The Game of Bowls

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic


The Jersey shore. The boardwalk. A hot summer evening. Two factions play out a game bocce ball, the same game played by the ancient Roman emperors. A well-dressed man stands nearby, watching,
waiting for something to happen, but is it more than just a simple game of bocce they are playing?

Submitted: May 04, 2018

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Submitted: May 04, 2018

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The well-dressed man walked along the sunwashed boardwalk, the wood planks warm under his feet, and came to a stop along the ocean side near the end of the walkway, far from the rollercoasters and arcades.  Down below, on the edge of the expansive beach, a group of men had gathered to play a game of bocce ball, a favored past-time among the locals.  The game was of some importance to the well-dressed man, although the game’s players and the spectators surrounding them did not know this at the time and payed no attention to the man.  If someone had noticed him, a tourist or a tired, sunburnt beach-goer in their flip-flops and printed t-shirt, they might have said he looked out of place on the Jersey boardwalk, the way he carried himself, his tailored pants and silk shirt, his lean, muscular body.  If they had noticed.  But no one noticed.  No one payed attention.

He was a tall man, much taller than the people he passed on the boardwalk, and he had aged well, gracefully, enjoying a life of some comfort that comes from hard work and discipline.  If someone was following him, observing him from a discreet distance, they might conclude that he carried himself with an air of separation, as if he was walking through a movie set, watching the people, the harried parents, the bands of restless teenagers, and couples strolling and holding hands, with a remote, detached interest, the way a spectator might watch movie extras hastening to their positions right before the director yells Action!

The well-dressed man leaned over the boardwalk railing, still warm from the intense heat of the summer sun now setting, and looked down on the playing court below, a long green rectangle that sat like an artificial oasis along the wide Jersey shoreline.  He stood there, watching the game and and scanned the players, his eyes eventually resting on one individual in particular, and for the next 20 minutes he watched and studied the scene, and still no one noticed.

“You play?”  The well-dressed man, undisturbed, did not look back at the source of the interruption, coming from a man approaching the railing from behind him.  He did not reply.  This was Jersey.  South Jersey.  No need to be polite.  “Great night for bocce,” he began.  “You know anything about bocce?  Ya see, your average player,” — this man pronounced it “playa” —  “backyard barbecue players mostly, they’ll tell ya the secret to good bocce is good blocking, right.  Ya toss your balls right in front of the pallina, the jack ball, that’s that small white ball, right?” He pointed a tan, stubby finger down at the bocce court and motioned with his big hand, a thick gold chain dancing brightly in the waning sunlight.  “Whoever gets closest to the jack ball scores, so if you set up a good block, your opponent has to either go around you or try and knock your balls out of the way.  A couple of good blocking shots and it’s game over.  But that’s just basic strategy, ya know.  The really good bocce players though, the tournament or league players like these guys here, they’ll tell ya it’s not about blocking, although that’s part of any good winning game.  Nah, for the league player it is all about where you place the pallina.”

The man paused while a player below tossed the white pallino ball, a marker for the teams to shoot toward.

“Ahh, now ya see, that was a weak pallina throw just now.  Ya gotta place it right in your opponent’s weakest spot.  Ya know, is he a long game guy or short game guy, maybe he plays strong in the center.  These guys,” he pointed to one of the teams, “their long game is weak, right? Watch.  Or you could do like a rail toss, ya know, put the pallina right on the edge of the court where they can’t get to it.  Ruin their whole game.”

The well-dressed man glanced at the man now standing next to him.  He saw the bocce court and the players in the reflection of the man’s thick smoky gray sunglasses, prescription lenses, the wide tortoise shell frames tucked under his shiny black hair, too black, thinning and combed neatly back behind his ears.  He was an older man, trying not to age.  Tufts of thick chest hair, gray-white and black sprouted from under his red Tommy Bahama beach shirt.  His short hairy forearms, tanned and leathery, leaned on the wooden railing.  In one hand he held a cup of Italian ice, his fingers lightly clutching its frosty sides, a tiny flat wood spoon in the other, scraping small ice-shavings into his mouth.  Lemon.  He talked with his mouth full of lemon ice.  “Don’t get me wrong, you have to be able to block, but strategy starts and ends with that first pallina toss.  How ‘bout you?  You play?”

The well-dressed man nodded.  He decided, as he often did in the company of Americans, that the conversation did not require his active participation.

It was a good evening for a game of bocce.  An ocean breeze washed over the boardwalk, sweeping away discarded gum wrappers and the lingering heat still radiating off the wood planks, edging the humidity down to a merciful 86%.  Even so, the players below were all sweating heavily under their polyester polo-shirts, their team names damp and clinging to their chests and backs.  The court was occupied by two groups of mostly young men, some old, but most in their late twenties and early thirties.  One side wore bright red shirts with the word “Deboccery” splashed across the front in bold white letters, and the phrase “Kiss My Bocce Balls” spelled out across the back.  The other group in white shirts with “Son of a Be-occe!” written in large black stylized letters.  The similarity of the players, dark shiny hair heavy with gel, deep chests and thick hairy limbs, was slightly unnerving, as if they were all related to the same mother and father, save for two individuals on team Deboccery that stood out.  One, an older man with an expansive mid-drift and thinning white hair and the other one, a younger man, early twenties, noticeably shorter than all the rest with a toothy grin and cleft chin.  It was this individual that attracted the well-dressed man’s attention.  He studied him carefully, although his intense stare was masked behind his Ray-ban aviators, deep blue like a one-way mirrored window.

Thursday nights were league games at the court and a small crowd of perhaps eighteen or twenty people had gathered to watch and cheer on the two teams, mildly mocking the players and each other with friendly jeers under the setting summer sun.

“Hey, that’s a nice watch.  What is that, like a Rolex?” his uninvited companion asked the well-dressed man.  “I got me one of those,” and he held out his other wrist for the well-dressed man to see.  “Only it ain’t a real Rolex.  My wife got it for me when she went to Hong Kong with her lady friends.  She said the man called it a “Crolex,” A Chinese Rolex.  Get it?  Still, it looks pretty good, dont’cha think?”

The well-dressed man’s companion leaned over and pointed down at one of the players, “That short guy you’re looking at, with the mouthy grin, that’s Jackie-boy Stabile, but we all call him Stubby.  That white-haired older guy he’s talking to, that’s his dad, Frankie.”  The man leaned a little closer and lowered his voice, “Back in the day, he kinda ran things down here.  Kinda took care of things for the AC boys.  Ya, he kinda made sure everything ran smooth, made sure little problems didn’t turn into big problems, this being Atlantic City’s backyard and all.  Although lately, ya know it’s all Russians.  Ever since Trump left, it’s a free-for-all.  It’s a friggin’ invasion.  Hotels, restaurants, strip clubs.  Even Atlantic City, all going to the Russians.  You walk down the boardwalk and ya can’t even order an ice cream cone because none of these girls speak English.   I mean, they are nice to look at, don’t get me wrong, but learn the language for God sakes.  Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, it ain’t that hard, you know what I mean?  Maybe that’s why Trump left, ya know.”  He turned toward the bocce court and cupped a hand near his mouth, the gold bracelet dancing down his hairy wrist, “Hey, Stubby, my Grandmother could toss better than that!” he yelled.

The short guy yelled back up with an obscene gesture, “Yeah, I know, I was tossin’ your Grandmother all last night! She loved it!”

“Hey now,” the man yelled back, waving his arms in unison in a look of mock disgust.  He turned toward the well-dressed man, “They all know me.  We all go way back.  I used to do odds and ends for his old-man.  Now I’m kinda like retired.”  He paused for a moment and scraped a spoonful of lemon ice into his mouth.  “Anyway, you don’t see the feds marching in and arresting all these friggin’ Russians.  I’m just saying.”  The well-dressed man pursed his lips and made a throaty grunt, like clearing his throat.

“See that.”  The man lifted his shirtsleeve and pointed to a faded red tattoo on his bicep, a large heart with the words “Love Hurts” curved to fit inside.  “I got this when I was 19.  That’s me, Mikey Love. ”  He held out his big hand to the well-dressed man.  “Pleasure to meet you.  You here on vacation?”

The well-dressed man looked at the extended hand, meaty and tanned, but smooth, no calluses.  “Just visiting,” he said without an accent.  Mikey Love moved his big hand up and smoothed out a patch of his shiny black hair pretending not to  have noticed the well-dressed man’s slight.

“Oh yeah? where from?  You look like a New York City guy.  Nice threads.  Nice shoes.  Those Ferragamos ain’t too good for beach-combing though.  I take it you don’t plan on swimming.”

The well-dressed man mustered a crooked sarcastic smirk toward Mikey Love, a reluctant attempt to both humor the oafish goon and embarrass him into shutting up.  The well-dressed man disdained the constant playacting these Americans required and returned his attention back toward the game below, his eyes flitting between the players and the small crowd gathered around.

The bocce court was surrounded on three sides by a cracked cement sidewalk and four low wood framed shacks separating it from the beach, the bone-white paint on their clapboard sidings bleached and peeling.  There were several wooden benches and two rusted metal tables covered by faded shabby beach umbrellas.  On one end of the rectangular court was an ice cream stand, soft-serve ice cream in waffle cones, ice-cream sodas, and eight flavors of Italian ice.  The “Sausage Hut” stood on the opposite end, with a large wooden sign advertising Italian sausage with fried peppers and onions and french fries, $6.99.  On the long side, standing five or six feet back from the court was a long low building containing a bike rental, now closed, and connected to a public restroom and shower facility.  The men’s room entrance faced away from the bocce court on the beachside.

Now the well-dressed man’s eyes rested on another individual, a spectator, and watched him as he walked up and and leaned against the bike rental shack.  Tall, six foot four, broad shoulders that stretched his black golf-tee and outlined his muscular chest.  He wore a straw fedora and dark shades, making it difficult to make out his face.  In his hands he also held a cup of Italian ice, occasionally scraping spoonfuls into his mouth.

“Ol’ Frankie, he’s out here every Thursday during the summer,” said Mikey Love.  “They got like a small league, local, not part of a state-wide thing, but ya know, hey it’s fun.  People come out, watch them toss a few balls, drink beer.  You’re not supposed to be drinkin’ on the beach, but the cops all know these guys.  They’re all good boys.  Ya, Frankie’s team does pretty good.  League champions three years now.  Some people say they just let him win, ya know, but it’s like I said, it’s all strategy.  If you know bocce then you know these guys are pretty good. Ol’ Frankie, he knows exactly where to put that jack-ball.  Make it so the other team can’t get near it.  Ya, and his son ain’t too bad either.”

Mikey Love finished his Italian ice, lifting the soggy cardboard cup to his mouth and pouring the melted lemon juice into his mouth with a slurp.  “Jesus, look at the size of that gorilla over there,” he said nodding toward the man in the fedora.

The well-dressed man raised himself off the railing and glanced down the boardwalk, as if he was expecting someone.  He suppressed a growing intolerance for Mikey Love’s incessant banter.  What did his business partners call the locals like him?  A mook.  That’s the word.   He’s a mook.  That’s the word his business partners used to describe locals like Mikey Love.  The term was new to him.  He had not heard it until he arrived in Atlantic City two days ago.  There weren’t any mooks in Brighton, although he recognized the type.  Summertime, the boardwalk is crawling with South Jersey and Philly mooks.  You can’t walk ten feet without one stepping on your shoes.  You’ll recognize them.  All muscle and attitude.  Dumb like a box of rocks.  This man, Frankie Stabile, he’s surrounded by nothing but mooks.  Soft, fat, and dumb.  Nothing to it.  Should be an easy job.

The well-dressed man hoped tonight would be the night.  He was tired of the sticky heat and sand, the unrelenting sun.  His body stuck to everything, his bed sheets, the deck chairs at the hotel pool, the leather seats in the rental car.  South Jersey in July was miserable.  He showered three times a day just to wash the sand off which seemed to cover everything, his scalp, his feet, his crotch.  They offered to make his stay as comfortable as possible with certain benefits, a suite at Harrahs, a line of credit at the casino if he wanted, but he told them he needed to be close to the job.  He chose to stay in a nearby beach motel owned by a large Russian-Ukrainian woman who comped him the room and even provided a girl who turned out to be from his same home town.  But the last three days of bright sun and heavy humidity left him feeling edgy with a headache, sluggish, as if he was suffering from a mild hangover, although he never drank.  He was was ready to go back to New York.

“Uh-oh, looks like Deboccery’s in trouble.  See that, that’s called a baci, a kiss, when you actually touch the pallina with the bocce ball.  Man, that’s an incredible toss.”  Mikey Love shook his head in admiration.   “Look at that wall the Be-occes are putting around the pallina.  I don’t think they can get inside that.  Nah, Frankie’s boys will take a beating on this round.  What’s the score?”  He craned his neck and raised his voice, “Hey, Jimmy, what’s the score?”  Twelve to nine, a man below signaled with his fingers.  “Well, who knows.  I’ve seen Frankie toss a volo right smack in-between the bocce and pallina.  Truly amazing.  Hard to do, but amazing.  Jackie-boy, now, Jackie-boy can toss a raffa that will break your heart, knock that wall of balls right out of the way and open it back up.  He’s been playing since he was kid.  Ya, I think the old man is gonna retire and let him take over the team, but he’s still got some years in him.”

“Alright Stubby, make it happen,” someone yelled below.

“Let’s go Stubby!”  Team Deboccery cheered on as Jackie-boy picked up the small four inch ball.  Taking his time, like a professional bowler, he paced back and forth along the far court, assessing his options.  Frankie was seated behind, just off the court.  He said something to Stubby and pointed down the long green field.  Stubby followed the old man’s finger with his eyes and nodded back at his father.  Then, with an unexpected grace, like a short chubby ballerina, he tossed the maroon bocce ball underhand.  In a kind of slow-motion, the ball floated through the air, landed mid-court, bounced twice, and rolled, smacking the other team’s green ball with a loud knock and sending it to the side of the court, deftly replacing it in the spot closest to the white pallino ball.  His team erupted in a cheer and the crowd followed suit.  Someone handed him a brown bottle of beer, they tapped bottle necks in a toast and he took a long draught.

The well-dressed man looked at the man in the straw fedora who returned his look with a nod.  This was it.  In the three days he had spent watching Jackie-boy Stabile in restaurants and strip clubs, going about his business, he had discovered one simple fact.  Jackie-boy “Stubby” Stabile had a small bladder.  That or he had some kind of bladder control problem.  He needed to pee every thirty to forty minutes.  Like clockwork.  In the forty minutes the well-dressed man had been watching the Stabile’s amuse themselves in their juvenile game of bowls,  Stubby had not yet taken a break to relieve himself.

They wanted it public.  It had to be very public.  That was the only requirement the well-dressed-man had been given.  Public.  Fast.  No witnesses.  A financial bonus if it was accomplished with his own people around, the ones sworn to protect him. A very public execution, a very public changing of the guard.  Of course that increased the risk.  And for that much risk his partners would have to pay handsomely.  And they were willing to pay.  Yes, it was going to be a nice payout.  He grinned to himself, thinking about the red Lamborghini he would buy with this latest cash installment.  And it would be a pleasure too, to eliminate one of these annoying Jersey boys in such a public way.  And what could be more public than a public restroom, with a man sitting on the toilet, his own guts flushed down the pipe, still attached.  The message was unmistakable.  The old guard no longer owned the Jersey shore.  It was time for them to retire, forcefully, if need be.  This was the opening salvo and the well-dressed man predicted he would be coming back to Atlantic City in the near future.

The well-dressed man did not know the fedora man’s name.  He had followed a strict no contact rule outside of the agreed upon schedule.  Absolutely no electronic contact.  No cell phone calls.  No text message.  No cryptic emails.  They had met in a Starbucks earlier in the week to arrange schedules and establish meeting times.  His Brighton partners had vouched for the man’s credentials, but he still harbored some small discomfort working with someone new, which was to be expected. For his efforts, the fedora man would be well paid.  One third of the take.  And for that amount, he assumed all of the risk.

The members of team Deboccery patted Stubby on his back in a congratulatory salute.  “You are welcome Gentlemen, my pleasure.”  He raised his hand in the air and then took a mock bow.   He set the bottle down on one of the rusted metal tables and turned to walk off the court, pointing one finger at the opposing team and yelling, “Suck it, be-occe!”  The well-dressed man’s fingers gripped the wooden railing as he watched Stubby make his way to the men’s room on the far side of the cinder-block restroom.   Without turning his head away from the team still celebrating, his eyes slid over to watch the fedora man.

“Oh my God, did you see that shot?  That was amazing.  I told ya he was good.  Didn’t I tell ya?”  Mikey Love slapped the railing.  “Way to go Stubby!” he called after him.

The fedora man took one last spoonful of the Italian ice in his hand, left his spot leaning against the wall of the bike rental and set his cup of Italian ice on the lid of a large trashcan before following Stubby toward the men’s restroom.  Detached, watching the drama unfold as if on a movie screen, the well-dressed man’s pulse quickened, a small surge of adrenaline released and coursed through him, arousing and exciting him.  The edge of his lips curled up ever-so slightly.  He made a conscious effort to slow his breathing, standing still yet trying to remain in a casual stance.

“Not easy to make a shot like that.  That was pure magic.  Knowing exactly where to place the ball at exactly the right moment.  Lots of people don’t appreciate that kind of talent, ya know,” said Mikey Love.  “But that’s why Frankie and Jackie-boy are league champions.”

Shut-up you moron.  The well-dressed man wanted to cuff his ears and stab Mikey Love in the throat. At this very moment a man is being murdered.  Executed.  The well-dressed man pictured the scene in his head, the fedora man’s oversized bicep wrapped around the short, stubby man’s neck, a gasping, dry gurgle escaping past his twisted lips while he slowly suffocated, his body struggling in a dank, cement shithouse that smelled like piss, his feet slipping and sliding trying to get purchase in the wet puddles of beach sand and water on the floor, the fedora man using his other hand to sink a small blade as sharp as a scalpel into his abdomen and drawing it upward, the blood flooding down his legs mingling with the sticky sand, turning it crimson red, then setting the dead -man on the john.  The well-dressed man clenched his teeth, his lips curling back in a crooked, unconscious vampire’s smile.

“Hey, you wanna go down and meet the team?  I’ll introduce you to Frankie and Jackie-boy.”

“What?” said the well-dressed man.  “No.”  His voice impatient and sharp.

“Well suit yourself.  It was a pleasure to meet’cha.  Enjoy your evening.”  Mikey Love turned to climb down the nearby steps that descended down to beach level and connected the sidewalk, on the left was the bocce court, and on the right side, the steps led to a street level access tunnel under the boardwalk, connecting the beach to the row of seedy motels and parking lots on the opposite side.

Several more seconds ticked while the well-dressed man watched the sidewalk in front of the men’s room entrance, which was partially obscured by the deepening shadow from the rusted corrugated tin roof.   It should be done by now.  The fedora man should be walking out now, picking up the Italian ice, the signal.  One of the well-dressed man’s hands clenched into a tight fist and he removed his Ray-bans.  Something is wrong?  Something is wrong.  Dammit.  The fedora man must have had to abort.  Another day in this hellhole.

“Hey Stubby, what’s going on in there?  Ya decided to rub one out in the middle of the game?” yelled one of the opposing team members.

“Yeh, let’s go.  We don’t have time for you to jerk off in the john.  Suns getting low.”

“Yo, Stubby, make sure you wash your hands!” someone else yelled.

“Settle down, be-occes.  Give the man some peace,” said one of Stubby’s team-mates.

The seconds passed, a minute, a minute thirty.  Still no fedora man.  “???? ??????,” the well-dressed man whispered under his breath.  Droplets of sweat broke out along his hairline and he scratched it away, red and irritated.  For the first time, the adrenaline coursing through his blood turned sour, curdled.  Stay put.  Don’t move, he told himself.  His throat closed, his shoulders tightened across his back.  He shifted weight to his heels, standing upright.  One of the team members began to walk toward the men’s room while several spectators parted and turned to watch him.  “Let’s go, brother,” the man said.  “Stubby?  Yo, Jackie-boy, you alright?”

The well-dressed man cursed again.  He fought the urge to launch his body in a controlled, quick departure.  Stay put.  Don’t move.  Then, strong and acrid, the scent of fear, as the sweat began to soak through the underarms of his shirt.  He panicked and changed his mind.  Too exposed up top.  He needed to get off the boardwalk.  Quickly.  He turned and descended the steps, the same steps that Mikey Love used, only he planned to turn right into the access tunnel and walk quickly through to the parking lot.

He heard several people suddenly break out in jeering applause.

“About time Jackie-boy.”

“Finally, what the hell were you doing in there?”

“Hope you cleaned up your mess,” someone jeered.

The well-dressed man glanced back at the bocce court as he reached the bottom of the steps.  He saw Jackie-boy walk past the restroom and pick up his beer on the rusted table, a toothy grin spread wide across his face.  The well-dressed man cursed.  There was no sign of the fedora man, but no one was yelling or making a commotion either.

“Headed home Vladimir?” said a voice from inside the tunnel.

The well-dressed man whipped his head back to his front, looking down through the access tunnel toward the exit and the parking lots beyond.  He saw the outline of a figure at the far end of the tunnel, backlit by the purple-gray of early dusk.  As he approached, he saw the glasses, the red Tommy Bahama beach shirt, the dangling gold bracelet on the thick hairy forearm.

“Get out of my way, you ridiculous man,” said the well-dressed man, raising his arm in a dismissive waive and angling to walk around Mikey Love.

Mikey Love placed his meaty paw on the well-dressed man’s shoulder, clenching tight.  “Easy now, Vladimir.  What’s your hurry?”

“My name is not Vladimir.” The well-dressed man raised his hand, steeling his body for the confrontation, getting ready to use a martial arts move to break Mikey Love’s wrist and release his grasp.

In a smooth, deft motion, Mikey Love unfolded a four inch blade in his free hand, and he shook his head at the well-dressed man in a stern, tight-lipped rebuke.  “I don’t give two-shits what your name is, Vladimir.  You stay put.”  Mikey Love crained his neck to look over the well-dressed man’s shoulder.  “Yo, Sammy, is this de’ guy?”

The well-dressed man tried to turn his head to look behind him, all the while calculating possible moves to disarm Mikey Love while his attention was turned away.  He was able to make out the outline of a tall, broad-shouldered man behind him, a fedora on his head.   The taught muscles in the well-dressed man’s body suddenly softened.  The tension, like spring coils in his arms and legs loosened and released with a groan.  For a second time, the adrenaline he had been building up, the adrenaline strength that he needed to break Mikey Love’s wrist and disarm him, turned to stale milk in his veins leaving him nauseous and trembling.  He cursed out loud in Russian as two more men joined Mikey Love from behind, much younger and twice as thick.

“Ya, that’s him.”  The well-dressed man recognized the fedora man’s voice, a voice he had heard only a few hours before in Starbucks.  Mikey Love turned the well-dressed man around facing the tunnel entrance and released him, the other two men standing nearby, a 9mm pistol in each of their hands.

The well-dressed man saw now that a line of the bocce players from both teams had gathered at the entrance to the tunnel.  His nostrils pinched at the pungent odor of sour Atlantic ocean and urine inside the tunnel.  The smell, combined with the adrenaline crash, the nauseous knot in his gut left him off balance, unable to anticipate possible options.  Run, fight, kick.  He was temporarily paralyzed.

“I said stay put, Vladimir,” said Mikey Love, raising his knife to the edge of the well-dressed man’s throat.

The dark line of eight or nine men at the entrance of the tunnel parted and a shorter figure walked through.

Jackie-boy approached the well-dressed man.  “What?  Surprised?  You don’t think we know everyone, and EVERYTHING that happens in this town.  You Russkis, you make me sick.” He spat on the dirty cement.  “You come down here, in your big cars and silk shirts, your fancy shoes.  You think you can buy it all.  Big money.  Well, I’ll tell you, this game ain’t about money.”  Jackie-boy turned back toward his team-mates.  Someone tossed him a ball, white, about two inches in diameter.  He began to toss it underhand in the air and catch it.  “It’s about loyalty.  That’s what you don’t get.  Now I could beat you until you told me who sent you.  And you would, cause you know nothing about loyalty.”  He tossed the white pallino ball up and down again.  “But I already know who sent you.  Or I could cut off your fingers and send you back with a message.” He twisted his lips in an ugly smirk. “But I don’t need you to deliver my messages.  So tell me, what am I gonna do with you?”

The well-dressed man stuck out his chest and in a thin choppy accent said, “Stoo-pid mook.”

“What’s that now?”  Jackie-boy smiled, shook his head, speaking to the crowd, “This guy can’t even speak English and here he is with the racial epithets.”  He held up the pallino between his thumb and fore-finger in front of the well-dressed man’s face.  “You play?”

“I gave him a quick lesson earlier Jackie-boy,” said Mikey Love with little laugh.

“Oh, so you know then, it’s a game of strategy.  Luck has nothing to do with it.  Some guys, they toss some blocking balls, think it’s all over.  Easy.”  Jackie-boy shook his head, a grimace on his face.  “Nah.  Not hard to move aside a blocking ball.  It’s all about the pallino.  This little white ball, the jack ball, and where you place it.”  He paused, staring at the well-dressed man, and then, with a menace that caused the well-dressed man to take a step back, he said, “Open up.”  He stuck his cleft chin up at the well-dressed man’s face.  “Oh, suddenly you want keep your mouth shut?  Mikey, this man thinks he should keep his mouth shut.  It’s okay.  Go ahead, open it up.”

The two men on either side of the well-dressed man grabbed his arms and pressed in on his shoulders so he couldn’t move.

“Open up.  Wider.”  With sudden violence, Jackie-boy grabbed the well-dressed man’s lower jaw and stretched it low as he struggled.  “Wider, you piece of… ,” and then, with a brutal crunch, he shoved the jack ball into the well-dressed man’s mouth with the heel of his palm. The wet, muffled shattering crunch of the well-dressed man’s teeth echoed in the tunnel like the sound of porcelain smashing, followed by a whimpering moan.  He stumbled, his knees collapsing in odd angles, his arms and legs going limp.  A trail of saliva and blood began to drip down his chin.

Through a haze of tears and pain, the well-dressed man saw that Jackie-boy now held one of the bocce balls, deep maroon, about four inches in diameter.  He tossed it up once in the palm of his hand, catching it and rolling it around, measuring it, weighing it.

“Know how much a regulation bocce ball weighs?  Two pounds.  Two pounds of composition plastic.  Just heavy enough.  I’ve been playing bocce all my life.  I’m the king of the raffa.  You know what a raffia throw is? Nah, I didn’t think so.”  Jackie-boy turned his back on the well-dressed man, tossed the ball up again and caught it.  Then, with sudden ferocious control like a baseball pitcher, he turned and unleashed the bocce ball directly at the pallino.  The ball hit the white jack ball with a loud crack, a flawless baci, a perfect kiss.

Standing next to Mikey Love, staring down at the body of the well-dressed man splayed out on the dirty cracked cement, Jackie-boy pursed his lips in a wise-guy smirk.

Mikey Love asked, “Who was this guy?”

“Who knows,” said Jackie-boy, looking around for his bocce ball.  There was blood on his shirt, moist dark spots that stained the white letters. “Nice shoes though,” he said.  “What are those, Ferragamo’s?”

 


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