Part II: Chapter Seventeen

December 20, 2013 by Randy Steinberg

The funeral of Charles and Janine Martinelli took place in mid-July. Carmine Cantu and his top meat grinder Jim Shea had scoped it out, looking for the players. Chad and Jason thought it would only be a matter of days before something happened. But nothing did. Matt had been right.

Matt owns the streets

Matt owns the streets

In just three weeks, the tri-captains would go off to their respective colleges. Revere would be in the rearview mirror. You never died in your dreams. Nightmares always ended when you opened your eyes, and for Matt, Chad, and Jason they were on the verge of escaping this very worst of dreams.

The boys could only speculate as to why Carmine had called off the attack. Maybe they thought Mr. Martinelli was the only one involved in Billy’s killing. Maybe they’d gone to the Cape for the rest of the summer. As July came to a close and things appeared peaceful, they stopped the guessing game.

August announced itself with more punishing heat—hazy, hot, and humid at its most aggressive. The air quality across New England was poor. Water bans were put into effect. Electrical grids strained as those with air conditioning pumped it to the max. The death of some elderly folks was blamed on the stifling conditions.

The boys began to make preparations for college. They said goodbye to friends, swearing they’d all meet up over Thanksgiving for a reunion. It would be in the Burger King parking lot or the bowladrome. If someone’s parents were away, they’d have it there.

Matt worked hard, making up for the day he’d ditched. He put in overtime at Foot Locker. He felt safe at the strip mall. It was public with lots of security cameras. He needed the cash, too. The U Conn coach promised he’d get him a job, but Matt didn’t know what it would pay and he wasn’t sure about the costs of college. He could use all the money he could get before leaving for school at the end of August.

His manager threw him a zinger, though, by offering him a full time job. Salary, commissions, benefits. A chance to move up to corporate with college reimbursement a definite possibility. The security was tempting. What if he blew out a knee in his first year at U Conn? Then he’d be on the hook for his tuition. And even if he made it all the way through college, there would be crushing debt when he finished. He could avoid all of that with a job right out of the box. There was only one down side.

Staying in Revere.

There were things about his city he did not like. Who doesn’t? But Matt appreciated Revere more than he let on. Most of the kids talked about “leaving this shit hole and never coming back,” and Matt often went along with it, but secretly he loved the place. His parents had lived in Revere their whole lives, and part of his college dream was to come back to improve his home town. That was before his senior year.

Now there were so many reasons to leave, he could not be seduced into remaining. He turned his boss down but told him he really appreciated the offer.

In the final weeks, Matt saw Kitty as much as he could. Kitty was coaching soccer at a girl’s camp, and their schedules didn’t match up very well. They agreed they’d break up when they left for school and see where things stood the following summer. Matt didn’t tell Kitty he might not even come back to Revere for the summer. He hadn’t told anyone. He could get a summer job on campus at U Conn. He’d be safer there if Carmine had a long memory. He worried about his parents. Would Carmine go after them? Tit for tat? He didn’t think that was Carmine’s style, but why put his parents in harm’s way by even coming back home?

After work one night, Matt got together with Chad and Jason for Kelly’s roast beef. Chad’s father got them a going away gift of some tickets to a New England Patriots pre-season game. They drove to Gillette Stadium, the scene of their great victory the previous November.

They were the ones in the stands now. They couldn’t believe how different it felt. They thought they were gods on that field, but the pros were so much faster and stronger. Matt and Chad told Jason they expected to be coming back to the stands some day to see him in the pros. Jason told them he’d let them stand on the sidelines with the team and bring him water. They all laughed.

It was a great night. The weather was phenomenal and the Pats won. Billy, Carmine, and Mr. Martinelli did not come up once, and somehow it seemed like none of it had ever happened. They tailgated in the parking lot after the game with some guys they didn’t even know, who gave them some beers. Chad probably wasn’t sober, but he drove back anyway, his hands steady on the wheel of the Cherokee.

Jason was going to be the first to leave for college. In big time Division One college football, the work outs started early, and he would have to prove himself. He had a few days before he left for Michigan. The guys didn’t know if they’d be able to get together before that, but Matt promised he’d come over for a farewell dinner with Jason and his family. They gave each other some stiff bro hugs at Jason’s house before Chad then took Matt home.

It was after they dropped Jason off that the subject of Carmine Cantu came up. Matt no longer cared if Chad saw his house or where he lived. He had ceased to be embarrassed by his neighborhood. He was more angry than anything about this part of Revere. Angry that Carmine Cantu could intimidate so many people who lived there.

Matt told Chad to drive by Jackie O’s. The store was closed but Matt wanted Chad to see it. “Doesn’t look like much,” Chad said. And it didn’t. A few security lights illuminated a building that looked like hundreds of other strip mall small businesses in Revere. The parking lot was riven with cracks and trash blew about haphazardly. There was even some graffiti on the store’s trash dumpster.

“Don’t judge a book…” Matt replied.

“Do you think we’re in the clear?” Chad asked.

“It has been very quiet,” Matt responded.

“They could be waiting until we let our guard down,” Chad said.

“True, but they’ll have to make their move soon. We’ll all be gone in a few weeks,” Matt said.

“Do you think that will end it, when we go away?” Chad asked. It had been a long day—a good day—but this was a valid question

“Tough to say,” Matt replied. This could have been taken two ways. Tough to say because Matt didn’t know or because he didn’t want to answer the question.

They drove the remaining few blocks in silence. The green lights were with them and they were at Matt’s place in minutes. They bumped fists but didn’t say anything more. Matt watched Chad drive off, and then did something he only did when no one else was around: he lit a cigarette.

The habit started a couple of years back. He didn’t do it often, and it was hard for him to say he took much pleasure in it. But Matt did it to rebel. It was tough to always do the right thing, and though smoking butts wasn’t like shooting up drugs or auto theft there was something subversive about it Matt enjoyed.

Given what had happened with Billy, Matt derived less satisfaction from it now, but he wanted to stay on the street and think and the cigarette helped him to relax. He sat on the stoop of his building, exposed and alone. There wasn’t a soul about, if you didn’t count a rat or two scrounging through garbage. Matt made a clicking sound in the direction of the rats, but the animals ignored him.

Matt half wished Carmine Cantu or Jim Shea would come for him now. He was inviting it. A showdown on the street. In the open. He was bigger than both of them. If he could avoid any gun shots, maybe he could take them.

In a few moments, Matt heard voices. It was a group of five boys, speaking Spanish. Matt didn’t recognize them, and they looked like they were on the hunt for trouble. Matt kept smoking and didn’t budge. These kids were younger than he was, maybe fourteen years old. Five against one. Matt didn’t look at them when they addressed him in Spanish. He had picked up a little of the language in high school, but this was a dialect he couldn’t pin down. They were probably telling him his mother was a goat fucker, but he didn’t care. He wasn’t going to back down. He wouldn’t make the first move, but he was going to take a stand. He was tired of being the victim.

The teens were tough, street kids, who themselves wouldn’t shy from a fight, but there was something about Matt that backed them down. It wasn’t his size or the cigarette that made him appear tougher than he was. There was something else. In Spanish, one of the kids said to the others, “It looks like he owns this street.”

The kids nodded with respect and Matt acknowledged the gestures. He finished his smoke and flicked it into the street. The voices of the marauders faded as they turned a corner and looked for someone more vulnerable to harass. Tonight, this was Matt’s street.