"The Punishment of Paulie Beltrosa" by David Cook

‘Mad’ Tony Raspino had watched his kids settle disputes this way. It seemed like a good idea. One definite winner, one definite loser. And ‘Small’ Paulie Beltrosa was, definitely, a loser.


Paulie’s Adam’s apple bobbed up and down inside his scrawny neck. He should never have said those things. So what if the service hadn’t been great? Gabbing about it wasn’t worth the punishment. He ought to have known better than to run around bad-mouthing any business round here - Tony had a finger in almost every pie in city, from bars to cafes and even nail salons. Word was always going to get back to him.


Tony’s eyes glimmered. Paulie shuffled on the spot and tried hard not to relieve himself on the floor of the bar.


‘It’s time,’ said Tony.


‘Please, Tony,’ begged Paulie. A ham-sized hand thudded down onto his shoulder. One of the mob’s goons. Tony grabbed Paulie’s fist.


The assembled gangsters watched from behind their whiskeys.


‘One,’ Tony intoned. ‘Two. Three. Four.’




Tony’s face curdled with contempt. ‘I declare a thumb war!’


It was no contest in the end. Paulie barely even tried to fight. Tony’s thumb clamped on top of his for the one-two-three.


A cheer from the massed mobsters declared their leader the winner. But he didn’t let go. ‘Tony, you’re hurting me,’ whimpered Paulie. Tony tightened his grip, then yanked his hand to the side. There was a crack, a scream from Paulie and a murmur from the crowd.


Tony leaned forward and whispered in Paulie’s ear. ‘Don’t ever diss one of my nail salons again,’ he hissed. ‘They’re the best in New York and you know it.’


Paulie’s thumb, bent and twisted, hung at an impossible angle. As he clasped his poor broken digit in his other hand, his fingernails, impeccably buffed and polished, glinted in the light from the window.