If he’d just gotten up, Corey might take an interest in watching the sun rise. However, Corey had not just gotten up. He’d never gone to bed. So, he didn’t watch the sun rise, he watched the shadows shift and the color of the room change, but without much interest.
He had so many questions. It seemed impossible to wrap his head around WHY. Why ask him to do this? He might fail miserably or rat Faddey out.
No. No, he would not rat Faddey out. He would do this and live. No one would know, he would be done with it, he’d quit his job, move across the country, start over somewhere with blonde hair and a dress and call himself Cora. Screw all the why’s and suck it up, Buttercup.
After setting up an Uber ride, he took a long shower, sat for an hour, took another long shower, then turned off his good sense, and made a decision. Running on autopilot, he brushed his teeth, combed his hair, dressed, and ate a fine omelet for breakfast. If he was going to die today, he may as well have an exciting last meal.
He wouldn’t have to wash the eggy pan, because he’d be dead. Or in prison.
On the way to work, he looked cassata up on his phone. A sort of ricotta cake thing with lots of candied fruit, marzipan, and who knows what else. The variations were as numerous as Indian dialects. However, it did appear they needed refrigeration. When he arrived at Ichino’s, he got out without hesitation, marched up to the back door, opened it, took a deep breath of the familiar grease and spice, and began his hunt. The same laughing Ichino voices poured in from the front.
Mind of steel, heart of stone, mind of steel, heart of stone. Knife of steel. Corey grabbed a knife from one of the prep counters. Now, which cooler? He’d been introduced to the main cooler yesterday, but another one with a shinier handle and a more sturdy composition had not yet been introduced. Nothing in the first cooler resembled a cake, so it had to be the other one. Facing fear, gnashing his teeth at it, he opened up the cooler door. The cooler’s seal separated with a plastic swish, and the cool air brought the sweat on his body to his attention. He took a quick look behind him and entered the cooler, closing it gently behind him.
There they were. A row of dazzling ornately fruity cakes.
Spare not for beauty.
Corey quickly removed the lid of the cassata closest to him and lifted up a candied mandarin orange from the center. He cut a hole where it had been and stuffed a small packet of cocaine into the middle, placed the orange back on top, then, uncertain what to do with the chunk of cake, stuffed his mouth with it.
Good grief was it sweet.
He moved on to the next cake, slicing a hole in the center. His hasty work showed, but the candied mandarins saved the day. Just as he prepared to return the candied mandarin to the second cake, the cooler door opened like a dead man’s gasp.
Nonna stood erect as she eyed him first, then shifted to eye the cakes nearest to him. He tried to tuck the mandarin orange into his sleeve, but as the sensible, non-pants-crapping version of himself would have anticipated, the candied orange fell to the ground with a bold squatch. If it had not been candied, it would have been a squash, but as it was, it was squatch.
“I will kill you,” she said. “You idiot! You know what kind of work it takes to make these jewels? Get out! Leave!” She rushed upon her precious cassatas to baby them, while Corey, all too gladly, flew out of the cooler and dumped his bag of cocaine into the big garbage can nearby.
Turning to escape the premises, he came face-to-face with Nonna, shaking a baggie of coke.
“You, hiding drugs in my cassatas? You no good piece of—”
Mr. Ichino barreled in from the front, and seeing Corey backed up against a prep table, took the stance of a man preparing to be tackled, shaking his hands in front of him.
“What’s goin’ on? What’s goin’ on?”
“I tell you not to hire him, I tell you to hire a Sicilian, I tell you these things, and what do you do? You hire a man who would mutilate a cassata!”
“You touched Nonna’s cassatas?”
“And put drugs in them,” Nonna added.
“I can explain, if you’ll just let me—”
That’s when Dom entered the scene. “Looks like a standoff, what’s up?”
“Corey here stuffed drugs in Nonna’s cassatas.”
“You messed with the cassatas?”
“With drugs!” Nonna shrieked.
“If you’d just—”
“Oh, no.” Mr. Ichino petted his own head several times, panting. “Why did it have to be the cassata? Corey,” he put his hands on Corey’s shoulders. “I’m gonna have to let you go.”
“Obviously!” Corey yodeled.
At that moment, however, nothing was obvious. From his left, someone—he wasn’t sure who—came with a bag. He struggled against it, but Mr. Ichino’s big arms held him ‘til a strange smell inside the bag overwhelmed him, and Corey fell asleep.
He awoke to a moldy smell and the sound of dripping and clanging pipes. As he opened his eyes, he realized his face lay on a table in front of him. He lifted his head and looked around at the darkness ’til his eyes caught on a faint white face. He pushed back in fright, sending the chair skidding behind him and cracking on the cement floor. He stood, squinting, bracing himself against the terror turning his stomach inside out and climbing up his esophagus.
A lighter, Faddey’s face, then darkness, then the smell of cigarette smoke.
“Corey, Corey,” Faddey said. “Tell me, did you watch an online video called ‘Proof of Jinn in the U.S.A.?”
Corey scrunched his face. “What?” he hissed.
Faddey tsked a few times before taking a long drag of his cigarette and laughing the smoke out.
“You shouldn’t have done that, Corey. Shouldn’t have done it.”
“Watched that video. Listen, I came down here just to give you an explanation,” he said.
“You were the last person we needed to hunt down after that video was leaked. This will be your home now.”
“What? Who are you? Are you with the government? I want a lawyer!”
Faddey laughed. “You’re so far beyond lawyers now. Thank you for doing the cocaine in the cassatas. It gave us a good reason to take you into custody.”
“What… what is this? Is this a set up? Over a friggin’ video online?”
“Well, Corey, when you look for conspiracies, you find ‘em.”
With that, the glow of the cigarette disappeared with the loud clank of a heavy duty, locked door.
Now he couldn’t even look up “Please, don’t kill me” in Russian.