Part II: Chapter Sixteen

December 15, 2013 by Randy Steinberg

Matt ponders his next move

Matt ponders his next move

That night, Matt declined a date with Kitty. She was hurt but understood why he didn’t want to go out. Still, she didn’t like being blown off. She wanted to help Matt through his grief, as well as confront her own sorrow. Mr. Martinelli had been her teacher too. But she didn’t argue with Matt, and when he told her he’d call her the next day she let it go.

Matt took the city bus from the high school and got off a little farther from his house than was necessary. He wanted to walk and think. On his walk, he came within a block of Jackie O’s liquor store. He scouted it, being careful not to be seen. It looked so normal. Trucks pulling up with booze. Customers going in and out. It was hard to believe that inside the store was a man who might want to do him harm. If that was the case, why was Carmine waiting so long? Why go to the funeral when he could have knocked on his door or rolled up to him on the street? Was he trying to terrorize them? Carmine had a fearsome reputation, but he was never known to toy with people. Unlike a cat with a mouse, he didn’t play with you before he ate you—he just got down to the meal.

Matt didn’t have answers. He called in sick to Foot Locker and got an earful. The rush was on to get sneakers and other footwear before the start of the next school year and business was brisk. Since Matt was a model employee, however, the manager told him he’d better see him the next day and hung up with extreme prejudice.

That night, Matt was alone. His mom was on the late shift at the hospital and his dad took an emergency call. He put on the Red Sox game. It was a nail biter, 2-2 in extra innings, but Matt barely paid attention. His eyes were on the game, but he stared straight through the television. He tried playing video games and texted Kitty to say he was ‘sorry’ again. He got no response; she must have gone to bed early. He had nightmarish visions of Carmine Cantu kidnapping her to get at him.

Ben Bisbee came home at about eleven o’clock. “I need a shower,” was the first thing he said. Then he looked at the television. “Close one,” he added.

“Yeah,” Matt said, not knowing the scored was still tied in the 12th inning.

“When was the last time we went to a game?” Mr. Bisbee asked.

“I went after graduation with some of the guys—“

“No, just you and me,” his dad meant.

Matt had always been surprised by his parents’ relationship. So many kids at Revere High had divorced parents or absent parents. A lot of them complained about how their parents were always fighting or cheating on one another. But his parents. They had made it and really seemed to love each other.  There was talk once in a while of “that time” when it was clear something had happened. Maybe it was a separation, but it was in the distant past, so much so that Matt had no memory of it. Whatever it may have been, it never recurred, and his parents, despite the tough circumstances in which they lived, never split again.

Sometimes Mr. Bisbee could be bitter or apologetic that they didn’t have more, but as Matt did better and better on the team and it appeared a certainty he’d end up in college, his dad mellowed. He forgot about his own lack of success and took pride in Matt and Matt’s future as if it were his own.

Matt knew that if anyone was to lift the family out of its condition it was him. He wanted to be a carefree senior, looking forward to his first workouts with the college team, packing for the next stage in his life, spending time with Kitty before they went their separate ways. Instead, he was a murderer, looking over his shoulder for a possible revenge killing. He wanted to tell someone else all about it.

“Yeah, maybe before I go to school,” Matt replied to his dad about a Sox game. If he survived to go to school.

Mr. Bisbee looked at his son, and he could tell something was bothering the kid. They didn’t have many heart to hearts. In between all the work and the bills and school and sports, they didn’t have much time for it. Mr. Bisbee wasn’t the kind, either. He preferred they have a chummy relationship, more like two buds rather than father and son. Now, however, it seemed like he should make a stab at a father-son talk. He disappeared into the kitchen and came back with two beers. He threw one to Matt who looked shocked. Was this some kind of a weird case of entrapment? A test? “I know it’s not the first time you’ve had one,” Mr. Bisbee winked.

Matt smiled. He wasn’t going to pretend otherwise. Father and son cracked the beers, tapped the cans together to toast, and took long swigs. Mr. Bisbee watched Matt drink, impressed. Always impressed by Matt and what he could do.

“How youz doing?” Matt’s dad asked him. Youz. The classic Revere accent. Matt wondered if he should lose the accent when he went to college. He heard people saying it made you sound dumb, even if you weren’t. Did he want to hide his accent? Was that disrespecting his home town?

“Been better,” Matt replied.

“This Martinelli thing,” his dad said, unsure what better way to broach the subject. He could see it was eating Matt up, at least that’s what he thought was bothering him.

Matt didn’t want to talk about that. He wanted to see what his dad thought about something else… “Dad, you know Carmine Cantu?”

A cold, suspicious look washed over his dad’s face. “How could I not?” People in this part of Revere were careful how and when they discussed Carmine. Everyone knew him, and you either steered clear of the subject or risked shit getting back to the man.

“You’re not involved with him somehow, are you?” It was a dumb question, but one a father had to ask. Matt gave his father an ‘are you kidding?’ look. But was Matt right to pretend he wasn’t involved with the gangster? He wasn’t directly, but Carmine was after him and that was a kind of involvement. “What about him then?” Mr. Bisbee asked.

“How can a guy like that get away with shit for so long?” Normally, profanity was not permitted around his parents, but it was late and Mrs. Bisbee was not home and Matt was a big boy. Someone slapped a base hit in the baseball game. The home crowd cheered. The team had life.

“There’s one reason, Matt,” Mr. Bisbee explained. He seemed to have this answer ready to go, without having to give it much thought.

Really? One thing? Matt was doubtful it could be that simple, and his father was never one for sage-like wisdom. He was a working man. “What’s that?” Matt asked.

“Guys like that…they’re willing to go further,” Mr. Bisbee said.

Matt was confused. “I don’t get you, dad.”

“It’s not that they’re smarter or stronger. Some have money but most didn’t start that way. They’re willing to go further than a normal man. That can bring great reward, but it also has a lot of risk. They’re willing to cross a line most of us won’t. They’re willing to go further.” Matt still wasn’t getting it.

His father could sense Matt’s frustration. “Think of it this way. If you gamble…” Matt wished his dad wouldn’t talk about gambling, but he wasn’t going to stop him “…you can go in with the attitude you’re gonna lose a little. And that’s it. Maybe you get lucky and come out ahead but it won’t be by much. Or you can risk a whole lot and hit it big or completely crap out. You and me are the guys who won’t risk much. Guys like Carmine, they risk everything. They risk going to jail. Getting clipped by other gangsters. How ever long they survive it’s because they’re willing to go further than most men. That’s how they get away with the shit they do.” Mr. Bisbee’s turn to lay down the profanity. “But they never, ever get away with it for long. Shit always catches up with them. They may seem big and powerful, but the power doesn’t stay with them forever. In the end, all they have or think they have is an illusion. You remember that.” The last sentence was uttered with a warning tone. Mr. Bisbee didn’t know why Matt was bringing up Carmine. If Matt was thinking of doing anything that would hurt himself or his future, he had to caution him. But he didn’t want to lecture him, either. That could produce opposite results.

The truth was, Mr. Bisbee was the naïve one. He had no idea what Matt had done or why Mr. Martinelli had been killed. Matt wasn’t like Carmine. He didn’t want any part of that life, but one thing his father said stuck with him: Matt was willing to go further. He had gone further! Was there any way he could go back? Matt rarely lied about anything big to his parents. Small stuff, sure. But he couldn’t get close to the truth now. The less his parents knew the better. “Don’t worry, dad. It’s not like I’m thinking of becoming a mobster.” He offered a fake laugh, which his father thought was genuine. It put the elder Bisbee at ease a bit. “I was just thinking about how unfair life is sometimes. Hard not to when a teacher everyone loved was killed that way.”

Nothing had really been resolved, but father and son had shown their cards as much as they ever would. “I’m beat,” Mr. Bisbee said. “You gonna keep watching?” he asked pointing to the game.

“Another inning,” Matt replied.

“Rinse out that beer, and don’t put it in the trash. I don’t want your mom thinking you had one or me two,” Mr. Bisbee said, grinning.

“She’ll never know,” Matt said, raising the can.

Mr. Bisbee trudged off to his bedroom, stopping in the kitchen to pour out what was left of his drink.

Matt did watch for one inning more, but the stalemate just wouldn’t be broken. The Sox had led off the bottom of the thirteenth inning by putting the first two men on. But hopes died on a double play and a strikeout. The score remained tied in the fifteenth inning when Matt had had enough. He polished off his beer and took it with him to his room. He was sure to take the beer can out of the house with him the next day and never bothered to find out which team won the previous night’s game.

Somehow, sports results didn’t matter much to Matt anymore.