Mr. Ribeiro

April 16, 2018, Prescott-

The cicadas started early this year.  Spring Break is usually not a time for such serenades.  Truth be known, my Nonna wishes there were never such a festival della canzone. It keeps her awake, tossing and thrashing- so she puts on a CD of the late Pope John XXIII, talking about the saints.  That of course, sets her to crying, and brings Mama, ever ready to console, into her bedroom.  In short order, the rest of us are up and making plans to start the day.  It is 3 A.M.  Not even the bakers are awake, in Little Italy, at this hour.

Baltimore is ready for action, though, at any time that one chooses to get going.  Papa gets showered and dressed- and expects us boys to follow suit.  “I got some deliveries we can handle, Gennaro.  Santino, you go over to the Flower Mart, and drop off the bags of mulch.  Ribeiro ought to already be there.  He has nothing else to do, after all.”

Antonio Ribeiro had come to the Flower Mart from New Bedford, where he had been the odd duck in his south side neighbourhood, preferring to cultivate flowers, rather than run numbers, or crack cocaine for the Shower Posse, who were ubiquitous in southern New England, in the early ’80’s.  His boys protected “Simple Tony”, and besides, the girls were all over him- and would have not taken well to the Jamaicans mistreating him.

He’d been a fixture in Baltimore for ten years now.  Antonio lived in a small room, in the back of his Flower Mart stall.  “It saves capital”, he told his clients.  He needed no car, did not have any prevailing vices and slept on a woven mat.  His meals were obtained by barter- his flowers, gratis, to local restaurateurs, in exchange for small meals:  Simple Tony, simple diet.

My brother pulls into the Flower Mart, right around 4 A.M.  Mr. Ribeiro is up and at ’em, with the rows of pots and vases 2/3 full- ahead of the 5 o’clock opening.  “Buon giorno, young Castaldo”, he chirps at Sonny.  “Back at ya, signor”, brother responds, while plopping the sacks of mulch on their customary pallets, “Pop says it’ll be two and  a quarter.”

“Tell your father I’ll need to settle with him on the First, Santino.  Things are a bit tight, this third week of August.”  Sonny massages his chin, turning a flinty eye towards the flower vendor.  “Okay, Mr. Ribeiro, that’s what my Papa figured you’d say.  Guess there’s no mulch until September 1.”  Santino, my hulking brother, alley-oops the mulch back into his truck.

He doesn’t feel the cudgel that knocks him cold.  My hulking brother is found, unconscious, in the cab of his otherwise empty truck, at 7 A.M., at Pier 26, in the Inner Harbor.

Simple Tony Ribeiro is not quite so simple.

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