Стивен Кинг: Man With A Belly

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    Man With A Belly
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Стивен Кинг

Man With A Belly

(Cavalier, Dec. 1978)

John Bracken sat on the park bench and waited to make his hit. The bench was one of the many on the outskirts of James Memorial Park, which borders the south side of Hammond Street. In the daytime the park is overrun by kids, mother wheeling prams, and old men with bags of crumbs for the pigeons. At night it belongs to the junkies and muggers. Respectable citizens, women in particular, avoided Hammond Street after dark. But Norma Correzente was not most women.

He heard her approach on the stroke of eleven, as always. He had been there since quarter of. The beat-cop wasn't due until 11:20, and everything was on top.

He was calm, as he always was before a hit. He was a cold and efficient workman, and that was why Vittorio had hired him. Bracken was not a button-man in the Family sense; he was an independent, a journeyman. His family resided completely within his wallet. This was why he had been hired.

There was a pause in the footfalls as she paused at the intersection of Hammond and Pardis Avenue. Then she crossed, probably thinking of nothing but covering the last block, going up to her penthouse suite, and pouring a large Scotch and water.

Bracken got ready, thinking it was a strange contract. Norma Correzente, formerly Norma White of the Boston Whites, was the wife of Vito Correzente. The marriage had been headline material — rich society bitch weds notorious Vito ("I'm just a businessman"). The Wop. It was not a novelty to the clan; aging Don marries a young woman of blood. Murder by contract was not new, either. The Sicilians could put in for a patent on that if it ever became legal.

But Bracken had not been hired to kill. He tensed, ready for her.

The phone call had been long-distance; he could tell by the clickings on the line.

"Mr. Bracken?"


"I have word from Mr. Sills that you are available for work."

" I could be," Bracken answered. Benny Sills was one of several contact men who passed information from one end of a potential contract to the other, a kind of booking agent. He ran a hock-shop in a large eastern city where he also bankrolled independent smash-and-grab teams of proven reputation and sold heavy-caliber weapons to dubious political groups. "My name is Benito Torreos. Do you know it?"

"Yes." Torreos was the right-hand man-consigliare was the word, Bracken thought — of Vito Correzente.

"Good. There is a letter for you in your hotel box, Mr. Bracken. It contains a round-trip plane ticket and a check for a thousand dollars. If you are indeed available, please take both. If not, the money is yours for calling the airport and canceling the reservation."

"I'm available."

"Good," Torreos repeated. "My employer is anxious to speak to you at nine tomorrow evening, if convenient. The address is 400 Meegan Boulevard."

"I'll be there.

"Goodbye. Mr. Bracken." The phone clicked.

Bracken went downstairs to get his mail.

Men who remain active and take care of themselves all their lives can remain incredibly fit even into their late years, but… there comes a time when the clock begins to run down. Tissues fail in spite of walks, workouts, massages. The cheeks dewlap. The eyelids crennellate into wrinkled accordions. Vito Correzente had begun to enter that stage of hit life. He looked to be n well preserved seventy. Bracken put him at seventy-eight. His handshake was firm, but palsy lurked beneath, biding its time.

400 Meegan was the Graymoor Arms, and the top floor had been two $1,000-a-month suites which Correzente had convened into a single monolith, strewn with grotesque knickknacks and Byzantine antiques. Bracken thought he could smell just a whiff of pasta and oregano.

Benny the Bull admitted him, looking like an overweight pug who had found his way into his manager's wardrobe by mistake. and he stood watchfully at the door of the sunken living room until Correzente waved him away with one driftwood hand The door closed decorously, and Don Vittorio offered Bracken a cigar.

"No thank you."

Correzente nodded and lit one for himself. He was dressed in black pants and a white turtleneck; his hair, thick and rich and the color of iron, was brushed back elegantly. A large ruby glittered on his fourth finger.

"I want you to make a hit," he said. "I pay you t'irty t'ousan' before and twenty t'ousan' after.

"That's an agreeable price." He thought: too agreeable.

"You doan have to make no bones."

"No bones? You said a hit. A hit means I have to make bones."

Correzente smiled a wintery smile. For a moment he looked even older than seventy-eight. He looked older than all the ages. His accent was faint, mellow, agreeable, a mere rounding of the hard English plosive and glottal stops.

"It's my wife. I want you to rape her. Bracken waited.

"I want you to hurt her." He smiled. One gold tooth glittered mellowly in the indirect lighting.

The story was simple, and yet there was a beautiful circularity to it which Bracken appreciated. Correzente had married Norma White because he had an itch. She had accepted his suit for the same reason. But while his itch was for her body, her bloodline, and the heat of her youth, hers was a much colder thing: money. A seamy compulsion often forces a seamy liaison, and Norma White was a compulsive gambler.

Doll Vittorio was being laughed at. It could not be borne. The matter could have been remedied simply and suddenly if he had been cuckolded by some young tony in tight pants, but to be cuckolded by his own wealth was more complex and contained a bitter irony which perhaps only a Sicilian could fully grasp. Her white Protestant family had cut her off, and so she had joined the family of Vito The Wop.

He had been one of the masters coping easily with the changes from bootleg to gambling and vice to full white-collar organization, never afraid to invest where it seemed that investiture would bring a profit, never afraid to show the iron fist inside the glove. He was a man with a belly, in the Sicilian argot.

Until now.

He had struck upon the solution because it was fitting. It was pure, object lesson, and vengeance all in one. He had chosen Bracken because he was an independent and unlike many hit men, he was neither homosexual nor impotent.

Bracken took the job.

It took him two weeks to prepare. During the first, he shadowed her for brief, unconnected periods of time, watching her go to the beauty parlor, buy dresses, play golf. She was a fine, aristocratic-looking woman with dark hair, a self-confident way of moving, and sleek body lines. He took a gestalt of her personality from the way she drove (fast, cutting in and out of traffic, jumping lights), the way she spoke (clear enunciation, Back Bay accent brooking no nonsense or waste of time), her manner of dress, a hundred other personal characteristics. When he felt that he had her fairly well ticketed, he dropped her daytime activities and concentrated on her nights, which were nearly as regular as clockwork. She left the Graymoor at seven and walked (he had never seen her take a taxi or bus) the four blocks to Jarvis's, the most opulent gambling den in the city. She always went as if dressed for a lover. She left Jarvis's promptly at ten-forty-five and walked back home. She left checks of varying amounts behind her. The pitman whom Bracken bribed said that an average week at the tables was costing Vito Correzente from eight to ten thousand dollars.

Bracken began to think that he had been bought cheaply at that.

He admired Norma Correzente in a personal yet detached way. She had found her horse and was riding him. She was not cheating or sneaking. She was an aggressive woman who was taking what she needed. There were no lies involved.

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