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Night Work

Greg F. Gifune

In the secret worlds of organized crime and the independent professional wrestling circuit, no one is immune to the con, the violence, the lust and the darkness. How far would you go for money and power? Who would you betray? How much would you sacrifice? Frank Ponte is about to find out…

Night Work is a journey into a dark underworld, a world with its own set of secret rules and ethics. A world where brutal violence and depraved sex is the norm, and where in order to succeed, moral beliefs and literal identities must be forfeited. A story of betrayal – of others and of oneself – of friendship, marriage, family, love, sex, and violence, Night Work is the American Dream gone bad. A noir-style thriller where nothing is what it seems and where no one gets out clean.

***

CHAPTER 1

VERMONT, 1991

Whenever Frank closed his eyes it was the blade he saw first. Piercing the skin, slowly tearing the flesh deep enough to draw a steady flow of blood, the razor always kept hidden, concealed discreetly in the user's hand. Funny, he thought, what a man would do for money.

Snow had just begun to fall, blowing in from the north, and the forecast called for nearly a foot of it before the end of the day.

'Hurry it up. Snow leaves tracks.'

The only words Frank had spoken in more than an hour jolted Benny back into reality. He switched on the windshield wipers, pushed the scan button on the stereo and refocused his attention on the road. 'There it is.'

Artie's Used Tires came into view a few miles down the road, a weather-beaten, solitary building with a small office and one-bay garage. An array of tires and inexpensive rims were displayed in front, and but for a small convenience store across the street, this was a desolate part of town.

'One car,' Benny said, studying a large Pontiac parked on the side of the building. 'It's his.'

Frank checked his watch. 'He alone by now?'

'The girl who keeps his books leaves at two o'clock. The only other employee is a high school kid who helps out on weekends. Unless some pain in the ass customer interrupts things, he's all by his lonesome.'

Frank reached under the seat and removed a small canvas bag from which he retrieved a pair of black leather gloves. Thick and heavy, the portion covering the knuckles had been modified to accommodate lead fillings. 'Pull over.'

'Last chance to change your mind.' Benny, already cognizant of Frank's anger, gave an ineffectual grin. 'If I didn't offer, I don't know if I'd be able to sleep tonight, you know?'

A slight smile creased Frank's otherwise stoic face, and under the circumstances it was more than Benny could have hoped for. 'Just pull over.'

***

Frank thrust both hands into the deep pockets of his coat and moved quickly along the driveway to the office. Once he'd disappeared inside, Benny switched off the radio and watched the street, alternating his gaze from the rearview mirror to the windshield, trying to cover as much area as possible without actually changing positions.

Years before Benny had learned the importance of distracting himself from certain unpleasantries, but silence had always given him the creeps. He hated the country for that specific reason: Too goddamn quiet. The longest nights of his life had been spent trying to fall asleep in small towns where, without the constant pulse and buzz the city provides, peace and quiet can get downright deafening.

Although he stood just five foot seven and weighed more than two hundred pounds, Benny Dunn only looked soft. Battles with acne as a teenager had left his cheeks a bit pockmarked, and his teeth seemed too large for his small, thin-lipped mouth, yet he still managed a vulnerable aura somewhere beneath his rugged, weather-beaten, somewhat menacing exterior. His hair, parted on the side, seemed in constant need of a trim, and his clothes had a perpetually slept-in look, but Benny was a professional who knew how to do his job and keep his mouth shut, and that was a quality Frank favored.

Nothing moved but the flakes of snow, as if time itself had frozen solid.

***

Frank glanced quickly around the office, a cramped and cluttered space that smelled like motor oil, rubber and cigarettes. Directly in front of him was a large desk and chair. Behind it a door marked Gents stood closed. A black telephone with a built-in answering machine sat on the front corner of the desk amidst mountains of paperwork and an overflowing ashtray.

One quick tug ripped the phone cord from the wall.

Seconds later the toilet flushed and the door opened to reveal a balding, heavyset man in overalls. He stood at a small sink wiping his hands with a paper towel, initially unaware of Frank's presence. 'Oh, I'm sorry,' he said, blushing as he nearly tripped his way back into the office. 'I didn't know anybody was here. Got a bell on the front door that's supposed to jingle whenever anybody comes or goes but you can't hear it in the crapper, so what's the point, right?' The man closed the bathroom door behind him and smiled. 'What can I do for you?'

Frank stared at him.

'Something wrong, mister?'

'Are you Arthur Bertalia?'

The man's eyes narrowed. 'Yeah, I'm Artie Bertalia. I don't see as good as I used to.' He fished a pair of eyeglasses from his pocket and slipped them on. 'Do I know you?'

Frank slowly removed his hands from his pockets; let them dangle at his side. He watched as Artie noticed the gloves, recognizing them immediately for what they were.

'What do you want?'

'These gloves look familiar?'

His eyes darted toward the door but the fat man stood his ground and forced a nervous smile. 'Should they?'

'You used to own a pair,' Frank said. 'Maybe you still do.'

Artie folded his arms across his grease-stained overalls and feigned indifference. 'I don't know what you're talking about, pal. If you need used tires or rims, I can help you out. If not, hit the road or I'll call the cops.'

Frank reached across the desk, grabbed the front of Artie's overalls with one hand and smashed him full in the face with the other. His nose shattered with a loud snap, spraying blood from his nostrils as he toppled over backwards onto the floor.

Calmly, Frank moved around the side of the desk and kicked him repeatedly in the mouth, chest and stomach. Artie cried out and did his best to squirm away from his attacker but the office was too small and Artie was too big, slow, and already badly hurt.

Frank stepped back, watched the fallen man struggle into a sitting position and spit out a bloody tooth. It clicked against the wooden floor, bounced under the desk. Artie looked up at him with pleading eyes, a steady

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