By Mickey S
Steve didn't have any classes or office hours on Friday afternoons so he usually spent the time at home, but this week he showed up at the store shortly after lunch.
"I thought I'd drop by and see if you needed any help."
"Yeah, sure, like you love working in the shop. This wouldn't have anything to do with wanting to hear more about Richie, would it?"
"Well, maybe. It's so hard to imagine you with a guy like that in a dom-sub relationship."
"Hey, I may be a bottom and not terribly assertive but you know damn well I'm not submissive. Richie didn't dominate me. He took care of me. There's a big difference."
"I know, you do manage to get your way most of the time. And it looks like Richie was pretty successful in insulating you from the gangster side of his life."
"We both tried to keep that out of our relationship but we weren't always successful. There was one time during the summer before my senior year that I got involved up to my neck. I was terrified."
* * * * *
Richie's son had just graduated from high school and had a job at the shore so he and his mother were spending the summer at their house in Sea Bright. Richie divided his time between that house and the condo. Of course he was busy at work, whatever that was, a good part of the time, but he spent a few nights a week with me. He`d stayed the night now and then in the past, but this was almost like we were living together. I liked it a lot, although his hours were so irregular I never knew when he'd be there.
One Saturday night it was nearly midnight and I was in bed reading when I heard the garage door open. I threw on a robe and went down to the kitchen to greet Richie. A minute or two went by and he hadn't come in so I opened the connecting door to the garage. He was still sitting behind the wheel of the car, leaning to the left a bit and not moving. I crossed the garage past my car and as I approached I saw a bright red area on the front of his shirt just below his left shoulder. I pulled the door open and he nearly fell out. I could see then that the whole side of his shirt was drenched with blood.
"Shit, we`ve got to get you to the hospital!"
"No! No hospital," he gasped. "There`s a guy in Springfield, Dr. Giancola. You`ve got to drive. I can`t do it."
"Springfield? But that's gotta be over ten miles and the hospital is only a few blocks away. You`re bleeding really bad."
"Don't argue with me. There's no time. Just do as I say. Now!"
I went around to the other side of the car, opened the door, leaned in and carefully pulled Richie across the seat. When I`d made enough room so I could get behind the wheel I went back to the driver's side and hopped in. It wasn't until we pulled out onto South St. that I realized I was only wearing my robe and slippers. Although we were in a terrible hurry I was going to have to be careful not to get stopped by the police. Of course Richie bleeding all over the car might concern the cops more than my lack of clothing or license.
I drove to Springfield at just over the speed limit, keeping my fingers crossed. Richie was breathing heavily. I asked him what had happened and he said he`d been shot once in the shoulder but didn`t elaborate. I wasn`t sure if he wouldn't or couldn`t say more. He was quiet so long I thought maybe he'd lost consciousness but as we got to the center of town he started giving me directions. He pointed to a typical suburban split level and I swung the car into the driveway just as he slumped against my shoulder, out cold.
Leaving Richie in the car, I raced to the front door of the darkened house and rang the bell, praying that some one was home. Just as I rang it a second time a light went on over my head and the door opened a couple of inches. A gray-haired man in a robe peered out at me.
"What do you want?"
"I need help. I've got Ri-, um, Dick Palermo in the car. He's hurt real bad and said I should bring him here."
The man opened the door wider and looked over at the car. I'd left the door open so the interior light was on showing Richie tilted to the left, his head hanging down. The doctor, if that's who he was, rushed past me to the car. He was trying to get a look at Richie's wound when I came up behind him.
"Do you know what happened to him?"
"No, he said he'd been shot. That's all I know."
"Help me get him into the house."
Between the two of us we half-carried and half-dragged Richie into the house to a room in the back that was set up like a doctor`s office. It had an examining table on one side and a counter with a sink and cabinets on the other. We got Richie up onto the table and the doctor started cutting off his shirt very carefully.
"Is he gonna be okay? Is there anything I can do to help?" I nervously asked the doctor.
"There's nothing you can do here right now but why don't you take a couple of towels from that cabinet and try to clean up some of the blood in the car, kid. Then come back. I may need you to hold him down when I take out the bullet."
I didn't want to leave Richie but the doctor was firm about it so I wet one towel in the sink and took it along with a couple of dry ones out to the car. I hadn`t paid any attention before but the whole front seat was covered with blood and there was some on the carpet as well. I cleaned it up the best I could but the white leather had absorbed it and was tinged pink. When I returned to the house I saw that Richie had a strap around his chest holding him on the table. He was still unconscious and the doctor was probing in a hole the size of a quarter in his upper chest. I`d seen nastier looking wounds when I worked at the hospital but this was someone I cared about, not a stranger. The doctor looked up.
"Be ready to grab him if he moves. He's out cold but if he wakes up he'll be in a hell of a lot of pain."
"Is he gonna be okay?" He hadn't answered me the last time I'd asked that question.
"Probably. It doesn't look like the bullet hit anything vital. It nicked a small vein and he's lost a lot of blood but other than that it's not too bad."
After about five minutes he carefully pulled a small hunk of metal from the hole in Richie's chest. He held it up.
"Looks like a .22. He's lucky it wasn't any bigger or it would have ripped right through that vein and he would have been a goner."
The doctor cleaned out the wound and stitched it up without Richie waking up. After he applied a bandage we moved him to a bed in the next room.
"I want him to stay here tonight to make sure he`s all right. Plus, he's gonna be in a lot of pain when he comes around and I`ll have to give him a shot of something for it." His eyes narrowed. "So who are you? I know a lot of Dick`s cohorts and I`ve never seen you before."
"Um, I don't work with him. I`m just a friend. I guess when this happened he was closer to my place than anyone else he knew."
Dr. Giancola and I both turned and looked at the bed. Richie's eyes were half-open and his normally dark complexion was looking ghostly pale. When he spoke it was barely a whisper.
"So doc, how bad is it?"
"You're a lucky bastard, Dick. You'll live," the doctor smiled.
"You call this pain luck?"
"You're alive, aren't you? If you'll quit your whining for a minute I'll check you out and then give you a shot to make you sleep for a while. You'll feel better in the morning."
"You gotta stay, Tommy." His eyes were pleading with me.
"Of course, I'm not going anywhere without you."
The doctor shined a little flashlight into Richie's eyes and listened to his chest through his stethoscope as he took deep breaths, as deep as he could manage, anyway. Then he gave Richie an injection and he was asleep in seconds.
"You can sleep on the couch in the living room if you like."
"No, that looks good enough." I pointed to a chair in the corner.
"It's up to you. He shouldn't wake up for hours but if there's a problem you can buzz me on that." He pointed to an intercom on the table next to the bed and left the room without another word.
I sat and watched Richie breathe for a while, too keyed up to fall asleep. At first I was just concerned about Richie's condition, but after watching his chest rise and fall without problem for a few minutes I replayed the entire incident in my head. I'd never really thought about what kind of life Richie led, what he did when he wasn't around me. We'd both tried to keep that out of our relationship. But this brought it home to me very clearly. You don't get shot working in waste management. And most people who got badly injured went to the emergency room. Who was this doctor anyway? And was he going to tell anyone about me? How involved was I getting in Richie's other life?
I don't know how long I sat there before falling asleep but I awoke to the sound of quiet talking. I looked up and saw Dr. Giancola standing next to the bed. As I straightened up in the chair he and Richie turned to look at me.
"Well, it's about time. Anyone would think you had a late night." Richie smiled at me although it was a weak smile and his voice seemed lifeless.
"How are you feeling?"
"Like hell, but I've been worse. Doc's got me all doped up. We've got to get out of here soon. I'm sure the doc doesn't want my car sitting out there in the driveway all day."
"Are you okay to go?" I turned to the doctor.
"Well, he could use a transfusion but I'm not set up for that here, so he'll be as weak as a kitten for a while. And he'll probably need painkillers for a couple of days but as long as he takes it easy he`ll be okay. I`ve just been giving him instructions."
The doctor dug up a couple of sweat suits to replace my bloody robe and Richie`s ruined clothes and we eased Richie into the car. After promising to keep him updated on Richie`s condition, we headed back to Morristown. Richie dozed off about halfway home and I had to wake him up when we got into the garage. He needed a lot of help walking into the house. Dr. Giancola was right; he was so weak he couldn't even stand on his own. I just got him settled on the couch in the living room when his phone in the den rang.
"Shit! I've got to get that. Can you help me get up?"
"Just a sec." I knew I'd never get Richie into the den in time to answer the phone so I ran into the room, picked up the phone and just said, "Hang on," and went back for him. Once I got him into a chair he picked up the telephone.
He listened for a few seconds and then motioned for me to leave. He covered the phone with his hand and said, "Close the door behind you."
I paced around in circles waiting to hear some indication that it was okay to go back in the room. Finally Richie called out and I went in.
"Do we have any long phone cords in the house? I've got to be able to get at this phone."
"I have one upstairs. Wait a sec and I'll get it." I ran up, got the wire and plugged it into the jack and the telephone in the den, then stretched it out until the phone reached a few feet into the living room. Then I dragged the couch over toward the door to the den so it was within reach of the phone.
"Okay, let's get you comfortable again."
As I helped Richie back into the living room he surprised me by talking a little about the call.
"That was Uncle Johnny. Doc called him this morning and gave him the basics about what happened to me but he wanted to hear what actually went down. I had to tell him who you were, too, although I didn`t tell him where I was."
"What did you tell him about me?"
"Well, he remembered meeting you at the restaurant that night so he knows you work for Sol. All I told him was that I was near your place when I was shot and needed help to get to Doc Giancola's and then you helped me back to my hide-out."
"You sound so casual talking about getting shot, like it was something that happened every day. I was scared to death for you."
"I know, Tommy, but I've been shot before. It's one of the risks of the job."
"Have you ever shot anybody?"
"Before you start asking questions you'd better think about whether you want to know the answers. For now I'll just answer that with a yes. I`ve done a lot of things that I'm sure you would consider to be immoral and wrong, and probably are. But for the most part the people I deal with know the rules of the game going in. Nobody`s forcing them to be a part of this."
"That's not what I've heard. I've heard that you guys can bully people pretty good."
"Okay, maybe we do put pressure on some people to participate in our business enterprises, but we're not out to destroy them. We give them service for what they pay. And as long as they live up to their end, we leave them alone."
"That's still wrong."
"Look, I'm not trying to convince you it's right, but that's just the way it is. It's the culture I grew up in. As long as everybody follows the rules, no one gets hurt. But some people want something for nothing, or want more than their share. Then there's trouble."
"And that's what happened last night?"
"Like I said, I don't want to get into details on this, but we've been having some trouble about the whole issue of drugs. Uncle Johnny and I don't want to get involved in that scene but there are lots of people who see all the money and want a piece of it. Some in the New York families feel that if we`re not going to get into it that leaves the door open to them in our territory. And there`s a faction here that disagrees with us as well."
"Well, at least you're against drugs. That's a good thing."
Richie shrugged. "It's personal with me. My kid has been in trouble over booze a few times at school functions and recently I caught him with pot. He's a bit wild like I was at his age and stuff like that only makes it worse."
Richie was starting to wince with pain so I gave him one of the pills Dr. Giancola had sent home with us and got him comfortable. He dozed off after a few minutes, ending our conversation about his work and the shooting. That was the most we ever talked about it.
Over the next few days he slowly regained strength but was still far removed from his usual self. I went to work every day only because he insisted. Late one evening well after dark I took him back to the doctor's to have his bandage changed and was taught how to change it myself from then on. He didn`t tell his wife about the shooting, just made up excuses why he couldn`t go down to join her at their shore house for a few weeks. Apparently she was used to that kind of thing and didn`t question him.
Once he was well on the road to recovery it was fun having him live at the house full-time. It was obvious he enjoyed it too. Even after he was feeling much better and was able to get out and to resume some of his regular activities, he came home to me rather than his house in Short Hills. After more than three years of our affair, we were finally living together.
All good things must come to an end, however, and soon Richie had recovered enough to start spending time with his family at the shore and some of the rest of his week at his own house. When he was leaving to go see his wife and son for the first time since the shooting it felt like a permanent goodbye even though we both knew he`d be back in a few days.
"Next time you get shot make sure it`s in the neighborhood so you can drop in again."
"Actually, it didn`t happen all that close to here and I could have gone to a number of my guys for help, but I wanted it to be you, although I wasn`t sure I wanted to get you mixed up in it. I didn`t have all that long to think about it, though."
"So has anyone questioned you about where or with whom you`ve been staying?"
"My associates know better than to ask too many questions. They know I've got a secret place to hole up, probably with a broad I don't want them to know about, so they don't pry. Uncle Johnny knows it was you who took me to Doc Giancola's and then answered my phone afterwards. He's a pretty shrewd guy and I'm sure he has a few questions in his mind but he respects me too much to ask."
"So if you could have picked someone who's more familiar with your world to take you to the doctor, why did you choose me?"
"Because I knew that no one would take better care of me than you, Tommy. And if I was gonna be laid up for a couple of weeks recuperating, I wanted to be with you."
"But we didn't even have any kind of sex for the first week or so."
Richie smiled and shook his head. "This isn't just about sex, you know. I love you, Tommy. I thought you'd figured that out by now."
I was stunned. Sure, I'd realized long before that I had fallen for Richie, but I was a realist and accepted our relationship as it was. I was a gay man in love with him, but he was a bisexual who was married to a woman he loved and in a life that would never allow him to come out, even if he wanted to. I'd never even let myself dream that he might return my love.
"You look like you don't believe me, kid."
"No, I do. I just never expected you to say something like that."
"You think a guy in my profession isn't capable of falling in love?"
"Yeah, but you're in love with your wife."
"Yes, I do love Marie, but I love you too. I can't explain it."
"You don't have to. I've loved you for a long time and it's good enough just to know that you love me back. It isn't necessary to understand any more than that.:"
* * * * *
"So he told you he loved you. Man, that must have been the painkillers talking. From the way you described him I wouldn't have thought of him as a romantic." I'd spent the whole afternoon talking to Steve and finished just in time to close up the store.
"No Steve, he wasn't romantic but he wasn`t still taking the painkillers at that point either. He was pretty rough and crude when we first met but he'd softened up a lot toward me and always treated me well. And he wasn't a stereotypical gangster either."
"But didn't it bother you what he did for a living? Especially once you saw evidence of the danger up close."
"Well, I'll admit I had been pretty good at shutting his illegal life out of my mind up until then. But after going through the shooting with him I couldn't pretend his activities were something as simple as cheating on taxes or something like that. Even so, I could only judge him by what I saw when we were together, and after that summer it got even better with him."
To be continued.