Speak Easy, Little Italy Chapter 1
It was his 5th drink of the potent moonshine being served at the speak easy. Jazz music was blurred in the background along with the voices of the wealthy who came down to earth from time to time and the mumblings of various languages of the immigrants who worked in those same houses. All mixed together by the alcohol."Idno wa's so great with a place like this." Lovino voiced slurring his speech.
"After all," he thought aloud, "the hell kinda name is Liberty Belle? Fuckin' crappy name... thass what."But when it came down to it, Lovino Vargas was not there for the name, nor was he there for the quality of the moonshine, though it helped. He was there to get smashed and forget the troubles back home. That was until a far too sunny voice decided to try interrupting his melancholy.
"Ciao Little Italy~" Came a cheerful voice as the blond bartender leaned over the counter to get a good look at him, "Don't knock on the name okay~ By the way, mine's Alfred, and I think you've had enough for the night. That's your last glass."'This guy looked pretty down.' From what Alfred had heard from the Sicilian down on the docks, this guy had just stepped off the boat not even a month ago. Alfred couldn't get the feeling, himself being one who could trace his roots to the first settlers."You gotta place yet Little Italy?" He didn't know why he chose to call him that, besides the fact he was short, but it seemed to suit him. Al usually didn't do this, but the guy looked like someone told him his dog died or something.
Lovino glared at the blond man who had just decided to die by stepping between him and his alcohol. "M'names not Leeettle Italeee jackass, it's Romano. And I have not had enough dumbass, as you both can see, I'm still sitting on the stool!" He 'harrumphed' in emphasis, nearly tipping over. "If your government was as much in the crapper as the one back home, you'd be drinkin' too."He thought back to the brother he had left behind, in good hands his inner voice was quick to try and convince him. Yes, his brother would be fine. He just had to work and save up his money. Everything would be fine. "I got a job, anna I know someone who got me a room at tha inn," he slurred, "cheaper 'n' tryin'a rent an apartment in this damn place."
Al laughed and looked around to checked to make sure his brother hadn't come to check up on him again. When his search revealed that Romano was, in fact, so drunk he was seeing double, Alfred decided to get him somewhere he could sleep it off without getting mugged... or watched as the Italian sat there swaying. His speech was slurred and he looked like he was about to fall over any minute. Alfred looked at the clock on the wall and nodded to the band. It was close to that time anyways."Don't insult The Liberty, Little Italy," he said softly, "She ain't a tavern. Now Finish your glass, I'm closing' up shop at the end of the song. And then I'm taking you to bed. There's no way you are going to get to your room like this."Not to mention that if he was caught... That would officially alert the authorities to the fact there was illegal alcohol being sold around here. And Alfred couldn't let himself be caught because of a drunk Italian immigrant straight off the boat.
"Heard there's been trouble out on the streets with the Mafia running about."
"Fuggin deg... degenter... degenerates, alla um! They fuck up everything at home, then this Mussawahtevea guy comes along and boots em, then they comm'er and make trouble... Shit!"
"And the fuck do ya' mean: 'Takin' me to bed?' A guy like you?" The further subtitles of the English language had escaped the inebriated Italian as he fell into the other man."F-fuck... What the hells with this stuff? Damnit, I can walk myself! Humph!"
"Oof!" Alfred hadn't expected that Romano would fall so hard, and he stumbled before he caught himself and the smaller male. Once he had the kid stabilized, he chuckled and shook his head. He had been wanting a new roommate ever since Matt moved out."I could a phrased that better," he said through the soft laughs, "Matt's shacking with this Ukrainian chick so I got a spare bedroom. And I've seen a Russian get sloshed on my moonshine. I'm surprised you're still awake let alone able to hold conversation. Now come on, my flat's up the stairs."Liberty Belle was a two-story building. the business was the first floor, and the living space for Alfred and Matthew was the second. Luckily the second floor had everything two people needed to live comfortably.
"Don...don't you think I make'a habit of this... damnit..."Alfred ushered out the last of his patrons and caught the stumbling Italian. Romano tripped along with the American bar host, completely forgetting everything about 6 seconds later."Damnit... I want some water... and tomatoes..."
"No worries Little Italy~" he said cheerfully, fumbling with his keys to unlock the door. He got it open and supported Romano as they entered."Hold on a tick and I'll get you some~" he gestured for him to stay seated while he went to the kitchen area and got him some water and a ripe tomato. He returned and set the stuff on the coffee table before Romano. He went back into the kitchen and set the stove, heating and pouring himself some stale coffee, adding cream and sugar, before coming back and sitting on the chair across from him."So what's a cool cat like you, doin' in a place like this, Little Italy?" he asked. He thought he had gotten the gist of it, but there was something bothering him. Romano sounded oddly familiar...An idea came to mind, but looking at the inebriated guy in front of him, it seemed too ludicrous.
He took a drink of the water. "It's my whole damn famiglia. My damn grandfather, my brother... god my brother. He's got everything. I'm the one who has to go out and make the honest money..." Romano lifted the tomato to his mouth and bit into it like an apple.
"Oh really?" Alfred asked, a bit of confusion and a hint of worry creeping into his thoughts. 'Honest money?' At least he could sympathize with him about the brother bit. God knew he loved Matthew, but in everyone's eyes, the guy could do no wrong.
"He's the 'perfect' kid, eh?" He twitched, Matt would be so proud, and shook his head. "Sounds tough Italy," he said, shortening it down a bit. He sighed and finished off his old coffee with a grimace. He yawned suddenly, and looked at the clock. "Oh great... Got to be up in about six hours. You know anythin' about appraising? I could use a hand in the shop since Matt left. We ran a pawn shop, but like I said... he's with his girl."
"Damnit, I told you my name is Romano..."He sulked, taking an angry bite of his tomato."And I know plenty about... appraising." He said it disdainfully around a mouthful of tomato.
"Waa~ But Italy is easier to remember~" Alfred said cheerfully. The cheer didn't fade as he stretched and yawned, rubbing his face tiredly. He frowned, "Good lord I'm tired. I haven't had time to sleep in forever. I'm either distilling, appraising or bar tending. I barely have any time to eat anymore""How bout this Italy? I hire you to help me with my shop and you get a place to crash and all the food you want and some cash on the side."
Romano mumbled a whatever as he finished eating.
"Cool~" Alfred grinned and popped his back as he stood. It was good to find a second set of hands working with him. It was nice to have someone in the flat guy was annoying. Loud, and overly optimistic. Where the hell did everyone in this damn country get the will for it?"Hey, your place, it's legit, right?""Eh... The part you're working in is~" Alfred said with a grin, "The Speak-easy's all mine. I don't want you to get in trouble Little Italy""Y'see there's a prohibition on alcohol. So My 'restaurant' is kinda not supposed to be there. But As long as I don't get in trouble, the guys aren't gonna say anything. In fact, I got a couple a guys on the force that come in here when they are off duty. See if you can spot them next time." He winked and stood up, "Whelp, I'm off to bed. You want me to show you to bed?"
"Yeah, that would help. Not that I need it, but since you offered..." He was feeling much more sober now, and a room... He looked over again at the blonde fellow.
"Alright~" Alfred said, beaming. He clapped a hand on the other man's shoulder "Follow me~""You know you're wired as hell, just bringing some random immigrant into your home. But thanks, this beats yard work and a smelly ass inn."
"I know," he said cheerfully as he walked, "But you seem like a nice guy~ And besides, you were so drunk you could hardly stand! What self-respecting Hero would leave a kid to head home in the dark like that?"He leaned in close, "And besides, there's this Creole Frenchie that lurks around going after inebriated customers. Not fun." He stood straight and opened the door to Matthew's old room. "Well~ here you go~ sleep tight Little Italy~"
"Fuckin' French..." He muttered as they reached the door. The room looked like something he knew. Like someone had lived in it... and loved it. He thought about his brother's room, how every detail looked like this. Soft. "I--"He was not tearing up.
"D-damnit!" He hastily wiped his eyes and walked into the room, shutting the door before the other had a chance to say anything should he have caught the gesture. Alfred turned to say something, but he was struck speechless by tears in Romano's eyes. He didn't have time to think of anything as the man slammed the door shut. He sighed and left.
It was a restless night for Romano. He tossed and turned in the bed that had been provided. First the pillows were too soft. The quilt was too warm. The stars were too bright..."Fuck..."His mind raced with everything that had happened. His grandfather picking his brother over him to take control of the "family business" when he was gone, his brother being taken from the home they shared "because it would make him strong". The body guards that followed his brother everywhere. He had to force himself to believe that this was the better way. His being sent to America as an "envoy"... he knew it was just a fancy way of getting him out of the way. He was saving money to get himself home as soon as possible, to get his brother out before it really was too late. Mussolini had his eye on the South of Italy, where operations centered... 'Old man, you had sure as hell better take care of Feliciano...'
"Willow bark, willow bark," Alfred muttered as he searched his cabinets that morning. Al had a Native Grandfather who taught him the art of herbal remedies. In fact, he was sure he had some- "Oh~ Even better! Birch!"He quickly set to work making the headache medicine and a pot of coffee. Ah~ Coffee was truly the elixir of life to the American. Once it was done he picked up the cup and the medicine cup and headed to his new house mate's room."Hey Italy~" He called, keeping his voice at a level where it wouldn't aggravate his head too bad.
Romano's eyes shot open. When had he fallen asleep? Had he fallen asleep? His own night had been plagued by nightmares, guns and blood and screams and fire. His parents... vague shadows in his dreams, gone as soon as his eyes opened. A grandfather in the Mafia that took up his daughters twin boys...He heard Alfred again on the other side of the door. He threw the covers over his head and tried his best to ignore the man. He wasn't ready to be awake...
"Ah... still asleep I guess..." Me muttered loudly to himself. He shrugged and went back to the kitchen, setting the medicine down on the table and setting up a cup for Romano to make one himself. No use letting a cup get cold after all~He began to cook breakfast, pulling sausages, fat slabs of bacon, eggs, and cheese from the icebox and began setting up. He pulled out a skillet and soon the meat was cooking while he scrambled a couple of the eggs and sliced potatoes off the counter. He pulled out another skillet, reaching into the meat pan with a fork and deftly flipped the strips, pouring in some oil and letting it heat while he pulled the loaf from the breadbox and began the smell of a home-cooked meal would wake Little Italy up.
Romano heard he man walk away from the door and he sat up. His stomach grumbled and his head throbbed. One force told him to get up and eat, the other told him to sink back under the blankets and fuck all else. As he stumbled towards the smell of food, the throb of his headache grew more and more towards a homicidal pound. "Fuck... Mm, buon--- good morning."
"Buenos dias Little Italy~" Alfred responded cheerfully as he piled sausages and bacon on the first plate and put it on the table. It was followed by a plate filled with eggs and another with toast. On the table were two empty plates, a slab of butter, and at least a dozen different jams/jellies, "I didn't know what you liked so I just made a little of everything. Dig in~"
Romano mumbled something about him getting it wrong but said nothing aloud. "Eh? I used plain Spanish though..." Alfred muttered, though he trailed off at the end."Ah~ almost forgot~ Drink these for your headache~ First the stuff that looks like mud..." He held out the medicine. And a cup filled with sugar water. It looked like mud, tasted terrible, and having a gag reflex caused difficulties, but it worked like a charm. "After that I got coffee and water. I can nip down and get you some more moonshine, but I doubt you'd want any this early."
Through the throb in his head, Romano only seemed to hear every other word and so, when a cup was offered to him with coffee coloured contents, he threw down, only to come back up gagging and sputtering. "What the fucking hell?!?"He reached for another cup, this one seeming to have water and drank it down. It was sweet and clear and so much better than that crap he had just chugged!"What... what the hell was that shit?!"
"I told you, it's medication for your headache. It's made with birch or willow bark. The taste is one helluva doozie, but it gets the job done. The other is just sugar water to get rid of the taste""From the looks of things you must have been expecting coffee, huh Italy?" he stood and poured a fresh cup for Romano and topped off his own. He came back and plucked down the mug in front of Romano, still holding onto his own."Dig in Little Italy~" he said cheerfully as he piled his plate high with food and began the process of making his took two slices of bread and slathered blackberry jam on them, then added a whole row of bacon, followed by an egg with a slightly runny yolk and a healthy heap of hash browns. He put the second piece on top (jelly down of course) and lifted it up to take a bite. He stifled a moan of pleasure. Pure unadulterated bliss for sure. He swore never to miss making breakfast again~
"You call me 'Little Italy' and think that I speak Spanish? What kind of idiot are you?"Romano sipped his coffee, smelling it first this time to see what it was. The aroma lifted him from a level of aggression. He picked a few pieces of toast and an egg, staring at the display that Alfred was putting on with his own food. "Do you not usually eat or something?"
"I haven't eaten in three days. I been busy," he said defensively, "I had a major appraisal that had to be done for a rare antique from the sixth century. Not something I can do lightly. Of course the guy kept breathing down my neck too. Turned out all my hard work revealed he had a fake. Tch. Amateurs." He rolled his eyes and grinned."And I don't really pay attention to language unless it's French German or Spanish, Little Italy~" he shrugged, "I thought you were using a different pronunciation or something."
"Dumbass." Romano muttered. "Hey, about this appraisal stuff... what exactly is it that I'm going to be doing?"
"Hm?" Alfred looked up from his sandwich and swallowed. He licked his fingertips idly as he thought, "Oh... It's basic stuff really. Determining age, authenticity, condition, and if it needs any critical restorations. We also do pricing and ballpark estimates for the cost of a restoration""I think that's it..." he trailed off, sticking his fingers in his mouth to clean the last of the food off. He pulled them out and inspected them critically before wiping them off on a napkin. He made another sandwich and picked up his plate, "Time to open up shop Italy~! You can take your food with you. I wanna show you our studio~"
With a piece of toast in his mouth and coffee in hand, Romano followed Alfred. The business seemed legit enough, but the fact that it was a pawn shop still made Romano worry.
"It's not top of the line stuff, but my brother and I ge-got along with it pretty well." He took the stairs two and three at a time, sometimes looking like he was about to fall to his doom as he did, and soon went along to the other side of the building. He didn't understand why Romano seemed so worried. "Anyways~" he continued, unlocking the door and entering without ceremony, "We'll also do a little restoration work if it's mild and the customer requests it. Touch up the paint. Smooth over cracks. That sort of thing. But when I do that, you gotta make sure I don't get interrupted. I am usually using expensive and uncommon ingredients for that kind of thing and I hate wasting it."He grimaced. A week's worth of work had been utterly destroyed by an interruption and he had had to start from scratch. Luckily it was only a minor flaw that the customer had caused, but it had nearly been a disaster since the substance he had been using was highly volatile and could have blown half of the building to kingdom come."Let me see..." He glanced around the room. A minor commission had come in last week. He had already done a basic, but something about that one gave him a strange feeling of not having all the pieces. That and his Greek was extremely basic so he couldn't get the full story from her. He had her write it down, but no one he went to knew any more than he grinned and picked it, and all the paperwork that went with it, up and handed the mess to Romano. "Here you go Little Italy~ this vase Miss Helena brought in to have a pricing done on. Here's the papers, proof of ownership and her affidavit~ Good luck~"
'Miss... Helena?!' Romano kept his face blank as he could manage, though he knew he would be unable to hold it. Romano grabbed the papers and asked where he would be working.
"Oh~ Um..." he looked around the room at the various tables covered with a medley of articles and shrugged, "Where ever is fine. Just clear a space and settle in~"
Alfred looked up from the fragile-looking musket rifle he had been spending the past month dismantling and labeling and blinked owlishly, "Yeah. Hmm… Something wrong Italy?"
"It's nothing so don't ask!" Romano stomped over to a cluttered desk and began going through the papers. All of them were forged, he knew. This vase was no simple thing. Common enough looking, but it was old. And stolen.
"Oh~ If I'm not too focused around lunch time tap my shoulder. Also... You're probably gonna have a na- uh... siesta around three-ish right?" He grinned and sipped at his coffee. He finally remembered to turn the sign to OPEN and went back to the gun, "Just remember to come back after you wake up, eh?"The vase was sturdy and well crafted. Miss Helena had a thing for old Greek anything. How did Romano know this? Miss Helena knew his Grandfather. His Grandfather had had him steel the vase. He sat down and tried to make himself look busy.
Alfred grunted, not really paying attention to him. This was in a delicate stage in the process. A lost part could cause a misfire, or even make the barrel peel apart like a banana. He pulled off his glasses and put on a pair of goggles, hunching over the job as he went into his own little world. That of a tinker/restorer. You could send a whole brass band through the room and he wouldn't even flinch. That was how focused he was.
Romano went to work on the vase. He knew which scratches had been there and which hadn't, the ones that he had put there himself. He jumped every time the bell over the door "tang's". He spent most of his time just watching the clock.
Ahaha, here, finally. It has been sitting on my computer for at least a month. Aku! I finally got to the first one! I edited this on part of my 6 hour flight from Washington D.C. on Saturday… then I slept. It was about an hour or two… in a half of editing until I was happy with it. Christ. There are… mayyyybe three more chapters. Probably more if I can remember what I was doing… Yeah. Have fun and god Damnit maybe leave a review. Love you all~