Some Severe Situations #4: “Our Father”Books/Art/Culture,Features/Interviews,Home,News Joe DeRosa
In this moment, John Riggi wasn’t so focused on the fact that he didn’t want to meet his father-in-law-to-be for a coffee, but that the man he’d soon call “dad” had immensely less a desire to meet with him. Martin Clavaster–father of Clarissa Clavaster—love of John Riggi’s life—was nothing if not the following three things: cockney, terrifying, and a hater of Italians. John Riggi, on the other hand, embodied all of the qualities a person like Martin despised, the most worrisome of which being a Sicilian heritage. This was a terrible match. But here the two of them were, in a small cafe, on a Sunday afternoon, just one week out from the wedding.
The place was empty, save the two of them, as John expected it would be. Martin owned the quaint, little, French-inspired spot and it wasn’t due to open for another month or so. The clanging and hammering coming from the kitchen didn’t help ease the tension, but a set of thick, swinging, oak doors muffled the noise just enough to make it tolerable. And there, in front of the doors, at a small, round table, draped in white cloth, sat Martin, looking pale and cold as the marble molding that lined the ceiling. John, about to take a seat, paused when a man in a solid black suit exited the kitchen and stood in front of the doors, silently, like a Pinkerton guard.
Martin scoffed. “Well, you gonna bloody sit or jus’ stand there like a fucking twat?” John sat, quickly and somehow apologetically, while explaining himself. “Sorry. I just didn’t want to be presumptuous, sir.” “Never met a deigo that wasn’t.” The insult was followed by a far more damning silent stare that seemed to come from the depths of Martin’s soul. The stare had questions: Why the fuck are you here? Why the fuck are you wasting my time? What the fuck does my daughter see in you? In that instant, it was clear that Martin didn’t just hate Italians; he hated John. He hated the idea of John, the appearance of John, the manner of John; ethnicity, at this point, was a distant second. And John knew that he’d momentarily be sinking even deeper into Martin’s disgust for him. John had news…about the wedding…and it wasn’t good.
“Well, sir, I came today to discuss-” Martin interrupted him, looking over his shoulder to the henchman and spitting out, “You ever seen a Guinea squirm like this? My daughter’s plucked herself a ripe one. You may be worf somethin’ after all, Johnny Boy. Could get a few hundered quid chargin’ blokes to feast their eyes on a deigo wit’ manners.” John laughed, but it was the kind of laugh a guy gives his boss when the joke is bad but the promotion is wanted. Martin’s gaze stabbed through the façade. “Now you listen here, cunt. Don’t try an’ charm me. You here about the horse? Your riding lesson is today. Four. Sharp.”
John found zero relief in Martin breaching the exact subject he came to discuss. In fact, it only increased his tension. Still, he spoke. “Well, there…there is one small thing about the horse. I know I have that lesson today and I know you want me to ride a white horse into the chapel on the day I marry your daughter. But I think it’s…” “A bit much?” John felt his nerves release for the first time since he awoke at five a.m. in a frenzy about this confrontation. His exhale was orgasmic. “Yes. Yes. Exactly. Thank you for understanding, sir. Yes.”
Martin grinned, showing the mildest glimpse warmth. Given the fact that this was the first emotion outside of disgust John had ever seen the man emit, he found it quite reassuring. Martin collected himself briefly, possibly embarrassed by his display of vulnerability, then leaned in toward John, with a wanting, almost pathetic, gaze.
“Son, do me the courtesy of allowin’ me to tell you somethin’.” Eager to please—and strangely feeling he had somehow acquired the higher ground—John lurched forward, his head meeting his father-in-law-to-be’s smack dab in the middle of the table. “Of course, sir. Anything.”
He might as well have finger-painted an “X” on his jaw.
“I don’t fuckin’ like you, John.” John quickly realized Martin’s gaze wasn’t sympathetic or needy. He just had dead eyes. “I don’t like that you’re marryin’ my fuckin’ daughter. I don’t like that you’re gonna be a part ‘a my fuckin’ family. And I don’t like that you’re gonna sully my grandchildren’s blood with your fuckin’ dago-wop genetics. But my daughter loves you ‘cause she’s got a bloody affinity for takin’ in tossers like ya’self. Be better off mountin’ a stray fuckin’ dog, she would. But I love her, so I give her my blessin’. You followin’ me so far?”
The awkward silence that hung between them was essentially code for “Crystal clear, sir.”
Martin’s smirk, which now looked pretty shitty, reappeared on his face. “Ya’ see, I’m puttin’ out three hundred thousand quid on this weddin’. Quite a bit ‘a change. So on the day that you’re gonna send my best interests into a fuckin’ upheaval, if I ask you to ride a fuckin’ horse into the fuckin’ chapel, you’re gonna fuckin’ do so. Fuck…I ask you to ride my daughter her fuckin’ self into the fuckin’ buildin’, you do that too, and not think fuckin’ twice about throwin’ a saddle ‘cross fuckin’ her back.” John thoughts were scattered and racing, but their sum total equaled “Holy shit.” Unfortunately, Martin was far from finished.
“You know the cost to rent a white horse?”
“Precisely more money than you make in a fuckin’ month. Not to mention the fuckin’ lesson I paid for today. So you’ll be smilin’ as ya’ trot down the fuckin’ aisle. ‘Cause that horse is certainly the nicest vehicle you’ll ever fuckin’ drive. And drive it you will.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear you fuckin’ do. So, let me ask you a question: Is this wedding day about you?” The equation seemed easy enough, but John’s tension over being ensnared again cause him to answer in the form of a question. “No?” “Right as fuckin’ rain.” It was like being in a spelling bee in the fourth-grade: a rush of fear and anxiety, only to be relieved when you lucked out and guessed correctly. Unfortunately, not being disqualified meant revisiting this sick cycle of emotions an indefinite amount of times. Martin’s onslaught continued.
“This day ain’t about you. It ain’t even the fuck about my fuckin’ daughter. It’s about me…provin’ to all those starin’ cunts that I was able to provide for my youngest on her weddin’ day.” It was obvious John was wholly unaware of who the “cunts” were. Martin graciously elaborated. “The cunts are the people attendin’ this affair. Fucking cunts. Every last one of ‘em. Old money cunts. Known ‘em all my life. And they always thought a boy born to steel workers never could’a made nothin’ of himself. They’d like to see me fall on my fuckin’ face on Sunday.” “Aren’t they your family…and friends of your family?” The corners of Martin’s mouth pointed downward so drastically that the term “revolted frown” was not only an understatement, but an insult to the impossible shape his lips had achieved. It looked downright painful. He didn’t hold it for long.
“I DON’T HAVE ANY FUCKIN’ FRIENDS! They’re all dead! Guess how?”
John didn’t want to guess. John didn’t even want to play. But here he was, in the game, and perhaps about to be “disqualified.” He eked out an answer. “Something to do with…the cops…and crime?” Martin quickly informed John know he was still in play. “WELL, A FUCKIN’ GOLD STAR TO YOU THEN!”
Despite a keen rush of terror, the “gold star” comment couldn’t help but make John wonder if Martin had also been internally playing out a spelling bee analogy. Still, potential solidarity aside, this was going far worse than John could have had ever imagined. The distress stampeding through his body made that five a.m. panic spell seem pleasurable, comparable even to his first date with Clarissa.
Suddenly, faint buzzing from a few feet away brought a brief respite to the grueling interaction. John was relieved to see the man in the black suit—he had forgotten he was even in the room—take a ringing cell phone from his pocket, becoming the new temporary target of Martin’s rage. “Can you silence that fuckin’ ting, you soulless fuckin’ cunt?!”
The man, unshaken by the assault, perhaps due to the monotony that comes from long-term employment under such harsh conditions, scanned a text message and quickly approached the table. What he whispered into Martin’s ear was anybody’s guess. The way Martin felt about it was not. “You tell that fuckin’ alphonse we do it the way I say we do it or it’s claret on the fuckin’ walls!” John was not fluent, not even familiar, with cockney slang, but logic dictated that claret was blood.
Martin interrogation continued. “You tell me how in the fuck he can get his bullocks up enough to ask for the afternoon off?! If he ain’t gonna go, then who the fuck is gonna go?! It sure as shit ain’t gonna be me!”
The man whispered again to Martin, clearly attempting to provide him with some pertinent information. But the old geezer was like the flu: throw whatever the hell you want at it, the nasty son of a bitch is still going to run his course. “I’ll tell you this: I hope his daughter’s recital is bloody well worth it. I pray the twat dances circles around all those other little cunts. She’ll need them skills, she will. Because in ten years when she’s spinning around a fucking stripper pole it’ll generate the sufficient income to cover the ass of her unemployed fuckin’ father!” The man nodded and left the room. John nearly went in his pants. Knowing the henchman didn’t return to his post was knowing he was off to do something unthinkable.
Putting both elbows on the table, Martin closed his eyes, let his head slump, and didn’t press, but literally pinched the bridge of his nose. Had blood actually spurted out, it wouldn’t have been a shock. He was lost in thought and, unfortunately for John’s nerves, a pensive Martin was even more frightening than an explosive one. Then, after a few seconds that dragged out like centuries, Martin raised his head, eyes opening and devilish smirk returning.
“Well, John. It seems we have a strange, yet coincidental turn of events here. I’ve got myself a job to finish and I’m one man down. Now, bein’ that I’m in a bit of a time crunch and you need something from me, what’s say we make ourselves a deal?” Hesitantly, John bit. “Go on…” “You go finish this job, you don’t have to trot down that fuckin’ aisle.”
Somewhere down the line, maybe in the September of his years, John would have a better understanding of how one should navigate a situation this drastic and unfamiliar. But as for now, in this very moment, he let his interests in not making a fool of himself, along with a healthy dose of intimidation, inform his decision.
“I’ll do it.”
As John stepped into the death trap of an elevator in the piss-stinking apartment building, Martin’s instruction played endlessly, over and over, in his head. “You take this key, you go to the apartment at the address on this matchbook, you get a package. I assume you know what the fuck a package is and part of what defines it as such is the fact that it needs to be the fuck delivered. So den, once you’re in the apartment, you go to the kitchen, take the package from the bottom left cabinet and bring it to the address in this here other matchbook. And you leave it on the stoop. And that is fuckin’ that.”
The elevator doors opened and John made his way across the hallway’s worn, industrial carpet. Compared to the dead mouse, the brown and yellow stains on it were charming. Still, none of the environment’s gross qualities were too distracting. John’s attention, even though he was without question in the correct place, was solely on the matchbook. This was not a task to be fucked up. His focus on the scribbled apartment number 4B was not broken until he stood directly at the front door. “I’ll do it,” John muttered and slipped the key into the lock.
This wasn’t so bad. It was a delivery. Drugs, presumably. Who cares? It wasn’t like he’d be marching down the street with a bag of brown powder labeled Heroine. Martin hadn’t gotten this far in the criminal world without discretion. The package would be wrapped in plain, brown paper. They always are.
And maybe the package wasn’t even drugs. Maybe it was just money. Cold, hard cash was number two on the list, “things most delivered by the mob.” This was more than a fair trade for not having to ride a fucking steed into a church like a romantic prince. And John would score points with his future old man. Win, win. At last, it was John who was smirking. “I’ll do it,” he said again, this time nearly chuckling through the words, turning the key and entering the apartment.
When John first stepped in, he could barely see a thing. The unit held an impressive darkness for early afternoon. He instantly reached out his left hand, feeling the wall for a light switch. To the touch, it was obvious that the walls were coated in thick, cheap latex paint. It was the kind of paint job slumlords loved because it was fast and cheap and quickly covered everything, including the light switch, which made it a bit difficult to flip on when John’s hand finally located it. Still, he managed.
A few overhead fixtures illuminated what was no more than a four-hundred-square-foot studio. There wasn’t a piece of furniture in the place. As John was getting his bearings, the smell of shitty paint became overwhelming; a distraction that would no doubt quickly lead to a headache. Thankfully, his time in the apartment would be short. Directly across from the front door was the kitchen: two sets of balsa wood cabinets, one higher and one lower, with a hot plate and a rusted sink next to them.
Martin’s voice guided John like an abusive Obi-Wan. “The bottom left cabinet!” He was probably forgetting a fuck or two, but the directive was nevertheless understood. John quickly made his way to the shoddy, wooden door, bent down and yanked it open.
He knelt there for a moment. John knelt there, staring at the cabinet’s contents—nothing but a gallon-sized Ziplock bag. Fairly unremarkable. But what was something of note was the contents. The bag contained a severed hand and two loose eyeballs. Worst of all, there was no brown paper. Jesus Christ. It was up to John to figure out how to courier a bag of loose body parts to the next location without anybody noticing. It wasn’t like he had a backpack, or a briefcase, or a criminal activity survival kit.
John yanked the doors of the other cabinets open, hoping, praying, he’d find a duffle bag or at least some tin foil. But they were as bare as the rest of the place. Yep, the only item here was the one that was surely going to get John thrown in jail. Jail. Beatings, raping, psychological scarring, and no Clarissa. Ever. Except when she’d visit to talk through those phones with the glass in between them…when she’d come to tell him she held out as long as she could but had to move on and was now fucking the best man from the wedding that never happened.
And that wasn’t even the worst-case scenario. What the fuck would happen if he didn’t complete the job? If he just walked out the apartment right then and there and had to tell Martin, in so many words, “tough shit?” He could always flee to Barbados. For some reason, that’s where they all went when they were on the run. No Clarissa there, either. No nothing there, for all John knew. He’d never even seen a picture of Barbados. He didn’t even have a passport. Maybe he could convince the lady at the airport to let him through without one by sliding her a hundred bucks. Bribes. That’s how criminals, which he was now, made things happen.
John collapsed onto his ass. He went at the bridge of his nose the way he’d seen Martin do earlier. As John sat there, barely saving off a flood of tears, the thought of horse prancing and a saddle horn smashing into his balls suddenly didn’t seem so grotesque.