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This is the first chapter of the Joe Rizzo story. Joe is a fictitious character based on a few notorious Detroiters. This is the second story from the Pudge Kozloski series. I was working on another story for the last few months that just crashed and burned because a major hook turned out to be implausible. Live and learn. That was the reason I turned back to this Pudge story.

Joe Rizzo

By Pudge Kozloski

It was 2:00 in the afternoon. I had just gotten out of bed when I heard someone knocking on my door. Kids from the building trying to rustle up a buck or two with a service I probably didn't need. Kids in the city are enterprising. They learn at a young age how to work a crowd.

It was Carmen. Showing all her teeth,  holding a plate covered in aluminum foil.

"Barbequed chicken, greens, and macaroni n' cheese Pudge. Ladies in the church cookin' up a storm for the picnic tomorrow. I set aside something for you."

"I was down to my last pack of ramen noodles Carmen. You're a Godsend."

"Lord do work in mysterious ways. If you're going to reheat it, remember to take off the foil. Don't need your microwave burning down the building."

"I'm going to set this aside till tomorrow unless I can hustle up an invite to your picnic,"

"You might want to rethink that Pudge. Them church ladies would be on your heathen soul like white on rice. You'd be the only white rice there. Kinda hard to hide."

.

I stashed the dish in the fridge. Now I'd eat for at least two days. Things were looking up. Up from the bottom, but looking up.

I slipped on a pair of old sweats, my All-Stars, and a Tigers cap and headed down the stairs. Time to check in with Francisco at The Smoke Shop.

He was sitting in a lawn chair out front of the shop reading La Gaceta with his right eye. His left was on the street.

"Bobby Mendoza put his truck up for sale. Said he couldn't make enough selling creamsicles to pay for the gas."

"I thought he was working the suburbs. Can't be too many ice cream men working Oakland County these days.

"Suburban kids are weaned on Baskin Robbins and Cold Stone Creamery. They don't even know what a creamsicle is. You haven't been to Ferndale or Royal Oak in a while have you, Pudge? You don't even see kids outside playing baseball anymore. Suburban kids hole up in their bedrooms playing X-Box and texting selfies."

"What about the neighborhood?"

"Shit, these kids got no money. Mama's not paying a buck and a half for a drumstick when she got four mouths to feed and make the rent. The ice cream man has faded away just like your busted up Belvedere. You should have donated that heap to Mother Waddles years ago. You could have claimed it on your taxes."

"You have to make money before you pay taxes."

Francisco held his hand up as a DPD cruiser passed.

"Listen Pudge. I got a delivery for Mario. Twenty Montecristos. He's already called me twice. Angela is down in Toledo with her Father, so I got no one to watch the shop. Think you could swing by on your way back. Mario will probably hook you up a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Best meatballs in town."

.

Mario's was empty except for Mario and a distinguished elderly gentleman sitting at the last booth. When I approached the booth Mario got up and directed me to a seat at the bar.

"Have a seat, Pudge. I'm going to have Cookie get you a plate of spaghetti and meatballs and a glass of Chianti. Angela must still be out of town if Francisco's got you making deliveries."

Mario carried the bag of cigars over to his table. The elderly gentleman waved his fingers at him and Mario handed over the bag. His guest looked in the bag and drew out two cigars. He took off his glasses, waved one of the cigars under his nose, looked my way and nodded. Mario took the bag, walked the length of the bar and disappeared through the kitchen door.

"You're Pudge Kozloski."

Holy shit! It's Joe Rizzo. I hadn't seen his face in the papers for years. His suit hung loosely from his shoulders, his hair had thinned and there were dark circles under his eyes.

The gravitas remained.

"Come on over and sit with me. Bring your wine. Cookie will bring your dinner when she brings my Saltimbocca."

Joe Freakin' Rizzo is telling me to join him for dinner. I'm wearing a threadbare tracksuit and 10-year old All-Stars to dinner with the Capo Dei Capi of Detroit. I felt a churning in my bowels as I approached his booth.

"Why do you call yourself Pudge? Don't answer. You've been called that since you were in diapers and chowing down on sausages and gravy. You look like you still eat that way. What's your real name?"

" Viktor."

"Viktor. Vik Kozloski. Sounds a lot more like a writer. Respect yourself and your readers will respect you back. You're a good writer Vik. I liked the pieces on Joey Carter and Mad Mary that you wrote for the Loaf. You make the reader care.

I read the Loaf every week. I haven't seen anything from you in over a year."

Cookie brought two plates to the table and refilled my wine glass. She reached over and patted Mr. Rizzo on the hand.

"Can I get you anything else, Joe?"

"I'm good now. Check back when I finish my veal. Thank you Cookie."

"Cookie has been with Mario for over 40 years, the only woman on Mario's staff. She lives at The Hollenden on Hancock. She's pretty much retired but comes in to take care of Mario's friends. She doesn't even clock in anymore."

"Must be tough making the rent."

"Not at all. I own The Hollenden."

Mr. Rizzo put his fork down and reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a clip. He peeled off five $100 bills and reached over and stuffed them into my breast pocket.

"I want you to do something for me. I want 1500 words on how you felt when you realized who I was. No bullshit. I can smell bullshit a mile away."

He peeled off another ten bills and stuffed them in with the first five.

"I want you to give me another 5000 words on how you think I fit into the Detroit story. You meet me here next Wednesday at 1:30 and show me what you have. I'm not looking for something from the Free Press archives. I want to read your personal impression."

He raised his hand toward Cookie and pointed at my plate. She was at the table in 60 seconds with a to-go box.

I was being dismissed. I was hoping for a go-cup for the wine. I wasn't about to ask.

I was out on the street with 1500 bills in my pocket, major constipation and a dark cloud over my head. I had five days to impress Joe Rizzo. I hadn't impressed myself in a year.

.

I sat at my computer at 4:00 a.m. staring at a blank screen. I had yet to get past the first paragraph. It wasn't writer's block that I was dealing with. It was abject fear.

How can you be honest with the most dangerous man in Detroit? I got up from my chair and rolled a skinny. Time for a break.

At 1:30 I got dressed and headed out for Cass Ave. A  talk with Francisco might shed a little light.

.

"You need to come to an understanding with Joe. Your relationship is based on fear. No truth will ever come from that. I think you should tell the truth. What's he gonna do? Haul you out behind the Masonic and put a cap in your ass? Joe doesn't do that."

"Well, Joe's got people."

"He's old Pudge. He looked like death warmed over the last time he stopped by. Didn't even come inside. Sat in the back of his Lincoln and ordered curb service. Twenty Preferido's through the drive-through window."

A DPD cruiser slowed to a stop on Cass. Francisco got up from his chair and slid into the shop. The cop stared at me through mirrored sunglasses. A minute later Frisco strolled up to the passenger window and handed over a small bag of cigars. The cop handed his partner one of the cigars and tipped his brim toward Francisco as they pulled away from the curb.

"Cops and Wiseguys. Bourbon-soaked for the cops, Dominicans for the Boys. It's all a matter of taste. No doubt about who works for who.

Think about it. Who's done more damage to this town? Joe's no different than the shysters running the Big 3 when it comes to business. You think they don't twist arms on the 14th floor? This town is one third the size that it was in 1960. Joe didn't do that. Detroit put all its eggs in one basket. The bastards sold the basket down the fucking river to Alabama and Mexico.

Take a look at the UAW and AFL-CIO. Hear anything about them lately. In 1975 a sweeper could make $22 an hour at The Rouge. Those days are gone. You don't see any acts of charity from Roger Smith.

Joe gets a discount from Henry Ford Hospital. He's paid off a 100 hospital bills over the years. He's a brutal negotiator but he takes care of his people.  Do you really think he needed to pay $1500 for a personal essay?"

"What do you think he wants Frisco?"

"Honesty. From a human perspective. Why do you think he operated the way he did. He would never want to be seen as an apologist. Or a whiner.

Use the phone in the shop. Call Mario and see if Joe's around. He'll talk to you but you gotta be straight with him."

.

A half-hour later the Smoke Shop phone rang. Francisco walked back out to his chair, relit his cigar and pointed it my way with a grin.

'He wants to see you in 30 minutes. Room 320 at The Coronado. Lorenzo will be in the hall, he knows you're coming. 

Take a deep breath and tell him straight. He'll respect you for it."

Francisco grinned.

"By the way, he called you Viktor. Anything I need to know?

Vik?"

.

Lorenzo met me at the door, frisked me and confiscated my recorder. 

"No recordings. Anything you need to write down, you do when you get home. Joe's going to review anything you write anyway. You'll get your recorder back when you leave."

He reached out and rapped on the woodwork twice. 

Cookie opened the door and smiled.

"Come on in Pudge.  He's sitting in the sunroom. Can I get you anything? Scotch, Brandy? Joe's drinking cognac. Will, that do?"

.

He was sitting in a dark leather pub chair. Wrapped in a robe with a blanket across his legs and a drivers cap on his head, talking on the phone. He motioned me to the chair next to him as he finished up his call. 

"Cookie, could you take the phone away and tell Lorenzo to hold all calls. You can take off and go see your Granddaughter, Vincent will drive you. He's at your disposal for the rest of the day. Thank you, sweetheart. 

Cookie smiled at me as she grabbed her jacket.

"Go easy on the cognac and cigars, Joe. One more glass of cognac for him Pudge. I know how much is in the bottle."

.

"Why are you here Vik? You're supposed to see me on Wednesday."

Joe was covered with a thick robe and a blanket and I was sweating.

"Mr. Rizzo, I've got a computer file full of 50 first paragraphs with no hook. I've been up until 4:00 a.m. for the last three days wracking my brain for the right approach. I'm shitting bricks and swallowing nails. I'm not a tough guy, I'm a writer. I'm looking for a way, to tell the truth about a man that could squash me like a bug."

Joe reached over to pick up a cigar and a cutter. He held them out to me.

"My eyes aren't so good these days Vik. Trim that for me. No more than a 1/8 inch. The lighter is on the table next to you. Last week I lit the damn thing halfway up the barrel. Ruined a perfectly good $25 cigar."

He took a long slow drag and then pointed the cigar at me.

"Do I look like a tough guy to you? I'm running on fumes. My suits hang on me and I'm wearing coke bottle glasses. I still can't see shit.

Vik, I'm going to move you into The Coronado. I'll send Lorenzo to talk to Carmen and get you out of your lease. We'll make it up to her.

You go on the payroll starting today. $1500 a week. You already got your first-week salary. You and I are going to talk every day. Lorenzo will come down and knock on your door every day. If he doesn't knock, that means I got other things to do that day. 

It took balls for you to show up here with nothing in your hands. I respect that. I know what you're going through, I wasn't always the boss.

We're going to talk about the Detroit experience, about Family and making it in this world. You've been fed a lot of shit over the years about Italians. The Polish never put it together the way the Italians did so they have a slightly different take. We're going to buff that mindset a bit.

Vik, you write exactly what's on your mind, I'm going to review it anyway. There is nothing you can say that I haven't heard a million times before. You won't piss me off. From now on, it's 'da Uomo a Uomo'. If you can't handle that, say so right now. I wouldn't have picked you for this if I didn't respect your talent. Your stories always told the tale from the Detroit experience. 

Vik, I am Detroit.

One more thing. Go see Jimmy Chen and have Ling make you up a couple of suits. You look like a ragman."

. (The picture is The Coronado at 2nd and Selden)

Lincoln55 8 Aug 12
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Good start. Lots of guts up front. You've got the stuff here for a long piece. What are you aiming at?

@Lincoln55 -- I'll do that. Kind of tied up right now with a time sensitive editing job, but I get to it as soon as possible.

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