What a dump, thought Geno as he pulled the lapels of his rumpled trench coat together over a sweater and two sweatshirts. After all he had done for those bastards, they put him up in a tenement. What a load of shit. Other guys got to hide out in France after pulling a job, but the best they could do for him was a dirty little hole in the third floor of a rat trap that a junkie wouldn’t live in. Sure, he understood he had to lay low close to home in case the Cabresi Family retaliated. His family needed him handy. Still, he resented being stuck in such a dump. It was worse than prison. At least in the pen they turned on the heat once in a while.

He lit another cigarette and spread the curtains apart just far enough to peer out into the alley. If he stood at an angle, he could see where the alley merged with the street, the last tributary of a river of degradation and abandoned humanity. Occasionally, the cold wind forced some of the human flotsam up into the alley, up against the back wall behind the row of trash cans where they squatted in the filth, shivering. More than once Geno had unzipped his pants, preparing to relieve his bladder onto their heads, but the lights from the street had always driven him back.

Where was that damn delivery boy, he wondered. He had ordered the pizza almost two hours ago, and his stomach was making more noise than the pipes that shrieked behind the cracked plaster of the knife blade thin walls.

“Screw this,” he muttered, reaching for the phone on the night stand beside the mass of stained rags and springs that was supposed to pass for a bed. He hammered out the number of the pizza parlor and yelled through the static. “Where’s my damn pizza?” A voice asked for his address and he shouted it into the phone.

“I’m sorry,” said the voice. “The girl who took your order is new and didn’t know you are out of our delivery area. We tried to call you back, but you weren’t home.”


“Of course I was here,” Geno bellowed. “I’m always fucking here! Can’t you just send me a goddamn pizza?”

“I’m sorry,” said the voice. “We can’t deliver to that area. You can come and pick your order up if you like.”

“No, I can’t come pick it up! I’m stuck in this filthy shithole! Listen, I’ll pay you double to deliver that pizza.”

“I’m sorry. We can’t—“

Geno slammed the phone down, cracking the receiver. He lit another cigarette and glared at the battered phonebook on the table before him. He had already called every pizza parlor listed and had found none willing to send a driver into the slum in which he was confined. With a growl, he hurled the phonebook at the wall and was about to send the table after it when he spotted something on the floor. From where he was standing, he could just make out the words “WE DELIVER” in faded red letters on the face of a yellowed pamphlet. Must have fallen out of the phonebook, he decided as he walked over to stare at it. It looked damp, like it had been pissed on, and he hesitated to touch it. Standing over it, he dialed the number.

“How can we serve you?” asked the voice on the phone, which was suddenly free from static. There was something about the voice Geno didn’t like, but there wasn’t much he did like these days, and he was hungry. He ordered a steak sandwich and then settled into a glorified lawn chair by the window to watch for the delivery boy.

As he watched a man crawl out of a cardboard box to urinate on the graffiti-scarred wall of the alley, he wondered how he had ended up back in such a hell. He had been born in a building not unlike the one in which he was now confined. He had lived in those streets with filth like the man below, fighting his way through each miserable day. It had been in a room like this that his mother had died, coughing up blood while he shivered in the corner, afraid the rats would get to her before the men came to haul her away. He recalled his stomach had been empty then as well. He had always lived with hunger. It had been hunger that had motivated him to make his first kill. Beating an old man to death for a pocket full of change and a can of nuts, he had learned how to fill his stomach. Eventually, he met the right people, people who appreciated his talents, and he had shot and stabbed his way out of the slums. On a ladder of corpses he had climbed out of this pit, only to be cast back down when the ladder got too high.

For him, the top of the ladder had been a man named Cabresi. Cabresi was the man he had to knock off if he were to wall off the slums—and the hunger—forever. It was an important hit. Successfully completing the job meant a big promotion within the ranks of the organization. All of his dreams were in his grasp.

“God damn that old bitch,” he muttered as he watched a roach crawl across the chipped paint of the windowsill. It was because of that old woman he had been cast back down into the squalor. No one was supposed to be home. The woman had surprised him. Before he realized it, he had fired his gun. The old woman was dead. It was too late to take back the bullet. He had killed a civilian, breaking the code in the worst way. Suddenly, he was no longer on his way up. There were even some in his own organization who wanted him killed in the hope of forestalling retaliation against their own families.

The walls rattled as something thudded against the door. Geno leapt up, drawing his revolver. Silently, he crept over to the door and pressed his ear against it. He could hear breathing on the other side. Someone in the hall strained to take in the stale, cold air, gasping loudly before falling silent. Geno waited, his hand sweating on the handle of his gun. For a moment, he thought he heard footsteps on the stairs, but then the rasping resumed, and there was another thump on the door, as though something soft and wet had been thrown against it.

“Anybody home? I’m here with your order.” said a thin voice, sounding as though it came from across a vast distance as it echoed through the corridor beyond the door.

“Just leave it,” ordered Geno, not trusting the voice. After all, he had been watching the alley leading to the entrance of the building, and had seen no one enter.

“It’ll be 7 bucks,” said the voice.

“Here,” said Geno, sliding a five and two ones under the door. “Take it and get lost.”

He listened until the stairs no longer creaked and then ran to the window. Seeing no one, he listened at the door again. Was someone still out there, ready to put a bullet in his head as soon as he opened the door? He pulled back the latch and thrust his gun out ahead of him into the hall. The hall was empty except for the small brown bag at his feet. He prodded the bag with the toe of his shoe, testing its weight. Satisfied the bag did not contain explosives, Geno kicked it into his room and slammed the door shut. For several minutes he leaned against the door, acutely aware of every creak and hiss in the old building. Despite the cold, his shirt was damp with perspiration.

His stomach growling, he set the bag upon the table and was about to tear into it when he noticed the long slip of paper stapled to the top. Though he had ordered only one item, the slip was covered with writing. Upon closer inspection, he saw it was a list of names. The last name on the list, written larger than the rest, was Marie Cabresi. At the bottom of the list, “paid in full” had been stamped in red ink.

They had found him! Confident he could not escape, they were taunting him, playing with him. He was certain they were on their way to kill him at that very moment. He reached for the phone to call for help. Maybe it wasn’t too late! Some of the boys had to still be on his side! As he was dialing, he thought of the list, the list of all the men he had killed. How, he wondered, could his enemies have such a list? Only the men who had ordered these murders could have compiled it. If that were the case, he was screwed. He hung up the phone.

He could understand why the organization wanted him dead, but the list no longer made sense to him. It was potential evidence against its authors. Perhaps he was wrong; perhaps it had not been sent by his own people. He tried to remember the first few names on the list. Hadn’t he seen Wilber Fisk’s name printed on that paper? Fisk’s death had been a personal matter, a hit not sanctioned by the organization. He had taken extra care to conceal his role in Fisk’s demise and was certain no one had connected him to the crime.

He grabbed the bag, intending to turn it so he could read the list, but quickly pulled his hand back. His fingertips glistened in the dim light of the room’s solitary lamp. As he rubbed them together, they cling to one another, temporarily bound by a crimson paste. Something in the room smelled sour.

He stood there, staring at his fingers, until he became aware of a slight, but unsettling noise, the patter of droplets falling from the table onto his shoe. The bag seemed to be bleeding. In his mind, he followed the stream of blood, a river fed by the corpses of men he had murdered, to the quivering lips of his mother. He was back there again, a small hungry child, watching the blood bubble and ooze from his mother’s mouth, an open wound gurgling his name. Her skin had been as yellow as the faded pamphlet that had promised to end his hunger.

Where was that damn pamphlet? He dialed the number of the restaurant as he remembered it and listened through the static as a voice, not unlike the one voice on the other side of the door, informed him he had reached a mortuary. Unsure of what he was hearing, he listened to what was apparently a recorded message as it listed the services for the following day until he heard the name Cabresi, pronounced as though on cue to coincide with the fading of the static. He tried to throw the receiver to the floor, but the cord was wound around his wrist. The receiver made an arch, swinging back to collide with his knee.

“…will be held tomorrow at 3:30,” he heard the voice on the receiver announce.

He grabbed it with both hands, strangling it. Wires bulged from its fractured neck, but still it defied him.

“Services for Thomas Re…”

He smashed it down upon the table, and snapping in two. For several minutes, he stood there, glaring at the mass of shattered plastic and wires dangling from the cord still wrapped around his wrist.

Someone in the building started coughing.

“Momma? I’m coming, Momma,” he said, shaking the cord from his arm. He had already taken several steps toward the bedroom before he remembered his mother was dead. Or was she? He wasn’t sure anymore. The only thing he was certain of was the ache in his belly. He was so very hungry. He looked at the bag on the table. It could be poison, he thought. The bag could contain someone’s idea of noiseless solution to a very loud and messy problem.

The pipes hissed his name, and again he started for the bedroom, shrinking with each step. He was almost a boy again by the time he reached the door.

“Gennie! Gennie!” the pipes were wailing. “Gennie!” Only his mother had ever called him that.

His hand was on the knob when he again looked back toward the bag. A few seconds later, he was a man again, tearing open the bag. Did the contents smell faintly of almonds? He ripped off the wrapper and stared at the sandwich in his quivering hand, trying to work up the nerve to bit into it.


When the landlord found Geno, he was already dead. His emaciated corpse sat slumped over the table where he had starved to death. His hand, resting on the table beside his head, showed signs of having provided a meal for the rats that infested the apartment, though the uneaten sandwich still gripped in that hand remained untouched.