Play It Again Sam by Author Joseph J. O’Donnell

Author Joseph J. O'Donnell
Joseph O’Donnell

     Sam Perrillo was one of the most reliable hit men of the New Jersey mobsters. He was big, beefy, and tough. Almost anyone who met him would surely feel uncomfortable in his presence. He wasn’t a smart man, but he knew how to keep his mouth shut about any assignments that he was given. He was also very proficient in his work. All these qualities assured his benefactors that he could handle any delicate matter for them quickly, and quietly.

     One day in August, Frankie Manino, a local under boss, called Sam for some special work. It seemed that some family members in Pennsylvania wanted to get rid of an annoying personality that was disturbing their operations. Apparently a loose canon, by the name of Joey Donnello, was muscling in on their turf, and it was decided that they wanted to say goodbye to him. Sam met Frankie in a secure establishment set up by the family. Many a meeting took place here at the Sons of Italy Social Club, that decided the fate of a number of mobsters.

     Sam entered through the front door of the club and was motioned towards a table in the back corner of the room. There, Frankie greeted him with respect and indicated that he should join him in a glass of Anisette. They both sat down at the table under the keen gaze of several of Frankie’s bodyguards. Sam didn’t seem nervous in their presence, but as a matter of protocol,

Frankie waved them away. They didn’t too far, but Frankie’s act was a matter of respect for Sam and to set a relationship of trust. They both took a sip of the sweet liquor that Frankie had poured into their glasses, toasting each other before consuming the drink.

            “Sam,” Frankie began, “the family is very pleased with the many services that you have provided for them.”

            “The honor has been mine, Don Manino,” Sam replied with respect. This was not overlooked by Frankie, and he smiled in return.

            “We have a special favor that we would like you to perform,” he continued.

            “I will be more than happy to help,” Sam replied in acknowledgment of his presumed assignment.

            “Good,” Frankie said, patting Sam’s hand across the table. “We have a problem in Pennsylvania that we need taken care of.”

            Sam listened quietly as Frankie continued. “He is not one of us, so there should be no display of his passing,” he explained. “He has become very annoying, and the local Don needs this man to be quiet.”

            “I understand,” Sam acknowledged.

            “Good,” Frankie again replied. “Then it has been arranged. The family will show its gratitude in the usual way,” he said to Sam, passing an envelope across the table. Sam stuffed it into his pocket without opening it, so as to show no disrespect.

            “You will take a plane to Scranton, where you will be met with further information,” he continued. “Everything that you will need will be provided for you there.”

            Frankie refilled the two small glasses with the liquor, signally an end to the meeting. Lifting their glasses, they toasted to each other’s health, then Sam stood up and turned to leave.

            “Omerta,” Frankie said from behind him, citing the Italian word for the mafia’s code of silence.

            “As always,” Sam turned and nodded with respect. He then turned again to the door and left.

             That evening he arrived in Scranton aboard a U.S. Airways flight. He was met at the gate by two members of the Buffalino syndicate. From there they drove him to Pittston, where they billeted him in a local hotel, just off of Route 81. After dropping Sam off, he checked in at the desk where he retrieved his room key. It was held in the assumed name of Thomas Benton. This was the name that he was told to use by one of the escorts that drove him from the airport.

            “Everything that you’ll need will be in the top drawer of the night stand,” the man had told him as he left the car.

            Sam nodded in reply. After entering his room, he checked the drawer and found and envelope with a description and background of his target. It also gave him directions to a safe house where the hit was to take place. He found car keys with a description of a car parked in the hotel parking lot for his use. The instructions, along with the description of the car, was to drive it to an automobile junk yard, when the job was done. There the car would be turned into scrap. The corpse, the note said, was to be thrown down a mine shaft south of Wilkes-Barre. There were hundreds of these abandoned shafts in the area, but this was one of several that became the

mafia’s replacement for the East River in the Bronx section of New York City. The shafts themselves were over a thousand feet deep, and had long been abandoned when the coal mining day were over in this area.

     The note also indicated a concealed gun in the toilet tank in the bathroom. Sam checked it out, and found it neatly wrapped in plastic and taped inside the tank. He retrieved it, and found that the snub nose revolver, complete with silencer, was already loaded. He checked the shells, and noted that they were hollow tipped, indicating that they would expand once they struck the victim.

            Sam went back into the bedroom and picked up the envelope. He pulled the papers out of it that described the guy he was to made a hit on. Joey Donnello seemed like an ordinary man, with the exception that he seemed to want to pick a fight with the local costra nostra. As Sam read some more, it became apparent that Donnello was picking a fight with quite a few people. There were several news clips of him going hot and heavy against a number of crooked politicians, and a few developers who were turning out people from their homes to put their hands on their property. He may of had a good heart, but apparently he made a number of people a little mad. Some of those politicians were in the pocket of the local Don. He almost liked this guy because he had some guts.

            That didn’t detain Sam from what he had to do. He found out where Donnello lived across the river in a section called Forty Fort. Sam read a Colonial War brief about it on a historical marker located in nearby Wyoming, about two miles from where Donnello lived.

     Sam cased Joey’s house and stalked him from a distance in order to see if a pattern emerged from his movements. After a week of following him, he found that Donnello’s comings and goings were quite regular. He began to wonder why the local family didn’t knock the guy off themselves. Perhaps it was because he worked for the Catholic Church out of Scranton as some sort of property specialist. Either that, or the local boys felt that he was too hot with all the commotion he was raising as a peoples’ activist. Whatever it was, the regional Don wanted some help from the outside.

     He began to wonder if he wasn’t the only one tailing Donnello. It may be quite possible that some federal agents were watching over him like a couple of guardian angels. The thought made Sam have second thoughts, and he decided to play it a little safe with this guy. He gave his quarry another week, so that he could watch to see if there was anything protecting his back. As far as Sam could figure out, it seemed like this was not the case. Sam noted that when Donnello dropped his kids off at school or picked them up in the afternoon, his movements were at their most predictable.

     Unfortunately if he moved on him during this time, he would be missed too quickly, and this would set off a few alarms. It would be better if he could bag him during his work schedule.

     Sam could not find any easy answers in this direction. It seemed that Donnello’s job called for him to travel to different parishes, in out of the way places, in this section of Pennsylvania. Joey used various routes, and with the lack of any regularity, it was impossible for Sam to make a hit on him. Sam knew that the only way to bag Joey was when he dropped his kids off at school.

     Several days later, while still following Donnello in his daily rounds, Sam got his break. After he left the school parking lot, Joey drove his car towards his office. He must have been late leaving the house, because in route to his job he pulled into a Seven-Eleven for a possible quick breakfast. Luckily for Sam, Donnello had to park around the side of the store, out of eye site, from anyone inside.

     Sam pulled up on Joey’s driver’s side and waited for him to go into the store. As he did so, Sam got out of the car and opened the opposite rear door to his sedan. As Joey returned, Sam who had now been standing next to the wall of the building keeping an eye out for any witnesses, walked up behind Joey and shot him. He held onto Joey as he started to fall and pushed him into the backseat of his own car. Sam had worn a hat with a brim on it, so that he could scan his surrounding while still keeping his face concealed. Seeing that his deed was unnoticed, he shut the backdoor and got into his car and drove away without making a commotion.

     After driving a few blocks, Sam pulled over to check his victim. He made sure that he was not close to any houses while he did so. Reaching back over the front seat, the first thing he did was to check Joey’s pulse. Finding none, and satisfied that he was quite dead, he covered him up with a blanket that he kept on the floor in the front seat. He then drove to the safe hose, which was located in a wooded area north of the Susquehanna River. It was near the small town of Orange, where the population was quite scarce.

            Sam went into the house and waited till he brought Joey’s body inside. He had kept the shades pulled down for privacy, and put Joey down on the living room floor. There was a television in the kitchen and Sam turned it on to see if there was anything in the news about the shooting. So far there was no mention about the incident. He decided to check the refrigerator for

something to eat or drink. Surprisingly, there was a fresh sandwich and beer inside. He didn’t have the beer, so as not to cloud is thinking, but he was hungry enough to eat the sandwich, and did so with relish.

      He decided to get up and go over to where Joey’s body lay on the floor. Pulling back the blanket, Sam took a long hard look at his face. He seemed peaceful enough. “Probably didn’t even know what hit him,” Sam thought. Donnello was a big guy, but Sam was even bigger, and had no trouble lugging the corpse around. As he looked closer, he saw that, even though dead, Donnello had that air of perseverance. To Sam’s surprise, Joey’s eyes opened wide, and it caused him to jump with a yelp. Sam pulled out his gun, but after seeing that it must of been rigor mortis setting in, holstered it again. He quickly moved to cover Joey’s face again with the blanket.

      “Damnedest thing!,” he said aloud to himself.

     He decided to go back to the kitchen and have a beer anyway. He turned on a game show on the television and sat to enjoy the beer. He was going to wait until ten o’clock to get rid of the body in the pre-dedicated location. He noticed that it was about seven-thirty, so he still had some time to wait. Sam glanced back over to where Joey’s body laid on the floor. It was lying prone on its back with the head facing away from him. He was conscious of the still form stretched out on the living room floor and wondered about the grief Joey caused the local Don. Donnello must have been getting to close to uncovering the ruling underworld in this area. The Don’s family was one of the most successful in the country, and had been after often looked toward for settling family problems in Philadelphia.

      It was this crime family that was the subject of the famous New York State raid by the authorities, when all the family heads of the state met in its summer house in upstate New York. The raid proved the vital link connecting them and establishing the fact that the underworld crime family was indeed organized. One of the Buffalino member’s was even the famous Teamster Union leader Jimmy Hoffa’s lawyer.

      Sam took a walk outside the house, to check and make sure that no one was nosing around. All seemed quiet, with nearest neighbors house some quarter mile down the road. He glanced toward the heavens and saw that the sky was crystal clear. He felt, as he looked up, that he could almost touch the stars. With no moon out, they seemed to blink brightly overhead. He went back inside and shut the door behind him. Sam then went to the kitchen and had himself another beer. He sat back in the chair and watched another show on the television. He was becoming a little uncomfortable sitting there with the corpse only a few feet away.

     Before long, his eyelids began to get heavy and he started to drift off to sleep. He clumsily reached over and turned off the lamp on the kitchen table next to him. Around nine o’clock, he was awakened by the television which heralded the local news show just coming on the air. The theme song for the newscast was a bit brassy and the blaring commentary rudely awoke Maranca.

            “Breaking news,” the opening words flashed across the screen.

            “This just in,” the newsman said, his face with its serious expression appearing before him. “Joey Donnello, a  local people’s advocate, has been reported missing today and was last seen at a local Seven-Eleven store in the area. Police believe that foul play has been involved in his disappearance.” Sam was wide awake now, and seemed glued to the television.

      “Store surveillance tapes show no other person with him inside the store where he had apparently gone after dropping his children off at school,” the newsman concluded. Sam gave a sigh of relief and thought that the police hit a dead end. “However,” the voice from the screen continued, “further investigation of the tapes showed a dark colored sedan parked outside next to Donnello’s car had back out from the moment that he went to his car. Although the camera was on only inside the store, the scene outside the front window was easily viewed in the camera’s lens. The security tapes clearly show the dark vehicle’s rear end as it backed up and then left the parking lot even though it was out of range. The police are busy scrutinizing the tape tonight and trying to enhance the picture to capture the license plate number that may be revealed on the film. No person was seen entering the store before or after Joey Donnello left and the other vehicle came into view.”

      Sam saw this as an unlucky break. He knew that he could not go back to the hotel even after he ditched the car in the scrap yard. Someone might recall his car parked in the parking lot our front. If he didn’t go back, the hotel might remember him as the guy that didn’t check out. This sudden twist in his plans left him unsettled.

            Sam suddenly had the feeling that he was being watched. There was no sound that alerted him, although is attention was focused on the newscast, and he may have not heard anything if there was one. Slowly he turned, and was horrified to see Joey Donnello sitting both upright, and staring at him.

      “Jesus!,” Sam yelled, as he jumped up out of his chair. He quickly reached hi pistol and aimed it at Joey. Squeezing off a shot, he watched the shell, seemingly traveling in slow motion,

hit its target between the eyes. Donnello’s body fell back to the floor, with a thump that seemed to shake the house.

      Sam could feel the perspiration dripping down his back. He never had this happen to him like this before. Then again, he never had to baby sit a corpse all night either. He decided to bring the body out to the car and leave it in the back seat. His nerves were on end he was getting too jumpy.

      Walking over to the body, he checked Joey again to make sure that he was dead. The bullet hole was clearly pronounced on his face where the projectile had entered, giving the weird look of having three eyes. The bullet had exited the back of his head and, unlike the neat appearance of the entry wound, left a bloody mess on the floor behind it. Bone, hair, brains, and blood seemed to be scattered everywhere.

      Sam was getting sloppy and this was going to place a bad mark on his reputation, he carefully wrapped the body back up in the blanket and hauled it back outside to the car. His big frame heaved as he lifted his still victim and place him face up on the back seat. Looking up, he saw that the blanket had fallen from around Joey’s face, and it gave Sam the eerie feeling that the corpse was giving him a baleful gaze. Sam shuddered and quickly moved the blanket up around Joey’s head again. The death shroud placed over his victim’s face would not stay and one eye seemed to stare back at him where the corner of it dropped.

      Thoroughly unnerved, Sam backed away, slamming the rear car door as he exited the vehicle, “Damnedest thing!”

      Hurrying back inside the house, he decided that he would try to clean up the mess on the floor. He hurried to look in the kitchen closets and found a bottle of detergent. Finding a mop and bucket next to the refrigerator, he quickly dumped some of the contents of the bottle in and placed the bucket under the sink’s tap. He hastily turned the hot water faucet on and filled the bucket up. Once filled, he grabbed the bucket and mop and headed back toward the living room. Then he got the scare of his life. There sitting up on the floor, and glaring back at him, was the corpse of his victim, Joey Donnello.

      Sam dropped the mop and bucket with a splash and a clatter. Water sloshed across the floor and soaked his pant legs. With a stupefied look, he stared back at the body. He saw that the bullet hole in it’s forehead was gone, and that’s when it occurred to him that he must have fallen asleep and dreamed that he had shot at the corpse earlier. He glanced behind the body and saw that there was no blood on the floor. He realized that he must of just woke up from a nightmare. Avoiding pulling his gun out again, at this moment, probably saved him from creating a reality from his dream. It would of been a terrible case of deja vouz. Sam was badly shaken. Sitting down hard, in the kitchen chair behind him, he could not look away from Joey’s face. It was as though he was accusing him of his demise from beyond the grave.

     Sam finally was able to tear himself away form his accuser and shuddered as he did so. He looked at his watch and saw that it was a little past ten. Sweating profusely, he forced himself t stand up. Is timing was off and he was late in leaving with his victim to his final resting place. Perrillo went over and lifted Joey’s body across his shoulders. He gingerly brought him out to

the car and placed him across the back seat of the sedan. Sam was careful to make sure that he lay the body face down and covered it with the blanket.

     He went back into the house to clean up anything that would give any indication that he was there. Satisfied that he was thorough with that, he left the house and got into the driver’s seat. Then starting the motor he prepared to back down the driveway. Sam was careful not to turn the headlights on at once, so as not to have anyone see the car leave the drive. He used this procedure when first pulling up to the house, so that spying eyes would not see the hose being occupied.

             As Sam turned to glance out the rear window before putting the car in reverse, he was nearly given a coronary. There, sitting up in the back sear, staring squarely at him, was Joey Donnello. Sam jumped out of the car and swore loudly. He fell backward as he did so, and landed hard on the ground. He tried to get up but couldn’t. The shock of that vision glaring at him from the rear seat was too much. Visibly shaken, he was finally able to haul himself off the ground. Rising slowly, he stood up and walked back to the car. It seemed that Joey was just sitting there glaring back at him.

      “Son of a bitch!”, Sam swore under his breath. He pulled the gun from his coat and aimed it at Donnello’s head. “I’ll finish this now,” he muttered.

      Just then a car passed on the road out front. Sam, he was brought back to reality, and held off from shooting his victim again. After waiting a few moments he went around to the back seat and lifted Joey’s lifeless body and brought it back to the living room inside the house. Breathing heavily, he plunked himself down in a nearby chair.

     “You don’t die hard,” he said, speaking to the corpse, “that’s probably why they got me to do the job.”           

            Eyeing the body, Sam surmised that Donnello was just as annoying in life as he was in death. He read the note in the envelope that noted his persistence in the way he was as an activist. He roughly kicked at the body as he got up and went to the kitchen to help himself to another beer. Sam was now hot, overworked, and irritable and the cool liquid helped cool him off as he gulped the contents down. His large body was soaked with sweat as he tried to cope with this evening’s calamity.

            He knew that he had to get going. He wanted to be done with this situation and be on his way back home. People were waiting for him at the scrap yard for the car and he didn’t want to be late.

            Turning quickly in anger and frustration from the kitchen, he entered the living room, determined to close this job quickly. As he did so, he was confronted with what seemed to be a reoccurring nightmare. There sitting on the floor, looking back at him, was the corpse of his victim. Out of pure terror, Sam pulled his gun from his coat and emptied the revolver into Joey. Every shot hit the corpse in the face.

            An hour later, police cars and a coroners van were in the driveway and on the road out front. The police were sifting through the house and in the sedan out front. Two detectives were interviewing an old couple by the gate.

            “You called about an hour ago,” one said to the old man as they questioned them, “what did you hear prior to the time of the call?”

            “We noticed that the lights were going off and on in the house,” the man’s wife spoke out of turn.

            “That’s true,” the man said, “we could see that plain as day from where we were in our kitchen. That’s what made us curious.”

            “Curious?” the other detective asked.

            “Well, the house hasn’t been lived in for months,” the woman said.

            “When did you first realize someone was there?” the first detective asked.

            “Just around seven in the evening,” the man said, “that’s when the lights inside kept flashing on and off.”

            “Then what happened?” the other cop asked.

            “Well, we went outside to have a better look” the old man said, having difficulty speaking without his false teeth.

            “That’s when we heard all the commotion and yelling,” his wife chimed in.

            “You can hear all that from your place?” the other detective asked.

            “Well its awful quiet up here at night, the old man explained. “You couldn’t make out every word, but one fellow was swearing terribly.”

            “Was anyone hurt?” the wife asked, not being able to suppress her curiosity.

            “Unfortunately there was two victims,” the first officer said as the coroners officer began wheeling the gurneys out of the house behind them. They turned to look as the bodies were rolled out.

            “Was one of those that Donnello fellow that was missing?” the wife asked.

            “Yes,” the detective said, “he was found murdered in the house.”

            “That’s a shame. He was such a nice man,” she said shaking her head.

            “Yeah, that’s true enough,” the other cop said.

            “Who’s the second one?” the husband asked quietly.

            “Apparently the guy who shot him,” the first detective answered.

            “What happened to him?” the woman pried.

            “Died of a heart attack,” the other cop said. “Apparently his weight, the liquor he had, and the strain of it all, was too much for him.”

            “Well good riddance to bad rubbish,” replied the old man. “Why did he do it to begin with?”

            “Apparently he was hired by someone to kill Mr. Donnello,” the cop confined.

            “Do you think you’ll get them?” the woman asked.

            “Yeah,” the cop said, “so far we traced this guy to a hotel, down in the valley in Pittston. There’s enough evidence there to give us a good clue as to who did it.”

            “Good, as I said,” the old man said, “good riddance to bad rubbish.”

      They stood silent as the coroners black van was packed up and passed them as it pulled out of the drive. It seemed that Joey Donnello got his last wish. Within the next few months, the murder investigation broke the back of the local mob. The far reaching effects of the case also found its way back to New Jersey.

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