That’s My Mama
Toli looked at the clock over his office door. It was ten thirty in the evening. His eyes drooped from days of spotty sleep. He reached into his breast pocket and retrieved a small, silver snuff box. He flipped the top, pinched a modicum of the yellow powder and dabbed it to his tongue. He shook his head and shivered. He attacked his work with new vigor. The door to his office swung open and hit the wall. Three well-dressed men, the size of the doorframe walked in. Toli reached under his desk and touched the gun that was strapped to the underside.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“We’re here on behalf of Mr. Pulcinella,” one of the men replied. “We need to file a formal complaint.”
“We’re closed. Come back in the morning.”
“We’re here now and Mr. Pulcinella would sure hate it if we came back to him empty.”
“What’s Mr. Pulcinella’s issue?”
“One of his shipments came in a little light and wanted to know if you knew anything about it.”
“Lots of stuff comes in here every day. Could you be more specific?”
“It came in from Latvia. A yellow powder of some kind. It’s medicine for his mother so he’s real keen to get to the bottom of it.”
Toli touched the snuff-box in his pocket, “Well if he can provide me with a dollar amount from the missing portion, I’ll have my girl reimburse him in the morning. Would a cashier’s check be fine?”
“Let me explain something, Mr. Palazzo, Mr. Pulcinella is very impatient when it comes to his mother. He loves her very much.”
“I’m sure he does.”
“He insists on talking with you about this personally.”
“Like I said, we’re closed. He can visit me in the morning.”
The man brushed back his blazer, revealing a gun, “He would like to speak with you tonight.”
Toli sat up, “I see. You’re here to threaten me.”
“There doesn’t need to be no threats if you just come along quiet like.”
“I don’t like threats, Mr…?”
“Mr. Don’t Matter, I’m asking you politely to leave. I won’t ask again.”
“And I’m not asking nothing. You’re coming with us.”
The two flanking men stepped forward. Toli slipped his hand under the desk, drew the gun and shot both in the gut. He dropped the gun on the table and regarded his handiwork in disbelief. Mr. Don’t Matter nodded, impressed.
“I have to say, I didn’t expect that kind of backbone,” he said.
“Neither did I,” Toli said.
“Look, just come with me, you’ll have a nice little chat with Mr. Pulcinella and then you’ll be on your way. Easy.”
“He’s probably not going to be too happy about me reducing his workforce.”
“Honestly, I don’t think he’ll notice.”
Toli nodded his head, “Okay. Let’s get this over with.”
Delareux staggered down the sidewalk, the gutter and the street. His head was back as he let the last remaining drops from a bottle of bourbon drip into his mouth. He stopped in front of a restaurant. A painted wooden sign was little by floodlights; Le Quattro Stagioni. He peeked in the windows. The inside was dim and mirrored, giving the illusion of a much larger space. At the back table sat dour-faced, Pulcinella, staring into an aquarium.
“I’ll give you protection money, you glutted pig,” he slurred as he made coincidental eye contact with a passing woman.
“I never,” she gasped.
“I wasn’t talking to you, forget it.”
“Drunkard,” the woman said as she hurried along.
Delareux walked around the block and sculked down the alley behind the restaurant. He leaned against the wall between a dumpster and the kitchen door. A skinny man, with a rough approximation of facial hair and an apron, fell out of the door and began to roll a cigarette. Delareux slipped in the door behind him and stopped.
“Tulsa?” he said to the thin man.
“Tommy,” he man cheered. “Long time, no see.”
“You work here now?”
“Yeah. Let me tell ya, that Pulcinella fella can eat, boy howdy.”
“Does this place see a lot of business?”
“I don’t think it’s that kind of restaurant, Tommy. We have enough food for an army but Mr. Pulcinella eats it all.”
“Good to know,” Delareux let the screen door close as he made his way into the kitchen.
“Hey, Tommy. What are you doing?”
“It’s business, Tully.”
“Oh, yeah? Keen. Good seein’ ya.”
Delareux slunk through the kitchen and made his way to a meat locker. He stood in front of the largest side of beef he had ever seen. He cracked his knuckles and moved his hands before it, like an arcane sign language. He murmured in a drunken combination of French and Latin. He finished and lit a cigarette, taking a long drag. He blew the smoke at the beef. It glowed and sparkled before returning to being a regular, albeit now hexxed side of beef.
“Swallow that, fat man,” Delareux said.
Delareux exited the locker. He sallied through the kitchen, toward the main dining area. On his way, he grabbed a bottle from the shelf and took a big gulp. He gagged and spit it out. He looked at the bottle and the label which read; Cooking Sherry. He took another swig and continued on his way. He was dumped into a hallway. At one end was the door to the dining room. In the other direction was a series of doors. Delareux swayed down the hallway. He looked in the round window of one door and saw gangsters sitting around a card table, gambling and threatening each other. He continued. He opened door after door. An office, a broom closet, a utility room, an ancient woman in a hospital bed. He slipped into the room where the old woman was sleeping. He walked to her and leaned over, examining her face.
“Methuselah,” he mumbled to himself.
The old woman turned her head and her black eyes popped open. He snarled a mouthful of jagged teeth.
“Well, don’t you match a description,” Delareux said. “So, what do you do here, take reservations?”
The old woman sat up and held her hand out. She began to babble in an archaic Italian dialect. A muddy, rusty mist drifted from Delareux and wrapped around her hand. Her hand tied itself up into a clenched fist. She hissed and recoiled.
“Yeah, you don’t want any of that, old strega,” Delareux shook his head. “It’s been bad for years.”
The woman flopped back in her bed and wheezed. She made barking noises at Delareux.
“You’ve been the talk of the town,” he said. “Stealing life force and whatnot.”
Delareux wandered the room, examining its accoutrements. A picture sat on the nightstand of the old woman in healthier days with her arm around a younger, thinner Pulcinella.
“Mrs. Pulcinella?” he said.
“Fiorillo,” she snapped.
“You’ve been causing quite a stir Mrs. Fiorillo. Mixing it up with some friends of mine. And a few recent clients.”
Fiorillo began moving her hands in an elaborate dance and chanting.
“Don’t bother,” Delareux said. “Your on Papa’s turf. And you’re looking at his best student.”
Delareux licked his thumb and pressed it against Fiorillo’s forehead, turning it as he mumbled. His mumbling grew feverish and he pulled his hand away with a flourish.
“That should keep you plugged up for a while,” he said, grinning. “No draining life for you for at least a few weeks.”
“Nonsense,” she shouted.
“Try it out. In the meantime, I have some business with your boy.”
“You can’t touch him,” she cackled, with a maniacal grin. “Powerful forces protect him.”
“I’d don’t know what kind of pikers you’re used to dealing with but, you and your son came to the wrong town, strega.”
Delareux slipped out of the room and made his way back down the hall. He came to the door to the dining room and peeked through the door. In the dining room, Toli sat across from Pulcinella.
Fiorello was laying in her bed panting like a tired dog. Her eyes rolled in her head and her body arched. Her palms and soles were the only parts making contact with her bed. She stopped breathing.
Sylvia, Shelby Corbin, and Barclay were racing about Sylvia’s house, gathering magickal items and placing them upon the dining room table. Sylvia sat down at the table. Corbin sat to one side and Shelby to the other. Barclay stood behind her.
“Okay,” Sylvia said, looking over the items, “looks like we have everything we need.”
“What’s next?” Shelby asked.
“What’s next is I have to mix up a tincture. Then we have to sprinkle it on every window, door, crack or mousehole we can find. Hopefully, we can get it done before the witch comes back.”
“You think she’s coming back?”
“She’s been here twice already.”
“Get mixing, mama.”
As Sylvia began picking small bottles off the table. The lace cloth began to lift in the center. The chandelier over the table began flickering.
“Oh, come on,” Sylvia said, hopping off her chair.
Corbin and Shelby pushed themselves away from the table as the table cloth became a lacy shawl wrapped around the cadaverous visage of Fiorello. she reached from the table, her neck and arms extending toward Sylvia. She placed her claw hands to either side of Sylvia’s head. Her hands began to shake and she screamed in frustration. She withdrew her hands. She wailed at Sylvia and her mouth opened like a snake ready to consume a horse. Sylvia raised her hands and the potted plants that filled the room, grew long winding vines that wrapped around Fiorello and tied her down to the table. Corbin sniffed. He leaned toward her, regarding her sidelong and frowning. Sniffed the air around her.
“Tobacco, cannabis, bourbon,” he said, sniffing, “and...cooking sherry?”
“Looks like she met Detective Delareux,” Sylvia said, “he must have put some kind of hex on her. Whatever she was trying to do to me, it blocked her.”
Fiorello began to shrink and wither until all that was left was the empty table cloth.
“We should get in contact with the Detective,” Corbin said.
“Should I ring him, Lady Winthrop?” Barclay said, lifting the phone.
“Sylvia,” she said, “and yes.”
“Mr. Palazzo,” Pulcinella said, wiping his mouth as Toli sat down across from him.
“Mr. Pulcinella,” Toli replied.
“Okay so you know me and I know you. Let’s get down to business. I recently had a shipment come through your warehouse. That shipment came up a little short.”
“Well, I’d be more than happy to reimburse you for your losses.”
“I don’t need money. Well, I do need money,” he laughed and looked at his gangsters that dotted the room, “but not from you. I need what’s in that shipment.”
“I don’t know what happened to it. I wasn’t there when the incident occurred. My men must have discarded it.”
Pulcinella slumped back in the seat and rubbed his temples, “I want to impress upon you, Mr. Palazzo, how important this is. It’s medicine from my poor dying mama. It’s very hard to get ahold of. It took me forever to what I did and need every last bit.”
“Have you tried calling a doctor?”
Pulcinella scowled at Toli, “Are you screwing with me?”
“Not at all. It just seems you have a medical situation on your hands and that the best recourse would be a doctor,” Toli clasped his hands in his lap. The tips of fingers around the nails were yellowed.
Pulcinella squinted at Toli’s fingers. He stood up and tossed the table aside. Marinara sauce splattered on the walls. Toli pulled the snuff box from his pocket and opened it.
“Snuff?” Toli said, grinning.
Pulcinella charged toward him. Toli stood and the chair flew out behind him. He drew his gun and fired on Pulcinella.
“Self defense,” Toli said as he squeezed the trigger, “you all saw it.”
Pulcinella continued as if four bullets hadn’t just penetrated is gut. He grabbed Toli by the neck and slammed him against a support pillar.
“Stealing from me,” Pulcinella sputtered. “My dying mama…”
“Hands off the stick man, tubby,” Delareux said, bursting through the door.
“The voodoo man who won’t pay my protection fees,” Pulcinella smiled. “Looks like I’ll be taking care of a few problems tonight.”
The phone at the front desk began to ring. The gangster looked at each other askance. It continued to ring.
“Answer it, Cani,” Pulcinella shouted.
“Hello?” the gangster said into the receiver. “Who?” he pulled the receiver from his ear. “Detective Delareux?” he said looking around the room.
“Who could it be at this hour?” Delareux said walking over a yanking the receiver from the gangster’s hand. “Delareux. Oh, Winthrop.”
“That strega,” Pulcinella said, gritting his teeth.
“Yeah, I paid her a visit. She doesn’t look too hot. Not long for this world,” he locked eyes with Pulcinella, who grunted like a bull ready to charge.
“Could you not antagonize the man with his hand around my throat?” Toli gasped.
“I put a little hex on her. Should keep her out of action for a bit. See you soon,” Delareux hung up the phone.
“What did you do to my mother?” Pulcinella said and tossed Toli into the wall, across the room.
“Why don’t you go take a look?” he replied.
Pulcinella charged at Delareux. Delareux held up his hand and Pulcinella was held back, like he was running against a stiff wind.
“You can’t hold me back for long, filthy little hedge wizard. You’ll get tired before I do.”
“I don’t know what kind of protection spell your witch mommy put on you, but I’ll find a way through it. Or maybe I just have to wait for her to kick the bucket? It shouldn’t be long now that she can’t vampire people.”
“Kill them,” Pulcinella yelled.
The gangsters pulled their guns. Delareux spiked the bottle of sherry against the floor, shattering it. He flicked his cigarette at it. It ignited and the fire caught on the gaudy draperies that hung around the dining room. It spread like a wave.
“Palazzo,” he called. He looked through the fire, but Toli was no longer slumped where he had landed. Delareux fled out the front door.