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March 15, 2007

The once red paint on the front door of Pacco's Lounge peeled off in finger shaped pink sheets like sunburned skin baked too long on the Jersey Shore. The east Hackensack eatery's blinking neon sign briefly cast a shadow across Juice Verrone's hard set face then flicked off. He opened the door without a sound and stepped inside. The door closed behind him with a soft thud. A dark maroon velvet curtain separating the entrance from the lounge immediately parted, and a short, round guy wearing a red and white checked shirt slipped through.

"Juice!" the waiter said in a nervous whisper.

"Yo, Tablecloth." Juice pulled a silenced .40 caliber automatic from beneath the jacket folded over his arm and aimed it at the waiter's nose. "Mikey in back?"

"Uh." The waiter glanced over his shoulder at the curtain.

"Thanks." Juice pointed the gun barrel toward the ceiling and patted the waiter's shoulder with his other hand. "Take a hike."

He pushed the curtain aside with the barrel of his gun and stepped into the dining room beyond. At the far end of the room, dim overhead lighting illuminated a booth with an unimpaired view of the room. The booth's sole occupant pushed pasta around on his plate. A half full glass and a straw covered Chianti bottle sat on the table. A white cloth napkin dotted with small red splashes stuck out of the guy's shirt right below his chin. He looked up when Juice came into the room.

"Hey, Juice." The man leaned back against the well padded upholstery, pulled the napkin from his collar, and pointed at the space next to him. "Have a seat. And put down the fucking gun. You're my brother for Christ's sake."

"Fuck you, Mikey." Juice glanced left and right. "You shot Dad. Any relations ended then."

"Hey, it was just business." Mikey resumed stirring the pasta on the plate. "Dino Faldacci was disappointed with Benny's production. I was trying to help out."

"You were just trying to move up." Juice twitched the barrel of the gun up a few times for emphasis, then clenched his jaw. "Payback's a bitch."

The door to the kitchen swung open and a man the size of a Fiat squeezed through. His Mac 10 machine pistol pointed in the general direction of Juice's torso.

"Juice," the man car grunted.

"Angelo." Juice flicked his eyes left, then looked back at Mikey.

To the right, the door to the men's room opened, and another pasta pounding guido stepped into the room holding a twelve gauge, sawed off shotgun, his head wrapped in a grimy, gray white bandage that looked like it had been there a while.

A small smile flickered across Juice's face. "You look like shit, Stevie."

"Fuck you, Juice."

"I told you not to piss her off."

"Yeah. I don't know who the fuck Gucci is but the bitch makes a fucking tough purse."

"Gucci was a guy, you dope."

Stevie shrugged his shoulders. "Whatever."

"What's with the mummy getup?"

"The fucking logo tore the skin off my forehead." He winced like the memory of it hurt. "They had to take a skin graft off my back to fix it."

"Shit, Stevie. You were ugly to begin with. Why'd you waste the money?"

"Fuck you, Juice." He racked the slide on the twelve gauge.

"Like I said, I told you not to piss her off."

"Gentlemen." Mikey clinked the wine glass with his fork. "What we've got here is a bunch of wops in a Mexican standoff."

Angelo stared blankly at Mikey.

"You fucking idiot." Mikey shook his head. "You move to shoot him..." he pointed the fork at Juice, "and he pops me." He put down the fork and made a slow down motion with his hands. "I don't want to get popped, so put down your pieces."

Stevie and Angelo looked at each other, shrugged, and pointed the guns at the floor.

"Juice, come on. This is business. Look, you always had our backs. You were good at it. But when we needed you out front...Well, you just didn't seem to have it in you." Mikey gave his brother a big fake smile. "This time I'm gonna let you walk outta here. But this thing about Dad…You gotta let it go. If I need you, I'll give you a call. Now, get outta here."

Juice glanced from Angelo to Stevie and finally locked on Mikey. The odds of getting out weren't good and dying wasn't his idea of revenge.

"Okay, Mikey, okay." He backed up slowly, keeping the pistol trained on his brother. "Remember, payback's a bitch."

Juice Verrone backed through the curtain and just disappeared.