Showing posts with label april kelly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label april kelly. Show all posts

Monday, May 10, 2021

Junk in the Trunk, fiction by April Kelly

Larry’s a pain in the ass.  Always has been, but the first time I really registered how annoying he could be was late one afternoon in 1989, while I lay sprawled on the couch doing eighth-grade homework and listening to him badger our dad. 

“But you have to,” Larry whined.

“I’m a grown-up.  I don’t have to do anything.”

Dad said it good-naturedly, bouncing his eyebrows at his younger son and taking a pull from his beer, but Larry had been haranguing him for ten minutes and I could see my father just wanted to drink his Bud and watch the evening news.  Not surprisingly, that subtle vibe flew right over Larry’s head. 


“Everybody else’s father is doing it.”

“Really?  Everybody’s?”

Uh-oh.  Dad’s tone alerted me that he had pivoted away from indulgent suffering of my brother’s nagging, but Larry remained clueless.  I’d experienced the ominous change-up often enough to know my father was poised to dismantle the kid’s specious argument and end the discussion with a period that could instantly morph into an exclamation point if little bro persisted.  

At issue was some kind of bullshit career day Larry’s teacher had thought up, where fathers were invited—not, as my brother claimed, required—to come in and talk about what they did for a living. 

No way could my father tell a bunch of first-graders what he got paid to do.  I knew that because once, when I was just a little kid, I took a peek into the trunk of his car.

A confluence of misunderstandings on my part led to the gruesome discovery.  First, I had never been specifically told I shouldn’t press the shiny button that popped the lid of the trunk.  And, only the day before, my mother had warned me I would lose my allowance if I didn’t clean up “all that junk in your room.”

Junk?  That was good stuff.  Atari games, Stretch Armstrong, my Nerf ball and a couple video tapes about the astronaut program I hoped to join one day.

So, when I heard my father tell Mom he had some junk he needed to get rid of, my mind went to toys and comic books, not a plastic-wrapped corpse. 

While he went to get his wallet and keys, I raced out to the garage and pressed the release button on the big Caddy’s rear end.

Barely tall enough to see over the rim, coming eye to dead eye with a stranger, I froze.  Slowly, the trunk lid closed, my father’s hand firmly pressing down to engage the latch with a solid click. 

“Mikey, go watch your cartoons.”

He said it softly, but with a chilling look that sent me scurrying to my room.

The imagination of a six-year-old boy can conjure a monster under his bed and a boogeyman in his closet, but, as he matures, he realizes the childishness of those beliefs and casts them aside.  My belief that I had seen a body in the family car eventually faded from memory, as the dead guy was pink-slipped along with the monster and the boogeyman.

My father and I never spoke about the incident, so there was nothing to validate or sustain the picture of a man trussed-up inside a plastic sheet, blood within and duct tape without.  That is, until the day my brother’s increasingly nasal cajoling and my father’s implacable resistance dragged that corpse up out of the bog of forgotten—or suppressed—memory.  Recall vomited the dead guy’s smashed face and fixed stare into my brain, as Dad shut Larry down.

“How long is fourth period?” he asked. 

“Huh?”

“An hour?  Let’s say an hour.  And how many kids are in your class?”

“I dunno.”

“Gotta be twenty, twenty-five.  We’ll round it down to twenty.  Now, how long did you say you wanted me to speak?”

Finally sensing the thinness of the ice on which he skated, Larry mumbled, “I didn’t say, Miss Randall did.  Ten minutes.”

“Okay, then, let’s figure it out.  Every dad is speaking, according to you, so ten minutes times twenty fathers is two hundred minutes.  Hey, I’m no math whiz, but that’s more content than a one-hour class can accommodate.”

Larry slunk away from a battle he wasn’t equipped to fight, but as Tom Brokaw’s theme music started, a new respect for my father grew in me, and it must have shown on my face.

“What’s with the shit-eating grin?”

I shrugged and backed off, same as Larry, but remained privately impressed that my old man was maybe some kind of mob enforcer, the romance and excitement of which had been jacked-up by the two Godfather movies.  The following Father’s Day, just to rattle his cage, I bought him a six-roll pack of duct tape.

“What an odd thing to give your dad,” my mother said when he unwrapped what he had expected to be cheap aftershave or his umpteenth polyester tie. 

I locked eyes with him as I answered her, feeling very much like a big man.  “Well, you know how you say he’s always fixing things.  I figured duct tape might come in handy.”

Making sure he knew I knew was a stupid thing to do, but typical of the teenager I was.  If it hadn’t been for the corpse in the trunk and my suspicion that my father was a badass hitman, I would have found some other excuse to issue a passive/aggressive challenge.  Isn’t that what young wolves have been doing to the alpha since the dawn of time?

Looking back, I regret indulging my biological imperative, that desire to unsettle him with the knowledge I had, but at the time it smelled like leverage I could use to my advantage in future negotiations for things like a set of wheels or more spending money. 

Dad vanished when I was fifteen, so I never got the opportunity to capitalize on our shared secret.  His most recent Cadillac turned up forty miles away, wrecked and burned-out, but his body was never found.  My mother, in an effort to protect her boys from the truth—which she must have known all along—finally whispered the words “witness protection” by way of explanation.  She swore Larry and me to silence, our own familial omertà.


All that was long ago.  Mom lives in Phoenix now, happily married to a retired optometrist, a decent, if nebishy, guy who never carved-up anything bigger than a Thanksgiving turkey. 

Larry’s still annoying, only now he gets paid for it because he’s a big deal tax attorney.  But it was me who put him through law school, so Lawrence, as he prefers to be called these days, is careful not to act too superior about my blue-collar status. 

With Mom departing to marry her internet squeeze and Larry hitting the law books, it fell on me to clear out our garage before the house went on the market back then, so I naturally acquired my father’s eclectic collection of saws, drills, hammers and industrial-sized rolls of plastic—the tools, presumably, with which he “fixed” things. 

Mom and Larry know my custom cabinetry business is thriving, but only I know it doesn’t thrive well enough to send that check to Arizona every month or pay off the rest of my kid brother’s student loans.

And me?  I’m doing okay.  I thought my wife Tina was the love of my life until Sue-Sue was born three years ago.  That little girl has me wrapped around her pinky like nobody’s business, but I guess it’s still normal for a man to favor his son.  Jimmy’s a hell-on-wheels five year old, curious about the world and everything in it.  He’s why I keep the trunk of my car locked at all times, even if it isn’t full of junk I need to dispose of for someone. 

Not long ago I built a miniature cabinet out of white birch, even bought tiny hinges and knobs from an online dollhouse supply place, so if Jimmy asks me to speak at his first-grade career day, I’ll proudly show them what a man can do with his own hands and the right set of tools.

In her previous iteration as a TV comedy writer, April Kelly contributed to America's dumbing-down on shows from Mork & Mindy to Webster, and Boy Meets World to Becker. She now atones by writing fiction. Her crime stories have appeared in Down & Out Magazine, Mysterical-E, DASH Literary Journal, Mystery Weekly and five times in Shotgun Honey. Her novel Murder: Take Three was a 2014 finalist for a Shamus Award.


Monday, February 1, 2021

Pissing Contest, fiction By April Kelly

The underfilled suit shuffling across the dining room of the two-star French restaurant houses the earthly remains of Fortunato Pensa, once feared and revered from Rimini to Perugia. Every few steps, he halts long enough to allow a shudder to pass through his body, afraid forward momentum and tremor combined might put him on the floor.

 That would necessitate assistance from Irene and a member of the wait staff, so Fortunato’s pride prefers the lesser indignity of brief shambles followed by pauses to shake like a wet poodle over being righted by his mistress and an obsequious servant.

Fortunato met Irene while she was working as a Las Vegas showgirl, back when he still harbored dreams of expanding his criminal holdings into America. He had wanted to leave not just a profitable business, but an empire to his beloved Eufrasio, the only child Maria had borne him.

Although he brought the beautiful Irene home to Italy after reeling her in on a hook baited with diamonds, Fortunato never followed up on the expansion because Frasio (God rest his soul) died only two months later, killed instantly when he started the car of his acquaintance, Gaspare Gallo. The bomb had been intended for Gaspare’s father, Ermano, head of another crime family and a man with whom Fortunato had occasionally done business. The perpetrator was never identified, and profound loss drained away much of the life and all of the dreams of Fortunato Pensa.

Lacking a blood heir, the bereaved father kept his illegal enterprises viable with the aid of hired capos, soldiers, and a series of young men claiming distant familial ties. No cream rose to the top, so in 1993 Fortunato quietly shut down his life’s work and retired to Ravenna, where he and Irene still share a villa on a hill overlooking the Adriatic Sea.


The next series of shuffles brings Fortunato to the corridor containing the restrooms, where he pauses to catch his breath, ride out another rippling neural misfire, and consider his lot. Blind without the thick glasses whose heavy, black frames pincer his bald head; deaf without the unsightly plastic transmitters sharing ear canal space with tufts of wiry hair; unable to smell, and thus, unable to taste the food he once enjoyed: the rich, tomato gravy his mother lovingly set on the table every Sunday when he was a boy, its redolence derived from long-simmered pork neck bones, its oleaginous viscosity blanketing the bucatini that filled the yellow ceramic tureen.

Inching and jolting past the door marked “Mesdames,” he realizes his deadened sense of taste makes it easier to endure these dinners at Irene’s favorite French restaurant. He has always detested the fussy, Gallic approach to food, their fragile sauces and Dali-esque garnish, but now, with his inoperative taste buds, Coquilles Saint-Jacques differs from Lasagne al Forno only in texture. The important thing is that the food is yielding enough for chewing by teeth that grin at Fortunato from a bedside glass each night.

At last, reaching the entrance for “Messieurs,” the frail old man must use both hands to push open the heavy door. As he had hoped, the facility is empty. Fortunato chose this evening—December thirtieth—for a celebratory dinner with Irene, rather than tomorrow night, when L’Atelier de Maxime Fouchon will be packed with noisy revelers ushering in not only the new year but a whole new millennium.

In the mirror above the urinal, Fortunato scrutinizes the vestiges of someone born four years into the final century of the ending millennium, a man who has outlived his wife, his son, his relevance, and his welcome.

Hobbling closer to the white porcelain trough, bladder aching, he reaches down a mottled hand to unzip his trousers and withdraw his cazzo. Like everything else about him, it has seen better days. The eager, springing bachetto of his twenties and thirties has become a sad parody of his childhood’s pisellino, but much less efficient. As a toddler trailing after his nonno when the old man foraged for truffles, little Fortunato liked to arc his stream onto the flat limestones that littered the floor of the Umbrian forest. Now he can only dream of streams, pray for spurts, then settle for the trickle that mimics his start-and-stop gait.

This is how it ends, muses Fortunato, settling in to await the weak flow. If you do not die violently in the space between two heartbeats like my Frasio, you succumb to the numbing fog that pitilessly saps away your life, one sense and one organ at a time. He decides a fiery blast is kinder.

Fortunato’s bleak reverie is interrupted by a groan of hinges and the slow opening of the door. A stranger’s presence will impede the process of relaxing enough to coax out the liquid, now painfully stretching his bladder, but Fortunato has no choice. A return to the table with his task incomplete might result in an unwelcome surprise between the Crevettes au Vin Blanc and the lime sorbet intermezzo.

The interloper who claims a spot four feet down from Fortunato is younger, perhaps by as much as a dozen years, but is still very old by the standards of anything short of a Galápagos tortoise. Violating protocol by staring in the mirror too long, he checks Fortunato’s face as if to confirm his identity.

“So,” the stranger croaks, gnarled fingers scrabbling at his zipper. “If it isn’t the great Fortunato Pensa.” His cigarette-ravaged vocal chords convey disdain with clarity.

Fortunato tenses, all hope of relaxing enough to urinate ceasing as he goes on high alert. He carries no weapon, has no loitering muscle within range of a shout, and is long past the days when his bare hands had choked the life out of several men and—in one unfortunate case—a woman. Trying to make a run for it would be both laughable and ignominious, so he stays in place, gun hand holding nothing more than his floppy pisellino. He takes his own turn staring too long in the mirror, examining the last face he will ever see.

The other man’s shiny shirt opens in a deep, unseemly vee, revealing a bulky gold chain nestling in a thicket of white chest hair. A ring with too much nuggety gold and too many diamonds engulfs the pinky finger of the hand that aims his equipment at a partially dissolved urinal cake. He is the quintessential caricature of a mob button man.

“Do I know you?” Fortunato asks, maintaining his stance as casually as possible under the circumstances.

“No, but you should. I’m twice the businessman you ever were.”

Fortunato bristles, wondering did you come here to kill me or insult me? Hitmen are not chatty souls, preferring to express themselves with bullets that leave no lines to read between for hidden meaning. This man carries no gun, but Fortunato knows from experience how little pocket space is taken up by a thirty-inch length of piano wire.

“Angelo Bianchi. Excuse me if I don’t shake your hand, but I’m trying to take a leak here.”

Fortunato recognizes the name. A small-time thug, Bianchi used to freelance on the periphery, too stupid to be entrusted with serious responsibility and too much of a loudmouth to employ for covert work. His wiseguy résumé touted only brute force without a hint of finesse, while Fortunato had always possessed a mastery of both, using the former only when the latter would not resolve a problem.

With no alternative, Fortunato goes on the offensive. “Bianchi, you aren’t twice the businessman my oldest suit is.”

 “Say whatever you want to feel better about yourself,” Angelo fires back. “But I was only nineteen years old when I rolled into Lucca and took over Gionelli Vecchio’s olive oil company.”

Fortunato scoffs. “A business that produced what? Fifty barrels in its best year? When I was just eighteen, Mussolini secretly sent me to ransack Corfu and bring him back everything of value before we bombed la merda out of that traitorous speck. And what I kept back for myself, right under Il Duce’s nose, was enough to buy the most profitable vineyard in Tuscany, although the owner, Senore Teruzzi, did require the kind of persuading that leaves one without the use of one’s thumbs.”

Fortunato feels confident he has firmly established his irrefutable position of dominance in both business acumen and barbarity. He hasn’t thought of—much less bragged about—his youthful successes in decades, and the exquisite pleasure of humiliating this insolent upstart offsets the pain of his close-to-rupturing bladder.

“Ancient history, Pensa,” snarls Bianchi clearly chagrined at being bested by a decrepit vecchiccio. “Almost as ancient as that fat puttana sitting at your table out there.”

Fortunato feels the barb sharply. True, Irene is sixty-four now, and her creamy skin and glorious meloni have succumbed to wrinkles and gravity, but she has been as a wife to him these thirty-odd years since Maria passed (God rest her soul) and family is always off-limits, confirming his belief that Bianchi is less assassino than insetto. And a bug must be squashed.

“Irene is a wife to me, Bianchi, and as such is not required to be beautiful.”

 Angelo smirks, interpreting the concession as a win.

“I’ll tell you who was beautiful, however,” Fortunato says before the other man can bask too long in his perceived victory. “Gina Lollobrigida. In 1948, she came to me to beg for an introduction to Howard Hughes, the American film producer with whom I had become acquainted.”

He pauses to let Bianchi’s memory conjure an image of the stunning actress who had lit up Italian movie screens throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

“And let me just say that when she begged me, she did so on her knees.”

Now it is Fortunato who smirks into the mirror, meeting Bianchi’s eyes and reveling in his triumph. Neither man can pee, nor can either walk away without admitting total surrender, so Angelo presses hard to regain the advantage.

“At twenty-five, I shot and killed Bruno Ressona for encroaching on my gambling operation,” the gravelly voice boasts.

Once again, Fortunato has him beat. “At twenty-three, I garroted the mayor of Assisi simply because his cigar was stinking up the taverna I owned there.”

Reduced at this point to sounding like a small boy trying to prove his worth to an older sibling, Bianchi retorts, “Si? Well, I’m the man who finally took down Pierro Tomba, the most ruthless caporegimo south of the Po River!”

As if Fortunato needs schooling on who Tomba was. That monster had killed a half-dozen of his soldiers back in the day, and he is reluctantly impressed a goombah like Angelo had the testicoli to send Tomba to Hell. Still, Fortunato wants to win this competition before Bianchi makes his move. He feels better, stronger than he has in years, treading ground as familiar to him as Irene’s once-tight micino.

“If I remember correctly,” he says, “Tomba was ambushed and shot in the back, a coward’s way of killing. When I took the life of Persavio Lenzi, I looked him in the eyes as I rammed a stiletto into his heart, then broke off the glass hilt to keep as a memento.”

Angelo seethes, unused to challenges, much less defeats, while Fortunato feels like a commanding figure again, after so many years of shrinking into helplessness and obscurity. Even the frustration with his bladder’s inability to empty itself can’t dull the thrill of victory.

Bianchi has one last arrow in his quiver, though, so he lets it fly. “Match this, you impotent corpse!” he blusters. “I, Angelo Bianchi, was the only man brave enough to penetrate the rings of security surrounding the high and mighty Ermano Gallo and to murder him in his own bed!”

At the mention of the name, Fortunato freezes. After a moment, he quietly asks, “It was you who killed Don Gallo?”

Angelo misreads the response, hearing admiration rather than the pre-strike hiss of a cobra. Believing his adversary is awed by the magnitude of the bold act, he continues confidently.

“Five rounds in his ugly face, but only after he begged for his life.”

Anger floods Fortunato’s heart, though his voice remains calm, its phlegmy quaver magically gone.

“And had you previously failed to kill Ermano?”

Sensing he has finally routed the older man, Bianchi does not feel embarrassed by the truth. Indeed, now that his foe is vanquished, Angelo can afford the magnanimous admission that he was not infallible in those good old days.

“You are right, Senore Pensa. I did make one other attempt on Gallo before I succeeded. I wired that ridiculous red Siata he drove with enough dynamite to level a cathedral.”

Fortunato has waited nearly half his lifetime to learn who killed his son, and rage boils in his blood, rolling back the years of decline.

“Unfortunately,” Bianchi says, “Gallo’s useless, drunken boy decided to take his babbo’s fuckmobile for a joyride with one of his idiot friends.”

Fortunato turns, cazzo still in hand. The doctors were wrong; it is not relaxation, but righteous fury that unleashes the flow, and dammed-up urine shoots out in a copious stream.

“You crazy stronzo!” Bianchi shrieks. “What are you doing?” He recoils from the foul spew, backing up against the wall and flailing his arms ineffectually against the strafing.

Fortunato advances, gun hand directing his aim at Frasio’s murderer. He does not see a geyser of piss drenching the white silk shirt of a cringing thug. No, he sees machine gunfire ripping through the wedding gown of a terrified girl as he enters a church where his two biggest business rivals are about to unite their families’ power through the sacrament of holy matrimony. In a sweeping, continuous spray of bullets, the young Fortunato Pensa eliminates thirty-one enemies, securing his position at the top of the Umbrian criminal hierarchy and making his name legend for the next forty years.

It’s a beautiful, dying thought for an old Mafioso (God rest his soul).

In her previous iteration as a TV comedy writer, April Kelly contributed to America's dumbing-down on shows from Mork & Mindy to Webster, and Boy Meets World to Becker. She now atones by writing fiction. Her crime stories have appeared in Down & Out Magazine, Mysterical-E, DASH Literary Journal, Mystery Weekly and five times in Shotgun Honey. Her novel Murder: Take Three was a 2014 finalist for a Shamus Award.