The boys from R&B Automotive encounter a cruel Christmas Eve scam.
The story so far: The annual, traditional-laden Christmas Party of the Yule Be Sorry Club, based at R&B Automotive shop, has been interrupted by the arrival of cold, confused stranger who’s become lost trying to find his way to his niece’s for Christmas. Owners Tony Renzi and Bart Brewer are fending off anxious phone calls from their wives, worried about holiday plans, as they try to help the man, Gino Bontempo.
TONY: OK, Bart, so how do we help Gino here find his niece, who lives by water and sells flowers, maybe. (Sound of snoring.) Looks like we won’t be getting much more info out of him for a while. What’s our next move?
NARRATOR: The old man’s fedora had slid down his brow. Ziti, Tony’s dog, slept, too, nestled onto the old man’s feet.
BART: I reckon the same way we figure out what’s wrong with a Camry. It’s like when we run a diagnostic and the computer gives us the problem code. So that tells us what ballpark we’re in, maybe what section, but not what row or what seat. So we keep running tests, checking stuff out, and narrow it down.
TONY: OK, OK, I’m with ya, we know the ballpark is Philly, basically. Do we know what section we’re in at least?
A loud snore, and a bark from Ziti.
GINO: Urrrgh – uh, where am I? … oh, yes …
TONY: Welcome back, Gino. We’re still looking for your niece.
GINO: Thank you, thank you.
BART: Here’s what we do, Tone. Let’s assume we’re in the right section; then the creek’s probably the Wissahickoncq. Ton e , take this phone book. You take all the Bontempos. Yeah, it may not be the niece’s name, but maybe we get lucky. I’ll try all the florists.
TONY: Sounds like a plan. His cell phone rings. Yeesh, lettin’ that one go to voice mail. Sorry, Coll. Man, it’s nearly five.
NARRATOR: They set Gino up with another glass of Cchianti and some pork. After a sip, Gino leaned over and began babbling in some accented language to Ziti, who sat at attention while Gino scratched behind his ears. Tony and Bart worked the phones. After a few calls …
TONY: Bart, that was it. I found ‘em! They’re coming over right away! His niece’s husband. Hear that, Mr. Bontempo, we found your niece! In Roxborough. Roxborough! You were close!
BART: You’re sure, Tone, you’re sure?
TONY: Yeah. It was a cousin, I guess. Said he’d drive over with the nephew. They’ll pick up Gino’s car and take him back to their house. Be here in 10, he said. Thank God. Now my Christmas present from Coll won’t be a bullet between the eyes. How ‘bout that, Gino, we found your family!
NARRATOR: But Gino barely acknowledged the news, as he murmured to Ziti.
TONY: Well, sure took that cool, didn’t he? He’s a strange one, our Gino.
NARRATOR: The flash of headlights outside came soon. Bart and Tony pried Gino free of Ziti and put an old jacket on him. Outside, a large dark figure made its way toward them, in the glare of the lights of an idling Cadillac. A tall man in a black leather coat, with slick black hair and a goatee, rubbed his bare hands as he approached.
MAN IN BLACK LEATHER: Do I got the right place? Where’s Gramps?
TONY: Hi, there, I’m Tony Renzi. This is my partner, Bart. Gino’s still inside getting himself together. He’s had a hard day. We’re real glad we found you.
MAN IN BLACK LEATHER: Yeah. I’ll bet. Tell Gramps to hurry. Everyone’s waitin’. Which car’s his? I’ll drive that one.
BART (suspicious): You’re not the florist, I’m guessin’. And you called him Gramps. Thought he was an uncle.
MAN IN BLACK: Flori …? Uh, oh yeah, that’s him in the car. Hey, Gramps is just what I call any old codger. Oh, that you, there, Gino? C’mon, let’s go.
NARRATOR: Gino didn’t move.
GINO: Don’t know you.
TONY: He’s a little shell-shocked, I guess.Your nephew’s over there, Gino. C’mon, let me take you to the car.
BART (abrupt): That rusty pickup, over there, the white Mazda, that’s his car.
MAN IN BLACK: That piece of . . . you sure?
BART: Tony, hold on a sec. Sir, before you drive off in Gino’s car here, can I see some ID?
MAN IN BLACK: ID? Who do you think you are, pal? OK, want to play it that way? Fine. I’m out of here. A Mazda. Jeez! You can take the old fart to your Christmas dinner.”
Sound of a car door slamming, tires screeching out of the lot.
TONY: Holy moley, what was that?
BART: That, pardner, was a scam. Quick move, I’ll give him that, but not real thought out. When this guy got your call, he quick-figured it might be a chance to steal a nice car. Lots of old folks drive a Town Car or a Caddy.
TONY: They were just going to dump Gino and take the car? On Christmas Eve?
BART: Yeah, pardner, they were. Sometimes you can be too trusting. Well, back to the phones.
NARRATOR: Inside, Tony glanced at the clock: 5:15. If he left now, he might make it. But he couldn’t leave Gino here. If you start something, finish it. That rule was sunk deep in Tony’s bones. Gino leaned back on the old love seat, with Ziti at his feet. Tony smiled.
TONY (murmuring to himself): I’ll get this old guy to where he belongs, if it takes all night.
Hear a performance of this play on WHYY, 90.9 FM, at 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 23.
Encore performances will be aired at 10 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 23; 1 p.m., Friday, Christmas Eve; 8 p.m., Friday, Christmas Eve, and 3 p.m. on Saturday, Christmas Day.
A narrative version of this story first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2007. The drawings are by Tony Auth, the Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist. They are reprinted by permission of the Inquirer and tony Auth.
The Thursday airings will be followed by a broadcast of the WHYY holiday play first aired last year, Let Nothing Ye Dismay.