Breaking Bones(2)By: Amanda Washington
I glanced back at the school and then scanned the street. Mr. Jones hadn’t returned, there was no sign of my mom, and the entire conversation was confusing me. Before I could answer his question, I needed details. “I did you a favor?” I asked.
“You helped my nephew.”
I blinked. Nephew?
“The boy being harassed by that little ingrate you attacked.”
My mind raced, trying to think of who he could be talking about. My fight today had been to fulfill my own personal vendetta. Some new kid, a jackass richie-rich, had been pissing all over the school, trying to mark his territory. Yesterday he’d been in the lunch line behind me, close enough to see my free-lunch status on the check-in computer and had been talking crap about it ever since. I’d been waiting for an opportunity to teach him a lesson, and saw it today when he was stuffing a kid into a locker after recess. I hadn’t even seen who was being bullied, just saw the richie-rich with his back turned and pounced. I thought back to the layout of the lockers, trying to figure out who the poor sap shoved into his locker could have been. “D’Angelo Mariani,” I whispered.
“His friends and family call him Angel,” the old man said. “Mariani.”
Even had I never heard the name before, the reverent way he uttered it spoke of power and authority. But all Vegas natives knew who the Marianis were.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked.
He cracked a smile and turned toward his associate. “Gets right down to business. Just like his old man.”
“How do you know my father?” I asked again.
Emotion flickered across the old guy’s face, but before I could place it, it was gone. He nodded. “Don’t worry about it, kid.” When I didn’t respond, he added, “Good man. Stand-up guy.”
The way he didn’t use tense wasn’t lost on me. Nobody seemed to know whether or not Pops was alive or dead, and if this guy knew, he wasn’t telling. Pops had warned me to stay away from the families though. I knew he’d tell me to run… to get the hell away from the Marianis.
But if Pops wanted a say in my life, he should have come home.
The old man pulled out a billfold and made a big show of thumbing through the wad of cash clipped together. Hundreds, fifties, and twenties floated through his fingers like they were Monopoly money of no real consequence, but it was more cash than I’d ever seen. He tugged several bills loose and offered them to me. It had to be at least four hundred dollars. My mind raced, imagining what I could do with it. I had to force my gaze back to his face, and remind myself I still didn’t know what the job entailed.
“My nephew needs a friend. A guy on the inside who can look out for him. He’s a smart kid, but his blood will make him some enemies. You do this for me, and I’ll make sure your family will be taken care of. Protected. Capisce?”
My attention drifted back to the cash. I was young, but I wasn’t stupid. There were no Good Samaritans in Vegas. Everyone sought the big payout, nobody gave away anything for free. And this offer was way too good to be true.
“You want me to be his friend and protect him? That’s it?” And he was willing to pay me hundreds for it? There had to be some sort of catch.
“Yeah. You’ll get training. Like I said, you got heart, but we’ll teach you the skills you need. Other opportunities might arise—chances for you to earn more—but Angel will always be your primary responsibility. What do you say, kid?” He added a few more twenties to the stack, sweetening the deal. “You ready to step up and become a man? Ready to help your mom out?”
The mention of Ma made me pause. Whoever this man was, he was too personal… too familiar. It felt strange, worrisome.
He chuckled. “I’m asking you to be my nephew’s friend and bodyguard, Franco Leone. You better believe I know everything about you.”
And what did I know about him? Not a damn thing. Angel, though—Angel was a quiet kid. Respectful. A little geeky. I could hang out with him and watch his back.
Before I could agree the old man said, “Leave everything to me. Don’t worry about what Mr. Jones said, you make sure your ass is in school tomorrow and every day after. Your mom will never see a hospital bill for what you did to that kid. I’ll handle it.”