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By Zack Budryk
Author's Note: The protagonist of this story is intended to be autistic. Historical accuracy prevents it from being explicitly acknowledged within the text of the story but if there's one thing I've learned, it's that people will fight tooth and nail to avoid admitting a character is autistic unless it's made explicit.
The grandfather clock down the hall chimed twice, then a third, upwards-inflected time, indicating 45 minutes past the hour. Jacinta Devlin had her pocket watch on the desk right in front of her but she always counted out the chimes anyway. They felt right. As long as she could hear them, the world was on schedule.
Forty-five past eight meant it was time for Jacinta to make collections for Mr. Rosenzweig. She eased her topcoat off the back of the chair and pulled it on without buttoning it, putting on her dark gray felt snap-brim as she got up. Mr. Rosenzweig wasn’t sure about her wearing a suit, but Jacinta was insistent. The men who worked for him wore suits so it made no sense not to.
Jacinta was 22 years old, plump and about 5 and a half feet tall, with red curls she kept a medium length. One of Mr. Rosenzweig’s associates, thinking he was being very generous indeed, once told her that if she lost some weight she’d be the spit of Ethel Clayton. Jacinta hadn’t been familiar with the idiom, to which the man explained, as if talking to a simpleton, that he meant she’d look like her, to which Jacinta asked why the hell she’d want to look like Ethel Clayton.
“Well, because she’s a damn pretty one,” the man had said.
Jacinta had shrugged. “So am I.” And that was the end of that.
Jacinta’s father Sean had been a top aide to Mayor Curley, but had also been his liaison to “King” Saul Rosenzweig. When the Volstead Act passed, Mr. Rosenzweig became the man who made sure whiskey and champagne made it to Mayor Curley’s campaign dinners, in ways Mr. Rosenzweig and Mayor Curley both agreed the latter was better off not knowing the details of.
When Jacinta was 16, her parents had both been killed in a streetcar accident, and all of a sudden all of their Brahmin friends who had chucked her under the chin and told her how pretty she was were nowhere to be found. On Beacon Hill, people would talk if you decided to take in a young woman who rocked on her ass when she was upset and flapped her right hand when she was happy and wouldn’t take communion without gloves because Father Mulcahy’s hands smelled of tobacco. Mr. Rosenzweig, who was on the record a pillar of the community, had taken her in, put her through Wellesley, and put up a valiant but doomed fight when she said she wanted to come work for him.
Jacinta’s hand was on the door when the telephone rang. She sprinted back to her desk, hurrying to answer before the third ring (this was the point at which Jacinta normally gave up hope that the person she was calling would answer, and she hated subjecting other people to it).
“Jackie,” said Mr. Rosenzweig when she answered. “Glad I caught you. I’m switching up the schedule today. I need you to make a pickup from a joint in the North End.”
“What? I don’t know the North End.” Jacinta tried to keep her voice from shaking. “Mr. Rosenzweig, you can’t just change things on short notice like this, you know that.”
“Jackie, Jackie, settle down, alright? I’m sending someone. He’ll help you out.”
“What? That’s worse. I don’t drive with men. They think they can put their hands on me. You know all this.”
“This guy’s a fairy, so that won’t be a problem.”
“I don’t understand what that means.”
“It means he likes fellas.”
“What an insensible thing to like.”
“Just try to be polite, okay, Jackie? He’s a nice kid.”
“I’ll do my utmost.”
“I’ll take that. And Jackie?”
“No one’s gonna touch you. If they do, you have my permission to put two in their fuckin’ heads. Send ‘em a message, like.”
She put the phone back on the cradle and walked downstairs to the sidewalk, struggling against a blast of cold Boston air that nearly blew the door shut as she tried to get out. There was a Packard idling at the curb with a skinny Italian man in the driver’s seat. He extended one hand. “Miss Devlin? Sal Recevo.”
She nodded. “I’m sorry, I prefer not to shake hands.”
He raised an eyebrow but didn’t press the matter as she tucked the tail of her coat inside the door.
They drove in silence for a while. There was an unusual amount of traffic for a Saturday, prompting Jacinta to begin reading. As they neared Hanover Street, Sal cleared his throat.
“Hey, not to pry, Miss D, but what are you readin’ there?”
“H.P. Lovecraft,” Jacinta said, not looking up. “Are you familiar with him?”
“Nah, I don’t read that much. What’s he write, romantic-type stuff?”
Now she looked up. “No, actually. For instance, the story I just finished, ‘The Picture in the House’? That’s about a traveler in the countryside of New England seeking shelter from a storm who finds himself in a house he initially believes to be abandoned, but as it happens, it’s occupied by an old man who shows him pictures in his books of various civilizations that practice cannibalism, and the occupant of the house begins to imply he’s been killing and eating people unfortunate enough to happen upon the house. The narrator then notices a spreading red stain on the ceiling, a drop of it falling on the book, but at this point, a bolt of lightning destroys the house.” She exhaled as she finished. Sal stared at her for a second.
Jacinta turned away. “I’m terribly sorry,” she said. “I do that sometimes. I read quite a lot, you see, and sometimes it all comes out at once.”
Sal shrugged. “I’m the same way with baseball. Nothing to worry about.”
As the car entered the North End, the streets got narrower. “So, hey, Miss D,” Sal said, “I don’t much like the thought of scraping up Mr. Rosenzweig’s car in a tight space. You mind if we park and walk? We’re not far.”
As they reached Prince Street, Sal pointed to a bar on the corner. “That’s the place.”
Sal knocked three times and a tall, muscular man in a pinstriped suit with gray-streaked hair opened the door. He squinted at the two of them and then his expression softened into something resembling recognition.
“You’re the Jew’s man,” he said to Sal.
“We’re here on behalf of Mr. Rosenzweig, yes,” Jacinta said.
He looked over at her as though noticing her for the first time. “Tommy DiMassi,” he said. “Charmed and all that jazz.” He looked back over at Sal. “What’s the angle, she hide the shit in her brassiere or something?”
“Mr. DiMassi,” Jacinta said, “there is no angle. I’m a member of Mr. Rosenzweig’s organization and we’re here for his money.”
He looked back at her. “Jeez,” he said. “That old hebe needs the help that bad, he should talk to me.” He walked over behind the bar and withdrew a strongbox, counting out several bills, which he roughly handed to Sal. Sal handed them to Jacinta, who meticulously lined them up, trying to convey with her facial expression how annoying it was to have to do this personally.
“You’re short,” she said at last.
“Eh?” Every time she spoke, DiMassi reacted as though he was just noticing her for the first time.
“You’re short, Mr. DiMassi. This is only 600. I’ve seen this establishment’s balance sheets. This isn’t 15 percent.”
“Fuck would you know?”
“I’m a mathematics major, Mr. DiMassi,” Jacinta said, slipping the money into her coat. “You’re short. We can come back tomorrow if you don’t have it all but there’ll be interest.”
“The fuck?” DiMassi looked back and forth between them. “The fuck is this? Flits and lunatics are shaking me down, up is down, black is fuckin’ white. You know what? The hell with this.” He pulled a gun from his waistband and leveled it at Sal.
“Whoa, Jesus, Tommy,” Sal said. “Don’t let’s…”
“Don’t Jesus-Tommy me,” DiMassi said. “Put your hands on your fuckin’ head.” Sal complied as DiMassi edged his way over to Jacinta. “And you, give me my goddamn money back.”
He slipped his hand inside her coat until he found it. “Or, you know what, I can find it myself, actually.” He withdrew the money slowly, winking at her and cupping her right breast as his hand passed it.
Jacinta’s eyes went wide and she pulled her gun from her left shoulder and shot DiMassi twice in the head.
“Hoooo!” Sal yelled something in Italian. “Sonofabitch! I mean, fuck him, but where the hell did that come from?”
Jacinta looked confused. “I always carry a gun.”
“No, I mean, sure, let’s get the money back, but killing him seems a little excessive.”
Jacinta snatched up the money before the blood could reach it. “Mr. Rosenzweig gave me permission to shoot anyone who touched me like that.”
“You don’t think maybe he was kidding?”
Jacinta tucked the money into her coat. “He wouldn’t kid me about something like that.”
Sal grabbed his hat from the floor. “If you say so. Where to next?”
“Swell. Will you tell me some more Lovebird stories?”
“Sorry. Will you?”
“I can just loan you the book.”
“You’re a pal.”
Jacinta took her place in the Packard’s passenger seat. “I do my utmost.”
#Unreal #ShortStory #Fiction #CreativeWriting #Literature #Prose #Gangsters
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