“There are two types of people you have
to recognize if you want to survive and do good; those that you always say no
to and those that you never say no to. Getting the answer wrong either way can
totally fuck you up.”
Ed Bonanno just grunted. He didn’t want
to disrespect old Charlie, but Ed really thought he was full of shit.
Charlie wasn’t finished. “Smart guys
aren’t the ones with the big brains or fancy degrees. In life, the smart guys
are the ones who can tell when lady luck is throwing them a softball in the
middle of the plate and have the guts to swing for the fences.”
Ed didn’t try to hide the sarcasm in his
voice. “Sounds like you got it figured out.”
“I’m one of the lucky ones. I like my job.
Good pay, low risk. But one thing I have figured out for sure is that Buddy is
one of the guys you don’t say no to.”
was the boss. He invested in a lot of legitimate businesses, so Charlie’s job
was to collect the cash being skimmed, run it through the counting machine, and
deliver it to the guys who launder it. Ed’s job was to drive Charlie around
while looking intimidating enough to discourage anybody stupid enough to think
about going after that cash. Charlie was an easygoing guy, but in this duo, he called
Ed closed the sports app and put his
phone away. “I got it already. I’m gonna do what Buddy says and show him I can handle
whatever jobs he needs done. I’m moving up, Charlie. I won’t be doing this shit
too much longer.”
Charlie gave Ed that sad look reserved
for anyone too stupid to realize how stupid they were. “Okay, Ed. Good luck.”
For the Philadelphia mob, South Philly
and Atlantic City were the hot spots, the money machines. Northeast Philly was
the boondocks, so the big guys let Buddy run things his way—as long as
they got a piece of the action. Buddy was the anointed boss and this was his
territory. If it was illegal, he either owned it or had a piece of it. He kept
the nonviolent stuff for himself. Numbers, cards, whores, hijacking and
smuggling all brought in a good income. Drugs he farmed out, too violent to
risk but too lucrative to ignore. He controlled the supply and left the
distribution to others. He could always find someone willing to work the
streets. They rarely lasted long enough to become a problem, but that didn't
mean there weren't ten more ready to take the job. The main lesson Ed learned
from Buddy is that it’s good to be the boss.
“You wanted to
see me, boss?” Ed waited at the bar until he got the okay to approach Buddy at
his favorite table.
“Yeah, Ed, sit
down.” Buddy smiled but didn’t offer Ed a drink. “I have a job for you.”
ready.” Ed was never really good at walking the line between being respectful
and coming off like a lapdog.
“There’s a couple
of guys coming in tonight. I want you to pick them up at the airport and drive
them wherever they want to go.”
“You got it, boss, whatever you want.”
Ed tried to sound enthusiastic, but he wasn’t a good actor.
“Good. You go see Lenny at the garage on
Fifth Street. He’ll fix you up with a car. Something nice but discreet.”
That stung. Ed was proud of his Cadillac,
but it had over two hundred grand on the clock and the muffler was rusting out.
“Boss?” Ed paused a beat to see if Buddy
would shut him down. When Buddy didn’t say anything, he pushed on. “You know, I
haven’t been doing much lately. I’m ready for some bigger jobs, if you need
waited while Buddy took a slow sip of his drink. He could feel the heat under
his armpits. He didn’t want Buddy to see him sweat, but he couldn’t control it.
Buddy put down his drink. “I’ll think
about it. You do good on this job and I’ll see if there’s something there for
“Thanks, boss.” Ed didn’t have to be
dismissed. He wanted to get away before the flop sweat could start running down
his shiny bald dome.
Even in high
school Ed was touchy about his reputation as a tough guy. He liked being able
to intimidate people. His genes gave him size, and spending his teens working
in construction and on loading docks bulked him up. But Ed was always looking
for an out, an easier way to make money, and he had no concerns about whether
it was honest or not. He tried boxing, but he was better dishing it out than
taking it. In his twenties he tried being the muscle for a small-time loan
shark but found that street fighting was different from the ring. The first
time he broke his hand, he quit. Eventually he hooked up with some local hoods,
trying to work his way up but not getting very far. They would take him on jobs
where they needed brawn but no brains. He never got to plan jobs, he never got
to run things. He was a follower. He wanted to be the boss. He wanted to tell
people what to do instead of being told. He got to know Charlie so, when
Charlie needed a new driver, Ed jumped at it. It was steady work, but
well into his thirties, Ed was still an apprentice thug, stuck on one of the
lowest rungs of the ladder and not moving up. Buddy giving him this job was
like a tryout. He was determined not to blow it.
“Buddy said I was
to pick up a nice car to drive some guys around tonight. Something impressive.”
Ed figured that throwing Buddy’s name around would carry some weight. Lenny was
just a mechanic.
Lenny lifted his
head from under the hood of a beautifully restored early seventies vintage,
four-fifty-four Malibu. He appraised Ed with a skeptical look. “So you’re the
guy who’s filling in for Rocco?”
Ed felt his face
flush but tried to control it. “Buddy gave me this job.”
Lenny wiped his
hands on a tattered rag, “Yeah, I heard Rocco had the flu. Congratulations.”
moment, it didn’t dawn on Ed that he was a fill-in. He told Charlie that Buddy
handpicked him for the job. Charlie probably knew better but didn’t say
anything. Ed struggled to sound confident. “I’m supposed to get a car.”
Lenny pushed his
glasses up with the back of his wrist. “Yeah, I got the car for you.” He went through
a key box on the wall. “Over here.” Lenny walked out the back door of the shop
and over to a slightly dented Buick. “Here you go.” He held out the key. “Wait
in short-term parking. There’s an activated burner phone on the seat. They’ll
text you when they land. You tell them where you’re parked and then wait.
They’ll tell you what to do.”
Ed took the key
and looked at the car. “This is what Buddy said to use?”
something invisible. This fits the bill.”
Ed wasn’t usually
philosophical but it occurred to him that Lenny was describing more than just
the car. They wanted an invisible car with an invisible driver, so they picked
Ed was tired of
the criminal life. He didn't make a lot of money, he didn't get a lot of
respect, he didn't feel important. He’d seen Goodfellas and he wanted what
those guys had but could never figure out how to get there. He was lucky that
he never got caught, but he wanted the credibility that came with doing time.
He kept looking to move up or move out, but options were hard to come by. This
was his big chance.
As he waited at
the airport, Ed started getting psyched for the job. He figured he was getting
a free night out on the town, maybe they’d even score some hookers and there
would be one for him. Then his passengers got there.
As soon as they
were in the car, he knew they weren’t there to party. He tried talking them up
to see what was going on. They told him to shut up and drive. They were both
hard-looking men, the kind that seem like they’re always mad at something. They
barely talked. They gave him an address and he drove. Ed was scared of his
passengers and he was scared of what he might be getting into.
“This is it,
coming up on the left.” Ed knew the neighborhood. Old row houses sat between
empty factories decorated with graffiti. Few of the cars at the curb were less
than ten years old. A bunch of bad-ass bikers hung out in a bar around the
corner. Normally, Ed wouldn’t even drive down this block let alone walk around.
But that didn’t seem like something he should mention to these guys.
“Okay, park here.”
“That’s a no
parking zone.” Ed regretted saying it as soon as it was out of his mouth. Their
silence made it worse. He parked where he was told and shut up.
“Keep the motor
running.” The two men got out and looked around the deserted street. They left
their overnight bags in the car and walked to the address they’d given Ed, one
to the front, the other down the alley to the rear. As soon as they were out of
hearing range, Ed locked the doors.
The next couple
of minutes were the longest of Ed’s life. Acid was burning a hole in his
stomach, sweat dripped, his hands shook, and he wanted to run but he was too
scared to move. Then he heard the yelling. Then he heard the first shot.
A shadowy figure
jumped over a fence and into the next yard. The guy in the rear took a shot. He
missed his target but not the roof of Ed’s car. Ed panicked and dove down
across the seat.
were running after the jumper, but the man had a good lead on them and he knew
the neighborhood. Two more shots rang out in the dark, and Ed had all he could
take. He got up, slammed the car in gear, and hit the gas. Nothing happened; he’d
forgotten the parking brake. As he released the brake, the car shot forward.
Suddenly, there was a figure in front of him. He slammed the brakes but not
fast enough. Ed heard the sickening crunch of a human body being slammed by two
tons of steel and felt the front wheels bounce and then stop.
Ed stabbed wildly
at the window and lock buttons, bile surging to his throat, wanting to see what
he’d hit, afraid he might vomit but leaning out anyway. Then his passengers
“Good shit, you
got him. Move the car.”
Ed fought back
the vomit and did as he was told, feeling the rear wheels bounce over their
target. He stopped a few feet away but didn’t wait long. Several shots rang
out. They tossed their guns in a storm drain and got back in.
Ed hit the gas,
screeching around a corner and flooring it through two stoplights.
“Slow down. And
head for the airport.”
Whatever they told him to do, he did. No argument.
After a few
minutes, one of them spoke. “What did you say your name was?”
“Ed, Ed Bonanno.”
“You did good
back there, Ed. That guy was some kind of fucking gazelle. We wouldn’t have
buddy registered his disagreement and dropped it.
“We’ll tell your
boss what you did, put in a good word for you.”
“Thanks.” Ed said
it, but he didn’t feel it. He might have killed somebody, but he wasn’t sure.
They pumped at least six bullets into the guy he ran over, the cops would
probably have to guess what actually killed him. “Who was he?” Ed didn’t really
want to know, but he had to ask.
some motorcycle gang.”
breathing. He continued to drive. He appeared to be functioning to the men in
the backseat, but he couldn’t catch his breath. They lit cigarettes, but Ed
didn't notice. They began to joke, but Ed didn’t respond. He drove, but he was
on autopilot. He dropped them at the airport without saying another word. At
some point he must have started breathing again because he was still alive, but
he knew it was a temporary condition. The gang would find out. The gang would
find him. They would kill him. He was a dead man walking.
Ed wanted to run,
but he didn’t have an escape plan and he didn’t have a place to hide. Up to now
he never needed one. So he sat in his apartment, hoping they wouldn’t burn down
the building to get to him. After three days, Buddy showed up at his door.
“Where have you been?” Buddy sat down
and made himself at home. He didn’t seem to be worried about the possibility of
fire bombs coming through the windows.
“I thought it might be smart to lay low
for a few days. In case the cops come around asking questions.” Ed surprised
himself; he was able to keep his voice steady.
Buddy snorted. “The cops don’t give a
shit. They’ve been trying to tie the bastard to two murders, but
he had a smart lawyer. They think he got what he deserved.”
“What about the bikers?” Ed was really
more worried about them then the cops. A good lawyer’s useless when you play by
“The new top guy is the one who paid for
the hit. He’s not as greedy so he’s giving out more of the profits from their
meth lab to the rank and file. Everybody’s happy.”
Ed’s world shifted. The confidence that
left him came rushing back. He felt confident enough to kid around with Buddy.
“Sounds like they pulled off a hostile
Buddy laughed. “Yeah, it’s great to be
the boss, but you always have to watch your back.”
Ed relaxed and joined Buddy in an easy
laugh. After three sleepless nights followed by days of despair and tension, laughing
had him feeling a natural high. Bonding with the boss was a new sensation, he
didn’t want it to end, he didn’t want it to be a one and done.
Then, just as Ed was ready to offer him a
drink, Buddy reached inside of his jacket. Ed tensed and went pale. He’d been
expecting it but not from Buddy, not from his boss. He didn’t have a weapon so
he grabbed a glass sitting on the table.
“Here you go.” Buddy pulled out a thick
envelope and tossed it to Ed. “And there’s a bonus in there. They said you were
the one who nailed the guy before he could get away. Good work.”
Ed was holding the glass so tight he was
afraid it would shatter. Slowly, he released his grip and picked up the
envelope. His hand had only the slightest tremor. He hoped Buddy wouldn’t
notice. “Thanks, boss, but I was just doing the job you gave me.”
“Well, you did good.” Buddy leaned back,
relaxing. “You ready for some more work?”
Ed went on high alert. “Yeah, I’m ready
for whatever you have for me.”
“Good, because Rocco is going to be out
of it for at least two weeks. His wife says he’s barfing his guts out. I don’t want to
be near him until the smell dies down.”
Ed smiled. His big chance was here. “You
can count on me, boss.”
life changed. He was a killer, not just a thug. People showed respect. People
showed fear. He played it up and loved it. For a few weeks, he was a Goodfella.
But then Rocco got better.
Buddy owned a
couple of bars that the crews called his waiting rooms. They would hang out
waiting for assignments. Ed and a few of the boys were chilling with some basketball
and beer when Rocco walked in. The trash talk died as Rocco sat next to Ed.
Everybody shut up and stared at the game.
“Hi, Ed. How’s it hanging?” Rocco was a
big guy, not as big as Ed but with a reputation as an enforcer. Rumor had it
that he specialized in kneecaps.
Ed turned slowly. “Hey, Rocco. How you feeling?”
“Good. I’m back to a hundred percent.”
Rocco signaled for a drink and a glass appeared. The bartender didn’t have to
ask what he wanted.
“You coming back?” Ed didn’t think he
would like the answer, but he needed to know where things
“Tomorrow. I already talked to Buddy and
he said he’s got something for me. Thanks for covering for me, but it sounds
like Charlie needs you back. The guy that took your place just got fired.”
Ed played it cool, but as soon as Rocco
left, he tried to call Buddy. Buddy’s bodyguard/driver took the call.
“Yeah. Buddy okayed it. You’re back
driving Charlie tomorrow. Charlie will fill you in when you see him.”
Ed stared at his reflection in the
mirror behind the bar. He didn’t talk to anybody and nobody tried to talk to
him. He’d gotten used to being feared and respected. He was like an addict who
needed a fix and was told his supply was cut off. He got depressed and started
thinking stupid thoughts, like how to get rid of Rocco—despite knowing he
didn’t have the guts to do it.
The next morning Ed saw Charlie smiling
at him, adding to his humiliation.
“Hi, Ed. I hear you got lucky.”
Ed stopped. “You too, Charlie? You gonna
piss on me too?”
“I’m not pissing on you, I’m
congratulating you. I’m retiring. I’m old and tired. I already have a place in
Florida and I plan to be there before the first snowfall hits.”
Ed was still lost. “And?”
“I’m supposed to train you to be my
“You shitting me?” Ed couldn’t believe
“Rocco came back so Buddy needed something
for you. My retiring made it an easy choice.”
Ed stood there digesting this for a
while. “So I’m moving up because I got lucky?”
“Right time and right place. Buddy
thought you did a good job. You convinced him you could handle it. He decided to
give you a shot.”
“So I’m moving up.”
“Yeah, but you know that old saying that
tells you to be careful what you wish for?”
“Yeah, I remember it.”
“Well, be careful what you wish for.”
Ed smiled. He learned from Buddy that
it’s good to be the boss, but he learned from Charlie that it’s even better to
After a long career in
construction project management, A. Kanach has retired to pursue writing as a
“The Apprentice Thug”
is based on an excerpt from his first (so far, unpublished) novel.
Lyon is an illustrator for horror/sci-fi and pulp fiction websites and magazines.
She is also founder and senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous
Press. An SFPA Rhysling Award nominated poet, her poems have appeared in journals
such as Eternal Haunted Summer, Jellyfish Whispers, Scfifaikuest, Illya’s
Honey, and Red River Review, as well as numerous
anthologies. Her short stories have appeared recently in Night to
Dawn, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, Sirens Call, and Tales from
the Moonlit Path, among others, as well as in numerous horror anthologies such
as Night in New Orleans: Bizarre Beats from the Big Easy, Thuggish
Itch: Viva Las Vegas, and White Noise & Ouija Boards. She
appeared, briefly, as the uncredited "all-American Mom with baby" in Purple Cactus
Media’s 2007 Arizona indie-film, "Vote for Zombie." Having lived in France,
Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US, she now resides in southern