Tony's was a hole in the wall lunch counter run by another Spinelli. Mario's brother. It was cheap and right across the street from the roach trap we all lived in, Tony included. He fed me daily and what Tony didn't do, Mario took care of at his grocery. It was just like one big happy family. Truth was, I liked Tony, and I even liked Mario. Who cares if he was henpecked? At the end of the day I even had a soft spot in my cold empty heart for the mother hen herself.
Tony's place was narrow. A real tight squeeze with clean white walls and an even cleaner silver counter. It was the kind with the rotating stools, they were silver too. I knew for a fact that Tony scrubbed the whole place twice a day and if an egg landed on the floor, rest assured you could take a fork and eat it right off the white tile. He always had my paper waiting for me and my coffee black and hot. It was because of him, I lived on Cherry Street. I met Tony on a job once. I got him out of a nasty jam involving two thugs and a .32 in a warehouse on South Street. When my old place went up like an unattended roast goose on Christmas day, he found me a spot with his brother and sister-in-law.
As soon as I walked in, he threw my eggs on the sizzling griddle: two of them fried, sunny side up with rye toast and bacon. Tony could fry one helluva an egg and he could make a damn good sandwich for lunch. He closed his place down at 4 to eat dinner with the Spinelli clan. I had a standing invitation, but I usually declined.
Tony came over from the old country with Mario when he was 5. Mario was older and they had to fend for themselves seeing as momma and poppa Spinelli saved only enough money to send their sons off to New York. Tony said the beginning was tough. They sold eggplants and cabbages out of a pushcart and had to live in boarding rooms with 5 or 6 other young kids trying to make their own way. He had a grit his brother didn't. Mario was still old world. Tony was a street kid from the Lower East Side. He taught himself how to read by pushing newspapers while he was selling eggplants. You couldn't help but admire his way. He also knew everyone in the neighborhood, cause they all came to him for a cup of joe and grub.
"Ya late, Finchie," he shouted over the frying of eggs and the murmurer of the morning regulars clanging forks against their plates.
"Don't I know it. Miss Naples, 1932 held me up in the stairwell."
"Oh da key?" He said deviously. "I heard about dat."
I sat on my stool in front of my paper. I never paid for the paper by the way. He laid it out for me to read. I did. And then I left it there and he sold it to the next bub who walked in for his breakfast. "I'm glad I have privacy over at the Ritz Spinelli."
"What was dat all about?" He slid my eggs on the plate, threw the bacon over them and passed the goods over to me.
"Got me. I have a fan called Frannie who left me a key to something to unlock. Trouble is, I don't know who Franny is or what that thing is I'm supposed to be unlocking."
"Lucky for you, you're a detective." He buttered my rye toast and placed it next to eggs I had dug into.
"Ain't it though?"
"Speaking of which, look at da paper."
I turned it over. The headline read: "KING OF THE EMPIRE STATE SHOT DEAD IN HIS 75TH FLOOR OFFICE. FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED." His name was William Fitz Roy. He was a developer and the backer of every new building project going on in the city. Even in these hard times he had more money than anyone I ever met. It was said that he palled up with Al Smith to pay for that new skyscraper himself.
"Roger called to tell me."
"Wasn't you working for him?"
"I was. Won't be now."
He leaned over the counter and took a swig of his own joe. "Know who did it?"
"Probably Franny. Or about 17 other people."
"I thought you said you didn't know Franny?"
"I don't, but she's the only thing I got. Besides, it's not my beat now. The cops got this one."
He started laughing, "Yeah dey got it alright."
With that the door to the joint swung open and in sauntered the fattest piece of pork shoulder walking the streets in a uniform, Officer Eddie Claire. He was about the height of a 12 year old who got the short end of the tall stick from his father. There was a mess of curly red hair but only from his ears to the base of his skull. The rest was waxy bald. Oh and he was fat, messy fat, like he swallowed a twelve year old leaving him just as tall as he was wide. He hated me right good and for good reason. On many occasion I made him look bad and bad was his true colors. "Finch! You lose something?" He threw down the morning paper with my client's murder plastered on it.
"Yeah my appetite." I patted his stomach. "Looks like you found it though." Claire and I also had a bit of a rivalry going on with my now dead client. It was his beat to recover the stolen goods for Fitz Roy and when Claire wasn't doing his job too well, the man hired me to speed things up.
"You did a fine job protecting your client, gumshoe." All of Tony's patrons didn't so much as look up from their breakfasts.
"Funny I was about to congratulate you for letting a hoodlum with a .22 waltz on up to that ivory tower of yours and shoot my guy square in the skull." That whole neighborhood was Claire's territory. He was very possessive of it, like a child with a bright shiny tinker toy. But this toy he frequently let go to hell, especially around feeding times.
He grabbed my shoulder and spun me around on the stool. I could feel Tony get hotand bothered behind me, "Cool it, Tony," I said. Claire wanted nothing more than for me to pop him in the jaw so he could book me and keep my heels spinning in the can for a while.
"You listen to me good, Finch. Your show is over. Your man is singing Hallelujah with the angels now and you have no damn business on my turf. So don't go showing your face where it ain't welcome."
"And here I thought we were friends, Claire."
"I don't socialize with scum, Finch." He was turning out to leave.
I mumbled under my breath, "No but you'd eat it if you could." Tony giggled like a bored kid in church as did the old schmo sitting next to me trying to pretend like he was wasn't paying attention.
Claire stopped dead in the door. "What was that?"
"I said, of course you don't officer. Point taken."
"I thought so." Then he turned sideways and jiggled his way out the door and into his squad car. I swore I heard it scream out in agony when he got in.
"Well Tony, it's good to know you have friends in this town."
Tony was slopping eggs onto plates, "That, is one fat bastard."
"I've seen bigger, and I've seen nastier. Your sister-in-law for starters."
"Yeah, Josephine could take him with outta doubt."
"Your little old granny in Sicily could take him. But he's not my problem."
"Then what's your problem, Finchie? You always seem to got one."
"Now I'm out of work."