normal, just inexperienced, and this lack of self-confidence made him unduly shy. The work had a way of changing all that.

In the beginning he had been a gofer. The mob then operated from the fresh-vegetable storefronts along Produce Row in St. Louis, using their legit fronts to launder racket bucks. Frank started working for Mr. Ciprioni because they liked the kid, felt sorry for him, and had him run errands around the office. The kid knew nothing from mobs. But they paid him well, and he and Vince Ciprioni, the youngest son of The Man, were school chums and fellow gun nuts. Vince was always trying to get him to teach him how to shoot.

'Damn, you're good with a rifle,' he told him one day. Frank had talked his mom into letting him finally junk his Red Ryder BB gun and get a.22, and within a week there wasn't a living shitbird within ten blocks of their house.

'Not too bad, I guess,' he said. He knew he was good. He'd gone to Boy Scout camp one year and beat all the other boys easily first time he'd ever shot skeet.

He never bragged about it, but when the boys found out they shared a genuine interest in and fascination with weapons Frank admitted to Vince that he'd started packing.

'You're carrying! In school?'

'Yep.' He explained his cousin had 'got beat up real bad' by a gang who ran the streets near his house.

'They fuck with me,' he said, taking care with the difficult consonants, 'I'm ready.' He patted his pocket.

Vince's eyes were rivited to the pocket where the hardware rested.

'Were you in school when Jarrod's revolver fell out in art class?'

'Yeah. I 'bout shit.' They laughed over the kid who'd moved to Missouri from San Berdoo, and who affected the California teen-gang style replete to outmoded D.A. and the much discussed pawnshop.38 he carried with him to class.

'I don't think Old Lady Shindleford ever even caught it,' Vince said, laughing, 'the fuckin' thing dropped out like a damn bomb. I'm surprised it didn't go off.' They both roared. 'Can I see it?' he said with eyes glued to the pocket.

'Umm.' Frank smiled and pulled out the piece. A Smith & Wesson with the short barrel and the hammer filed off.

'Can you hit anything with it?' Vince asked, aiming the gun.

'Once inna while,' Frank said quietly. And that was the only time Vince Ciprioni ever saw the gun until the day Frank shot the four boys who'd jumped Vince down in back of the Rialto. Four of them. All with metal pipes. Frank shot the four of them deader than dogs right there in the alley down in back of the Rialto. And he didn't know what to do with the gun, so Vince made him give it to him and he took it to his father and told him what had happened and what Frank had done, and his old man just took the piece from him and told the boys never to say anything about it again.

The Man called Frank in by himself. Frank figured he'd tell him how grateful he was for saving his son's life and that shit, but all he did was say, 'You're a good kid. But can you keep your mouth shut?' Frank nodded yes. 'Okay,' he said, the hard Ciprioni eyes boring into him for a long time until he'd seen whatever he'd been hoping to see. 'Take 'er easy,' he said, and that was all. No thank you for saving Vincent's ass. Nothing. Ehh. Frank shrugged and went about his business.

Vincent, on the other hand, couldn't shut up about it. Vince would tell him thanks about five times a day until after a week or so Frank finally had to ask him to please for crissakes shaddup about it. And the event didn't make him feel tough, or recklessly invulnerable, the way it affects some people, nor did he have any desire to clip out the stories about the killings and start a scrap-book. Oddly, it meant nothing to him. He handled it the way some kids would climb a tall tree or knock a softball over the left-field wall. He was a shooter. But soon after the incident he started calling himself Frank Spain.

Secretly he figured one day he'd be hoisting a box of fresh lettuce and the boss would come up and slip a hundred-dollar bill in his pocket, but it never happened. What Mr. Ciprioni gave him turned out to be something much more valuable. He gave him his trust.

A few months after the shooting The Man called him back into a storeroom and told him he was having a problem. A guy was creating some problems for him. It was a situation that required a solution. A final solution, he said. A piece of work like Frank had done in back of the Rialto. That kind of work.

'Well, now, then, there,' Spain said, in his best James Dean.

'You understand what I'm saying to you?'

Frank nodded that he understood.

'I need somebody good. Somebody who can keep his mouth shut and do a piece of work like that. The money I pay for that is ... ' He pulled an envelope out and started counting. He'd never seen so much money in all his life.

'I'll do it,' Spain said.

'You sure about that? I know you're good but you're very young. It's one thing to stop some punks hurting a friend of yours, another thing to clip somebody cold. If you're not sure, don't take it.'

Spain said nothing, but he returned Mr. Ciprioni's stare for a full beat and reached slowly for the envelope. He let him take it and put it in his pocket, and then he told Frank the name and where the man lived. It was a downtown hotel. And that night Frank went down to the Milburn and walked in and took the elevator up to the fourth floor and knocked, and when the door opened, he asked the man if he was who the contract was for, and the guy said he was, and the kid pulled out the hammerless Smith and put a round right in his heart, turning and going down the emergency stairs, deciding this time he'd get rid of the piece himself. And from then on he became Mr. Ciprioni's shooter.

Gaetano Ciprioni was not in Tony Gee's family, which was the St. Louis mob of that time. The boss man explained the hierarchy to Spain.

'This is nothing here. It's shit. All the action is in Kansas City far as Missouri goes, and Kansas City doesn't have shit. St. Louis isn't anything serious in the organization. It's all run by Chicago anyway. The big man there is gonna retire soon. When he does, the man gonna inherit the whole middlewest country is my main man. He is to me what I am to you, you understand?'

'Yeah.'

'He's gonna change things. When he does, I'll be moving up to The Council. You don't knew what that is, do you?' Frank shook his head no. 'It's the head of all the families. ALL the families, even the big New York families. The Council controls everything. I'll be working there. I'm going to be needing someone here I can trust. To do jobs of work for me. Mostly here in the Midwest. The pay will be outstanding, I can promise you.'

'Okay.'

'Okay, we understand each other.' They shook hands. Spain never could get used to how the Italianos liked to shake hands all the time. But one thing about The Man: if he told you something like this, well, you could take it to the bank.

Spain was what his sainted mother would have called a late bloomer. He'd already worked his way to the top level of his chosen profession by the time he met Pat, and his new self-confidence allowed him to approach someone for the first time.

She was an ordinary girl, although he saw her as quite beautiful. Mary Pat Gardner, who worked for his neighborhood dry-cleaner, which — many years later — he wanted to tell her had been a family operation, a family laundry for money as well as clothing, but he never told her about his work. He 'traveled.' He was in 'sales.'

One day he walked in and she looked especially radiant and he told her so.

'You look real pretty today.'

'Thank you,' she beamed. 'How's life treating you?' She took his dry-cleaning sack and started writing on a pad. 'I'll get your things in just a second.'

'No hurry.' He'd seen her in there when he brought his clothing in each week for a year or so, and finally he'd worked up enough nerve to ask her out. His speech impediment was almost gone. Frank no longer stammered if he concentrated on what he was saying. He was prepared to say, 'Would you like to go to the movies with me Friday night?' That's what he planned to ask her. But what he said was, 'Mary Pat?'

And she looked up from the order she was writing and said, 'Uh-huh?'

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