by Toni Goodyear
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
I hoisted the snare drum to my other shoulder. It was the drum my best friend Danny had played in the high school marching band, well and truly scratched but not faded, still a bright sparkling blue. He’d given it to me when he tired of it and decided to take up the trumpet. The dents on the side were still there from the time we’d clobbered the Kraut kids from two blocks over, when they jumped us after the parade, calling Danny a Mick and me a Wop. I’d used my saxophone, too, like a club. Danny and I had made beautiful music together that day. I could still hear that snare drum every time I dreamed of the past, dreams that had started three weeks ago when the word came down that I had to kill him.
We were so naturally like brothers and all the families in our neighborhood, too, the Italians and the Irish. They understood each other, marrying, carousing, revering God and the saints, instinctive passion and the joy of spirits, storytelling– even the jig– and the tarantella, so close. We’d always beat the crazy Ruskies in dance contests back then, them with all that arms-crossed Cossack thundering, and we’d even trounce the lively Jews with their Hava Nagila and chair-hoisting rowdiness. They all had to buy us drinks.
Later they’d called Danny and I “the stoplights”, him the green, me the red, always in tandem, both of us hired killers. We’d celebrate together, St. Patrick on the 17th, all green, with the Lenten dispensations that allowed the liquor to flow, and St. Joseph on the 19th, all red, with the fat zeppole ricotta cream puff and the traditional meatless minestras, and the tables groaning with enough pasta and desserts to kill everyone in sight.
In school we’d learned that St. Paddy was raised by Romans and maybe that was the reason Danny and I got on so well. St. Paddy grew up in Britain with Roman parents named Calpurnius and Conchessa, if can you believe that. No one knows if they were actually what we’d call “Italians,” the whole world was owned by Rome and people were called Romans even if they’d never set a toe anywhere near the city. But, anyway, Roman? Who the hell would have thought that with all the green cabbage and red-gravied pasta we were maybe really peas in the very same pod.
Now we were grownups, even our mothers had to call us that when we hit thirty. Danny lived in an apartment over a liquor store with his latest girlfriend, a perky blonde W.A.S.P. from Connecticut, but he’d just bought a “bungalow” in the Hamptons, the kind of shack working men like us couldn’t afford. He’d put the house in her name, but someone had found out that it wasn’t her rich daddy’s like Danny’d wanted us to think. Danny had bought it himself, with the money he’d made from selling out the bosses in Brooklyn. Rule number one: Don’t rat on your own. Rule number two: Never forget rule number one.
So here I was on St. Paddy’s Day, waiting to kill him, remembering other celebrations, most of them with brain cells too numbed to recall any but the happiest details which was probably just as well. Despite the revelry, this was a holy day for Danny, a good day to die because it’d be the closest he ever got to purity. He went to church in the morning and marched in the afternoon, and then began the feasting. His mother, like all of them in our part of New York, had hauled herself down to the Jews two days earlier to buy the salted beef that had become the tradition here because it was all the original immigrants could afford, they couldn’t do the bacon that fed the feasts in the hillsides of Ireland.
After the food, the men took seriously the part about drowning the shamrock. The three-leafed clover went into the last glass–when the glass was empty the shamrock was tossed over the left shoulder, like the Italians did with salt. Danny would be mellow in spirit and flesh, and maybe make a wish on the shamrock for some place in heaven where all could be forgiven, even men like us. It was the best I could do.
“Cossetti? You here?”
The guy sent by Brooklyn stepped out of the shadows and dropped a cigarette to the pavement. “Here,” he said, and took the drum from my shoulder.
In a few minutes I would set him to drumming, like Danny’s people said St. Paddy had done.They said he took a drummer with him all around Ireland, to town after town, banishing the pagan snake by drawing the people out of their homes to hear the music and then he’d preach to them. Drumming up business for the Lord.
Tonight Cossetti would drum and the bars would empty, folks thinking maybe another parade was coming or a new party getting started. I looked to the corner of the building where I would wait in darkness to take Danny down. Cossetti would draw Danny’s and the crowd’s attention, I would do the rest. I’d come up behind my friend and move in sideways under his arm. In the noise and crush there’d be no way to know what hit him, silent death sliding in and out, once, twice. Gone. And the drumming wouldn’t stop.
I looked at my watch. A quarter to midnight.
“Time,” I said.
Cossetti began rapping the snare drum with his sticks, building quickly from a come-on to a rousing Irish beat perfect for the whiskey, the cheer. It wasn’t long before they started to spill out of the doors, glasses still in hand, looking for the source of the good time. Cossetti drummed and I waited on the side of the building, my eyes peeled for Danny. This was his favorite tavern, the place he most liked to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day. As the moment came closer, my mind raced with the thoughts of us, the stoplights, the inseparables, the Mick and the Wop. Danny never went through this when he killed, he just got calmer about it, steely calm in fact. Sometimes I’d have to sit with my head between my knees afterward, trying not to see what we’d just done. “You gotta go easy, lad,” he’d tell me then, laying a hand on my shoulder. “You gotta remember it’s you or them, nothing else matters. You do your job or you die, either by them or the bosses. That makes it always right to do it, capisce?”
I touched the handle of my knife and took a deep breath for courage.
I never felt the first blade under my arm. I felt the second one, slow and easy, as Danny collared me around my neck from behind, holding me against him, talking directly in my ear to get past the drummer. If I could’ve yelled, no one would’ve heard me for the racket.
“I knew they’d send someone,” he whispered. “You’re the only one who’d’ve thought to come drumming for me.”
I felt the blade withdraw, the flow of hot liquid rushing out behind it.
“I’m gonna miss you, Joey,” he said in my ear. “Damn, that snare drum still sounds good, doesn’t it?”
He let go of me and I crumpled to my knees. I heard his footsteps as he went to join the crowd. I knew I was probably drowning in red, red against the green of the St. Paddy’s Day shirt I’d worn to blend in, a red that couldn’t be seen in the dark but which would be there in the morning, long after the drumming.
The color for St. Joseph, I thought with a crazy man’s smile, the moment before my heart stopped.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways, and mystery short stories, including another St. Patrick’s Day related mystery, in our mystery section.