By Mickey S
Richie was sent to a federal prison in Illinois, far enough away that I wasn't able to visit him. I did write to him quite often at first , but he urged me to cool it. I knew we had to be careful what we wrote because his mail was screened and even though I watched the words I used he convinced me that if I kept writing every week someone would start to question our relationship. It wasn't like I had all that much to say anyway. I was still attending meetings of the local gay group and occasionally going out with friends I'd made there. I saw my parents and family now and then but most of my life was taken up with the store. Once he'd told me every detail of life behind bars, Richie didn't have a lot to say either. He did keep telling me that I should put him in the past and move on with my life. I knew that was the logical thing to do but I just couldn't let go.
Considering I was 23 years old and I'd been used to having sex at least a couple of times a week for years, I was surprised to find that I had no sex drive at all after Richie was sent away. I loved him and wanted him but I had no interest in anyone else. Looking back I can now see that Richie was deliberately weaning me from him over the course of that first year. He took longer and longer to respond to my letters, which resulted in my writing less often.
I was lonely and for the most part just going through the motions every day. On the positive side, all of the time I devoted to my business paid off. The first year after I opened the shop I barely broke even but fortunately my living expenses were low. The second year, as I devoted more time and energy to it, the business started to make a profit. The house was paid for and I didn't have much of a social life so I still didn't need much money to get by, but I was a lot more comfortable. By the time I was ready to get out and build a life for myself, I was doing all right financially.
A year or so after Richie went to prison my sex drive returned with a vengeance. I'd been going to the clubs in the city with friends now and then but I started going on my own. I discovered the joys of casual anonymous sex in backroom bars and the baths. It was really all I could handle at the time, lots of physical pleasure with absolutely no personal interaction. Even more than the orgasms, I needed physical contact, but I had no interest in any more than that. In a way I was in the right place at the right time. The gay scene in New York in the late seventies truly was, in the words of a song released several years later, so many men, so little time. I made the most of it, impersonally fucking my way through countless, faceless men. Or rather, they fucked their way through me.
After a while, I was able to restore some balance to my life. I slowly realized that the limited physical contact of anonymous sex only satisfied my cravings for a short time. What I needed was a human connection, not just a physical one. So I began to concentrate more on my friends and even started dating. I had a few short relationships, one of them lasting nearly a year, but none came close to the intensity of my feelings for Richie. My friends knew I'd had a long relationship with a married man that had ended badly, but I never told anyone who that man was. I didn't want to out Richie and I was also a bit nervous about what they'd think of me.
While I didn't fall in love again, I had a good life. I had a successful business, my family, a few good friends and a satisfying social life. I still wrote to Richie but not very often. I couldn't quite shake him from my life. It wasn't as though I was waiting for him; he'd made it clear that with his record and reputation he wouldn't be eligible for parole for at least ten years, even if he were on his best behavior. But it was comforting to know he was still there for me, even in such a limited capacity.
One minor change in my life since Richie's trial was that I paid more attention to current events. I'd never been one to read the newspaper regularly or even watch the news on TV much, but after devouring every piece of information I could get on the trial I was hooked on the news. I subscribed to the local paper and read the whole thing every day. Well, maybe not the sports section. I paid special attention to anything related to the mob, not that I knew about Richie's associates or former business activities. The only name that ever rang a bell was Uncle Johnny`s.
But one day nearly eight years into Richie's incarceration a headline jumped out at me. Anthony Palermo, age 28, had been found dead from a drug overdose in a local motel. While the article talked about Tony's fledgling career with the mob and his past drug problems, most of it was devoted to a recap of his father's criminal career. I knew how devoted Richie was to his family and how frustrated he'd been with his son's problems and his inability to help him overcome them. Hearing about this while locked up a thousand miles away must have been horrible and frustrating for him.
I went to the funeral. I'd never met Tony but I'd heard a lot about him from Richie over the years. I was a little nervous about who would be at the funeral and what they might think of a stranger like me there, but I needn't have worried. There were a number of reporters there and I was able to blend in with the crowd. I did see Richie's wife Marie for the first and only time, though. For some reason I'd always pictured her as short and plump but she was average height and slender. I couldn't see her face because of the heavy black veil covering it. I knew about her heart trouble so I expected her to be somewhat fragile. She walked with a bit of trouble, leaning heavily on the arm of Uncle Johnny. He was the only person at the funeral I knew. At one point he looked straight at me and narrowed his eyes. I was sure he recognized me although he may not have known where he knew me from. Even so, it was enough to keep me from going to the cemetery. I went home as soon as the service at the church was over.
Two months later I was in the back room of the store one morning just after opening up when the bell over the front door rang, indicating someone had just come in. I walked out into the store and froze when I saw Richie standing just inside the door. I was only stunned for a moment and then immediately rushed toward him. I probably would have hugged him right there if he hadn't sidestepped me and put out his hand to shake instead.
"Hey kid, it's fuckin' fantastic to see you too, but I think I'm probably being watched, so let's save the warm welcome for later, okay?"
"Watched? Why? And what are you doing out? I didn't think they'd let you go for a couple more years at least."
"I made a deal with them. Marie hasn't been doing well since Tony's death, physically or emotionally. She needs me."
"I was so sorry to read about that in the paper." I paused and we both just stood there for a minute, looking into each others` eyes.. "I can't believe you're actually here. You look great!"
He did look great, too. Sure he looked older. A few lines around his eyes, some graying at the temples. After all, he was over fifty at that point. But he was as beautiful and as sexy as ever to me.
"C'mon, I can't wait until later to feel your arms around me." I turned and led the way back into the storeroom where he took me in his arms, kissed me long and passionately and then held me tight.
"Oh man, you have no idea how much I've missed that, baby."
"I think I have a pretty good idea, Richie. So, are you out for good?"
"Yeah, I'm on parole. I'll stay out as long as I'm a good boy."
"Good boy? That doesn't sound like you. How long until they catch you doing something you shouldn't?"
"Don't worry about that. Look, I've got a ton of people I've gotta see but I had to see you first. Are you going to be home tonight?"
"Sure, I have no plans."
Richie frowned. "You're not seeing anyone?"
"No, not right now."
He shook his head. "Okay, see you around eight tonight."
When I got home from work I made a pot of ziti in case Richie was hungry. He was, but his hunger wasn't for food. The minute I let him in the door we were in each others' arms. He led me up to the bedroom where we made love somewhat frantically. Afterward, we cuddled and talked, catching up on our years apart. He didn't have much to tell me about his life in prison and I'd kept him abreast of my life through my letters, but he wanted to hear all of the details I'd had to skim over when writing.
"So how come you don't have a steady guy, Tommy? You're good-looking, bright, fun to be with. You've been on your own for eight years now. What are you waiting for?"
"I'm not waiting for anything. I've told you about the guys I've gone out with, the relationships I've had. Believe me, I've been out there looking for Mr. Right.." I hadn't told him about my slutty period but had been pretty upfront about my dating and relationships.
"You sure you haven't been waiting for me to get out so we could go back to what we had before?"
"I don't think so. I've really been looking. Maybe I've had it in the back of my mind that someday you'd be free again so it wouldn't be a great tragedy if I didn't find someone else, though."
"Look, babe, as much as I've missed you and am thrilled you're here to welcome me home, I almost would have preferred that I found you happily settled down with a good man, one who loves you and takes care of you. You've always deserved so much more than I could give you."
"I'd love to have a full-time lover, if he was the kind of lover you've been to me. The ideal would be to have you full-time, although I've always known that wasn't possible and probably wouldn't have worked out anyway."
"You're right about that, more so now than before."
"Why do you say that? I can't see how things are any different than they were. Unless there's something you haven't told me."
He was silent a long time and when he finally spoke he suggested we get up and have a bite to eat. I was glad I'd made the ziti. I'd had a little when I made it and I was too excited to eat again so I watched him as he ate. He was older and not just in physical appearance. He seemed tired. Maybe it was the physical exertion upstairs, but it appeared to go deeper than that. He had something on his mind but I knew better than to ask. As always, he'd tell me what he wanted me to know in his own time. For now he was focused on his food. Finally, he pushed his plate a couple of inches toward the center of the table, poured himself another glass of wine and looked up at me.
"I love you, babe, and I really want to be with you, but we can't go back to the way things were before. It's not fair to you."
"Why don't you let me decide what's right for me? Being with you has always made me happy."
"Look, I'm not saying we won't see each other, but I'm gonna be pretty tied up for a while. Marie needs me more than ever and it's gonna take me some time to get back into the swing of things at work. I've given this a lot of thought and have something in the works I can't talk about yet. But I'm warning you that just because I'm back doesn't mean everything is gonna be like it was before. You've still got to think about your future."
Richie sounded even more mysterious than before but I was used to him holding back. All I could do was take him at face value and go with the flow. For the next couple of months things went back to normal, or what passed as normal in our relationship. He spent a little less time than he had at the house but he still managed to drop in a couple of evenings a week. The first week I'd gone to my parents' house and retrieved his box. When I gave it to him he just smiled and put it back in the desk where it had been years before.
About six weeks later he sat me down and broke the big news.
"I know you've always kept whatever I've told you to yourself, but there's something you have to know that's even more important for you to keep under your hat."
"Sure, Richie, you know you can tell me anything. I don't talk about you to anyone."
"I've got to make some big changes, Tom. Marie can't take any more of this stress and I'm just not cut out for this life any more."
"So what are you going to do?" His field of work wasn't something I'd ever heard of anyone retiring from.
"I never thought it would come to this, but I've decided to cooperate with the authorities and testify against some of my associates. I'm gonna be a squealer."
"But that's dangerous! They'll kill you if you do that!"
"If they catch me, yeah." He paused a long moment. "I'm going into the witness protection program, baby. Gonna disappear, pop up somewhere else with a new identity, a new life. Start over."
I felt a knot in my stomach as I realized what that meant. He'd be going away again, this time for good. No letters, no nothing. He'd be totally gone from my life.
"Are you sure? Doing something like that goes against everything you've lived by."
"Not everything. But I've thought about it long and hard and it's what I have to do. This was part of the deal I struck to get early parole. They weren't just gonna be nice and let me out because my son died and Marie needed me."
"So you're really gonna do it? We won`t ever see each other again?"
"Yeah. It's all your fault, you know. You've brought out something in me that isn't totally self-serving. This will let Marie live a more peaceful life and will be good for you, too."
"Good for me? How do you figure that?"
"Because you'll finally have to put me behind you and move on with your life. You're never gonna settle down with a good guy if I'm still in the picture."
Deep down, I knew he was right. Even if he broke it off and stopped coming around, a part of me would still hold out, hoping he'd change his mind. And after my experience in college, I couldn't imagine being with another guy with a jealous Richie anywhere in the neighborhood.
"I'm not being totally altruistic, Tommy. The feud within the family is worse than ever. I've agreed to testify only against the traitors who are fighting Uncle Johnny, the ones who set me up. And they're the same ones I hold responsible for feeding Tony's drug problem. The dealers who provided him with the junk have been dealt with already, but this will let me get some revenge on the bastards behind it all."
And that was pretty much it. We had another week before he and his wife disappeared. Part of me wished he hadn't told me, that we could have just gone on as usual until the day when he stopped showing up. But knowing it was ending gave me a chance to appreciate every last minute with him. There was a sadness each time we made love that week, but an exquisite tenderness and passion as well.
The last night as he was about to leave I brought up the box in his desk. I really didn't want him to go and kept trying to think up things to delay the inevitable.
"Don't you want to take that with you? You said it was important before and this time you won't be coming back for it."
"It was important, but not any more. The Feds are setting me up with a new life and letting me take some of my assets, but anything I take has to be cleared with them. You keep it. Maybe you can find some use for it."
We couldn't put it off any longer. When he got to the door we kissed one last time. He hugged me tight and I held onto him as if I were going to die if I let go. Tears were running down both of our faces when we finally let go.
"I want you to promise me you'll find someone and have a good life, Tommy. You deserve the best."
"I'll try, but there won't ever be anyone like you."
He smiled. "Of course not, but that doesn't mean you can't be happy. And while I won't ever be back, maybe I'll be keeping an eye on you, so make me proud."
* * * * *
"And that was the last time you ever saw him?" Steve and I were getting ready for the funeral Tuesday morning as I finished the story.
"Yeah. The next day he and his wife were gone. A couple of mob captains were indicted right after that and he reappeared for their trial, but that was it. A few appearances in a courtroom, but other than that he was kept hidden.. The mobsters were convicted and given long sentences. And then Richie really was gone."
"And you finally moved on with your life."
"Obviously. You're the proof of that. It took a while after he left but when Mr. Right came along, I was ready."
"I've often wished that we'd met when we were younger but now I'm glad we didn't. You wouldn't have been ready for me."
"That's right. Sometimes things work out perfectly."
The funeral was at the same church in Millburn where Tony's had been held years before. There were fewer people this time which was to be expected, I suppose. Since Richie had turned against his associates most of them weren't going to show up for his funeral. And some of the elderly relatives who'd been at Tony's funeral would have died since then. Richie's wife Marie had died several years before so her friends and family probably weren't there either. So it was a fairly small crowd with the reporters almost outnumbering the mourners.
Steve and I sat in a pew about halfway back and there were several empty rows between us and the rest of the mourners. As the service ended and people began to leave I noticed a tall, thin man with thick white hair in the front row. I nudged Steve with my elbow.
"Uncle Johnny." I whispered.
The man was very old and walked slowly but on his own with the help of a cane. When he neared our row he looked toward us and stopped, staring right at me. After a few seconds he nodded slightly and proceeded on to the back of the church.
"Do you think he recognized you, Tom?"
"I can't imagine how he would. I think it was like when I went to Tony's funeral. He knew I looked familiar but couldn't place me."
"He sure looks like a tough old bird."
"He is. From what I've read he's still the boss of the crime family and he must be well into his eighties by now."
We went to the cemetery but stood a few feet apart from the others as Richie was laid to rest next to his wife and son. In spite of what I'd said I didn't want to get too close to Uncle Johnny. In a way it was good to be distracted a little by him. When I focused on the funeral itself I just felt like crying and I didn't want to lose it in front of these people. I didn't want them wondering why some stranger was getting all emotional over Richie's death.
When we got home Steve and I changed into more comfortable clothes and had a light lunch. We'd been pretty quiet as Steve gave me space to work out my feelings, but as we were cleaning up he asked me a question that I'd been expecting, that must have been on his mind since I'd finished telling him my story.
"So what was in that mysterious box you kept hidden for Richie all those years and he ended up not wanting?"
I smiled. "I was wondering when you'd ask about that. C'mon."
I led the way to the den where I motioned for him to have a seat while I went over to the desk in the corner. I opened the bottom left drawer and lifted the green box from it. I placed the box on the coffee table in front of Steve.
He leaned forward to open it but fell back at the sight that greeted him, bundles of twenty-dollar bills.
"Shit, there must be thousands of dollars in there! It`s just been sitting there all these years?"
"Forty four thousand and change, to be exact. Originally it was a hundred thousand."
"You mean you've been spending this over the years? We've been living on mob money?"
I closed the box and sat down across from Steve.
"I know I've given you a lot to think about over the past week and lots of reasons to doubt my sense of morality. Not just having the long affair with Richie but allowing him to help support me, to buy me this house, to help me get the store started. I loved him and he loved me and we were good for each other so I won't second-guess the relationship. As far as the shop is concerned, as I told you most of the money came from the bank and I paid him back much of what he loaned me. And the house - well, at the time I don't think either of us thought he was buying it for me. It just ended up that way. And maybe it's rationalization, but he did make plenty of money honestly. I figured his legit income was enough to pay for this place and his illegal income was what funded the rest of his life. Like I said, rationalization. At any rate, there was no way I could consider a box full of cash to be anything but dirty money, but what could I do with it?"
"So you spent it?"
"I couldn't turn it in to the authorities without maybe getting him in trouble all over again and definitely getting me in trouble for holding it all those years when he was in prison. So I just sat on it for a while and then came up with a plan. Every year I dip into the box and give a couple of thousand to some worthy cause, usually a gay or AIDS organization. That way Richie's dirty money is doing some good. I'm sure it's not what he had in mind, but he knew me and probably expected I'd do something like this."
"I'm sorry I doubted you, Tom. After all these years together I have a good idea who you are, too, and while all of this has come as a shock, it doesn't change the way I feel about you. You`re the most decent man I`ve ever known and I`m sure Richie felt that way, too. Some people might have been corrupted by being with someone like him, but instead I think some of your good rubbed off on him."
Later that afternoon I was reading a book while Steve graded some test papers. The doorbell rang and he got up and answered it.
"Good afternoon, Dr. Lyons. Is Mr. Webber at home?"
I didn't recognize the voice but as Steve backed away and opened the door wider I stiffened at the sight of Uncle Johnny. I recovered, got to my feet and invited him in.
"Please come in, Mr. D'Angelo. Have a seat. Can I get you something to drink?" I was stumbling all over myself, shocked at him being there. He not only remembered me but knew where I lived and who Steve was.
"Thanks, but I've only got a minute. I was glad to see you at the funeral today although after seeing you at Tony's years ago I assumed you'd be there. You meant a lot to Dick, although I guess you know that."
"How did you know where I was?"
He smiled, a bit condescendingly. "I keep track of all of my associates, but Dick was like a son to me. It was clear to me the night I met you two in that restaurant there was something more between you than what he said. So I kept an eye out. You were the one who took him to Dr. Giancola's when he was shot and then he stayed with you while he recovered."
"So you knew about us all the time?"
"I don't understand it and to be honest I don't like to think about it, but clearly you were good for him. He was always a wild one, a bit of a loose cannon. But he changed for the better after he met you so I looked the other way." He paused. "I can't condone what he did in helping the feds, but I can see why he did it. A few weeks ago, he called me. First time I'd heard from him in twenty years. He said he'd been made, that someone was watching him. He knew what that meant, that he didn't have much time."
"So he knew what was coming?"
"He knew how things go in our business. If it helps, he was at peace with it. He did ask me to look you up and let him know how you were doing. Since I already had that info I told him what I knew. He was glad to know you were happy and doing well. I thought you'd want to know that he was thinking about you right up to the end."
There was a lump in my throat and I was struggling to hold back tears.
"Thank you," was all I could manage to say.
He turned and opened the door to leave but then stopped.
"I thought you'd also want to know that we are aware of who was behind killing him and they'll get what's coming to them."
"You're turning them in to the authorities?" Steve asked.
Uncle Johnny shook his head and gave that slightly condescending smile again.
"You don't want to know."