Homicide: Party of Twelve by Michael Bronte Genre: Suspense, Thriller
Homicide: Party of Twelve takes us to Jersey City where the boss of Chez Alain restaurant has just been gunned down in a drive by shooting. Frankie Fortunato, a hardworking server, moves up to become the new manager. New Jersey State Police Detective, Matt Klimecki, catches the case and leans heavily on the restaurant's employees to help solve it, including Frankie and his girlfriend, Gabby D'Angelo, who also works at Chez Alain. The plot twists and turns as Frankie struggles to please the owners and reopen the restaurant, while also dealing with the opposing forces of gun-running criminals and the authorities who are trying to catch them.
“Quẻ hora es?” Alfredo asked.
Manuel Rojas looked at his watch in the muted light penetrating upper New York Harbor from the Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Jersey shorelines. “Es la una de la madrugada,” he replied. “One o’clock in the morning,” he repeated in English because Jocko wasn’t good with Spanish, despite having grown up in Union City. Rojas took a moment to roust the rest of his crew.
“Hey, pendejos, are you awake?” he barked at Niño and Adeliño.
“We’re here, jefe,” Niño replied. “How much longer is this gonna take, man? I gotta get home to my old lady.”
“It’s gonna take as long as it’s gonna take,” Rojas said. “Chill out.”
“Yeah, easy for you. I’m sweatin’ like a pig, and I think I’m gonna puke.”
Easy for him—right. Rojas had been rocking and sweating on the same bucket of a boat for as long as they had. It was still close to ninety degrees on the water, and the breeze was nonexistent. As a cover, they had half a dozen lines in the water in case they had to pose as five guys night fishing for bluefish.
“If nothing happens in the next half hour, we’ll take one more run around the island in case we missed them.” Rojas knew he hadn’t missed them, but it would keep everyone’s mouth shut. Traveling New York Harbor at night with no running lights was risky, and being detained and boarded by one of the various police patrols covering the harbor with an arsenal of illegally purchased weapons on board would make for a bad night at the office. Rojas looked up at the Statue of Liberty, awash in light and not far away. If this rendezvous didn’t happen, Molina was going to be pissed.
At 1:35 a.m, just as Rojas was about to take his promised lap around Liberty Island, his cell phone went off.
“Dónde estás?” the voice said when Rojas answered. Where are you?
“Two hundred yards east of the Statue of Liberty island,” he replied in English, as Honduran Spanish was as hard for him to understand as language. This was not the time to be unclear about things. “Can you see the statue?”
“Yes. We are about half a mile southeast of it,” the voice replied with a heavy accent.
“Watch, now. In five seconds, I will flash twice and no more.” Rojas pointed the flashlight over the open water. The US Park Police, the Coast Guard, and New Jersey State Police Marine Units all had a regular presence in the harbor. The last thing he wanted was to attract their attention.
“Did you see it?” Rojas asked.
“Yes. We are coming.”
Rojas ended the call. “It’s time. Alfredo, they will be coming from that direction.”
Alfredo revved the motor to keep the boat steady in the water. The other three men took their posts. Jocko’s eyes would be on the Hondurans, and while he wouldn’t be blatant about it, his 9mm silenced Uzi would be ready at all times. Niño and Adeliño would be doing the physical work of moving the shipment from boat to boat. Tonight, it was supposed to be two hundred assorted untraceable handguns in 9mm, .380, and .40 calibers, twenty-five each of AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles, half a dozen Soviet RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launchers with one hundred grenades, and a dozen M60 machine guns.
The price for the load was $1,080,000, a premium price, but buying a few pieces at a time on the black market would take forever, and the Hondurans were in a hurry. Undoubtedly they had customers waiting. Cartels, human traffickers, private security forces, these entities and others had a never-ending appetite for weapons—thousands of them—and they would pay the going rate and more, no questions asked. This was especially true in Mexico, where the legal purchase of firearms was extremely difficult and could only be done through a single gun shop in Mexico City, which was controlled by the army. More than a quarter-million guns were smuggled into Mexico every year, and 90 percent of them were used for criminal purposes. The overwhelming majority of these weapons came from the United States, and a large number went through Honduras and Guatemala, where controls and regulatory agencies were almost nonexistent. There was a price for convenience, and the ultimate buyers had plenty of cash; $1,080,000 was chump change to them.
Rojas was concerned, as always. Niño and Adeliño would work quickly, but moving the product was risky. Once the transaction began, they’d be sitting ducks for the next twenty to thirty minutes. Why Molina had agreed to do the deal in New York Harbor, Rojas didn’t know, but he and the crew would earn double the normal rate for this one. In thinking about it now, however, it didn’t seem worth ten years in a federal penitentiary if they were caught.
Rojas checked the safety on his MP5 submachine gun. Between Jocko’s Uzi and the MP5, they could fire over a thousand rounds a minute, which he figured would be plenty of firepower against the probably lesser-experienced Hondurans.
“Jocko, you set?” Rojas called as he took a knee on the bow deck in front of the cabin.
“Got it covered, boss.”
Rojas’s cell phone went off again. “Yeah.”
“I think we’re coming up on you. We need another signal.”
Rojas debated it for a second, but he hadn’t seen any patrol boats since they’d left the marina in Jersey City. Reluctantly, he said lowly, “Two more flashes in five seconds.” He counted down five, four, three… “Did you see it?”
“Sí. Three minutes.”
Rojas clicked off. The harbor was quiet, and he heard the sound of another motor off in the distance. Right on time, the Honduran boat pulled up and idled in the water. “Niño, Adeliño,” he called out.
“Sí, jefe. We’re on it.” It would take two of them to move the bundles and crates from below deck. They’d wait for Rojas’s instructions before moving a single one of them.
The shore lights reflecting off the water enabled Rojas to make out one of the Hondurans standing at the bow of the other boat as it approached. Like him, the man was armed, but he was much more blatant about it. He held his weapon—also fully automatic, Rojas determined, simply by the way he was carrying it—pointed downward, his hands positioned for quick action.
“I don’t like this,” Jocko called from his post outside the cabin.
“Take it easy,” Rojas responded. “And keep your voice down.”
Rojas threw a line while the Honduran on the other side did the same. It took a minute for the boat to hold steady in the strong undercurrent, and the Honduran called out in a heavy accent, “You got the merchandise?” And a cordial hello to you too, he thought. “My name is Rojas,” he said amiably. “I’d like to know who I’m doing business with, brother man.”
“I am not your brother,” the Honduran spat back. “My name is Javier.”
Okay, so this was the way it was going to be, then. “It’s good to meet you, Javier. Of course I have the merchandise.”
“Let me see it.”
“It’s below deck. I need to see the money first.”
“I have it,” Javier snapped. “You get the money when the goods are on my boat.”
Rojas paused, trying to get a look at Javier’s face in the darkness. “One million and eighty thousand,” Rojas called out. “That’s the deal, right?”
“How do I know you brought everything? Maybe we need to confirm it.” As soon as Javier said we, two more men appeared on the other side of the Honduran boat’s cabin.
“And I need to confirm you have all the money,” Rojas said in return. “Maybe I need to count it.” Counting was a show of distrust, but Rojas had been on runs where everything was tallied before the product changed hands, especially when the two parties had not done business before. Those situations were not in the middle of New York Harbor, however.
Niño and Adeliño swung a look at Rojas, and he heard Jocko mutter under his breath yet again, “I don’t like this, boss.”
Rojas spoke slowly. “Javier, my friend, under other circumstances, I would have no problem with us going through this verification process, but it will take a long time, and it is too dangerous for us to be found together like this. If there is any problem with the shipment, let us know and we will make good on it.”
“We will never see each other again,” said Javier. “If I can’t verify the shipment, I can’t hand over the money. We have come a long way, and I need to make sure we’re getting everything we paid for.”
Jocko chuckled. By this time he was making no attempt to hide his Uzi, his index finger resting on the trigger guard.
Rojas said, “That’s not the way this works, mi hermano. Nothing changes hands until I see the money.”
Javier bristled, his resentment evident at being addressed as mi hermano. “So, you don’t trust me, but I have to trust you. I am not a fool, mi hermano.”
“I am not saying that,” Rojas shot back. “But maybe you don’t understand the danger of our boats coming together in these waters.” He couldn’t tell if Javier got it or not. “Hey, mi amigo, if you don’t want to do the deal this way, we’ll go back where we came from, and you can go back to where you came from—all the way to Honduras,” he added with emphasis.
“You insult me,” Javier shouted.
Rojas gnashed his teeth. “I’m not trying to insult you, Javier, but we have not done business before. If you don’t want to play by my rules, we have other customers who are willing to pay top dollar. This is how we do business here. Take it or leave it.”
Javier looked back at his two men, who were still standing near the cabin. One of them nodded. “Send your man over,” he called.
“Adeliño,” said Rojas. “Bring me the money.”
Adeliño grabbed the line and pulled the idling boats closer together so he could make the leap to the Honduran boat.
Javier kept his weapon on him the whole time. Things were getting hairy.
“There is no need for that,” Rojas said angrily. “He is unarmed. Lower your weapon.”
Javier shot him a glare, the whites of his eyes showing in the darkness. Adeliño grabbed a line and looked at Rojas, who nodded his go-ahead. Adeliño made the leap, but Javier made no attempt to point his weapon in another direction as he indicated for one of his men to frisk him. Rojas felt himself flush with anger. Adeliño stood there with his arms up, staring fiercely at the Honduran who was patting him down.
“Dónde está el dinero?” Adeliño asked resentfully. Where is the money?
Javier indicated a pair of live wells at the stern of the boat on both sides of the aft deck. “Para allá,” he said to Adeliño. Over there. Adeliño shook his head. It was one of the first places DEA agents or police would look for contraband. His new Honduran friend lifted the lid on one of the live wells, and Adeliño spotted a large, hard-sided aluminum suitcase inside.
“Necesito abrirlo,” Adeliño said bravely. I need to open it.
“You doubt us?” Javier shouted at Rojas. “You think we are…” He stumbled for the word. “…embusteros?” Liars?
Adeliño froze, not even looking a Rojas.
Jocko stiffened, his finger moving to the trigger of the Uzi. Rojas glanced at him for a split second but issued no admonition for Jocko to take it easy this time. Rojas noted the driver of the Honduran boat was in the cabin keeping his boat steady, and it was impossible to tell if he was armed. The Honduran who frisked Adeliño was looking at Javier, and it was suddenly deathly silent, the only sounds being the up-and-down idle of the motors and the slap, slap, slap of the water. The smell of diesel exhaust wafted in the barely moving air.
Breaking the thickening tension, Rojas said to Javier, “Do you have children? I have three, and I’d like to see them again.”
Javier motioned toward Rojas’s boat. “I need to see the merchandise. He stays here,” he said, indicating Adeliño.
Furious with himself for letting Adeliño get trapped on the Honduran boat, Rojas glanced to the stern of his own boat and called, “Niño, bring up one of the bundles.”
With rivulets of sweat rolling off his forehead, Niño went below deck and lugged a heavy bundle wrapped in heavy polyethylene and thick nylon strapping up onto the deck. Holding a small flashlight in his teeth, he pulled a heavy snap-open knife from his belt, the blade springing open with a resounding click. Cutting one of the straps, he pulled one of the boxes from the bundle and opened it, revealing a brand-new Chinese-made Norinco MAK 90 AK-47 wrapped in soft foam sheeting. Niño tore off the wrapping and held the AK-47 aloft so Javier could see it clearly from the other boat.
“Okay, Javier,” called Rojas. “We’re happy if you’re happy, but we need to move quickly. We have already spent too much time on this.”
“I will be happy when I see the rest of the merchandise,” Javier said indignantly. “Bring up the rest and show it to me.” His weapon was still trained on Adeliño.
Rojas had had about enough, but he held his temper. Normally, there was some honor among criminals, so to speak, but something told him this wasn’t going to end well. “I’ve held up my end of the deal,” he said icily. “It’s as far as I’m going to go until we have the money and my man is back on board our boat. Why don’t you and your men talk it over and figure out what you want to do?” He could feel Jocko’s resentment bubbling.
Javier speared him with a glare and repositioned his hands on his weapon.
Rojas glared back and put his hands in the air. Slowly, he reached down and undid one of the lines keeping the boats together. “Adeliño,” he called out. “Come back to the boat.”
Nervously, Adeliño did so, keeping his eye on Javier the whole time.
Rojas undid the second line and called up to the cabin, “Alfredo, take us out of here. These people don’t want to do business.” Molina wouldn’t be happy, but there was no way he was going to hand over the shipment without having secured every penny of the $1,080,000 not with this guy. Moments later, he felt the boat jerk backward as Alfredo revved the engine.
“Wait,” Javier called urgently.
Rojas lifted his hand toward the cabin. “Alfredo, stop.” As soon as he did, the boats began drifting apart.
“We had an agreement,” Javier called out angrily.
“Not anymore,” Rojas called back. “We’re done.” He was convinced now that giving in to this bastard would be a mistake. Rojas picked up his MP5 from where it was lying near his feet, making no attempt to hide it. The air reeked of distrust.
Javier looked like he was about to explode. “Sucio bastardo!” he screamed from the bow of his boat. You dirty bastard! “Eres un perro sucio!” You are a filthy dog! “Mateo!”
As soon as Javier screamed the name Mateo, one of the men on the other side of the Hondurans’ cabin pulled an automatic weapon, while the one next to him raised a pistol he’d obviously been holding the whole time. Seeing this, Rojas dropped down below the gunwales while Jocko’s silenced Uzi coughed twice, each burst sending fourteen rounds per second toward his targets. The two Hondurans by the cabin were dead before they got their weapons into position. Rojas went to grab his MP5 as a dozen bullets from Javier’s weapon blasted through the side of the boat barely above his head. Crawling away from the spot, he fired blindly at Javier while at the same time hearing Jocko’s Uzi spit out more death. The barrage ripped through Javier from his neck to his crotch.
Feeling the burn in his leg, Rojas knew he’d not evaded Javier’s bullets entirely. There was blood on his pant leg, and it looked like a round had gone through his left calf muscle. He made it to his knees in time to see the driver of the Honduran boat step out of the cabin with his hands up. “No dispares! No dispares!” he screamed. Don’t shoot! A second later, Jocko’s bullets tore into the Honduran and dropped him where he stood.
All went silent as Rojas and his crew looked at each other, dazed from the deadly attack they’d just lived through.
With his heart beating powerfully, as his blood puddled on the deck beneath his leg, Rojas called, “Alfredo.”
“Get us back over there. Jocko, make sure no one else with a gun pops up from that piece-of-shit boat.”
“Got it, boss.”
Alfredo maneuvered so that the boats were touching in the water. Rojas picked up his MP5, but he knew no one else was on the other boat, and the Hondurans were all on their way to hell. “Adeliño,” he called out. “Get back on that boat and get what we came for.”
Frankie Takes Gas Wednesday, July 3rd, 7:23 p.m.
Business at Chez Alain restaurant was light, probably because half the working population of Jersey City had taken the day off to stretch out the July 4th holiday, which happened to be in the middle of the week this year. Frankie wasn’t happy. “And don’t you dare do anything to that steak, Rafael!” he yelled above the constant din of the kitchen.
“Mais, what d’you think, I don’t know how to cook steak au poivre? I be make it for ’a thirty years, nom de Dieu!”
It wasn’t good when Rafael started cursing in French. “Rafael, if I lose this tip because you’re too stubborn to make the steak well done, I’m going to come back there and choke you.”
Rafael glared as he took the plate off the service shelf. Muttering more curse words under his breath, he put the steak under the salamander while Frankie stood there to make sure he didn’t do anything disgusting to it.
“Don’t screw with me, Rafael. We’ve hardly had any customers, and I’m barely gonna make enough to pay for my parking tonight.” He looked at the plate. “The sauce is dry now. Put some butter on it.” Rafael just walked away, so Frankie did it himself. Rafael could be a real ass. I don’t need this aggravation, thought Frankie. Then he thought, Yes, I do.
He took the plate back to the table, apologizing profusely for Rafael being Rafael. Teddy was the manager. It should have been him apologizing, thought Frankie as he brought the lady another glass of wine—which he wasn’t going to put on the check—but it was just as well that Teddy was nowhere to be seen. He didn’t want that jackass anywhere near his customers. He’d never seen Teddy save a check the whole time he’d worked there, which was going on two years for Frankie, two years of Teddy treating him like a second-class citizen. Why do I do it? Frankie had asked himself more times than he could count. He was the one who always came in early to make sure the setups were done. He was the one who always stayed late when a party ran long. And, almost exclusively, he made a point of pushing Rafael’s specials. Specials… right. It was their way of getting rid of food which would otherwise go into the dumpster. He didn’t get paid for any of those things, and he vowed to himself that he was going to start being like everyone else who worked at Chez Alain and only do what put money in his pocket. Even the Mexican guys in the kitchen shook their heads when they saw him doing things Teddy should have been doing. “Hey, Mr. Frankie,” they would say. “Let the jefe take care of it.” Then they would chuckle because they knew the jefe never really took care of anything.
Gabby came up to him at the server station and filled a couple of water glasses. “Is Rafael giving you a hard time again? I could hear you two yelling from across the dining room.”
Gabby was Gabriella D’Angelo, and she was one of the few people at Chez Alain with whom Frankie was friendly. They’d even gone out a couple of times after work to an after-hours place called the Lucky 7 Tavern. Frankie said it was an omen since his last name, Fortunato, meant lucky. The last time they went, they played darts and did alternate shots of beer and tequila, then tried to soak it up with tater tots and fried pickles. That wasn’t a good night for Gabby, and Frankie ended up almost carrying her into the apartment she shared with two other roommates. She would have done anything that night. She’d even told him that she hadn’t been laid in months and was horny as a toad. As much as he was tempted to take advantage of the situation, he couldn’t do it. She’d made the mistake of telling him she was still woozy the next morning, and he never let her hear the end of it, teasing her mercilessly about the horny thing.
“I did not say that,” she said.
“You certainly did,” Frankie taunted. “As a toad, you said.”
“No way. You’re making it up.”
Frankie smiled and walked away. It had the desired effect, as evidenced by the deep flush of her cheeks. Those nights with her after work weren’t dates exactly, but he thought about her constantly and wondered if she’d say yes if he asked her out in a more formal way.
He checked her out now, and she was looking good: tight, starched white cotton shirt, tight black slacks, lip gloss… Ouch. “He’s being a real jerk tonight,” he said, answering her question about Rafael. “You better check your orders before you take them out. I think maybe he’s been hitting the sauce again.”
“Let me guess,” she said sarcastically, “Teddy isn’t going to do anything about it.”
Frankie waved off the comment. “Please. The man is a total waste, costing me a lot of money. My tip total is going down with every shift.”
“I know what you mean. And it isn’t going to be any better today. A lot of people took the day off and headed for the shore.”
“Please don’t make me more depressed than I already am. Is Teddy even here today?”
“I haven’t seen him,” Gabby replied, “but that doesn’t mean he’s not here. He’s probably back in his office playing video games.”
“Or snorting coke and watching porn, more likely,” Frankie remarked. “Maybe we should talk to one of the partners about how he’s driving this place into the ground.”
“It couldn’t hurt,” Gabby said as she pulled a couple of menus and inserted the specials list. “Customers aren’t going to put up with lousy drinks and overpriced entrées for long. Have you been by the Orleans House lately? The place is always packed while we’re….” She made a crude gesture.
“I believe it. Last week two of Teddy’s obnoxious girlfriends were at the bar, and they proceeded to piss off everyone in the place. I think they were hookers. Camila was working that night and Teddy told her he’d take care of the tab, but he never did, of course.”
“So Camila got stiffed?”
“Oh, for sure, and she wasn’t happy about it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her quit as soon as she finds something else—and she will. She’s a good bartender.” Stepping away, Frankie said, “Gotta go. One of my customers is giving me the wave.”
Frankie weaved his way between the tightly packed tables and acknowledged his customer in the snug suit and skinny tie. “Another martini, sir?”
“Sure,” said the snug suit. “Does anyone want another drink?”
One of the women held up her glass, and Frankie said, “Pinot grigio, right?” The lady nodded. “Anyone else?” He took two more drink orders and asked if anyone cared for any appetizers.
“We’ll look over the menu while you’re getting the drinks,” the suit said.
“Absolutely,” Frankie responded, reaching down to pick up a couple of empty glasses. As he did so, he overheard some of the conversation from the other side of the table.
“I wonder who’s going to catch the case,” a portly gentleman was saying to the well-put-together lady sitting next to him. “Four guys shot dead on a fishing boat in the middle of New York Harbor? The press will be all over it. Mason is positioning himself to take it if it comes our way, and he’s already salivating.”
Frankie spotted a binder on the table and noted the words Hudson County District Attorney etched into the leather. These guys were lawyers, evidently, prosecutors probably, having a couple of pops and doing a little shoptalking after work, it looked like. Him being a law student made the conversation quite interesting, and Frankie did his best to eavesdrop without being obvious about it. He recalled seeing the headline about the murders on the cover of the Daily News earlier in the day as he rode the PATH train.
He brought the four drinks and some bread back to the table. Listening to the conversation again, his curiosity mounted quickly. “Is this a special occasion?” he asked.
“Retirement party,” one of the women said cheerfully. “Our man Charles is retiring at the end of the week.” She pointed to the portly guy.
“Well then, I guess congratulations are in order.”
“I guess,” the portly guy said. “After prosecuting cases for thirty-five years, I hope I can find something else to keep me busy.”
Frankie noted the apprehension in the man’s voice.
“You will,” said the lady with the pinot grigio. “It’ll be hard to replace you.”
“If you can hold on for a couple of years, maybe I can put in an application,” Frankie said through a very obvious smile to let everyone know he was joking. “I’m in my second year at NYU Law.”
“Go into contract law,” the portly guy said. “You’ll make five times the money, kid.”
Okay, thought Frankie. He’d established rapport, but knowing there was nothing worse than a chatty waiter, he asked, “Did anyone decide on appetizers? The mini crab cakes are good tonight.” At least he hoped they were, and that Rafael hadn’t screwed them up somehow.
All six people ordered, and Frankie was already doing the calculations in his head. If they did the whole enchilada and ordered drinks, appetizers, entrées, and dessert, the tab would be somewhere above $350. Maybe the night would be worthwhile after all.
He stepped over to one of the point-of sale stations and began punching in the appetizer orders. Out of nowhere, Teddy came up behind him and stood close so that his bad breath filled the air. Not surprisingly, it smelled like bourbon. “What the fuck was all that with the law school shit?” he asked belligerently.
Teddy was playing sneak attack again. “Calm down, Teddy. I was only making small talk.”
“Yeah, well, maybe you should keep that crap to yourself. Nobody likes a nosy waiter.”
“Take a pill, Teddy. Why don’t you lay off me and go into the kitchen and do something about Rafael?”
“You can stop with the smart mouth,” Teddy fired back. “I’m the boss around here, and maybe that’s something you should remember.”
Frankie turned away and bit his tongue before he said something stupid. “Yeah, Teddy. I got it, okay?”
Besides the party of six from the DA’s office, he had two more parties of four that night and four parties of two, and it didn’t turn out to be so bad in the tip department. Teddy scowled at him and the other servers all night, and Frankie thought he heard Gabby tell him to shove it. Felipe was on the bar, and he didn’t look happy either. Despite having pulled in over two hundred bucks in tips on a slow night, it wasn’t going to be enough for him to pay his rent to his parents—on which he was late—and still be able to put something aside for books for the upcoming fall semester. That was going to be a pretty big number this time around. He needed more shifts, though he wondered if he dared talk to Teddy about it, seeing as the man had been a dick to everyone the entire night. When he spotted Teddy at a back table filling out the schedule for the coming week, he looked and saw that Teddy was only scheduling him for two nights.
“What the hell, Teddy? Two shifts? That’s all?”
“Yeah, well, maybe you shouldn’t be such a fucking smart mouth.”
Frankie felt his face heat up. “Teddy, I can’t cover my expenses on two shifts. I need more hours.”
“You should have thought of that before you started talking about me behind my back.”
“I wasn’t talking about you behind your back.”
“No? What about the conversation you had with Miss Tight Ass earlier, and talking about going to the partners to bitch me out? What the fuck was that all about?”
Frankie felt his face get even hotter. “It was just shoptalk, Teddy. You know how it is.”
“Is that an apology?”
Now Frankie thought his face was going to self-combust. “I… I guess it is. Sorry, Teddy. It won’t happen again.” The last thing he needed right now was to lose this job without having something else lined up. “C’mon, Teddy, I’ve always come in when someone called out and you needed me to cover. What’s with the cutback?”
Teddy leaned back and put his hands behind his head like he was really enjoying himself. “I’ll give you more shifts, if you want, but there’s two conditions.”
Frankie caught his own reflection in the bar mirror. His face was tight, his jaw was set, and it wasn’t a good look on him. He looked at Teddy and wanted to knock the smarmy half smile right off his face. “Go on,” he said, trying to keep himself from reaching over and giving Teddy a slap.
“One of the lunch crew quit this morning.” And pretty soon, so will just about everyone else in the place, thought Frankie.
“I’ll give you your regular four shifts at the dinner seating, but you have to pick up three more shifts for lunch until I can get someone else hired and trained.”
“That could take the rest of the summer,” Frankie protested, getting more than he bargained for. “I’m still taking two courses this summer, and I’m going to need time to talk to my professors about my coursework for the fall semester.”
“That’s your problem, and I don’t give a fuck. You want more shifts, those are my conditions.”
Frankie swallowed hard. “Teddy, three lunch shifts and four dinner shifts might be more than I can handle right now.”
Teddy put his head down and went back to the schedule. “Not my problem. You can take it or fucking leave it, in which case I’ll cut you down to Monday and Tuesday nights. I’d guess that would put a hurtin’ on the old wallet, wouldn’t it, Frankie?”
Monday and Tuesday nights were the slowest nights of the week. Frankie stared at him, and he could tell Teddy was waiting for him to go off. “That’s only one,” he said, keeping his voice low and even.
“What’s only one?”
The dumb shit. “Condition,” Frankie replied. “The three added lunch shifts is only one condition. You said you had two.”
“Oh, right. The second is if you talk to any of the partners about anything that’s going on at this restaurant, you’re history. You comprende? No matter how bad I need servers.”
Frankie choked back what he really wanted to say. “Yeah, Teddy, I comprende.”
Michael Bronte is a graduate of Union College in Schenectady, New York, and George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and lives with his wife in New Jersey. "All of the heroes in my novels are everyday people," says Bronte. "Any of them could by your next door neighbor. None of us really know what we're capable of until the time comes for us to reach beyond the boundaries of our everyday lives. Remarkable feats of courage are performed all around us. It's amazing." As a young teenager I remember reading paperback mysteries under a huge oak tree outside my parents’ neighborhood grocery store in Dalton, Massachusetts, a small town located in the heart of the Berkshires. I can recall pulling a book from the rack and getting locked in to those novels as the fragrant summer breeze of Berkshire County tried to turn the page before I was done reading it. I don’t know why, but I was greatly affected by a book titled The Fan Club, by Irving Wallace. When I was done reading it, I can still recall thinking that someday I’d be able to write a book like that on my own; I knew I could do it.
Well, the idea stayed dormant for over thirty years while I did what I thought I should have been doing for a living (looking back, it all seems so trivial sometimes) until I rekindled by infatuation with writing novels. Now, may years later, and many mistakes and failures later, there are nine Michael Bronte novels available. They are: The Dealership, Presidential Risk, Porchball, Call Me Crash, The Tenth Caller, Lost Friday, The Brothers, The Handyman, and the newest Michael Bronte novel, Homicide: Party of Twelve
How did you come up with the name of this book?
The common theme throughout all of my books is that the heroes are just everyday people. As such, I thought writing a book about people who work in a restaurant would be an interesting story with characters who have a lot of side interests. We all know of servers who want to be actors, or writers, or are working their way through school, etc. The intent was to have characters with a lot of depth that the reader could identify with, and certainly there are thousands, or maybe millions of people who could identify with working is a restaurant. And certainly nearly everyone could identify with the words a hostess or maitre d’ announces when a table is ready: “Smith, party of four, right this way.” Thus came the title of the book, except that instead of a person’s name, it’s the crime of murder that’s referenced, and “Party of Twelve” is the number of bodies that fall in during the course of the story. I wanted to use “Party of four,” but the body count just kept increasing!
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for about twenty-five years on and off, and I started writing when I got a job with an advertising agency writing copy for radio commercials. This was before the time when everyone had a computer in their home, and long before email, so my employer gave me a computer to use so we could “telefax” copy back and forth to each other due to the fact that we lived far apart. “Here’s a computer. Learn how to use the word processing program so that we can telefax the radio copy,” were my instructions. So, I asked myself, what do I write in order to learn this word processing program? I decided to write a story about some of my college experiences, and six months later I had written my first book.
What advice would I give to new authors?
The only advice I would give is to be dedicated. Whether you study creative writing, or do it as a hobby, you have to have the dedication to learn what makes good writing. That’s a monumental task on its own. Then come the publicizing of the work, which even harder. There are a zillion books out there, and no one will buy or read your work if they don’t know about you. As a writer, if you don’t have the dedication to learn the craft and overcome the difficulty of creating an awareness of you and your work, you’ll be writing only for yourself.
What is your writing process?
For me, it starts with a story idea, which I get from many places: from friends, my kids, the news, daydreaming in church—the story ideas literally come to me out of the blue sometimes. The idea also has to reflect the ending. If I don’t have the ending in mind, I don’t start writing until I do. Otherwise, the writing will directionless, and you have to have direction in order to devise the scene-and-sequel chain of events that make the story coherent. Once I have the ending in mind, I conceive the geographic setting, the characters names (I find that conceiving the names helps me to build the personalities and qualities of the characters), and then finally the plot which is aimed at the end I already have in mind. From there a proceed to write the first scene, and continue with the scene-and-sequel process (if you don’t know what that is, don’t start writing; do your research). Every scene, every sequel, every line of dialogue, every turn of the plot has to come together at the end of the book. It’s like a big funnel where all the action, incidents, and dialogue all come together at the bottom of the funnel at the end with all questions resolved.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
No. I believe in being afraid. I think writers freeze when they don’t have a “perfect” idea in their heads as to how to proceed with a piece of work. I say, “Force yourself. Write something, anything you consider as the best idea at that point in time. Often, ideas will come to you once you overcome the lack of writing inertia, and thought start to flow. If something isn’t right, you can always go back and edit, rewrite, eliminate, or add to what you’ve written to make it work. Unless you force yourself to get some words down, you’re dead meat.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise?
For me, it’s relative silence, meaning with no TV blaring, or jackhammers going off outside my window, or mindless blithering from the radio or some other source. In addition, I find that I work much better if I’m in my “writing spot” where I have everything in reach: my computer, my thesaurus (online in this day and age), my Chicago Manual of Style, etc. I also find that writing at the same time of day is helpful. Usually for me, it’s first thing in the morning. I’m too old to be writing in the middle of the night. I need my beauty sleep.
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