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The Kid Who Beat Mosconi
by Ace Toscano
The girl had been moving along at a pretty good clip, so, when the light changed, rather than swing over into the left-hand lane, he stayed behind her.
While stopped, she turned her attention to the passenger's side seat and started rummaging around, probably through her purse, he figured, and was still rapt in the hunt when the light changed green.
Cimino didn't honk. He knew better. Rather than provoke the full range of reactions that simple sound might produce, he just waited.
Six or seven seconds later, she finally looked up, saw the green, and started off with an exaggerated lack of haste. She was trying to communicate to him that the reason she had been caught napping at the light was she had all the time in the world to get to wherever she was going, and time itself was of no importance to her. She preferred to live in what used to be referred to as "The Now." Of course, Cimino knew that was a load of crap. After all, he'd been following her for seven or eight miles and at 60 mph had had a hard time keeping up. Besides, he'd driven cabs and limos in New York and New Jersey for more than twenty years and knew all the moves. He wasn't about to fall for an amateur's con job.
She continued her leisurely pace for about ten seconds, then tromped on the gas. He couldn't help but smile.
Cimino used to think of his daughter at times like this. Not knowing for sure how she had turned out--a period of sixteen years had gone by without him seeing or hearing from her--he had liked to think that, upon realizing the light had changed, she would've scolded herself, and then sped off trying to make up the lost seconds. No need to indulge herself with the pretense and psychotic bullshit her mother's family dealt in, just step on the gas and go.
He used to amuse himself with thoughts like that, but not anymore. He now knew his daughter was not the person of his daydreams, not in the least.
Nine-thirty A.M. and it was already sweltering. He switched on the air, then glanced over his shoulder at the Winny lying across the backseat along with the box of shells.
Beside him, on the passenger's seat, rested his cell phone. He considered calling Pete, then discarded the idea. No sense taking the risk. Pete was one of the few friends he had down here, someone who knew who he was, or who he once had been, someone who gave him his due respect.
* * * * *
Frankie Cimino had grown up in Teasdale's Billiard Academy, a popular upstate N.Y. haunt. By age sixteen, he had ascended to the upper strata of local players. A cocky, swaggering, slick-stroking phenom, his finest moment had come in 1963 when, in a straight pool exhibition, he had whipped the legendary Willie Mosconi by running 114 balls and out.
In a town where nothing much ever happened, a local kid beating Willie Mosconi was a big something and the papers made a big deal about it. Then the wire services picked up on it and, like that, Frankie Cimino had become a celebrity.
Suddenly, guys who had never so much as tossed him a nod were patting him on the back, shaking his hand, and vying to be his best buddy. Even the girls, some three and four years older than him, now saw in him a special something that they hadn't noticed before.
"Frankie Cimino," Pete had repeated that day they met. Cimino had been banging the balls around on table number one at the local pool room. "Not the Frankie Cimino?"
"The only one I know about who isn't dead."
"The Kid Who Beat Mosconi?"
Cimino had been practicing banks. He stopped and eyed Pete. "That was a long time ago. How you know about that?"
"The Kid Who Beat Mosconi? Man, you were famous! Frankie Cimino... Wait 'til I tell my buddy, Bobby. He played you once at the amateur tournament at the armory out on Long Island. You beat the piss out of him, 125 to 24, or something like that, to get to the finals. Remember that?"
Cimino shook his head. "All I remember is that I came in second. I got a trophy home somewhere that says so."
"Yeah, you let some college kid beat you. He kept playing you safe, and you kept trying these outrageous shots. You almost beat him anyway." Then Pete turned to the local punks who were hanging out and drinking beer and said with profound respect, "I can't believe I ran into this guy. He beat Willie freakin' Mosconi."
* * * * *
He thought of calling Ellie but that was a bad idea on all levels. She'd be at work, now, and she had never liked to take personal calls on the job. Funny, how she left him squawking that she was tired of working and supporting his lazy ass and that she was going to find herself somebody who would take care of her for a change, and here she was still working and her caretaker, Ronald, was recuperating from triple bypass with no prospects other than Medicare and disability. Sorry, sweetheart, dem's the breaks.
He caught his reflection in the mirror and noticed streaks of sweat. As he mopped his brow and considered that it was pretty early to get the sweats, it came to him. "Sugar!" Jesus F. Christ! Cimino pulled off the road into a mini-mall parking lot and turned into the first open slot.
He fumbled around in his pants pocket for a few seconds, and then pulled out a container of glucose tablets. He popped a couple into his mouth. A couple more minutes and he might have passed out at the wheel. That would've screwed his day up, royal. For good measure, he popped a few more.
Knowing it would take a few minutes for the tabs to start working, he leaned back and closed his eyes. There was no rush.
Ellie used to get pissed off when he let his sugar dip. "I can't believe you!" she'd say. "You're a diabetic! You're on insulin! How can you forget to eat?" Then, she'd add, "You know, I can't be with you 24 hours a day." Maybe, that was her way of preparing him for divorce.
He opened the glove box, removed a pack of peanut butter crackers, and wolfed them down. Not exactly a Happy Meal, he thought, but enough carbs to get him to lunch.
Ten minutes passed. Feeling better, he got back on the road. He didn't want to draw attention to the car he had rented using fake ID and plastic to match.
* * * * *
Thanksgiving Days... they would never be the same.
Eight years after Cimino and Ellie had moved to Florida, Ellie's mother, Martha Heddy, had yet to invite them over for Thanksgiving dinner. This mystified Ellie and, on a deeper unspoken level, saddened her, because she had moved to Florida mainly to be closer to her family. There was nothing mystifying about it for Cimino, though. He had been studying the Heddy clan for years and you didn't have to be a Harvard graduate to understand why they shunned his Ellie--they were jealous.
She was everything they were not. Ellie was beautiful. The rest of them, her mother and her four siblings, looked like the product of ten generations of inbreeding. Because visitors were forever raving about how beautiful Ellie had been as a child, old Martha had long ago removed her baby pictures from the shelves and walls of the living room. Another reason for their removal, Cimino figured, was that when placed among that gallery of misshapen heads, empty stares and toothless grins, Ellie's photos were better than a sworn affidavit attesting to the old lady's infidelity and promiscuous past.
Something else irked them--Ellie was successful. She had been working for Occidental Imports for seven years and had recently been named regional manager, overseeing more than a dozen stores. Meanwhile, her useless older siblings, Stephen and Lynne, both still at home, both suffering from gender confusion, both living on the old lady's social security, hadn't earned a nickel since the Kennedy administration and reports of them having earned something back then were probably exaggerated. Her two little brothers, James Earl and Billy Bob, were a couple of shiftless dawn-to-dawn beer-guzzling pot-smoking redneck idiots. They drove around all day in their old red Ford F150--Cimino had passed it on to them at Ellie's insistence--blasting music and terrorizing anyone who got between them and their next six-pack.
When Ellie did arrange a visit, Martha and company went out of their way to be rude and to let it be known that her presence was a major inconvenience. They excluded her from their conversations which were mostly about things and events unknown to the outer world. And when she did make reference to things going on in her life, she was subjected to Martha's belittling comments. If she mentioned having friends over for dinner, the old lady would say, "You cook for people! That's a joke." When she told them she exercised every morning, Martha commented, "You're evidently not doing enough. You're heavier now than the last time I saw you." And when Ellie mentioned work, the old lady would ask, "How did you ever get that job, anyway? I wouldn't think you're bright enough for a job like that."
The old witch would make these astute pronouncements from her permanent roost on the sofa, her bony legs up on the coffee table, with her feet resting on a pillow, and another pillow placed carefully behind her head. Stephen and Lynne sat flanking the old girl and every few moments would jump up to serve her. "I'm feeling a little light headed. Could I have some tea?" "My neck hurts. Fix my pillow." "Oh, oh, oh--my heart's fluttering. Get me my pills."
Cimino's favorite mini-drama involved the old lady gobbing into a tissue, looking at it, and announcing with tearful alarm, "I'm hemorrhaging." Once, out of curiosity, he had joined the others in their examination of the befouled Kleenex, but as hard as he looked, he saw nothing but spit, not even a trace of pink. When he mentioned this, everyone looked at him as though he lacked sufficient medical training to grasp the seriousness of the situation. From then on, he ignored all the old lady's complaints.
In private, Ellie would allow that her mother was a bit of a hypochondriac. "Hypochondriac, my ass!" Cimino would argue. "Hypochondriacs actually believe they're sick. You're old lady knows there's nothing wrong with her. She just pretends so she can control those nitwits around her."
Anyway, Ellie finally arrived at the conclusion that her old lady's reluctance to invite them was related to the enormous expense of feeding two extra people. So, for this one Thanksgiving she got it into her head to bake a few pies, and drop by the shackienda for dessert. No calling in advance, no hinting for an invitation, just dropping by on the spur of the moment. Cimino went on record as not liking the idea since he was doing the driving and the old lady lived on Florida's west coast, 200 miles away.
* * * * *
He and his daughter, Cindy, had had a brief reunion, of sorts, a few years back.
One morning, out of the blue, he had found an email from her in his in-box. It didn't say much, just, "I thought you might like to see these." Attached were a half-dozen wedding photos. He had called Ellie at work and she had immediately rushed home to see them. Tears left black trails down her face as she repeated over and over, "She's so beautiful."
Over the years, the topic being too painful, they had never talked much about Cindy. Now, they could talk of nothing else.
He constructed a carefully worded reply thanking her for the pictures, telling her it was nice hearing from her and adding that her mother thought the wedding photos were beautiful. It ended, "If you get a chance, let us know how you are doing."
Next day, Cindy reported back that both she and her husband were Yankees fanatics and that they attended as many games as they could. "She's you're daughter, all right," observed Ellie. That same day Cimino got a hold of the Yankees ticket office and ordered a thousand dollar gift certificate. When Cindy received it, she told him he was the best father in the world. Old fool that he was, Cimino bought it.
Somewhat coincidentally (as things later unraveled, he learned that Ellie had leaked the information to her sister, Lynne, during one of her weekly phone calls home), Cimino had been divesting himself of his baseball card collection. When Cindy emailed him saying how much she envied him for having been able to watch Mantle and Berra play in their prime, he immediately stopped selling cards on eBay and started making plans to send all of them to his little girl. Luckily, up until then he had only been unloading commons and minor stars from the 50's. He still had all of his good cards, the most valuable of which was a Near Mint 1957 Tops featuring Yogi and the Mick side-by-side on the dugout steps. Value: $500 plus.
So, one day he packed up and mailed out all his Ernie Banks cards, all his Stan Musial cards, all his Ted Williams, Duke Snider, and Roy Campanella cards, his Frank Robinson, Whitey Ford, and Willie Mays cards, his prized '57 Mantle/Berra worth $500 plus, along with a couple dozen other Hall-of-Famers' cards.
They received one more email from her. In it, she informed them that the cards had arrived, adding that they would hardly make up for the years of abuse she had suffered at his and Ellie's hands. She then went into a near-psychotic tirade, airing an endless list of complaints, all of which were either gross exaggerations and distortions of the truth or out and out lies. For example, she condemned them for having fed her meat as a child, claiming that meat was bad for you and they should've known it. If she had kids, she went on, she would never feed them the poison Ellie used to prepare. She would raise them as vegans.
She also insisted that they had deprived her of medical treatment, citing as proof the fact that they had been too cheap to fill a prescription her pediatrician had written when she was 13 for anti-acne pills. This was minutely true. They had chosen against getting the pills, not because of the expense, but because they were already concerned about the long term effects of the anti-convulsant she had been taking since she was six. They weren't about to further pollute her system for the sake of a couple adolescent zits. Her harangue, mercifully, made no mention of the tennis, voice and ice skating lessons her mother used to cart her ass to, or her trips to summer camp, all of which, most assuredly, had been just as harmful to her development.
Most disturbing to Cimino was Cindy's claim that she had been the victim of frequent beatings. That was ridiculous. For one thing, she had never been beaten, just whacked in the ass now and then. And second, he could count on the fingers of one hand the times it had been necessary to give her a swat or two, like the time during one of her tantrums she sunk her teeth into his stomach. It took several good whacks on the ass to get her to let go, but there was nothing abusive about that--she had drawn blood, for Christ's sake. And her mother, gentle, loving Ellie, had never given her more than a gentle swat on the can. If anything, and Cimino was absolutely sure of this, the kid hadn't been smacked enough.
Cimino replied, explaining in detail where and why she was wrong, but the email kept coming back as "undeliverable." She had stayed in touch just long enough to con him out of a thousand bucks worth of Yankees tickets and a baseball card collection. Then she had disappeared.
* * * * *
It was ten o'clock when he pulled into the McDonalds on SR 17. He picked up a quarter pound cheeseburger with fries at the drive-through window, circled to a secluded spot, stopped, popped the hood and exited the car just long enough to wedge the bag into a space atop the wheel well. An old cab driver's trick, he knew his lunch would stay warm there.
Four miles further east, he came to a Winn-Dixie Marketplace. He skirted the parking lot staying as far from the building as possible as he moved toward the line of shops at the far end of the strip. There it was, Celeste's House of Beauty. Out front sat the silver mini-van. He parked three rows beyond it.
* * * * *
Cimino had complained to Ellie that bringing two pumpkin pies, along with the one mincemeat she had baked especially for the old lady, was overdoing it. He would have preferred that she left one at home for him. Ellie contended that most likely only her mother would eat the mincemeat while everyone else would prefer the pumpkin. This necessitated the two pies. Besides, she added, there was no way of telling for sure how many people would be there. Her brothers and sisters had friends, plus there were the uncles and aunts her mother was always complaining about who liked to drop by for free food.
"Good thing I didn't listen to you," she said as she lifted the pie boxes out of the cooler and stacked them in his hands. She had made a special trip to a local baker to get the boxes.
"Maybe somebody died," said Cimino as he surveyed the cars lined up outside the Heddy place. It was a plain cinder block house, painted white. They had lived there almost four years, now, ever since Ellie had persuaded them with a forty-thousand dollar inducement to leave the exclusive Mystic Highlands Mobile Home Park, popularly known, because of its open channel sewage plan, as Shit River.
"Don't start," she said.
"Look," he added, nodding at a gray SUV, "New York plates."
* * * * *
The night their daughter was born a nurse, dressed the way nurses used to dress, came into the waiting room and asked him if, in the event it was a boy, they wanted the baby circumcised. Too embarrassed to admit that he didn't know what circumcision was, he stammered for a few beats and then, trying to be shrewd, asked, "What do people usually do?"
"More and more people are having it done," she responded, "for hygienic reasons."
So, not knowing what was involved, yet feeling pressured to respond, he opted in favor of the procedure. Still, he couldn't shake the thought that he may have done something wrong, something that could cause a baby boy irreparable harm. Scared shitless, with no one to confer with, he closed his eyes and prayed with his entire being that the baby was a girl.
He had never had a chance to tell Cindy that story.
And he thought she might like to know that her epilepsy wasn't hereditary. It was caused by that idiot obstetrician her grandmother had insisted they use. Rather than be late for his golf game, he had yanked her out with forceps. The red marks on her head had lasted three months.
There was another night he would never forget, one probably not worth bringing up. That night he had worked late and desperately needed some sleep but Cindy was hell-bent on depriving him of it. He could remember lying in bed with a pillow wrapped around his head while she shook the rafters with an unrelenting fit of crying. She howled and she howled, and would not stop. Ellie changed her, fed her, held her, rocked her, and even tried to reason with her, all in vain. Praying fervently for her to stop, he gritted his teeth and fought the urge to leap out of bed and whack her behind. "She can't help it," Ellie had said sensing his extreme annoyance. "She's teething." For years, he had felt lingering guilt and shame over the anger that had gripped him that night. "What kind of a father could harbor such rage toward his own baby?" he would ask himself. But recent news reports of parents who had shaken the life out of their babies or had beaten them to death had eased his mind on that score. He at least had held himself in check.
* * * * *
They had moved around a lot--to Wyoming, Oregon, California, Oregon again, then back home to New York. Cimino had decided that the anxieties connected with being a new kid in school and having to make friends over and over again had a lot to do with the way Cindy turned out. That and her abhorrence of the word "no."
Somewhere along the line, having learned that she could get pity and sympathy in ample portions by exaggerating to her friends every instance of her not getting her way into a horrific episode of harsh and unjust treatment, she had become a pity glutton. Something else, Cimino reasoned, she must have inherited from her grandmother.
When she turned 16, Cimino used his connections to get Cindy a job at a hamburger joint in the mall. He soon regretted it. They hadn't bogged her down with a lot of restrictions, and requested only that she not work past 10 o'clock on school nights. That proved to be too much to ask. Night after night she'd work until closing time and, by the time she wandered through the door, it was 1:30 AM. Finally, fed up, Ellie took back her house key and informed her that from now on, she would have to get home by ten-thirty or else no one would be awake to let her in. Well, to the kid's warped mind that translated to her being kicked out of the house. She didn't come home from Burger-Mundo that night and next they heard she was living with a friend.
* * * * *
He removed a water bottle from his cooler and sipped it, his eyes steady on the door. Thirty-five minutes later, they emerged, the old lady wearing sunglasses and a black kerchief which she grasped tightly by the knot as if the wind might rip it and her tight white curls right off her head. This battle continued all the while she waited for Lynne to fetch the van.
By the time Lynne pulled up to the curb outside Celeste's House of Beauty, Cimino had already exited the parking lot. There was no need to trail them since he knew where they were headed. He would precede as planned to that spot where the marsh crowded the road and the left shoulder was overgrown with brush and surprise them there.
* * * * *
Billy Bob answered the door. Obviously, surprised by their presence, he glanced back over his shoulder. "Do they know you're coming?" he asked.
"It's a surprise," said Ellie, kissing his cheek as she breezed by. "Happy Thanksgiving."
"Cut the crap," he responded, wiping it off.
"No kiss from me," said Cimino. "Here, make yourself useful," he added as he handed off the pies and set off after his wife.
"Who is it?" screeched Lynne from somewhere inside.
"Just Ellie and Frank," he called back, nonchalantly. "They bought us some pies."
"Made you some pies," corrected Cimino. "Two pumpkin and a mincemeat."
"Mincemeat, huh? Ma loves mincemeat."
Ellie, smiling, full of holiday spirit, led the procession through the house to the kitchen. There, she stopped dead. Cimino came up beside her and saw why.
"Up yours, Eleanor."
Cimino pushed his way past Ellie. "Don't you talk to your mother like that."
"Screw you, Frank."
"What's going on, here?" asked Ellie, looking from her mother to Lynne.
"This is your doing," Cindy said, glaring at her grandmother.
"No, it's not," vowed the old lady. "I didn't know..."
"You wanted a Jerry Springer moment, I guess? Is that it, Grandma?" asked Cindy as she rose from her chair. "Well, here it is: Fuck! You! All!"
"No one invited them," said Lynne.
"I don't freakin' believe you," said Cindy. She and the young man beside her--not the young man from the wedding photos, Cimino noted--fled out the backdoor.
"I didn't know," repeated the old lady, appealing to anyone. She worked her eyes, trying to embellish the moment with a few tears, but couldn't squeeze out a drop. Then, moving on to the I-can't-breathe scenario, she brought her hands to her chest and started gasping. A fine performance but no one was paying attention. Exasperated, she gave Lynne a shove. "Go-go-go," she snapped with a nod toward the backdoor.
Lynne hurried off.
All groped around through the haze of their own thoughts for a long moment. It was the old lady who finally broke the silence. "Whatever gave you the idea that you could bake, anyway?" she said to Ellie. "Thank God, we've already had dessert."
"Yeah," added James Earl, "Cindy always bakes the pies on Thanksgiving."
Cindy always bakes the pies on Thanksgiving.
Without a word, Ellie turned and headed for the front door. Cimino followed, stopping only long enough to reclaim the pies from Billy Bob. As they walked toward the car, he heard giggling, and then James Earl yelled, "Got anymore baseball cards?" That brought a burst of laughter.
* * * * *
As they drew nearer, he could see the white spirals kicked up by their tires. It occurred to him that he could still call it off, but, no, that wouldn't be right. He had to go on. When they came to the rental car blocking the road, they would be forced to stop. Lynne would get out to see what was up and he would stroll out from behind the brush and introduce her first, then the old lady, to the faster handling, faster pumping Winchester 1300 Defender. He'd take their purses to make it look like a robbery and then move on to a spot he knew that overlooked the beach. There he would take a moment to sit back, watch the kids play, and enjoy his burger.
(All characters and events depicted in this story are fictitious.)
Copyright © 2004- by Ace Toscano. All rights reserved.