EXCERPT: 'Last Night in Twisted River'

"I'm setting a place for Mr. Ketchum," Carmella said, and she started to do so. The two younger waitresses were checking them¬selves out in a mirror. Paul Polcari held a pizza paddle in both hands; it was the size of a giant tennis racquet.

"Put the paddle down, Paul," Molinari told him. "You look ridiculous."

"There's a lot of stuff in the duffel bag he's carrying— ammunition, maybe," the busboy said.

"Dynamite, possibly," the cook said.

"The way the man looks, someone might arrest him before he gets here!" the busboy told them all.

"Why did he come? Why didn't he call first?" Carmella asked her Gamba.

The cook shook his head; they would all just have to wait and see what Ketchum wanted.

"He's coming to take you, Gamba, isn't he?" Carmella asked the cook.

"Probably," Dominic answered.

Even so, Carmella smoothed the little white apron over her black skirt; she unlocked the door and waited there. Someone should greet Mr. Ketchum, she was thinking.

What will I do in Vermont? the cook thought to himself. Who cares about eating Italian there?

Ketchum would waste little time with them. "I know who you are," he told Carmella pleasantly. "Your boy showed me your picture, and you haven't changed much." She had changed in the thirteen- plus years since that wallet photo had been taken— she was at least twenty pounds heavier, they all knew— but Carmella appreciated the compli¬ment. "Are you all here?" Ketchum asked them. "Or is someone in the kitchen?"

"We're all here, Ketchum," the cook told his old friend.

"Well, I can see you are, Cookie," Ketchum said. "And from your disapproving expression, you don't look too happy to see me."

Ketchum didn't wait for a response. He just walked into the back of the kitchen until they couldn't see him. "Can you see me?" he called to them.

They hollered, "No!"—all but the cook.

"Well, I can still see you—this is perfect," Ketchum told them. When he came out of the kitchen, he had the shotgun out of its car¬rying case; to a one, the cook included, they recoiled from it. The gun had a foreign smell— the gun oil, maybe, and the oil- stained leather case— but there was another smell, something truly foreign (even to cooks, even in a restaurant's dining room and kitchen). Maybe the smell was death, because guns are designed to do just one thing— kill.

"This here is an Ithaca twenty- gauge— a single shot, no safety. It's as sweet and simple as a shotgun comes," Ketchum told them. "Even a child can shoot it." He broke open the shotgun, allowing the barrel to fall almost to a forty- five- degree angle. "There's no safety because you have to cock it with your thumb before it'll fire— there's no half¬cock, either," the woodsman was saying. They watched, fascinated— all but Dominic.

Everything Ketchum said about the gun made no sense to them, but Ketchum kept patiently repeating himself. He showed them how to load it, and how to take out the empty shell— he showed them again and again, until even the busboy and the young waitresses could have done it. It broke the cook's heart to see the rapt attention Carmella gave to the old logger; even Carmella could have loaded and fired the damn shotgun by the time Ketchum had finished.

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