The moment the front door of King’s Pointe Social Club creaked open, Sal D’Amico glanced up at the harsh sliver of daylight. Half a dozen other pairs of eyes automatically did the same, issuing a silent challenge to anyone who might enter. The newcomer would probably turn out to be one of their own and he would be acknowledged with a cursory nod. But occasionally a stranger wandered in—a lost tourist looking for directions or a thirsty passerby mistaking the narrow brick structure for the neighborhood bar it had once been—and would receive a less hospitable greeting.
What came in this time, along with the rumble of city traffic and the smell of carnitas simmering on a nearby food cart, was an elfin man of about seventy-five. He wore gold-frame eyeglasses the size of scuba goggles, brown beltless slacks, and a short-sleeved white shirt with the top button fastened. The man’s homely features were highlighted by loving cup ears and a spectacular beak of a nose. His head drooped at the neck, requiring him to tilt his face upward in order to see straight. Overall, he looked like a cross between an Italian tailor and a Himalayan vulture.
Sal was sitting alone at the far end of the room, where he’d been sipping coffee and agonizing over the Daily Racing Form. Now his full attention was directed at the visitor. Moving stiffly, the diminutive man closed the door behind him. He then drew his stooped figure a little taller and stood proudly, as if expecting a hero’s welcome.
Vinnie swung around on his bar stool near the door. “This is a private club, old man. Beat it!” Vinnie was a thick-necked twenty-year-old whose grotesquely large biceps were accented by a tight muscle shirt. The rest of his outfit was loose-fitting: baggy gym pants, high top sneakers with the laces untied, and a Yankees cap worn backwards.
The newcomer made no sign that he’d heard. He stood with quiet dignity, looking straight ahead through dark eyes that were magnified by thick lenses. Sal noticed the cold fire in them. He had seen those eyes before they needed glasses.
Vinnie slid off the stool and struck a menacing pose, glowering from under a black unibrow. “You hard of hearing, old-timer?”
Without giving Vinnie the slightest glance, the man replied calmly, “Call me ‘old’ one more time you’ll be needing dentures more’n I do.”
Vinnie hesitated, taken aback. He clearly realized there was a kind of strength in the man that wasn’t developed in a weight room.
Sal spoke up in a gruff voice, “You need to apologize, Vinnie. This gentleman is Mr. Carmine Tomasetti. He used to run this neighborhood.”
While Vinnie stammered a fearful apology, Sal placed two meaty palms on the table and raised his bulk from his chair. He walked toward Tomasetti, a rare gesture of respect. King’s Pointe was where Sal held court, and those who sought his favor came to him.
The men embraced. “It’s been a lot of years, Uncle Carmine,” said Sal.
“Twenty-eight, and six months. I thought the state was going to make me do the whole damn thirty.” The time showed in Tomasetti’s face; his thinning hair had gone nearly white and a prison pallor blanched his wrinkled skin. He painfully tilted up his head and peered at Sal through the oversized glasses. “You’ve really grown up. I remember when you were ‘Little Salvatore.’ Hey, who was it taught you to shoot pool?”
“That was you, Uncle Carmine—and you had to stand me on a chair so I could reach the table.”
Tomasetti chuckled. “That’s right! ‘Little Salvatore’ … I bet nobody’s called you that in a long time.” He playfully patted Sal’s stomach. “I hear you’re ‘Big Sal’ now.”
Sal shrugged, fully aware that the adjective was due to his size, not his status. He’d been initiated twenty years ago and still hadn’t risen above the rank of soldier. “That’s what they call me,” he muttered, taking Tomasetti’s arm and leading him to his table.
In another gesture of respect, Sal pulled a chair out for the old man before easing back into his own seat. Tomasetti swiveled the chair a quarter of a turn so that his back was against the wall, giving him a broader view of the room. Sal took no offense; he knew that in prison it was critical to keep one’s back protected and the habit must be ingrained by now.
Tomasetti gave the interior of the club a quick scan and his wrinkles deepened to a frown. “Sure has changed in here.”