Painting Houses

by Colin Burnett


Like I told my wife, “In this day and age you have to take the work where you can find it’’. She was always nagging me for that. ‘’You don’t spend enough time at home, blah, blah, blah” but, you know, it’s surprising the demand there is for house painters. Although, I gotta tell you, I had never been this deep south before. But there I was, sitting on a ferry crossing the Mississippi River. According to the ticket operator, the journey across the mile-wide stretch wouldn’t take any longer than a couple of hours. The boat was virtually a morgue, apart from some drunk slumped over in the corner. But as I was looking around, I noticed a middle-aged bearded man sitting in the corner, puffing away on a smoke. As I glanced at him - well, to tell you the truth I was staring - I noticed the guy was staring back. He was looking at my New York Yankees bag which I’d placed at my foot. Looking out onto the river, I was fascinated at the stories this river would tell if it could speak. My wife was always telling me that I spent too many hours at home bingeing on shows on The History Channel. Then I noticed a familiar sight high above the Mississippi. It was this old church I recognised from a show. One on the Civil War. To this very day, bullet holes from the conflict were still visible on the church. But even this piece of history couldn’t make me forget that the guy’s eyes were still aimed in my direction. To distract myself from the attention I was getting from him, I picked up a magazine another passenger had left behind.
And as I feigned interest in an article, something to do with gardening, I heard this New York-sounding accent; “You a Yankees fan?”
As I quickly turned around to face him, there he was, this monster of a man. “Yeah” I told him. “My grandparents are from New York. My grandad would always take me to Yankee stadium”. The guy then nods, and introduces himself as Lewis Thompson. “Mind if I sit with you?” he asks, timidly for a man of his size.
“Sure” I told him, “be my guest”.

I was glad of the company, to be honest with you. And I told him I was on my way to paint the Belmont estate across the river. Lewis said he had passed the estate numerous times, but that he’d never actually been inside. He soon became more confident with his words and before long was explaining to me that during the Civil War, the estate was used as a slave plantation. We quickly hit it off. He seemed like a kid at Christmas, speaking to someone who had knowledge of the New York area. I told him I was, in actual fact, from Boston, and I belonged to a staunch Irish catholic family, but that I would spend my summers as a kid in New York on account of my grandparents living in Hell’s Kitchen.

As Lewis put it, New York, truly is a city which never sleeps. But here, this place was more like living in somebody else’s coma. It was clear he missed New York. I could tell that from the pain in his voice when he spoke of it. So, naturally, I was curious as to why he left. I didn’t get much of a reaction when I asked him. All he said was that he had a family problem and didn’t want to return. He said he made this journey across the river twice a day, as he owned a garage on the other side. We both got talking about our families, and it turned out our daughters were around the same age. I told him my wife stayed at home to look after our daughter while I was out to try and earn a buck. Lewis informed me that his wife had taken his daughter to the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. So, for the first time in a long time, he had the entire weekend to himself.

When the ferry arrived at our destination we both said our goodbyes. As I stood there watching him walk away to collect his car, I realised there was no sign of my ride. I was there standing, twiddling my thumbs, and stranded, waiting for my ride. Thankfully though, he noticed my dilemma. And before I knew it he parked up beside me.  He rolled down the window and told me that his house wasn’t too far, that I could use his phone to make a call to my employers. Not wanting to be stuck in the middle of the sticks at night without any means of contacting anyone, I took him up on his kind offer. We drove for about twenty minutes through all these muddied roads until we arrived at his home. The house was immaculate, with a beautiful Italian marble fire place. I knew the marble was Italian because my wife had used the same type on our staircase. But it was something else that caught my eye. A beautiful, rectangular, gold Rolex watch, displayed on the fire place. Lewis directed me to where the phone was located but the call just kept going straight to the answering machine. I was worried at this point because I knew I couldn’t walk to the estate. Especially in the dark, in an unfamiliar place. But, seeing the despair on my face, Lewis then offered me a bed for the night and a ride to the estate in the morning. This didn’t seem a bad idea, given my current situation. So, I accepted, and I thanked him for his hospitality. Looking back, I think he was just glad to have someone to speak to that didn’t say “Y’all.” We sat for a few hours drinking scotch and talking about what the atmosphere was like at the Yankee stadium, about our favourite restaurants in New York, shit like that.

As the scotch kept flowing, Lewis began to open up and told me his dad had recently passed away. He told me he couldn’t go back to New York for the funeral. “The city held a lot of good memories” he said, “but a lot of bad ones too.” He didn’t elaborate, although I could tell he wanted to. My attention, however, couldn’t be drawn away from the watch. It kept jumping out at me, so I stood up to have a closer look. There was an inscription carved on the Rolex: Man of honour, L. I picked it up and turned to Lewis, grinning. I asked where he got the watch from. All he said was it was given to him by a family member. I couldn’t take the smile off my face. “You’ve been a hard man to find, Luca Tommaso”. The silence was deafening. He tried to argue that his real name was Lewis Thompson. But I knew the truth. I told him, “You might say that. You tell a lie for a long enough, it might actually become believable to you.”

Before he had to time to process what was happening. I pulled out my silencer and pointed it straight in his dirty rat face. He tried to plead, “You’ve got the wrong guy!” But eventually, after realising he wasn’t going to convince me otherwise, he confessed that he was who I suspected. “Who sent you?” he asked. “That old fuck, Don Accardo?”. I just smiled, and I told him that the old man had ordered the hit from his deathbed. That he should never have reached out to his dad in New York. Luca wanted to know why I didn’t kill him before now. I just shrugged, and told him that I was a professional. I didn’t mess with civilians. I had to be sure it was him. I told him that it was the watch that gave me all the conformation I needed. In what appeared a last-ditch attempt to save his own life. Luca said something I have heard dozens of times. He reminded me that he has a kid. But like I told him, the guys he made a guest of the government, they all had kids too. Except they’re doing a hundred years up state. And right before I pulled the trigger, I told him that Accardo had a message for him - “He’ll be waiting for you in Hell”.

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