“So there I was, on my knees, eyes shut, gun to my forehead, angels already sending me on my way.”
Light blasted his body, silhouetting him from behind, dust hanging in the air. Each gesture sent the rays of light dancing behind him.
“Knives looks me dead in the face and goes, Sally, this is it, you know I don’t want to do this but you’ve screwed up for the last time.”
Salvatore Cagan slacked his jaw lazily while simultaneously staring daggers into each of the comedy club’s patrons. Somewhere between a Stallone and a Nicholson. Tittering from the audience. Cagan stifled a giggle, sneaking a peak into the audience.
And there he was, Estreya Mafia legend, Marlon “Knives” Pavoratti, sitting in the shadows, shaking his head with a bemused expression. “Go on,” he gestured.
“I hate to do this to ya but…” Cagan drawled suddenly flinching, hands flung against his shoulders, face scrunched up in anticipation of the ultimate finality. And just like that, all the laughter was sucked away into a vacuum of anticipation.
Cagan poked one eye open and looked above him, positively shaking. Yet despite his clamped- shut pie hole, the corner of his mouth opened and closed in that same slack jawed way.
Laughter erupted around the club as Salvatore Cagan got the audience rolling once again. Carefully placing the microphone back on its respective stand, he flashed a genuine smile to the audience. “Thanks, fellas. You’ve been a great audience…as always.”
Cagan looked out into the audience, squinting in the light. Up in front was his number one goon, Rhino, the toughest guy in the city who could get even the heavy weight champion of today to scream “Uncle!”
When he started his weekly stand-up routine a few months ago to take the edge off, he made it mandatory for his goons to attend the show. Was he being a little insecure? Oh yeah. Was that the reason his shirt was always unbuttoned two buttons down? Yeah, possibly. Or maybe he did it to catch an eye here and there, who knew really.
Eventually, his guys stopped coming. Mugsy and Vinny brought it up during a heist, accidentally complaining about the five dollar cover charge in front of him. It was the ski masks probably, Mugsy and Vinny always tripped up with the ski masks. Eh, who could blame them?
It didn’t matter that they didn’t show up anymore. Rhino’s hearty guffaws guided the symphony of laughter behind him.
Oh shoot, he was looking at Rhino a little too long again…
“It means a lot to me that youze mugs laugh at my jokes,” Cagan admitted, sheepishly. “Hopefully, we’ll get to do this again next week.”
Applause. Cagan nodded and grabbed onto his wheelchair, rolling himself off stage and over to his table. Just as he landed, an appletini slid across the table, halting just in front of him. Rhino winked and tipped an imaginary hat to him.
Cagan, holding back a chuckle, eyed the drink with apprehension. “Rhino, you know we got a job tonight.”
“Oh come on, Sally,” Rhino smiled, bouncing in his seat from excitement. “It’s an appletini, easy on the tini.”
Cagan smiled. How could he say no to that? “Alright, you big palooka, fine,” he said, feigning exasperation.
Cagan’s pinky jabbed upwards as he brought the rim of the glass to his lips. A tingle prickled all over his skin, a shiver running up his spine. Eyes were watching him hungrily. Starry hazel eyes at that. He didn’t need to check to know that.
“So, um…you worried about the heist tonight?” Rhino leaned forward. Rosy skin, glistening with sweat, probably tight as a librarian’s bun.
“Huh? Why?” Cagan asked dismissively.
“Well, you gave that whole speech at the end.” A rugged voice with soft intonations.
Rhino slid his elbows onto the table and as if they were two positive magnets, Cagan slid back, craning his neck to look up at the next comic in the lineup.
“Nah,” Cagan sighed.
“Alright,” Rhino grunted, pretending to laugh at one of the jokes on stage. While laughter thundered through the club, Rhino’s eyes eagerly swung back to Cagan. His mouth pursed to say something, but ultimately he ended up biting his tongue.
“We should probably get out of here,” Cagan sighed, sliding the appletini away from him. “It’s going to be a long night.” Cagan turned away from the table and began rolling to the exit.
Rhino plucked the cherry from his whiskey sour in a hurry, and sprinted to catch up with Cagan who shot directly between tables.
Finally catching up with Cagan outside the bar, Rhino grabbed onto the handles of the wheelchair only for his hands to get swatted away.
Rhino slid to a stop, hands retreating to his coat pockets. Cagan swiveled to face Rhino.
“What?” Cagan spat at him.
“Should we be doing this job tonight?” Rhino asked nervously.
Mustache bristles shaking with his voice, neatly trimmed of course. Rub your hand against them and it’s like a freshly cut lawn.
“Yeah!” Cagan said, a little distracted, “We’re going to get a lot of money off this one.”
“Yeah,” Rhino bowed his head. “But you seem worried. I mean, we come to the club every week and do jobs after. What’s different about tonight?”
There it was. We come to the club every week. We, the two of us. We, a comedian and his just-a-friend who doesn’t mind shelling out five smackers for him every week.
“R-rhino,” Cagan sputtered. “J-just because you come to my standup d-d-doesn’t mean you know me, okay?”
Rhino gritted his teeth. “Sally, your stand-up gets pretty personal sometimes, I mean, I can’t—I can’t come every week and not—do you not want me coming anymore, is that it?”
The old shtick was all about the harrowing experiences of a young mobster in the big boy leagues. Come to think of it, the week after Mugsy and Vinny’s appreciation of Cagan’s tight five mirrored that of a funeral procession, it changed.
Stories about his estranged mother who didn’t want to talk to him anymore, friends that didn’t answer his emails anymore, anecdotes about movies that really got his heart thumping…
“Hey, have you seen Just Like Heaven with Mark Rufflolo and Reese Witherspoon?” Rhino asked him on a quiet drive home after one particular set. “It’s pretty silly, I think it’d be good material for your act. Wanna check it out this week?”
Cagan blinked, every section of his brain working overtime to get him to put it all together.
Those starry hazel eyes.
One eye on the enemy, another eye on his back, keeping track of him in case something happened. Eyes that would never let him down, eyes that kept him alive.
“Jeez,” Rhino shook his head, “It’s fine—I get it—we’re coworkers, I shouldn’t be assuming we’re friends just because—“
“No,” Cagan admitted in a small voice. Like a mother who just had to tell her son that they put the cat down. “I—I like you coming, Rhino, c’mon, don’t be like that.”
Rhino smiled for a second, then leaped back into his tirade. “Then acknowledge that we’re friends so I can ask you these questions!”
“Yeah, okay,” Cagan nodded, slouching in the chair. “Yeah, I’m worried about tonight. I’m not comfortable with the job, it’s a little bit of a heave-ho, y’know?”
“Should we do it?” Rhino asked, hazard lights going off in his eyes.
Like slapping your hand on a steaming stovetop, Cagan eased back. “Rhino, you know even I can’t ask those kinds of questions.”
Rhino clenched his jaw, unable to freeze his quivering lip, and nodded.
Cagan blew the spit-curl out of his eye.
Rhino’s voice cracked when he said it.
“We’re in trouble, huh?”