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Doppelgangster
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Doppelgangster

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Author: Laura Resnick
Publisher: DAW Books, 2010
Series: Esther Diamond: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Synopsis

In Laura Resnick's Doppelgangster, the New York actress is 'resting' between roles by working as a singing waitress at a Manhattan mob restaurant because wiseguys tip well. Then duplicated gangsters appear, bullets start flying, and it's up to Esther and her friend Max the Magician to fight Evil by stopping the gang war before it starts killing the wrong people. And if she has time, maybe Esther can actually keep a hot date with her hunky detective friend Lopez, who doesn't believe in magic. Yet. Unplug the phone and settle down for a fast and funny read.


Excerpt

"You and me, honey, we should go out sometime."

"I'm flattered." I placed the dinner check on the table and hoped my answer wouldn't affect the size of my tip. "But I can't."

Chubby Charlie Chiccante, a 300-pound capo in the Gambello family, squinted at me as he reached for his wallet. "I'll show you a good time," he promised. "Let me tell you something. In the sack, I'm fuckin' spectacular. Ask anyone."

I said loudly over my shoulder to Lucky Battistuzzi, who ate here at Bella Stella almost every night, "Lucky, is Charlie spectacular in bed?"

Lucky nodded his grizzled head. "The earth moved for me."

Four male acquaintances of Charlie's sitting at a nearby table heard this and guffawed. A predictable round of jokes ensued. I knew from staff gossip that those four guys weren't Gambellos, they were soldiers in the Buonarotti family. It would be exaggerating to say the Buonarottis were on cordial terms with the Gambellos, but there was enough absence of animosity between the families that Buonarotti wiseguys could dine at Bella Stella, a stronghold of the Gambellos, without bloodshed. Well, as long as they didn't irritate any Gambello soldiers.

Whereas Corvino wiseguys knew better than to come near Stella's. As Lopez had pointed out to me, there was a lot of bad blood between those two families.

Chubby Charlie rolled his small eyes at the crude jokes the Buonarottis were making, then pulled a red silk handkerchief out of the breast pocket of his suit and patted his shiny face with it. Like Lucky, he was a regular at Stella's. And Charlie, who was in his late fifties, was notorious among the staff; he always ate two full entrees, sweated while he ate, and propositioned his waitress.

Whether Charlie tipped well depended on whether he liked your voice. He always wanted a song with his dinner. If he enjoyed the performance, he left a generous tip. If he didn't, he stiffed you. And no server at Stella's chose to argue about this with a man who was rumored to have killed at least seven people (mostly members of the Corvino crime family). Tonight, he had demanded to be seated in my section, and he'd requested a rendition of That's Amore. As always, I'd sung to the accompaniment of our accordion-playing bartender.

Now, as Charlie stuffed his red handkerchief back into his breast pocket, he said to me, "So why won't you go out with me? You got a fuckin' boyfriend?"

Lucky put down the newspaper he'd been reading after finishing his dinner and said to Charlie, "Hey, watch your language, paesano. You're speaking to a lady."

I smiled at him. Alberto "Lucky Bastard" Battistuzzi had acquired his nickname due to surviving two attempts on his life as a young man, both times because an attacker's gun jammed. He had spent almost forty years as a hit man for the Gambellos, but he was reputedly retired now. Or semi-retired. He'd once quoted another "Lucky" wiseguy to me, the famous Charles Luciano, saying the only way out of his business was "in a box." According to kitchen gossip, he had probably killed more people than anyone else who ate at Stella's. But despite his profession, he always behaved like a gentlemen to me.

"Hey, I'm just askin' her out," Chubby Charlie protested. "What's your fuckin' problem?"

"You know want to know what my problem is?" Lucky retorted.

"Yeah, I want to know what your fuckin' problem is," Charlie riposted.

"You're asking what my problem is?"

"Yeah, I'm askin' your fuckin' problem."

"I ain't the one with the problem," Lucky said.

"No?"

"No!"

"So who's the one with the fuckin' problem?" Charlie bristled. "Huh? Come on, wise ass! Tell me!"

I'd worked long enough at Bella Stella to know that this was typical dinner-table talk among wiseguys, so I just accepted the cash for his dinner that Charlie handed me while arguing with Lucky, and I interrupted only to ask him if he wanted change. When he said no, I gave him a big smile and tucked a flapping edge of his bright red handkerchief more securely into his breast pocket; he had tipped me very well. I must have been in good voice that evening.

"You'll be the one with the problem," Lucky advised him, "if you don't show some respect. Esther's dating a cop."

Chubby Charlie went rigid and looked at me with an appalled expression. "You date a cop?"

I nodded. I hadn't seen Lopez since he'd left my apartment that Sunday night nearly two weeks ago, and we'd only talked once briefly by phone since then. But we were planning to have another date after he got back from Long Island. Meanwhile, telling customers that I was dating a cop was a quick-fix solution to men like Charlie Chiccante.

"A cop?" Charlie repeated.

"A detective," I said helpfully.

Lucky said to him, "You want that a cop should hear you've been hitting on his girlfriend?"

"Jesus." Charlie looked at me as if I'd nearly given him a case of the clap. "Dates a fuckin' cop."

"And he's very possessive," I said. "Wouldn't like it if he found out you'd even flirted with me." I smiled at him again. "But I was flattered."

(Yes, I was hoping to encourage more good tips. I had bills to pay.)

Charlie's shiny face got quite pink as he heaved himself to his feet. He dropped his napkin on the floor and said, "I was just being charming, you know? Didn't mean nothin' by it. Wouldn't hit on a cop's girl."

"Of course not," I said.

He gave a big belch and patted his massive belly. "Oof! I'm stuffed! I think I fuckin' ate too much."

"Oh, really?" Lucky muttered.

Charlie said to me, "Tell Stella the pasta arrabbiata was fuckin' out of this world tonight." He brought his hand to his mouth to kiss his fingers in an eloquent gesture of appreciation, then fastened his suitcoat over his enormous stomach. The buttons looked strained. Charlie considered himself a snazzy dresser and often (misguidedly, in my opinion) called attention to his appearance. He dressed more formally than most wiseguys, almost always arriving at Bella Stella wearing a suit and matching accessories (socks, tie, and handkerchief).

After taking a satisfied glance in the mirror on the nearby wall, Charlie wished me goodnight and left the restaurant.

"What a schmuck," Lucky said.

"Thanks for stepping in," I said.

"I don't like guys who try to take advantage."

"Me, neither."

"When's your cop coming back, anyhow?"

"Friday." I had told Lucky that Lopez was out of town, though I hadn't said more than that. He was working this weekend (and so was I), so I wouldn't see him then, but I hoped we could get together soon. I was looking forward to that foot massage. Or maybe I'd feed him some ice cream again, only this time...

"Friday?" Lucky said. "You mean tomorrow?"

Startled out of a very private reverie, I nodded. "Yes."

Lucky said, "Well, good. It's about time. He's takin' a risk, leaving a pretty young woman unattended for so long."

I smiled and asked, "And how is it that you're still unattended, Lucky?" Like most wiseguys, Lucky had married and had children. But Mrs. Battistuzzi had died a few years ago, and Lucky never brought a date to dinner. "Do you like bachelorhood?"

He shrugged. "A man gets lonely."

"So you think you might settle down with someone again?" I asked as I started clearing Chubby Charlie's table.

"Well, actually..."

When I glanced at Lucky, he lowered his eyes. I thought he might be... blushing.

"Hey, Esther, I got that." Angelo, one of the bus boys, came over to Charlie's table and started clearing it. "Stella says it's slow tonight, you can leave early."

I nodded, then asked, "Lucky, can I get you anything else before I go?"

He waved me away. "Nah, I'm fine. Get out of here, kid."

"This fuckin' job," Angelo said. "Such bullshit."

Angelo Falcone was an aspiring young wiseguy. He had the social skills of a rabid squirrel, and he made sure the rest of us knew that working in a restaurant was way beneath him. When he wasn't bussing tables, he was doing everything he could to make himself useful to the Gambello family, in hopes of achieving a full-time career change. Since I didn't want to know anything about my co-worker's life of crime, I had told him, too, that I was dating a cop. (Though absent, Lopez sure was coming in handy lately.) And since Angelo wasn't very bright, I had to keep reminding him about my cop "boyfriend" to make him shut up.

Glad that Charlie had tipped me so well on such a slow night, I went into the staff room, took off my apron, clocked out, and divvied up the bartender's and bus boy's portions of my tips. Then I grabbed my sweater and purse, and I headed out of the restaurant. As soon as I was out on the street, where my cell phone got better reception, I checked my voice mail. I was hoping for a message from my agent telling me I had an audition. But no such luck. I snapped the phone shut and sighed.

"Did your date let you down?" said a voice behind me.

I turned to see Chubby Charlie approaching the restaurant. He was smiling flirtatiously (as he no doubt imagined it) at me.

Wondering why he was back, I said, "Did you forget something?"

"Yeah." He grinned. "I forgot to ask you out last time I was here, honey. You're one of Stella's girls, right?"

"Um, I'm one of the servers here, yes. But you did ask me—"

"I thought so! You're the one with the good voice, yeah? You sang Beyond the Sea last time I was here." He patted his heart. "Got me right here."

The gesture drew my unwilling attention to his chest. "Did your handkerchief fall out of your pocket?" Although I had tucked it in for him a few minutes ago, I saw that it was missing now.

"Huh?"

"Your red handkerchief," I said.

"Hey, you remember it?" Looki...

Copyright © 2010 by Laura Resnick


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