My name’s Angelina Bonacelli, but you can call me Mama Bones like everybody else. I grew up a few miles from here in Jersey’s once famous summer resort, Asbury Park. My parents leased soda-making equipment and illegal betting cards to venders on the Jersey shore, a business started in the 1920s by my mother’s parents. Giuseppe and Francesca were political organizers back then, too, collecting cash from Italian immigrants and boardwalk businesses, dropping off the bag money plus ninety percent of the local Italian vote to whichever party paid them most. In short, my family has been a community leader for a century — three generations of managing the politically-savvy, very profitable and still shady Jersey Shore tourist industry.
I’m gonna ignore the cellphone chimes in my pocket — bells recorded during an actual Vatican mass — because I’m pushing open the bronze entry into my new basement kitchen. The antique, one-ton door swings easier now that my nephew Gianni installed six barrel hinges with ball bearings and grease fittings, but it’s still a monster.
Please notice my basement kitchen’s dirt floor. My dead husband Domenic wanted to put tile down here when we bought the place thirty years ago. He was from California and didn’t understand about second kitchens in the basement, kitchens where Italian families like mine killed chickens, boiled and preserved bushels of peppers and tomatoes, or cooked up forty, fifty quart jars worth of red gravy for freezing every summer.
Still ignoring the phone, I open the refrigerator and reach for my jug of red wine. With those six new hinges on the door, I can get in and out of this downstairs kitchen easy now. Do some cooking, have a glass of wine by myself, even play with Aunt Maria’s old magic spells if I want. Relax a little. It’s gonna be my private getaway.
Sitting down with my wine, I finally answer the phone. Fun how with these new telephones, you can see who’s calling, decide if you want to talk to the person or not. Although in this case I already know it’s my son Vic because of the Vatican chimes I assigned to his number. My son really has himself worked up about that smarty pants stockbroker Austin Carr. He’s driving me nuts.
“‘Allo, Vic,” I say. “What’sa the matter now?”
“Oh ditch the accent, Ma. You don’t have to pretend you’re stupid with me.”
“You sure? I want to make the conversation easy for you.”
“Ha, yourself. What do you want, huh? You been calling all day.”
“You know why I’m calling. We’ve waited months, like you said. Tell me why you won’t take care of the guy who’s torturing me.”
I swallow a mouthful of wine. “I’m not having Austin killed. He didn’t do nothing bad. Truth is, Austin’s just smarter at business than you. You left the country, remember? Your business would belong one hundred percent to Bluefish if it wasn’t for Austin.”
I hear through the phone my son don’t like what I’m saying. Too bad. The truth hurts.
“This is our stock and bond business,” Vic says. “You and Daddy helped me start Shore Securities thirty years ago. You can’t let some fast-talking ass–”
“Watch your mouth.”
Vic sighs like a kid. “Ok, forget about having him killed. Rough him up some, explain he has to sell me back Carmela’s and Walter’s stock at a fair price.”
“If you want smarty pants beat up, you do it. But you’d better watch out. Austin Carr is trickier than Bugs Bunny. You try to push him over a cliff, you’ll end up with a giant carrot up your butt. Who knows what a mistake will cost you this time.”
“Jeez, Ma. Why do you talk like that to me? You want Austin to take the whole business? How do you feel when you see that giant Carr Securities sign on your way to church?”
I set down my wine, open a three-holed notebook. It’s my collection of Aunt Maria’s magic spells. “Okay, Vic, you got a point. Tell you what. I gotta an idea that maybe will help. We’ll have some laughs with Austin, get him in trouble.”
“No magic, okay? Gianni told me you’ve been fooling around with your Aunt’s spells. He says it makes the crew wonder if you’ve got all your marbles.”
I search shelves, checking the contents of one dusty cigar box after another, then a bunch of sealed ceramic jars. Strange ingredients stare back at me, offering memories and smells from the past. Lavender. Garlic. Unborn mice. Finally, my fingers pinch inside a jar of cranberry pits.
“Don’t worry,” I say. “I know what will work. Luis is getting married this week, right?” It’s true the magic I learned from great Aunt Maria often fails, true that so far the potions have offered what Vic and smarty pants call a “low rate of return.” But this time, I’m positive the spell is going to work.
“Ma?” Vic says. “No magic, okay? Promise me.”
“You wanna make a bet this potion works?”
“Oh, Jeez. No, no, no. Please.”
“You wanna bet it works or not?”
Vic sighs again like a kid. “Okay. Five thousand says Austin Carr doesn’t feel a thing. Whatever it is you give him.”
“Make it twenty grand. I wrote down the ingredients for this spell very carefully fifty two years ago. I was a teenager, and what do all teenage girls dream about, huh?”
You can read more about Mama Bones in Big Mojo, the third book in the “Austin Carr” mystery series, published by Down and Out Books. The first book in the series is Big Numbers.
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Meet the author
A former reporter for both the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, Jack Getze is Fiction Editor for Anthony nominated Spinetingler Magazine, one of the internet’s oldest websites for noir, crime, and horror short stories. His Austin Carr Mysteries BIG NUMBERS and BIG MONEY were re-issued by Down and Out Books in 2013, with BIG MOJO in 2014, and BIG SHOES in 2015. His short stories have appeared in A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, The Big Adios and Passages.