The voice on the other side of the phone call was rough, deep, and impatient. A hard voice to understand with my spotty cell phone signal, as if the guy was talking from the bottom of a well.
The voice spit out, “Santelli here. Come spray my tree before it dies like the other did.” Like I knew this guy.
I heard the name Santelli, and knew immediately it wasn’t someone I had worked for in the past several months since starting my new pest control service in southern Colorado. I would have remembered Santelli in spite of the many Italian surnames on my new client list.
“Sure thing, Mr. Santelli,” I replied. “I’ll just need to get your address, and phone number to set up an appointment.” I was trying to be ass-kissing polite, but the truth of it all was that the voice had annoyed me with it’s abrupt rudeness, so it was a brief kiss.
“I’m next to Pancho’s Tamales east of the freeway,” he shouted. “You know where Pancho’s Tamales is on the south side. Look for the trout fish mailbox four houses east. My number is 5?6-7??8,” and then hit the end button like he was killing flies.
I had gotten four numbers out of seven, but I had him on my call logs, so no big deal. However, the guy had rubbed me wrong, and he went onto the don't call back list, and I had no intention of calling him back. That didn’t matter, because he called again the next morning wondering where I was, and I agreed to come out the next day and spray his tree. I had quickly settled down after his call, and was a bit curious about the crusty old man needing a tree sprayed, and I was needing more tree spraying jobs. They pay real good. During the second call, I figured out he needed a spruce tree treated for beetle control, and his house number on the highway. What I didn’t know was where Pancho’s Tamales was, and that he lived on the business route, not the bypass, which I learned later. There were three highways coming off the main east and west highway after crossing underneath the freeway, and it was damn confusing to a newcomer. They had tripped me up more than once. So, the next morning I went to the right address on the wrong highway, and found myself in front of a trash hauling service with a sign that said Waste Disposal, not Pancho’s Tamales. I had already tried to give Santelli a call before driving ten miles east out of my way, and tried again from the locked entrance to the trash company. He never answered either call, and after the second call from the wrong highway, he was put right back onto the fuck you list. I was frustrated, and never thought to look up Pancho’s Tamales.
Hours later he called back. I saw his number on the call log, and didn’t answer. Over the next several days, he called three more times. His wife called once, and left a voicemail to call her, but I was being stubborn, and I was smoking busy anyway, so I figured to utilize my ass-kissing skills where they would be more appreciated, but he caught me anyway.
By the way, my name is Ricky Salter, and I had finally been able to sell my spraying service in Denver, and escape what had become a nasty rat race once and for all. I set up shop down south, and never looked back, and my business had taken off like a bottle rocket, and I was busy. Happy, too, and what I didn’t need was some old-school, ornery Italian attitude pissing me off. Colorado is full of Italians, and I was used to the old-timer’s, old world traditions, which were often rude, demanding, and excessively cheap. Santelli was by no means the first waspish Italian I had ever dealt with during my many years in Colorado. Not all Italians are this way, especially the newer generations, but the old-country Italians were often ill-tempered, and could rub a buffalo nickel until it pissed in his hand, and then sell the piss. Came from the hard lives they had endured as immigrants.
It was the following Thursday, and I was busy spraying weed preventer on a twenty-thousand square foot property in ninety plus degree temperatures, and I answered my phone automatically.
“This is Santelli, and we’ve had a bad connection.” He clearly sounded more polite. I was mystified, so I told myself I would give Mr. Shitelli another chance.
You gave me the wrong address, Santelli,” I explained courteously. “I went out the Bypass instead of the business route, and you never answered your phone.”
“Hell, I told you I was just east of Pancho’s Tamales, exactly four houses east with the trout fish mailbox,” he replied patiently. “I’ve lived here my whole life.”
“Well, sir,” I said, “not everyone has lived here their whole lives, including me. I recently relocated here from Denver, and am still learning how to get around. Also, it might help a bit if you don’t hang up on a guy before getting some confirmation about your phone number, and your address.” I had dropped my ass-kissing handbook in the dirt. “Plus, the service was spotty.”
He gave out with a chuckle, and said, “I understand. These damn cell phones don’t always work right, but I don’t know how we ever got along without ‘em. I won’t hold it against you being from Denver if you’ll come out and spray my tree.”
“I appreciate that,” I replied.
“Come on out, and spray my other tree before the beetle gets it too, and I’ll buy you a cup of coffee, and tell you a little about the old days around here.” It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. After all, I did like making money, and coffee. I was also interested in the local history.
“You got a deal,” I agreed. “See you Monday morning by eight.”
Monday morning found me parked in front of the yard gate to an old, blonde brick ranch style saying hi to Santelli, and petting his huge, Golden Labrador, Bozo. One of those Goldens that was more white than gold. He had cozied up to me like an old girlfriend, and promptly stuck his nose in my crotch, just like an old girlfriend, even though we had just met. Typical of a Golden Lab. I had never met a mean one, and I’ve met lots of dogs in my job, some of them meaner than Leroy Brown’s.
Santelli was standing on the porch smiling down at me. He was not anything like I had imagined. He must have been six foot three, and had a full head of almost curly, salt and pepper hair, and a face that said Santa Claus with rosy, chubby cheeks, white-toothed smile, and a twinkle in his dark eyes. It was Santa without the beard. This couldn’t be the crotchety old man that shouted out bad directions, and then hung up on a guy. No way.
My mental image of Santelli had been a diminutive, hunch-backed geriatic with black eyes, slicked back greasy hair on a balding head, full lips, hooked nose, and walked like a beach crab, and wearing baggy, black polyester pants held up by suspenders, and a dirty undershirt, and dishing out bad mojo. I had been intimidated before I even got there, and here was this baby-faced, handsome man with one of those big noses that had a crease in the center of the tip that resembled plumber’s crack, and looked comical instead of ugly, and he towered over me by five inches, and out-weighing me by probably forty pounds while not looking the least bit fat. Instead of baggy trousers, he had on Wrangler jeans with a crease ironed into them, and a collared western shirt. He in no way resembled the image of a swarthy mafia henchman. I felt a little guilty, and silly for judging the man solely upon his shitty phone skills. I should have known better after all my years in public service.
We did our handshakes, agreed upon a price which he did raise an eyebrow at, so I wasn’t entirely disappointed in his lack of stereotypical traits, and after I sprayed his tree, sat me down at his kitchen table with a cup of hot, black coffee, and took me back in time as if he had shoved me into a time machine, and hit warp drive. When the machine stopped it was nineteen seventy-four, and Santelli was in the union room at the mill watching his fellow worker reps getting slaughtered at the negotiating table. He had been ordered by the union boss to keep his big, dago mouth shut during negotiations if he wanted to become the shop steward. He was in training, and could shout, piss his pants, and spit up afterwards, which is pretty much what he did.
Men could hear him shouting from the locker room three doors down. They had heard it before.
“What the fuck you guys doing sending jackasses to a horse race,” he was yelling at the union reps. “These dumbfuck paesanos have less education between them than the eighth fucking grade, and you stack them up against college-educated, company lawyers? Whose side you on anyways?” His voice was rising in octaves with emotion.
“Now settle down Joey,” Herman Groetzinger crooned. “We know what we’re doing.” He was one of the paesanos.
“So’s! You know what you’re doing? You big bucket of sauerkraut! You, and the other three geniuses just got us all beat out of a five dollar raise, and some benefits!”
“Hey, we tried,” whined Swede Svenson. Hey, ve twied.
“Swede, if your brain was even half the size of a chickpea, we would all be rolling in five dollar raises, and some more vacation days so shut the fuck up,” Santelli yelled. “What we need are our own attorneys, not these incompetent farmers from the potato fields of Europe!”
Swede was scratching his head, and looking down at the floor He’d never thought to compare his brain to a vegetable. Funny coincidence though, his wife, Darlene, had made a similar reference.
She always yelled out, “Swede, damn-it. Quit thinking like a damn potato!" And this coming from a woman who went to church every Sunday. Swede had never been accused of being smart. Maybe he should ask Herman what to do. He watched Santelli storm towards the door, and he began to feel desperate.
“Joe, you leaving?” he asked. “Maybe we should do something?” His thick accent made his question sound like, Maybe ve shuck do someving?
“Tell you what Swede,” Santelli instructed. “Why don’t you go home and learn how to read. Then maybe WE can do something.”
“By the way Joe,” Swede continued, “It was sugar beets, and barley, not no potatoes.” By de vay Joe, it vas suga beets, and barley, not no potatoes.
Santelli stared at Swede in frustration trying to figure out what the hell he was talking about.
Finally, he asked, “Swede, what are you talking about?”
“You said we were potato farmers, remember?” You said ve vere potato farmers, wemember?
Joe was still staring, not understanding, which happened a lot with Swede. All of a sudden he remembered.
He said, “You big stack of alfalfa. Go home and ask your wife what a metaphor is. I’m done talking to you.”
“Joe,” Swede asked. “Could you write that word down on a piece of paper?” Could you vite dat vord down on a piece uv paper?
Santelli turned away from Swede, and headed for the door.
“Where you goin’, Joe?” Herman asked.
“Me?” Santelli replied. “I’m gonna go home, drink beer, and chase my wife around till midnight, so I don’t have to think about the money I just lost of because you goons ain’t smart enough to fight fire with fire.”
“Maybe we should hit these fuckin’ guys,” Tony Beneventi growled. “You know. Like maybe it was mafia dudes.” He turned his right hand into a pistol, and pointed it at the ground as if he was executing one of the attorneys. His hand jerked upwards with the imaginary kick of a big-bore pistol as he made a banging gunshot noise.
“What a great idea,” Santelli exclaimed. “Brains, here, just come up with the perfect solution. Let’s clip these guys as if it was a contract, and the cops won’t never suspect any of us.” He comically rolled his eyes.
“No shit Joey,” Tony reiterated. “We air these fancy lawyers like a mob hit. Cancel a couple of ‘em like an enforcer would do. Do it so’s the cops couldn’t prove nuthin’, and if these latrine lickers is as smart as you say they is, then they’ll know whose done it, and think a little harder about denying us our raises.” Tony fancied himself kind of a gangster, which amused Santelli.
“That’s a damn long ways from hiring our own attorneys,” Santelli stated. “Tony, do you really think these dumb, banna finger farmers could stand up to a police interrogation? These guys can sling hot steel all damn day, but they will crumble like bambinos caught stealing candy when those mean-ass detectives grill them into fuckin’ charcoal.”
“Why would the cops even question the farmers?” Tony asked.
“Because, you wannabe hoodlum,” Santelli roared, “That is what happens after someone gets executed. Especially when executed. Everyone gets interrogated within a ten mile radius!”
Herman Groetzinger decided he had had enough, and said, “Why don’t we all just go home, and figure this all out at the next meeting when we all has had a chance to settle down.”
“Sounds good to me,” Santelli grumbled, “but, I ain’t lettin’ this get swept under the carpet.” He turned and stomped out of the locker room without saying his usual goodbyes. He had heard enough, and wanted nothing more than to go home and chase his beautiful wife around the house naked.
I was on my third cup of coffee by this time, getting a little shaky, and Santelli had gotten up to rummage around in the cupboard, looking for some Oreos, grumbling about how his second wife liked to hide them when she was at work.
“So, what happened next, Joe?” I asked Santelli.
“What happened next was I went home, and chased my wife around the house until she finally let me catch her,” he replied, and roared with laughter.
“No, no. I already figured that out. I mean what happened after that?” I wanted to hear about the lawyers.
“Well Ricky,” he said seriously. “After that I went to sleep.” He roared with laughter again, and set a bag of cookies on the table. I motioned impatiently for him to continue with a handful of Oreos, and he picked up where he had left off, and we were once again back in nineteen seventy-four.
It was two in the morning, and Santelli tossed restlessly around in bed unable to turn loose of Tony Beneventi’s resolution to the lawyers. His mind kept bringing up the image of the Heckler & Koch VP70m he had purchased on the eastside on his last birthday. It was his gift to himself, and a hidden secret from everyone he knew, including his wife, Joanna. Carrying eighteen rounds with a three round burst feature, his pistol could spit out over two thousand rounds in a minute from a barrel just over four and a half inches long. More than adequate to waste a few greasy attorneys whose whole mission in life was to outwit hard-working, ignorant men like Swede Svenson, and Herman Groetzinger out of their hard-earned wages, and benefits that they were more than entitled to receive. A few mob style killings might just solve the problem after all. Maybe little Tony the gangster was right. Torture a couple of these corporate jackals, and then blow their stinkin’ brains out. Hell, yeah! His hatred of these soulless parasites ran deep into his heart, and he truly felt like he would be able to whittle on their fingers, and toes for a bit, spit their brains square out of the back of their skulls, go home, and sleep like a baby.
As Santelli went over details in his mind, he began to convince himself that he could pull it off without a trace. Even though he had been the most vocal opposition in the negotiating room, he also had a reputation as a straight arrow. Everything by the book. Most likely, not even the tough detectives would suspect him, and there would not be a trace of a clue. His gun was as cold as the Alaskan wilderness, he would wear a disguise, and plan the killings about a month out from the last meeting, and starting now, act like he had accepted the company terms, and stop griping about them. C’est la vie, comrades.
A month passed by, and the last company meeting seemed to be largely forgotten except for some occasional grumbling about the heartless lawyers. Santelli had been quick to inform all of his co-workers that he was done with discussing the failed meeting. Being the unofficial head man of his crew caused the rest of the guys to always follow his lead, and the lost raise topic was dropped from the men’s conversations. Steel was formed into rails for trains to roll over, time cards were punched, lunches were eaten out of metal boxes, and time sped constantly into the future as if everything was perfectly fine. That is until one of the lawyers was found sitting behind the wheel of his Cadillac with a big hole in his forehead, and a couple piles of chopped up fingers in his lap. A couple days later, a second lawyer was found in a motel bathroom where he had been drinking, and most likely romancing with a woman who wasn’t his wife, with a shot up face, no ears, and his fingers stuffed into his mouth. His toes were scattered all over the tile floor. The third lawyer left town not telling anyone where he was going, and he was remarkably quick about it. For some reason, his rapid disappearance didn’t surprise anyone.
The mean-ass detectives interrogated anyone they could find that might be holding a grudge against the lawyers which was about everyone in town. They especially focused on the mill workers. They performed polygraphs, pulled nice cop-bad cop routines, threatened, bribed, and tried to trick the men into confessing, but no one confessed. No one knew anything. It was well known all over the mill town that the lawyers were hated by just about every citizen in three counties, so trying to narrow down a suspect with a motive proved to be impossible without a confession. Everyone had the same motive. The lawyers had tricked them all out of cold cash one way or another. When workers were paid more dollars, they spent more dollars. The nail chewing detectives were left clueless. They finally assumed the lawyer murders were mafia hits in retaliation for the mill workers that would probably never get solved. The mafia was very sympathetic to the mill hands since many of them were Italian, and Sicilian.
At the next negotiations, the steel workers got their five dollar raise, and Santelli was made shop steward. The negotiations were like a walk in the park for the previously oppressed workers, and their new spokesmen, which were attorneys hired by the union, instead of the naive, uneducated former farmers from the old country.
The more intelligent guys, which was everyone except Swede, always silently suspected that Santelli had something to do with the lawyer hits. Santelli never alluded to anything connected to the murders, and finished his career after forty years with never being arrested for a single thing. He was a great shop steward, and the men loved his outgoing, strong personality that kept the mill operating smoothly under his management of negotiations between the workers, the union, and the company bosses whom all the workers knew would have constantly cheated them if it hadn’t been for Santelli. He was a hero to all of the mill hands for the entire duration of his stewardship, and there was never a need for any more lawyer assassinations, although it may have come close a time or two until Santelli brought up the story of the two disfigured, and shot attorneys that he used as a big stick. Santelli was one of a kind. There had never been anyone like him before or since his tenure as mill steward.
It was five years after Santelli’s retirement when I found myself sitting at his kitchen table with a fistful of Oreos, and a cup of black coffee no more Italian than a Suzuki, staring at him smiling like a misbehaving Christmas elf.
“So, Santelli,” I said. “You did torture, and shoot the lawyers after all, just like you thought about after that meeting.”
“Yep,” Santelli replied. “I sure as hell did, and afterwards went home and slept like a baby.”
I stared at him right in his obsidian eyes for a long minute, and finally asked him, “Why did you tell me this story after keeping it secret all these years?” I was truly puzzled.
“Well, Ricky. It was because of our problem with the phone calls,” he responded.
“The phone calls?” I questioned. “Why did our phone calls compel you to confess to me?”
“Well, kid,” he chuckled. “I came to realize that you weren’t going to put up with my bad attitude in order to pick up another customer, and I admired that. That’s why I kept after you. You didn’t get mad, and tell me to fuck off, and you weren’t impolite, but you made it clear to me that you weren’t going to let me kick you around like the paesanos let the lawyers do to all us guys back in nineteen seventy-four.” He grinned at me.
“Santelli, I gotta tell you. I was sure glad to hear you killed those soulless bastard lawyers. Maybe you should head up to Washington and clean out some of the corrupt shitpiles running our country into the sewer.”
“You know Ricky,” Santelli said solemnly. “I could still go to prison for life if the police found out I murdered those guys.”
“Well, it won’t be because of me, Santelli,” I replied just as solemnly.
“I know that Ricky,” he said softly. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have picked you after all these years to be my confessor.”
“Honestly, Santelli. It didn’t sound like a confession to me.”
“Oh, it was a confession for sure,” he replied smiling, “but, not because I’m afraid about going to hell over it. I’ve wanted to tell somebody about scrubbing those two scurvy scumbellies off the face of the earth since the day I did it, just because I was proud to do it. However, the priest most likely wouldn’t view my story with pride, or secrecy.”
“Tell me something Santelli,” I asked. “Why didn’t you tell your brothers or sisters, or someone like that. Hell, you are Italian, so you must have a huge family.”
“Ricky, I had two brothers, and they both had two daughters who went off and got married, and disappeared into Los Angeles or somewhere. They didn’t stick around here, and we weren’t close,” Santelli replied.
“Why not your brothers?” I was curious.
“Well, you see Ricky, the detectives were grilling every guy at the mill like roadkill, and I wasn’t for sure that my brothers might not break down and tell ‘em. Those dudes were mean as hell, and my brothers not so much. So, the years sailed by, and both of ‘em finally died. My first wife wasn’t able to bear children, and then she had to go away, too. Unlike most Italian families back then, we were a small bunch.”
“So, by nineteen seventy-four your parents, uncles, and whoever were all gone, too?”
“Yep. They were all gone. A couple died in the mines. A mill accident took out Uncle Valachie. Rudy got murdered, and so on,” Santelli said. “You see Ricky, I’m the last Santelli, and I’ve been waiting for years for someone to come along that I felt in my heart I could trust, and unload this ominous tale off my chest.” His coal-colored eyes were burning into my retinas. “When we met, I felt like we were instant friends. A friend I could trust to tell my story to in confidence.”
I chewed up my last Oreo, washed it down with the bottom half of my coffee, and replied, “Joe, what story are you talking about?”
Author Notes: For mature audiences only. By reading this story you acknowledge you are eighteen years old or older. All rights reserved by Paul Farin 2019.