A Joseph Angello Story
by Peter A. Parmantie
....."Angello, you gonna
stare at that beer or drink it?"
.....Jake Matansky swabbed a
rag over the bar. He leaned his two hundred pounds over it, "That's
Mister Asshole to you."
.....I continued to stare into
.....Bunch of stragglers now.
Five other men and a woman sat in The Refuge, each of
us alone, each of us on an island staring out across the water.
.....The Refuge was Matansky's
bar, a cozy, secret place, all dark wood, red and yellow posters
promoting past boxing matches, heavily padded bar stools and
a wood floor trodden smooth by armies of the lonely. At three
in the morning the lights were dim, the television was off, and
bar odors were all I could smell.
....."How much do you fork
over to keep this place open past hours?"
....."You'd be surprised
how little. I get a few politicians in here. And they got friends.
What're you doing here?"
....."Holding a memorial
.....I could tell by his expression
that Jake had suddenly remembered. "Look, Joe, I--"
.....He dropped it.
.....On this date, three years
ago, I sat helpless by Maude's bedside watching her die from
uterine cancer. I grasped the handle of my mug of beer and slid
it left, right, left, right in a few square inches in front of
me. Jake still stood there, staring at me, unsure what to say.
....."Why do you keep these
hours?" I asked him.
....."If I didn't, where
would all you mourners go? Hell, Joe, they're mourning too."
He moved down the bar to the lady, who needed a refill of whatever
she drank. Behind the bottles ranged on the back bar, the mirror
gave me a good view of the door.
.....It opened and George Cullen
stepped into the light. He wore an expensive gray leisure suit
with a maroon turtleneck shirt. Stylish, befitting his rank in
the organization. He worked the books for Matt Spangler, who
controlled most of the dope and prostitution traffic in this
.....George was in his late forties
but looked younger. The bulge in his jacket said revolver. His
stance said nervous. He was out of his neighborhood and he knew
.....His eyes darted around and
came to rest on me. Nobody here was overly concerned with being
politically correct. They wouldn't bother calling him Negro or
African-American. Around here he was poison.
.....Jake hadn't noticed the
jacket bulge. He looked a question at me--toss him out? I snapped
my fingers and waggled them in the negative. I pointed to myself.
.....George took the stool beside
....."Mr. Angello to you,
you son of a bitch."
.....I hated George for reasons
that had nothing to do with his race, which made me wonder all
the more why was he here.
....."Joe," he said.
.....My hands gripped the edge
of the bar. He saw the expression on my face. He held his ground.
....."I need help."
....."So did Maude."
.....George was Maude's half-brother.
Same black father, different mothers. When Maude's mother, who
was white, died, her father married the black nurse who gave
birth to George.
.....Maude had too much of her
mother's color and not enough of her father's, and then she married
me, a short, big-nosed honky with attitude. The family tolerated
the first, disowned her for the second. Nobody from her family
visited her deathbed. Nobody came to the funeral or even attended
....."You hear me, Joe?
I'm in trouble."
.....Someone's stalking me."
....."Stick to dark streets.
Walk slow. Don't look behind you. Lose the piece."
....."Rosella, she's seen
him too, a couple of hours ago."
.....Rosella. I should've remembered
George's wife. She was the exception. At Maude's death, Rosella
had sent me a letter of condolence folded inside a sympathy card.
....."I hope whoever it
is offs you and she finds a better husband."
....."I need your help."
.....He tried again, "Mr.
.....Later I would realize what
a big step it was, what it must have cost him. Just then I was
too angry. "Get out of my face."
.....A few hours later, Rosella
Cullen came to my office. She sat in the sunlight and twisted
a handkerchief in her hands. She was a handsome mahogany woman
with a long intellectual face. She wore blue eye shadow and light
lipstick. She'd clad her fashion model body in a sober brown
and green dress of some shimmery stuff, one of those belted things
that looks like a sheath, only with more curves. It clung to
her like falling water. Well-tended nails, no paste-ons. Rings
on her fingers, two to each hand, expensive without being showy.
She came from money and had married more.
.....I sat back in my chair and
looked at her. She stared at her hands. "George came to
see me earlier this morning." I leaned forward, tapped the
desk. "He doesn't usually drink at The Refuge, does he,
at three a.m.?"
.....That reminded her of the
anniversary. She shook her head. "Maude," she said
softly. She looked up. "I am sorry, Joseph. I told him you
might be there. He's afraid, Joseph. He doesn't know who might
be after him. He wants this handled discreetly, as do I."
.....She pulled out a pack of
cigarettes and a lighter.
....."Not in the office."
.....Her hands twitched putting
.....I thought back to George's
manner, his tone of voice when he said someone was stalking him.
....."George said you both
saw the stalker. Did you see him well enough to describe him?"
.....Rosella blinked. "He
.....I'd caught her hesitation
just after my question. She knew more than she was ready to tell.
I'd have to work her up to it.
....."Where did you see
....."Outside our apartment."
She described their apartment and their old, exclusive neighborhood.
Their building was a rehabbed three-story with the areaways and
side passages preserved. A streetlight was in direct view from
....."You were at home,
....."You remember the time?"
.....I waited a moment. "I
can't help you."
....."I beg your pardon?"
....."I can't help you.
If I don't have a better description of the stalker, how can
I spot him?"
.....She looked up and smiled.
She looked down at her hands as if riffling through the pages
of her memory.
....."He was young. Medium
height, chunky build. Smiled a lot."
....."Did he act strangely
....."He just stood there,
in an areaway across the street."
....."He didn't step into
.....I had her then, and she
knew it. Rather than pounce, I waited her out.
....."His name's Buster."
....."How long have you
.....She thought a moment. "About
....."Why is he outside
your building now?"
.....She began to tremble. "I
think he wants George to see him."
....."You let George believe
Buster was after him. You even suggested he come to me."
.....She wrung her hands, looked
at the ceiling. She nodded and reached into her purse before
remembering my warning.
.....Then I saw it. Her movements
and twitches weren't just nervous habits. I put my elbows on
the desk and leaned forward. "What're you on, Rosella? "
....."Joseph, I'm not--"
.....I slammed my palm on the
desk. She jumped. "God damn it to hell, Rosella, either
you level with me or you're out of here. You've lied to George
and you've lied to me. Now tell it straight. You're on something"-then
I guessed-"Buster supplies it."
....."Yes," she said.
Her polite world was shaken, but not shattered. "It's just
for my nerves. I am most anxious. I managed a brave front"
.....Maude did too, for a while,
until she couldn't ignore or hide the pain. "But your nerves
....."Yes. I went to a doctor
at first and got tranquilizers. Then I needed more. My doctor
refused to write me stronger prescriptions. He said I should
seek psychiatric care, but then George would know."
....."So you went to Buster.
Now you've involved George and he's involved me."
....."He would've come to
you anyway if he knew of my-problem. His, uh, firm has a strict
anti-drug policy for employees and their immediate families."
.....His "firm." I
almost laughed. The one thing Spangler couldn't abide in his
employees was drugs. Something about his family, siblings overdosing
when he was younger. The men around him were either clean or
dead. Rosella was the great threat George wasn't aware of.
....."In general, George
believes it's bad luck to call attention to himself. He says
honesty is invisibility."
....."Rosella, was last
night the first time you saw Buster behind you?"
.....She swallowed, getting ready
to tell me. I waited.
....."I'm running out of
money I can use without George's knowledge."
....."How much does Buster
.....She was too polite, or maybe
too embarrassed, to give a figure. "Enough to expand his
territory, he says. He's not bright, Joseph."
....."Rosella, how much?"
.....She told me.
.....Buster, poster boy for greed.
Either that, or he was a user himself and his price had soared
through the roof.
....."You can either pay
him, or pay me to discourage him--that about it?"
....."How much do you have
with you, in cash?"
..... She dug in her purse. "Four
.....She handed me the money,
a wad of rubber-banded bills. Used, non-sequential. I snapped
the rubber band around it and tossed it into a drawer.
....."I'm on it." Now
I could be a softie. "Anything else you want to tell me?"
.....She began to cry quietly.
Her hands gripped the purse. I found a box of tissues and tossed
it to her. It fell to the floor. She didn't move. I remembered
the letter of condolence. I stepped around the desk, picked up
the box and handed it to her.
.....Finally, she was more or
less under control.
....."What're you on?"
Her doctor had prescribed downers, all legal two-time refills.
No hard stuff.
.....She shook her head. "I
knew George worked for shady people when I married him, but I
believed his promises to leave town, to move, make a fresh start.
He has a fine mind, Joseph. Some legal training, good at figures.
An executive type, knows how to manage people. It's been five
years. He hasn't left yet. He persists in putting me off."
.....Rosella's sweat began to
....."Got something with
you?" I asked.
....."Need water with it?"
....."If you please, Joseph."
.....I brought her some in a
paper cup. She swallowed something she took out of a brown envelope,
downed the water in a single gulp.
.....She noticed the look I was
....."I intend to overcome
....."Yeah, sure. But first
you need Buster off your back. Let me stick my big nose here
and there. Can you last a week?"
.....Matt Spangler sat at his
table in The Lazy River, one of the saloons he owned. It was
too early for a crowd. A couple of dark-clad business types sat
one at a nearby table, the other at the bar near the door, just
out of the sunlight. From their position they could shoot me
before anyone else looked up.
.....Spangler himself was just
over six feet, his head shaved to an ebony shine. The look was
all the rage that year, and he had money and power to go with
it, making all the friends he needed.
..... I kept my hands on the
....."Angello, you've got
balls I could bowl with coming here. You're lucky I know you."
.....He sat back, took a sip
of something expensive. We watched each other as he swallowed.
I was feeling pretty worn, and it must have shown.
.....Spangler's features softened.
"Today's the day Maude-" he began. "You two kept
to yourselves. Sorry." He paused awkwardly. "She was
a fine woman."
.....I nodded thanks.
.....He looked me up and down.
"She never tried to pass, did she?"
....."She could have, but
she didn't." He sipped again. "So what do you want?"
....."You know a man named
....."Not one of mine. He
....."What's he doing?"
....."Hassling my client.
I want him to lay off."
....."He's not one of mine."
.....I shrugged. "Just wanted
to be sure of that."
.....He straightened slowly,
as if he were thinking along the way. "I don't know anyone
called Buster. Take that to the bank, Angello."
....."Sure." I stood.
"By the way, say hello to George for me."
.....Spangler blinked. I'd planted
the seed, but his voice stayed casual. "Still got it in
for my main man, huh?"
....."Just saying hi."
.....I wanted George involved.
If he were as honest as Rosella said, he'd come out cleaner than
clean, a good soldier in Spangler's personal war on drugs. The
rest would depend on Rosella getting clean and George's keeping
quiet until she was.
.....Spangler had half-risen.
The shooter at the table watched me as I left. I nodded to him
and the one at the bar. The one at the bar nodded back.
.....Spangler anticipates problems.
It's how he got where he is. I hoped my visit would earn me my
.....I made my shadow about nine
that night, three blocks from my apartment. He was a white man.
Spangler wasn't in the habit of hiring outside his race, so I
bet this guy was good.
.....I turned my back on my apartment
and walked and walked and thought. Maude and I had started as
friends and ended up married lovers. In that order. She almost
got me interested in religion, but that died when she did.
.....Eleven o'clock. Up one avenue,
down another until my legs ached. I headed home. I hadn't seen
my stalker for over an hour. He was damned good.
....."Angello, what're you
doing to me?"
.....The late afternoon sun laid
bars across George's blue suit. The shirt was a shade or two
lighter blue, and the tie was the blue of Caribbean water. No
clothing motif could hide the circles under his eyes.
....."Unload," I said.
After two days of training my stalker to grow accustomed to my
habits, my legs were aching. It was time for me to meet Buster.
....."Is he the same man
who's been following you, or is this someone new?"
.....He shook his head and started
to stand, but thought better of it. "Spangler said you went
to see him, said you wanted to say hello."
....."And he didn't tell
you what else I said."
.....George leaned forward. Carefully,
he said, "Mr. Angello, I have done nothing wrong. For some
reason, S. wants to inspect my books."
....."And he won't find
a thing, of course."
....."No." Said with
....."George, ask yourself,
does he want to find something wrong? If he does, he will. You
could be a CPA Mother Theresa, and if he wanted to nail your
hide to the wall he would."
....."What did you tell
....."Nothing, just to say
.....He glared at me.
.....I said, "How's Rosella?"
....."Why do you ask?"
....."She was the only one
of that goddamned family of yours to acknowledge Maude's death.
She sent me a card. And a letter."
.....He was about to offer an
excuse or something. I said, "Forget it."
.....He said, "She told
me about that. Rosella's got a big memory and a lot of kindness
waiting. She hates strife, wants to smooth everything over, make
.....I remembered how Rosella
had listed George's virtues.
....."So how is she?"
....."Nervous. Me being
followed and all."
....."What can I do?"
....."Watch my back."
.....I rubbed my fingers together
in the time-honored symbol.
.....He smiled and reached into
a pocket. He tossed a wad on the desk. "Two thousand."
.....Used and non-sequential.
I tossed it in the drawer.
....."You're sure it isn't
it another one of Spangler's men?"
....."He said if someone's
stalking me, it's not one of his."
....."Okay," I said,
"you take to the streets, carry your piece, go for long
.....I told him about habits
and what I wanted, and the route.
....."And take Rosella with
..... "I don't want to bring
her into this."
....."If Rosella isn't with
you, the stalker might suspect something's up. This has to look
as normal as possible. Tell her to dress conservatively, nothing
flashy or loud."
.....He gave it some thought
and slowly nodded.
.....The evening was warm, almost
peaceful. A mournful breeze rose and died. I checked my watch.
No need to check my shadow. Time to begin.
.....I'd laid out a rectangular
route with lots of lonely areas. All we needed was luck.
.....I began a leisurely walk
to the east. Spangler's white shadow would have me by now. He'd
stay way back.
.....I picked up the pace a bit.
.....The streets were quieting.
The old shops along the route were preparing to close as deep
blue dusk shaded into night.
.....I walked through a brightly-lit
factory district coming awake. A truck line was loading its eighteen-wheelers.
Soon it would be time to trundle the interstate.
.....I crossed railroad tracks
garnished with weeds and debris--old tires and lumber, shredded
paper and shattered plasterboard. Further, past fast-food joints
on the verge of closing up. With few cars in the lots they looked
sleepy. No patrons inside.
....."Man, you got the time?"
A man in a greasy overcoat and a baseball cap pulled down over
his eyes crossed the street. He looked ratty. He needed a shower.
.....I put my hand in my pocket
and showed him what I carried, how it rested neatly in the palm
of my hand, how limber it was. He muttered and retreated to the
other side of the avenue walking faster. I watched him for a
.....Past public housing, one
side of the rectangle completed, the long side. Turn south.
.....Down the short side. Neat
apartment complexes behind chain link fences. No junk in the
yards. I heard a woman yell, "Don't let your daddy get home
before you get your butts inside!"
.....The residential area shaded
imperceptibly from low-income to middle-class apartments. Far
down the avenue I saw George and Rosella. They walked hand in
hand as though out for a late-evening stroll, just a little faster
than a normal stroll, if anyone was measuring the gait. Someone
.....George wore the leisure
suit. Rosella wore an orange pantsuit.
.....I slowed a bit; they sped
up. We passed on the opposite sides of the street without acknowledging
.....I crossed over.
.....Buster was walking toward
me down a two-block length of commercial establishments with
apartments above. Few cars, no pedestrians. Here and there garbage
bags rested on the curb. He saw me coming and stopped. There
was an alcove to his right.
.....He was an inch or two taller
than I, and in better physical condition. He wore a nose stud,
an earring, and a confident attitude. He leveled a knowing smile
at me, his teeth very white.
.....I said, "Hey, Buster.
Matt Spangler says hello."
.....His hand wandered to the
inner pocket of his leather jacket in the movie gesture of the
.....I was faster. I pulled out
the sap and laid it across his gun hand. While he was still wondering
how many fingers I'd broken, I grabbed his other arm and twisted
him into the alcove, which proved to be an areaway between buildings
-- about the width of the aisle on a commuter train.
.....I had the element of surprise.
"Make a sound and I knock your teeth down your throat."
.....His eyes were tortured;
he cradled his right hand in his left. He knew the neighborhood.
See no evil, hear no evil, report no evil. Yells? Screams? Pull
down the shades. Move away from the windows. Don't be a target.
.....I cocked my arm. "Spangler
says hello, Dead Man."
.....His uninjured hand came
up and I ducked and tapped his kneecap. Breath hissed through
his teeth. With difficulty, I kept him on his feet and pushed
him to the entrance of the areaway, relieving him of a thick
wad of bills in the process.
.....I shoved him out onto the
sidewalk. He stumbled. The lamppost shed a cone of light on part
of the street. Buster grabbed at the post and managed to remain
.....As I watched from the areaway,
he stiffened. He recognized someone.
.....As Buster drew his piece,
a shot clanged the lamppost.
.....Buster got off three quick
shots, firing blindly. They were answered by a man's scream.
.....A fusillade answered Buster--two
shooters. Buster jerked back, fell. The shooting stopped.
.....Cautiously I stepped out.
One of the shooters was George. The other was my white shadow.
.....They were staring at Rosella.
She lay on the sidewalk as if sleeping, the pantsuit almost glowing
in a convenience store's overnight lights. There was a dark,
widening stain at her chest.
.....George was crying. He searched
the deserted street, then jogged toward me.
.....He emptied his pistol into
Buster's face. "Rosella! Rosella!" Over and over. The
other man was expressionless. His pistol was out as he scanned
the upper windows and the neighborhood. He saw me; he ignored
.....He put his piece away and
took out a cell phone.
.....George kept kicking what
was left of Buster, sobbing dry racking coughs. I pulled him
away from the faceless thing and led him back to Rosella. He
sank to his knees.
.....I looked around. Nobody
else watching; nobody cared.
.....My hand was on George's
shoulder as he wept. Then a long black sedan pulled up, and one
of Spangler's men helped us with the body of Rosella.
.....One shot. One wild, panicked
.....I watched the car, now a
funeral wagon, move down the avenue.
.....Eight patrons sat in the
Refuge in the late afternoon. Some were talking together. One
laughed at something on the television above the bar. I couldn't
.....Sunlight lay pale as desert
sand on the tables near the door.
.....George entered. We were
both wearing black. Matansky polished something down near the
end of the bar.
.....George said, "Thanks
for coming to the visitation."
.....I waved a forget-it.
....."She wanted me to quit."
....."She told me,"
I hesitated a moment, "George."
.....I motioned Matansky over.
George ordered a double scotch. I pointed to my change on the
bar and gestured. Jake nodded. George looked in the mirror.
....."Maude was a good woman,"
....."It was a freak accident."
.....I said, "Rosella shouldn't
have run into the light. Buster thought you were my backup."
....."She shouldn't have
worn that orange thing. I tried to tell her. She's as stubborn
.....I should have told her
how to dress, not have George tell her.
....."I'm sorry about Maude,"
he said. I know you loved her."
.....We had nothing more to say.
After a time he left.
Copyright (c) 2003 by Peter A. Parmantie.
was born in Chicago, Illinois and left thanks to the Korean War.
Before the war he read. He read during the war and after it.
Not knowing what else one could do with a reading background,
he decided to become a teacher of English. He began in 1955 and
ended in 1997. Still casting around for something to do in his
retirement, he began writing the stories that intrigued him most
as a kid, crime and mystery. Joseph
Angello Angello is Parmantie's dark side.
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...... ."And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who
likes talking to a man who likes to talk."
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