“Come over here, KJ, I wanna talk to you“, said Vincenzo, motioning me foward with his crooked index finger.
At the time, I was just shooting breeze and breaking Chris’ balls about his new hairstyle. Or the lack thereof, as he had just suffered a number-two lawn-mower job at a barber’s in downtown Little Italy.
“Look, we’ve got a situation over here“, Vincenzo said as soon as I sat across from him at the table.
“Wait, you wanna drink? Why don’t you have a drink first?”
I’ve learnt over the years that whenever he offers me a drink at the start of a sit-down, a difficult assignment usually follows. And I’m smart enough to not be under the influence, lest the alcohol gets hold of my emotions and makes me protest in a way that I may regret afterwards.
“I don’t need to tell you what you already know, but that Paulie is getting to be a real problem“, he began in a conspiritorially low voice.
“You know I love the guy, but he’s just getting too big for his shoes these days. I tell him to do one thing, he does another. Sometimes, he even does exactly the opposite to what I tell him to do. I mean, a person in my position, I can’t have that around here, you know what I mean? I just … I just … I can’t have that around here!!!“, Vincenzo exclaimed, spreading his arms out with palms open in an exaggerated way – as he always does whenever frustration overwhelms him.
“Vinny, I understand where you’re coming from. I know Paulie can be a real pain in the ass. But he IS the future of this Family. Sure, he’s got a problem with authority and can fly off the handle sometimes. But what’re you gonna do? He’s young, he’s foolish. You gotta admit though, Vinny, when he puts his mind to it, Paulie always gets the job done“, I reasoned in a calm, balanced manner befitting of someone who has been a long-time Consigliere for the Family.
“KJ, I respect you and you have always been a voice of reason. On this issue though, I’m not sure you understand exactly the seriousness of the fuckin’ problem here. I’ve just spent 15 minutes with Paulie trying to talk some sense into him, fuckin’ begging him to do this ‘thing’. And what do I get in return? Just one attitude after another. I just can’t talk to the guy anymore! He’s openly questioning my orders in front of the Family! There’s just a compete lack of respect. And with this Thing of Ours, if we don’t have respect, what do we have? NOTHING! That’s fuckin’ what we have!!! You think I’m being unreasonable here?“.
I stayed silent.
Another thing I’ve learnt over the years is that, whenever Vincenzo asks that question, it is always a rhetorical one, even though he has this ability to make it sound like he’s interested in your answer.
“So, this is what I’m thinking, KJ. I think YOU should take care of this. YOU go and talk to him about this ‘thing’. But at the same time, make sure Paulie knows that the order is coming from the top, from ME, and that you’re only there to enforce my wishes“, commanded Vincenzo.
“You know what, Vinny? I think I WILL have that drink now”, I said, after what seemed like an unbearable stretch of silence.
He filled half a wine glass with the Chianti that was already on the table and began to slowly slide it across the table towards me. However, just before I was about to reach for it, he stopped the glass’ forward motion and stared at me with a look of great omnipotence.
In that brief moment, I knew the order was final. I knew then that there was no way I could get out of this delicate job.
I extended my arm, grabbed the glass of Chianti from him and took a little sip. At the same time, Vincenzo slowly and dramatically leaned back on his chair, with a satisfied look on his face.
I took another sip of the wine and stood up. I walked around the table to Vincenzo and solemnly gave him a kiss on the cheek.
Then I went all the way over to Paulie, stood in front of him and said:
“Honey, can you please turn off SpongeBob SquarePants and listen to your daddy when he tells you to get ready for bed?! You’re driving Daddy crazy and now he’s driving mommy crazy!”
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