His Witness

By: Vanessa Waltz


Tommy’s face burns in my head and I bite my lip.

Not him.

Plus, it’s always awkward to date men when you live at home. My parents always want to know where the hell I am, even though I’m twenty-two. It’s a Portuguese thing. Daughters never really get free rein. I’ve never stayed over at a guy’s house for that reason, and I’m running out of believable lies to tell my mother why I’m out late. I just don’t need my parents to know about my sex life. I love them, even though they make me feel stifled sometimes. I’m definitely ready to move out and have my own independence, but I don’t know when the hell that’ll be. It’s not as if I’m really making any money for myself. It’s all for them.

A swell of sadness rises in my throat as Mom puts the plate of chorizo and papo secos in front of me, and I take a small piece of the red sausage and the spiciness burns my tongue.

“You look a bit depressed, Melanie,” my dad says in a low voice, so that Mom can’t hear. “What’s the matter? Is it the club?”

“No!”

I won’t dump my problems on Dad. He wouldn’t be able to handle the club. Those bastards would chew him up and spit him out because he’s a nice guy. I’m all he’s got.

“I just—”

He looks at me, his eyes watering like he already knows. “You think I don’t notice how hard you work? I’m so proud of you. You’re such a good daughter. I don’t deserve it.”

His arm wraps around my shoulders and he buries his face in his hand, apparently overcome with tears. My heart breaks as he clutches my shoulder.

“Dad, it’s okay. I don’t mind.”

“Miguel!” Mom’s round eyes fix on my father and she makes flapping motions with her hands toward me. I slide out of the chair, my heart clenching painfully as I move away from the table. Mom wraps her arms around his back as he sobs. His voice follows me all the way to my bedroom.

I can’t stay in this tiny apartment right now. It’s too depressing.

Quickly I pull on clothes and grab my purse. I’ll take a walk down Central Park, anything to avoid this right now. I feel guilted into working for them, and, with no life of my own, resentment rears its ugly head pretty often these days.

“Bye, I’m going out.”

“When will you be back?”

I don’t bother answering as I close the door behind them. My pocket buzzes and I answer the phone. A girlish voice cracks in my ear.

“Hey, Mel. Where are you? Do you want to meet up?”

“Sure,” I say, slightly out of breath as I hurry down the stairs. “Where?”

* * *

From the outside, this deli looks pretty unremarkable. It’s a white building with faded red cursive letters: Centanni’s Pork Store. The outdoors has several flimsy-looking tables and chairs, where there are a few men milling around.

She wants to meet at this place?

This hardly looks like the sort of place that would attract her attention. Michelle’s all about fusion restaurants and the hipster scene. This is mom-and-pop. Boring.

I walk toward the door, trying to reserve judgment as I pass a man my age seated at a table. Someone else walks right in front of my path and blocks the door as I reach out for the handle. What the fuck?

A dark-skinned Italian crosses his arms, looking down at me. It’s Vince. He looks at me unsmilingly. “Fancy seeing you here.”

The sight of him today makes my blood run cold. The revulsion in my stomach builds like the collection of saliva in your mouth right before you vomit. The guy’s blood was all over, running in the streets. I am completely overcome with terror. I must be still in shock—or traumatized, or something.

Why are they here? I look at the tables outside, and I see Joe there, lounging in a chair.

His frown deepens. “We don’t talk business at the deli, if that’s why you’re here.”

I keep my eyes down. “I’m just here to meet a friend of mine. Michelle.”

A smile lights his face when I mention her name, and he steps aside.

Creep.

“Nice broad. You could learn a thing or two from her.”

Then the surge of anger returns.

“Oh, fuck off.”

I don’t like being told to be nice, especially from this asshole. I’ll be angry if I fucking want to be angry.

His face twists into a deadly smirk as the men behind him crack up, but I step aside and shove the door open.

You’re still playing with fire, talking to them like that.

My intestines feel like live snakes. I really need to learn to bring my temper under control. I shouldn’t insult them, as much as they deserve it. This must be a goddamn hangout for these mobster bastards. Why the hell did she want me to come here? Christ, this is the last thing I need.

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