Another excerpt from my Nicky Nork series……
i“Bernie Palumbo was a guinea martinet of 70 who made convertible furniture, had a house in Pleasantville, and was connected to the Panti family of Buffalo. Through the investment of what he called ‘lamp money” – the profits from every gilt-edged, Florentine, marblesque lamp in his over 100 stores nationwide - and revenues from upstate family businesses, Bernie was a millionaire. Because of endless commercials on TV showing his daughter, Bernice, opening a convertible bed, he was famous. His flagship store on Times Square was not only a money-maker but a tourist attraction. Day-trippers from New Jersey and Long Island came to gawk at the lamps, the loveseats, the convertibility of nearly everything in the store, and the operatic atmosphere of the place.\
To give the store class, Bernie had models sitting on the most impressive furniture; the women dressed in silk organza and taffeta; and all the men in black tie. There was always music playing – Mario Lanza, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone. The showroom was one big Italian parlor from Queens, but classier, brighter, happier. Everyone who visited the store walked away with something – a lamp, an ottoman, an end table.
ErrolI knew Bernie from his early roofing days when they had some business dealings and shared some second cousins. Erroll had called Bernie to see if he could get Larry some easy night work. In fact, Bernie had been looking for someone like Larry who could be the front man for the hookers he liked to take to dinner then fuck in his East End pied a terre. As long as Larry was around, Bernie could never be accused of anything more than being a gracious host.
His wife, Teresa, was jealous and suspicious and he would do anything to keep her away from his booty. Of course Teresa was never invited to Bernie’s outings. Far from it. She was kept as cloistered in their Mamaroneck estate as a Saudi begum. She had her network of informers, however, and as much as Bernie tipped the waiters at Vesuvio, Teresa paid them more. The guest list and seating plan of every dinner was reported back to her every morning.
Bernie always travelled with a retinue – flunkies, factotums, sycophants, hangers-on – they all provided some kind of service. The ex-Mayor of Chatauqua, an incoherent drunk most of the time, was the respectable intermediary between Bernie and the semi-pro hookers who lived on the Upper East Side and made their living off nouveau riche greaseballs like Palumbo. A famous Italian ex-prize fighter quickly recognized whereever he went, was his celebrity. People may have come over to the table to greet Rocky, but if they were anybody, they went away with Bernie’s handshake.
So Larry did his pussy duty every night until the young ladies slipped into the limo beside Bernie. He was paid handsomely for his duties and got to go to all the best restaurants, hang out at Shepherd’s, and have apres-club drinks at the Pierre. There were always attractive young women invited to dinner, plenty of wine, and plenty of opportunity. There were even outings on Bernie’s boat, a floating replica of Bernie’s Times Square showroom.
On one cruise the ex-Mayor of Chatauqua had emptied the East Side of pussy, and after an hour underway, every goomba had one hooker licking his ear and another pulling his dick. There was enough muscle on this boat to shut down the City; but if the feds had pulled alongside the Angela d’Orio, they would have run into a lot of guinea meat but no guns.
Never was there such a change in any philanderer as there was in Bernie Palumbo when he was with his wife. He spent as little time with her as he could, but when she called, he went. “You gotta meet Teresa”, he said to Larry one day, and the next day they drove to Briarcliff Manor, their Mamaroneck estate. Bernie was nervous the whole way. About forty-five minutes before arriving he stopped talking, started to twitch and fidget, pull at his cuffs, and tug at his collar.
Briarcliff Manor was a grand old Tudor house built in the 30s, set high on wide, landscaped grounds. There were iron gates at the entrance to the property, and a long, tree-lined gravel driveway. It all was very impressive. From the outside there was nothing at all to suggest that the owner’s actual taste ran to Florentine lamps.
Larry and Bernie were met at the door by a butler. Behind him the vast entrance hall looked like the medieval armor room at the Met – escutcheons and swords, pennants, banners, and shields were mounted everywhere. A full suit of armor stood on either side of the staircase to the second floor. They were ushered into the sitting room where Teresa was waiting. She was seated on a formal chair, flanked by two ladies-in-waiting. Teresa was enormously fat, easily twice Bernie’s size, and the fat folds of her arms flopped over the armrests. She was wearing a long embroidered dress that looked like sofa upholstery.
Whatever power Teresa had over Bernie, it was strong and palpable. He was paralyzed. Despite the heraldry of the entrance hall, they had just entered an Arab harem – a women’s world violated by Bernie’s visit. Bernie walked over to his wife and kissed her on the cheek.
Wheezing and panting Teresa slowly got up out of her chair. The ladies-in-waiting rushed to help. Their fingers disappeared in the soft flesh of her arms as they supported her. She towered over Bernie. She was enormous, mountainous. Her cheeks were rouged, her eyebrows plucked and pencilled; waves of floral perfume filled the room. As her attendants took a step away, she tottered for a moment, then regained her balance.
“Come, Larry ”, she said, ignoring Bernie. “Let me introduce you to my family”. Bernie knew that she knew.
The visit turned out to be neither a pilgrimmage; nor an audience, a darshan, or a visitation, but a castration. Teresa was going to cut the balls off this little guinea bantam, and she had assembled her coven to cut them up piece by piece: ten short, dark, fat, mean, ugly women in black dresses seated in a circle in the parlor.
“How have you been, Bernie?”, said one.
“And your friends?”
“Are you eating, Bernie?”, asked another. “You don’t look well”
“You look thin, Bernie. You should take care of yourself more”
“And old. He looks old”
“How old is Bernie now, Teresa? ”
“He really doesn’t look well”
“No. He’s not a well man”
“You should take better care of yourself, Bernie. You may not see next year”
“And even if he did, what could he do?”
“What did he ever do?”
“You should be home more, Bernie.”
“He likes young girls”
“Yes but I hear he only looks”
“At his age what do you expect?”
The day after Briarcliff Manor, Bernie’s daughter, Bernice called Larry, and insisted that they meet. Larry was by now thinking about how to get himself unhooked from the Palumbo family, and the last thing he wanted was to get involved with another one of them. Bernice had just had her face sanded to remove the scars and pits left from a particularly bad case of acne, and her face was a bright red . It was both hard to look at her and hard not to look at her.
“Who’s my father fucking?”, she began. “And don’t even try to lie to me, you goomba sonofabitch. He’s fucking East Side pussy”. Apparently ritual castration had not been enough for Bernie.
“Bernice”, Larry pleaded. “He’s not fucking them, he’s……..” Larry searched for the right word “………squiring them”.
“Squiring them?”. She stood up, hands on her hips, face flaming. “You idiot. You are the one squiring them. He’s fucking them. My mother has the names; I want bodies”.
Not only were Bernice and Teresa after his ass, but so were Flora and Angela Impellizieri. They were even more suspicious of Erroll than Bernice and Teresa were of Bernie, and they wanted Larry to rat on him. “I can’t do that, Antie Angie”, said Larry.
“What, you think I got no friends in City Hall? Wise up, Mr. Housing Authority”
It was at times like these that Larry thought of Delia. WASP women were so much easier. Here he had been boning Claire Booth Seeker for months and not only did Delia jump on his cock like she’d never had it before, she liked him fucking Seeker. “Lame guinea bitches just come after your ass”. He shuddered at the thought of the flaming face of Bernice Palumbo; her castrating, elephantine mother, and his harpy Aunt Angela.
“I gotta get the fuck outta here”, he said to himself.
Easier said than done. The next day Joe Lucca, his supervisor at the Housing Authority asked him to come into his office. “Hey, Lar, I hear you’re not happy here any more. Whatsa matter?”
“Hey, Joey, Iisten………”
“Hey, you listen, goofball. You quit, you make Louie B. unhappy. He put out for you, you know? These no-shows ain’t so easy to come by no more.”
Aunt Angela did know people in City Hall after all. Then there was the car business. The dumping wars between him and Fanucci had gotten hot, and one day when Larry went out to drive to work, his car was gone, and only a note was left on the telephone pole. “Guess where your Buick is, fuckhead?” The last thing he wanted to do was to get into a turf battle with Fanucci. That crazy motherfucker whacked people by throwing them alive off of Port Newark, just like that little asshole from Brooklyn said.
So he stayed in Newark. More football bullshit at the Housing Authority. More of Mikey’s cheap shit off-the-truck yard sales in Esta Drucker’s office. More of Metalmouth The Beautician’s blow jobs at lunchtime. Less dumping of goofball cars because of Fanucci and even then, dumping way the fuck down on Pier 97 where the shit that everybody tosses from the Jersey Turnpike lands. More of Bernie’s hookers, although they give him a freebie every so often. Blonde on the outside, wiry black guinea hair on the inside, who were they trying to fool?
His love life was piss-poor. The only woman who cared about him was his mother, and even she kept telling him it was about time he moved out of the house and settled down. Larry figured she was the softest touch of all of them and had more of a thing for white women than he did.
“Momma”, he started, “You know I got this girlfriend in Idaho, right?”
“Larry, you never tell me nothing. It’s as though you weren’t my son sometimes, you know that. Even your cousin Flora talks to her mother more than you do to me, and she’s……whaddya call it? Persona non grata in that family”
“Ma, listen, I’m serious about this girl”. Mrs. Lugno looked up from chopping cucumbers and said, “What did you say?”.
“I said, ‘I got a girlfriend in Idaho’”.
“What kind of girlfriend?”
“I dunno. A girlfriend”
“Come on, tell me. Tell me, Larry”
“Well, she’s not from the neighborhood”
“Oh, come on, Larry, whadda you think I am, just off the boat? What, Passaic, Weehawken……..Short Hills?” Larry noticed the hope in his mother’s voice as she said ‘Short Hills’, the Jersey WASP suburb.
“Well, sort of. Just not New Jersey”.
“So where, New York?”
“The Midwest, Ma. I dunno, Michigan maybe” Again his mother stopped slicing cucumbers, turned to Larry and nodded her head. “Michigan, huh? Michigan’s good”
And so it went as it had gone in so many guinea kitchens before and after Larry and his mother talked prospects. WASP-dom. Green lawns, blonde hair, trimmed hedges, no garlic. What mamma mia wouldn’t want that for her son? Sure it’s OK here Down Neck, but Short Hills? For a fleeting moment she saw Larry go up the drive of a Pease or a Hart or a Moore. A servant would open the door, and Larry’s blonde princess would rush up to kiss him, hold him in her arms like she never wanted to let him go.
“Ma, I want to go to Idaho, where Delia is now”.
“So, what’s keeping you, sweetheart. Go…….Go”
“I can’t, Ma. Uncle Erroll got me the no-show and the job with Bernie in the City. I’m into him, what can I do?”
“Let me talk to Erroll, Lar. Why ya lookin’ so worried? There’ll be a job waiting for you when you come back………..Unless you go live in Michigan.”
“I couldn’t do that, Ma. How could I leave you?”
iiNothing much had changed in Perfect Valley since Larry’s departure. A few people wondered where the Italians had gone, but few knew of the shenannigans that went on below ground. The shelters were a mess. Ground water had already seeped into the cheap concrete walls, and cracks up and down the tunnels oozed a greenish slime – water; lime and sulphur from the nearby hot springs; and copper residue from the mines halfway up the Crazies. Splintered tops from packing crates littered the floors, rats chewed on the bologna sandwiches the goombas had left behind, the ventilation system had ceased to operate and the whole place smelled like farts.
Claire Booth Seeker, of course, could care less about the mess. It only gave her a golden opportunity to rebuild the shelters, to cream thousands off the top of the Building Fund, and add tens of thousands more in contractor kickbacks to her offshore accounts. First she had to vilify the Italians.
“We have been the victims of an Italian conspiracy”, she began, addressing all her faithful gathered in the morning sunlight of Perfect Valley. The day was perfect – a deep blue sky, brilliant white snowcaps shining on the Crazies, bluebells, poppies, and daisies nodding in a light breeze on the meeting ground. “As agents of the international Jewish conspiracy, aided and abetted by the insidious hand of the Trilateral Commission, these……….” Here Seeker paused as she sought the mot juste. Her eyes narrowed, her face twisted, her lips curled, and she spat out the word “guineas”. “……These guineas have raped the Mother Church. They have defiled our sacred, hallowed ground. They have invaded our sanctum sanctorum out of which will flower a new generation of humanity - a cleansed, beautiful, illuminated, powerful generation which will repopulate the earth after Armegeddon.”
Here Seeker paused, this time for dramatic effect. She lowered her voice, and began again in a soft, almost sweet tone. “Do we regret our innocence and our faith? No, for it is that innocence which will blind our enemies. Do we hate our enemies, these dark-skinned invaders? No, because our hate will erode that very innocence which is our strength. Will we look towards a magnificent, shining, glorious future of youth, energy, and optimism?” With each question Seeker’s voice rose and increased in intensity. Now she was at the same pitch as where she had left off before her pause.
“Yes”, she said. “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! We will go forth into the brilliant light of Jesus, Mohammed, and Gautama Buddha. We will be guided by the Archangel Gabriel into the bright, new morning of tomorrow. We will be shephered by the strong hands of Michael, Sebastian, and Peter.”
Again a pause. The eyes of all two thousand faithful, even those of little children, were fixed on her in adoration. They were following her. They were hers. “But we will also be led into battle by Siva The Destroyer and Kali The Purifier. We will not go meekly into that new world, my children, but strongly, confidently. We will stride into the light. We will march into the new day. We will take over the charred, barren landscape of Armegeddon and people it with your children and grandchildren.
“But first we must assure our survival, our destiny………..”
The next part of Seeker’s sermon was no different from Father Castanza pitching the Church of the Holy Redeemer Building Fund Down Neck. She deftly led the faithful from the aerie of moral principal to the nuts and bolts of generators and hydraulic pumps. It was another masterful performance.
She missed Larry at that moment. He would have appreciated the elegance of her scam. She missed being fucked regularly, too. There were only priests, eunuchs, and sycophants in her court now that Larry had gone. He was her Rasputin, her Macchiavelli.
The members of The Church Resplendent and Glorious were now throwing money in the air. Tens, twenties, fifties floated up on the light breeze and fell back on the heads and shoulders of the faithful like flower petals. They hugged and kissed each other in their moment of joy.
Delia missed being fucked by Larry as well, although she described it differently. “My womb is empty”, she said, thinking of the hot thrust of divine energy that had flowed through her when she was with him; but Delia was mesmerized by Claire Booth Seeker and had joyfully flung her money into the air, yelling Guinea…..Guinea!”. She less ceremoniously but devoutly wrote The Church Resplendent and Glorious a check for $500, the “recommended donation” asked for by Seeker.
It was both chutzpah and stupidity that led Larry back to Perfect Valley. He had written off the hundred grand he had given to Seeker as a business loss, held no grudges – he would have done the same to her if he had had the chance – and because he had such a wildly exaggerated sense of his own sexual prowess, he figured Seeker would let bygones by bygones once he had gotten back into her pants.
He had not heard about the passions that she had built up against him and his goomba cronies, and therefore had no idea what was happening when, not far into the Church compound, twenty-five or more of Seeker’s faithful encircled his car and began pounding on the hood and the roof. “Gui-nea, gui-nea, gui-nea”, they shouted. As they pounded and shouted, more and more faithful surrounded the rented LeSabre. They started rocking it, spitting on the windows, banging it with sticks. “Gui-nea, gui-nea, gui-nea”. The chant became louder and louder.
Someone threw a rock through the back window. Someone else reached in and unlocked the driver’s door. A third person opened it, and a fourth pulled Larry out and threw him to the ground. The circle of faithful closed around him. He stood up and looked around. He hadn’t changed one iota from the day he walked into the same compound almost six months before: Hot-combed, a black silk shirt, high collar roll, gold chain, high-waisted double-knit slacks. “What the fuck is goin’ on here?”, he said.
Always act like a mean fuck, Uncle Erroll had told him. “If they’re going to bust your balls, they’re going to bust your balls; but if they think you are a crazy motherfucker maybe they won’t”. So Larry stuck his finger in the chest of the biggest asshole in the first circle. “I said, ‘What the….fuck…is going on here?’”.
Erroll was right. Nobody knew what to do. Seeker had whipped up their passions, taught them the right incantations, but no more. Larry and the goombas had simply become part of the Devil’s pantheon.
If anything, the faithful were afraid of him because of this. Someone in the back started chanting, “Om, Shanti, Om”, and it was picked up by the rest of the crowd. Larry didn’t get it. The last time he had been in a situation like this – Ganucci’s goons righting a wrong – he ended up in the hospital with a ruptured spleen.
As he started walking through the crowd towards the main house of the Upper Campus, Seeker’s chambers, he saw her in the upstairs window. He waved, but she had disappeared. The chants of “Om, Shanti, Om” were getting drowned out by a much louder “Gui-nea, gui-nea” and a voice shouting over both: “Remember the shelters! The guineas defiled them. The guineas raped us! Kill the guinea”.
The crowd closed in, then moved back as Larry jabbed with his finger. “Get the fuck back, morons”. Then it moved in again. At the same time the crowd with Larry in the middle kept moving slowly towards Main House. Like those big jellyfish that floated in the ocean swells on the Jersey Shore, Claire Booth Seeker thought.
Seeker emerged from her chambers flanked by her bodyguards. She was dressed in flowing pink silk, one end of a scarf covering her head, the other trailing behind like Isadora Duncan. Her make-up was a pink dust; her eye shadow a light magenta, her lipstick a subtle mauve. These were the holy colors of the Church. All the pictures of the saints were painted against a background of these Mother’s Day card hues. The chapel of the Church was all purples, mauves, and violets except for a light blue drapery behind the podium in front of which stood the radiant, resplendent Seeker on Sunday mornings.
“Bring me the guinea”, she ordered. Hands groped Larry and pushed him gently towards Seeker until he stood before her. “Stand back”, she told the crowd.
“A sinner has returned to the Church”, she said, “to repent and mend his ways. Kneel, sinner”, she said to Larry.
Larry just stood there. “Kneel down, you guinea motherfuck”, she hissed at him. Larry slowly lowered himself down in front of her. “Always trust your cock”, he thought. “She wants me back.”
He was on his knees for a good fifteen minutes while Seeker went on about Lord Siva and the Buddha, the coming apocalypse and the fact that her people were God’s chosen, not the Jews who were the ones who as good as had their bony fingers on the nuclear button. “Oh, she’s good”, thought Larry. “Really good. Why did I ever leave?”.
“Will you welcome this sinner back into the fold?”
“Yes”, shouted the crowd.
“Will you love him like one of our own?”
“Yes”, they shouted more loudly. Seeker paused and told Larry to get up. She put her hands on his head as he rose, turned her eyes to the sky and said, “O, God, Light of Light, Jesus Christ, holy incarnation of Lord Buddha and Lord Siva; Om, Shanti, Om; Mohammed, Blessed be His name. I beseech you to take this sinner, Lawrence, back into your bounteous arms, bless him, and let him walk among us, cleansed”.
“Cry”, she again hissed at Larry. “Show them you mean it”.
“Jesus fucking Christ”, Larry said through his teeth. “Enough is enough”.
“Just do it”, Seeker said, and Larry twisted his face, trying to remember the last time he had cried. He thought of his poor, dead mother; he visualized the white dead face of his brother, Tony, in his coffin and could hear the laments of his wailing aunts; but it was only the thought of his dog, Pepper, run over by a Newark garbage truck, that made the tears flow. Larry blubbered like it was yesterday.
“O thank you, Jesus. Thank you. Lawrence’s tears of remorse have turned to tears of joy in your sight, O Siva. May the Archangel Michael protect this, our brother, and guide him on a right and righteous path. Amen”
She took Larry by the arm and led him slowly through the doors of Main House, past the guards, up the staircase, through the heavy oak doors, and into her chamber.
“It’s good to see you, goombatz”, she said.