She always said she wanted to see Paris someday. I made a promise: one day, she would.
And I always keep my promises.
“Say, you mind if I take a look at that if you’re done with it?”
The Sicilian grunted without opening his eyes. It might have been a ‘yes’ or it might have been a ‘no’. It might have been a ‘get lost and leave me the heck alone’. He mightn’t even have heard me; it might have been a fragment of a dream pushing against the real world.
I tried again.
“There’s a whiskey in it for you.”
That got a reaction—his eyes shot open, and his head rose uncertainly from the bar, bobbing and weaving; caught in some non-existent breeze.
He turned to look at me, his eyes trying hard to see me. After four or five blinks they managed to focus.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Take it.” He shoved the folded-up Tribune along the counter. I casually slid it further along, taking care not to touch the patches of newsprint stained dark-grey with drool. He must’ve been having juicy dreams.
“Thanks, I’ll flick through it now. Oh, say, didn’t I offer you a drink?”
I caught the barman’s eye, gave a nod and pointed at The Sicilian and then myself, in the international language for ‘one each’. The barman looked warily at The Sicilian, probably weighing up the benefit of another couple bucks versus another whiskey’s worth of trouble come closing time.
The couple bucks won. Same as always.
The Sicilian had his glass half-drained before I’d taken my first sip. All that drinking seemed to have made him thirsty.
I looked around to check if anyone was watching us; far as I could see we were in a world of our own.
“Say, you see that story last week about that Lombardo guy? Eric, or Ernie or something …”
Bingo. He didn’t turn to look at me. He didn’t move a muscle, apart from the ones he needed to speak. But he was listening.
“Yeah, that’s the one, Eddie, Eddie Lombardo. Papers were full of stuff about how he’d been shot five times—”
“—by some mystery assassin. And he was supposedly the second-in-command of some big crime family. Biggest in Chicago, they said.”
The Sicilian didn’t even move his jaw this time, but he wasn’t drinking. I figured that meant he was still listening.
“Well, thing is, apparently he ain’t really dead. I heard a guy last night talking in the john—not here, in one of those other joints downtown—and this guy swore blind Lombardo ain’t dead, he’s alive in some safehouse up north.”
Still no movement. Still listening.
“Like I said, this is only what this other guy was saying. I dunno if he was full of you-know-what, or what. But anyway, he said Lombardo’s boss, what’s his name …”
“Calabresi, right, right. This Calabresi, Ernie Lombardo’s boss, has him stashed in some safehouse. All those stories in the papers were leaked by the gang, so’s he has time to recover. Whaddya think of that then, hah?”
I risked a hearty slap on his back. When he still didn’t move I nodded a second drink out of the barman, just to make sure I stayed in The Sicilian’s good books. Which, for him, were probably children’s picture books.
He waited until his two whiskeys were lined side-by-side before he finally stirred. In one elbowy movement, which probably looked smooth and sophisticated through his filter of booze, he downed the remainder of the first glass and slid the empty away. Then he turned to give me a deep look, full of meaning.
Meaning, ‘I’m trying to sober up enough to get a good look at you.’
I turned away and hoped the layer of sweat I could feel breaking through wouldn’t eat away at the moustache glue. And hoped The Sicilian would turn his attention back to boozing. Boozing and listening, then boozing and talking.