Marla Rossi was serving as part-time hostess at her father Don’s restaurant—Rossi’s: The Place for Steaks—during her winter break when she first met dishwasher Johnny “Tall Guy” Mondello. Rossi’s was one of only three red-starred steak joints in the Chicago Guide, a restaurant that featured expanded hours on evenings of Blackhawks games, when hockey fans filled the dining area and cocktail lounge even though Chicago Stadium was thirty minutes away. Every member of Marla’s family had worked at Rossi’s. Her twin brother Bobby and his pal-cum-lackey Randy Golnick, who’d had a crush on Marla since Hebrew school, had served as busboys; before he had left the States for McGill University in Montreal, her older brother Franklin had been a deliveryman; whenever a cook was ill, a bartender had been fired, or the Wednesday afternoon fashion show emcee was hung over, their mother Ethel Rossi subbed. During the annual holiday party, eight-year-old Sanford “Santino” Rossi played violin.
“Tall Guy” Mondello had gotten his nickname from Marla’s father, who had been born Donald Rossman but had an affinity for all things Italian and had changed his name upon entering the restaurant business. Don Rossi had a bad memory for names, so he referred to just about all his employees via some aspect of their appearance or ethnicity: Raul “Puerto Rican” Jimenez, Tom “Irishman” O’Malley, Lynne “Blondie Waitress” Dellens. “Tall Guy” was five years older than Marla, a St. Ignatius College Prep dropout with a drooping mustache and a mane of blonde curls that he shook free of his hair net whenever he left Rossi’s kitchen en route to his Kawasaki motorcycle, to whose handlebars was affixed a portable cassette player upon which he blasted Mountain, Steppenwolf, and Iron Butterfly. Hardly the sort with whom Marla typically associated.
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