“Thomas,” Don Crawford beamed, grasping the senator’s hand and drawing his old friend close for a brief embrace. His empire included high-ranking police officers, media tycoons, district attorneys, judges, union leaders, and elected officials at every level, but Senator Thomas Wretzky had been his flagship prize since assuming office twenty-six years before.
They sauntered through the mansion’s foyer to the Don’s office, past the grand spiral staircase, the indoor fountain, the certainly-original fine art adorning the walls. Senator Wretzky’s gait plunged into a jagged stride. “I…I’m sorry, Godfather,” he chuckled, lowering his volume as he spoke the final word. Being a powerful legislator suddenly thrust into a subservient role felt less disconcerting than he’d feared, but still slightly uncomfortable. “It’s rude to stare, I know. Mary and I are quite proud of our home, but yours is even more impressive than I remember! I wish that circumstances permitted me to visit more often.”
“That’s quite all right, Thomas,” Don Crawford reassured the senator. He gestured towards a Herman Miller Eames lounge chair, indicating that his guest should sit and relax. “A person of your considerable importance is watched closely, and it seems as though everyone over the age of ten these days walks the streets with a camera and three different social media accounts. Regular trips to my home would invite scrutiny.” He poured a ruby red chianti into a heavy goblet and passed it to Wretzky with a grin. “Do you know why I’ve invited you here tonight?”
“I do,” Thomas Wretzky heard himself say, and as the sound buzzed around his larynx, he realized it was true. “You paid my undergraduate and graduate tuition, Don Crawford. You’ve secured financing for every one of my campaigns–even that town council representative seat I ran for right after graduation. I told the staff that our piggy bank was empty, and the next morning, our phones wouldn’t stop ringing. Banks were begging us to sign their loans.” He sipped from his goblet, a smirk forming on his lips from the memory. “My opponents always seem to have their most unfortunate secrets revealed immediately before Election Day. I sit on four committees, all of which I won on my first attempt. I’ve enjoyed influence and prosperity beyond any reasonable expectation, and I owe everything to you, Godfather. You’ve asked me here because it’s time for me to repay my debt.”
“You’ve been a faithful friend, and I have gladly granted you many favors,” the Don said softly. “Are you prepared to return my generosity?”
“Of course. My vote on an issue of your choosing? A private meeting with any number of world leaders? Legal protection for your associates? I will give you anything you ask, Godfather.”
Don Crawford–arguably the most dominant force in all of Sacramento, the crime lord no one could identify but who had a finger permanently lodged in every pie–peered into the face of Senator Thomas Wretzky, clasped him by the shoulders, and delivered the favor that the younger man had waited nearly three decades to grant: “I would like you to drive to TGI Friday’s,” the Don rumbled dramatically, “and bring me back two orders of mozzarella sticks. With extra marinara sauce.” He patted the senator’s arm, then sat down and leaned back into his recliner, a satisfied look perched on his face.
Senator Wretzky blinked. “Happily,” he said, uncertain. “And–and then?”
“And then,” the Don replied with a hint of whimsical yearning, “I will eat them.”
“Of course, Don Crawford. I’ll…I’ll return right away.” The senator shook his benefactor’s hand and hurried to his car, muttering something to himself.
“They’re very tasty mozzarella sticks,” the Don said aloud in his empty office.
“But…I don’t understand,” Julian Russell stammered, his bulky frame filling the lounge chair Senator Wretzky had occupied earlier in the week. “You’ve provided me with such generous opportunities for years, and in return, you’re asking for…my movie ticket?”
The Don smiled. “Work’s been particularly challenging lately. I’ve wanted to watch this film for weeks, and if braving a crowded theater means I can relish it tonight instead of going through the hassle of arranging a private showing tomorrow, I’m willing to do it.” Don Crawford patted Julian’s shoulder. “It’s a pity we couldn’t find two adjacent seats, but you know how popular those Star Wars films are. I’m in row B which, frankly, places me too close to the screen. Your seat is further back and would ensure a more optimal viewing angle.”
“I would be honored to do you this service, Godfather.” The president of Iron Workers Local 118 fished into his pocket and produced a printout confirming his seat reservation. He handed it to the Don with pride and confusion.
“Oh, and a box of Goobers, Julian,” the grandfatherly kingpin added. “Did you ever meet Hovsep Mikaelian?”
“Head of the Los Angeles Family before the Feds caught him in the late 90s.” The Don sighed. “Dreadful man, but he loved a good Goober.”
“Thank you for finding an hour for me, Hugh,” Don Crawford said a week later, inside Hugh Jackman’s trailer. It had been a low-key afternoon on the set of The Front Runner, now in its final days of filming; the actor reshot a single, very brief scene, and then hunted the catered spread like a cheetah stalking a sluggish gazelle.
“It’s my pleasure, Godfather,” Hugh said, initiating a handshake that quickly evolved into a man-hug. “My schedule is always clear when you call. Look at my career: film star, award-show host, theatrical powerhouse. I’ve won a Tony, an Emmy, a Golden Globe. I’ve got an income larger than some countries. All of that has been possible through your grace. I mean, you even introduced me to Deborah.” Hugh grinned thinking of his beloved wife, of how Don Crawford had pulled a music store’s worth of string to concoct the most impressive first date Hugh could imagine. “Please, make yourself comfortable. What can I do for you?”
“A favor, Hugh,” the Lord of Sacramento said quietly.
“Absolutely. A speaking role for a friend or family member?”, the actor asked, already planting a mental phone tree. “A press conference or mention of a particular cause in an acceptance speech? Support for a political candidate?”
“I would like you to sign Wolverine’s claws for my nephew.”
Silence gaped between the two men. “I’d…be happy to, Don Crawford,” Hugh said. “I’ll call Deborah and have her ship–“
“Oh, not the props,” the Don stated cheerfully. “I read somewhere that the studio built a new set for each film, and you usually auction them off for charity. These will be fine.” He reached behind his chair and pulled out a foam set of claws in bright yellow packaging.
“But…Godfather, those must cost $20,” the actor sputtered, his mouth marinating in befuddlement. “The props have sold for over $40,000! I can’t take advantage–“
“You aren’t, dear boy. It’s what I ask of you.”
“C-certainly, Don Crawford.” Hugh unearthed a Sharpie from somewhere on the vanity and signed his name with a flourish.
The Don squeezed his shoulder in affection and tried not to giggle. He’d lived like royalty for decades, placing himself at great personal risk, but the past two weeks had proven to be the most entertaining for him since he could remember.
Three favors down, two hundred and eight to go.
The basic concept for this story was a gift from @underpope to me.