Breaking Bones(3)

By: Amanda Washington

It was too good to be true. “You can really do all that?” I asked.

“‘All that’?” He laughed, and his associate joined in. They carried on for an uncomfortable minute while I wondered what was so funny. Finally, the old guy wiped a tear from his eye and said, “Kid, you have no idea what I’m capable of.”

Something in his tone made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, but his offer was too good to pass up. He offered me the money again, and this time I took it.

“I’ll be his friend. I’ll protect him,” I promised.

Mom’s beat-up old sedan turned the corner and came barreling toward us. No doubt she was pissed at the interruption in her work day my suspension caused. I stashed the cash in my pocket and stood straighter, dreading the guilt trip I was about to receive. The old man squeezed my shoulder in a gesture that bordered on painful, getting my attention. When I looked up at him, his smile had disappeared.

“He’s putting a lot of faith in you. Do not disappoint him, Franco,” he said.

Before I could ask who this mysterious ‘he’ was, the old man’s smile was back and directed toward the Celica, which screeched to a stop behind his Jaguar.

“Make sure she gets those brakes looked at,” the old man said to me. “Ron’s Brake and Tire on Decatur will help you out. Tell ’em Carlo sent you. You take care of your mom now. We owe her that much at least.” Before I could ask him why he owed Ma anything, he shuffled me toward the car as my mom was getting out, extending his hand to Mom. “Mrs. Leone, hello, so nice to meet you. You’ve got a great boy here. You should be proud.”

Mom’s brows knit together in confusion as she looked from the man to me.

“Now don’t you worry about this little misunderstanding one bit. A bully was picking on my great nephew and Franco here stepped in and defended him. It was admirable, and I’m fixin’ to go in there and talk to the principal right now. I’ll set him straight about what happened and you have my word Franco’s suspension will be lifted. You’ll be getting an apology call from the principal tonight.”

Ma’s expression softened. “You helped a kid?” she asked me.

I decided right then that protecting Angel Mariani would start with making him sound less like a sissy. If I was going to be his best friend, he needed to be someone I could respect. “He got jumped. It wasn’t a fair fight.”

The old man released my shoulder to pat me on the back and I knew I’d said the right thing. He headed toward the school and I climbed into Ma’s car and put on my seatbelt.

“You really helped a kid?” she asked again.

Well if that didn’t make me feel like the scum of the earth. Was it so difficult to believe I’d done something nice? “Ma—”

“Don’t look at me like that, Franco. This is the third suspension since your father… disappeared. You can’t blame me for being surprised.”

No, I couldn’t. Especially since I couldn’t have cared less about D’Angelo Mariani when I’d done it. “Yeah.” I patted the cash in my pocket. “Seemed like the right thing to do.”

I watched the old man disappear behind the school doors, realizing I hadn’t gotten a phone number from him. Somehow I knew it didn’t matter, though. He seemed like the type of guy who’d be in touch with me.

It’s been thirteen years since I accepted the cash from Angel’s great uncle, Carlo Mariani, sealing my position as Angel’s best friend and bodyguard. My “opportunities” did increase and Carlo has kept his word, protecting my family and growing my bank account. It’s been a good run, but Angel just flipped my world upside down with his plans to leave the family.

He’d invited me to leave the city with him before taking his girlfriend, Markie, out onto the balcony to talk.

My phone rang. As I reached in my pocket, Nonna—Angel’s grandmother who had everyone call her by the Italian title for “grandma”—looked up from the magazine she was reading and said, “That’ll be Carlo. Give that old coot my regards.”

I glanced at the display. Sure enough, Carlo was calling. I hurried for the door, answering as I walked.

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