The following day something strange happened. Jason only had a few more days before he would head out to Michigan. His father was going to drive him, a sort of cross country, father and son bonding trip before Jason became a college man. Until then, he’d stay on at his job delivering pizzas for Domino’s.
On Tuesday at lunchtime, Jason came in from a pizza run. His manager handed him five larges and told him that some guy had asked that Jason deliver the pies himself. There was a twenty dollar tip in it for him too. “Twenty?” Jason was impressed. Two or three bucks was common and five was considered damn good. But twenty. Unheard of. “Where is this going?”
“Some place across town,” the manager said. “Just outside of our zone, but I let it slide so you could get the tip. Jackie O’s. It’s a liquor store.”
Jason knew who Carmine Cantu was because Matt had told him, but Matt never informed him that Jackie O’s Liquor Store was Carmine’s headquarters. Jason was walking into the lion’s den and he had no idea he was the day’s hot lunch.
He pulled up to Jackie O’s not thinking anything was out of the ordinary. Jason got all sorts of strange delivery requests. To the beach. To the intersection of Main and Elm. To other restaurants. So a liquor store did not seem strange in the least. Five pizzas was probably an employee lunch. The guy at the register said to take the pizzas around back. Jason went back to his car and drove to the rear of the building.
There was an open door there, and he guessed that was the way in. He poked his head in the door and called out in his quiet way, “Hello…Domino’s…” There was no response. He edged farther inside.
This part of Jackie O’s was the warehouse section, where cases of liquor, wine, and beer that did not need to go right onto the shelves was stored. The boxes rose to just about the height of a six foot man. Jason thought of the final scene in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the ark was pushed into a yawning warehouse of boxes to disappear forever. It certainly seemed like a strange place for a pizza party, but there was twenty dollars in it for him. “Domino’s!” he called out, louder.
“Over here,” a voice responded. Jason couldn’t see the speaker, but he advanced farther into the warehouse. Jason walked down several rows of wine boxes and saw a man sitting on a keg of beer.
The man was Carmine Cantu, though Jason didn’t know it. Jason had in fact seen Carmine at Mr. Martinelli’s funeral but that was only for a moment and from a distance. Now, in the warehouse, he saw a squat man of about 50 sitting on the keg. He wore a tennis shirt, which was stuck to some fat rolls on his lower stomach. Sweat stains spread out at the arm pits of the shirt. He had a dark face, and Jason thought maybe, like him, the man had some Hispanic blood. His expression appeared serious, pissed off somehow. No one ever had that kind of look when getting pizza. Never would Jason have guessed this was Carmine Cantu, the man out to kill him.
“You order these?” Jason asked, holding the pizzas out.
“Yeah. You can put ‘em down here.” He tapped a wine box onto which Jason placed the pizzas. “What’s it come to?”
“$37.50,” Jason said. He hesitated to mention the extra twenty he was promised.
Carmine went into his pocket and came out with the biggest wad of bills Jason had ever seen—and that included college scouts who tried to impress him by flashing cash. Carmine peeled off three twenties and passed them to Jason. “I promised you the extra,” he said.
“Thanks,” Jason replied.
“Don’t you want to know why I wanted youz to come?” Carmine asked. Jason wasn’t sure if the man actually wanted him to respond. He did not. “You’re that football player, ain’t ya? Jason Albany? Star QB for Revere?”
Jason was somewhat flattered he had a fan. “Yeah. Going to Michigan in a few days,” he responded, pocketing the sixty bucks.
Though the day was scorching hot, the warehouse had air conditioning. All the booze would go bad if the temperature of the building was not regulated. It was at this moment that Jason felt a chill that he could not attribute to freon. Behind him, to both his right and his left he felt the presence of two men. Most people would not have been aware of them, but Jason was a quarter back. Good QB’s had to have a sixth sense for when the opposition was closing in. They had to be able to feel when the pocket was collapsing around them. They couldn’t always see the outside line backer closing in, but they had to hear the footsteps, smell the breath, feel the ground tremble as the enemy came for them.
Jim Shea and Al Diaz boxed Jason in, as Carmine addressed him. “You don’t know who I am, do you?”
“You’re a guy who ordered five pizzas,” Jason replied. It was a little wise-assy, even for Jason, and for anyone in this kind of situation.
Carmine liked it. “I’m Carmine Cantu. Maybe youz heard of me.”
Jason didn’t need to wait any longer. The sack was coming and he had to make a run for it. He spun on his toes before any of the gangsters could blink. He instantly assessed the situation like the all-league player he was. Jim Shea was the older, smaller, and less athletic man. Jason moved toward him, as Jim tried to draw a weapon from his belt. Jason shoulder blocked Jim backwards, and he flew into a stack of vodka boxes. The entire stack toppled over, partially burying Jim.
Jim Shea was out of commission for the moment, but Al Diaz would not be so easy. He was in his late twenties and a martial arts expert. The portly and sweaty Carmine had barely risen to his feet and would not be a factor on this play.
After dealing with Jim, Jason spun away from Al. Al was clearly not a man Jason wanted to take on directly. In addition, he held a box cutter in his hand. Al was good with his fists and feet and small weapons, but he wasn’t a football player. He didn’t know how to run down a quarterback, especially one bound for Division I college football and maybe the pros. His mistake was waiting for Jason to make the first move. Had he gone straight for Jason he might have ridden him into boxes or caused him to back peddle.
But he hesitated after seeing what Jason did to Jim.
This gave Jason the moment he needed. If there had been reporters present, they would have written how Jason’s next move was reminiscent of the play in week six against Saugus. Since no one was on hand to document this match up, it would be left to the gods and the flies on the wall to bear witness.
Jason got his speed up and cut to his right, planting his foot on a case of whiskey. He was fortunate the case was full. Had it been empty, his foot would have gone right through the box and he would have been sent sprawling to the ground. And that would have been all she wrote. But luck was with Jason and the case had all six bottles in it. This gave Jason solid footing and he leapt high in the air to get passed Al.
Al made a wild swipe with the box cutter and missed. At this point, it was academic. There were boxes and bottles to dodge, and Jason was by far the more nimble. He weaved through the warehouse easily, leaving Al in his wake to trip over boxes.
But the gangsters were not completely defeated. Jim Shea managed to right himself and fire his weapon twice, before Carmine stopped him from unleashing more rounds. As Jason came to the door of the warehouse, bullets whizzed past him. He didn’t even know he was hit until he was in the car, driving frantically away from Jackie O’s Liquors.