Chapter Four

4. Carry Out

“Here Aardy, Aardy,” Jack coaxed, “Come and get it. Your favorite.” Aardy sauntered to the front of his enclosure to a large bowl of spaghetti. Jack and his boys watched intently.

“Do you think he’ll notice?” Dante blocked Aardy’s escape route to the backroom with a thick sheet of plywood.

“He better not,” Jack said. “Cat tranquilizers aren’t cheap.”

Marco grinned. “So, what’s Mama gonna do to you when she finds out you stole all of Friskers’ car trip meds?”

“It’s not stealing if I paid for them.” Jack looked at his sons. “Besides, nobody’s going to tell her, right? I can get more before she gets back.”

Aardy sniffed around his bowl before he plunged his snout into it and devoured the pasta, hardly pausing to breathe.

Dante laughed. “How long ‘til he’s out?”

“No idea.” Jack wasn’t sure the tranquilizers would work on Aardy, let alone what the proper dosage was supposed to be. Something told him there was nothing proper about tranking an aardvark with cat pills, anyway. “Get the back of Aardy’s cage boarded up and try not to make the cracks he made any worse. We need this to hold. I’ll get the dolly and move the truck closer.”

Dante picked up a hammer and nails. “You really think it’s smart to go driving up there in a truck with Aardvark Pasta and your phone number plastered on the side of it?”

“Got a better idea? Everyone’s going to be at The Hill anyway. Nowhere near me. I’ll do the worrying, okay. You just get to work. I’ll be right back.”

The sound of nails pounded into wood echoed through the restaurant as Jack stepped out the rear exit into the alley. He looked around to make sure he was alone. How did it ever come to this?

Jack’s dream had always been to run his own restaurant. He learned to cook Italian dishes from his grandmother at a young age and she nurtured the talent as he grew up. Everyone who sampled his cooking agreed he could sell it. With the support of his wife, Sofia, he quit his job as head chef at Cappi’s (Abundance City’s best-reviewed Italian restaurant) and started his own business in Pond Hollows. Jack had the skills to run a kitchen and Sofia could manage the business. What they lacked was somebody to help with marketing.

Jack hired Dom— who was also his second cousin— to be the marketing expert for the fledgling venture. As a new entrepreneur and unsure of himself, Jack deferred to Dom’s marketing expertise. Had Dom disclosed up front his experience was one year’s worth of marketing classes at the unaccredited online UniversityOfYouCan.com, Jack would have found someone else.

Sofia warned Jack about the dangers of mixing family and business, especially when Dom was part of the mix. Jack ignored her counsel and became more determined to follow Dom’s advice.

“Look Jack, marketing a restaurant is simple,” Dom had told him. “All you have to do is come up with the perfect name for the joint— and you, my friend, are in luck. I already have.”

“Great! Let’s hear it.”

“Aardvark Pasta. How do you like the sound of that? Kind of rolls off your tongue don’t it, Jack? Aardvark Pasta. You say it.”

“Aardvark Pasta?”

“You got it. Picture this. Your restaurant first in every Abundance Yellow Book. Number one. A name they won’t forget. A name to get them in the door so your food can keep ‘em coming back.”

“Well, yeah, I guess that sounds good, but what does an aardvark have to do with pasta?”

“Nothing really. I admit it’s a gimmick, but you haven’t heard the best part yet. Can I tell you the best part?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Good one, Jack. Seriously though, listen up. Not only are we going to name the place Aardvark Pasta, we’re gonna get a real live aardvark to be the mascot. People will stop by just to see it. And what will they do next? They’ll eat, Jack. And after that they’ll tell their friends. I mean, come on. Have you ever seen a real life aardvark? Well, have you, Jack? The answer is, ‘No,’ and neither have they.”

Dom knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy who dealt in exotic animals Three weeks and five thousand dollars later a large shipping crate with holes bored into it arrived on Jack’s front porch. Sofia went ballistic when she saw the “Exotic” label and guessed what was inside. She had conceded to name the place Aardvark Pasta, but couldn’t believe Jack blew five grand of their start-up money on an aardvark. Family ties couldn’t save Dom from Sofia’s wrath. The money once set aside for his salary now went toward feeding and housing Pond Hollow’s first-ever exotic creature.

Jack was forced to take over the marketing. To his surprise, he had a knack for it. The aardvark needed a name, so Jack let customers vote for the best one. Aardy, Anthony, and Bob were the final contenders.

He also planned the restaurant’s grand opening: a day of free food and local music which culminated with the announcement of the aardvark’s name and the public’s first opportunity to see the animal. When the festivities were almost over Jack strode to a podium and boomed, “Ladies and gentleman, may I have your attention please?”

The room fell silent.

“Please give a warm welcome to Aardvark Pasta’s one-of-a kind, new mascot—Aardy the Aardvark.” The curtain covering Aardy’s enclosure dropped to reveal a baby aardvark sleeping peacefully behind a plastic wall. Oohs and aahs filled the packed dining area. The Capanella boys passed out shirts to the crowd. Each shirt had the store’s name, address, and telephone number on the back, and one of three different slogans on the front: “I Heart Aardy”, “I Party with Aardy”, and “Aardy, Paws the Pasta, Please.”

People swarmed around Jack to congratulate him on the store and the aardvark. At one point he turned to Sofia. “Looks like Dom wasn’t so wrong after all.”

“Just wait,” was all she said.

Now, Jack watched Marco pound the last nail in to secure the sturdy plywood board to the wooden frame of Aardy’s enclosure.

“The final nail in the coffin,” Jack muttered. He helped his boys unscrew the thick bolts anchoring the cage to the floor. They scooted their cargo, which resembled a translucent refrigerator with an aardvark at the bottom, onto the dolly and shuffled their way to the truck. They positioned the cage so the plywood rested against the tailgate.

“On the count of three— and don’t drop him!” Jack ordered. “One…two…three!” The Capanella trio grunted as they hefted Aardy and the cage onto the truck bed.

“Sure you don’t want us to come with you?” Dante asked.

“Yes. If I get caught I don’t want anyone to know you two were involved. Just mess some things up in there so it looks like a break-in, okay? But don’t get carried away. No smashing dishes or windows, or anything like that, got it?”

“Got it,” they both said.

“Good. After that, go to The Hill. People are expecting you to be there. And don’t worry, if something goes wrong with the drop-off, I’ll take the fall to protect you guys.”

Dante busted up. “So what? Are we in the Mafia now?” He elbowed Marco. “Did you hear that? Don Jack here says he’s gonna take the fall for us if the drop-off goes bad.” Both boys were laughing now.

“Shut up—the two of you.” Jack climbed into the driver’s seat. “And shut the tailgate.”

Marco clanked the tailgate shut and rapped twice on the truck. “Yous got it, boss.”

“Smart alecks,” Jack mumbled as he drove away.

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