, or plastic. Has anyone read Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue? I understand he does a good job explaining how our language came to be. That’s high on my reading list. Right now I’m reading his Notes from A Small Island. It’s pretty darn funny.

    Also, this passage is fun reading. It’s not pulitzer or anything. However the description of the booth is beautiful – good stuff. I’ll reread it just to hear that booth described again.

    re: your poem poll – I too miss the poems (I comment elsewhere that Melinda wrote an especially good one) – I don’t think you should limit us to one idea ala’ the poll. I think you should make a poems only page, and you should retire some of the old poems to it. And you should give higher priority to new poems. I’m not a big fan of the random poem generator either – I see haikus by pL and Brian all of the time (no dig against their poems), and I have seen my limerick once and John’s limerick once. Random number generators are notorious for not being very good, and there is even literature in the science journals about the problem – they need a seed number, and it seems the seed isn’t very random. Also, you inspired a lot of poems eons ago when you wrote some and put ’em on the poems anyone page. Where’s your next poem?

  3. heh heh heh… now that pL is in MDT, and my only real competition is Brian in EDT, I can hammer these comments before anyone wakes up and knock everyone off the recent comments list. Avast matey! arrr

  4. One interesting thing about sequences of random numbers – when people look at them they don’t seem very random. Truly random numbers are not evenly distributed. But you knew that already. I have no idea how random the random number generator is on your computer, but if it’s been running for a while the seed shouldn’t be an issue.

    I will be making a poems page; right now I’m trying to figure the place to put it that is the least amount of work when I add new poems. It will also allow me to put up longer poems that would not fit in the header.

    Bring on the Limericks! Help me find the 3-stanza haiku pL wrote some time ago!

    Finally, as far as writing my own poems, I thought I would be more prolific in that department, but I seem to be very prosy of late.

  5. Interesting thought about the term “meal ticket.” For me, it always referred to the card that one bought at school that allowed ten punches, each of which purchased a school lunch.

    That concept is thoroughly gone now, since we write a check, which Gerald takes to the school lunch people, who take the check and enter the balance in a computer, and when he gets lunch, the amount is deducted from his account.

    But going back to the older definition of meal ticket, how far back did that kind of meal ticket exist? And did that kind of meal ticket apply to people other than kids in school? Like maybe factory workers or other blue-collar grunts?

    I see an opportunity for somebody to do a major research project here.

  6. There is a radio show on KPBS (you can listen on kpbs.org) that discusses just this kind of thing every week. It’s on Sundays at (I think) 11 am Pacific time. The schedule will be on the Web site.

  7. In my hand is a mystery meal ticket

    as I pick up and dial the phone

    to ask if we’ll reap a bumper crop

    before any of those cows come home

    Miss Congeniality is out in the hall

    where she’s sewing her heart to her sleeve

    she’d rather a sow’s ear, than the hair of the dog

    but she sips it ’cause it helps her to grieve

    flip the coin, it’s a turn of the phrase

    that struts in these cat’s pajamas

    from who, from why, from where art thou?

    you old saws that drive us bananas

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