Robert Mangeot’s fiction appears here and there, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, The Forge Literary Magazine, Lowestoft Chronicle, MWA’s Ice Cold, The Oddville Press, and the Anthony-winning Murder Under The Oaks. His work has three times been named a Derringer finalist. When not writing, he teaches short fiction workshops regionally. When not doing any of that, he can found wandering the snack food aisles worldwide.
Vinny Two Snacks
by Robert Mangeot
The last time Vince saw his passport and hotel keycard, he’d just finished half his pineapple sponge cake and needed Pepto bad. He hadn’t stopped at half because his stomach quailed—it did—but because Pisca Tera’s locals stared and the hostess pointed him out to bruiser guys in floral shirts, guys with bulges wherever bruisers were meant to bulge. All Vince had done was order cake. Didn’t matter. Survival instinct swept in, so he slapped down fifty bucks American and hustled down the darkened beach in a streaming wind, the bruisers trailing at a distance. Too late he realized he’d left his carryall slung over the chair, along with his passport and composure.
“New card for Vinny Two Snacks,” Vince told the resort night clerk, Two Snacks being the family nickname he’d listed the room under. “Quickly, please.”
The night clerk went stiff and vanished, no keycard, not even asking for identification. Which was at Pisca Tera, anyway. Vince still had his phone, thank God, and he wrangled with Customer Service over the Two Snacks listing and his Boulder address while the bruiser guys watched from rattan barstools. Vince begged the rep and the rep’s manager and that manager’s manager, and sheer persistence won a replacement key. He scurried into the elevator and pressed for the penthouse level and then jabbed buttons to all six floors to cover his tracks, like people did in spy movies.
Mistake. The elevator ground upward interminably. Paranoia screamed that the floral shirts bounded up the stairwells in pursuit, alternating floors like bad guys did in those same movies.
Vince made it to his room incident-free except for epic stomach pain. He bolted himself inside and chugged Pepto and started on the mini-bar vodka and almost called his sister Gemma, a prosecutor now. Almost called, but she would’ve ignored the bruiser part and asked if he was drunk. She would’ve said, “Why are you in Curaçao?”
Her predictable question, best dodged. One might’ve said Vince was living his best life near South America while certain hometown investigations blew over. Gemma had gushed relief when Vince quit boiler rooming stocks over the phone and opened his own investment shop, Vincent Dunzo Financial Planning. He’d been crushing it in the wealth advisory game until a Denver Post hack reporter came around and uncharitably asserted Dunzo Financial was a Ponzi scheme.
Vince checked his mad money stashed in the suitcase liner and rewound the whole restaurant deal in his mind. “One of Pisca Tera’s famous sponges,” Vince had said to the waiter, really hamming it up how he did with anxious clients. He’d gone bigger than big, what with the waiter steamed about no entree tip potential and Vince’s sugar rush off the prune tart he’d just downed at the resort. Vince mentioned how he’d eaten already but read in Frommers about Pisca Tera’s mouth-watering cakes, and here thanks to kismet, his evening beach walk took him past the very place.
“It’s how I roll,” Vince had said. He flecked tart crust from his cuff. “They call me Vinny Two Snacks.”
Next thing, no waiter and a razor-eyed hostess and sudden bruisers in loungewear.
The evening dragged along quietly but for the crash of waves outside. A misunderstanding, that was all. He’d crossed some unwritten Lesser Antilles entrée code. An apology would land him back his passport, a simple yet grand apology. He felt it with the warm certainty that only came from in-room liquor.
Morning seeped in with a humid drizzle. Vince donned a windbreaker and checked the hallway before venturing from his room. Still clear upstairs, still a slog of an elevator ride. The lobby vibe felt off, though. The usual tourists scattered themselves around but differently, as if too scattered, too aware of Vince grabbing a second banana muffin. Vince tamped down his paranoia with coffee double creamer and made a fast exit into that wind slicing off the Caribbean.
No bruisers jumped him at the pool or beach stairs. Nobody seemed to notice him at all. Last night had been a misunderstanding, for sure. Stress gnawing at him. Every reason for it. He’d cashed out what investment funds were liquid. He’d hidden, shredded, and burned records that could be spun in unfortunate ways. He’d assured clients he’d be out for a minor procedure, nothing prolonged. He’d put three thousand miles between himself and that hack reporter, and anyway, he wasn’t a criminal. Fluid in his accounting methods, yes. He’d made refunds where clients insisted. Minus fees, of course.
The Pisca Tera shift leader prepping for lunch wouldn’t let Vince inside to fetch his bag, not even when Vince presented his claim ticket. He had the restaurant door slammed in his face. An iguana gazed a cold accusation down from the gutter.
“I’m sorry,” Vince called through the fogged-over glass. “Please, charge me for a whole kingfish. With conch fritters.”
Dead quiet inside. Vince stepped back and scanned the beach road. It might’ve been his imagination, but a bunch of people who might’ve watched him pour double creamer might’ve ducked behind divi-divi trees or parked Kias when he glanced that direction.
Vince blinked in the wind. Told himself to relax. Guilt was for the guilty. And yet, another sizzle of instinct warned to feel guiltless somewhere else.
As if summoned, a dark SUV whipped around the bend and plowed toward Vince, its gloss paint glinting danger. He sprinted faster than he had for years and wound up at the cruise ship terminal and next in the dressing room of a Tommy Bahama. The salesclerk gave him grief over lingering too long without a purchase, so Vince ditched his windbreaker for the cheapest camp shirt they had, a thing that didn’t quite fit and radiated flamingoes. He added a pair of clearance sunglasses for camouflage and eased out into the cruise ship crowd. The terminal area brimmed with SUVs and thousands of maybe-watching eyes.
Vince tried a long way round to the resort, a brutal trudge in this heat, and got lost in a tropical maze of stores and bungalows and apartment houses. No Good Samaritans offered directions. Nobody hassled him, either. Finally, he gave up and backtracked along the beach to the resort. He bribed an all-smiles bellhop to let him in through the loading dock. The only static came at the service elevator when Vince whispered, “Two Snacks owes you big time.”
That smile evaporated, and the bellhop rushed off as if Vince was radioactive. He blinked again. His stomach gurgled while the service elevator ascended slower than even that lobby crawler. He’d been gracious in his thanks, and genuine, and it was hardly a capital offense to repeat snack now and then. Either something super weird was happening, or else Curaçao couldn’t fathom such a bold sweet tooth.
Super weird, definitely. Someone had ransacked Vince’s suite but good. Clothes strewn, luggage shredded, the money reserve gone. He stuffed whatever he could salvage into a now-tattered suitcase and beat it into the first taxi that would take him, head on a swivel for any tail or marauding SUVs. All clear, best he could tell. He paid cash for a dump room out by the airport. The place smelled like dogs and stale beer. He managed to latch his door all it was going to latch, and finally, finally, he called Gemma.
“Sponge cake?” Gemma said. “Seriously? The cardiologist warned you off carbs.”
Vince stayed on peephole watch. “Are you listening? I’m being chased.”
“And why are you in Curaçao?”
“Later, okay? And for the record, that sponge was highly recommended.”
“Oh, here we go. Classic Vince. Big shock you pissed somebody off.”
“I was pleasant as can be,” Vince said. He took her through the entire incident and the spiel he’d laid on the waiter and his Vinny Two Snacks routine that scored with investor prospects.
“Christ,” Gemma said. “Vinny Two Snacks? What is wrong with you?”
“Look, you hung that on me. I just make him a bit of a character.”
“No, Two Snacks is an actual guy. Crime lord dude, majorly wanted. International manhunt wanted.”
“Guns, currency smuggling, you name it. Loved his snacks. I was a junior attorney helping Justice build a case on Vinny, if we could locate him. And I zinged you with Two Snacks that once. You ran wild with it like you do everything.”
“Time out,” Vince said. “Your reflex nickname for me was from a crime lord? This is what you think of me?”
“Two Snacks made tons of enemies. Blood enemies everywhere. It’s why he went underground. Took a fortune of dirty money with him.”
“Why have I never heard of him?”
“It was headline news, moron.” A taut pause. “Honestly, you kind of look like his mug shot. Same hair, same build. Younger than him, but Two Snacks would’ve had plastic surgery. Only way he keeps breathing.”
Vince coughed. “I might’ve dropped his name a few other places.”
“Christ,” Gemma said.
“They have my passport,” Vince said, and through Gemma’s rant that followed he cursed frigging food writers and their gushing so frigging much over soggy cake.
“Sit tighter than tight,” Gemma said. “I’ll try contacts down there. With luck, they’ll get you home so I can kill you personally, dumbass.”
Harsh but acceptable. Vince barricaded himself in behind a flimsy pressboard nightstand, a burnt ironing board, and a mattress specked with dried blood. The window curtains fluttered in a tropical breeze. Anybody might’ve been out there, waiting, watching.
Unfair. Grossly unfair. Vince hadn’t done anything wrong. Not this wrong. He’d duly licensed Dunzo Financial and mostly disclosed the risks of market fluctuations. He’d charged his published fees and commissions, and his refunds were generally prompt, depending on his deposit flow. Unfair, this constant hounding by snoop reporters and bruisers and an arbitrary rule that people only ate snacks once per while. Humans were meant to graze every hour or so. It was nutritional science, but cardiologists and crime lords had to ruin it for everyone.
And Gemma, Gemma the self-appointed judge and jury of adult choices. She’d sighed that day when he wolfed down a cheesecake wedge at her barbeque, the grill not even lit yet. Vince had reminded Gemma—not for the first time—that winners claimed a prime slice before someone else did. Future dessert options remained open. “It’s your world,” Gemma said, “old Vinny Two Snacks. We’re just living in it.” Still, here she was trying to bail him out again. Good old Gemma.
Someone knocked on the hotel room door, a rap so friendly that it hung with threat. Full silence followed, and Vince was debating whether he could survive a two-story drop when a rasped voice—sort of a Dutch accent—said, “Selection of nice cakes. Compliments of management.”
Survivor instinct exploded, and Vince tested that drop theory. He landed hard but on both feet, his whole body clanging from impact. His phone landed harder and smashed into a spray of parts. Across the lot, those bruisers from Pisca Tera leaned against an Escalade and seemed impressed that Vince hadn’t broken his legs. It didn’t stop them from reaching for something tucked in their waistbands. What stopped that was island police vehicles squealing in at full blast. A blur of motion ended with Vince cuffed and marched into an unmarked sedan.
“Bon tardi, Two Snacks,” said a lady up front. She flashed FBI credentials. “It takes brass ones, parading around Curaçao like the Prime Minister.”
“You have the wrong guy,” Vince said, wiping at his sweat. “I’m not a crook.”
“Seen the headlines today?”
“What? What headlines?”
“Any of them. Tabloids swear Two Snacks is back and bent on a revenge spree. Prosecutors as far as Bora Bora are on camera hot to extradite him. My favorite, though, is fresh out of Denver.” She held up a tablet and showed Vince a Post banner story that appeared to take Dunzo Financial apart transaction by transaction. “Two Snacks is into corn-fed grifting now? Wouldn’t have guessed.”
That hack reporter. “I can explain.”
“Save it. You’re not Two Snacks. I know it, Interpol knows it, the local cops might get sold on it. Guess who definitely doesn’t know it? Some bad people we want out of circulation. Which is why, while the locals go bonkers searching that hotel, Vinny Two Snacks pulls off a legendary escape from this car.”
“Don’t worry so much. Whatever goes down, you’re tracked up your wazoo. We’re only a couple minutes off tops.” The lady tossed him an envelope with a wad of dollars and entrance codes to a Willemstad condo. “I recommend you run due east.”
“Wait. You can’t kick me out there. This is insane.”
“It was a huge favor your sister called in. Time you paid it back huge.”
Good old Gemma, damn it. “She wanted me sitting tight,” Vince said. “That’s me. A broker. A sit-tight guy.”
“Not anymore, Snacks. Go hit a few bakeries. See what shakes out, and you might not explain as many fraud counts in federal court. Or you know what? Go with extradition. Tell your sister you opted for laying around an ABCs jail wondering who has the shiv.”
The FBI lady fixed Vince up with a shirt button wire and a supply of marked bills. “Get moving,” she said. Here came that sizzle again, that churn to his stomach. A gulp of air, and he slung himself out into a looming dusk. Police lights washed over the lot as he jumped back and forth on his aching feet.
Vinny Two Snacks. It came with an expense account and license to eat however many desserts that wouldn’t bring on a heart attack straight out. If Vince made it to Willemstad, he’d send Gemma a delivery cheesecake for him being, well, less than above-board. First, though, Vince wheeled a circle and wondered which the hell direction was east.
Copyright 2023 by Robert Mangeot