It was just another day the first time I bumped into the mob. Just another day in a calm suburban bubble, where the gentle summer breezes whispered through leafy elms, "We're safe here."
Our village was a mile-and-a-half square, a small tangle of conventional lives where neighbors discussed kids, house prices, and the latest in their careers. During dinner parties, the talk would sometimes drift to juicier subjects: who was showing off her implants at the local pool; or who was sleeping with whom. But the only gangsters we ever saw were on our televisions, the Sopranos and Joe Pesci on late-night cable.
Just another day, I thought.
That Saturday morning I padded downstairs in my slippers. Before stepping outside, I checked the front stoop. Honey, our cat-dog and world-class mouser, often placed trophies there for inspection. And let's be clear. Stumbling across a rodent with its four feet facing heaven, when you're still groggy at seven in the morning, is the wrong way to wake up.
She had taken to sleeping outside with the garage door cracked for easy in, easy out during the night. This arrangement suited her. She preferred freedom to roam. And it suited me, too, because our dog never bought into the whole concept of house training.
Honey squatted where she wanted, when she wanted. Her general attitude was, "Get over it." And while I could live with the trophies outside, her deposits inside were another matter.
No mice that morning. I retrieved the New York Times without incident. Mary and I settled into strong coffee, when a story about a rogue stockbroker caught my eye.
According to the Times, he had embezzled $4 million from the Gambino family and fled to the Middle East. Now, the U.S. government was seeking extradition. "What a dumbass," I said, surprised anybody would steal from the mob.
But the real surprise came near the end of the story. I learned our neighbor was the attorney representing the Gambino family in their efforts to recover the $4 million. By pure coincidence, John Smith (fake name) and his wife were coming over for dinner that evening.
Of course, my imagination got the best of me. All I could think about was Robert Duvall in The Godfather. Was our neighbor some kind of lawyer-consigliere? Should I say anything? Would I offend John and his wife? I was a wreck all day.
When the Smiths arrived that evening, Honey gave John's Gucci loafers a good sniff. He passed her test, and she went on her way without so much as a snarl. Her indifference came as something of a relief. I believe dogs possess a sixth sense about people.
We drank wine and ate under the stars, Honey buzzing around the table for scraps. I carefully avoided the New York Times and stuck to the familiar conversational fare of Westchester -- vacations, hanky-panky, plastic surgery. It was steady as she goes.
Until it wasn't.
During dessert, I realized we were playing a CD collection entitled Mob Hits. Dean Martin. Frank Sinatra. You get the picture. Our stereo system holds five CDs, and I had forgotten to take it out. I tried to ignore the music, hoping the Smiths wouldn't notice. But when the theme from The Godfather started to play, John grimaced from ear to ear.
Uh-oh, I thought.
He didn't say anything at first. His face was one, massive wrinkle. John looked like he had swallowed a lemon whole.
"What's wrong?" I asked, preparing to apologize for the music.
He leaned to the side of our table and looked under it for a long, long time. The rest of us pushed back our chairs too, wondering what was going on. Finally, he pulled up and said, "Honey just shat on my foot."
Talk about speechless.
What do you say when your dog relieves itself on the Guccis of a connected lawyer who lives across the street? In that instant, I had visions of a doggy drive-by, of the peace in our bubble coming to a violent end.
Good thing John's loafers weren't from Gucci's velvet or suede lines. Mary and I hosed them down and apologized all over ourselves. When Honey returned to the scene of the crime, we shooed her away. So to speak.
The four of us continued with dessert, and John finally asked, "Well, did you see it?"
I knew exactly what he meant but played dumb. "See what?"
"I was quoted in the New York Times."
"You don't say."
John explained he was litigating the case on a one-off basis. His partner at the law firm was the one who made the referral. And I'm pleased to report that Honey lived a long and rewarding life, free from mob vengeance.
Sometimes I wonder why it was so much easier to talk about Botox Dad -- a local fellow who wore a baseball hat after his shots and, inadvertently, etched Klingon wrinkles onto his forehead -- rather than to discuss the Times article with John. These days, I'm trying to confine my imagination to what I write.
But it's hard. Mary and I now live in Rhode Island, which is sometimes described as a petri dish for organized crime. It seems like longtime residents are always starting their stories, "I know a guy..."