“I don’t know, Pop, it just doesn’t feel right, you know?” Johnny Barsetti took a moment to check his hair in the restaurant window, the interior lights reflected off the glass and his coifed reflection stared back at him, framed against the black of night. “I was talking to Pauly the other night and he said most weddings are more for the parents than...”
His father cut in, “Pauly? Now you’re getting wedding advice from Pauly the Puss? When did you see him?” Lou Barsetti wiped his mouth with a starched, cloth napkin and glanced at his wife across the table. She rolled her eyes.
“What’re you doing talking to Pauly, Johnny?”, she asked. “He’s nothing but trouble. Backstabbing son of a bitch still owes your father. It’s disrespectful, you know, to be seen talking to Pauly.”
“Yeah, Ma, I know. It’s just that he called and I picked up before I saw the caller I.D. and we got talking, you know. I haven’t seen him in ages.” Johnny held up his glass. “Pop, can you pour me some wine?”
“Pour yourself some goddamn wine. Better yet, why don’t you have Pauly pour your wine. Pauly the Puss. I can’t believe this.”
Johnny stared at his parents, back and forth across the table and finally settled on his father. “Pop, dad, could we drop this thing about Pauly. It’s ridiculous that we’ve spent this much time talking him. Please, let’s get back on track here and talk about this fucking arranged wedding.”
Gina Barsetti shot her son a withering look but remained quiet.
The waiter took the gap in conversation as a cue to approach the table. Lou Barsetti looked at his personal assistant and made a flicking gesture like he was brushing away a fly. His assistant, Ricky the Brick, stepped from behind the table and placed a hand the size of Lincoln Park on the waiters chest then leaned forward and mumbled, unintelligibly, in a resonant baritone. Johnny couldn’t understand a word but he saw the waiter blanch and double-time it back to the kitchen.
The Brick turned to the table, ponderously, and murmured something that was lost in the blanket of background noise, romantic chatter and tinkling tableware. Lou Barsetti nodded, “Thank you, Ricky, it’s refreshing when people do what they’re told.”
“Is that what this is about, Pop?”, Johnny asked. “I’m not a good son because I don’t do what my old man says? I can’t believe this. I’ve done everything you’ve asked me to do for twenty four years and now, finally, I say ‘I’m not sure about that’ and you pitch a fit?”
His father, Big Lou Barsetti, placed his hands, blunt meaty slabs, on the table then closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them he gave his boy the stare that made Lt. Wenders Templeton famously piss his pants on the witness stand. Lou had been a bigger man then, meaner and unforgiving. Over the years his muscle had turned to flab and his hair was streaked with silver but he could still intimidate. He hadn’t personally seen or committed an act of violence in a decade but his eyes were a flat gray and he knew he still had a solid glare. “You think, Johnny, that this is some kind of power trip? You think I wouldn’t prefer you marry for love?”
“This isn’t about you or us, Johnny, it’s about all of us,” offered Mrs. Barsetti.
“That’s right. Your mother is right, Johnny, this is about the family. Look, you marry this Gallina girl, what’s her name...Allegra, and all of our lives get easier. Ours and the Gallina’s. Both families benefit and all you need to do is say some vows, exchange some rings and boom...”, Big Lou made a gesture with both hands like he conjured a rabbit right there on his plate of cold mostaccioli. “Think of this as a business deal. It’s that easy.”
“I...don’t...love...her, Pop.” Johnny said. “She seems cool but I barely even know her.”
Johnny’s mother reached across the table and placed her hand over her son’s. “It doesn’t matter, Johnny, you’ll learn to love each other. Just like your father and me.”
“That’s right,” said Big Lou, “our marriage brought our families together and there’s been peace ever since. There was that thing in ’92 when Taco Tony went missing but that was nothing. A hiccup. And look at us, after 40 years me and your mother like each other plenty.”
Gina Barsetti pointed her finger at her husband. “Fuck you, Lou, you’re not helping. Johnny, he means to say we love each other very much and only want the best for you and the family.”
Lou made an innocent face and shrugged at Rick the Brick who was busily ignoring the conversation. “Listen, son. This is the last thing, the last really big thing, we’ll ask of you. Our family has been fighting for too long and it’s time to put the guns away. We can’t make you do this...” Lou paused. “No, actually we can make you do this, but it much easier if you accept this as your responsibility, your duty. I’ve provided you with so much, so many opportunities, and it’s time for you to return the favor.”
Lou sat back in his chair, it was the longest speech he’d given in months and he was lightly winded. We took a couple small breaths and smiled, “Besides, you could do much worse, she’s got some great tits.”
Johnny’s mother gasped and pointed at her son, “Johnny Barsetti, I have had enough of your swearing and Lou, keep it in your pants, you’re talking about our son’s future wife.”
Lou laughed, “Eh Ricky, am I right?”
The Brick allowed himself a small smirk just to show he wasn’t asleep on the job.
“Okay, Johnny, seriously.” Big Lou, the patriarch of Chicago’s second largest crime family looked at his only son, “What’s it gonna be?”
“Yeah, Johnny,” his mother stared at him like he was a puzzle from the Sun Times, “what’s it gonna be?”
Ricky the Brick surreptitiously picked at a black, wiry hair growing on his nose.
Johnny made a conciliatory gesture with his hands. “Fine. Fine, you guys win. I can’t believe I’m agreeing to this. You’re gonna owe me huge. I mean mansions huge.”
Big Lou slapped his hands against the table and whooped. He leaned over to kiss his wife then used his napkin to wipe away the tears that, like magic, were already streaming down her face.
“On one condition.” Johnny said. Lou and Gina Barsetti froze and both of their heads turned to their son. Their eyes were wary, suspecting a trap.
“I don’t like cake,” Johnny said. “At the wedding I want to serve pie instead of cake.”
Big Lou stared at his son in disbelief. Seconds pass and Johnny watched his father’s face, his quivering jowls, turn red. He watched his fathers mouth open and close as it primed his brain to understand his son’s demand. “Johnny, it’s a wedding. It’s a goddamn wedding and at weddings people eat cake!”
“Too bad, Pop. At my wedding they're gonna eat pie.”