Recession Proof: Chapter One
I had just recently received my pink slip and been unemployed for only a few days when I started searching for a job, but the recession had limited my opportunities, and everyone else's. A month later, while standing in the crowded unemployment line where fast friends are made, waiting to sign up to receive benefits, and after a lengthy discussion about jobs past and present, the guy I was talking with told me about a security company in Providence that was hiring. He scribbled down a name and number on some scrap paper and squeezed it into my open palm. I put the paper in my front pocket, behind my wallet, not wanting to pull my wallet out in this line full of unemployed characters, some of whom looked questionable. We continued talking, less about ourselves, more about the local hockey team’s Calder Cup chances, inching up in the long line which had wrapped itself around the outside of the unemployment office and half way around a full city block. I ended up making small talk with others around me, more fast friends, and losing sight of the guy who had given me the job tip... When I returned home that afternoon, I called the number. A lead is a lead. They wanted to see me immediately. I went to the address they gave me over the phone at 4:00 pm to meet with the boss.
The office was located in an older strip plaza outside the city limits, in the back of Sal’s Cleaners, where the receiving area in the front as well as the pressing area in the back, was staffed by Asian workers who smiled a lot, but didn’t speak fluent English. In the way back, behind where the cleaning business operates, was the boss.
Salvatore DeLuca is a big man, taller than six feet and not much less than 300 pounds, with a round face permanently creased with concern, and thinning black hair. If I had to guess, he’s chasing 60, and at a slower pace than he chased 50. On this day he was wearing an off-white button front shirt, the kind with a two inch hem around the waist that’s not meant to be tucked in. The air around him was heavily scented with everyday cologne, but his dark gray dress pants and black tie shoes completed what was a credible wardrobe. His introduction was brief and his eye contact never wavered. Looking directly at me, over his thick black reading glasses, with his huge hands which looked more like mitts, folded in front of him on the only part of his desktop that was uncluttered, and with an accent that’s part Rhode Island, part Italy, he explained the job. He’s a very intimidating character and he had my attention. I listened carefully to what he was saying.
The job involved surveillance and being part of a surveillance team. I was surprised, it paid very well. My mortgage payment was late, the refrigerator’s bright light had an uninterrupted path into the kitchen and with three young children and a wife that doesn’t let up, I immediately accepted the job. “The work is all in Rhode Island, mostly the downtown Providence area”, Salvatore said.
The following Monday morning, just after 7:00 am, I was seated in the back of a large four door gas guzzling, medium brown Buick LeSabre, behind the driver, with two other men who sat square and looked straight ahead. One is my direct boss, he was sitting shotgun. Because of our broad shoulders, the car is full. At first glance, my three new co-workers looked strangely similar to each other; their clothing plain and unnoticeable. I was handed a glossy black and white of the man we'll be watching, an ear piece for communication and then-- a gun. An American Derringer, a .38 special double shot with pearl inlays and a concealed leather shoulder holster, not the kind of gun I expected, not that I expected to carry a gun. It was the same kind of pistol used by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Small and easily concealed, derringers, or “hide-aways” as they were called, were the old west riverboat gamblers weapon of choice, their short barrels and inadequate grips limiting them to close range personal protection, about the width of a card table. Because they’re not revolvers, the number of barrels indicates the number of rounds. This one had two vertically aligned barrels. I was told to be careful, that it was loaded… I didn’t ask.
We parked the Buick in an underground garage off the beaten path, where, with just a slight nod, we pulled in, not needing to stop or even pause for the lot attendant, screeching our way into the first available spot. Without the slightest hesitation, the four of us got out and began walking with intention, several city blocks to our assigned locations, which were closer to the downtown area.
My job was to stand unnoticed in front of a municipal building, watching for our guy. As he approached my location, my heart started pounding, the boss' voice was calming in my ear piece as he instructed me to look away and let him walk by. He alerted me that the Feds were right behind him. I watched as three men in suits wearing dark glasses, apprehended him; violently cuffing his hands behind his back, escorting him away quickly, looking around suspiciously for witnesses in the process, hoping they hadn’t been seen. They eyeballed me, but I was under the impression that I still looked like a high school history teacher, an unemployed one, who just recently received his first pink slip, and so I remained calm and looked away…
We met back at the car where I was told I did well, didn't panic. In the car I attempted to give back the gun. The boss told me to keep it. The rest of the day was spent behind the cleaners, in a small, dimly lit room that had no windows to let in daylight. There was an old refrigerator, and a coffee maker, a large microwave oven, and some accouterments on a narrow table against the far wall. Everyone had a seat at the round wooden table in the middle of the room, a total of eight, including myself. We drank hot coffee, Chock Full of Nuts brand, ate sandwiches from the deli next door, and shared the local rag, which was required reading. I took my turn. At quitting time one of the guys pulled the plug on the coffee maker and poured the remains down the bathroom sink, which hung crooked on the concrete block wall next to the hopper.
On my way home that afternoon, alone in my black Ford Escort, listening to some unimportant but heated banter on sports talk radio, I began to think about my new job and the guy in the unemployment line who had given me Sal’s number… Then it hit me like a two-ton wrecking ball on aging brick-- I’d been carefully recruited. I wasn’t working for a security company; I was working for the MOB!