The finest houses in East Dogbone line either side of Oakman Boulevard. The morning is trying to break but is stuck on powdery twilight. Three thick newspapers are tucked under Lonny-Donny's right arm. A dark blue Ford sedan follows a half a house behind the boy as he walks. Idling along in the car is Lonny-Donny's father Chuck. Every few minutes a police radio under the dash squawks. Chuck pays it no attention.
Chuck's attention is on the stately, old house Lonny-Donny is approaching with his newspapers, perhaps the grandest home on the east side. Eduard Albanni bought the house from the estate of Gerard Neckel, a banker who was the richest man in Dogbone when he died 15 years earlier. Chuck remembers hearing that Old Man Neckel modeled it after some palace outside Paris. He wonders what Gerard would think of the new owner.
The old banker might admire the gangster, thinks Chuck. Both crooked as a bishop's stick. Chuck watches his son walk up Albanni's driveway.
Lonny-Donny doesn't notice the black Lincoln idling at the end of the driveway until a man gets out of the passenger side with a gun drawn. He drops the newspaper he was about to put in the milk chute next to the house's side entrance. The man signals Lonny-Donny to turn around.
He does. His father's car appears at the foot of the drive. Lonny-Donny runs straight for it. The man with the gun gets back in the Lincoln.
Chuck slams the sedan to a stop, jumps out, and secures Lonny-Donny in the back seat. He unholsters his sidearm and makes for the Lincoln. Just before Chuck reaches the side door of the house, Eduard Albanni, in a tuxedo, walks out of it and says, "Where's my paper, detective?"
"You're assaulting paperboys now, eh?" Chuck picks up the newspaper his son dropped.
Albanni points his thumb at the Lincoln. "They're new," he says matter-of-factly. He reaches for his wallet. "Your boy's got a tip coming."
"My boy just canceled your subscription," says Chuck as he drops the paper at Albanni's feet. "Get some more new guys to buy you a paper." Chuck walks back to the dark blue Ford. Lonny-Donny is sitting in the back seat, hands on his knees. Chuck slides into the seat next to him.
"I see six papers here ready to be delivered," Chuck says, patting Lonny-Donny's hand. "Let's finish these up and go get us some doughnuts."
Chuck grabs the stack of papers and leads Lonny-Donny out of the car. Lonny-Donny takes the papers from his father. "I got this," he says. Lonny-Donny stares straight ahead as he walks past Albanni's faux castle to the next stop on his route. His father follows ten steps behind.
Chuck glances up Albanni's driveway. The Lincoln is gone. The newspaper lies where he dropped it. Chuck wonders who Albanni was expecting. Chuck catches up with Lonny-Donny as he delivers the last paper. His son walks past him without a word and heads back to the blue sedan.
When they're back in the car, Lonny-Donny says "I'm okay" before Chuck can ask. Chuck wonders if he is. Lonny-Donny repeats, "I'm okay."
Standing next to him at the counter of Golden Boy Donuts, calmly gnawing on his second glazed, Chuck ponders Lonny-Donny, his strange child. The other six have their quirks, thinks Chuck, but the youngest of his tribe undoes him. Only one other person ever drove Chuck so crazy. And he died seven years ago after his third stroke. The difference is, he hated his father but he loves his odd son more than life itself.
This son who breaks his heart on a regular basis. This young boy who knows his father's bad side so well, who sees into the shadows.
At the moment, all Lonny-Donny sees is Moose, the big blonde in a tight white dress who smiles at him as she tops off his father's coffee. Lonny-Donny wonders why Moose doesn't top off his glass of milk, and right on cue, the waitress does just that. "You're welcome," she says.
Then she works her way down the counter, smiling, schmoozing, teasing, flirting, stopping at the last seat to give Lonny-Donny a wink.
Chuck is glad to see Lonny-Donny smiling. "Mind if we stop at the station on the way home?" His son nearly floats. He just loves the jail.
Arson's not usually a wintertime activity, thinks Chuck as he looks over the latest tri-county crime reports in the deserted detective room. The desk sergeant was glad to give Lonny-Donny yet another tour of the empty holding cells. Even for a Sunday the place was quiet as a tomb.
A couple of familiar out-of-town names pop out of the endless armed robberies, aggravated assaults, and auto thefts. Dots begin to connect.
Sgt. Jablonski appears at the door with Lonny-Donny in tow. Before the sergeant can say anything Lonny-Donny blurts, "Mr. Albanni is dead."
Chuck tells his son softly, "Mr. Albanni isn't dead. We just saw him an hour ago." Lonny-Donny looks his father in the eye and nods slowly.
Sgt. Jablonski jokes, "Shall I send over the meat wagon?" Lonny-Donny flinches. Chuck grimaces and waves the sergeant out of the office.
"Why do you think Mr. Albanni is dead?" Chuck asks his son.
Lonny-Donny shrugs with his eyes. "In the back of a big car," he answers shyly.
"Tell you what," Chuck says. "I'll look for him after I take you home. I'll even put out an APB. You know what that is?" Lonny-Donny nods.
I should be bowling, thinks Chuck as he regards the lifeless street. Letting the team down again, and for what? Babysitting a rich gangster. Coffee's cold, scanner's colder. Chuck wonders whether he could make it to Shaefer Lanes in time for the last game. Someone taps the window.
"Long time no see," says Gianni Bartoli after Chuck rolls down the window a crack. Chuck cusses to himself and motions Gianni into the car. Gianni motions Chuck to follow him. "Not gonna happen," Chuck says through the window crack. "You want to talk, get in." He rolls it closed.
"Shouldn't you be bowling?" Gianni says as he gets in the car. He lights a small cigar with a shiny silver lighter. "It is Sunday, right?"
"Shouldn't you be in church?" Chuck asks as he cracks his window again. Gianni reaches inside his overcoat and removes a half-pint flask. Gianni takes a pull on the flask and hands it to Chuck, who takes a pull of his own. "When are you leaving?" Chuck asks. He keeps the flask.
"What's the rush?" Gianni takes back the flask. "I missed this wonderful Michigan weather."
Chuck nods. "Yeah, let's break out the bikes."
"How's your memory?" Chuck asks his old friend. Gianni looks out the sedan window at Albanni's house.
"Business. You know," he says finally.
"I know what 'never going back to Dogbone' means," Chuck says, trying not to sound angry.
Gianni tosses the cigar out the car window. He shifts in his seat to face Chuck. "This isn't a good place for you to be." He shifts back. "What do you say we visit some old haunts?"
Chuck opens the car door. "I got a better idea," he says. "Let's go catch up with your old pal Albanni." He grabs his .38 under the seat. Chuck stands on the sidewalk waiting for Gianni to join him. Gianni doesn't budge. Chuck shrugs and heads for the faux-palace's front door.
"You really want to talk to Albanni?" Gianni shouts through the half-open car window. "We gotta head south." He rolls the window back up. Chuck ignores Gianni, goes up the steps two at a time, and knocks loudly on the oversized double doors. Nothing happens. He knocks again.
Chuck's about to try the house's other entrances when one of the front doors opens a crack. A woman says "Get lost!" and closes the door.
Gianni rolls the passenger window down and tries again. "I"m telling you, get in the car," he shouts to Chuck, who's standing on the porch.
"I knew you'd come around," says Gianni as Chuck takes his seat behind the wheel. Chuck starts the car, puts it in gear, and hits the gas.
"Grosse Ile," says Gianni.
"You're kidding," Chuck replies in disgust.
"Wish I was," Gianni says. Then he repeats: "Wish I was."
The old friends drive 20 miles in silence, which strikes neither of them as odd despite not having seen each other in more than two decades. "Couldn't they find a big house?" Chuck says as he reaches the end of the long driveway.
Gianni shrugs, "What can I say? Albannis go large."
"Old Romolo's gotta be 90," says Chuck as he opens the driver-side door. Gianni stops him.
"Better wait here," he says. "They don't like surprises."
"C'mon, I'm an old friend of the family," answers Chuck.
"Not since you started carrying that badge around," Gianni says as he opens his door. Before he heads for the castle-like residence Gianni leans in the open door and says, "If I'm not back in 10, get the hell off this island."
"If you're not back in five," Chuck replies, "I'm calling my buddies at the State Police."
"You're just full of bad ideas," Gianni laughs.
Two minutes later Gianni leads Eduard Albanni and another big lug out the front door of Eduard's older brother Romolo's outsized residence. "Did you bring my paper at least?" Eduard asks Chuck as the old man struggles into the back seat of the sedan. The lug gets in beside him.
Gianni returns to the front passenger seat and says to Chuck, "Mr. Albanni requests your presence at a very important business meeting."
"You ask a cop to your business meeting?" Chuck asks Gianni with a straight face.
"Strictly legitimate," Gianni replies. They both crack up.
"You can't get dressed in the morning without breaking about six laws," says Chuck to his old pal.
Albanni asks Gianni, "What's so funny?"
Gianni answers, "He thinks I'm a criminal, do you believe that?"
"Yeah, cops think we're all crooks," Albanni frowns. He looks at the house.
"So where's this meeting?" Chuck asks no one in particular.
"Right here," Gianni replies.
Albanni adds from the back, "I need a witness."
Chuck glares at Gianni. "You set me up," he says lowly.
Gianni replies just as lowly, "I was as surprised to see you as you were to see me."
Gianni continues apologetically, "Just listen to the man. It's not what you think."
Albanni picks up his cue, "Nobody's settin' nobody up." Albanni leans forward and taps Chuck's shoulder. "You just tell 'em you saw me, if anybody asks."
"Like I said," Chuck grumbles, "a setup."
"Look," Albanni tries again, "you catch the bad guys. You think I'm the bad guy, but I'm not." He sits back. "I'm trying to do you a favor."
Chuck turns around to face Albanni. "The best favor you could do for me is get the heck out of town." The three passengers laugh out loud.
"Anything you say," Albanni says, still laughing. "How about a ride to the airport?"
Chuck looks at Gianni. "Is he kidding?" Gianni shrugs.
"Some time today would be nice," Albanni says looking out the car window. Gianni motions Chuck to go. He starts the car and puts it in gear.
"Eastern," Albanni says pointing at the sign outside the airport terminal. It's the first word spoken in the car since they left Grosse Ile.
"This was the business meeting?", Chuck asks as he pulls the sedan to the curb outside the terminal.
"Solved one problem," Gianni answers.
Albanni and the lug exit their respective back doors. "I didn't catch your name," Chuck says to the lug's backside.
Lug says, "Smart ass."
"Is that Polish?" Chuck says as the lug slams the door.
Albanni taps Chuck's window. Chuck cracks it. "Sorry about scarin' the kid." Chuck rolls the window back up without a word. Albanni joins the lug on the sidewalk.
"Just a second," Gianni says and jumps out of the car. He walks the two overcoated figures into the terminal.
"He's not getting on any airplane," Chuck says when Gianni returns from walking the two overcoats into the terminal. Gianni hrmphs.
Chuck continues: "In about five minutes Albanni's going to be in a big car, and he's gonna be dead."
Gianni asks, "Can we get out of here?"
"Why?" Chuck replies, "You got another business meeting?"
Gianni cocks his head. "Nah, let's go look for dead guys in big cars," he says.
"Are you gonna tell me what's going on?" Chuck asks.
"If I do, are you gonna do something about it?"
"I'm gonna do something regardless."
Gianni taps his foot. "Albanni is going away. What's it to you where? The faces change, the game's the same."
"That's helpful," Chuck says.
"In case you hadn't noticed, I don't live here anymore. Tomorrow I'm having lunch back home in California." Gianni reaches into his pocket and retrieves his lighter. He opens and closes it repeatedly. "Believe me," he says, "I don't make this trip, you got lots of dead bad guys."
Chuck starts the car and pulls away from the curb. "I'm gonna find that big car," he says, "right after I drop you at your mother's house."
"I'm not going in there alone," says Gianni as the car stops outside his mother's house. "I bet she's cooking Sunday dinner." Chuck smiles.
"Why haven't I seen your father at mass?" the old lady asks as she stirs a pot on the stove.
"He died, Mrs. Bartoli."
"That explains it."
"He knew Gianni's grandmother in California," Mrs. Bartoli continues without turning around. "What a mess that was with that uncle of his." Mrs. Bartoli turns around and shakes her dripping spoon at Gianni sitting at the kitchen table. "Your father never met your Grandpa Joe."
Dodging tomato sauce, Gianni says, "Grandpa's name was Anthony."
"Ha!" the old lady coughs, "Anthony was a good man, but he was a fanook."
Chuck and Gianni stare at each other across Mrs. Bartoli's kitchen table. "We're related?" asks Gianni as Chuck says, "We're not related."
Mrs. Bartoli addresses Chuck while stirring the sauce. "Your father blamed himself, but that uncle of his," she shakes her head and sighs.
"What uncle of his?" asks Chuck.
"What Grandpa Joe?" asks Gianni.
The old lady spins around. "Now you wanna know about your family? Now? Not two words do you ever say to your fathers, either one of you," Mrs. Bartoli glares at the cousins in turn. "Peas in a pod," she says.
"You still want to go find Albanni?" Gianni asks Chuck. "He might be your uncle."
"That's not funny, cuz," Chuck replies.
Mrs. Bartoli sets a big bowl of pasta and two plates on the table. "Eat," she says and turns back to the stove. Chuck and Gianni do as they're told.
For the first time in his 50 years Chuck wonders about his father's childhood. He always assumed his old man was born a son of a bitch.
Between bites of his mother's pasta Gianni considers how he's going to prevent his coworkers from finding out about his Irish grandfather.
"Mrs. Bartoli, you make the best mostaccioli in East Dogbone," Chuck says as he gives the old lady a hug.
Gianni's mother barely turns from the stove as she gives Chuck a half hug in return. Still gripping the big wooden spoon, she says, "Go on." Gianni drains his mug of wine. "And take him with you," she says as she points her spoon at her son.
"No can do, ma," replies Gianni. "Chuck's gotta go find a big car."
Mrs. Bartoli playfully threatens Gianni with her spoon. Chuck grabs his coat and heads for the side door. He asks Gianni, "You coming, cuz?"
"If I didn't know better, I'd say you were heading south," says Gianni looking out the car window.
"He's a regular compass," answers Chuck. "Thought I'd check in with Romolo," he continues. "See if he's planning to join his brother in Florida."
"He's not home," Gianni offers. "I happen to know he's ice fishing on a lake in Manitoba. Drove up there in a big car."
"You sure he's on the lake and not under it?" asks Chuck.
Gianni tries again: "You're wasting your time. It's done, and not in Dogbone, so it's not your problem." He fishes in his pockets for a cigarette. "We could be bowling right now, cuz."
"We're not cousins." Chuck betrays some anger. "My father didn't have an Uncle Joe and you sure ain't Irish." Calmer, "Your mother's confused."
"Perfect timing," says Gianni as the car reaches the frozen river. "Think the ice will hold us?"
"This time you're on your own," says Chuck.
Chuck continues, "I told you years ago to keep it out of Dogbone. I'm all out of favors, and there's no favor you or your friends can do for me."
"It's out of Dogbone now," Gianni says with just the hint of a smirk. "You got nothing to worry about. All the big cars have driven away."
Gianni lights a cigarette and cracks open the car window. "We could be bowling right now," he says.
Three games and nine beer frames later, Chuck thinks about how his youngest son ever got a paper route with Eduard Albanni as a customer. Chuck watches Gianni stumble down the lane and thinks of Lonny-Donny, 13 years old but looking 10, the thick Sunday papers too much for him.
They've been driving the route together each Sunday morning for a year. On his first Sunday it took the kid six hours to finish on his bike. But Lonny-Donny finished the route that cold Sunday morning without a word of complaint. Chuck just happened to be up early the next Sunday.
And every Sunday morning since, though he's usually still feeling the effects of Saturday night. Now it's Chuck's favorite time of the week. If he thought about it, Lonny-Donny would admit that Sunday mornings were the highlight of his week too, but there wasn't much competition.
"Are we done?" asks Gianni after he misses another spare.
Chuck checks the score sheet. "Ninth frame," he replies. Gianni drains his beer.
"How 'bout a ride to the airport?" Gianni asks and burps.
"Gladly," says Chuck, "but you gotta promise me you'll actually get on a plane."
"Deal," Gianni replies, "but I gotta make a stop first."
Chuck starts taking off his bowling shoes. "Anywhere but Grosse Ile," he grunts.
Easing out of the bowling alley parking lot, Chuck asks, "Where to?"
"Your place," answers Gianni.
Chuck sighs, "Whatever you say, officer."
Two minutes later Chuck parks in front of his own house. "Wait here," says Gianni.
"Gladly," Chuck replies. He avoids looking at the house.
Ten minutes later Gianni gets back in the car. He's carrying a paper bag. Chuck identifies the aroma of pierogis. "Long flight," says Gianni.
Halfway to the airport Chuck decides his wife's pierogis are reason enough to stay married, but he wonders how she knew Gianni was in town.
"So," Chuck says, "I'm gonna tell you what I think is going on and you just sit there eating because I don't believe a word you say anyway." Gianni chews in silence. Chuck continues, "Albanni's out, doesn't matter why, dogs are fighting over the bone, you're the bucket of water."
Gianni keeps chewing. "Thing is," Chuck offers, "I can't picture you going back to California empty-handed." Gianni holds up the pierogi bag.
Gianni pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket, wipes his hands and mouth, and says, "Just doing a friend a favor, though he won't admit it."
Out the windshield the airport comes into view. "I told you 20 years ago," Gianni continues, "I got a job waiting for you in California."
"Legit," he adds. Chuck just frowns and keeps driving. Gianni tucks the handkerchief back in his pocket. "No," he says, "you like the cold."
"You're the one who took the wintertime dip in the Detroit River," Chuck says. He pulls into the white zone. "Gio ever get his truck back?"
Gio and his trucks, thinks Chuck. Like that, he's back at Schmidt's after ditching his bike behind Puzzuoli's Garage, waiting for his frozen feet to thaw out.
Copyright 2014-2017 - Dennis Richard O'Reilly - all rights reserved