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By Any Other Name

crime caper by Charles Thiesen

Artie “The Angel” D’Angelo valued his reputation.

His work involved getting people to do what he wanted, and a reputation could make that hard or make it easy. And so, he let the story get around of how he got his name.

One time, so the story went, Artie was under an obligation to whack one Freddy Brill, a lowlife whose talk had done some harm to Artie’s extended family.

The snitch got what was happening the minute Artie stuck a Glock nine millimeter in his ear and suggested that he say his prayers. Instead of praying, Freddy talked.

Faster than a Catholic-school kid can say a Hail Mary, he made it clear to Artie, not yet The Angel, that if he was going to die, he really needed to make his confession.

Really needed to, you know.

The story is that Artie took Freddy straight to the priest at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs and got his soul cleaned up, and not until Freddy was shriven did Artie wire him to an engine block and push it into a canal in Cabot, Massachusetts.

Artie found it useful to have people know this story. It showed that he was merciless, while giving him a softer, more human side. Few who heard it, would spread Artie’s business around in the wrong places, or in other ways seriously displease him.

On the other hand Artie thought he might be seen, because of the confession thing, as something besides a total degenerate murderer by people not in his line of work, people he might want to have a beer with, say; or take to bed.

However useful it might be, though, this story is not true. Artie D’Angelo, not a big man, could never have pushed an engine block into a canal. And, though he did whack Freddy Brill, he never took him or anybody else to the church nor even went in there himself, not since his own mother died.

The truth is this; it was the misfortune of Artie’s friend, Anthony LaRosa, which led to Artie’s moniker.

Anthony’s ill fortune began with him bouncing off the walls of a holding cell in a police station in East Boston, having dropped a couple of bennies before he went to work–work that night being a truck hijacking, relatively easy but requiring alertness.

About two in the morning, a police-beat reporter approached the cell and asked Anthony his name.

“So it’s right for the paper in the morning,” the reporter said. Anthony did not answer.

At three that morning, the reporter tried again.

“I wanna be accurate, you know?” he explained.

Anthony spit on the reporter’s shoes and was chastised by a detective. He made much of that in the telling, but Artie tended to discount this detail, knowing how hard it is to spit behind a couple of bennies.

An hour later, the reporter walked up to the bars–though not as close — and asked Anthony’s name one last time.

“You want your mother should recognize her son in the paper, don’t you?”

“Anthony LaRosa,” Anthony said, looking the reporter in the eye. “L-A-R-O-S-A. Get it right. Call me ‘Tony’, I’ll rape your mother and bury your children alive.”

The reporter stepped back and held his palms towards Anthony in a gesture of conciliation. “You don’t understand,” he said. “I already got your name off the blotter. What I need is your nickname, your moniker, your alias. What goes between Anthony and LaRosa?”

Because he’d always made such a thing of not being Tony, and had the violent will to make that stick, Anthony had no alias. Having nothing else to offer, he turned his back on the reporter. He spoke to him only once from then on, and that was to suggest that he eat, well, excrement and expire.

In the paper the next day, the high and low of Cabot, Massachusetts, read of the arrest of Anthony “Smelly” LaRosa. From then on, and as long as he was remembered in Cabot’s bars and bowling alleys, craps games and convenience stores, Anthony was known as Smelly.

Artie D’Angelo never doubted that his friend would, by rights, torture and kill anyone who laughed at him to his face, so it did not surprise Artie to see Anthony’s already short temper ratcheted up to a level of exquisite touchiness, as he was faced with the certainty that the world at large now had a permanent excuse for laughing at him behind his back.

Nor did it help that Sally the Fish, his employer and feudal lord, absolutely forbade him to whack the reporter because of the publicity thing. Fate being perverse, the more Anthony fought the name, the more widespread it became.

Guys who hated him used it because it was there. Guys who respected him used it to show they weren’t afraid. Guys who’d never met him used it because it was his name, wasn’t it? Soon he was never called anything else, when he wasn’t present.

It was bound to happen that someday someone quicker, meaner, smarter, or just luckier than LaRosa would use the name when Anthony could hear.

This is what Artie D’Angelo believed to have happened, that somehow the name had led to a final confrontation, and Smelly’s subsequent almost poetic discovery in a dumpster under a pile of spoiled egg salad.

It was this picture of his friend’s unsavory end, mixed with memories of Anthony’s anger and misery during the time he lived under the despised alias, that occupied Artie’s mind when, a few months later, in a different holding cell for a different felony, D’Angelo faced a different reporter.

“Artie…what…D’Angelo?” the reporter asked.

Despite the lack of an angelic past and the certainty of no such future, Artie grabbed for the obvious. He missed Anthony LaRosa and hoped never to be so missed himself.

Copyright 2010 by Charles Thiesen

Charles Thiesen lives in Dorchester, Massachusetts. He earns his daily bread as a journalist and technical writer and salves his soul writing (unpublished) novels and flash fiction. His work has appeared in Roofscape.

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9 Responses

  1. […] By Any Other Name […]

  2. This is substantially different than the first time I read it – I like it better, the flow is smoother.

  3. If only I’d been smart enough to give myself a nickname, instead of letting the Jr. High boys do it for me…

    • “Hot lips,” “Kick Ass,” “Babalicious,” “Fearless Leader,” “She Who Must Be Obeyed”? Take your pick. I’ll write it for you. The Origin of Ina.

    • Ina! I knew what the boys nicknamed you. That’s not an easy thing to forget. Just didn’t want to perpetuate it here.

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