The End of Miami, 1986
Sandy and I at some point in the past four years had developed a disdain for air conditioning.
She said one hot morning a while back, “Why live here in the tropical heat and never feel it.”
Sandy was real like that; randomly connected to a reality I didn’t always understand.
Our second-floor apartment was the top floor of a single-family home. The first floor was occupied by a dentist’s office. It had an annoying sign front, in Spanish, of some goof-ball with huge white teeth and a smile. He wore a Panama hat, standing before a Cuban flag. We both decided the sign was racist as Hell, but the dentist was a good guy and the place was quiet.
The left side, facing the ocean and the front of the apartment was wrapped in a porch, with a white wrought iron railing and thick, round white pillars that supported the roof.
It was a nice place to sit on hot evenings and listen to the sounds of the street. Cars and firecrackers, occasionally, rarely, a gunshot followed and a police siren and the constant soundtrack of salsa music.
We slept at night with the windows and even the front door open. Sandy and I had earned some pretty heavy street-cred as the years passed. The neighbors all treated us with a degree of respect and fear. We were known as the “gangster americanos,” even though I insisted to everyone I was just a guy who works on the docks, and drives a forklift. People know, people talk, and people find out who you really are. People like to glamorize and glorify what they are afraid to be. They like to watch in safe gratitude that it is not their life. My life to many was a fascinating distraction...
This title was very unfair to Sandy. She only lived with me,but cross her when she was tending bar and out would come her 1965 Louisville Slugger, autographed by Joe Pepitone - we both liked Joe. She would fuck you up with that bat. It had a few splinters and blood stains on it near the head.
Once again, my life had evolved to a place where I was relatively comfortable. There was no love between Sandy and I and no discussion - ever - of a future. We were truly roommates who got drunk together and fucked. We were both free to see and date anyone else. For some reason we never did. I was always cautious, almost superstitious, to never let genuine feelings develop between us. People I loved died, usually an ugly death.
The business of the docks had become almost routine. I actually some days, most days worked the freight. Driving a forklift or a fifth-wheel tractor. I was a talented yard donkey. I didn’t mind climbing inside a stifling hot container and throwing cases either when the load was stacked on the floor. I fit in and made friends on the dock. We worked hard together and we went to the bar at night and got drunk together.
Sometimes we brawled when drunk, but who doesn’t, right?
Vinny and the organization had purchased a warehouse about two miles from the pier. They actually were running a legitimate import-export business from it. One of the businesses imported raw materials and chemicals from Africa and the Middle East. The stuff was shipped in heavy fifty-five gallon drums. These were the jackpots I’d be assigned to find and deliver. I did the math one day of the street value of the heroin in just one of these drums. I figured I had done the math wrong. The number was staggering.
I was paid well for my part.
I’d also taken to noting with great detail the names and as much information I could gather of everyone I came in contact with. This ranged from U.S. and State Senators and local politicians to crooked FBI agents and obvious CIA spooks to truck drivers and Stevedores and other dock workers. I had notebooks full of stuff. Juan hooked me up with one of those Polaroid cameras too. The ones that didn’t require you to go to a developer, like a corner drug store. I had instant pictures. They did fade over time, but my notes were for my immediate protection.
Juan and Sandy were the only ones who knew the location of my notebooks. They both knew if I was ever hit - mob - cops - cartel or feds - they were to turn my stuff over to a journalism professor I’d met and become friends with. He was writing a book on mob life in South Florida. He was fascinated by my stories. He was my protection. He was instructed if anything ever happened to me to distribute my notes and pictures and documentation to the national newspapers.
It was a hot summer morning - August 1986.
Sandy and were lying nude on top of the bed covers. It was already about 85 degrees outside. A sunny Sunday morning. I looked over at Sandy’s tight freckled body and noticed I was getting a little soft in the gut. Maybe time to lay off the beer for a while.
I heard a noise outside, someone running up the stairs to our porch. Loud, fast footsteps. A frantic banging on the glass windowpane of the open door and the creek of the wooden screen storm door opening on its frame. Then the spring pulled it back and it slammed shut.
In our bedroom stood Juan. Sandy jumped and screamed, “What the fuck is your problem, Juan?” She grabbed a pillow and tried to cover her nakedness. I was expecting Juan to say “Nice tits, Sandy, I need coffee!” Or something like that.
Juan was panting and a look of terror was in his eyes. “Richie, get dressed, come outside, now!”
Sandy looked at both of us, “Richie, who the fuck is Richie?”
I pulled on a pair of boxer shorts as Sandy fished on the floor for her panties and bra. We went out to the porch together. To our north, we saw the smoke.
Sandy joined us, “Juan, why did you call Jesse, ‘Richie’? What in the fuck is going on?”
Juan looked at her and said, “Long story, Sandy, maybe someday we can explain – not now!”
Juan pointed and started to speak to me. “Federales, bro. A fucking swarm, FBI, local cops. I was heading in to meet with Vinny and I saw it. They were taking him out in cuffs, Mr. J too and my guys. Everyone had their hands up or already cuffed. I saw some of the city crime commission across the street watching.”
“They are pulling shit from the warehouse. A couple of Teamsters were cuffed too. Truckers, it looked like.”
Then we heard a huge ‘BANG’ and the warehouse exploded. Glass and brick and stone flying everywhere. “What the fuck, Richie? What the fuck! Jesus, we were the fucking government. What the fuck is this game?”
I went back inside for my cigarettes. Sandy joined us with three beers. Handing one to me she looked at me with a confusion I’d not seen in her eyes before. “Here you go, Richie?”
Helicopters, the sky was full of helicopters and dense, acrid smoke.
We sat there for a moment and watched the scene. Then I looked at a Juan and yelled, “Vamanos, bro!”
I looked at Sandy and said, “This is probably it. There is money in the bank. A lot of fucking money. It's a joint account. Probably $50,000. It’s Sunday. I can’t get to it now. You need to get there tomorrow at 8 am when they open. Get cash, transfer some. Maybe to your mom, I don’t know, you’ll know what to do. Get the fuck out of Miami!”
I grabbed a pair of shorts and a shirt. I slid on my sandals. Juan was loading cash and guns into my duffle bags.
I yelled to Sandy, “Get Juan my notebooks!”
I yelled to Juan, “leave her the rest of the cash.”
I grabbed my bag and looked at Sandy, I kissed her cheek and we ran down the stairs.
We jumped in Juan’s car. A little white Honda Accord. The same car as ten-thousand others in South Florida - that was by design - as we pulled away he said, “How much cash have you got?”
I said, “about five to six million. The rest is stashed and invested. Fake names and companies. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get to it. Half of it is yours now bro. I think the shit has finally hit the fan.”
“What the Hell do we do?” Juan looked lost.
“I want a train north, bro...” that was the best I could think of.
A fire truck passed us and some more cop cars. There were a few more police helicopters in the air.
“The sky is still full of smoke, they must have set off a bomb in the warehouse. What the fuck. I don’t think we should travel together. I think we need to split up. I think I need a new ID - fuck I hate that. I think we are done.”
Juan tried to force a laugh, “That’s a lot of thinking...”
I just said, “Yeah...”
Juan said, “You were a lot more well known the past few years. Me, I was a ghost, nobody knew me. I’m a fucking assassin.”
“Let’s get some breakfast and figure this out.”
We pulled into a small seaside diner about three miles from the North train station at Hialeah. North Station had trains that ran the east coast. Right into Grand Central in NYC. That was quickly becoming my plan.
The diner was empty. A hot Sunday morning in Miami Beach. People were either at the ocean or in church. Juan and I sat down at the counter and ordered eggs and toast and coffee. A small black and white TV sat high up on the wall between a big red Coke-Cola sign and a red and white Albers Rich Hominy Quick Grits sign.
I pointed to the TV and said to Juan, “I hate grits.”
I asked the waitress to turn up the volume. Juan and I both watched her calf muscles with eager fascination as she stretched to reach the knob.
Reporters were across from the burning warehouse, interviewing fireman and cops.
Pictures flashed on the screen of Vinny, of some of the boys who worked with us, mostly guys with Juan. Mr. J came on the screen in cuffs.
Some local politicians were praising the efforts of law enforcement.
Juan lit a cigarette and said, “That motherfucker right there.” Pointing the two fingers of his left hand, holding the cigarette, at the TV, “A state senator from Central Florida. I personally handed that motherfucker a briefcase with a million in it, last week, last week, man!”
Vinny’s face came back on the screen. A reporter said he’d been apprehended, “The primary drug kingpin in South Florida, perhaps the southern United States.”
We heard the words ‘mobster’, we heard ‘cartel.’ I laughed, “Vinny was a lot of shit. That boy was never cartel, bro. We were cartel. Never him. Never half of these fucks.”
“Jesus Christ,” Juan points at the screen, “The fucking governor is talking about the take-down of a huge organized crime family with ties into Central America and the Middle East.”
The governor on the little screen continued, “We anticipate many more arrests to follow” and some bullshit about Vinny being the head of the snake.
Juan lost it. He started screaming, “You better look in the mirror you fuck, and your fucking statehouse... and your police precincts and your goddamn FBI and your Congress and half the corporations in this fucking country!”
The poor waitress... Juan wasn’t finished.
He threw a hundred-dollar bill on the counter. I guess we were done eating...
He looked at the waitress, “Honey, it ain’t us. It’s everywhere. We were just the mechanics. The real criminals are the ones you vote for. The ones who sell you cars and clothes and TVs and movies. Me and this guy, we are just mechanics. Turning wrenches so these fat fucks can get richer and richer. Your country is so fucked and you won't even realize it until you are a grandma. The government and the corporations are all the same thing and they are way, way dirtier than either of us, me and my boy Jesse will ever be. When the cops come in later you tell them you had some real cartel in here and we gave you a hundred-dollar tip and now we are vamanos!”
As we walked out and the door shut behind us I said, “Subtle, dude. Did your death wish just kick in? Get me to the train station. I’m sure we can’t fly. You’d better drive. I’m heading back north.”
I’d hoped the fire and commotion would keep the attention downtown while I slipped out of Florida. Another chapter of my life ending forever.
Juan drove me to the train. I grabbed my duffle bag. I looked at the bag and at Juan. “These were the bags from Panama, bro. They’ve been with us a long time.”
Juan answered, “Long time, bro, long time.”
At that moment I realized we were both nearly thirty years old. We met when we were boys. Ten or eleven years old.
He drove me to the door out front of the station. I climbed out and reached into the back for my bag. Juan got out and came around behind me. Suddenly I yelled to him, “Pull the car over there, in that parking spot.”
He got in and drove and parked the Honda under a tree as I walked over.
I opened the door and unzipped my bag. Juan opened the door on the opposite side.
I said, “Here, I can’t take these guns on the train. I need clothes. I’ll have to deal with that later.”
I kept Unk’s .38. I reached into my bag and dumped the neatly bundled money on the back seat.
“You take half,” was all I said. No time to count. I split it in what looked like two halves and shoved my half back in the bag.
“I’m sure by morning the fucking Federales will have all our money that’s been laundered and invested or in banks seized. It probably already is. This may be what we get... for all this.”
We looked at each other.
Juan said, “Yeah, for all of this.
“How many was it, Jesse? Remember when we used to be able to count. When it was fifteen counting your father? We long ago lost count. A couple of million for that many bodies, bro. It don’t seem right.”
I said, “They will forever haunt us. I know we are not good men, Juan. I never thought we were, but these moments when I see the faces. Jesus man. What the fuck.”
Juan came back around to my side of the car and put his arm around me. We stood there, staring down at the blacktop.
“It’s like I can’t even see the world anymore, Richie. I look out through the cracks in the walls, from this self-imposed prison I’ve built in my mind. I only see the world through these narrow spaces. Through those cracks, I see the light, but here, inside alone I can only feel the darkness and death and pain I have caused.”
“How did we get here Richie? We were not bad boys. We wanted to take on the world. Somehow things go out of hand.”
‘I think back to the night of the Koreans. That’s the night it all changed. One minute we were moving hookers and drugs from the docks. I still recall that night like it was yesterday. That night will haunt me the rest of my days. The deal went bad.’
Juan said, “When I think of that night I only see colors of red and black, intertwined with flashes of moonlight. Do you remember that night like that, Jesse?
“It still sounds weird to me, even after all these years, calling you Jesse.”
I kept looking down at the blacktop, the rising sun had made the pavement hot. It was over ninety degrees. Juan continued, “I’ve tried to forget that night, how this all started. I’ve tried to forget so many things so many times, my brother. When I see that night in my mind I feel the energy. The energy was strong, palpable. You could feel it and see it, almost taste it.”
I said to Juan, “Fear is perhaps the strongest energy of all. It’s the energy that drives our game.”
He didn’t comment. He continued, “I think back to that dirty abandoned train station, smelling of diesel exhaust and grease and dirt and mold. The train tracks just twenty feet outside the door.”
“The haunting whistle of that huge locomotive as it passed just outside, that station long ago forgotten. The abandoned Long Island town it once served a perfect location for the trafficking of human bodies. I remember we watched through the door as the sparks flew from the metal on metal of the wheels on the tracks as it passed.”
“We hunched down hidden behind rows of wooden benches. The place reminded me of a church in a strange way; an old abandoned church.”
“About fifteen minutes after the end of the train had passed by we heard a truck or a van stop outside. The girls walked through the open door.”
“Pretty, thin, long dark hair. Dressed in rags. You could see the terror on the sweet young faces. I was confused, I knew you were too. I wanted to fuck them all and at the same time I was very angry. I wanted to protect them. Behind them and into the empty hall came the Korean men. Nine of them. They outnumbered the women.”
“I remember whispering to you they can’t be that tough. There were more men than girls. Nine men and seven girls.” You said, ‘These girls must be tough!’”
Juan continued the memory. “We stood up hands in the air, to show we were unarmed. We didn’t know. That’s what’s so wrong, Richie, always so goddamn wrong. We were doing our job. We were there to pick up the girls. Someone else started fucking with someone’s game and as has been the story of our lives, it was left to us to clean up the mess.”
“I remember the first Korean approached you. Coming at you fast and hard and angry. His eyes wide and red. In half English and half Korean, he was screaming about money and getting fucked over.”
“You always knew, man. It was instinct with you. He had that machete. He went to get in your face and cold as fucking snow you shoved that bone-handled six-inch blade you always carried right through his throat”
“It was one motion, it was elegant.”
“You grabbed his machete and cut the neck of that second guy. You hit him so hard you nearly severed it. Dude, I saw his spine split in half, only some skin keeping his head from coming off.”
“I thought of the Bruja. At that moment I felt an evil overtake me, enter me. It was that moment, man. I reached into my pocket and touched the old witch’s bones, the red bones. I wanted them to protect me from what I was about to become.”
“They did not...”
“I didn’t know to pray or cry I was so scared.”
“I grabbed that guy’s machete as he dropped. That kid with the .40 caliber, he was as scared as me. He started to blast all over the fucking station, bullets ricocheting off the concrete and steel and glass of the station. You walked up and slashed his throat too.”
“It was then I had my first kill. Everything went to red and black. So much blood, so much goddamn blood. The others started to run as you grabbed the gun from the ground. The second kid with the pistol aimed at your head. I pushed my blade through him. It was not as hard to do as I’d imagined. It went right through his gut only getting stuck in the ribs of his back. Then I pushed through what was surprisingly soft bone until the blade exited his backside.”
“I heard BAP-BAP-BAP-BAP I saw the other four drop to the concrete floor. I looked at you and you at me. We were both soaked in blood.”
“The girls were huddled down behind the benches crying, screaming. The one, the older one, she stood up and in English screamed ‘Don’t kill us, we have no money!’”
“I watched you go to her and tell her they were free.”
“The girls ran for the door. You piled up the men’s bodies by some trash and old gas cans and branches that had fallen through the hole in the roof. I watched as you set them all on fire. I thought of the story of your dad and that you have a strange tradition after a kill. I hoped you’d never have to burn me.”
“I tore off my bloody shirt and I ran with you, out into the night. Down the tracks and through the woods. All I could see as we ran was red and black and flashes of light and shining blades in the moonlight.”
“Our blades had turned red, stained, their shine diminished.”
“When we stopped deep in the woods you built another fire. You showed me you’d taken the money too. You were looking at me like you wanted me to approve. I wanted to cry. I wanted to go home to Mommy and Poppy. I wanted to run from that red and black scene and never see you again.”
“The morning before the Korean night I woke up a thug, a crook. I was some asshole smuggling hookers into this country for rich white boys to fuck. That night in the woods with you and then out in that field I called myself, for the first time, a killer.”
“I sat across from you at the campfire and watched you stare at the embers. I tasted and smelled the smoke and the blood. I saw you had flesh under your nails. The flesh and blood of men. Men just like you and me.”
“You said to me, ‘We did good, Juan. We saved those girls from that mob.’”
“I sat and looked at you. I only killed one. You killed the other eight, Richie. I killed one and that was protecting you.”
“From that night on we owned each and every one together. Joint ownership. It makes me sad we lost count bro... None of this was ever meant to happen. None of this ever should have happened.”
I looked at Juan, through tears now pouring from my eyes. “What would I give, my brother, to be back in the parking lot, in back of the beer store, sitting in ‘da Cheby,’ with you and Poppy listening to that obnoxious, fucking Spanish music. Sucking down cold Carling’s Black Label Beers...”
Juan was crying too, “I love you, Richie... this is as far as we go isn’t it?”
I choked out, “Yeah, it is bro...”
We dropped what was in our hands and hugged each other. I kissed his cheek.
We broke the embrace. I turned away.
I reached down, grabbed my bag and walked over to the entrance of the North Train Station.
Looking back over my shoulder I saw the white Honda Accord pull away from the parking lot.
The last time I’d see my brother - to speak to him at least - for thirty years.
August 1986 Heading Home and Beyond.
I walked inside, my eyes still wet and stinging with tears. The train station is a clutter of flashing sunshine and steel and glass and linoleum. Underfoot a rumble of massive Diesel engines.
An ornate ticket window. Deep, dark oaks, marble, and brass with verticals bars separating me from the ticket clerk. A strange throwback to old-time railroad stations amongst all this chrome and flash. The bars are fitting, the world should be shielded from me.
I buy a ticket north, straight to Grand Central about twenty hours on trains. In a day I’ll be back home. Whatever this thing inside of me, all of us, called ‘home’ is. My home is an illusion. A construct in my mind. My home is gone. My family is dead. My mother, if she’s still alive, her sanity and self-worth long gone.
I stash my bag, with about two million in cash, notebooks and Unk’s .38 in a locker, about a three hour wait for my train. I pray that I make it out of here before the Feds storm the place.
Then I remember I don’t pray, I hope. I hope Juan makes it out of Florida too.
The warehouse fire and raid are on the wall mounted TV here too. More images of Vinny and Mr. J. and other guys I’ve known - in cuffs. Helicopter views of the fire. A strip running across the bottom of the screen declares: “Other suspects are sought in connection with this syndicate.” Politicians still running their mouths, publicly distancing themselves from the crime scene. I think about my notebooks.
Another reporter flashes on the screen. A woman, dressed in a white blouse, breathlessly describing the scene outside a barber shop in Little Havana. Then she corrects herself, a ‘hair salon.’
I watch the screen. It’s Jimmy being lead out in cuffs. For the first-time true panic sets in for me. That’s too close. Jimmy was my direct contact and has been since I landed in Florida. I look at the clock. Still a long wait on the train. I decide to shave my head. They will be looking for a guy with long hair, a curly ponytail, and a scraggly beard. That hair will have to go.
I walk a few blocks to a K-Mart and buy some shorts and T-shirts, a Miami Dolphins hat, a hooded sweatshirt, socks, underwear. It’s still summer in New York, I should be set.
I almost forget the razor. I grab a Norelco.
I walk back to the station and into the bathroom. Alone I quickly shave my head and face to a very short stubble. It doesn’t look good, it looks different. I remove my pirate’s gold earring and hide it inside a pouch in my wallet. I put on the hat, my sunglasses and go for it.
I find a secluded seat on the long wooden benches to take a quick nap, it’s just after noon. It has already been one Hell of a day.
I’m dozing, half-asleep, part aware of the time, part listening for anything that sounds like cops or anyone heading in my direction.
I hear someone sit down next to me. “What the fuck!” I think to myself. There must be one-hundred empty seats here and this dickhead needs to sit right next to me?
I hear a voice, Oh, Jesus Christ...
“Richie, long time...”
It’s almost a vipers hiss… It’s the Dog.
I open my eyes...
“White Dog, what the fuck?”
He responds, “Richie, sorry, Jesse, I see you are taking a trip?”
“Dog, it has hit the fan, Juan is gone, I’m going, what are you doing in Florida?”
Dog puts his shaky, sweaty hand on my knee. “I’ve been here all along, pulling the strings. I knew about this raid. Vinny was a good soldier, he helped us get a lot of things established, but he resisted change. It’s a shame, he was a good soldier. He won’t make it to trial, Mr. J. either, any of them for that matter. They will be killed in lockup unless we figure out they still serve a purpose. Sad, really... kind of sad...”
I look over at him, “Why man? I’m out, Dog, I’m done. I can’t anymore. It is all hopeless, spinning out of control. I can’t anymore.”
White Dog says, “Keep your notebooks. Keep your papers. They will one day prove very valuable to you. I’ll be in touch, don’t worry.”
“Worry! Fucking worry? Dog, you are the main thing I am running from. You, your insanity, your war. I thought Juan and I were here just doing business. Vinny, J., Jimmy just doing business. Now you tell me this was part of your scheme too? You tell me we were still part of your fucked-up machine - STILL?”
“It’s a new world, Jesse, it’s coming together. You clowns were part of the company, the organization, and didn’t even know it. That is a sign of a well-executed plan. The players didn’t know need to know the plan, only their small part in some game.”
“One of the most valuable things we needed were good soldiers to get it started. That was you and your boy Juan and a few others. You played a very important role. The people who need to know of you do know of your work. That first phase is winding down. You’ve done your job. I have too. It was time to tidy up the loose ends, Vinny was a loose end, his operation a loose end. Vinny lost sight of the big picture. We were never here to sell drugs. The drug movement was just a part of the bigger process, like oil in the engine of a truck. A very necessary, but tertiary, if that, part of the process. Everyone lost sight of the big picture. That’s why we, today, have a burning warehouse up there on the TV screen with reporter ‘Teeny-Tits’ in the white blouse breathlessly repeating the story… Damn, she is cute though…”
“Vinny knew of the overall plan, more than you or Juan. Vinny fucked up. This is an unforgiving business.”
Looking at the floor and wringing his hands, almost looking sad, Dog continues, “Remember this was never about drug running this was always about chaos. That was our business. Even back in Columbia, the Felipe Cartel was small potatoes. But we worked to disrupt the entire system. To confuse. Watch, the confusion will continue to grow. It will grow to a point where no one will know what is truth anymore. It’s not just the prisons and the militarization on the streets and the drugs. We are going to alter the news, what people read and listen to. It’s a beautiful plan of chaos. In twenty to thirty years you won’t recognize the U.S.”
“Now it’s time for the big push, the next phase. I know how you operate, I know there is not one fucked up thing I can’t get you to do. I value that, Jesse. People in power value that. You can consider yourself retired now, semi-retired. We will call on you when we need you. small jobs, select hits.”
“I’d stay away from Juan, I hope he’s smart enough to go underground. He was always a tough one to get to. You were much easier, Richie.”
I clench my fist, I want to punch this asshole out, right here in the station “Juan hates your guts, Dog, but you know that. Juan don’t pull any punches, never has, never will.”
Dog continues, “There are still factions out there that refuse to see this world as it is now. They still see the world through the illusion of what we were told in school as kids, what was right and wrong. The illusion of America. Ma and Pa and apple pie and all that horse shit. They still believe the lie we were all taught.”
“They will come for you, fuck, they’ll come for me. You and Juan have got to part ways for good. They will use your friendship against you. Friends get you killed. Lovers get you killed.”
“Our work is about done. It’s time to hand off to those at the next level. We built the road for them, Richie.”
“You’d better change your name again. We will talk, no worries...”
Dog started shaking his head, “A handful of guys like us, we changed the game forever. This was never about money and running drugs - not at the higher level - It was and is about power and control. We’ve laid the groundwork for the real power to take over now.
“I’ve been reading the Bible, Richie. Reading it a lot. The Book of Revelations - damn, son and people say I did a lot of acid - I’m trying to understand how this all ends for us, for me in particular. I’m pretty sure you and I will not have the rapture to worry about...”
“How do I smell, Jesse, I worry a lot about how I smell. Can they smell me? I was in hiding out in the West Texas desert, for a brief time, while you and Juan were living the pirate life, while things were restructured in the business. I almost got nailed by the FBI. I’m sure they could smell me. They followed my scent from Columbia.”
“Dog, you smell like that hotel room in Medellin, you smell like Old Spice and way too much booze and cigarettes. You smell like what crazy must smell like, Dog. If crazy had a scent, Dog, it would be your scent.”
He looked over at me, over the dark glasses and shook his head, “I may go kill myself, I’m not sure yet. Jesus, I’ve got to stop taking acid. It’s been years. I can’t even tell I’m tripping. Am I tripping? I’ve lost reality. That may be a good thing.”
“I’m either going to kill myself or go home and get a job. Either way, you’ll know. I can get a job in a factory. I can work my way up to the guy who pulls the lever on the big machine. That’s kind of what my job has been these last ten years. From the New York streets to this train station here in Florida, I pulled the levers. It was my job to make the stuff happen.”
“I’ll be in touch, Jesse, you know... or dead...”
With that, he got up, gave me the finger and walked away. The rear view of Dog in Bermuda shorts, and a truly hideous Hawaiian shirt, giant red bird owning all the real estate on his back. The scene completed by a new bald spot on the top of his head. It was burned into my memory forever.
I looked at my watch, time to get my bag and board the train, I yelled, “Fuck you, Dog!”
I found a seat with a window view. I’d hoped for a quiet ride. I fell into a deep sleep.
I spent a lot of time dozing, looking out the window, eating snacks from a vending machine. Pretzels and chips and candy bars. Sandy crossed my mind for a moment, a brief moment. That’s the way it is now, now and forever. No connections, no love. She got a good chunk of money for her time and trouble. I didn’t leave her hanging, I can feel ok with that.
The train had a comfortable, but ugly lounge car. Plastic reds and greens and browns and fake wood trim. Classic 1970’s ugly Americana. I spent most of the trip in there, but I’d lost any desire to get drunk, I wanted to be alone and reflect. I’d forgotten how it felt to be alone. I couldn’t remember the last time I was alone.
The wishful dream of isolation and escape from my life; of time alone lost its luster.
Secluded in my own space I felt the terror of every soul I’ve taken. I hear their voices, I see their faces. From my father to the last coconut oil soaked speedo I dumped in the Caribbean, I’m aware of everyone. They speak my name. We are forever joined. I fear most of all the day we will all meet again. I fear there is no way for me to atone. At not quite thirty years old I find myself now alone and waiting for that final accounting. Waking with a fear each morning for it could be my last, and on that last day, I’ll have no answers.
How will I dare to beg for mercy in front of those souls I’ve treated so mercilessly.
I’ll stand naked before my accusers, not even an excuse to offer. Nothing. It’s not the violence of my life and acts and deeds that haunt me as much the absolute senselessness of them.
I was no soldier, not a mercenary. It didn’t matter what Dogs plan had been. I am a murderer, now on the run, coming home to a broken life. My true family long dead and gone, my mother, if she’s still alive, now a vessel of pain and pills and booze, Juan and I separated, perhaps forever.
No excuses for my deeds, no rationale for my existence.
At this moment I think back to that street in Brooklyn that changed simply by our presence from sunny bright, vibrant and thriving and alive to ugly and gray and dead. I’ve taken the disease we had been infected with and set it loose upon the world. I’ve carried these thoughts with me for years. The reality of who I am can’t be denied.
Crossing into Jersey I began to feel at once at home and an overwhelming fear and dread.
The flat swamps, passing through the cranberry bogs, then without warning New York City screaming into view. Tall buildings reflecting the late summer sun. Signs passing outside the window, rail stops along the way, then darkness in the tunnels and we were in Grand Central. I stand and gather my things. I carry on my back the spoils of my work for the past six years.
It might be enough, carefully invested to provide a comfortable life, but not nearly enough compensation for the lives I’ve taken. The harm I’ve done.
Out and in the grand concourse of the terminal I feel as if I’ll be safe to melt and assimilate into the hustle and noise and confusion that is New York City. I pause for a second to look at the scene around me. The high ceilings, the cream-colored granite walls that tower a hundred feet above me. The marble stairs, the pretty women and handsome well-dressed men and the beggars and the homeless. Walking past ticket booths, I think there are countless destinations available to me right here, right now. I’m safely out of Florida, I can now go anywhere. I think about Juan. I wonder if he’ll drive home to Orange County or go west or south. A feeling, a gut level feeling tells me at that moment to stay here. To go back to Orange County, to wait for my brother.
I find a pay phone. I dial a number still locked in my memory, lying dormant for eight years.
A voice, it’s Eddie G. He is running the business Vinny left behind. He sounds happy to hear from me. He says I should come by. But not the store. He says a few words to me, almost in code. I know it’s a park nearby. We agree on a time.
I go out into the late summer sunshine, the long shadows of a New York afternoon, the street canyons. I get in a cab and give the driver an address. I laugh at the snail-like progress. After about fifteen minutes I pay the driver and get out and walk, it’s faster and I’m tired of sitting.
Walking through the black wrought iron gates of the park adorned with tall oak trees I head to a bench. The years in the south and Central American have given me a new appreciation for northern trees, oaks, and maples.
I look around the park. Neat winding concrete paths lined with late summer flowers. Across the way, by a concrete fountain, I see him, Big Eddie G.
I offer my hand, he grabs me with his massive arms and hugs me.
We sit. He says, “I’ve got news. A lot of the boys, some of the Teamsters, all dead - killed in lockup. Didn’t even get to trial.”
“Vinny wasn’t touched, neither was that fruit, Jimmy the Barber. That spooks me. Someone got to Jimmy and Vinny, I'm certain. I’m running the racket here. Doing good, but now I’m not so sure. I did alright. I got some money stashed away. I was hoping you’d come back and work with me; protection and enforcement. Now, I don’t know. I may get out. The raid on the warehouse was all over the news here. A lot of ties back here from the operation in Florida. A lot of the heroin moved right through here. Way more profitable than the coke. This shit, the news coverage, it all has me spooked.”
“Eddie, I can’t even begin to tell you what went down, not just in Florida but in Columbia and Panama. I don’t even understand it. CIA/FBI working the system. Crosses, double-crosses, triple-fucking-crosses, for Christ’s sake. Russian and American businessmen, cartel. That prince we went to hit, right before we left. He was CIA, or mob or both. I was there and I don’t fucking know...”
I had to ask, “Last time I saw you - you were with Cindi, how did that work out?” Not wanting, for a moment, to discuss any more business.
Eddie looked sad, defeated, “That was good for a lot of years. Real good, nice lady. Then she had trouble at home, she went back to Korea and that was the end. I think I scared her. The business, well you know, it can get ugly. I heard you and Juan had to split. How it that fucking little prick?”
I smiled and laughed, “The little prick is good, yeah, I don’t know man... I don’t think I want back in the business anyway. I need a favor. I got a new ID in Panama, about four years back. Shit got real in Columbia. The ID I have now is hot too. I need another name.”
Eddie grimaced. “What name are you using now?”
“Jesse, Jesse Turner.”
“No more Richie O’Malley, that Irish fuck, no more Jesse Turner, better stick with Irish, I guess. Yeah, I know a guy who can help, let’s walk.”
We got up and walked about three blocks to a storefront. I went inside, waited about an hour. I emerged into the evening cool as Jesse Kelly, the photo on my NY state driver’s license was ugly as hell, I liked it. I was happy to keep the first name the same. Probably not the smartest move, but I was pretty sure that Jesse Turner would fade quietly into oblivion soon enough. I’ve grown tired of trying to remember my first name. Jesse stays.
Eddie and I stood on the sidewalk of the busy street. He gave me a piece of paper with his apartment phone number on it.
We walked back to the park, then Eddie decided he’d join me in Manhattan. He had some business to do on Eighth Ave. I hailed a cab for the Port Authority bus terminal.
Looking out the windows we rode in relative quiet, Eddie and the cab driver discussed the upcoming baseball playoffs. I chimed in I thought the Yanks could catch the Red Sox and Lou Pinella was good manager, but other than that I was quiet.
Staring out the window, watching the city slowly pass... the city always to me a colorful raging collage of people and colors against a dark gray background. At times smelling of piss in the allies, at other times of coffee and donuts and roasted nuts and hot dogs from street vendor carts.
Finally, not looking in Eddie's direction, my chin cupped in my hand, still watching the cityscape, I said, “Obscurity, man, that what I’m looking for. Obscurity. If you hear from Juan tell him I went back to Newburgh. I’ll settle there for a time. I know a guy who’ll give me work. Driving a truck, local stuff, home every night. Legal, above board, furniture delivery. A quiet obscure life.”
I got out of the cab, shook Eddie’s hand through the window, threw the cab driver a ten and walked into the huge red and gray steel framed building.
I look back in at Eddie and yelled, “The sweetest smoke comes from a burning bridge.”
Next stop Newburgh, NY. I was going home to hide, from the government, from the cartel, from whoever we’d managed to piss off in the past decade. I was Jesse Kelly now, hopefully, this was my last li
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