Sleep with the Fishesby Brian M. Wiprud
Wiseguy Sid “Sleep” Bifulco doesn’t need no stinkin’ witness protection program. The mobster-turned-snitch, who always put his victims gently to sleep before whacking them, did his prison time and now has a new rural hideaway and a new avocation: trout fishing in a scenic river valley. Except that a bunch of local yokels won’t
Wiseguy Sid “Sleep” Bifulco doesn’t need no stinkin’ witness protection program. The mobster-turned-snitch, who always put his victims gently to sleep before whacking them, did his prison time and now has a new rural hideaway and a new avocation: trout fishing in a scenic river valley. Except that a bunch of local yokels won’t leave him alone.
From a sexy trout dealer in crimson hiking boots to a cop married to a pregnant porn star, everybody in this little town has an angle, a grudge or a crush on somebody. And Sid needs to figure out these yahoos fast—because with a vicious Mafia killer on his trail, a warden on his doorstep, and a highly incriminating videotape making the rounds, it turns out that the simple life isn’t so simple after all....
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Sleep with the Fishes
By Brian M. Wiprud
DellCopyright © 2006 Brian M. Wiprud
All right reserved.
"You jerks wanna know what you can do with your Witness Protection Program? Don't worry, I'll let you fill in that blank. Hey, I did a thing for you, I ratted out these guys. Look at me, I'm thirty-three years old-all I want is the short stint. And when I get out . . . Well, I been takin' care of myself this far. So it's this way: the Feds'll save a lot of green not havin' to babysit me my whole life. I want you to consider that when my sentence comes down-know what I'm talking about?"
Oh, the Feds had warned Sid about the dangers, that outside of the WPP he might well get chopped up and otherwise disemboweled by his former comrades in the Palfutti family. But before Sid decided to turn state's evidence, before he testified, he'd worked out another kind of deal. The rival Camuchi family had made arrangements with his shark of a lawyer to insure that Sid would rat out his confederates at their trials, and in such a way as to scuttle the Palfutti family once and for all. In return, the Camuchis would see to it that any Palfuttis that were not arrested as a result of his testimony were in no position to whack Sid. As a token of their confidence, they'd made a tidy $500,000 honorarium to the Sid Bifulco Defense Fund. The Camuchis were, in effect, buying up the Palfutti turf andrackets for a song.
And so with the deal from both the Feds and the Camuchis in his pocket, Sid took the stand. Days in the Trenton, New Jersey, courtroom were tense as a succession of Palfutti defendants gave Sid the evil eye. But Sid, a sinewy guy with salt-and-pepper hair, remained impassive. He seemed calm, confident, and matter-of-fact. Hours of scratchy recordings, expert testimony, and lawyers' charts filled the weeks. And of course there was the small matter of cross-examination.
"Mr. Bifulco, could you tell the court how you came upon the nickname 'Sleep'?" The defense attorney looked like a tall gray heron with a frog caught in his throat.
"Yeah, I could tell you." Sid laced his fingers into a teepee and focused his dark eyes beyond the rail of the witness box and onto the stenographer's red pumps.
"Could you elaborate for the jury, Mr. Bifulco?" The tall gray bird eyed the jury knowingly.
"Sure." Sid cleared his throat. "It's cause when I whacked a guy . . ."
"You mean when you murdered someone, don't you, Mr. Bifulco?"
"Yeah, that's what I said. When I killed a guy, I usually put him to sleep. First I sapped 'em, then I either, you know, suffocated 'em or injected 'em with procaine. Nice an' easy. No blood to clean up, no strugglin' or nothin'. Johnny Fest made funna me. Called me Sleep. So it stuck. See, Johnny was the kinda guy that liked a guy to know he was gettin' whacked, liked the guy to-"
"Mr. Bifulco! Could you do something for me? Could you please just try and concentrate on the question? Hmm?"
Directly across from the witness stand sat Bluto incarnate, a brooding hulk squeezed into a double-breasted suit. His name was Johnny Fest, a captain in the Palfutti family who moodily examined the ceiling and cracked his knuckles.
Every time Sid mentioned Johnny, defendant Fest popped a knuckle or two. It sounded like someone snapping ice trays and made it hard for Sid to keep his eyes on the stenographer's shoes.
"Could you tell us, Mr. Bifulco, how many people you personally 'put to sleep'-that is, murdered-in your career as a hoodlum?" The heron cocked an alarmed eye back at the jury.
"Sure. Something like ten," Sid lied, shrugging at the judge as if he'd accidentally run over a cat. Confessing to murder didn't faze him. When you were part of a crew, such admissions-albeit mostly by implication-were not only commonplace but also necessary. A reputation for "doing a thing" maintained the respect and fear necessary for a fruitful career. Sid was only concerned that more than the paltry ten murders could be pinned on him, possibly pushing his parole eligibility into the next decade.
"Something like ten. 'Something like' ten murders." The heron ruffled his feathers, stretched his wings, and began to squawk. "How can a person who can't even remember how many people he murdered remember who other people murdered?"
Sid grinned bitterly and wondered how a guy like himself could get in such a jam over red high heels. He knew a lot of guys who had drinking problems, and then there were some who ended up with coke habits. Others couldn't successfully cheat on their wives, and had business meetings broken up by embarrassing confrontations. These guys got warnings, and then the next thing you knew they got popped. But Sid wasn't a heavy drinker, a coke dog, or sloppily married. For a single mob lieutenant, his vice seemed quite pedestrian: Bifulco liked women, and he had a particular overwhelming fondness for red shoes. It was the ladies in hot pumps who always seemed to make Sid lose his head and get in trouble.
Long knobby legs carried the defense attorney around and around the courtroom, and Mr. Bifulco was compelled to recount all of his ten murders, which he did matter-of-factly, if not rather absentmindedly. Hands locked in a wigwam on his lap, Sid clamped his dark eyes on those shoes and tried to ignore the sound of ice trays cracking off to his left. He was just glad that the big gray bird hadn't wheeled an accusing hand at him and said, "So, Mr. Bifulco, isn't it true that you're a sucker for ladies in red shoes? That, in fact, you were once almost killed because of red shoes? That, in fact, your downfall was because of your love-or maybe I should say fetish?-for red shoes? Mr. Bifulco, please answer the question."
Sid's curse had plagued him since he was twelve. Saturday nights he and his pals would spy on couples steaming up car windows by the Passaic River bulkhead, Pulaski Skyway rusting and twinkling overhead. From within the upholstered shadows of the huge old Chevys, Oldsmobiles, and Buicks rocked mating rhythms. Faces were never seen, just glimpses of flesh, flashes of belt buckles, feet, pleated skirts, and hands, the jujitsu of love punctuated by muffled yelps, giggles, gasps, and curses. And eventually, there were shoes, women's shoes in the air, against the window where Sid's face was pressed. Sometimes the shoes fell off early, as soon as the feet went in the air, or before. Sometimes the shoes stayed on the whole time, pounding and clawing the glass at Sid's nose. It was a pair of shiny red high heels that finally overwhelmed Sid's pituitary. And when his father discovered the boy washing underwear in the sink, well, it was obvious that it was time to deal with Sid's sexual awakening. Removing his belt, Father Bifulco gave the lad a memorable beating.
That was only the first time red shoes got Sid in dutch. He had dodged the shoe bullet on several occasions. After a few years, and any number of encounters with amateur, semipro, and professional women, a stray red shoe was a common sight either in Sid's car or his apartment. Recording his conversations had been as easy as tossing a pair of red shoes with wireless mics into his white Mercury Marquis.
The Feds said he'd done a good job. The papers blared "COOL RAT." But the job was neither good nor cool. It was what Sid Bifulco, thirty-three years old, needed to do to save whatever he had left of a life ruined by a pair of flame-red suede pumps with transmitters in the heels. The Feds had taped over a hundred hours of conversation in which he and associates had discussed innumerable felonies, via shoes hidden under the front seat of his car.
In his deal with the prosecutors, Sid pulled down a twelve-year stint in exchange for putting his colleagues away for life-and he'd be eligible for parole in seven. What was left of the Palfutti crime family when Sid got through testifying against them was either absorbed by the New York crowd or dispatched by them, or both.
Nobody bothered Sid in prison because, well, you just don't tease a guy with ten notches in his gun. But he was hardly a cell-block heavy. He was a malefactor who rationalized his capital crimes as the humane approach to eliminating the jerks who'd "get whacked anyhow"-probably quite unpleasantly at the hands of Johnny Fest. Sid Bifulco was a wiseguy with sensibilities, whereas Johnny Fest's confrontational aesthetic might involve shoving a pigeon down a victim's throat, cutting off his dick, and throwing him from a twelve-story building.
Sid's victims had fatal car accidents, or they simply vanished, in which case he never divulged their final resting places. He would carefully fold his victim up in the trunk and drive him a couple hours west to the Delaware River Valley-if for no other reason than he found a nighttime drive in the country a strangely pleasant departure from Newark and the workaday whirl of contraband and extortion rackets.
And it was to just such pastoral scenery that Sid's mind turned ever more frequently in prison. As he strolled the yard, weaving between knots of cigarette-smoking convicts, Sid pondered his future. After all, he might not have been headed for the WPP but he sure as shinola couldn't return to Newark, much less his old line of work. Then again, with the remainder of his defense fund and triple that in sundry nest eggs, he could get by without a vocation. But Newark was all he knew-that and being a hood.
Sunny scenic tours of the Delaware Valley filled his daydreams, first as only something to mask the grim penitentiary life, then as the object of his post-prison life. Sid didn't really believe it could happen. After all, what would a guy like Sid do out there in the woods? Other than dump bodies, that is?
Magazines in prison can be hot commodities. Especially those with girls in them, the more skin the better. Or with guys in them, the more skin the better. But even though his fellow inmates respected him, Sid was low in the pecking order because he wasn't willing to jeopardize his early parole by pummeling his way up to Top Rooster. This meant that when the magazines came around he got Highlights and Woodcraft Quarterly. Well, there was also Sports Astream and maybe Rod & Rifle, but all references to and articles about guns and hunting had been edited out. And who wants to read about fish in the joint? After a few months of Goofus and Gallant, connect-the-dots, and centerfolds featuring "Wood Glues of the World," Sid picked up an outdoor magazine. It was nice to look at the pictures-they reminded him of the Delaware Valley. And sometimes there was an ad with a picture of a girl in red hiking boots. Better than nothing. Then there were the articles, which he began to read ever more avidly. A couple of issues later, the Deputy Warden found he had an appointment with a certain Mr. Bifulco.
Feet up on his desk, the D.W. carved at a fingernail with a shiv that had been stabbed in his side during a cafeteria melee two years before. Missed his kidney by a bologna rind. A gristly old guard ushered Sid into the office and stood him before the desk. As was his way, the D.W. didn't say anything for some minutes. He liked the cons to feel uncomfortable. That was his job, after all.
"Well, Bifulco," he finally drawled, adjusting his clip-on tie. "What can I do for you today?" Sarcasm, thick as peanut butter.
The D.W.'s feet hit the floor.
"A fishing rod."
The D.W. had a laugh like a spoon caught in the garbage disposal. But he brought it to an abrupt stop.
"All right, Bifulco: why?"
"I wanna learn how to fish." Sid shrugged.
"Bifulco, the only fish around here is on a bun with tartar sauce. What're you gonna fish for?"
"I wanna learn how, that's all, without the fish. I thought, y'know, I could learn to like cast an' stuff, like out on the athletic field."
"No way, Bifulco. Get outta here." The D.W. waved both hands at him like he was sending a bad meat loaf back to the cook. The guard put a hand on Bifulco's shoulder.
"Just thought I'd ask. I'm no troublemaker. I'm just in for my seven." Sid was already out the door.
But he didn't give up. A letter to the Warden diplomatically broached the subject. Shortly thereafter, the gristly guard appeared at his cell and croaked: "Time to see the Warden, Bifulco."
Sid soon found himself in the company of the flashy blue sailfish and great red sockeye salmon flanking the Warden's oak-paneled office.
"By God, Bifulco, what kind of man asks for a fishing rod in a federal penitentiary?" Warden Lachfurst thundered. He was small and bald, with round spectacles that flashed like half-dollars.
Sid didn't know how to answer. He didn't get a chance to.
"I'll tell you what kind of man, dammit! An Outdoors Man, Bifulco. Is that what you are? An Outdoors Man?" Lachfurst fastened both fists to the desktop, leaned forward, and attempted to wither Sid with the heat of his scrutiny.
Sid folded his arms, raised his chin, and spoke forthrightly. "Well, Warden, you ask me, I'd say there's only one way to find out."
Taken aback by the cut of Sid's jib, Lachfurst came to attention, tapping a knuckle on the desktop.
Twenty-four days later, Sid had his rod.
At first the Warden just made a point of training the brass telescope perched in his office window on the athletic field. Then he happened by, gave Sid a few pointers. Then there was another office visit, a few fish stories, and then the fly rod and a how-to book. Then the fly-tying kit. And damned if Lachfurst didn't have Sid make up a bunch of salmon flies for the Warden's annual trip to Labrador.
Worm and bobber fishing didn't hook Sid "Sleep" Bifulco. It was the serious business of tackle fishing, of search and destroy. Catalogs filled with lures, lines, weapons, and gadgets. Magazines brimming with technique, exotic locales, and brash leaping fish. It all had a certain sense of fraternity, a sense of craft, hunt, and danger that Sid, a hood, enjoyed. Angling wasn't just about whacking fish, it was about the respect that came with being a whacker of fish. And it took hold of Sid as if angling was what he'd always been meant for, as if being a wiseguy was a soured career turn. Besides, he'd grown fond of red hiking boots.
Sid Bifulco-Izaak Walton reincarnate.
Excerpted from Sleep with the Fishes by Brian M. Wiprud Copyright © 2006 by Brian M. Wiprud. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Brian M. Wiprud
Age: Wears red tennis shoes
Physical Description: Diabolical & Occasionally Fiendish
Profession: Mystery Author, Outdoor Writer & Photographer
*Independent Mystery Bookseller's Association Bestseller
*Lefty Award for Most Humorous Novel
*Barry Award Nominee for Best Paperback Original
Favorite Books:The Squid and I, Chuck Flink
Tubing Badgers for Fun and Profit, Bubbles McCoy
Favorite Movies: "Bowanga! Bowanga!," "Eegah!"
Hobbies: Knife Throwing, Sword Swallowing, Hanging by Fish Hooks
Favorite Lines: "What a gorgeous day. What effulgent sunshine. It was a day of this sort the McGillicuddy brothers murdered their mother with an axe." WC Fields.
Favorite Scotch: Bourbon
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Sid Bifulco is a loyal lieutenant in the Palfutti family with at least ten kills to his credit and a weakness for red shoes. The authorities dropped a mike in his car recording conversations that could have sent him up the river for life if he didn¿t make a deal. For a lesser sentence he testified against his former employers including Johnny Fest and to preserve his life when he gets out of prison he makes another deal with the rival Camuchi gang who make sure that any Palfutti thug not in prison won¿t go after Sid. He also gets a tidy retirement egg.--------- In jail, he learns the rudiments of fishing and the warden takes him under his wing and promises him that he will visit him in his new home to go fishing with him. He also arranges that Sid can live out of state and report to a parole officer in Pennsylvania so he won¿t run into his former comrades. Sid¿s simple life gets very complicated when Johnny Fest breaks out of prison and goes gunning for Sid. When Sid¿s neighbor Russ Smonig runs over Johnny, Sid covers up the crime but neither man knows that there is a contract out on Russ or that Sid killed his wife. The convicts know that Sid has a videotape with incriminating evidence against them on it and want him protected at all costs but they don¿t want Russ killed because they would bring unwanted attention down on Sid. ------------------ If an urban noir (in a small town) can be irrelevant witty and darkly serious at the same timee, than SLEEP WITH THE FISHES is that novel. Sid, an anti hero finds it more dangerous being out of prison and wanting to fish than his tenure with the mob. The author uses irony in a macabre fashion to have Sid become a friend to a man who has a valid grudge against him. Sid swimming through fish infested waters is loads of fun.-------- Harriet Klausner
So many twists and turns and plot follies that you find yourself feeling as if you are on a roller coaster with no desire to depart the ride. Refreshing characters that you cannot find it your heart to ignore. From talented new comer Brian Wiprud, this ride has just begun. I highly recommend this unigue and different new writer.
Ex-New Jersey hit man retires to rural Pennsylvania. The plot is completely off the wall fall on the floor funny. If you can imagine Donald Westlake meets Janet Evanovich meets GOODFELLAS, you have a sketchy idea of the book. Wiprud has a breezy, irreverent style that carries the story along, so you don¿t realize how unlikely everything is until you¿ve reluctantly turned the last page. Try it. You¿ll like it. Even this sense-of-humor-impaired-reviewer laughed.
Brian Wiprud has written a laugh out loud mob satire, taking a cast of quirky characters, each with their own agenda, and weaving them into the story line about a retired mobster who just wants to go fishing. But it isn't quite that easy, as Sid soon discovers, and his first clue is the lady in red hikers....
Urban con meets rustic fishing village in a hilarious series of mix ups, screw ups, and plain fun. Wiprud has a keen sense of the absurd. You'll get a kick out it.
Sid Bifulco had been a hit-man for the Palfuttis mob family. He turned all he knew in to the police for amnesty. Instead of Witness Protection, he served his short term and then retired to the Delaware Valley. His next eggs kept him from poverty and let Sid indulge in the hobby he took up during prison, fishing!
Russ was Sid's next door neighbor. While he and some friends were driving out to Sid's house (intoxicated) Russ hit and killed Johnny Fest, who had been en route to murder Sid for revenge. Sid made the body disappear, but a camcorder that Bob had been using had been left on and Johnny's death had been video taped.
I refuse to tell how, but through some creative writing the author had the tape end up with a trooper that Johnny had recently shot. The trooper was out for some reward money and began hunting Sid and Russ. Then there are the locals at the diner who love making skin-flicks and kept getting involved, unknowingly, with the tape of Johnny. And let us not forget Warden Lachfurst who was coming by Sid's to relax and fish!
***** All-in-all, I found this to be one of the most warped, fascinating, and enjoyable reads this year! Full of irony and humor, readers will not want to put this book down until the last page has been turned! *****
Brian has written a smart, sharp and funny book that will keep you reading all night. It reminded me of a Fawlty Towers episode - where for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, funnier than the one before it. Just when you think it can't get any more wild or wacky, it does. It's like one of those elastic powered airplanes...each turn of the page is another plot twist and another turn of the elastic - Brian winds it as tight as he can - you don't think it could get any tighter - then he gives it one last turn and releases it...sending you on one hell of a great ride. Do yourself a favour and get to know Sid, Jenny, Russ and the rest of the gang - you won't regret it.
Exciting, amusing, and different. The plot of this fast-moving novel pulls the reader from page to page, concluding in a memorable, unexpected, action-filled scene. This mystery writer may well be starting a genre of his own. I can't wait for a sequel. I just hope there will be one.