*by someone with a “colorful” work history*
(frankie leone, just a man)
*no new york neighborhood boasts pure hopelessness. even the worst ones are cut with chances for gentrification. five to ten minutes by subway or bus and someone can find an organic salad.
there are cities where both sides of the tracks are the wrong ones. l.l. bean doesn’t send catalogues to any of the buildings unsolicited.
one of these is through the holland tunnel or over the george washington bridge. it’s a city that hasn’t recovered from riots decades and decades ago. its political system’s so broken a trillion dollars would pass through it like water in a sieve.
i’m talking about newark, new jersey.*
*the caddy i drive from age seventeen to nineteen idles in the daylight. i’ll total it in about a year. my eyes absorb the harshness of downtown newark while her and i wait in bucket seats for him.*
*he knows what i pass him through the rolled down window of my early nineties el dorado isn’t mine. there’s a chance he’s aware whose it is. doesn’t matter though. even if he is he doesn’t care.
this is clinton avenue, cocaine capital of jersey, and i’m just an errand-running white boy working for another white boy. this is his neighborhood. i’m just passing through.
he’s wearing workout gloves. it’s fall but i’ve seen him wearing them in the summer time too. it’s not hard to guess why.
nodding, his gloved hand turns the package. he seems unconcerned with the neighborhood’s police. his corn rows are freshly twisted. like an investment banker in a cornflower button-up with a white collar, he looks the part.
“we straight,” he says and begins to turn away.
this is bad.
i insist, “where’re the bills?”
he smiles, “don’t trip mah dude. takin’ this one on credit. i got you later.”
she’s riding shotgun. we don’t talk much about my after school job. she’s gathered enough to know what’s happening isn’t good.
i find the handle and begin opening the heavy door.
“hold up,” his jagged voice warns.
his left hand lifts his t shirt exposing a pistol tucked between ck boxer-briefs and sagged jeans. his right brandishes a pointer finger at her.
“i ain’t playin’,” he informs without emotion.
there’s something wrong with me. being shown a gun doesn’t bring out much of an emotional response. it probably should.
this situation’s the exception. she gets him. her face shows the beginnings of hysteria. my hand sprint away from the door’s handle. both hands grip the wheel where he can see them.
“smart mo’fucka,” he says and jogs towards a building door fifteen feet away.
he must be pretty unintimidated to turn his back on someone he’s robbed for almost a thousand dollars. my ego bleeds. *
*the scary part’s here. letting the property’s owner know.
through a prepaid phone my voice tip toes, “he took it without paying.”
he never sounds angry. that’s what’s most frightening about him.
“i’m coming to pick you up now. don’t make me wait outside. we’re day-tripping to jersey.”
“ok,” i say because it’s the only thing i can.
“what do they call this clown again?”
“sounds like a tough guy,” his vocal chords smirk into my ear before he hangs up.*
*1988 monte carlo super sport. fresh electric blue paint. clean factory rims. it’s fucking beautiful. i make sure i don’t slam the door getting in.
looking at him always jars me a little. his head’s shaved to the scalp. “queens, new york” is tattooed in gothic lettering across its left side. eight of the fingers gripping the wheel have a letter of “skin head” tattooed on each knuckle. his long sleeve ben sherman button-up’s orange. no one looks good in orange.
he skips pleasantries.
“did the joker have a gun?”
“probably a glock. there was an extended magazine sticking out of the handle too.”
he doesn’t react. just opens the glove box and removes his hardware. he makes sure every chamber’s full and spins the cylinder of the large revolver. after clicking it back into place he tucks it between his legs almost out of sight.
“you should be able to do everything with eight shots you’d want to with sixteen.”
“i’d rather not use any shots,” i say softly.
“that’s why you got bitch made by a faggot amateur.”
i don’t respond. we start driving towards the tunnel in silence.*
*the glass panes of the bar’s front haven’t been washed in a while. a neon colt 45 sign hangs behind them.
i had a twenty-two ounce draft here the one time i met the poor bastard who robbed me. it was a dollar. the whites of the bartenders eyes were more of a yellow.
“this shit-hole’s where he hangs out?”
“makes sense. that rimmed out rice rocket an inch from the ground’s his?”
he gestures towards a modified foreign car parked near the bar’s open door.
“you think so? you’re not brave or bright i guess. he usually alone?”
“i don’t know.”
“what fucking use are you,” he asks bringing another instrument out from under his seat. a section of the barrels have been sawed off. i’m pretty sure that’s illegal. doubt that’s on his list of concerns.
this has gotten way too real.
pushing the shotgun into my grip he says, “make sure we have privacy when i get him out on the street.”
“i don’t shoot people,” i whisper.
“‘fuck was that?”
“i don’t shoot people.”
his right knuckles, bearing the “head” part of “skin head,” hook into my sol plexus. i lose my wind.
“you’ll be able to breathe again in a second. listen good- you could trade places with him if you’d like.”
when i’m able to get air back in my lungs i re-grip the shotgun thinking about my options. the decisions i’ve made up to now haven’t left any good ones. he sees i understand this and starts rolling up his sleeves. i notice a “u.s.m.c. death before dishonour” tattoo on the back of his forearm.
after tucking the pistol into the back of his pants he walks into the bar. his gait’s casual.*
*the door’s open but the thief exits the bar through the window panes.
my employer walks out the door with the same nonchalance he walked in with. the gun gripped in his hand isn’t the revolver he’d brought with him. it’s the automatic i’d seen in the offending party’s waist earlier.
no one runs out of the bar to help the man lying on the ground surrounded by broken glass. i’m afraid to close my eyes. the shotgun rests in my lap while i stare.
it’s a hell of a thing watching a man get beaten half to death with his own gun.*
*he shuts the car door as carefully as i did when he gets back in. he starts rolling down his sleeves and buttoning the cuffs. there’s blood on the ugly shirt.
“want to get a sandwich? i ain’t buying though,” is the first thing he says.
i don’t answer.
“suit yourself. i’m getting chicken cutlet on white. cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, oil, vinegar, mayo, salt, and pepper. if you’re hungry you better get your own when we stop. i’m not sharing.”
i don’t answer. he shifts the gears, starts driving, and sighs.
“maybe you should start thinking about delivering pizzas instead.”*