It was a cloudy Saturday afternoon, the kind of dark and rainy weekend that Manhattan was used to. A black Cadillac pulled up to the curb outside Frank’s Pizzeria on the corner of 44th Street and Ninth Avenue. The car’s driver walked to the rear door, opening it to a man inside dressed in a black pinstripe suit and polished white shoes. The man donned his black fedora
as he stepped onto the sidewalk. The chimes on the door of the pizza shop jingled upon the man’s entrance. He had a purpose. He didn’t look like he wanted pizza. Though he was a larger man, maybe he was simply hungry. Unlikely. People didn’t dress like this to come to a hole in the wall like Frank’s.             
     “You got the goods?” the man asked after approaching the counter.
    “You Tony?” said the man behind the counter, only to receive a small nod in approval. “Just a minute.”
    The pizza man walked to the back room, out of sight. Tony, as he was known in this city, looked around at the interior of the empty restaurant. He’d been here many times, but it still felt gaudy to him. The Yankees banners and pictures of the Giants were old and outdated, to provide some sort of mindless nostalgia for the imbeciles who wasted their time with sports. The wallpaper was peeling back and yellow on the edges, likely from the cigarette smoke that had beaten the walls for years. Frank’s was a typical, smelly, C-grade-health-inspection pizza shoppe.
    The man returned with a small cardboard package half the size of a shoebox that had no markings on it. The box seemed to be the only thing in the place that was as clean as Tony. Everything else was covered in grease. The man behind the counter wore an apron that couldn’t have seen a washing machine in ten years. Whether the stains were pizza sauce or blood, Tony didn’t know, or care for that matter. He’d seen enough blood in his days on the streets. This package would bring even more blood, he thought. The idea alone filled Tony with anticipation.             
     “Twenty grand”, said the man as he placed the box on the counter.
    “I was told it would be ten”, said Tony. After all, he was given strict orders. Pay no more than ten thousand for the box. That was all. He wasn’t told what it contained, just that he would acquire it for ten thousand dollars and deliver it to an undisclosed location at sundown. All of these operations worked the same. The negotiated price was the maximum. If that was too unreasonable, necessary action would be taken.
    Tony pulled a brown envelope from the breast pocket of his suit coat and  placed it on the counter next to the package. The pizza man took it up and looked inside. 
    His thick eyebrows pressed together.“There’s only ten here!”
    He turned his head up to Tony, but was met with the business end of a nine millimeter Glock pistol. The expression on his face quickly turned to shock as the color drained from his cheeks. He took a sharp breath in as his hand jumped for the gun under the counter, but before he could reach it, the shot rang out.
    The recoil filled Tony. It resonated through his bones and lingered for a moment. He found a certain thrill in pulling the trigger. It was better than sex, he had always thought. No woman could bring him the heightened pleasure he got from sending a bullet plunging through the air toward his victim. The smack of lead on bone was music to his ears. The cloud of red mist that came from the sound upon impact seemed to hold the body in suspense until it flopped onto the floor like a forgotten rag doll.
    Tony stood in silence, admiring the high he received from his latest kill. After coming back to reality, he pulled his cell phone from his pocket, and pressed four on speed dial. 
    “Clean up at Frank’s”. His people would make it look like a robbery. He didn’t have to kill this man. It wasn’t a part of his job. But Frank’s Pizzeria was not an innocent restaurant. The idea of the pizza shop had been a cover up operation. Behind the counter, they channeled drugs to kids, and guns to the worthless. Even the mafia didn’t want their product falling into the wrong hands.
    Tony picked up the package and the envelope from the counter, and walked toward the door. He could see that it had begun to rain. He looked down at his glossy white shoes. He would have to get them polished again. He didn’t like the rain.
    The chauffeur drove Tony Taminizio across the Island of Manhattan to drop off the package that had cost a man his life today. Tony’s phone rang with a text message twenty minutes earlier, pinpointing a location within Central Park where the final exchange would take place. 
     The package lay on the seat, just to Tony’s left. He wouldn’t let it out of his sight. The more he thought about it, in fact, the more his curiosity wondered what was inside. He could take a peek. The box wasn’t sealed, and nobody would know. Just to open the box slightly and see what has caused such a stir...
    No. Tony had a job to do, and he would do it. There had to be a reason he wasn’t told what was inside. He tried to set his mind on different matters.
    When he was sixteen, Tony had caught a late-night news broadcast, as he often did when his parents were out on the town. Tony always blanked out during the sports broadcast. He never understood why grown men would run around throwing different sized balls at each other. A breaking news story interrupted that night’s recap of the Mets game. The woman’s voice seemed to echo through Tony’s head over and over again. This just in: A drunk driver on the Manhattan Bridge collided with a black Jeep Grand Cherokee at breakneck speeds tonight, sending both vehicles into the East River. Police confirm that John and Lacey Taminizio have been killed in the crash... 
    He distracted himself with the city. He peered out the window of the Cadillac at the metal and glass behemoths that shroud New York. How pointless it all was.  Top floor corner offices, theaters that show the same act countless times, advertisements for touch screen phones: all wastes of time and money. Then there were the people who saturated the streets with their pockets full of dollar bills ready to stuff their faces with the nearest source of fat they could buy. Everyone had their social hubbub about them, each person high and mighty, gloating about why they don’t use the trending websites. It was all petty garbage to Tony. He wouldn’t speak to a single person if it wasn’t a part of his job.             
     For nearly twenty years, Tony had been forced to fight his way through society. His late teenage years were spent on the streets, lowering himself to whatever job would give him his next meal. At seventeen, he was approached by a tall, slender, blue-suited man. He wore a salesman’s grin with a plump cigar between his teeth. The strange man claimed he’d been watching Tony for some time and was impressed by his work ethic, and wanted to provide a place for him to stay. He only ever called the man Don, and Don was the only person to ever gain Tony’s respect.             
     As the overcast clouds began to darken, the Cadillac turned into Central Park from the north, onto Malcolm X Boulevard. After about a minute on the serpentine road, the chauffeur stopped, most likely by order of whoever was in charge. Tony’s phone chirped in his pocket. The display read UNKNOWN CALLER.             
     “Circle the park for thirty minutes”, said the voice on the other end. “Do not ask questions.”             
     The call was ended very abruptly, and Tony was left confused as to why he was given this instruction, and not the driver. He relayed the message, and the car accelerated out of Central Park. 
    Tony found himself holding the box in his hands, weighing it with his mind, trying to guess what was inside by the weight. He shook it like a birthday gift, being careful in case the contents were fragile. It made no sound. It was not heavy.                 
     The sky was almost completely dark when Tony’s phone sang out again with a call from the same unknown caller. The voice told Tony to head up East Drive until coming to a black van. 
    The car turned back into the park, and after two minutes, pulled up behind a large, windowless black van parked on the left side of the road. Tony let himself out of the car, holding the package down at his left. The air around was quiet, which was unusual considering it was in the middle of New York City in the early evening.
    The back of the van opened up and startled Tony. It didn’t open forcefully, it just opened. Something about the stillness and the ominous van was unsettling to him. The man Tony knew as Don stepped out and approached him. 
    “Thank you for your prompt delivery”,Don said, holding his hands out to receive the package Tony had brought him.
    “Excuse me, Don, but you don’t deal in these affairs. What’s going on?” said Tony.
    “Give me the box and I’ll explain everything.”
    Tony thought hard for a moment, and reluctantly handed the package over to his superior. He quickly opened it up, and pulled out several wads of packing paper. He removed a single cell phone and tossed the cardboard box over his shoulder.
    “This,” Don said, holding the phone in front of him for Tony to see, “is our final defense. One call from this phone brings every mafia leader on the isle of Manhattan to this very location within the hour. Two dozen of the most important members of organized crime, right here, right now. This ends tonight.”
    Tony had no objection. This had been his goal for the last twenty years. Don had gotten Tony’s foot in the door at a young age, and the bureau had paid him generously for his two decades on the streets. But now what? If the mafia went down, he thought, how would he fuel his bloodlust? He couldn’t bear the thought of never firing another round again. He opened his mouth to protest...
    “It’s a go” Don said before ending the call. He slid the phone into his breast pocket.
    Less than an hour later, twenty three of New York’s most powerful organized crime leaders were gathered in Central Park, each one under the assumption that they were meeting here to get a cut of a recent bank heist. For his protection, Tony was watching everything on CCTV from inside the black van on the other side of the park. If anything were to go wrong, he would be evacuated from the city and relocated. 
     Another agent in the van controlled all of the sophisticated surveillance equipment. In his headphones, Tony could hear the chatter of the crowd.
    “We’re each getting two million,  right?”             
     “I heard Frank was a mole. He snitched and got whacked!”  
     Don stood up in front of the crowd. He was known in the business as working directly for the man in charge. To the rest of the mafia, Don was simply known as The Assistant. Names were irrelevant.
    Tony’s heart was nearly beating out of his chest. His Glock Model 19 would never taste blood again. For a split second, he wanted to spill his own blood, if only to silence the raging drum beat of his heart. It would be his final wish, the way he would want to go. He would die at the height of satisfaction. But it wasn’t that easy. Nothing was ever that easy. He had to keep his life, if only to seek out the highest of highs. He observed the crowd on one of the eight tiny TVs set up with different camera angles on each.
    Don gave a speech that sounded more like the beginning of a church sermon than a bank payout, but he knew what he was doing. At what appeared to be the height of his presentation, he shouted the words, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry!” The gang leaders were suddenly surrounded by SWAT teams on all sides. Tony had chosen the trigger phrase. He was always a fan of John Steinbeck. The words seemed fitting for the circumstances.
    He kept watching, trying to get as many screens in view at once to take in the gravity of what he had just worked twenty years for. Suddenly, his thirst for death seemed slightly less significant than this moment.
 


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