This story is by Joe Arcara and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Brooklyn in the 1950’s was a harsh place to live. The streets were mean, and were inhabited by hard people who worked, lived and died in and around its tenements and row houses. World War Two had only been over a few years, and Korea seemed like yesterday. Many of the men on those streets were seasoned killers. Most killed only for their Country, but not all.
At the center of Brooklyn’s East New York sat the Liberty Social Club, run by a Capo, Sammy Legs and his crew. Nothing happened without their knowledge and consent. Nothing dared displease them. They were powerful, vicious Barons in a feudal neighborhood ruled by men so violent that the Police took mob money and went home to wives and children, thankful to be in Sammy’s good graces.
Standing outside the Social club were Eddie the Hat and Vinnie Bang Bang. Eddie was a hard man. Vinnie was much worse than that.
Vinnie listened to Eddie ramble on about the ongoing Football season, but Vinnie wasn’t paying attention. The late Fall weather added a nasty chill to the damp wind, but he paid no attention to it, the cold or to the smell of decaying leaves swirling at his feet. Vinnie’s attention was focused on the convent across the street, where the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Cross lived.
“You gonna talk to her, Vinnie?” Eddie knew the reason for Vinnie’s lack of attention.
“Yeah, it’s gotta be tonight. Next week will be too late.”
“Hell, Vinnie, she’s a Nun.”
“Not yet she ain’t. She’s a novitiate. I keep tellin’ you that. Don’t you listen?”
“Yeah, I listen, but she’s almost a nun.”
“Yeah, well, she won’t be for another week, so tonight I tell her how I feel about her.”
Eddie removed a pack of Lucky Strikes from his parka, took one for himself and offered the pack to Vinnie, who took one and lit a Dunhill gold lighter, holding the flame for Eddie, then himself.
Eddie inhaled deeply, enjoying the taste of the strong tobacco. “Well, you really need to talk to her.”
“Told you, I’m gonna do it tonight.”
“Okay, but make sure you do it.”
Vinnie rolled his eyes at the smaller man. “I’m gonna do it. I just told youse.”
“Okay, but make sure you do, cause here they come.”
Walking through the chilly night came a row of nuns, their black and white habits looking eerie in the street lit night. Mother Superior Clara led them, followed by a dozen others in descending order of seniority, with three young novitiates at the line’s end. The novitiates did not wear head habits, and their exposed hair blew in the wind.
“You be okay here by yourself till I get back?”
“Sure, Vinnie, take your time. Not like you’re goin’ to Jersey. You’ll be across the street.” Vinnie nodded, flicked his cigarette away and stepped off the curb toward Mother Clara.
Stepping almost in front of the old woman, Vinnie tipped his fedora and leaned down to speak softly in her ear. “Hey, Mother Clara, It’s me, Vinnie.”
“I know who you are, Vincent. I’ve known you since I taught you in second grade, what, twenty years ago?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“Yes, you used to beat up the other boys for their lunch money.”
“Yeah, well, you used to hit me with that wooden yard stick of yours. Made me mean.”
“You were seven, Vincent. You weren’t old enough to be mean, just bad.”
“Well, you know why I’m here, Mother Clara. I have to talk to her. I have things to tell her.”
She looked up at the earnest young man. One of the most feared men in Brooklyn, he looked nervous, unsure. Love would do that to a man. “She’s made her decision, Vincent. She prayed on it for months. Sisterhood is right for her, but you have to hear it for yourself, don’t you. I suppose I can trust her complete safety to you while you talk?”
“She’ll be safer with me than anyplace in Brooklyn. You got my word.”
“Alright, Vincent. Don’t keep her out long. It’s cold, and she’s a slight thing. Mary!”, she called to the end of the line. “Here’s Vincent to speak with you. Straight inside when you’re done!”
A dozen smiling nuns passed him for entry into the convent, leaving only one. Mary. The girl he had always loved.
Vinnie smiled down at her, taking her in, remembering her slender body under the habit, sinking into her curious gaze, her startling blue eyes probing him, her raven hair thick and shining under the street lamp. “It’s really good to see you, Mary. I’ve missed you so much.”
She took half a step back, wary. This part of her life was over. Why was he here now? Where was he all the times she needed him to be with her? Then, she was an afterthought, a possession that he carelessly would toss into a drawer until some whim made him want to hold it again.
“Vinnie, it’s too late for this. I’ve made up my mind. Next week I go into the Order. It’s… it’s just too late.” She wanted to run to the convent door, away from his sad eyes, away from her past. She did not. She stayed and watched him seem to grow smaller, desperation making him slump.
“I know I did it all wrong. I know how stupid I’ve been, Mary. I took you for granted, like you would always be there, always be waiting. Like your world revolved around me.
“Then, you left, and it all came crashing down on me. Then I knew that without you, I’m broken. Only you can fix me. Please, Mary, tell me I still got a shot. I love you, Mary. You are my heart, Baby. Please, give me another chance, even though we both know I don’t deserve one. Please.” He reached out a hand to her, but could not bring himself to touch her habit. It would be like some terrible sacrilege.
She looked at him, and she thought her heart would stop in sorrow for this man that loves her. “Vinnie, it’s not just that. It’s who you are. What you do. I can’t be a part of that.”
He nodded his head. “I know, Mary, I’d change it for you if I could, but I’m a made man. Once you’re in, it’s for life. There’s no leavin’. Never. But, I promise you this. Marry me, and I will never bring my work into our home. Never. I swear an oath to you,” he said, raising his right hand as if in court.
Softly, she touched his face with her hand. She felt the rough beard beneath her fingers. “Oh, Vinnie, I was your girl since we were kids. Why did you wait so long?”
“I was a fool. Look, all I’m askin’ is that you think about it. Just some hope is what I’m lookin’ for. I know I’m making this hard on you, and I’m sorry. Please, Mary, consider giving us another chance. I love you, and I know you love me. We should be together.”
He stepped away from her touch, searching her eyes. The sadness he saw there distressed him. I should let her go, he thought. She deserves better, but God, I love her. Please let her pick me.
“I’ll pray on it Vinnie. I’ll pray hard. I do love you, but I need to think, and pray.”
Vinnie smiled at her, turned, walked into the street and turned towards her again, watching as the convent door closed behind her, and never saw the large black car swerving towards him, windows open, guns out the windows.
Vinnie heard the shots, felt the blows suck the air from his lungs, felt his body stagger from their force. He was somehow on his back, listening to the shouts and running feet, watching a full moon surrounded by hazy stars. Then, Mary’s terrified face was there, looking down at him, speaking to him. “Stay with me, Vinnie. Stay with me and I swear, I’ll marry you. We’ll have a family and take care of each other always. Just stay with me.” These last words came out as a sob, her hands on his chest, trying to push the blood back inside him.
Vinnie smiled at her. “She picked me,” he thought. Mary watched as the smile faded and his eyes glazed over. Vinnie Bang Bang, one of the most feared men in Brooklyn, was gone.
Mary tried to stand, and found herself helped by Eddie. “That was a good thing you did, Sis. He died happy, loving you. You were always the best of us.”
“And you’ve always been a good brother, Eddie. Putting her bloodied hands over her eyes, she screamed, “I loved him, Eddie!”
Eddie the Hat nodded, held his sister and looked down the empty street, planning revenge.