REDEMPTION


PROLOGUE

Middle East, 45 A.D.

 

The gentle old fisherman led his young assistant towards the banks of the Sea of Galilee.

Though barely morning, already the sultry rays of the morning sun beat down upon their bare

backs in searing waves that radiated from the top of their shoulders to the bottom of their legs.

The old man, called James, walked deliberately towards the sea, the dried cracks on his weather

beaten face gave testament to his age and wisdom. He raised his hand to his temple in an effort

to shield his eyes from the sun’s glare as he glanced at the rock jetty just ahead, which served

as one side of a harbor where all the town’s fisherman anchored their boats. His was one of the

last boats still anchored as most of the other men were already well out to sea before the first

rays of the morning sun had touched the beach. Above him two seagulls darted in tandem

towards the sandy shoals in an attempt to dislodge a partially hidden clam from its resting

place. Their piercing cries were indications of the futility of their effort.

Joshua, a young man of fifteen, walked ahead of his elder towards the small boat. He

turned towards  James and impatiently motioned for him to catch up. James raised his hand as

a signal for the boy to be patient. James had been fishing in this sea since he was younger than

Joshua. At that time he fished with his older brother, until his brother moved south a few years

later. Since then, and for the majority of his years, he fished alone. Now, as a concession to his

advancing years, he decided to train Joshua as an apprentice to help with the heavy, fish laden

nets.

 When James reached the jetty he found a flat surface and sat as his apprentice busied himself

preparing the boat. The elder smiled as he watched the boy labor with the ropes of the heavy

sail. The man motioned for the boy to sit beside him on the jetty. Together they watched the

swells of the dark ocean. The cool spray of the breaking waves provided welcome relief to the

bottom of their parched feet. Soon the young man grew restless. He jumped from the rock and

started jogging in the shallow water along the beach trying to evade each breaking wave by

jumping over it. James watched in amusement as his protégé picked up a shell and hurled it

skyward, in a vain attempt to strike a low flying seagull. The elder motioned for the boy to

return to the jetty. Joshua walked swiftly back to the jetty and pointed out towards the horizon.

“Why do we sit here while the others are already out catching their fish for the

evening’s market?”

“Joshua, do you think the sea will run out of fish today?” replied James as he stroked his

white beard. “There remains plenty of time to catch fish before the market opens.”

The young man frowned. His eyes smoldered with resentment.

 “But there is so much to be done James. We must maximize our time, catch as many fish as

possible.”

James admired the boy’s enthusiasm but knew the need to teach him the lessons he,

himself, had been taught many years before.

 “Why is it so important that we catch more than the others Joshua? Don’t we always wind up

with enough fish to both eat and sell at the market?”

Joshua’s lips tightened as rage swelled in his face.

 “But don’t you see James? The tyranny of the Romans against us grows worse with each

passing day. The more we sell, the more money we are forced to pay them in taxes.”

 “Then sell less,” replied the elder, “how much money do you really need anyway?”

 The boy kicked at an incoming wave.

 “You don’t understand James, we need the money to arm ourselves against the Romans.”

 “Yet the more fish you sell to arm yourself the more the Romans take. It seems an endless

paradox.”

James slowly rose from his place on the rock and gently placed his hands on the boy’s

shoulder.

“There are more ways than violence to rebel against tyranny young one.”

 The boy turned away from him, the anger evident in his face.

                “James, I am tired of lying down to Roman tyranny just as I am tired of tending to these

nets each day. Perhaps it is best if I travel north to seek my fortune  and escape this

persecution. As a rich merchant I’ll have no one but myself to answer to. “

“Your words betray your youth my son. I felt much the same way as you when I was a

boy.”

Joshua tried to turn away but James gently turned him back. The old man looked

directly into the boys eyes and spoke.

“Tell me young one, what makes you think a rich man has no persecutors? You must

learn to reflect on your life and all that He has given you. Your rewards are not to be gained

here. Has nothing of what I’ve preached to you been retained?”

The boy pondered this for a moment, his brown eyes thoughtful.

                “James, you were one of the chosen who walked with Him. Why did he not end our

oppression and save our people?”

“But don’t you see Joshua, he did end our oppression!”

 “But the Romans still persecute us! Are we not still left in poverty, slaves to their will?”

                James motioned to his heart.

                “We are free here. No one can harm us as long as our spirit is free.”

                He motioned with a wave of his arm to the world surrounding them.

                “Now go enjoy the beautiful ocean he has given us. The majestic mountains and exotic

forests. You will soon take a wife and have children. Teach them that it is the simple things in

life that are to be treasured, not what is horded through their lifetime.”

James thought back to the lessons he had been taught by the master when he walked

with him so many years ago. He wondered if any of these lessons would be remembered by

future generations.

He took Joshua by the hand and led him towards the boat to prepare it for the

morning’s catch. The market would be open soon.

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CHAPTER 1

New York City, present day    

            “The market’s been open for an hour; let’s hit those phones gentleman,” barked a

seasoned broker from the trading floor of the Brokerage firm, Archer, Molloy and Salducci,

located on the thirty third floor of the flagship midtown Manhattan office building where they

were headquartered.

            John Salvi’s head throbbed. The noise emanating from the trading desk directly located

behind his office was unbearable.

            “This market’s taking off. The trend is your friend; start the countdown,” yelled another trader.

            Another tired brokerage cliché thought Salvi as his right hand gently massaged his head

while his left punched up the stock symbols of the companies he was currently following  on

the computer screen. A red flash meant a stock had just down ticked or fallen while a green

indicated a rising stock.   

            At forty two years old Salvi was considered to be a seasoned veteran, especially

compared to some of the hot shot twenty-something brokers trying to set the world on fire.

When he had started as a Wall Street rookie twenty years prior, the only way to get stock

quotes was on a bunker Ramos quotron which was little more than a dumb terminal hooked up

to a main frame that gave stock quotes and maybe a scrolling news headline. Plain white

numerals on a green background. Forget graphs, time and sales, block trades, all the tools that

present day brokers had at their disposal. Of course in the old days the volume of stocks traded

on the exchange was anemic compared to the amount now being generated.  On a good day a

stock such as Microsoft out traded the entire volume of the stock exchange ten years earlier.

Wave after wave of technology had evolved and Salvi had been there to witness it all. For two

decades his working life had been dedicated to staring at one screen or another trying to

interpret trends and disseminate information regarding the companies that he followed.

Volumes of reports had been assimilated, thousands of meetings attended.

            From all his experience Salvi learned three basic principles of successfully investing

for his clients. To be profitable you needed timing, patience and nerve. For Salvi was the

consummate contrarian. As long as a company was established and profitable he would gladly

take advantage of any panic selling. As long as the reason for the selling did not fundamentally

effect the long term potential of the company.

            IBM rose a quarter of a point as a low beep sounded from the computers speaker

reminding Salvi of a price point at which he was to buy or sell the stock. Behind him traders

screamed at each other as buy and sell order tickets flew around the room like paper airplanes.

As usual, as soon as the stock market open at nine thirty pandemonium was the rule in the

trading room. Now that the market was opened for almost an hour his pounding headache was

in full gear. It was now a slow pulsating pain along his right temple which was beginning to

torture him.

            He sighed, fumbling through his top left drawer to retrieve a bottle of aspirin, which was

buried under a mass of memo papers, napkins, or anything else he deemed important enough

to keep within arm’s reach. IBM continued to rise as he finally found the aspirin. “I never used

to get headaches,” he thought. Maybe the pressure was beginning to get to him. With his

divorce from Rita looming and the collapsing stock market continuing he was beginning to

wonder if it was all worth it.

            Of course his clients were doing better than most. He possessed much better people

skills than most of his brethren. He realized from the beginning that you not only need to be

an advisor to a client, but also their shrink, best friend and the person who supplied comic

relief. Sort of a bartender who dispenses financial advice instead of martinis. Salvi had evolved

‘hand holding’ into an art form because he realized that after all the hype and hysteria it still all

came down to salesmanship. “Always close the sale.”

            He quickly swallowed two aspirin which he chased with what was left of his first cup of

lukewarm coffee. Before the day was over he would consume six or seven more cups, all

strongly caffeinated.

            The phone on his desk started to ring but Salvi didn’t answer. After three rings it fell

silent as he heard his new sales assistant, Betty, pick up the line. Normally a broker of his

stature never answered the phone directly, letting it ring as many as five times until one of the

assistants could get it. The rule of thumb in the brokerage business was let the client believe

you were much to busy to answer his call. It was all part of the illusion and mystique of Wall

Street. It was never good form to appear too anxious. If you happened to slip and actually

answer on the first or second ring then the client was always told to hold, even if there was no

one on the other line. You could be reading the paper or twiddling your thumbs but the client

never knew. 

            Betty buzzed him and he picked up the phone.

            “It’s Mr. Olmstead on the line. Says he must speak to you.”

            John pondered this for a moment.

            “He’s only inquiring about his quarterly interest. Can you help him out Betty?”

            “Sure Mr. Salvi, I’ll handle it,” she responded.

            John rose, stretched his arms, then turned towards the back of his office. Squarely in the

middle of the back wall of his office was a large window with a sliding glass pane that allowed

him direct access to the large trading area. It was another volatile day and the traders were

scurrying around in their usual frenzied fashion.

The trading desk at Archer, Molloy and Salducci, the nation’s leading full service

regional brokerage firm, as the slogan claimed, was manned by thirty of Wall Street’s most

aggressive, conniving denizens. Each one was hand picked by none other than H. Dennis Molloy

himself, one of the two surviving partners of the firm that bore his name. Some of the traders

had climbed the ranks within the firm while others were recruited from other brokerages with

the lure of cash bonuses and stock options.   The ‘rookies’ were no more than raw recruits

plucked from top American business schools to be thrown into one of the most competitive,

nerve wracking, and cut throat places to be employed. These youngsters were now getting their

‘baptism under fire’, as Salvi thought of it. The phones never ceased ringing in the trading room

from nine thirty a.m., when trading commenced, until four o-clock, when it ended for the day.

Millions of dollars worth of negotiable  transactions were left in the hands of these thirty

people. How well they performed determined their salary and bonuses for the year and more

importantly, the daily profit and loss for the firm.

            “Tom Moran, Third Avenue Deli is here with your order. Please pick up at reception.”

            The intercom blared the command of the receptionist, a young woman from Queens,

one of the four outer boroughs that surrounded Manhattan. The “bridge and tunnel” crowd as

any one who was not from Manhattan was disparagingly referred to by residents of the city

proper. You needed a lot of ‘attitude’ to handle the chores of reception at a brokerage firm and

Cheryl was loaded with it. It was an entry level position but if a person was sharp they could

easily work their way up. Usually a year or two at reception led to a job in the back office, a

term used for the administrative center that cleared all the daily brokerage transactions. If the

employee proved to be exceptional, she might be considered for an assistant’s position in the

sales office of one of Archer Molloys’s financial consultants, a fancy word for stock broker that

had come into vogue in the mid nineties. Salvi hated all the new euphemisms that people in the

business had given themselves. Financial consultants, registered representatives, financial

representatives, anything that sounded like they weren’t there to derive a commission out of

a client. To Salvi, you could call your self ‘The King of Siam,’ if you collected a fee or a

commission for a client that you invested for, you were a stock broker. Nothing more, nothing

less, it didn’t make you a bad person. 

            John’s assistant Betty had started at reception. The first day he met her at the front desk

he sensed she was a cut above the rest of the crop of people sent over by the employment

 

                                                           ******************************************************

 

 

The two men left the house and climbed into a Pontiac Grand Am. There would be no

driving Cadillacs or Lincoln Town Cars by edict of Fran Renaldo. He wanted the people in

his organization extremely low key. Anything that smacked of traditional Mafia symbolism was

forbidden. Vinnie drove down a winding hill until he reached the service road that led to the

expressway. Joey sat in the passenger seat and stared out the window towards the seemingly

endless row of townhouses that had sprung up on Staten Island during the housing boom of the

eighties. They slowed to about thirty miles an hour as the late day sun blinded the drivers

ahead of him. The two men sat peacefully until Joey finally broke the silence.

“So how’s your Uncle Louie? He seems like too nice a guy to be involved in this business.”

“Don’t let his easy going nature fool you. He can be one tough prick when he has

to. Anyway, he’s fine. He’s down in Florida taking it easy.”

“And Connie and Crystal, how are they?

Joey was referring to Vinnie’s wife and daughter.

“They’re wondering when you’re going to come over and visit again. You used to come

over every Sunday after softball, remember?”

            Joey continued to stare out the window.

            “I know Vin, but I’m so busy lately with all this shit.”

            “Listen Joe, we go back twenty years. You and John came to my wedding. You know I

consider us tight. We’ve been through a lot together.”

            “I hear you Vin.”

            “Well then take some advice, and don’t take it the wrong way.”

            Vinnie paused a moment.

            “Don’t press my brother too much. He’s under a lot of pressure from Fran Renaldo.”

            Joey turned towards Vinnie than once again turned to look out the window. The

Verrazano Bridge loomed just ahead. From the corner of his eye he noticed something move

inside the car window. It was an insect. A firefly. “Kind of early in the season for a firefly,” he

thought.

            “I’m sorry Vin. I’ll be more careful.”

            “No problem Joey, consider it forgotten.”

            The car proceeded onto the bridge as Joey gently swatted at the firefly. But the insect

was too quick. It darted at his nose as Joey turned his head to avoid it. It circled towards the

back seat then returned and hovered in front of Joey’s eyes as if taunting him to try another

swat. As he raised his hand it flew quickly out the partially open window.

            “Hey Vin, have you seen any fireflies around your yard lately?”

            “Too early, they come out in the middle of summer.”

            “Yeah, that’s what I thought…slow down, we’re coming into the toll plaza.”

            “Hey Joey, I was thinking about what you said to Bobby about the psycho.”

            “Don’t ever let Arty hear you call him that, Vin.”

            “Well anyway, what’s the story with that picture he showed to Hirsch? Tell me what you

heard.”

            Joey felt a sudden chill as he recalled the story associated with the picture that Arty

carried with him.

            Arty O’Toole grew up on the west side of Manhattan in the Hell’s Kitchen section. This

happened to be the turf of a bunch of Irish American gangsters known as the ‘westsiders’. They

were contract killers who were often used by Renaldo and other mob factions to carry out

‘unsanctioned’ hits. Arty’s father had been a member of this group. His mother had run off

with a motorcycle gang member when Arty was six years old. Neither he nor his father ever

heard from her again. He grew up fast on the tough Hells Kitchen streets and dropped out of

school at fifteen years of age to start hustling a buck. By the time he was eighteen he had

organized his own band of street thugs who specialized in hijacking trucks and burglarizing

warehouses. At around this time his father re-located to Florida to avoid the pressure being

brought to bear from the new RICO statutes that had been adopted to help fight organized

crime in New York.

            Arty and his brethren would frequent a social club on Eleventh Avenue. It was a small

bar owned by the uncle of one of his associates where book makers plied their trade. The back

room was usually reserved for high stakes poker or dice games. On one certain occasion Arty

learned that one of his closest allies in the gang was going to double cross him. His name was

Benny Cigarettes, a name earned from his penchant for hijacking cigarettes shipments as well

as his three pack a day habit.

            As the story went, Benny had been sitting at the bar late one Saturday night when he

was tipped off about a delivery of cigarettes sitting in a warehouse in New Jersey. The

cigarettes would remain in the warehouse until Monday morning when they were scheduled

for delivery throughout the tri-state area. There also happened to be a safe in the warehouse

where his source informed him that the monthly warehouse payroll would be sitting in cash.

For the right price the weekend night watchman might be persuaded to ‘look the other way’

and not sound the alarm until Benny and his associate, a safe cracking explosives expert, were

well on their way back to Manhattan. Now Benny was obligated to report to Arty about the

cigarette heist but he happened to forget the little detail about the safe. Everything went as

planned that night. There was one hundred and twenty thousand sitting in a safe that Benny

would split with his partner. Only Benny didn’t count on his partner being a snitch. To garner

favor with Arty, Benny’s safe cracking friend informed about the cash in the safe. 

            Now Arty loved Benny like a brother, they had grown up on the streets together. But

Arty decided that Benny had to be made an example of. The following night Arty had three of

his gang members bring Benny to a butcher shop in Brooklyn that was owned by one of the

member’s cousins. As soon as he was picked up Benny knew he was a dead man. He pleaded for his life the entire ride from Manhattan to Brooklyn. He sobbed uncontrollably and soiled his

pants with feces so badly that the car was halted on the Manhattan Bridge and Benny was

forced to throw his underwear in the river.  Upon reaching their destination, they carried Benny

in to the back entrance of the shop as he continued to plead for mercy.  Arty was waiting there

to greet them. Under Arty’s supervision, the gang members forced Benny’s left hand into the

meat grinder that was used to dice steak into chop meat. Benny screamed in agony as his arm

was forced into the grinder up to his elbow. His head was then tied to a wood block as Arty

raised a meat cleaver, uttered a few choice phrases, and calmly hacked off Benny’s head like he

was splitting chicken breasts. The three hardened street thugs watched in horror as Benny’s

head bounced over the meat case and down the center aisle of the shop’s grocery section.

            “Clean up in aisle three,” shouted Arty as he laughed maniacally.

            Two weeks later, as the gang members were drinking heavily at the bar, they started to

reminisce about good old Benny. A very intoxicated Arty got to thinking about how he never

really got to have a last drink with him so he instructed his cohorts to go dig up ‘Old Benny’ and

bring him to the bar. They returned to the now closed bar a few hours later with Benny’s

headless torso. Arty instructed them to prop the body up against the bar. A cigarette was lit in

Benny’s honor and placed between the fingers of his remaining hand. Arty then instructed one

of the boys to get the cameras and take one last picture of him and Benny together.

            This was the picture that Arty had shown to Mordy Hirsch, the captive stock trader. A

Polaroid of Arty O’Toole with a raised shot glass in his right hand, his left arm draped over the

shoulder of Benny’s headless torso as  cigarette smoke rose from the fingers of the corpse’s

right hand.

            “You know something Joey?” said Vinnie as a chill shot through him. “I’ve been involved

in a lot of sordid stuff in this business and I’ve seen and heard some bad things, but that is one

of the sickest stories I’ve ever heard.”

            “Did the trick though, didn’t it Vin?  I mean, it got Hirsch to spill the beans.”

            “Maybe so Joey, but this Arty is truly deranged. You better be careful Joey, watch this

freakin’ guy.”

            “I understand Vin. I’ll stay on top of him.”

            They exited the bridge and proceeded towards downtown Brooklyn.

            “Am I dropping you at the store?”

            “No, my place Vin. I’m expecting something in the mail. I’ll hit the store after that.”

            Vinnie drove downtown to drop the younger Salvi brother off at his apartment.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 3

            A veteran priest sat quietly in his bedroom of the rectory of the Catholic Parish of Our

Lady of Perpetual Mercy in Queens, New York.  Father Peter Brady was reflecting on the

sermon he would deliver in that afternoon’s service. In two months he would celebrate the

forty fifth anniversary of his ordination into the priesthood and he wanted to convey to the

congregation some of the changes he sensed had taken place over the last half century.

            When he was first ordained the Catholic Mass was already being recited in English

rather than the classic Latin. He thought this to be a shame because he felt that the old

language added a sense of mystery and celebration that seemed lost with the new translation.

Maybe it was the fact that the response of the congregation in Latin seemed to be more like

singing or Gregorian chanting compared to the English retorts, which seemed to be said more

by rote. It was this evaporation of the mystery of the Catholic religion, the very mystery their

faith was founded on, that he felt contributed to the ever declining attendance of his

congregation. The baby boom generation of Catholics were much more interested in the

material than the spiritual. He recalled attending church with his family as a child as an

event where neighbors would meet and socialize. Then, spirituality was a family experience.

Now as he looked over his congregation he saw only the elderly who were obviously sensing

their mortality, or the young Catholic grammar school students who were ‘persuaded’ to attend

Sunday Mass by the nuns who taught them.   Attendance at the nine o clock Mass on Sunday

was mandatory for the students. If you happened to be absent for some reason you would

surely hear about it from the nuns come Monday morning. For though they seemed

preoccupied with prayer, the Sisters were taking a mental attendance of the pupils that would

do any laptop proud. As he read over his gospel passage he heard a gentle knock at the door to

his room. 

            “Come in.” he answered softly, not looking up from his Bible.

            The rectory assistant, Kathleen, peeked inside.

            “Father, Sister Mary Margaret is on the phone, long distance from Ireland. Shall I put the

call through to you here?”

            “Yes, please Kathleen.” The priest replied.

            “Did you remember to take your heart medicine father?”

            “Yes I did Kathleen, thank you for asking.”

            Kathleen nodded and returned to her desk to forward the call. The priest wondered

when he would hear from his good friend Sister Mary. They had worked together for the past

twenty years since they met at a seminar in Ireland when he was on a year sabbatical. The

priest closed his bible, kissed the cover, and returned it to it’s place on the bookcase just as the

phone on his nightstand rang. He picked up the receiver.

            “Hello Sister Mary, it’s been a long time. I hear you’re back home in Ireland.”

            “Yes I am Father Brady.’ She replied with a heavy Irish brogue.

            “Tell me Sister, how goes the important work you’re doing for the church?”

            “Oh Father, I’m afraid after a while it gets to be quite routine.”

            “You shouldn’t say that Sister.” He replied with genuine concern. You and other’s like

you are our last hope. Without you and your work I don’t see how it’s possible to get people

back to the church. They need something to believe in Sister, it’s the only way.”

            “I suppose there’s some truth to what you’re saying Father, but it gets so very tiresome

running around the world seeking the truth and debunking the fraudulent. It starts to wear on

you sometimes.”

            “Now Sister Mary, I know you’re up to the task.” He encouraged. “Will you be coming to

visit the United States any time soon?”

            “You never know when the need will arise for me to visit.” She replied.

            “This is true, one never knows what God has in store for us.”

            There was a slight pause before Sister Mary spoke again. The priests eyes scanned the

room nervously as he anticipated the nun’s next question. The real reason she had placed the

call.

            “Tell me Father,” she asked candidly. “How might the fund raising for our cause be

going? I don’t mind telling you that I’m more than a little concerned. The Vatican has been

sending me more notices that they will be forced to cut back on our funding unless we can

show them some concrete results. And that would be tragic.”

            Brady knew she was correct. He stared at the large crucifix that hung over his desk. The

one his mother had given him on the day of his ordination. Forty five years had passed in the

blink of an eye. His dear mother was gone now of course for nearly twenty years.

            “Now Sister, don’t you worry.” He reassured her. “It’s true that our conventional

fundraising effort isn’t what it should be because of the shrinking size of the congregation, but

there are other methods to raise money that I am aware of so you just rest easy. Your work is

too important for a few Vatican bureaucrats to decide on. I’ll come up with the money some

way.”

            “Now Peter Brady,” she replied tongue in cheek. “You’re not thinking of betting on the

ponies, are you?”

            “Never you mind sister,” he said with a chuckle. “you just continue your work and let me

handle the finances. I’ll speak to you soon. God bless.”

            “And God bless you Peter Brady.” She said as she hung up the phone.

 

* * *

      “That’s too tight!” a terrified Mordy Hirsch cried as Mike Aluzzo tied the Wall Street

trader’s hands behind the back of the wooden chair on which he was seated.

      “Quit squawking loud mouth or I’ll slap you silly.” Was Arty’s reply.

      O’Toole and Aluzzo were Joey Salvi’s main muscle when it came to keeping peace for

Bobby Umberto. The two thugs were in the basement of a plumbing supply store in

downtown Brooklyn. The basement was actually more of a recreation room than a storage

area. A pool table was located on one side of the room while a television and sofa sat near

the stairway.

            “Is this really necessary?” said Hirsch nervously, his arms pinching from the pressure of

the ropes. “I’ve told you guys everything I know. I’m already in big trouble.”

            “Relax Mordy, we’re not gonna hurt you.” Replied Arty calmly as he finished binding the

ropes. “Unless you make us.”

            Mike smiled. He’d heard Arty use this grade ‘B’ movie line so much that he was almost

starting to believe it. In reality, Arty seldom resorted to violence nowadays but when he did,

there was no stopping him.

            “It’s too tight I told you, you’re cutting off my circulation.” Protested Hirsch.

            Arty nodded his head and Mike loosened the rope around the trader’s wrist slightly.

            Hirsch was absolutely panic stricken but tried to remain calm as he spoke.

            “Thanks for loosening it…look fellas, this isn’t the way I’m used to being treated. I’m no

criminal. I’m a legitimate businessman. What do you want with me anyway?”

            “You know what we want.” Arty said ominously. “Besides, if you’re so ‘legitimate,’

what are you doing messin’ with our stocks, huh?”

            Hirsch shook his head wildly. “What do you mean ‘your’ stocks. If they’re listed on the

exchange than anyone is entitled to trade them. It’s called free enterprise, they’re public

companies.”

            “Aw, c’mon Mordy.” drawled Mike with a menacing smile. “We know better than that, don’t we?”

            Mordy swallowed uncomfortably.

            “Look guys, let’s be reasonable. I’m a trader on Wall Street. I’m going to be missed if I

don’t get back to the office.”

            “You worry too much Mordy.” Arty replied. “Mike, call Mordy’s office and tell them he’s

visiting a client.”

            Both men laughed.

            “Please guys” he pleaded, “ I just do what I’m told like you do. I’m not making any

money on this operation. I told you, Burke is the guy I work for. Why don’t you ask him?”

            “All in good time Mordy.”

            “Please don’t hurt me.” The trader had started to shake uncontrollably.

            “Relax Pal.” Said Mike as he patted his back. “We’re not gonna hurt you. We just want

to convince you once and for all to stop trading our stocks.”

            “And God help you asshole, if you’re holding back any information.” Arty added as he

turned to his partner.

            “Put ‘People’s Court’ on for Mordy Mike. We’ll let ‘Shorty’ keep him company.”

            “Who the hell is Shorty?” gasped Hirsch. His eyes following Arty.

            O’Toole opened a closet door under the stairs.

            “Shorty is Arty’s pet, but we always let him watch People’s Court with us, it’s his favorite show.”

            “What kind of pet?” asked Hirsch nervously.

            Arty emerged from the closet holding a large fish tank and set it on the floor in front of

the television. Coiled inside was a fifteen foot South American Python. A screen lay across the

top of the tank. A heavy brick rested on top of the screen to keep the snake from escaping.

            “I don’t like snakes!” the trader screamed. “Get that damned thing out of here!”

            “Relax Pal, he can’t get out.” Arty paused for effect. “Unless I let him.”

            “Please, I don’t know anymore!”

            He stared at the tank in horror as the snake prodded the screen with it’s head.

            “Look, it’s trying to get out!”

            “It can’t Mordy.” Mike reassured him. “The brick is too heavy.”

            Nonetheless, Mordy continued to scream as the two thugs headed for the stairs.

            “Hey, I’m getting hungry. Should I order some pizza Arty?” Mike asked as he turned back

towards the trader.

            “Mordy, you like sausage or anchovies?”

            The two men laughed as they ascended the stairs to the small back room of the

plumbing supply store. Arty switched on a radio...............