Man with a belly

John Bracken sat on the park bench and waited to make his hit. The bench was one of the many on the outskirts of James Memorial Park, which borders the south side of Hammond Street. In the daytime the park is overrun by kids, mother wheeling prams, and old men with bags of crumbs for the pigeons. At night it belongs to the junkies and muggers. Respectable citizens, women in particular, avoided Hammond Street after dark. But Norma Correzente was not most women.
He heard her approach on the stroke of eleven, as always. He had been there since quarter of. The beat-cop wasn’t due until 11:20, and everything was on top.
He was calm, as he always was before a hit. He was a cold and efficient workman, and that was why Vittorio had hired him. Bracken was not a button-man in the Family sense; he was an independent, a journeyman. His family resided completely within his wallet. This was why he had been hired.
There was a pause in the footfalls as she paused at the intersection

of Hammond and Pardis Avenue. Then she crossed, probably thinking of nothing but covering the last block, going up to her penthouse suite, and pouring a large Scotch and water.
Bracken got ready, thinking it was a strange contract. Norma Correzente, formerly Norma White of the Boston Whites, was the wife of Vito Correzente. The marriage had been headline material – – rich society bitch weds notorious Vito (“I’m just a businessman”). The Wop. It was not a novelty to the clan; aging Don marries a young woman of blood. Murder by contract was not new, either. The Sicilians could put in for a patent on that if it ever became legal.
But Bracken had not been hired to kill. He tensed, ready for her.
The phone call had been long-distance; he could tell by the clickings on the line.
“Mr. Bracken?”
“Yes.”
“I have word from Mr. Sills that you are available for work.”
” I could be,” Bracken answered. Benny Sills was one of several contact men who passed information from one end of a potential contract to the other, a kind of booking agent. He ran a hock-shop in a large eastern city where he also bankrolled independent smash-and-grab teams of proven reputation and sold heavy-caliber weapons to dubious political groups. “My name is Benito Torreos. Do you know it?”
“Yes.” Torreos was the right-hand man – consigliare was the word, Bracken thought – – of Vito Correzente.
“Good. There is a letter for you in your hotel box, Mr. Bracken. It contains a round-trip plane ticket and a check for a thousand dollars. If you are indeed available, please take both. If not, the money is yours for calling the airport and canceling the reservation.”
“I’m available.”
“Good,” Torreos repeated. “My employer is anxious to speak to you at nine tomorrow evening, if convenient. The address is 400 Meegan Boulevard.”
“I’ll be there.
“Goodbye. Mr. Bracken.” The phone clicked.
Bracken went downstairs to get his mail.
Men who remain active and take care of themselves all their lives can remain incredibly fit even into their late years, but… there comes a time when the clock begins to run down. Tissues fail in spite of walks, workouts, massages. The cheeks dewlap. The eyelids crennellate into wrinkled accordions. Vito Correzente had begun to enter that stage of hit life. He looked to be n well preserved seventy. Bracken put him at seventy-eight. His handshake was firm, but palsy lurked beneath, biding its time.



Man with a belly