Now Available to Pre-Order at Special Pre-Release Pricing: Big Shoes, an Austin Carr Mystery by Jack Getze

Big Shoes by Jack Getze

An Austin Carr Mystery
Jack Getze

Pre-Order the book: Kindle — Special Pre-Release Pricing: $2.99!



Jersey Shore broker Austin Carr wants out of the stock and bond business but un-hooking from his mobbed-up partner won’t be painless. Angelina “Mama Bones” Bonacelli is best known for professional consultations that deteriorate into criminal violence, breakfast appointments raided by the FBI and one particular Power Point presentation to a Jersey state racing commission that ended in automatic weapons fire.

Good thing she likes Austin.

She just won’t let Austin out of the business. Plus Johnny “The Turk” Korsay is on a rampage and had his crooked cops arrest Luis, the bartender Austin’s best friend. Why? Because Austin saw The Turk kill Heriberto. And now he’s gunning for the stock broker.

It’s another brush with violent death and a sexy redhead for Austin Carr when Mama Bones and her rival Jersey associate of a fading New York crime family battle for the future of imported sex slaves, boardwalk tourist business and surprising horse racing secrets, past and present.



“Big Shoes is a five-star romp.”
— Rick Bylina, best-selling author of One Promise Too Many




The big thing about my temporary business partner, Angelina “Mama Bones” Bonacelli: her routine professional consultations can easily deteriorate into criminal activity and violence. Breakfast appointments have been raided by the FBI. Her Power Point presentation to a Jersey state racing commission last summer ended in a fist fight, then later in the parking lot, automatic weapons fire. As a Jersey shore racketeer with direct ties to what’s left of a once powerful New York crime family, Mama Bones packs an abundance of local power, not to mention a loaded nine-millimeter.

For me, Austin Carr, mild-mannered bond salesman, our association has been terrifyingly problematic. Bullets, knives and poison keep turning up at mutually occupied locations and joint functions. In fact, I am lucky to be alive—charmed, really—and I’ve decided I need a new temporary partner or a new livelihood. Trying to explain these concerns to Mama Bones last month, following the funeral of one Heriberto Garzia, a man murdered before my eyes, Mama Bones told me to take a vacation. Think about my future, she said. Don’t rush into drastic change. Maybe when Vic gets better you’ll feel different, she said. Not likely. Her son Vic—my real business partner, who Mama Bones is subbing for—remains physically wounded and mentally unstable following an earlier, unrelated shootout. Unrelated except that minutes before being shot, both gunshot victims—Heriberto and Vic—were talking to me.

I did take several weeks off, per Mama Bones’ strong suggestion, but the results are not what she’d hoped. An exhaustive detailing of past events and stern logic worked against her, particularly a list I made of her associates, men either murdered or who disappeared over the past three years. There weren’t that many names. Okay. But it was a list. Honestly, only a suicidal fool would stay. So this morning, Wednesday, June 25, my vacation is over. I’m here to tell Mama Bones the bad news: Bonacelli Investments will have to do without me. I’ve sold my last tax-free bond.

I avoid a doublewide trailer set hastily on concrete blocks in our back lot, then park my black Toyota Solara near our brick building’s rear entrance. Some Cadillac SUV owner has taken my spot, a white-outlined space that says RESERVED is big blue letters. Must be some meth head. I’m no big shot, I’m Austin Carr, chairman and fifty-one percent owner of Bonacelli Investments, formerly Carr Securities, a regional brokerage firm. We only have one office. We sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds and the kind of insurance that wraps around investment products.

Inside my firm’s back office, key employees Jerry and Pat welcome my return with muted celebration. They wave. “What’s with that trailer out back?” I say. “The thing is taking up half our parking.”

“Ask Mama Bones,” Jerry says.

Great. “Is she here this morning?”

“No,” Jerry says. “She’s still down at the diner.” He glances at his large stack of paperwork, then back up at me. “She hasn’t been coming in until after lunch. And before you raise a stink in front of the salesmen, you better know that’s Gianni’s Escalade in your reserved parking spot.”

Gianni Rossi. Mama Bones’ nephew, bodyguard and pistol-packing crime lieutenant. Probably next in line to her illegal gambling throne. Looks like I must resign myself to another small humiliation.

“Is Gianni here?” I ask.

“He’s with Mama Bones at the diner.”

Mama Bones now owns Branchtown’s landmark Pardon Me Diner, strategically situated across Monmouth Street from our municipal courthouse and police headquarters. Four blocks from our offices. I wave to my friends and newer brokers in the big sales room on the way, but I’m out the front door and down the street in fifteen seconds, passing on the way another of Mama Bones’ centrally-located businesses, Domenic’s Bail Bonds.

Not many people walking on the sidewalks of Branchtown this late in the morning. A few shoppers. We had an unusually cold and snow-filled winter with lots of snow days, and the kids are in class through the end of June. The streets will be more crowded next week, and packed for the Fourth of July.

Inside the diner, I don’t bother asking directions, remembering where the diner’s old office was. I discover Mama Bones behind the closed door next to the Pardon Me’s newly expanded kitchen. Vic told me his mother was born in 1945, which makes her seventy years old this year, but she’s exercising briskly on a tread mill as I barge in. Mama Bones wears leopard-patterned leotards. Jeez, she’s neither flabby nor weak as I imagined. More stocky and hard.

From his seat on a plastic-covered orange couch, Gianni Rossi aims a shotgun at me. He’s wearing tan shorts and a gorgeous blue Tommy Bahama camp shirt, acting all business, however, racking a shell into the pump-action weapon, ready to blow off my head despite having known me for years. Or maybe because he’s known me for years. I once rescued him from an electric meat smoker. Maybe that will help.

Mama Bones glares at me as she flips off the NordicTrack. “You don’t knock?”

“Sorry,” I say. “I wasn’t sure you were in here.”

“All the more reason, Smarty Pants.”

Mama Bones always wears ankle-length black dresses. There’s one draped over the back of the swivel desk chair. Like her Italian accent, the simple garb is designed to make her appear weak, maybe out of touch, when in fact Mrs. Angelina Bonacelli—a widow since 1994—is tougher than week-old tomato pie.

“I wanted you to know as soon as I made up my mind,” I say. “I’m not coming back to work at Bonacelli Investments. I’m done.”

Mama Bones hops off the treadmill, wraps a beach towel around her shoulders and chest, then hurries to hide behind a cherry wood desk that matches the woodwork on the orange couch. “I’m glad you’re back,” she says. “I can’t spend no more time running Vic’s business. I got too many problems.”

I shake my head. “Mama Bones, didn’t you hear me? I said I’m done. I’ve given it a lot of thought, careful consideration like you suggested, but I need to quit. Heriberto being killed in front of me changed things. Forever. I can’t take the violence. Luis agrees with me. He said he would talk to you.”

Luis Guerrero is more than my closest friend. In this context, and many times before in my life, the bartender and owner of Luis’ Mexican Grill is my spiritual advisor. Luis was not a witness to Heriberto’s murder at the racetrack, but he was on the scene soon after, showing up in time to see the murderer—a gangster called the Turk—and help me safely get away. That wasn’t the first time Luis saved my life.

Mama Bones glances toward Gianni. “You hungry?”

“I could eat,” he says.

I get the feeling Mama Bones is not taking me seriously.

She brings her dark eyes back to mine. “We need to talk. How ’bout some lunch?”

“Mama Bones, I need you to under—”

She waves her hand. “You are not walking away from Vic’s investment business today or tomorrow, okay? Maybe next week. Maybe next month. But not today. He needs you. And I need you. Vic ran away from the rehab hospital. Nobody can find him.” She scowls at Gianni. “And a bad fire chased my friends into that trailer you saw. Plus Johnny the Turk Korsay is on some kind-a rampage, had his crooked cops arrest Luis.”

“Arrest Luis?” I say. “For what?”

“For Heriberto’s murder, what do you think, huh?”

“But the Turk killed Heriberto. I saw him.”

“Yeah, and that’s why those crooked cops probably gonna come after you next.”

Gianni and I slide into the big corner booth at the Pardon Me Diner minutes later, order menus and a pot of coffee. Mama Bones will dress and join us. Our view across the restaurant’s eating area and through the floor-to-ceiling windows is primarily of Branchtown’s municipal courthouse. Across Main Street, the century-old gray building sports Roman columns and marble steps, but also stands alongside Mr. Basil’s Hot Dog Shack, Mr. Basil and his wife Becky taking customers’ money through a cut-out slot in a six-foot red wiener. The whole city is like that, a hodge-podge of old and new, fancy and poor, bright paint and weather-worn marble façades. For me, Branchtown’s ancient and eclectic architecture conjures old brown and white photographs of America during the 1930s and our Great Depression.

I get tired of the silence. “So how did Mama Bones end up with the Pardon Me Diner?”

Gianni’s gaze stays on the front door. “Before the previous owner skipped bail eight years ago, he mortgaged the place to Mama Bones,” he says. “You remember Croc Tierney, our ex-mayor? Spent his bribe money at the racetrack?”

“Yeah. He was indicted with all those other Jersey mayors, zoning commissioners and rabbis, right? That FBI sting on construction bids, zoning changes. I remember because there were charges of organ selling, too, and that made national TV.”

“Whatever,” Gianni says, “Croc made payments to Mama Bones for years through a numbered account in Panama, but they stopped. Croc probably figured the property wasn’t worth what he owed.”

“I can tell she likes the place.”

Gianni nods. “Yeah, she figures the location will help her bail bond business.”

“A free meal with every bond?”

“Including dessert and beverage.”

Gianni and I smile, but indeed the Pardon Me Diner throbs with customers. Nice menus, too, the back cover featuring a story about her family and a black and white, high school photograph of a young Mama Bones, her dark eyes and creamy skin in a strikingly pretty, three-quarter profile. She’s wearing a starched white blouse with an exaggerated man’s collar like an old movie star from the middle of last century. Maybe Natalie Wood in Rebel Without A Cause.

Speak of the Devil. Dressed now in her all black widow’s outfit, Mama Bones catches me and Gianni still smirking over her marketing plans. She folds her arms across her chest, poses standing above our table, scowling like a school principal, her two faces side by side before me—one from the past on a menu, the now-face here live—producing a tender portrait of aging. Mama Bones’ basic Mediterranean beauty still holds a permanent grip.

“If you two smarty pants are through making jokes,” she says, “maybe we could figure out what we’re gonna do about Luis, four homeless women and the Turk.”

“What homeless women?” I ask.

“My friends in the trailer.”

I nod like her information makes sense. “How’s Vic? Before he disappeared, I mean. Was he getting better?”

Mama Bones slides into the booth next to Gianni and glares at him again. “Vic is gonna be okay. He says he’s confused about life, but who isn’t, huh? This crazy world. But Vic is more than confused. He’s acting like a mamaluke, dressing up, giving speeches. Last weekend we found him at Branchtown High School talking to an assembly.”

“I have everyone looking,” Gianni says. “Everybody.”

“Vic is gonna be fine,” she says. “My problem, yours, too, Austin Carr, is the Turk. He’s mad that I know he shot Heriberto, mad because Luis called me that night, not the police like he told you. That makes me the one who got Turk out of his jam. I sent his favorite two cops, Davenport and Lindsay, to pick him up, but he’s worried I’ll use the information against him, I guess. Maybe with New York. Also, what I hear, the Turk thinks you saw something that night could hurt him.”

“I saw him murder Heriberto,” I say. “What’s worse than that?”

“I don’t know. But he doesn’t worry about Heriberto no more. The report those two cops filed says they found Heriberto’s body in the trunk of an abandoned car, so there’s no investigation of the Turk. And now those two cops grabbed Luis, trying to frame him, or wanting to know why Luis called me that night. The Turk asking questions through the cops.”

I’m impressed with Mama Bones’ knowledge, and frankly wonder at her sources of information. I can see why my mentally unstable and currently missing partner Mr. Vic thinks his mother sometimes reads minds.

“You gonna ask how come I know so much police business?” she asks.

What? How could…

“We know lots of cops,” Gianni says. “Including Davenport and Lindsay. Both are Lieutenants in the Seaside County Prosecutor’s Gambling Enterprises Unit. Turk pays them more, but they’re also on Mama Bones’ payroll. Or extortion list, whatever you want to call it.”

I am not soothed. In fact, I am washed over by another wave of discomfort. I should not ask questions the answers to which I do not want to hear. That inside trading investigation last year taught me there are pieces of intelligence it’s best not to collect. Then again, Mama Bones and Gianni didn’t need to explain how they know so much. They both volunteered a lot. I worry something’s going on.

“How come you’re telling me all this?” I ask. “I know I kind of asked, but this is your…uh…family business stuff. I’m an outsider.”

Mama Bones shakes her head. “Not no more, Smarty Pants. Until Vic gets better and can run that bond shop again, you gotta work for me. Me and my homeless friends need your help.”

Gianni smiles from inside that spectacular Tommy Bahama camp shirt, his calm manner a visual underlining of Mama Bones’ words. In fact, Gianni’s confident grin is more formidable than the shotgun.



Angelina Rossi—later to become Mama Bones Bonacelli—grew up five miles south of Branchtown in the summer resort of Asbury Park. Her parents leased special soda-making equipment and illegal betting cards to venders on the Jersey shore, a business begun in the 1920s by her grandparents, Giuseppe and Francesca Rossi. Grandma and Grandpa were also political organizers, collecting cash from new Italian immigrants and boardwalk businesses, then delivering the bag money plus ninety percent of the local Italian vote to whichever party paid them most. In short, Mama Bones’ family has been a community leader for the past century, three generations of royalty in the politically-established, highly profitable and still shady Jersey shore tourist industry. And while it is true Mama Bones saved my life several times, the most recent occasion involved only a last minute change of heart, her outlaw hand on a switch that could have ground me into mincemeat.

I’m not sure I owe her any favors.

Still, the jailed Luis Guerrero is as close to me as an older brother, a guiding hand whenever my grip on life grows shaky, and now the hombre needs my help. I can’t and won’t run away from Luis if he needs me. Also, there is Mama Bones’ desires to consider, not to mention Gianni’s smile and his shotgun. Weighing all options and potential consequences, I believe it best my departure from the stock and bond business be temporarily delayed.

“So,” I say. “What’s the plan?”

The Pardon Me Diner hums with conversation and the clatter of racking dishes. Mama Bones sips her black coffee. “Go back to Vic’s bond shop, sell bonds,” she says. “Wait for me or Gianni to call. First thing, we gotta get Luis out of jail—or at least away from those two cops. I called his lawyer—that guy Zimmer you know—and he’s working on bail. But he told me Luis was moved from the Seaside County lockup. Zimmer was having trouble finding him.”

“They’re corrupt cops, but cops,” I say. “They wouldn’t kill him, would they?”

Mama Bones lifts her beefy shoulders. “I’m not so sure.”

“We need leverage,” Gianni says. “How about we threaten to turn Austin over to the Feds unless the Turk releases Luis?”

Mama Bones’ face wrinkles into a living walnut shell. “Go to the cops? New York would probably kill us first.” She sighs. “I should have known Turk wouldn’t trust me. When Luis called me that night, I should have made somebody else send those two cops to the racetrack, somebody I could trust not to tell.”

Mama Bones refers to a cell phone call Luis Guerrero made to her this past May from the racetrack—the site of Heriberto’s murder—and Mama Bones’ subsequent calls to get her capo the Turk out of trouble. I’d gone to the track’s backside, or stable area that night on the spur of the moment, accompanying Heriberto who claimed to be meeting a horse trainer. The trainer turned out to be the Turk, who shot Heriberto, calling him a juicer—a chemist who supplies drugs to make horses run faster and longer, or drugs to mask the initial drug. The Turk would have killed me, too, but an angry horse and Luis saved my life. It was a crazy night, one that taught me plenty about my big mouth. Another thing I remember, another reason the Turk was angry—the Turk said Heriberto had stolen his woman at a party. A redhead.

“We make the threat like it doesn’t come from us,” Gianni says, “We get someone else to lay it out for Turk’s lawyer, maybe that DEA agent we know.”

Mama Bones shrugs. “I don’t like it…but maybe if we can trust the DEA to say the request comes from Luis’ family or something.”

“What about the redhead Heriberto supposedly stole from Turk at the Turk’s own party?” I say. “She could testify the Turk had another motive for killing Heriberto. Put her and myself together, you have a strong case, not only against the Turk, but those county cops as well, Davenport and Lindsay, for hiding Turk’s guilt.”

Gianni nods. “That sounds like leverage to me. We threaten the Turk with Austin and the redhead. Make Turk’s lawyer believe the threat comes from Luis’ family. Hell, we can probably get Luis’ wife to accompany the DEA agent.”

“Might work,” Mama Bones says. “Solana will definitely help. She’s already called me.”

“But do we even know who the redhead is?” I ask.

“Solana heard it was Croc Tierney’s daughter,” Mama Bones says. “Name’s Emma. She lives in Rumson with Croc’s sister, a horsey-type named Barbara Ryder. Ryder fixed her brother’s business problems after Croc skipped bail. She handled the Pardon Me mortgage, in fact, bought me lunch at Clooney’s the day we signed the papers. She complained about her daughter back then. Redheaded, pretty and spoiled.”

“Turk loves the ponies, owns a stable of them,” Gianni says. “He’s always at the track. If Emma’s aunt is another horse owner, it adds up.”

Mama Bones nods. “This Emma Tierney also has a reputation for crazy, Solana says—pazzo enough to date the Turk and then dump him at his own party.”

“Can we find out for sure?” I ask.

“I’ll check it out,” Mama Bones says, “reconnect with this Barbara Ryder. If it sounds like Emma’s the right one, I’ll set something up for you to meet her, get her feelings on helping us. You’re the redhead expert, right? You busy this weekend?”

Excuse me, but I do not understand the widespread popularity of Asian restaurants with searing hot, ping pong table sized griddles. Those flame-throwing onion towers have been known to burn off beards and eyebrows. Forget about the teenage chefs juggling razor-sharp cleavers, blades that could bleed you out before an ambulance arrived. Restaurants should be about serving food, not threatening customers’ mortality.

Most people don’t see it that way, apparently, as Taki’s in Branchtown hums with Sunday evening customers. Young and old are packed shoulder to shoulder in a bamboo forest, lined up around frying meat and vegetables. Emma Tierney is one of the forty or fifty diners who enjoy this menace while they eat. I find her perched in a corner at the last of Taki’s eight hibachi grills, Emma talking to her date, a wiry and taut Russian-looking guy who probably was born in Newark. Whatever, he stares at me with hazel eyes too small for his face. Head shaved, his skin so pale and pocked, I can’t help thinking of a full moon. My internal alarms vibrate.

“Ms. Tierney?” I say.

Emma swivels her attention from Full Moon to assess me. Heriberto’s alleged mistress certainly matches the description Heriberto gave me that night on the way to the racetrack. Her wine-red hair shines in dark, long waves. Her pale white skin glows under a feline canopy of freckled spots.

“You must be Austin,” she says.

“Yes, ma’am. Nice to meet you.”

“Do you mind waiting in the bar?” she says. “I’ll be finished here in ten or fifteen minutes.”

Already tingling from the proximity of Full Moon, a guy who I sense wants to kill me, my spine shudders with an electric tremor. Like the odd lightning strike, I can’t tell if this new charge started at the bottom and rose, or began at the top then fell. What I do know, Emma Tierney’s voice, her manner and word choices do not please my instincts. A strong flame of resentment blossoms inside me. She wants me to go wait somewhere else? Beyond her queenly presence? For ten or fifteen minutes? Seems a bit rude. For Luis, however, I will proceed. All I have to do tonight is introduce myself, ask her to meet with the DEA agent and Gianni. I draw a slow breath and give Emma Tierney the full-boat Carr grin. While I don’t expect my smile to warm up this frosty glass of cherry soda, the Austin Carr Full Boat Grin is always worth a shot. Sometimes, my charm even surprises myself.

“Are you deaf?” Emma says. “Or just dumb?”

A spear lances my heart. Full Moon chuckles out loud. His teeth are yellowed from cigarettes and coffee. The smell of tobacco harbors in his clothes. And while Emma at least now stays silent, her smile is so sad and condescending, my hands clench. Wow. I am normally so easy-going I fail to recognize most insults. Ninety-nine percent of the slanders I do perceive, I choose to ignore. But once in a while—maybe half a dozen times in my whole life—somebody says something I find so insulting, a switch snaps. My gift of gab turns ugly and mean. Am I deaf—or just dumb? I can’t believe anyone would say that to me, especially a pretty woman. Or maybe it’s not her words at all. Maybe this rising bile of hatred awash in my belly is the result of Emma’s nasty, puke-on-you smile. My neck is as hot as a Costa Rican beach.

I show Emma another grin, this one displaying real teeth. “Does your date know you like to hump stable boys at Seaside Park?”

That wipes out the redhead’s smile and her date’s chuckle. Also, of course, I’m immediately embarrassed. Losing my temper is a lousy excuse for generally insulting women, stable boys and a significant Seaside County institution where famed thoroughbreds occasionally roam. As has been pointed out to me before, I have a big mouth. At times, completely unfiltered. Obviously, ancient, subconscious and unwelcome prejudices occasionally bubble up when I’m angry.

Emma hisses. The wrath flashing from Miss Tierney’s blue eyes suggests Heriberto’s story was true—she did have sex with him. And while I figure my interview with Emma Tierney tonight is over—she’s reaching for her hot Japanese tea—I’ve at least confirmed the redhead’s relevance as a potential source for leverage against the Turk. Emma could tell the cops plenty about Heriberto and events immediately prior to his murder. Particularly that private party where she ditched the Turk.

Full Moon stands, shows me how much taller he is. Maybe an inch. But strategically more important, and something I worry about far more, Full Moon carries, shifts and steadies his weight like my friend Luis—that is, with extreme ease, balance and athleticism.

Sensing the intended discharge of Emma’s scalding liquid, and the boiling stuff’s future location—my face—I leap sideways. What my English grandmother might have called a spot of tea catches my wrist, but the bulk of hot liquid splashes onto the floor. Distracted, however, I fail to sense the arrival of strange hands and arms before they clamp me motionless from behind. I’m startled, defusing my efforts to resist. A thick elbow slips around my throat and pulls me backward. I’m immobilized.

So much has happened so quickly, the events so threatening, my brain has pretty much ceded control to my medulla oblongata—that is, the lowest portion, or so-called lizard brain, which deals only with basic functions like breathing. Instinct. And though I am now ready to choke, kick, punch and kill, I never get the chance. While I am helpless in another man’s grip, Full Moon punches the side of my head. My vision turns into a science show, dark stars circling red and yellow suns.

I’m thrown against the giant grill and crash to the floor, ribs burning. I lash out with my right foot, but succeed only in bringing the chef’s cooking cart down on top of me. Surprised voices and the clatter of equipment circle me like hungry birds.

“Pick him up.”

My neck gets swallowed by a big hand. I am forced to rise and walk forward or have my head ripped off. Full Moon and his unknown assistant hustle me through Taki’s hibachi grill like I couldn’t pay my bill, or I’m an accused Ponzi-schemer doing the perp walk. The guy strangling me wears a yellow golf shirt.

While I am inspected by half a dozen strangers, Taki’s heavy double doors slowly part to reveal a new would-be guest. Oh my. I’m sure I know this costumed person, but my brain is always slow when processing strange information. The image is a puzzle. I recognize the purple trim on his white toga, the classic Roman nose, but he can’t be a Senator from the time of Julius Caesar. No, it’s my business partner, Vic Bonacelli, Mama Bones’ missing son, dressed in a purple-trimmed bed sheet. Poor Vic. Will our best bond salesman ever recover from last year’s gunshot-induced health problems?

“Release the barbarian to me,” Vic says. “He has stolen my wealth.”

Vic apparently doesn’t know his mother re-established family ownership of our mutual business, my controlling shares having been contracted to Mr. Vic while Mama Bones held my life in her hands. Even less surprising, Full Moon does not give a flying duck what Mr. Vic thinks or says. Full Moon lets go of my arm to punch Vic and wrestle him to the restaurant floor.

This guy with pock marks all over his face likes to hit people, I guess.

The Russian’s move was violent and quick, but so am I when required. I take advantage of Full Moon’s diverted attention by stomping with all my force on the exposed knee of the guy in the yellow golf shirt. He screams in pain and tumbles to the floor, joining the squirming pile of flesh and bed sheet that is Full Moon and my partner. Hey, look at Mr. Vic wrestle.

The customers think fighting is part of the show. I earn modest applause running toward the kitchen.

Outside, I reach for my cell phone. Mama Bones needs to hear about Vic.

Angelina Bonacelli earned her nickname one year after marrying her husband Domenic Bonacelli, a crime family soldier. What they used to call a made man. He was too handsome to resist, she told her friends. It was 1965, and her man Domenic’s world of organized crime was still influential, prosperous and sometimes violent. Domenic had invited his wife to meet for dinner after work, and at their favorite sidewalk cafe, two druggies tried to steal the brown paper shopping bag of cash Domenic had collected earlier from bookies. He would tell the hospital nurses he shouldn’t have held the cash while eating with his wife, but that evening he had, and the two heroin addicts drew pistols and demanded the money. Twenty years old and a bit impulsive, Angelina interfered, throwing her drink at the closest thief. For her effort she earned a gun-smack to the forehead, and awarded her husband a bullet in the thigh. But Asbury Park High School’s former prom queen recovered to aid her wounded husband. Knocked to her knees, she secretly snagged Domenic’s revolver from his coat pocket and shot both addicts as they argued over the bag, Angelina seriously wounding one and killing the other. She was seven months pregnant at the time with Vic’s older sister Mary, and Angelina’s swelling belly earned her double the respect of Domenic and his friends in the New York family. What in those days they called a condition also justified their new nickname for her—Mama Bones.

Tonight, wondering how she will handle so many problems at once, the widow of Domenic Bonacelli rests in her favorite wicker lawn chair on her Branchtown home’s wrap-around porch, a cool breeze and a glass of California red taking the edge off. Mama Bones thinks some of her dead husband, the wild late 1960s, guns and how lucky she was to end up a grandma. Lots of water past those bridges. She hasn’t fired a weapon since that night she killed the young drug addict, although she carries a Sig Sauer in her purse these days. For protection or reputation she is not certain which. Maybe a little of both. If these disagreements with the Turk get any worse, she might have to re-tune her shooting skills. She doesn’t even want to be capo. Why can’t Turk see that, huh?

Gianni joins her on the porch carrying a portable house phone. “Austin’s on the line. Says Vic showed up at the restaurant on Broad Street—that Taki’s.”

“Vic?” Mama Bones spills her wine grabbing the phone. “Is my Vic okay?”

“Yes and no,” Austin says. “He walked—”

“What do you mean, yes and no, you mamaluke? Is my Vic okay or not?”

“He’s okay, but Emma Tierney is a bitch,” Austin says. “Her two dogs were hustling me outside when Vic walked in and got punched. But he was holding his own when I broke free and ran out the back. Vic was giving as good as he got.”

“You left him fighting?” In the silence, Mama Bones sucks in a chest full of air. It would be nice if Smarty Pants surprised her once.

“Well, yeah,” Austin says. “I wanted to get free and call you.”

Ha. “Who punched my Vic? How come?”

“Emma Tierney told me to wait in the bar fifteen minutes while she flirted with some pock-marked pale Russian guy. So—”

“Pock-marked, pale Russian guy?” Mama Bones repeats Austin’s words out loud so Gianni can hear. He knows why she did it, too. She can tell Gianni recognizes the description.

Austin saying, “Yeah. Bald with pock marks like a moon. Skin like flour.”

“Did he have an accent?” Mama Bones asks.

“Yeah. That’s why I called him Russian.”

“It has to be Kalinski,” Gianni whispers.

Mama Bones’ heart beats faster. First time since last Monday’s Days of Our Lives recap show she’s felt her pulse pick up. How does a meeting with Emma Tierney turn into a fight with Turk’s man Kalinski? She set up Austin’s meeting with Emma by calling Barbara Ryder. Does that mean Ryder has a connection to the Turk? Makes sense. The horse owner angle again.

“Who picked the fight at Taki’s?” Mama Bones asks.

“The Russian guy hit me after I mentioned Emma’s recent relationship with Heriberto. How do you know this Kalinski?”

Okay, now she understands. Mama Bones would bet a thousand dollars Austin used the words hump and stable boy. She takes the telephone away from her mouth, reaches her hand up to Gianni’s arm and says, “Feel like some sushi?”

Gianni nods, helps Mama Bones rise from the wicker chair. He’s such a nice boy. She can clean up the spilled wine later.

“You drive,” she says. “Do we need anything from the house?”

“Nope,” Gianni says. “I have weapons and ammo in my trunk.”

“Okay, Smarty Pants,” she says to the telephone. “Stay there on Broad Street and wait for us. Me and Gianni are on our way.”