The Last Friday Night
by Tony Noland
The air smelled like snow and cigarettes.
Coming in the front entrance for once, Jimmy the Nose noted the absence of the usual dominant elements of the normal Trattoria d'Ambrosio perfume - urine, bleach and dumpster. He mostly only ever came to Ambro's on Fridays, and then in through the back with the rest of the players. On Friday nights, the dumpster by the kitchen entrance to Ambro's was full of rotten clams, the byproduct of the Thursday pasta con frutte del mare all-you-can-eat special. Vito bought the littleneck clams in bulk, whatever was left from the previous weekend's restaurant trade up in New York. He got 'em cheap, because they were pretty well turned by Wednesday. Throw on enough garlic and salt, though, and you could make forty gallons of clam sauce without the Thursday night cheapskates noticing how far gone they were. Every year, the health inspector got a grand-and-a-half and three bottles of Crown Royal on his annual visit, so everybody was happy.
Angela was working the long bar, Kristoff was working the restaurant bar. Angie's job was to make the guys at the bar feel handsome and clever. She had a good rack and a dazzling smile, which she rarely let go above a twist in the corner of her mouth. To her credit, as a working woman in general, not just as a bartender, she was also just enough of a smart ass to make the guys feel like they'd accomplished something when they got to see the smile. Buy the expensive stuff off the top shelf, tip big and you get a flash of teeth. One guy, an old dot com rich guy, kept dropping so many twenties into the jar that she actually laughed and patted him on the arm. King of the world, that guy was. At least until he got stabbed on his way home.
Jimmy didn't know anybody who was so stupid as to flash that much paper without he was hooked in. Buy a brownstone, buy a Benz, buy a round for the house... none of that buys you protection from freelancers.
Angela kept drawing the beer, but the corner of her mouth twisted up. She'd seen him come in, Jimmy knew that. He thought of the sillouhette of her naked body moving above him, lit from the side by the motel parking lot lights. The same smile had pulled her cheek up the last night they'd been together, just after he told her he loved her and just before he climaxed. She smiled, let him finish, then leaned forward to kiss him. It was a strange, chaste sort of kiss, considering. Confusing as hell, almost as much as her silence. When she got dressed and left, though, still silent... then he knew.
"Hiya, Jimmy. What's up? You in trouble or something?"
"What? Why'd you say that?"
"You came in the front way." She pointed at the vestibule by the front door, the oak and brass lectern where the new maitre d' was looking at him. Jimmy nodded at him, but the guy didn't nod back. New guys, Jimmy thought, always gotta show how tough they are. "S'matter, Jimmy," she said, "is your boss mad at you?"
He shook his head. "Nah, he ain't mad at me. Not exactly."
"You sure?" She lowered her voice and leaned in so none of the guys at the bar could hear. Her breath smelled of spiced olives and pesto, warm against his cheek. Jimmy flushed, the wave of sadness starting somewhere below his sternum and spreading outward. "It's only the good citizens who come in the front, Jimmy," she said, "and you ain't a good citizen. I been hearin' rumors, Jimmy. About you and Danny. You sure he ain't mad at you for some reason?"
Jimmy closed his eyes and breathed her in. He didn't need to check his shoes to be certain that he'd cleaned the last of the blood from them. The late Daniello Manzo was just where Jimmy had left him, rolled up inside six separate garbage bags, stuffed under the piles of rotten littleneck clamshells in the dumpster out back. You turn snitch for the Feds, people aren't gonna like it, Danny least of all. When you find yourself in a situation, even one of your own making, you take care of it. That's just how the world works.
"Nah," Jimmy said, "Danny's not mad at me. We had a talk earlier this evening, sorted some things out. He's OK. I gotta go take care of some stuff, though. Leave town for awhile."
She leaned away from him, the smile replaced with the hard, steel eyes she used when a customer got too friendly, the way she looked just before she had Kristoff bust somebody's head. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. So, I just figured, y'know, come in, say goodbye. For old time's sake."
"For old time's sake." Her arms were crossed under her breasts, lifting them in a way that made the sadness in Jimmy's chest grow stabbing, icy spikes. She turned and waved at a customer who was trying to get her attention, then turned back to Jimmy. "What have you done, Jimmy?"
"Nothin', Ange. Nothin'. Listen, I gotta go. See ya around, OK?"
When he was halfway to the door, she called, "Hey, Jimmy?" She'd pulled a bottle of Glenfiddich, the real stuff from under the bar, not the fake lable stuff on the top shelf. With professional grace, she poured a highball glass half-full and slid it forward an inch. He knocked it back in one big mouthful. It was a peat fire going in and an acid gasp going out, with a punch in the gut between. Tears came to his eyes, not entirely from the scotch.
"I'm guessin' you ain't gonna get much of the good stuff, not where you're goin'. Right, Jimmy?"
He blinked until his vision cleared, returned the glass to the bar.
"What makes you say that?"
Her smile came back and the sadness grew. He had to blink some more.
"You ain't the only one with a nose for trouble, Jimmy. Take care of yourself."
And that was that.
On the street, Jimmy buttoned his collar against the night. The air smelled like snow and cigarettes and scotch. He drew a deep breath of the cold air and walked north, ready to hail the first cab that presented itself.
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