The Albatross Is Dead

by Paul Hook

This story is dedicated to my good friend Lee. Enjoy the laughs.

I’d heard it three times, yet it was nailing diarrhea to the wall. My brain just didn’t comprehend what Tony told me.

A slap across my face felt like a sack of nickels. I staggered, but righted myself. Fight mode had been switched to full and I came out swinging at Tony.

“Easy, Guido. Easy,” said Tony.

Sal grabbed me from behind in a bear hug. The smell of sardines wafting into my nostrils, my fists neutralized. Sal had a thing for cans of sardines. It was honestly disgusting, but who am I to judge? I looked at his arms and saw the dolphin tattoo poking through his wiry, black hair. His muscles rippled as they strained against my heaving chest.\

“Shhhhh,” Sal whispered into my ears. Breath raspy, I struggled to gain composure. 

In ten seconds, I was calm, cool and collected. Sal released me and moved to the side, enacting a triangular formation with the rest of us. Adrenaline still had my biceps pulsing, but I was not going to hit anyone.

“How did he die?” I asked.

“Like anyone, Guido,” Tony said. “His heart stopped pumping. What’d you think happened? He was eating pasta and choked on some linguini noodles. I was with him.”

“Why didn’t you do anything to save him, Tony?” I asked, unable to understand how a man like The Albatross had died. He seemed invincible to me. I threw my gaze towards Sal, but he just stood there, rigid and motionless. 

It was Tony who answered my question, again. “It was a shitty way to go. Believe me, I tried to save him. But what do I know about the Heinrich manoeuvre?”

Shaking my head in disbelief, I figured it wasn’t worth it to correct him.

“What does this mean for us? He was my mentor.” I was rudderless. Who else was going to teach me the fine art of strangulation with garrotes or blood chokes? Who could possibly explain to me the complexities of death by poison and the particularly gruesome Sicilian raccoon? I bought an instructional DVD on the dark web to get up to speed on it, but nothing replaces the real thing with an expert helping you subtly carve up the skin around someone’s eyes. That soothing voice telling you not to hesitate and to maintain pressure. There was no way I was ready to push past the apprentice assassin with The Albatross dead.

In a word: unfair. Yes, you may say that I was being a baby about it, but I’d planned my entire life around it. From the time I could steal meatballs from the stove without getting hit by nonna’s big, wooden spoon, I had always dreamed of working for the family. I couldn’t push drugs or handle money, but I had no hard feelings about watching someone bleed out. The family doctor said I had Alexithymia, I didn’t care what he said about being normal or not. I was able to shrug things off, no matter how bad they were for me or others. That made me stand out and The Albatross groomed me early.

He was unconventional – old school – in his methods. I apprenticed by working in a barbershop, honing my skills with a straight razor. He taught me how to slit people’s throats while I gave men a close shave. I never once nicked a customer, but after six months, I knew the pressure required to sever an artery or jugular. After that, it was six months of carpentry. Hammers, saws, nail guns and every other tool imaginable used to build houses, join wood, and make furniture became the weapons I would use as a hitman for the mafia.

The Albatross was a wealth of knowledge. He studied medicine at university and imparted each and every bit of Latin on me. Nodes of nerves, joints, tendons and airways. Pain receptors, blind spots and instant kill locations. I ate up the information. I was voracious in my training. The more eager I became, the more the Albatross wanted to share with me. His protetto (protégé for you non-Italians) was what he called me.

“Relax, Guido,” Tony said as if having read my thoughts. “Sal will teach you. He’s killed fourteen people. Whattaya worried about? Stop crying and get back to work.”

Sal nodded in my direction. “It’s true, Guido. I’ll take you under my wing. We’ll have to beef you up though. Your chicken arms are no good for throwing punches.”

Resigned to my fate, I nodded.

He wouldn’t get it. Finesse is the joy when taking someone’s life. The Albatross understood that. These idioti didn’t understand.

So, I did the only thing I could. I waited for them to turn back towards the football match on the TV and I pulled out my gun. I shot both of them in the kneecaps and finished them off with the piano wire given to me by the Albatross as a birthday gift. It wasn’t the best I could do, but I pictured him admiring my work.

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