The rumor was that he was a wizard at starting up restaurants and nightclubs. But once they were up and banging then he would slack off until his skimming and coke habit got out of control and his Italian business partners started asking questions about profits and loss.
In the mid-80’s and early 90's, Jackey Sorro had a very good run opening three pizza joints in three different towns as well as a larger, more upscale tavern and restaurant. His headquarters though was the smallest and first pizza joint he opened right on the main drag of Striker’s Bay. At that time the only businesses there were the combo gas station and convenience store, a real estate office, the hairdresser, and nautical gift shop. There was a very pricey restaurant over by the marina called The Bay View Galley, but nothing else. If you wanted pizza you had to make the fifteen-minute drive into Brentwood because they wouldn’t deliver that far out.
So, when Jackey’s Pizza opened in the mid-80s with its long wall of video games and a stage for local bands to play gigs, it became the instant hang out for everyone between the ages of 12–25. It was a very wide square room with plenty of blond pine booths bordering the big windows that let in plenty of light during the day and a nice ambience at night. A thin, sea-blue carpet added a bit of a nautical theme complimented by a large, wooden anchor and ship’s helm hanging from the walls. Above the main counter and bar a massive portrait in Jackey’s likeness made up like Jolly Roger the Pirate hung as a slightly menacing joke. And because of his bulk, black hair and thick beard, a gold earring, and his cavalier attitude towards everything Jackey looked and acted like he would have been right at home running rum across the Caribbean Sea with Captain Morgan.
In addition to the teen main hangout in town, Jackey’s Pizza also became one of the most coveted part-time jobs a teenager could have in Striker’s Bay. Between the wait staff, cooks, dishwashers and delivery staff, Joe’s Pizza easily employed twenty-five people a week. The other teen employers in town soon found themselves shorthanded. I was too young to drive at the time so delivery person was out. And I couldn’t burn water to save my life so there was no way I was going to be a cook. I almost had the required physical abilities to be part of the wait staff except for a killing shyness that rendered intelligible speech in the presence of strangers almost impossible, something Jackey picked up immediately during the interview despite his coke-head attention span.
But I had filled out an application and made it through the interview. He hired me as the Friday through Sunday night assistant dishwasher. I was under study to Vince, a seventeen-year-old veteran with fourteen months of experience. Before Jackey’s Pizza, he’d washed dishes at the posh Bay View Galley. He got canned from there after showing up to work too stoned to find his sponge one too many times.
He was a gangling rocker type with long, straight, dirty blond hair who looked a bit like a rough Leonardo DiCaprio. He always wore a black heavy metal t-shirt, faded blue 501’s, and white and black checkered Vans. He’d lost his driver’s license about a month after he got it and now skateboarded everywhere in Striker’s Bay. The high-speed chase he’d led the cops on ended with his souped up VW Bug at the bottom of the delta and his best friend who was in the passenger seat in critical condition.
There were rumors about four pounds of coke in Vince’s car that disappeared soon after he drove off the levee road into the delta. He did six months at a Youth Farm near Truckee and then got two years’ probation. He’d earned his GED during his stay at the Farm and now was free to pursue whatever type of employment his skills and experience would afford him in Striker’s Baynas long as he stayed out of trouble.
The fact that he was on probation didn’t hurt him at all during his interview with Jackey. Vince would often work six days a week and often had strategy meetings with Jackey in the gravel lot behind the building or in Jackey’s office before work, during work, and late at night long after the restaurant had closed.
At the time, I was still naïve about the effects of stimulants, but I did notice that oftentimes Vince would grind his teeth while washing the dishes at a furious pace keeping time with the Speed Metal that he blared constantly whenever he was working. He seemed to be washing so hard just to make it to each of his numerous smoke breaks he took outside in the back alley.
He’d yell, “Pissing off for a ten,”, throw his apron at me, and disappear through the emergency exit to the gravel lot that Jackey had paid one of his electrician friends to disable. I heard much later than he’d paid him off in meth. Vince would be gone anywhere from ten minutes to three hours. Saturday nights were really bad when he pulled that shit because I would be the only one in the kitchen trying to keep up with the rush and I often got way behind. Piles and piles of the greasy pizza pans, plates, and endless glasses would erect themselves in the sink like a fast-growing ceramic, metal, and glass fungus colony.
I was too shy and too young to even understand that I was being exploited, but I would yell over the music, “Oh fuck! I can’t keep up with this shit!” Jackey’s tiny office was just behind the kitchen and when he left the door open on the nights that he bothered to come in he would hear me yelling and scream back, “Shut the fuck up and get back to work.”
The assistant manager, a 22-year-old alcoholic dumpy blonde chick named Kendra that Jackey was supposedly banging was more sympathetic and would pull people off the wait staff to help me. On those nights we were often in danger of having to stop taking orders because we didn’t have enough clean kitchen equipment to keep the joint running. The wait staff hated being sent back to the kitchen and always blamed me for it. Kendra had bitched to Jackey about Vince since the day the place opened, but Jackey would just brush aside all her complaints saying, “Vince is the hidden ingredient in the dough of this crazy pie.”
I gave up on the job after six months, I’m pretty sure four months of which Vince spent on his smoking breaks. After my second paycheck bounced, I and five other employees walked off the job on an early Friday evening. Jackey screamed and raged at us as we walked out vowing that we would never work in the restaurant industry again in California. Two of the guys went to work for the Godfather’s Pizza in Brentwood a week later and another guy got a job at Taco Bell soon after. I got a job passing out fliers for a local real estate company.
Jackey hung for another four years after I quit. He took out loans from banks and other sources, maxed out credit cards, and used Vince, who had been put in charge of ordering and stocking all of his restaurants, to sell drugs behind the scenes to cover various costs when cash was tight.
By the time his empire went to shit, he had four pizza joints and the Diamond Wagon Wheel Tavern, the last and biggest of his ventures. He’d also divorced his first wife, married Kendra, and divorced her nine months later, but not before knocking her up. He’d gotten a DUI, been sued for food poisoning twice, and had one of his restaurants closed for five months by the California Health Department. In addition to that, he had, at that time, a record two hundred and fifty complaints filed with the Labor Department by current and former employees.
Despite the various headaches and disasters in Jackey’s life, Vince was the final weak link. During his time with Jackey, Vince had developed a monster crystal meth habit. Being in charge of ordering supplies put Vince in a position to know the value of all the things Jackey bought each month. It also allowed him to send all Jackie’s supplies to a secretly rented storage space thirty miles southeast of Striker’s Bay during his final month of business. From there, they were sold out the back door to various pizza joints all over Northern California. Vince pocketed $3000 in cash and a cheap VW Rabbit before pissing off to Texas with his methhead girlfriend Mindy.
The $40,000 hit Jackey took that month was too much. No bank in California would extend him any credit and he couldn’t cover the vig that month from his more obscure loans. So on a rainy late Thanksgiving Jackey threw an overnight bag loaded with $5000 in cash, a change of clothes, and a sawed-off shotgun into his Mercedes and lit out east into the night. Some think he was trying to make it back to New Jersey to his old Italian neighborhood.
He was found in the desert twenty miles outside of Las Vegas badly beaten, but still breathing by an old rancher and his wife. His empire was sold off in chunks, most of which later came under a distinct style of management with a distinct Brooklyn accent.
About the Creator
Steve Howard's self-published collection of short stories Satori in the Slip Stream, Something Gaijin This Way Comes, and others were released in 2018. His poetry collection Diet of a Piss Poor Poet was released in 2019.