Tic realized on the way to the Tack Room that he probably wasn’t going to pry his five grand from Bernie “The Bug” Kowakalski. He needed that money. He had been counting on it. It would take care of his rent for a while, and pay for his last semester at Saint Francis College. He was that close to earning his degree, making him able to realistically seek employment that didn’t involve hurting people, or stealing their stuff. He had grown weary of being the heavy, and was sick of people avoiding him out of fear. He didn’t hit everyone, just welchers and deadbeats. Everyone knew he was the collection guy for The Hatchet. If you owe money to a man with a name like The Hatchet, you should pay on time. Or expect to have your thumbs broken or your car “repossessed”.
Tic was not his given name. He was baptized Francis Xavier Culleen. Orphaned at thirteen, he had spent the last eight years bouncing from friends’ homes, until he hooked up with the Hatchet. Now he was more or less getting by, but there was no cushion. That’s why he laid that enormous bet on the Bears for the Super Bowl. He knew it was a sure thing. The Patriots sucked. He was less sure the Bug would be expeditious in paying out. He always had a bad feeling about that guy. He was one of those guys that had a bad word for everyone. One look into his beady little eyes and you were convinced he was angling to screw somebody out of something. That’s why Tic called the bar to feel him out. When the Bug told him, “Fuck you! You never laid that bet with me,” he wasn’t totally surprised, Just infuriated. This was not a good thing for anyone.
Tic was given his nickname by a sixth-grade gym teacher that had to keep sending him to the Principal’s office for fighting. Mr. Benson told the Principal, Sister Kathryn, that Francis Xavier Culleen was a ticking time bomb with a short fuse. Unfortunately, this conversation was overheard by a student who was perpetually in trouble himself. Eddy Ruane was all ears sitting outside Sister Kate’s office. He shared this conversation with anyone that would listen. It wasn’t long before young Francis X was known as Tic, Tic, Boom by everyone. Soon enough, it got shortened to just Tic.
So he already had anger issues when Tic found himself orphaned in eighth grade. A suspicious gas explosion cast him parentless into the street. The neighborhood closed ranks around him and took turns sheltering him and seeing to his welfare. Even still, rootless as he was, it was a little like being raised by wolves. It wasn’t long before Tic thought of himself as a hammer. And every problem looks like a nail to a hammer. The results were predictable. When he grew up big, mean and hard, he came to the attention of the Hatchet, who needed someone with Tic’s skillset, and the moral flexibility to use it.
When Tic entered the Tack Room, he walked directly up to where Bernie was sitting at the bar. Bernie’s nephew Stanislaus was leaning on a wall nearby. Six foot five and enormously fat, Stan looked like four hundred pounds of chewed bubblegum. This was Bernie’s bodyguard. Everyone called him Sloth and he struck fear into the heart of no one. This was Bernie’s edge. He was going to need more than that.
“Hey Bernie,” Tic said. “I think we got cut off before. I thought I heard you tell me you weren’t paying me. That couldn’t have been right, could it?”
Bernie had his answer ready.
“Fuck off, you little punk! I would never take a bet like that from someone like you. Tell your story walking,” he said, gesturing toward the door.
And right then, Tic knew exactly what Bernie’s con was. He was taking bets from people he thought were too weak or scared to call him on it. When the bets would win, Bernie would record the payout in the ledger that got forwarded to the Hatchet, who was his bank and protection. Bernie would then pocket the winnings, confident his victim didn’t have the stones to cause him any blowback. This was a classic scam. As long as the Hatchet never found out, it could be very lucrative for The Bug. But Bernie had underestimated the size of Tic’s stones. They were so big, it was a wonder he could walk. Bernie didn’t know it yet, but his greed was about to consume him.
Tic smiled obsequiously at The Bug.
“So that’s it, I should just go fuck myself?” Tic asked innocently.
“Yeah, that’s about right.” The Bug said, dismissing him.
Tic headed toward the door. But he slipped unseen into the men’s room. There he waited. When Bernie finally had to void his bladder, he had only the briefest of instants to react to the pipe with which Tic smashed him in the face. The sound of his enormous nose breaking was like music to Tic. The second shot knocked most of Bernie’s teeth out. It made him look like he had a mouth full of bloody chicklets. Bernie hit the floor face first, out cold.
Tic calmly tucked his pipe back into the back of his pants. Then he rooted through Bernie’s pockets. In one he found all of the betting slips from yesterday’s Superbowl, including his own. In the other pocket he found the keys to Bernie’s ridiculous, purple Buick Riviera. Tic left the bar unnoticed by The Sloth or anyone else. He got in Bernie’s car, parked around the corner. Astonishingly, the idiot had the ledger, already recording his bet and payout on the front seat. Tic thought that what was going to happen to The Bug was starting to feel like natural selection at work. Bernie was just too stupid to survive in a world this unforgiving.
When Tic entered Café Garibaldi, The Hatchet was waiting for him. Tic had the betting slips in one hand and the ledger in the other. He entered The Hatchet’s office, escorted by his top lieutenant, Matteo The Horse Falacaro. The Horse stood behind The Hatchet, an enormous, looming and malevolent presence.
“Don Tomasso,” Tic began with all respect. “I have something you have to see.”
He then laid out the whole scenario to the Don, showing him the betting slips and ledger. The Hatchet considered this for what seemed to Tic like an eternity, but it was probably just a few seconds. The Don whispered something to The Horse, who went over to the safe and removed two fat stacks of hundred dollar bills, and gave them to the Don.
The Hatchet extended one five K stack of bills.
“This is what we owe you. That bet was a bold play.”
Then he extended the other stack.
“And this is for your loyalty and service, we owe you that also. You’ve been a good Soldato. You should lay low for a while. Take a vacation. I’ll call you when I think it’s safe. Now you can go,” the Don said.
As Tic turned to leave, the Don stopped him.
“Oh,” The Hatchet said. “You should leave me the car. That insect, cocksucker has to be buried in something.”
BIO: Michael O‘Keefe is a retired 1st Grade Detective from the NYPD. He spent twenty four years investigating Homicides and other violent crime in the toughest neighborhoods in New York. He grew up in the gritty environments he likes to write about, where he met the colorful characters that appear in his fiction, on both sides of the law. He lives on Long Island with his family where he writes a little and practices the martial arts of swimming pool and lawn maintenance, when he is not coaching football.