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I’m Your Huckleberry – Thomas Calabrese

By   /  May 7, 2023  /  9 Comments

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Buck Up, Buttercups

Thomas Calabrese — People are fond of catch phrases and two that were often used in the past were, ‘I’m your huckleberry’. If you said those words, it meant you were expressing that you were the right person for a particular job. A similar phrase today might be something along the lines of “I’m your man.”

And the second one was ‘Buck up’ an admonition to toughen up or to cheer up. Buck up may be used to demand that someone quit acting in a cowardly or weak fashion, or to encourage someone to look on the bright side of life and not dwell on negative things.

Antonio Finnero immigrated to the United States from Palermo, Sicily after World War II as an orphan boy of seventeen after his family was killed by the Germans for cooperating with the Allies during Operation Husky. Antonio lived in New York for several years where he struggled to survive at low paying jobs. His luck changed after he got a job driving a truck for Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, infamous gangster and head of the ‘Five Families’.

Lucky took a liking to the young man and offered him an opportunity, “I have an associate in Kansas City who could use a man like you. As much I like having you around, this is an opportunity that you shouldn’t pass up.”

Antonio responded, “If you think that it’s best that I should go then that is what I’ll do.”

Antonio moved to the Midwestern city and began working with Jasper Rivello, a powerful underworld figure and eventually started going by the name of Tony or his nickname ‘Finn’, short for Finnero. He got into the trucking business and married Elena Cascone and they had four children, three daughters, Rosemary, Natalie and Cara and a son John.  The three daughters grew up and opened a high end restaurant called, Finn’s on the Country Club Plaza with financial backing from their father.  John began working with his father as an accountant and adviser. He married when he was 28 years old and had one son that they named Steve.

Steve went in a different direction than his father. He loved playing sports and was a natural athlete. When he was a sophomore at Northwest High School Steve signed up to compete in the Golden Gloves Tournament. Even though he had only basic boxing skills, Steve still won the middleweight division. Afterward, he told his parents about his desire to pursue boxing as a career and they were totally against the idea.

Elena told her husband, “I don’t like this. I don’t want him to get hurt.”

            “It’s his life and his decision, we don’t have to like it, but we have to accept it” John said, “If we try to stop him, which I don’t even know is possible, he’ll resent us for the rest of  his life.”

            “How do you want to handle this?” Elena asked, “I’m open for suggestions.”

John responded, “Let me talk to my dad and see what he thinks.”

During their meeting, Tony said, “The fight game is tough and requires a lot of hard work to be successful. I’ll get him a good trainer and we’ll take it one step at a time.”

 Tony used his connections to hire elderly Mickey Pennino as his son’s trainer. Mickey had previously worked as an assistant trainer and sparring partner for Rocky Marciano. The undefeated heavyweight was legendary for his intense training routine and determination. It was the foundation of his success in boxing. Marciano ran every day and included wind sprints up steep hills to his six mile routine. He shadowboxed in water up to his shoulder for 45 minutes and spent hundred hours of sparring, hitting the heavy and speed bags and did thousands of push-ups and sit-ups. Marciano followed a strict diet and was always in incredible condition. He was devoted to training and in the ring he was a punching machine with tremendous strength. This was an extremely dangerous combination in the art of pugilism. Marciano was willing to take ten punches from his opponent to land two of his own because he punched through his target and not at it. Marciano would hit an opponent in the solar plexus so hard that they would feel it in their backbone.

 Tony handed Mickey five thousand dollars in one hundred dollar bills, “A sign of good faith. This is my grandson so take care of him.”

            “I owe Lucky Luciano so if you’re a friend of his then I’m more than happy to help,” Mickey said half-jokingly, “I’m not that young, but I still have some gas left in the tank.”

Tony emphasized, “You know Marciano’s training routine, I want you to set up the same thing for my grandson.”

Mickey sighed, “Seriously…Rocky was a workout maniac.”

            “I want to know how serious my grandson is about being a fighter. I’d rather see him fail in training then get hurt in a fight…understand?”

            “Understood.” Mickey replied without hesitation.

Tony gave his grandson a ride to Pace’s Boxing Gym at 0600 hours two days later and said, “Good luck,” and drove off.

No sooner did Steve walk through the front door that Mickey growled, “Let’s see how much you want it. Hell is coming your way.”

Steve had no idea of what awaited him and that was a good thing, because if he did, he might not have even started. For the next 30 days, Mickey put Steve through a grueling routine of physical conditioning before and after school. During the second month, Mickey added sparring to the training schedule and put more experienced boxers in the ring with Steve. They all received the same instruction, “Full speed and don’t take it easy on him.”

Steve took significant punishment and when he started to waiver in the slightest, Mickey would yell, “Buck up, Buttercup!”

            “I’m your Huckleberry,” Steve would reply and keep going.

Mickey reminded him, “It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it is how many times you get back up!”

As it is in most cases, if a person doesn’t give up, they usually prevail and that was the case with Steve ‘I’m Your Huckleberry’ Finnero.  He put on 40 pounds of muscle without sacrificing any speed and turned professional after graduating high school. Mickey decided to start Steve slow with some four-round bouts. After three of those fights where Steve knocked his opponents out in the first round, he moved up six round bouts. Five of those and he worked his way to ten round preliminaries at major boxing events. His mom didn’t care for the sport and rarely attended, but his father and grandfather were ringside at every fight.

At one event in St. Louis, Mickey decided to use a different strategy, “Don’t go for the knockout…take it easy for the first few rounds and practice your defensive skills for a change.”

            “Yes sir,” Steve said.

From the beginning of the fight, Steve threw nothing but straight jabs and blocked and ducked his opponent’s punches with ease while dancing around the ring. The crowd came to see a fight and this exhibition of boxing skills although very technical was boring. In between the 5th and 6th rounds, Steve came back to his corner and sat on the bench, looking bored and rested, Mickey sighed, “ It’s time, go ahead and do it your way.”

Steve came out for sixth round and immediately landed a left hook that knocked his opponent out.  

Tony came back to the dressing room after the fight to congratulate his grandson and give him some good news, “Good fight.”

            “Thanks Granddad,” Steve said.

            “If you win your next two fights, you get a title shot in Las Vegas,” Tony said.

Steve ‘I’m Your Huckleberry’ Finnero got his title shot against Zhelei Zang of China at the MGM casino. He knocked out the WBA Champ in the 4th round with a combination of two lefts and an uppercut. At the time Steve was 20 years, three months and 18 days old and was the youngest boxer ever to win the title. Steve later went on to capture the WBA, WBC and IBF titles and became the undisputed champion of the world.

Tony worked diligently to transition to more legitimate businesses to keep his grandson’s reputation untarnished. Every cent of Steve’s winnings was accounted for because the Internal Revenue Service was looking for any excuse to audit the Finnero family. The family lawyers and accountants maintained a hypervigilance over Steve’s growing financial portfolio and every t was crossed and every i was dotted. When Jasper Rivello had a heart attack due to excessive stress he retired to Miami, Florida and Tony took complete control of the business empire and that required another level of protection.

Like Rocky Marciano, Steve gave every ranked contender a chance to take the title from him and he beat them all. The FBI was obsessed with taking down the Finnero family so they would call the heavyweight champion down to their office on a regular basis for routine questioning.  

Steve’s reply was always the same, “My grandfather’s business is his affair and he doesn’t tell me anything and I don’t ask. In fact we have an ironclad rule to never discuss what he does. It has been that way since I started boxing and nothing has changed over the years. My grandfather is a very wise man and would never put me in a position me where I have to lie. Every time I come in I tell you guys the same thing. I’m a fighter, that’s my business, ask me about that and we can have a conversation.”

 Special Agent Lyle Fitts said, “I believe you, Champ, but I’m just following orders. I’ve got about five more years until I retire so I’ve got to play their game. The State Attorney General and Regional Director are political appointees with high political aspirations and getting you and your grandfather would be a big stepping stone so keep your head on a swivel. I’m a big fan and would miss seeing you in the ring.”

            “I appreciate the advice, I’ll remember that.”  Steve said.

Steve successfully defended his title against Joshua Wilder, the current number one contender. With his winnings, he decided to buy a parcel of land near Smithville Lake, Missouri and took his grandfather to see the land, “I thought I’d built a training facility out here. There’s a place on the hill for you and grandmother to live.”

            “It’s best if I keep my distance until your career is over,” Tony suggested.

            “You’re probably right, but this is getting old,” Steve sighed.

In the distance, two FBI agents were watching with binoculars. One of them reported back to his superiors, “We have Tony and Steve Finnero under surveillance. There’s nothing going on here.”

Regional Direction Lloyd Rankin instructed, “Bring it in.”

Missouri State Attorney General Bernard Booker commented, “I’m going to the Grand Jury.”

            “With what?” Rankin asked, “We’ve got nothing on them.”

            “Then I’ll make up something…like they say, ‘a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich’ and I’m a sandwich maker. There’s too much money involved to take any chances.” Booker said, “Let’s turn the heat up on the Finneros.”

            “I’m with you,” Rankin smiled.

Rankin and Booker were as crooked as a barrel of fish hooks. They deliberately withheld evidence in the case of Doctor Jerome Lasker, the sports medicine physician who abused dozens of young girls while working with the Junior Olympics over a ten-year period. Currently, the Loreto Cartel was interested in expanding their illegal activities into Kansas City and they were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to these corrupt politicians for their assistance. That wasn’t going to happen as long as Tony Finnero was still in power.

Jimmy Ocasio was a career criminal and currently incarcerated in Leavenworth Federal Prison for transporting truckloads of stolen goods across state lines. Regional Director Rankin offered him a sweet deal, “I can get you released and the charges dropped if you help me take down Tony Finnero.”

            “He’s a very dangerous man,” Jimmy replied.

            “If you say no, then I’m going to file an additional 23 counts against you. You’ll die an old man in prison if you don’t get killed first and I can make that happen too,” Rankin threatened. 

            “To paraphrase the Godfather, you just made me an offer I can’t refuse,” Jimmy said.

Later that evening, Rankin made a call to Mexico, “It won’t be long now.”

The voice on the other end responded, “For your sake, I hope you are right.”

The trap was set. Jimmy had made a deal with Tony to transport a 40 foot trailer filled with various drugs and weapons to a warehouse located by the Missouri River.

The truck was under surveillance by FBI agents along the route and they reported to Rankin and Booker about its progress down Interstate 70. The driver exited the freeway and for a brief few seconds and it was out of sight for ten seconds when it passed through a tunnel.

Tony was sitting in his car with several men at the drop off site. Several other vans were parked in the vicinity. Down the road, Rankin and Booker watched the large truck come down the surface street to the rendezvous point. Their anticipation was overflowing.

Rankin radioed, “Move in!”

A dozen vehicles followed the truck into the lot. On one corner of the lot were several tables and Tony was sitting with a group of men including his lawyers and a group of photographers.

The FBI agents stopped the truck and opened the back of it. It was empty!

Booker ran to the tractor and pulled the driver out thinking it was Jimmy Ocasio, but it wasn’t. The corrupt officials didn’t know that when the original truck out of sight, an identical truck replaced it.

Booker was delusional with rage, “Where’s Ocasio!”

            “Who’s Ocasio?” Tony replied, “We’re having a barbecue, you’re welcome to join us.”

Some of the FBI agents started to move toward the table of food and Booker scolded them, “You’re fired if you touch that food!”

Rankin walked over to Tony and yelled, “This isn’t over! I’ll get you one way or the other.”

Tony retained his composure and turned to three men who were filming the encounter and asked, “Did you get that?”

Jimmy Ocasio would never betray Tony Fennero so after making the deal with the government vermin he notified Tony and they developed a different plan. When the truck exchange was made, Jimmy was taken away in a car. A new identity was created for him and he was rewarded for his loyalty with a home in Sicily. 

Later that night, Rankin and Booker were paid a visit by a Cartel soldier as they drank heavily in their favorite watering hole as they tried to drown their frustration with alcohol and come up with an excuse for their failure.

The man put the Ace of Spades card on the table between the two corrupt bureaucrats and said “Muerte,” and walked off.

Rankin and Booker were desperate to make amends to the Cartel for their failure and decided to assassinate Tony Finnero, hoping it would save their lives.

Rankin and Booker were parked on the street outside the Finnero main office at 5AM. They knew that Tony liked to arrive early and he was right on schedule. He drove into the parking lot then enter the building. The other employees were busy with their duties so Rankin and Booker were able to enter the building without being noticed. They found Tony Finnero’s private office and Booker turned to his cohort in crime, “Let do this and get the hell out of here.”

The high backed office chair was turned to face the window and the men assumed that Tony was sitting in it so they emptied their pistols into it. They were shocked when they left the office and saw Tony and Steve standing before them. Tony had a weapon in his hand and he told the two government officials, “Drop the guns.”

Rankin and Booker complied and Steve said, “I usually don’t get involved in my grandfather’s business, but in your case, I’m happy to make an exception. I’m your Huckleberry, so buck up buttercups.”

Steve put on a pair of steel knuckled combat gloves and hit Rankin with an uppercut that was so powerful that it drove his jawbone into his brain and killed him instantly.

Booker pleaded for mercy, “Don’t kill me..it was just business!”

Steve responded, “One more thing that we disagree about, this is extremely personal to me,” then hit Booker in the ribcage and broke two ribs on his right side then hit him again on the left side and broke two more, When Booker started spitting blood and gasping for air, Steve added, “Who needs a punching bag when you have a corrupt bureaucrat.”

Tony told his grandson, “I’ve got it from here. I’ll see you at home then looked down at Booker and smiled, “Being an environmentalist, I know that worms and maggots have to eat too.”

As Steve left the building, he took off his gloves and threw them in the dumpster. The faint sound of two gunshots could be heard behind the closed door.   

The End

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9 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    Good story. Keep them coming.

  2. Tom says:

    You never fail to write a great story and this is no exception. We have too much corruption and easy money in society today, in both business and government today…and too few laws to prosecute. I’m a huge fan of vigilante justice like you described. It’s a shame that a beautiful high back chair was ruined!

  3. Clyde says:

    This story flowed nicely and held a powerful message . Good job.

  4. john michels says:

    Different but entertaining

  5. David says:

    Thanks for a great story.

  6. Tony says:

    I cannot tell a lie, I am a fan of Mr. Thomas Calabrese and his Sunday stories in the Vista Press and look forward to them each week.
    here is another story that could be more truth then fiction.
    Before inspecting businesses under a microscope to find the fine line that separates what is honest and dishonest or judge we have to look at the entire picture. Presently, I feel we have a number of projects or operations that if not federally run would be illegal and not in the best interest of the majority of the people at least time wise. Having lived in this state longer then any place else and I am an old person the state has most always experienced a shortage of water. Yet, back in the early part of the last century California grew and produced all types of fruit for example, plenary of Lemon and Citrus trees of various types, grape orchard galore for consumption and to make wine, not mentioning many other vegetables or flowers. How did this happen with a limited amount of water? The state wanted to grow and enticed people to move to California but did not do much in the way of planning for the future like building dams to contain water. This year the state missed out on a banner year to collect water. Now we are looking at the Bluffs eroding and the trains are in jeopardy in they use the existing tracks. The solution of course is to move the tracks. But, this is putting the horse before the cart because the tracks should have been moved a long time ago. Even before this current rain. Money, where will the money come from? To me it is not a difficult decision. Divert the the money earmark for the train that is planned to be built from Fresno to Bakersfield. I have had a very uneasy feeling about this plan from the beginning as it unfolded. A fish, one fish was used as an excuse to halt the water flowing from the delta to the South. The farmers paid have paid dearly because that could not water their crops. They lost their farms. Could we not have lived with out this fish? After all, we survived without the Dinosaur. The Bill for the “Train to nowhere” as it is often refereed too, was coupled with a increase for teachers pay. Now that is hard to not vote for and the Bill passed. Makes one wonder is there something fishy going on. I recall when the Mafia was in control of the “Number Racket” it was run fairly well and payoff were paid without problem. I guess it was a problem for the government because taxes were not being paid on the winnings. If one has influence with the government they can have it their way. Great Story and rattled my brain and has me reminiscing. The story Mr. Story that Mr. Calabrese wrote is a novel but many such incidences take place for a number of reasons. The truly honest and hard working officials in all walks of life are pressured to turning blind eye to these nationalizations. It started at the beginning of time.
    Thank you Mr. Calabrese for this great story.

  7. wolf says:

    GOOD STORY

    I like Rocky Marciano workout routine.

    Steve like Biden never talked about family business.

    COME ON MAN

  8. Jeremy says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the story. keep them coming.

  9. marty says:

    Great story Tom. I remember the time you spent as a boxer. You loved it.

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