The Checker Hustler’s Lament
written by: Richard Bishop
Augie liked to call himself a thinking man’s crook, but his associates, who knew him better, thought otherwise. But as Augie’s twitchy trigger finger was never far away from his .32 automatic, they kept the alternate theories locked in their heads for safe-keeping.
On this fine June day in upstate New York, Augie and his cronies were fishing for largemouth bass from two rented aluminum boats on Lake Simpson. By fishing, they meant drinking beer, pissing over the side of the boat, and cat-calling any female unfortunate enough to cruise within shouting distance. All but Augie, who was deep in thought.
His dear father, Vittorio, played checkers in the park with other old guys, talked about the good old days, and bragged about their grandchildren.
Vittorio,was as proud of his family as any oldster in the park, but if he talked about his past rather than the bull crap he fed them across the checkerboard, he’d go to prison for the rest of his life. Since stepping off the boat with letters of introduction from some nasty people in Sicily, Vittorio had turned these introductions into a crime family and the gang he’d formed was now in Augie’s competent and bloody hands.
Augie chewed on his cigar and his problem with equal vigor. His father, God bless him, was getting on and had lost a couple of steps in the smarts department. A snake had slithered into the park and had fleeced several of the checker players. Vittorio had lots of cash, but many of his companions were barely getting by on their pensions. When his friends complained to Vittorio, he complained to his son. It wasn’t the money. It was the principle, and Vittorio’s family was big on principle.
Augie considered his options. Deciding the old ways are sometimes the best ways, he motioned to the palooka sitting in the boat’s bow, swigging a Schlitz. “Sal, switch places with Paulie. I want to talk to you about something.”
The boat rocked and threatened to capsize as the two drunken gorillas danced past each other in the twelve-foot boat.
The conversation between Augie and Sal was brief and to the point. It started with Augie saying, “I got a job for you” and ended with Sal answering, “Yes, boss.”
The icy night wind blowing across the lake raised goosebumps on Louie Ferretti’s arms. The chains wrapped around his body didn’t improve his mood.
“Pretty stupid, Louie. You picked the wrong guys to fleece.”
“Look, Sal. I’m sorry. Okay? I’ll pay them back.“
“Sure you will. But that ain’t why we’re here.”
“Whadda you mean?”
“Everyone cheats, but hustling old men in the park is pretty low, even for you, Louie.”
“I needed some quick cash. You know how it is.”
“No, I don’t, Louie. Augie’s father plays checkers in that park.”
“I didn’t know. You gotta believe me.”
“Let’s get on with it. I’m freezing my butt off out here.”
“Wait, Wait, Sal. We can talk about it.”
“Nothin’ to talk about.”
“Come on, Sal. I didn’t mean nothin.”
“Too late now. Augie says it has to be this way. Send a message, he said.”
“That’s hard, Sal. We’ve been friends for a long time.”
“Acquaintances, Louie. We’ve been acquaintances. This is business, nothing personal.”
“Cut me some slack here, Sal. Just this one time, please.”
“So long, Louie.”
The anchor chain rattled over the side of the boat and Louie disappeared into the depths of Lake Simpson with barely a gurgle.
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