For the first time in their brief acquaintance, Charlie noticed the tattoo on the inside of Sal’s ropy forearm. The bigger man’s pushed back sleeves revealed a Betty Page style pin-up girl perched on an anchor, one slim, raised arm holding a star. She seemed to look right out from Sal’s weathered skin, right into his soul.
How could a tattoo have old eyes like that?
His eyes flicked from the tattoo to Sal’s face, and he realized his mistake. He had taken his eyes off the pair of them. He had just enough time to realize that Gus wasn’t by the door anymore, to see Sal’s silent nod, before the butt of Gus’ handgun crashed into his temple and everything went dark.
Later, Sal drove the Lexus up the mountain, Gus in the passenger seat, Charlie bound and unconscious, buckled into the back.
“Back in the room,” Gus began, “Charlie was lookin’ at your tattoo, before I knocked him out..”
Sal said nothing.
“All these years we been doin’ jobs for Mr. Petrucci together,” he went on, “you never told me about it. It’s good work. Really… real lookin’.”
Sal still said nothing. His pressed his lips into a thin line, tightened his grip on the wheel.
“Hey, Sal, you don’t gotta tell me.”
The silence stretched out in the car as Sal negotiated the switchbacks along the ravine.
“Her name was Hope,” he answered quietly.
“Her mother was from the old country, read cards for the other women. Hope was named for the card her mother drew when she learned she was pregnant. Her father used to joke that it was a good thing she didn’t pick Malady ‘cause they never could have afforded a sick kid.”
Sal was quiet for another mile or so. As he turned left off the state route, he spoke again.
“She got killed, shot in a robbery at her father’s store. Gianni helped me track the guy down. Watched me kill him. Helped me get rid of the body. Me and Gianni, we grew up together, and we were doing pretty well by then with small time, but that was the first time we killed anyone. From there, it got easier to get our hands really dirty. Gianni was the brains, I was the muscle. And that’s still how it is.”
They turned again, driving deeper into the woods.
“I took the only picture I had of her, in her bathing suit out on Revere Beach. I stole the Hope card from her mother’s deck, and I took them to the best guy in the neighborhood, asked him to give her to me forever.”
He cut the lights, rolling the sedan forwards towards the cabin in the moonlight.