by Kate Franklin
He knew he had been an ungrateful son. His father had worked hard to provide for the family, and Anthony had never appreciated what had been done for him: the best prep schools, Ivy League college, an M.B.A. from Wharton. His response had been to turn his back on his parents. He'd worried that the family name would be a detriment to his career, but it turned out to be just the opposite. His classmates at school and colleagues in business seemed to feel that if his father, Carlo Vittoria, had done all the things he had been accused of, and remained alive and out of prison all these years, he must be pretty resourceful.
But now Carlo needed him. His luck had run out; a long time associate had caved to the Feds and ratted him out. Anthony had watched the news coverage and read every mention in print or on-line about the trial. His father was found guilty on sixteen counts of racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy to commit murder and assault. He would never see the outside of the prison again. Anthony took a personal day from the Fortune 500 company, where he was a junior executive, and went to visit his father.
He had never been inside a jail. He shuddered as he walked through the brightly lit corridors, through doors that hissed open when the guard swiped a card or punched in a code. He felt he was being led into a labyrinth from which he might never escape. In the visiting room, Anthony was surprised there were no Plexiglas dividers, just tables and chairs where the inmates chatted with their visitors. Guards were posted around the room, but it was remarkably quiet.
His father had aged well. The old man was greyer, but he seemed spry and his eyes were alert.
"Pop, how's it going?"
Carlo shrugged. "It's okay. They treat me good in here." He nodded "Yeah, just fine."
Anthony couldn't imagine prison as "fine." He wasn't sure what to say. "It's a really big change, I guess."
"I'm good here. Maybe it was time to retire. I got other things on my mind now. Ant'ny I need you to do somethin' for me. I can't trust no one else."
Anthony was alarmed. He knew that his father had been involved in some nasty business, and he had no desire to follow in his footsteps."I don't know, Pop," he mumbled. "I don't think I'd be much use to you."
The magnetic eyes drew Anthony in."You're all I got now. You gotta help me."
Anthony's brother, Salvatore, had been killed the year before in a still unsolved, at least by the police, drive by shooting. His two sisters had married outside the business. His mother had succumbed to cancer while Anthony was in graduate school. He sighed. "Pop, I just don't see what I could possibly do for you."
The elderly gangster looked around, then motioned his son closer. "There's this one thing I need," he whispered, still glancing around. "I need a statue of this dog, a Gordon Setter; name is Grandstand. It's black with brown underneath and curly hair. He won the West-somethin' dog show." Hunching even closer, he croaked, "This statue, it should have a matte finish ya got that? It should be 6 inches long and 5 inches tall." He lowered his voice even more. "I need this real bad for my...collection, ya' know?"
Anthony took out a pen and notebook. His hand shook as he wrote down his father's request. Carlo put his fingers to his lips and looked around the visiting room."Don't tell no one. Just come back when you got it."
Anthony left the prison feeling dazed and unsure of himself. He looked at the slip of paper, which he'd had to display for the guard on the way out. Carlo was smart; it was obviously a code. How was he going to figure out what it meant when he had no background in his father's business?
He arranged and rearranged the words until they seemed to swim before him. Finally, they suggested a pattern. 5 by 6 = thirty; Grandslam, that could mean grand. Thirty... grand.... collection. His father wanted him to collect thirty thousand dollars from someone. The rest of the code must be the names of people he should see about it. He called his youngest sister, and she directed him to some of their father's favorite haunts. "But Tony, I really think he's done with all that. I been to see him, and he never talks about them guys."
Not to you, Anthony thought, and made a plan based on what his sister had told him.
It was raining hard when he walked into the bar and asked for Gordon. All eyes were on him, as the giant in the middle turned toward him. "I'm Gordie. Ain't you Carlo Vittoria's kid, the one that went away to school?"
"I understand you have something that belongs to my father. Thirty thousand dollars? He wants it back."
The large man approached "There ain't nothin' here that’s Carlo's. He's outa business," he laughed. "Ain't you heard, your old man's retired."
Anthony heard the waver in his own voice. "But he wants me to--"
"What I want is for you to beat it." Two men laughed as they picked Anthony up and threw him out onto the sidewalk. The drizzle mixed with the blood from Anthony's scraped face and washed down the gutter.
It was the same thing in the other bars he visited. When he asked for Mr. West, his left shoulder hit the pavement first, and his wrist got sprained; a bruiser named Curly broke his nose and asking for Matt resulted in a concussion and bruised ribs. He told the doctor at the emergency room that he'd been mugged and didn't see his attackers.
When he had healed enough to get around, Anthony knew he would have to crawl back to his father and admit defeat. He had nothing to report, not even a ceramic dog. The guards had read the note, and they might know something was up if he didn't bring back the requested statue. He Googled "Gordon Setter Grandslam," and was amazed to see a statue that exactly fit his father's description. Smart, he thought. The old man still knows how to cover his tracks. He had the dog shipped overnight, and the next day, he carried it to the prison.
"Pop," Anthony handed him the box the guards had torn apart in their search. "I'm so sorry. I failed. I couldn't do what you asked."
His father's eyes sparkled as he held the small statue. He smiled as he pulled Anthony close in what was almost a hug. "You done good, my boy, you done real good." He walked out of the visiting room and asked to go back to his cell. The figurine fit perfectly into the empty spot between the Golden Retriever and the Great Dane. Carlo Vittoria stood back and smiled. Now he had the best collection on the cell block.
Kate Franklin is the author of the mystery novel, The Tattooed Mermaid, and the creator of the "Mutt Mysteries," series in the Peppertree Press Literary Magazine. She has published stories in the anthologies, Doorways and It's A Crime and on line at Flash Fiction World. She teaches college English in Sarasota Florida.