Odd's Lot- a serial novelette (4)
No Pain Equals Gain
Giovanni ‘Johnny’ Abagnale got up from his perch on the corner of the massive mahogany desk in his lavish home office, hung up the cell phone and turned to his secretary. “Thanks Sylvia, why don’t you go on home now.”
Not the beauty pageant winner she was a decade ago Sylvia knew her main job was still to screen his calls and be eye candy. But the fact that she was still around when there were certainly younger and prettier options available meant she had other skills, discretion foremost above all else.
Still every once in awhile she asked a question she knew she probably shouldn’t.
“Do I want to know why I just said Daddy into that phone?” He answered these questions always in one of two ways depending on his mood. Because I pay you –if he was unhappy. Better for you if you don’t know- if things were going well. The response Sylvia received this time wouldn’t truly be absorbed until sometime later.
“I wanted a guy to think I kidnapped his daughter so I had one of our boys steal her phone so I could call him from it. You were pretending to be her obviously.” He pulled out the phone battery, tossed it in the trash and put the phone in his desk. “If anybody asks, tell them I put a gun to your head.”
Johnny made his hand into the universal gun sign and pointed at her. “Now you won’t even have to lie.”
“Get outta here Syl, go home and make Mark take you out to dinner.” He fished out a couple one hundred dollar bills from his pocket and handed them to her. “Get a sitter and stay out late.”
“I don’t want this.” Johnny walked her to the door opened it and gently guided her out.
“Want what? Goodnight Syl” He closed the door and walked back to his desk. He paused to look out over the balcony through the French doors. His gaze travelled all the way down Gracie Hill to the city. Already a faint glow starting to emanate as lights popped on in the hollow announcing dusk’s arrival. Damn that’s a nice view.
He didn’t let himself linger for too long even though it was likely that this evening was going to be his last chance to look at that view- or at any view for that matter. Sentiment was for folks that were done with life and looking back, Johnny Abagnale was going to look forward even at the bitter end. He sat behind a $5,000 desk in a $10 office chair he grabbed at a flea market 30 years ago. Not because it had sentimental value or he had an emotional attachment to it but because it fit his ass. Nostalgia was for suckers whether it made you sad or glad and Johnny had learned he was fortunate because he lost the ability to really feel anything a long time ago.
When he first became aware that not everyone shared his indifference he thought it was a curse, that he was broken. His friends were wildly passionate for this girl or that thing or some team. Achingly sad at the loss of a family pet or a grandparent and little Johnny wasn’t passionate at all, he really didn’t care about anything not even himself. So he pretended so nobody would know he was broken. As he got older he started trying any extreme thing offered his way just to find some emotion, any emotion at all. Nothing ever changed but after awhile he stopped pretending and he began to notice Crazy Johnny was working to his benefit and maybe he wasn’t the one that needed fixing.
When he made his bones, he thought that would be the final test. If he was ever going to feel anything it would be then right? He stared long and hard at the face of the kid stupid enough to try and steal from his bosses twice, he tried to make himself feel something…anything.
“Hey Johnny you is supposed to close their eyes after you shoot them not open them” the gravel voice came from behind him and then was punctuated with a slap to the back of Johnny’s head. “What the fuck you doin? No indugiare tra i morti”
“I’m not hanging out with the dead; I just wanted to see, you know?”
“See what? If he was dead? Kid, I know this is your first time but that hole in the forehead and all that shit oozin’ out the back of his head? That’s a pretty good sign he’s no longer amongst the living.”
“No, I wanted to see if …I don’t know, if I felt something. I mean I just off’d this guy right? I should look in his eyes and …and-“
“Look in his eyes? What’re you some kinda fag for dead guys? Quit staring at your boyfriend check his pockets and let’s get outta here. We still gotta dump him and ditch the car. I don’t wanna miss the train back into the city”
BUZZ! Johnny returned abruptly to the present day and pressed the intercom button on this desk.
“Sylvia just left; you want I should take the dogs around?”
“Don’t you always walk the yard with them after she leaves?”
“Then why are you asking me?”
“Because Sylvia’s standing right there and told you to check up on me?”
“Yeah” A loud slap- “Ouch!! I mean no.”
“Tell Sylvia I am fine and thank her for her concern. Go ahead and leave them out after your walk, it’s beautiful tonight they’ll enjoy a night chasing rabbits.”
“Sure thing Mr. A. good night.”
“Good night Dom”
The dogs, the six guys between the gatehouse and his front door and Sylvia were all the family Johnny had. None of them were actually relatives but that was okay, they were all hand picked and all would die for him should the need arise. The pay off for them being once you showed that kind of loyalty you were set for life. The spanking new Aston-Martin that his secretary drove through the gate was often sneered at in her neighborhood of old Fords and Chevy’s. But everybody waived politely and there wasn’t a chance it would be damaged or stolen because she worked for Johnny and everyone knew it. Being part of his inner circle meant you’d earned the right to die or go to prison to save him from either fate. Johnny wouldn’t think twice about letting you go down for him, he’d feel no remorse it was simply expected. He valued loyalty above everything and that is why he paid ridiculously well for it. A man is much more willing to take the rap or a bullet if he knows his family is going to be taken care of for generations because of it. There were dozens of trust funds, investment accounts and college savings plans mysteriously and anonymously funded already being enjoyed by former family members that had served their purpose. Not because Johnny A had any moral ideal or a guilty conscious but because it was good for business.
If he thought about why he felt the way he did or more accurately why he didn’t feel at all it always came back to the church. When he was growing up the church tried to give John Abagnale a conscious but it just didn’t take and after barely making his first communion things really went south. Caught stealing wine from the sacristy got him booted from regular Catholic School in the 3rd grade. Catechism class didn’t work either as he quickly set the school record for demerits during exactly three Saturday morning sessions at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in the 4th grade. Apparently, making the comparison of Holy Communion to cannibalism and vampirism was a veritable demerit generating machine.
Even Holy Redeemer, the landing place for all delinquent juvenile followers and the iconic home of remedial Catholicism gave him the boot. He felt sure that his father had something on one of the priests or greased a bishop in some kind of UN-holy deal to get John Joseph confirmed into the Catholic faith. Which his mother insisted was needed by the 6th grade in order for her son to be able to get into heaven. Her son was pretty sure that what got him kicked out of Holy Redeemer guaranteed he wasn’t going to heaven but there was no arguing with Mother Abagnale.
Now that it was getting near the end after seventy some years he was actually grateful to the church for teaching him to ignore anything emotionally difficult. It was a skill that certainly proved useful in his line of work and helped earn him emperor like power. It wasn’t exactly the word of God or any religious doctrine that taught him these skills but it was learned from the mouth of priests.
BUZZ! “Yes Dominic?”
“There’s an old guy here says he’s a friend of yours wants to see ya. The car is clean but he won’t get out and says to tell you…?
“Tell me what Dominic?”
“He says to tell you- the Mayor is here”
Finally. “Let His Honor through Dom, I’ll meet him at the front door myself.”