The Pound of Sinsemilla

Joseph Andriano


    “Are you ready to hear Bill’s tape?” Hollie asked Robert, who sat near the sunlit window. He nodded, his eyes fixed on the burgundy streaks in Hollie’s goth-black hair as they caught the late afternoon light.  “Zack is talking to Bill,” she said, pressing play.


All right all right, I’ll fess up. I’ll tell you the whole story, but the only crime I committed was dealing dope, and I already served my time for that a few years ago. More time in the House ain’t gonna reform me. If you let me go I’ll take the straight and narrow, I promise, I’ll take the straight and narrow path right outta New Orl’ns if that’ll help.


Okay? What made DiCaso such a regular, he was always in the market for plenty of premium bud. He paid top dollar for exotic strains, considered himself a connoisseur, even flew to Amsterdam every goddam year for the Cannabis Cup awards. But he wouldn’t really know Thai-stick from Maui-Wowie; I even passed Mexican schwag off on him one time as a rare strain of primo-Jamaican lambs-bread. All right, as long as I’m in confession-mode here I’ll come squeaky clean: I took him a thousand times. But he always came back for more, and he was always satisfied. It’s not like I was selling him catnip and birdseed. It was always the real thing.


We were friends in high school, in upstate New York. He’s the one who got me to move down here after he graduated from the friggin’ Culinary Institute. All I’d been doing was working in my uncle’s liquor store, but it was there that I learned all about wine, which is why DiCaso needed me as a bartender, he wanted to open a restaurant with “the best wine bar in New Orleens.” That’s how he pronounced the name of your fair city. I never could get him to say it right. Anyway, he started the business with an inheritance from his grandfather, figured he’d honor the family name by calling it Casa DiCaso, and the place really hit it off and it wasn’t long before he was living it up in that cool pink house in the Garden District, and here I was a college dropout, bartender, and pot dealer with an old rundown shotgun way up Frenchmen Street.  But since I was “a valued employee,” and to make sure I didn’t get pissed off at him and refuse to sell him dope, he occasionally invited me to his artsy-fartsy parties. I kept turning him down, I didn’t tell him it was because his fairy friends made me a little uncomfortable, you know what I mean?


DiCaso always acted like he was the next Emiril Lagasse or whatever, and he was living for the day Anne Rice would show up at the restaurant. She did show up, on my night off.  So I didn’t get to meet her, and even worse I missed seeing DiCaso make a fool of himself by telling her he loved all her books, even the porn—especially the porn. Anyway he started inviting her to his parties, so I decided to take him up on the patronizing invitations, in case Anne Rice showed up. She never did, no surprise there, and she hasn’t come back to the restaurant, neither. And to add insult to injury, she never invited him to that big Halloween bash of hers.


So anyway at the parties I was sort-of like on display as DiCaso’s dealer, to highlight how hip and cool he and all his friends were. I was also the token employee, to show how friggin’ magnanimous he was. But mainly I was introduced as his highschool pal, to show all his friends how two people could start from roughly the same background, and one be very successful and filthy rich, while the other has to deal dope just to make ends meet.  Every time I went over there he found a subtle new way to make me feel like a pile of dogshit.


At the last party of his I’ll ever have to suffer through, I was just about to leave, the party was hours old and DiCaso was very drunk and stoned. His eyes were slits and his grin was gigantic as he sidled up to me, pulling this reluctant Goth, all dressed in shiny black and looking kind of ridiculous when she got up close and I could see she was like late thirties, older probably than DiCaso, and too old for the Goth scene. Don’t get me wrong, she was still very hot.


“Hey Zack, I want ya to meet a friend of mine.” She had bobbed pitch-black hair with streaks of wine-red in it, bangs down to her eyebrows, which were blackened with whatever shit they do that with. She wore a short tight black slinky dress and those shiny over-the-knee leather boots that look like stockings, you know what I’m talking about.


“Zack Zimbrone, Hollie Rougeau. Zack’s my bartender.” See what I mean? he always made a point of using that word. Twisting the blade. He didn’t even mention that I was also his goddam sommelier. “Hollie does portraits, not those tacky ones you see on Jackson Square. Her stuff is in several galleries on Magazine.” I noticed as she sipped her wine her fingernails were blood-red and pointed, not too long but definitely sharp.


“I hear you have the kindest bud,” she whispered.


I gave DiCaso a look to kill. “You told her I’m a dealer?”


“She’s a friend of mine, Zack, chill out. Everybody here’s cool.”


“I’m the one who decides who I’ll sell to,” I said.


 “I respect that, Zack,” said Hollie. “I’m very discreet, you know.” She looked at DiCaso. “About a lot of things.”    

“He buys directly from growers who know exactly what they’re growing, right Zack?”


“Yeah. But the kind bud is rare around here, so it’s not cheap.”


“That’s okay,” she said. “I just sold a painting.”


“I guess I might could help you.” I said something that stupid I admit I was drooling for her.


 “I can tell you run a respectable business,” she said.

“Yeah, Zack’s about as respectable as an ex-con can get.”


 I wanted to deck him right there. But all I said was, “Thanks, Rob. You want a mike?”

“Excuse me! I thought you were proud of it.”


“You served time?” The way she said it she seemed to think it was cool, but her look made me feel like I was contagious.


“Six months is all,” I said. “It’s an occupational hazard.  Listen, I just deal dope to get by. I’m a sommelier.” Looking only at her.


“That’s my respectable business. I don’t just tend bar.”


“Really? Cool.” Hollie gave me a longer look-over. “Listen, I’ve got some really old Spanish wine I inherited from my father. I was thinking of putting it on, but maybe you could come and take a look at it first.” Maybe I imagined it but she seemed like she was coming on to me, there was a glint in her eye and a smirk on her face. “Give me some idea what it’s worth?”


“Hey listen, Zack—” DiCaso must’ve noticed it too.


“I’d be glad to,” I said with a grin. I took out my card and handed it to her. “Give me a call.”


“You wouldn’t have anything special on you to smoke, would you, Z-Z?” asked DiCaso.


Like I’d give him a toke of schwag after the way he ran off his asshole mouth. “Sorry Rob, I finished it on my way over here.”


“Oh well, enjoy the party then. Come on, Hollie, there’s someone I want you to meet.”


And with that he ushered her away, his hand around her hip first, then lowering to pat her ass, which by the way was barely covered by that slinky flouncy thing she had on. I hoped to hell she’d give me a call.


After I wandered around for twenty more minutes or so finding it impossible to break into any conversations, most of them about boring hifalutin shit anyway, I made my way across the crowded room to a cosy corner where Hollie and Rob had migrated. “I’m outta here.”


“Later, Zig-Zag. Call me when the next batch comes in.”


“Count on it, Rob,” I said. Maybe it was already a threat.
He had a weak point—Mr. Robert DiCaso—his alleged connoisseurship of weed. When he thought some shit I’d grown from Colombian seeds in my courtyard was pure Durban poison, I knew he didn’t really know shit from shinola. So to get even with him for the constant little humiliating scenes he put me through like the one with Hollie, I regularly ripped him off.  I’m sure he suspected at least when I charged him half a grand for an o-z of mid skunkweed, worth about $200. He was so bud-happy and so rich he didn’t care. It was never schwag anyway, and since he had to know I was overcharging him and he still not only bought from me but continued to invite me to his soirées where he continued to insult me, we were caught in a tit-for-tat kinda thing there for a while. Until Mardi Gras, that is. The scales tipped then. He galled me, sir, this is what I’m trying to explain to you. He went too freakin’ far that time. I know you’ll back me up on this.


It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season that I encountered my friend. Thousands of people around, what are the chances of randomly running into each other? It was at the Krewe of Ganymede parade, on St. Charles. Ganymede is an upstart krewe—more recent even than Orpheus—a buncha fags and dykes. A gaudy float was approaching that looked like an ancient Greek ship with a naked god for a figurehead. A gaggle of drag queens up there on the deck, definitely not an unusual sight at Mardi Gras, these guys all dressed like Greek goddesses were now leaning over the gunwale throwing the usual beads and doubloons into the screeching mob’s waving hands. I like to stand back from the bead-grubbing and observe the insanity while sipping my rusty nail.  I also like to watch bead-whores flash their tits just to get the best beads. As the float—which was tugged by a pink Lincoln—passed by, one of the drag queens was dangling a fine set of beads at a broad in a tank top and a tight-fitting Spandex zebra-striped skirt. The fag yelled to her as she stood on tiptoes on the curb, “Hey honey, show me your tits and they’re yours!” I thought it was weird that a drag queen would make a request like that. But there it was. When the broad lifted her top they all went into hysterics—I mean everybody around, the drag queens and all the spectators. I walked up to get a look just as she turned my way—she was kind of drunkenly reeling with her top up so everybody could see her boobs. I did a double-take when I saw they were fake: she had on one of those Frederick’s of Hollywood contraptions, a Latex torso with a perfect set of silicon knockers. I mean jigglin’ perfect, not like those cheap stiff plastic things you can get in the sleaze shops on Bourbon Street. These boobs looked real. As she put her top back down with one hand she took the offered beads. “Way to go, Robert,” said the goddess to her as the float continued down the street. “We’ll see you at the ball.”


Now, Robert is a common name. But I knew from the nose, shaped in profile kind of like a trowel. He had on a very long brown wig and a lot of makeup, lipstick, the works. But it was DiCaso.


“Hey Zack!” He lurched my way, obviously very drunk.  


“Great costume,” I said.


He tried a curtsy. “Thank you darlin’. Where’s yours?”


“I’m not into costumes, man.”


“C’mon it’s Mardi Gras! Hey Z-Z, you got something to smoke?”


“Sure,” I said. Maybe the plan was already beginning to sprout. “You just dress in drag once a year, right?”


“In public you mean? Twice, dahlin. Halloween too.” I swear to you he winked at me as he giggled like a girl.    


“You know those fags on the float, huh?”


“The Krewe of Ganymede. Sure, Zack. I’m goin to their ball later, too. You wanna come? I need a date.” He laughed again, only now at a much lower pitch.


“No thanks. I have to work. We’re open tonight, remember? and I’m the one holding down the fort.”


“For which I can’t thank you enough, Zack.”  We walked up Clio Street until the crowd had thinned and I lit up, glancing at his ass and noticing his panty-lines. “Jesus Christ, Robbie, you even walk like a broad. You’ve had a lot of practice with this, I can tell.”


“Well, how do I look?”


“Too good for your own goddam good.”


“Well then, it’s settled. We have a date. We’ll close the restaurant.”


“We have a lot of reservations, boss.” I never call him boss. “And besides, I prefer the Real Thing.”


“Why’d you tell me about prison, Zack?”


“What? Here, take the joint, I’m outta here.” He took it and I started walking away.


“Come on, Zack. They called you Z-Z Top, and you know I’m a bottom.” He pivoted and stuck his zebra-striped butt out at me. “We’re made for each other. I haven’t been able to tell you, but now I’m piss-ass drunk and it’s Mardi Gras and what the hell, I really like you Zack. I always did. C’mon, loosen up.” He shouted to me as I headed back to the parade. “C’mon, Zack. You just can’t admit that you liked it, can you, Z-Z Top? Can you?”


Later that night after Casa DiCaso closed, I went to De Grâves for a nightcap with a bunch of my best friends, who’d been drinking at the bar while I was behind it and now wanted to drink with me, you know what I mean? I’m talking about my favorite regular customers, people I know who tip me thirty, forty percent, people I’ve established a good bartender-drunk relationship with. So we’re hanging out at De Grâves and in walks DiCaso with two of the goddesses, all still in costume. All still drunk. He shouts at the top of his very masculine voice, “Hey y’all, there he is. I told y’all he hung out here. My date. Hey Zack, hey Z-Z, goombah! I’ve come to pick you up.” The two goddesses start singing “One night with you,” you know from the Elvis song.


“Hey dudes, very funny, ” I said, pretending to take the joke in stride. “It’s just a joke,” I assured my friends. But they weren’t the same to me the rest of the night. I became a different person, as far as they were concerned. Suddenly I was a suspected faggot. Guilt by association. I was totally humiliated, that’s what I’m trying to get across to you, sir, that’s why I decided to bite the hand that feeds me. Or rather, crush the snake that bit me.


I couldn’t let him get away with it. I can take it in front of his cronies, but not in front of my friends. I wasn’t thinking of whackin’ him, or even of bashin’ his useless balls in. What I had in mind was humiliation. Something that would compensate for the loss of my job, and the loss I would take without his business. Something that would make an impression. I set the hook by buttering him up over the next few months, asking him to verify the authenticity of a particular batch of dope, deferring to his expertise. As luck would have it—yeah for once as my grandpa used to say, sono molto fortunato—I scored this incredible kilo from my man in Vancouver who crossed Texada Timewarp from B.C. with Hawaiian sativa from Mauna Kea to create a strain he called Sinsemilla limonata. Those long sticky cactus-spear buds were almost too pretty to smoke. But smoke it I did, and I blame the stone from that kind bud for the wild scheme I concocted. I divided the herb into two elbows, broke one of them into Z’s and sold them easily, keeping the other elbow intact. Then I got rid of all my paraphernalia—even flushing away about two hundred roaches that I’d been saving with the intention of pressing them with pinesap into something resembling cowshit and selling it to DiCaso as hashish—all my bongs shattered into pieces and thrown into the trash, and even my collection of cigarette papers from all over the world—except one last leaf of Zig-Zag. It was on a sultry early evening I called DiCaso to make our last deal.


“Hey Robert, you’ll never guess what I scored.”


“Z? Can I call you back in about five? I’m in the middle of something.”


“Well, I’ve got this pound of frosty sinsemilla, man. I was told it’s genuine White Widow. Problem is, I’m not sure it’s the Real Thing.”


“What do you mean? It’s got plenty of crystal, right, and not a seed?”


“Yeah, but—”


“Then it’s got to be real. Listen, I’ll call you back.”


“Never mind, man, I’ll call Rocky Luchresi.”


“Luchresi wouldn’t know white widow from Kansas schwag.”

“It’s now or never, Rob. You come over, help me with this shit, you’re in for the heavy elbow, man, no shake.”


“Okay. So why does it matter if it’s pure white widow? As long as it’s kind, what difference does it make?”


“It has the highest THC content of any bud on the planet. But like I said, I have my doubts this is the genuine article. Trouble is, I was so excited about it I wasn’t thinking too straight, I went ahead and paid top dollar. I just want to make sure I wasn’t ripped off.”


“Well, I’ve only seen it in Amsterdam.”


“Which is why I have my doubts.”


“I’d recognize it, though, by the tiny white crystals like sugar granules all over it, first time I saw it I thought it was mold. And that lemony taste. And by how much it makes me cough when I smoke it.”


I knew I could count on his poor stoner memory. White widow is known for its mellow smoke, the wallop it packs sneaks up on you, from the back of your brain. But this stuff was harsh, man, you’d have to have lungs coated with creosote not to cough. “So you on your way, or am I callin’ Luchresi?”


“I’m there.”


By the time he got to my house, I had a blunty joint rolled. DiCaso (opening the ziplock of that heavy bag he knew would soon be his) took a whiff.


“Ahhh, that skunky bouquet, with just a hint of citrus,” he said. “It passes the first test.”


“You think it’s genuine, then.”


“We can’t know until we’ve smoked it, of course.”


“Of course. Let’s go out to the courtyard. No one’s around.”


We sat on the old parkbench below my landlady’s raised flower garden, mostly weeds now. I lit the J.

He decided to make conversation: “So did Hollie ever call you about that wine?”

“Not yet.”

“She said she would. You want me to remind her?” He took a deep toke but couldn't hold it, smoke exploded from his mouth as he coughed uncontrollably.

“Yeah. No. Sure, whatever.”

“I managed to get her a show," he managed to say. "Her paintings are gonna be exhibited in a few—” He hacked again.

“Pretty powerful shit, huh?”

“It passes the second test. I would say you were not ripped off.” His eyes had already pinked out, and he forgot to finish his sentence.

“I believe you, Rob. You’re the real expert. I never been to Amsterdam.”

“So what’s the deal on this pound?”

“More than you’ve ever paid before.” He took another hit off the J and exploded again. “God this stuff is incredible.” He fell into a fit of heaves.

“Two-toke limit. Hey that’s a nasty cough.”

“It’s nothing. It won’t kill me.”

True—true. And neither will I, I thought. Much too easy. I could bash your head in with that shovel, bury you in cement in my landlady’s raised flowerbed, probably even get away with it, but then my satisfaction, if any resulted from such an act, would be fleeting. This is what I’m trying to get across to you, I’m no gay-basher, man. I came up with a better idea. Poetic justice.

“I was talking about Hollie, wasn’t I? Listen, Z, why don’t you come to my party tonight and the three of us will head over to Hollie’s afterward and you can check out that wine.” When he got no response from me, he added, “Don’t worry, Z, I won’t make a pass. I’m not dressed for it.”

I didn’t look at him. I picked up the shovel that my landlady had left weeks ago, and just leaned on the tool, thinking it was here just to dig through his bullshit.

“So what’s with the shovel?”

“It’s just helping me stand up—this shit knocks my socks off.”

He laughed like he’d never heard that before, then started coughing again.

“I’d say it’s about ten times stronger than Colombian,” I said, “which is two grand a pound. What do you think, Rob?”

He managed to take a deep breath and not cough. “Yeah I guess I’m higher from two tokes than I would normally be from twenty.”

“And that’s a heavy bag, all the densest stickiest buds, no twiggy deadweight. Ten K.”

“What? Ten thousand dollars? For a pound?”

“In cash.”

“Holy shit. That’s outrageous. I’ve never spent more than three grand.”

“You never had shit this holy. You said as much yourself. You can make most of the money back if you sell some of the bud. Believe me, people will pay two hundred a quarter-Z for genuine white widow.”

“But ten grand.”

“You make that much in a month, don’t you?”

“Not quite, not quite.”

“Sure you do, thanks to the best wine bar in New Orleans.”

And the best sommelier, he was supposed to say, which would have been his last chance to escape my revenge. “You talked me into it, Z.” We shook on it. I thought I should never have done wringing his limp, bony little hand. And so he ran to the nearest branch of his bank. He was back in less than thirty minutes, handed me a bunch of cash in various denominations. Taking one last deep sniff of the piny/lemon aroma, I handed him the elbow.

“So I’ll see you tonight, right Z?” His laugh was sickening.

“Prob’ly not, Rob, sorry. I got other plans.”

“All right, be that way. Maybe you’re right, maybe the boss shouldn’t fraternize with his employees. Strictly business, eh Zack? Thanks.” He left with the dope.

Not a trace of controlled substances could be found now in my house. I spent the rest of the afternoon on the porch under the ceiling fan rehearsing. At dusk, armed with my cell phone, I took the streetcar up St. Charles, got off and walked down Josephine St., where DiCaso lived. When his pink house was in sight, and I could see his fairy friends leaning on the wooden railing on the balcony, I called the city police. “There’s a party going on, they’re awful noisy, and I see them smoking pot on the balcony.” I gave them Robert’s address. Hook, line, and sinker. I wish I could’ve seen them bust those stoned-out fairies.

The next day two cops and my former parole officer arrived at my house with a search warrant. DiCaso had tried—as I knew he would—to cut a deal by squealing on his alleged source. “Y’all,” I said, “I’m squeaky clean. You know I never violated parole. Not once. I tend bar for him, you know that, and I’m his wine steward. I think he’s got a grudge against me, it may even be why he hired me. It’s a power thing. He’s got a vendetta, you know, from when I sold him a bogus bag of dope, actually it was catnip and birdseed, with a little cowshit mixed in for texture, oh about fifteen years ago. He’s never forgiven me for that; I’m telling you, the man holds a grudge.”

It was worth it. Worth their tearing my place apart and not finding a single seed. Worth  having to put up with my parole officer again. There it was in the Times Picayune. Restaurateur Robert DiCaso, owner of the popular Casa DiCaso, arrested for felony possession of—and intent to distribute—marijuana. His lawyer worked hard, but the judge just happened to be a zero-tolerant hard-ass. The only way the lawyer could keep DiCaso from losing his house and the restaurant was for him to do some real time, just like I did. Six long months. But unlike me they’ll make him a bitch, yeah and I don’t think even he will like it.

He did manage to call me, just before he was taken to the slammer.

“Why’d you do it, Zimbrone?”

“Do what? I didn’t do nothing.”

“You called the cops. I know you did. You set me up. Why?”

“I have no idea what you’re talkin’ about, man. I would never do that to you, not even after what you did to me last Mardi Gras.”

“I was drunk, Zack. So that’s what this is all about.”

“Like I told you. It wasn’t me. You got busted. It happens. It happened to me once. I did the time. You’ll survive, Rob. It’ll be a learnin’ experience for ya.”

“What the hell did I do to you? Hit on you? What were you before I brought you down here, Z?—you were a lowly cashier in a liquor store in upstate nowhere New York. I made you sommelier in the hottest new place in New Orleans, I gave you some status, man. And now, guess what? You’re fired.”

That was the first time he ever called me sommelier. So you see, it worked, he finally gave me a little respect, if you’ll excuse the Rodney Dangerfield. “I already quit. Oh by the way, Hollie finally called. I’m going over there tonight to check out that wine.” Revenge would’ve been sweeter if instead of that lie I’d said, Nobody treats me like shit and gets away with it. But I didn’t want to give him the idea that he was right about me.  “Take care of yourself, man. My advice while you’re inside, go with the flow.”

I hung up. For all I knew, the cops were taping the conversation, I wasn’t about to keep talking. I might slip. But now I’m coming clean. You wanta bust me for dealing dope, go ahead. I’m not gonna take the rap for what happened to him in prison. Like I said before, I’m no basher. I’m not like those skinheaded neanderthals, I got an open mind. This thing between Rob and me was personal, but it didn’t have nothing to do with him being a fairy, AC/DC or whatever the hell he is. I’m sorry they almost killed him, I really am.

The tape ended there. Hollie turned off the machine and wheeled Robert to a spot away from the window, as the sun was in his eyes. “Well, what do you think?" Hollie asked. "After hearing that, do you still think I went too far?”

“Hell, no. Zack required serious humiliation. He didn’t like it, did he?”

“Oh no.”    

“So tell me how you did it, babe.”

After I found out what those pricks did to you in prison I called my cop friend Bill and told him I thought Zack might know them. I just wanted him to scare Zack a little, you know, I mean if it wasn’t for him you wouldn’t be in that chair. It might as well have been him with the softball bat. So Bill took him in for questioning. He called me while Zack was still in custody and said he’d figure out a way to keep Zack there if he wanted me to, he could arrest him for dealing since he did confess. I told him to keep him there until I came to visit him.

I played real sweet and pretended I hadn’t seen you since you went to prison.  I told him I’d been out of town, I had a show in Lafayette. He was like dropping hints to see if I had any idea he was the one who set you up, and I think I convinced him, or my body did, that I was clueless. I told him that Lieutenant William Sweeney was a good friend of mine and would do anything for me, including dropping all charges.

So when Zack was released he called me and thanked me profusely and asked if there was anything he could do for me. I was like, “Remember that wine I told you about? Could you come over and take a look at it?”  I knew he’d take the bait, he was hoping to score with me of course, that’s how clueless he was. You remember the wine is in the storage room off the back porch. It’s a big room, as you know so well, with its own window unit to keep it cool in the summer. No other windows, of course.  I keep  some of my gear in there and had it covered up with burgundy bed sheets. I led Zack in there and could feel his eyes on my ass as I wiggled it in my tight jeans.

I pull out three bottles, dust them off, and hand him the first. He’s like, “Holy shit, Vega Sicilia Unico 1968! This is worth almost a thousand bucks. But no way you should sell it. You should drink it on a special occasion. I mean, this is like one of the best wines in the world. It could easily age another twenty years. No way you should sell it.”

“A special occasion. Okay, I’ll keep that in mind. How about this one?”

“Rioja Alta, 1982. Not in the same league. It’s worth about seventy-five bucks maybe.  But I don’t think you should sell any of this wine. I can tell you if any of it is too old to drink if you want. Or too young.”

“And this one?”

“Amontillado.” He had to laugh at that one.

“I guess it’s not worth anything?”

“What? Sure it is! Solero 1887. Holy shit your old man was quite a connoisseur. This one might also get you a grand. But like I said, unless you’re really desperate, don’t sell it, drink it. I’d be glad to join you. It’s very fine, dry, smooth . . . .”

“There’s something else I want to show you, Zack.” He put the wine on the card table in the corner. I took his hand and led him to the center of the room.

“What’s under the sheets?”

“I’ll show you. But first—” I took the tape out of a cabinet. “There’s this.”

“What’s that?”

“A tape of your confession. Bill gave it to me. My plan is to give it to Rob.”

He looked like he’d been slapped. But then he recovered. “Go ahead. What do I care? He already thinks I set him up.”

“You know Rob’s family, don’t you?”

“What about them?”

“Let’s just say they don’t let the opportunity for a vendetta slip by when they’ve got it.”

“Yeah when they learn he’s in the Krewe of Ganymede I doubt they’ll be in the mood.”

“Come on, Zack.  You’re Sicilian too, aren’t you? You know about family ties, don’t you? They’d take up for their brother even if he decided to become their sister.”

He took a lunge for the tape, but I easily eluded him. “Don’t try it, Zack. I’m a lot stronger than you might think.”

“What do you want from me?”

“Penance. They broke his legs, you bastard. And cracked a few ribs. He’ll walk again, fortunately for you. So basically I’m giving you a choice. It’s either me or the DiCaso brothers. They’ll probably insist on an eye for an eye. A limb for a limb. A rib for a rib. As for me—” I unveiled the pillory and the leather horse. “You just have to endure one of my punishment sessions. I think the one that would be most appropriate for you would be what I call cross and switch.” I showed him the red bustier that you like, and a long, fresh azalea switch. “This you wear, and this you bear.”

“Oh come on, Hollie. I’m not into that.”

“I’m counting on it; otherwise I’d have to think of something else.” I only wish you could have seen him when I was done with him, Rob. Let’s just say I made an impression that should last, well, a couple of weeks at least. I did take some pix, by the way. You can look at those if you’d like. When I set him free he stumbled off to the corner where I’d thrown his clothes, and he had some trouble pulling up his pants. Meanwhile I had replaced the switch with a baseball bat. Just in case he decided to assault me, I was ready to inflict justice more poetic. I sent him off with a warning never to show his sorry face or sorrier ass anywhere near us again.

So you see, he really was Fortunato. Unfortunately, now we’ll have to find somebody else who has the kind bud. Maybe Bill will know. So what do you think, Rob? Shall I open the Vega Sicilia? Or would you rather have the Amontillado?