The honeybear, when drowsy, is a languid lump of shambling shag. He may lie in lazy repose, his only motion the inevitable augmentation and diminution of his bulk as it gradually swells with inhalation then dwindles as the barely taxed gas seeps out. On occasion, he may reluctantly lift a paw to absentmindedly scratch an ant or flea, but as often as not will forget the nuisance, and drowse back into stillness mid-stroke. He will occasionally rise in search of a meal, but even then stumbles about with negligence, the slowness of his movement matched by the dullness of his wit. He relies on neither fierceness nor fleetness for nourishment or defense, but merely allows his nose to guide him to the sweet fragrance of fresh blossoms and sticky nectar. He blunders into bushes, brambles, thistles and stumps, meandering about the forest with only the vaguest hint of direction. The creatures of the wilderness fear him not, as his only danger to them arises from the unpredictable staggering of his weighty bulk, but even this is preceded by the noisy crackling of underbrush and the heavy thud of his tread, and is easily avoided.
“Hey, play a little music” Admonished Snake, pointing to a shiny new radio on a shelf behind the Chef.
“Nah.” Said the Chef, “This thing don’t work. One of Sal’s poker fishes gave it to me last week. I plugged it in, turned it on, but nothing comes out.”
“Maybe I can fix it,” offered Snake. He picked it up, and looked at it for a few moments while turning it over in his hands. He banged it sharply a couple times with his hand.
“Yaa! Said the man in the van, quickly pulling off the earphones. “It sounds like a bomb went off!”
“I didn’t hear nothing. I don’t see no smoke. Just keep listening,” admonished the detective.
Snake peered at the radio more closely, and his brow suddenly furrowed and lips twisted into a snarl. “I think I see the problem.” He said. Then looked meaningfully at the Chef, while silently placing a single finger to his lips.
Barney O’Toole rolled out of the delivery van as the doors rumbled open. He pulled his gangster-style fedora down onto his head firmly, but it immediately popped back up to perch precariously on his balding noggin. After steering his bulk down a trash-strewn alley, he turned a corner and emerged into the street in front of Sal’s. He stopped abruptly in front of the door, felt around under the suit coat that hung in baggy folds around his frame, and tucked a stray black wire down into his pants. As he emerged into the restaurant, a loud burst of flatulence erupted from his posterior.
“I think they shot the chief!” shouted the bald man back in the van. He tore out of the van with a pistol in his hand, rushed down the alley, and burst into Sal’s with such speed that he slammed right into the back of Barney O’Toole. Barney wheeled around and saw his compatriot standing there with his gun hanging uselessly from his hand and his mouth hanging confusedly open. He snapped out quickly, “Hey pal, the gun range is down the street.”
The disturbance at the door drew the attention of Sal, who turned just as Barney’s incompetent underling was retreating back through the door. “Hey, it’s Donny the Don!” cheered Sal. He walked over and shook his hand warmly. “That’s me!” responded Barney, “Donatello Caribinieri, mobster extraordinaire.”
“Shhh!” cautioned Sal with mock seriousness, “This is a family place, don’t go advertising that kinda stuff around here.” He stood next to the phoney mobster and draped his arm across his shoulder. Then he shouted out, “Hey, Adrianna, get the Don a drink!” followed by “Whaddaya drinking?”
“Scotch and Amaretto,” Mr. Caribinieri replied, “on the rocks.”
“Ahhh, I shoulda figured,” bantered Sal, “ the godfather, of course.” He squeezed Mr. Caribinieri tighter, knocking his fedora to the floor, and proceeded to rub the fist of his other hand on his balding head in a mock noogie.
“We still got a few minutes before we start up, some of my friends are on their way,” Sal began, when Adrianna walked up to them with a snifter of brownish fluid on a tray.
“Here, have your drink and I’ll let you know when we’re ready to get started,” said Sal, leading Caribinieri to the nearest table and ushering him into a seat.
“Say Sal,” Caribinieri balked, half-sitting, “Let me go back and say hello to the Chef before we start dealing the cards.”
Sal pondered for a split second, then smiled and said, “Ahh, I know your tricks. You’re just trying to steal his recipes. Besides, you know how protective the Chef is of his secret formulas.”
“No, nothing like that.” Caribinieri protested. “I just want to say hi, and see if likes that radio I gave him.”
“Radio?” Sal repeated, a slight look of alarm on his face.
“Yeah,” Caribinieri explained, “he seemed like he could use some company back there in the kitchen, so I gave him a radio so he could, uh, listen to music and stuff.”
“Well, that was extremely kind of you,” Sal complimented Caribinieri, recovering his composure. “I’ll just go back and check on the Chef and see what sort of musical tastes he’s developing.” With a forceful hand on Caribinieri’s shoulder he pushed him down into his chair and stalked off in the direction of the kitchen.
As Sal made his way to the kitchen he bumped into Snake on his way to the dining room. “Hey Sal, did I ever mention that what I really love about this place is that everyone pays attention, everyone really listens to you,” he informed him with a knowing look, tapping his ear with a finger as he spoke. “But I think the Chef needs a new radio, because the one he got doesn’t make any music,” he continued meaningfully.
Sal looked back at the Snake with apprehension, “Yeah, I was just going to check on the music situation, ‘cause we can’t have any broken equipment in this place.”
As Sal began to march angrily into the kitchen, the Snake tugged at his elbow. “You remember Uncle Louie?”
Sal paused, then said, “Yeah, the one with the gimpy knee. We called him ‘The Staggering Son of a …’.” Here he paused a looked around at the customers in the dining room briefly, and followed up weakly with “gun.”
“He had a busted radio once,” continued the Snake. “But he didn’t throw it out, just kept it around, and after some tinkering he found that he could make it work for him. His was a good hand with electronics you know. And once he got it working for him, people would hear all sorts of things on that radio.”
“Really, what sorts of things?” asked Sal, his interest peaked.
“Whatever he wanted them to hear,” explained the Snake. “Mostly he tuned it into talk radio, you know the kind where they tell you lots of stories about news and current events, which was fun to listen to, but you know you can never trust what you hear on those stations. He loved that radio so much, he sometimes used to take it with him as he traveled around, and it was just like he was at home the whole time, and nobody could really be sure where he was.”
“You don’t say,” said Sal, his eyebrows now raised in interest.
“I think he dreamed of becoming a radio producer or something, because he went out and got a tape recorder, and started recording some of his own shows. He got real good, so people couldn’t tell if they were a real radio show or something he just made up. Very talented that old staggering son of a such and such. Anyway, the Chef knows all about it, so he’s good with radios. Maybe he could help you fix it,” the Snake concluded.
“Yeah, maybe Old Stagger had a good idea or two,” Sal admitted. “Well, I think the Chef needs to let me at least take a look at his new toy. Let’s see what we can tune in. I gotta keep an eye on that kid, make sure his musical tastes don’t go astray.”
“Keep him away from that disco junk,” the Snake called out as Sal proceeded into the kitchen.
Sal suddenly turned back to the Snake and said, “You should go meet our fish for tonight. He’s the guy over there in the fedora, Donnie Caribinieri.”
“Caribinieri, that’s pretty funny,” commented Snake.
“No,” interjected Sal, “That’s really what he’s calling himself.”
“He looks like a real long-armed sort of fella, think you can outrun those arms?,” the Snake chuckled.
“A real sheep in wolf’s clothing,” joked Sal. “He’s gonna be our fish at the poker game tonight.”
“So you’re taking city welfare now?” accused Snake.
“You know what they say about a fool and his money, and with this guy I’m like Moses with an army of Egyptians at my back and nothing but saltwater in front,” shot back Sal.
“Every time he comes out on a case, it must be such sweet sorrow for City Hall,” the Snake replied as Sal headed into the kitchen.
Snake sauntered over to the table where Caribinieri sat stabbing at the ice cubes in his drink with a swizzle stick.
“You spear any yet?” asked Snake.
“Naw, just mixing ‘em up,” responded Carbinieri weakly. He looked at Snake’s tattered outfit with a puzzled frown.
“Be careful, there’s some whopping big pike hiding in there.”
“What, behind the ice?” wondered Carbinieri. He poked at his drink and peered down worriedly.
“They got big nasty teeth,” continued Snake. “Once you pull ‘em into the boat, they might just bite your head off. You might need a hand grenade to take ‘em out.”
“I’m the Don, Don Carbinieri,” he offered, extending a hairy hand toward Snake.
“Hey, a Don!” marveled Snake, taking his hand and kissing a gaudy red rhinestone set into a gold-plated ring. “It’s a true honor to make your acquaintance.”
“A man who knows respect, so few of those these days,” observed Carbinieri. “But you dress like you just stepped out of a South Street flop house.”
Snake cupped his hand around his mouth, leaned down toward Carinieri, and whispered seriously, “Too many Napoleon’s from Marchiano’s. Suits don’t fit anymore.”
Carbinieri looked with confusion at Snake’s tall lanky frame. Then Snake pulled out the chair next to Carbinieri and slipped into it. Just then, the Chef came out of the kitchen with a tray containing a plate of steaming pasta and bottle of ketchup, and walked up to their table.
“I have your usual, angel-hair pasta tossed with Verdichio white wine sauce topped with steamed cherrystone clams. And, just for you, a bottle of Heinz finest 57.”
As the Chef lowered the scrumptious-smelling dish to the table in front of Carbinieri, Snake shot out a hand and intercepted it, calling out “You remembered my favorite,” as he pulled it in front of himself. “But you can take the ketchup back, we don’t need that.”
The Chef’s eyebrows shot to the top of his forehead in a wrinkled bunch. “You…you have a favorite?” he stammered. “I’ve known you as long as I can remember, and tonight is the first time I’ve seen anything but a stiff drink go down your pizza hole.”
“Ahhh,” the Snake murmured through a mouth stuffed with slippery noodles. “I feel a powerful hunger coming on, like the last of the Chinese brothers. I can swallow an ocean of this linguini.”
The Snake shoveled in a few more noisy mouthfuls until his cheeks stretched while the Chef and Carbinieri stared slack-jawed.
“Bring another plate of this for my friend,” the Snake beckoned.
As the Chef turned to go he added, “And another one for me.”
The Snake was mopping up the residual sauce between the empty clam shells with a hunk of crusty bread when the Chef returned with two more plates of Italian savoryness. The Chef snatched up the empty plate and looked at it with wonder, then gawked at the Snake with alarm as he began to load his mouth with the verve of a starving beast.
Carbinieri tugged at the Chef’s apron, and implored, “Can you bring some ketchup?”
The Snake suddenly jerked upright, stared into the Chef’s eyes with a piercing glare, and growled, “You bring out ketchup and I’ll run your fingers through the pasta stretcher, bread ‘em, and deep-fry ‘em like calamari.”
The Chef retreated back into the kitchen.
“You’re lucky I’m here,” the Snake informed Carbinieri, “I’m saving you from culinary mortal sin. You confess that to the priest on Sunday and you’ll be doing Hail Mary’s until the Mummers dress in hot pants and learn to play disco.”
“Anyway, you seem like a lucky guy,” Snake continued in a friendlier tone.
“Yeah, I can be lucky I suppose,” followed Carbinieri.
“Really?” Snake said with teasing surprise. “What are you lucky at? Are you a gambler or something?”
“Well, I do like to play a hand of poker,” blundered forward Carbinieri.
“Oh, poker, I played that once in school,” said the Snake. “The rules were sort of complicated. I could never keep it straight, with the filled houses getting flushed out,” Snake weaved in.
“Well, um, well, we’re having a game here tonight,” Carbinieri blurted out.
“Wow,” the Snake called, “you guys are really playing poker?”
“Sure, we do all the time. You could play too,” said Carbinieri. A greasy noodle had slipped out of his mouth and was now swinging animatedly from his chin as he rolled up more noodles on his fork.
“Really? You would let me play with you guys?” replied Snake with wide eyes, and then, frowning, followed with “No, I couldn’t, I’d ruin it for you guys.” The Snake snagged a particularly plump clam from a gaping shell.
“No, it’ll be fine. I’ll help you out, show you some tricks.”
“Wow, that would be swell,” said the Snake as he greedily snapped up the clam.
Sal suddenly emerged from the kitchen with a wide grin on his face. “Donnie,” he called out, “I wanted to thank you so much for the new radio for the Chef. That’s gonna’ come in real handy.” He strolled over to the table, which was littered with empty plates, drained glasses, evacuated mollusk husks, and abandoned cutlery.
“Yeah, I got real cheap from a friend of mine. It fell off a Silo truck,” bragged Carbinieri.
“I see you met my pal Snake,” Sal continued.
“Yeah,” Snake interjected, “Mr. Don said I could play cards with you guys tonight.”
Carbinieri winked at Sal, “We’re not just playing go fish tonight are we?”
“Well,” said Sal, “I think there’s definitely some seafood on the menu.”
By Stirling Edgewood