The Last Gig
by Norman Green
GENRE: Mystery (detective)
A teenage runaway from the Brownsville projects, Alessandra Martillo lived with an indifferent aunt who had taken her in when her mother killed herself, and later, after more than a year on the streets, a caring uncle found her, took her in, and showed her she had a chance. That was many years ago, and now Alessandra’s all grown up, working for a sleazy P.I., repossessing cars, and trolling for waitstaff on the take. The cases aren’t glamorous, or interesting, but the work pays the bills. And she’s good at it—if there’s one thing she’s learned since leaving the streets, it’s how to take care of herself around life’s shadier elements.
When an Irish mobster named Daniel “Mickey” Caughlan thinks someone on the inside of his shipping operation is trying to set him up for a fall, it’s Al he wants on the job. She’s to find the traitor and report back. But just a little digging shows it’s more complicated than a simple turncoat inside the family; Al’s barely started on the case when she runs into a few tough guys trying to warn her away. Fools. As if a little confrontation wouldn’t make her even more determined.~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“Your biggest problem is that you’re a girl.” That was the first thing he’d said to her back when they started, that first time she could remember him coming back home. Alessandra had been six years old at the time, a bit tall for her age and naturally athletic, but impossibly thin. He was back in Brooklyn after a tour of duty with the MPs on the Hong Kong waterfront. Tall, dark, and forbidding, that’s how she remembered him; quick to anger, sensitive to any disrespect, intolerant of any lack of rectitude in matters of dress or speech or behavior.
She remembered standing in front of him, trembling, glancing over at her mother for support. Like a lot of project kids, Alessandra’s mother had been her rock, her bodyguard, her ever- present protective shield, but right then her mother would not come past the kitchen doorway. “Beektor,” her mother said, pleading, and her father reddened at the mispronunciation. “Beektor, she’s so small. Are you sure . . .”
“How long do you want me to wait?” he snapped. “She’s old enough. Go make dinner.” He did not look in his wife’s direction to see whether or not he would be obeyed. “Okay, Alessandra,” he said. “Now you listen to me. You’re a girl, and everyone is bigger than you. They think they can make you do what they want, you hear me? You have to learn to defend yourself. Do you understand me? You need to be able to stand up for yourself. Now pretend I’m a strange man, I walk up to you on the street, and I grab you. What do you do?” He approached her then, got down on one knee, wrapped a thick arm around her in slow motion. “I’ve got you now. What do you do?”
She had heard his voice on the phone many times, but this was the first time she had been confronted with the physical reality of the man. He was clearly in charge, and she was terrified of disappointing him. “I would scream,” she said, after a minute. “I would scream for a policeman.”
“That’s good,” he said, but he did not release her. “You should scream. But what if there’s no policemen around? What if they’re too far away to protect you? You need to be able to take care of yourself.” She was afraid to look at him. “You have something to fight with. Tell me what it is.”
She could smell the aftershave he used, feel the smooth warm skin of his arm. She considered his question. “I could hit you?”
“No, you can’t hit me, you’re too small and you don’t know how yet. But you can poke my eye out.”
She looked at her hand, resting on his arm. “Would that hurt?”
“Never mind that. I’m a strange man, remember? I just grabbed you, and bad things are going to happen unless you can make me let you go. Do you understand?”
She did not, but she sensed that he wanted her to say yes. “Yes, Papi.”
“Good. Now we’re going to try it. No, not like The Three Stooges.” He released her then. He held his hand out in front of her, fingers straight and stiff. “Make your hand like this. No, hard, hard, feel mine. Just like that, hard. Now watch this.” Still down on one knee, he pushed her back a half step. “Now you pretend you’re the bad man, and you try to grab me.”
She smiled at that, just slightly.
“No,” he said, “just pretend. I’m the little girl, you’re the bad man. You’re way bigger than me, I can’t hurt you. Try to grab me.” She inhaled, took a half step, her hands raised, and quicker than anything she had ever seen, he jabbed at her face with his stiffened fingers. “Boom!” he said. “Now tell me what just happened.”
“You poked me.”
“I scratched your cornea. What that really means is if you were a bad man and I was a little girl, the bad man is hurting so much he can’t see the little girl anymore, and she’s running away. Do you understand?”
She did not. “Yes, Papi.”
“Good. Now we’re going to practice. First in slow motion. I grab you with this hand, slow, like that, and I’m going to hold up my other hand and you pretend it’s my face, and you jab at it, slow, slow, hold your fingers stiff. Good. Now a little quicker.” He reached for her again, holding up his other hand, and she poked at it. “No,” he told her, “keep those fingers hard and stiff, and jab harder. As quick as you can. Ready? Okay, go. That’s better. Let’s do it again. Okay, good. Again.”
That’s how it started.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Norman Green is the author of six crime novels, most recently Sick Like That. Born in Massachusetts, he now lives in New Jersey with his wife.
Visit his website at www.normgreenwriter.com
Norman will be awarding a digital copy of The Last Gig to 3 randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour.