The night I met Vinnie, clouds hung low over the city, dumping rain in torrents as if to wash the citizens clean. However, so many of the elected officials were on the take it would take a hell of a lot more than a single thunderstorm to sluice the stench of corruption from the city’s streets.
It was October 1941, and everyone could feel some kind of change in the air. There were reports of a war in Europe, but that seemed so far away. We had a mob war going on right outside our door. We couldn’t worry about Europe’s battles.
I waited tables at the last chic restaurant in a decaying section of Baltimore. Competing mob bosses had forced a large manufacturer with warehouses and an assembly plant nearby to shut down, and most of the surrounding businesses had fled to different parts of the city.
DuMochelle’s, the restaurant where I worked, still did steady business, but the diners were more cautious. The conversation was subdued and the laughter less boisterous. Once they had finished with dessert and coffee, most people scurried to other, safer sections of the city or back to their new suburban homes.
I had just turned away from delivering the check to a nervous table of four when the front door opened. The rain outside sounded like the fountain in the city center. The diners at the table nearest the door shivered and moved closer together.
Then a tall, wide-shouldered shape filled the doorway. The maître d’, Enrique DuMochelle himself, stepped back from his podium, eyes wide as the new arrival swept his gaze around the room. I felt a tingle of connection as he looked at me, lingered for a breath of a moment, and then moved on.
He had to duck to get through the door, and his wide face, marred by a scar across his left cheek, was just shy of handsome. A fedora partially hid thick, dark hair, and his suit coat stretched tight over a muscular chest and shoulders.
After apparently deciding the room held no threat, the guard stepped aside to reveal a smaller, much better dressed man. I felt the collective intake of breath in the restaurant as Giovanni Lombardi, notorious south side mob boss, walked through the door. Don Lombardi nodded to Enrique who fumbled a handful of menus from beneath his podium and led him to the best table in the place. The rest of the diners tried not to stare as Don Lombardi ambled past, his wife, gorgeous in midnight blue, right behind him, and his two children after her.
His bodyguards took several empty tables at various spots throughout the place and my stomach fluttered as Enrique sat the leading hulk of muscle in my section.
We waiters scurried into action as a single, cohesive unit. As the bus boys delivered water and place settings, we stepped up and rattled off the evening’s specials. When I walked up to the big goon’s table, he raised his dark brown eyes to my face and gave me a quick nod.
“Would you like to hear tonight’s specials?” I asked, working to keep my voice steady.
“Nah. Just bring me a steak, medium, with lotsa mashed potatoes and creamed corn.” The seismic wave of his voice shot right to my crotch and got me hard in a moment.
“Of course,” I replied, “anything to drink?”
“Water, in a bigger glass than this.” He waved a meaty hand at the small water glass, then he looked up at me, his gaze seizing mine so I couldn’t look away. “What’s your name?”
“Barry,” I squeaked.
“Vinnie.” His voice rumbled. “If the boss likes the food we’ll be coming here a lot, so it’s good to know the staff.”
“Nice to meet you, Vinnie,” I said. “I’ll put in your order.”
Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Cocktail” crooned from the radio when I stepped into the kitchen and paused to take a breath. The direct eye contact with Vinnie had left me a little shaky. I felt drawn to his large body and dangerous good looks like pins to a magnet. Thankfully, my black waiter’s apron hid the proof of my attraction, but I knew my interest would be visible in my eyes. I always gave away too much of myself through my eyes.