Story by Matthew David Brozik / Illustration by L.A.Spooner
Bill had remarried and was moving from Ninety-eighth Street in Canarsie to a house in Howard Beach so he needed a mortgage and a lawyer. He was put in touch with a man named Vincent Scaglione, Esq., and Vincent Scaglione promised to get Bill and his second wife sixty thousand dollars. Vincent Scaglione called Bill in Canarsie one morning and said, “I got you a commitment at Columbia Bank,” by which he meant that the bank had agreed to lend Bill and his wife the money they needed. “Meet me for breakfast tomorrow, Willie, and we’ll go in and sign the papers. Meet me for breakfast.”
“Nobody’s called me Willie for years,” Bill said.
The next day, the bank officer assured the two men that there were no papers to sign, no approvals for any mortgage, no records of any application made for any loan for Bill and his wife by Mr. Scaglione or anyone else. Bill stood up, put on his hat, and walked out of the bank into the sun. Vincent Scaglione followed him out and asked, “You still need that money, right?”
— ♦♦♦ —
Vincent Scaglione arranged for Bill and his wife to borrow sixty thousand dollars from a woman who owned a shoe store on Utica Avenue. At the Howard Beach house closing, because of some arithmetic that Vincent Scaglione had forgotten to do, Bill and his wife were two thousand dollars short, so Vincent Scaglione loaned the couple the money from his own wallet, which they paid back soon after.
Bill and his wife liked living in Howard Beach and because business was good for Bill, they had no difficulties making monthly payments to the woman who owned the shoe store.
After a year, Bill got a phone call from a man with a lateral, which is like a lisp but different, who said, “It has been a year. You owe us two hundred thousand dollars.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bill said. “I don’t know who you are.”
The man said, “Vinny the Scallion borrowed some money for you for a year. It has been a year.”
“Do you mean Vincent Scaglione? The lawyer?” Bill asked. “Vincent Scaglione personally loaned me two thousand dollars a year ago, but I paid him back.”
“I will send over some guys,” said the man.
Two older Mafiosi in casual clothes came by the Howard Beach house later that day. Bill offered them coffee and explained: Vincent Scaglione had never borrowed money for Bill. He’d gotten Bill a mortgage on this house from a woman in the shoe business and, because he wasn’t so good at math, Vincent Scaglione had to lend Bill and his wife two thousand dollars himself at the closing.
“We understand,” said the men. “Vinny the Scallion borrowed the money for Vinny the Scallion. He told Mr. Ensalada you were borrowing the money. We’ll straighten things out with Mr. Ensalada.” The men got up to leave.
“Maybe you can answer a question for me now,” Bill said as one man collected their cups and the other man put away the milk. “As a business owner, I’m curious: if I make arrangements with an organization such as yours to look after me, am I actually protected from anything besides——?”
“In fact,” one of the men jumped in, “you are, if your local organization is reputable.”
“If not,” said the other man, “then what will happen is something like this: let us say you are robbed, and you complain to the organization’s representatives for your district. They will likely say, ‘How many times were you robbed, Bill? Once? Well, we prevented three other robberies this month that you did not even know about.’ That is what they will say. Thank you for the coffee.”
When the men left, Bill called Vincent Scaglione. They hadn’t spoken in six months. “Did you borrow money from a Mr. Ensalada and say it was for me?” Bill asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” Vincent Scaglione said, but Vinny the Scallion sounded worried.
— ♦♦♦ —
Bill called Vincent Scaglione again when he received a letter from the Meyer Wiss Company, advising that action would be taken if Bill did not stop reproducing certain proprietary designs on his products.
Vincent Scaglione invited Bill to meet him at a pizzeria up the block from the Brooklyn County District Court at Hoyt and Schermerhorn Streets.
“What do you do?” Vincent Scaglione asked Bill.
“I make souvenirs,” Bill said.
“Like what? Like key chains and pens and little footballs? Like that?”
“You make those things?”
“I make them say New York. I buy them from different suppliers and I have New York printed on them.”
“New York?” Vincent Scaglione asked.
“Sometimes ‘I Love New York.’ Sometimes I have Lucky Louse put on them.”
“Whoa. Lucky the Louse? Don’t you need permission to do that? I think you need permission. So, you put New York and Lucky the Louse on things, but you don’t make the things?”
“And you don’t do the actual printing, someone else does that for you?”
“That’s right.” Bill said.
“What time is it now? I have to go to court. Come with me.”
“I can’t,” Bill said. “I have to get back to work.”
“It doesn’t sound like it, Willie.” Vincent Scaglione laughed. “Just come with me across the street. I make a hundred dollars for every indigent I represent to the court, every greenhorn picked up for making too much noise in the street, or for opening fire hydrants, or having too many kids. Just come with me. We’ll talk more about Lucky the Louse after.”
Vincent Scaglione showed his attorney identification card to the guard and walked into the holding area, and Bill just walked in after him. “Who doesn’t have an attorney?” Vincent Scaglione asked the prisoners as a group. “Do you have an attorney?” he asked one in particular. The man nodded. “Do you?” Vincent Scaglione asked another. “No.” In this way, Vincent Scaglione hired himself to represent six men that afternoon. Vincent Scaglione took down their names, roughly, on a yellow legal pad and then promised to meet the men in the courtroom in ten minutes, when they would be brought before a judge.
Before the judge, Vincent Scaglione introduced himself and introduced Bill as his associate. “Come stand with me at the bench,” Vincent Scaglione had said to Bill. When the first of Vincent Scaglione’s clients was called, the lawyer whispered to him, “Do you speak English? Say yes to everything.”
The judge asked the man if he had a permanent place of residence. “Sí,” the man said. “Are you married?” the judge asked. “Sí.” The judge released the man without bail. The judge had similar conversations with the next four of Vincent Scaglione’s clients.
When the sixth man was called, Vincent Scaglione asked him, “Do you speak English?” and the man shook his head. The judge asked, “Do you have a permanent place of residence?” and the man said, “I go back to Puerto Rico….” The judge set his bail at three thousand dollars.
Bill leaned toward the man and hissed, “I told you not to say anything,” though it had been Vincent Scaglione who had told the man not to say anything.
— ♦♦♦ —
Bill received a summons and a complaint alleging tens of thousands of dollars in damages.
“Didn’t I tell you I thought you had to have permission,” Vincent Scaglione said, “to print Lucky the Louse on your souvenirs? You should’ve stopped printing Lucky the Louse and printed my picture, instead. I should give you permission to print Vinny the Scallion on plates and whistles and combs and extra large pencils.” Vincent Scaglione laughed.
“Vinny the Scallion.” Bill repeated. “The Italian Scallion,” he said.
“You have to get permission,” Vincent Scaglione was saying, “because they have a patent on Lucky the Louse.”
“A trademark,” Bill said.
“LUCKY LOUSE and all colorable depictions thereof are registered trademarks of the MEYER WISS COMPANY and may be used only under license.” Bill was only quoting, from memory, from the legal papers that had been served upon him.
“Didn’t I get you the money you needed? Didn’t I square things with Mr. Ensalada? Didn’t I do other things for you, Willie? Now you can handle your own problems with Lucky the Louse, because Vinny the Scallion is turning his back on you. You have a big mouth.” And Vincent Scaglione left Bill in the pizzeria holding a summons and complaint and a calzone.
Bill was disappointed. Bill’s wife was disappointed, too. She had wanted to thank Vincent Scaglione again for introducing them to the woman with the shoe store, Alma, with whom Bill’s wife had since become sisterly.
“You don’t have a big mouth, dear,” she volunteered. “Actually, you have thin lips. You should always wear a mustache because you have thin lips. I’ll call Alma. She’ll talk to Francis.”
“Who is Francis?”
“Alma’s husband, Francis Ensalada.”
“The woman who owns the shoe store is married to Mr. Ensalada?”
— ♦♦♦ —
Bill’s wife told him later that day that Mr. Ensalada would be calling to discuss the matter personally.
“It isn’t much of a matter,” Bill said to his wife. “If Vincent Scaglione doesn’t want to be my lawyer, that’s his decision to make.”
“But you two are friends,” Bill’s wife said.
“I wouldn’t say that we’re friends,” Bill said.
“Doesn’t he call you Willie?” Bill’s wife asked.
— ♦♦♦ —
The following day, the man with the lateral called Bill at work.
“How much do I owe Mr. Ensalada this year?” Bill asked.
“Bill,” the man with the lateral said, “this is Francis Ensalada. I owe you an apology. Please forgive Vinny the Scallion. He is young and sometimes he misdirects his frustration. He is not quick to anger, but he can become, shall we say testy, at this time of the year, late in July, on the anniversary of the Bar Examination. I was going to send guys to see what is bothering Vinny the Scallion, but instead I spoke with him myself.”
“You’re Mr. Ensalada,” Bill said. “We’ve spoken before.”
“Yes. Forgive me for not introducing myself that first time. It will not do to have my clients know that I make my own collection calls. You understand.”
Bill did understand. Bill often had his wife make his collection calls. “I forgive you, Mr. Ensalada. And although I don’t know from the Bar Exam, I forgive Vinny the Scallion.”
“Vinny the Scallion will be very glad to hear that. He likes you very much, Bill. He tells me that your products show a great attention to detail, that you have a network of connections across the entire state, and that you work quickly. I wonder if perhaps you would be able to do some work for me, though we will let Vinny the Scallion think you are doing him the favor.”
“Do you need souvenirs?” Bill asked.
“I understand that you know people who do printing,” Mr. Ensalada said. “You might remember that Vinny the Scallion borrowed a substantial sum of money from me some time ago. Vinny the Scallion has not been able to repay all of that money just yet. I think I have thought of a way for all of us to square up.”
— ♦♦♦ —
Vinny the Scallion called Bill on August first.
“My boss is opening a restaurant, Willie, and he’d like your help. Could you print Ensalada’s on ashtrays and matchbooks and shot glasses and some other items, if these items were delivered to your warehouse, probably in the middle of the night? Can you do that, Willie?”
“Ashtrays and matchbooks? And shot glasses? Of course I can do that.”
“I’m glad, Willie. And for you, I will get Lucky the Louse out of your hair.”
“Thank you,” Bill said.
“Thank you,” said Vinny the Scallion.
“May I ask a personal question?” Bill asked. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”
“Will Vincent Scaglione, Esq., be taking my case, or will Vinny the Scallion be making my problem disappear?”
“That is a very good question, Willie. It deserves an honest answer: I haven’t decided yet. Maybe you have a preference? Maybe we should talk about it. Meet me for dinner tonight, Willie. You can tell me more about the souvenir business and we can talk about trademarks and together we can decide how to handle things.”
“Killer Familiar” By Kevin J. Guhl
Illustration by John Waltrip