The Best Things in Life are Someone Elseís
There are many things thatíll
drive a man insane, and so many ways to choose from. Be it too
much whiskey or not enough, sometimes itís your wife; it could
be you got shorted on your wage and still canít pay the bills or
maybe you were just fucked since the day you dropped out. Who
knows, who cares? After watching the evening news for half an
hour, I finished my beer and decided to get a whore.
Iíve put the gun to my head
many times, but this week was nagging on my balls like a
gin-rocket of hellfire going up my dumper, fat-side first. I was
broke, mad as hell at the world, one step behind the loan sharks,
three feet into the grave, and a day ahead of the pigs. I needed
to pull a job and there could be no pussyfooting about it. Driving
down Second Ave, almost in front of the hooker spot, I saw a
window of opportunityóit was Jimmy "the Cook"
Cassavetes talking with Sammy Smiles in front of the Sugar Shack.
I pulled over and screwed the cap back on my bottle.
"Look at this fuckiní
guy," Jimmy said, puffing on a chubby Cuban blunt. Jimmy
got his moniker "the Cook" for sticking loan skipsí
hands in a deep fryer at an old gambling spot on President Street.
He was about three hundred and seventy pounds of some poor motherís
heartache, and a legend in the strip houses. The only thing that
changed since the last I saw him was that now he was working as a
boss instead of a bone cracker.
"Jimmy," I said,
trying to remember if I owed any of his clients money. "So
howís the night going?"
"This fuckiní guy,"
he said again, nudging Sammy Smiles, who was doing his best to
keep his nose so far up Jimmyís ass that it would carve his
initials in tomorrow morningís deposit. "This guyís got
people looking all over high water for him and he just comes
walking up to me like this in public." Sammy did a snide
"Jimmy, Iíve been looking
all over for youÖcan we go inside and talk?" I asked.
"Frank," he said,
pointing at me, "you got balls as big as your word, Iíd
love to talk with you but Lazarroís inside at the bar. Whatís
he gonna think if I let you come in?"
"Yeah, and heís mad
too," Sammy said.
"Fuck off, Sammy, you shit
"But Iím just sayinó"
"Hey, Sammy, go take a walk
up to 14th Street and get me some cigarettes,"
Jimmy said, putting his hand on his shoulder. Sammy nodded and
started off like a bird with backwards knees. Smiles wasnít his
real last name, we just called him that ever since he got hit in
the head by a bottle and fell off his fire escape when we were
kids. It sure as hell didnít knock any sense into him, but he
was from the neighborhood and we looked after our own, especially
since it was Jimmy who threw the bottle. It was a matter of amends
that he took care of him all these years. It was a Red Hook thing.
Jimmy looked at me after
watching Sammy run through traffic on a red light: "Look at
that sonofabitch go, JesusÖheís a menace to the goddamn
I wanted to laugh but decided to
play the ice card. "So you wanna take a walk around the block
"Lets go," he said,
turning towards First Ave.
"You know the spot Iím inÖdo
you have any work I can handle for you? I want to set things
straight with Lazarro and Vince Monaco but Iíve been on a shit
streak for a while now."
"Geez," he laughed,
"they can smell you out in Queens, you fuck. What do you need
to even up with Lazarro?"
"About ten large."
"What about Vince Monaco? I
heard heís been lookiní to cut off your nose."
"Monacoís all talkóIím
only into him for twenty large."
"I donít know if I can
help you out with this, Frankie. From the way people are talkiní,
you been duckiní around town and your nameís sittiní with
the fish," he said, blowing out a thick stream of cigar
"Címon, Jimmy, Iím
trying to do the right thing here. You think I like being in the
spot Iím in? Youíve known me for twenty-nine years, ever since
I was living down the street from your uncle; you know I donít
like being made the joker after all I did. I want to do some work
for you so I can make a good gesture to them, get them off my back
for a bit. I know business is good with you right now and figured
Iíd ask. I was on my way over to pick up Ameliaó"
"'Work the balls'
"Thatís the one," I
said; Jimmy knew good whores when he saw them, and she definitely
"Ho-ly shit, do I love that
girl!" he chuckled, "And the things she can do,"
he said, rolling his eyes, "what a lady! God, does she know
how to work the balls."
"Sheís like a plumber the
way she cleans you out," I added. I knew I had him. I could
just tell he was going to hear me out.
"Now what were you saying,
you got me sidetracked there for a minute?"
"I was saying, I was on my
way over to see if Amelia was working tonight when I saw you and
pulled over. Iíve been trying to reach you, but every time I
come around, Lazarroís either out front or on his way in. You
know me, Jimmy, and you know the kind of skills I haveÖif youíve
got some people who owe you, you know I can make them come to an
At this point, we were in front
of a neighborhood garden around the middle of the block. Jimmy
opened the chain-link gate and walked inside with me following a
short distance behind him. We walked to a bench under a grove of
overhanging trees and sat down. Breathing heavily, he pulled a pen
and piece of paper out of his pocket, wrote down an address, and
passed it to me. I stuffed it in my pocket after trying to read it
and lit a smoke up.
"Now, what Iím gonna do
for you is this. Iím gonna give Lazarro three grand right now
for this job, and seven grand for takiní my nephew out on the
next three collections with you. You know, show him how I
like things done. As far as Monaco goes, youíll have to pay that
fuck off yourself. Thatís your own problem, you handle your
"Thank you, Jimmy, I knew I
could count on you. Which nephew do you want me to start
"I want you to start
training Romero Costello, my sister Annaís wet blanket. I want
that kid to know what the fuck to do with a hammer when heís
told, by the end of a week."
"Has he ever collected
"Heís been living off the
fruitía my old manís balls since Anna had him. Sheís been
trying to keep him outta the business but the kidís just wild.
He flunked outta Kingsborough, thatís how wild he is. I figured
itís about time he becomes a manówith my familyís name, you
canít be a panty-waste all your life."
"Will he listen to me when
I tell him to do something? Itís not just his neck on the line
"Iím glad you
remembered that," Jimmy said, getting up. He gave me a
pat on the shoulder and walked towards the gate. He was a monster
of a man who could get a point across even without words.
"Iíll tell you this,
Frankie, I understand you got a bum deal before and I know youíre
a good man. Youíre just in some bad times right nowóI still
got a good memory. Lets go inside and square up with Lazarro; I
need to run you down about this guy you gotta talk with."
We went inside the Sugar Shack
and squashed the beef with Lazarro. You see, over ten years ago I
used to work with Jimmy. I was a collections man, and other things
when situation needed be, just like him. One night on a job, I was
supposed to burn a building down on a loan-skip landlord who didnít
want to pay up. I set the place ablaze but didnít know the guy
had a cousin in the force that wasnít on payroll. The skip set
me up, and as I was coming out of the building, the boys in blue
were waiting for me. I got sent up north for a ten-year bid. I got
out nine months ago and borrowed some cash off Lazarro to blow at
Atlantic City. To make a long story short, I didnít do too well
and had to borrow more just to leave with my shirt. Well the money
wasnít coming in because I still had eight months to do on
parole and nobody would let me work for them.
For cash, I was doing a scam I
heard about in the joint called the Ďblank deposití. It was
easy but I could only do it out in Jersey since thatís the only
place in the metro that had the right bank machines. What you do
is deposit a blank envelope and punch in that you put down five
hundred dollars. Since no money showed up when they opened the
envelope, it was assumed lost. For insurance reasons the bank
company would pay you back fifteen percent of the total amount. It
was lovely. I was doing it at least twice a week up until five
days ago; thatís when I got a letter in the mail saying they
were onto me. Between that and Vince Monaco sending thugs to my
building to collect all hours of the day, the week had been a
sphincter factor of ten until I ran into Jimmy. Good old Jimmy the
Cook was there for me and I wouldnít let him down for nothing; I
was ready to start over from where I left off.
Romero finally showed up at the
Sugar Shack, and Jimmy was rightóthis kid was a royal fucking
ball-buster. Twenty-one, dumb, full of come, covered from toe to
nose in designer cloths and goldÖhe acted like he was the pride
of Eighteenth Avenue and he meant it. For a ten grand debt being
paid off, I could deal with this kid for a week. I had a feeling Iíd
probably have to box his ears a few times to get him to listen,
but I think in the long run heíd learn enough to be a good right
The skip lived out in Starrett
City so we had a good drive to go from Red Hook. Since it was
early, I figured weíd take the streets to kill time. As we drove
along, I was ready to kill the little punk. One of the first
things you have to do with a new partner is learn to trust them,
see how they react to things. Thatís why I had him drive. We
took Flatbush Avenue for a while, then turned on Linden Boulevard
before turning off into the skipís neighborhood. I liked driving
this way at night because all the hookers are out doing their
thing, and after ten years in the pokey, I couldnít get enough
"Frankie Fellini, Frankie
Fellini, Frankie Fellini," Romero said, shaking his head,
taking glances in the rear view mirror, making sure he still
looked as good as he did the last time he checked.
"Will you stop saying my
name already," I snapped; heíd been doing that since we
started driving and I was about ready to give him a smack.
"I just canít believe Iím
actually out doing a job with Frankie FelliniÖyouíre a fucking
I said, screwing the cap back on my bottle. I took a smoke out of
my pocket and sparked it. I detested Pepsi Generation punks like
him; prison was full of them, and none of them knew a goddamn
thing about respect. They all lived off the system the old timers
set up, guys even before I was run down on the business. To them,
everything had to happen fast or it didnít happen at all. We
stopped at a traffic light and he lit up a cigarette.
"For such a big-time player
back in the day, I canít believe you bottomed out like you
did," he said, blowing the smoke out his window.
"Let me get something
straight with you, you little fuckÖFirst off, I didnít bottom
out, and thatís none of your goddamn business anyway, and
secondly, I just have to train you, I donít have to be your
friend or act like I like you. Your uncle asked me to start
breaking you in and thatís what Iím doing. If you ask me,
punk, I donít think youíve got the stomach for this kind of
work. I think the first time you hear a gun pop or see some guy
get his teeth knocked in with a hammer, youíre going to crap
your pants before he does," I snapped, opening the cap back
up on the bottle.
"Look it there, Frankie, Iím
a Cassavetes by bloodóand as a race of people, weíre tougher
than anything youíve ever seen."
I laughed. "Let me tell you
something, punkÖthe fellas on D wing would have you tossing
their salads with marbles in your mouth. Youíd be getting nailed
in the ass so often youíd come out of the joint sitting down
every time you took a leak. Shit, I think youíd even beg for it,
"Why donít you quit with
that queer shit, man, I ainít no homo."
"Not yet, little
girl," I laughed, " but Iíll let some of the fellas on
D wing know to start pulling straws on who gets the first
"Youíre a fuckiní fanuq!"
he said, sliding closer to his side of the car as the light
I knew I could get him to shut
We turned onto the skipís
block, parking about three doors down the street from his house
under cover of the tree line. I never liked this part of Brooklyn;
it was just too far out of the way for the let down, and besides,
now the neighborhood was full of Russians. The Russians were
squeezing business out of us left-and-right, running things the
way we ran stuff years ago. They really put the fear into people,
itís no wonder this skip came down to place bets with ItaliansÖwe
gave a sucker an even break, only skimming what was rightfully
"So now what do we
do?" Romero asked, lighting a fresh cigarette.
"Whatís wrong, rosebud,
you starting to get the jitters?" I said smirking. I could
see the reflection of my face off the window pretty well as he
inhaled his cigarette.
Seriously, man, what do we do now?"
"Seriously, man, youíre
going to wait here in the car for me to get back, thatís what
youíre going to do. Keep the motor running and get ready to
leave fast when I get out. Who knows whatís waiting for me, this
guyís a cop," I said, fitting my fingers into a pair of sap
ass," Romero said enthusiastically, "Iím shaking down
a cop with Frankie FelliniÖwait till I tell Rosanna! Sheís
gonna think Iím the shit, boy."
"Just donít spank on the
seats, superstar, and keep your eyes openÖthis isnít over
yet," I said, pulling my .45 out of the glove box.
"Damn, are you gonna shoot
this guy or what?"
"No Iím not going to
shoot the guy," I said, sliding a clip in, "How the
hell are we going to get your uncleís money if the skipís
"Youíre the one with the
gun, how the hell should I know? Itís not like I ever did this
"Rosebud, Iíll make a man
out of you yet. You never use a gun when youíre collecting, never.
They make too much noise, and you donít get what you were coming
for. Iíll take a gun with me, but I never use it;
this business isnít about killing people, itís about applying
fear. What I find works best is a hammer. A hammer is light, easy
to conceal, and when you pull it out, people know youíre going
to inflict some serious fucking pain. See, a hammer doesnít put
a hole in your bodyÖitís precise and only covers a small area.
Peopleís imaginations run wild. You can work on someone for
hours with a hammer, and the next day they can still go out and
get you your money. With a gun, if you shoot them and donít kill
them, itís just that much longer youíve got to wait to get
"Yo, Frankie, thatís some
bad ass, gangster-ass shit. When do I get to do that kindía
"Right now you just worry
about driving. Tonight, thatís your job. Donít worry, Iíll
teach you how to use the hammer later during the week. Itís not
like you just swing blindly with a hammer on the skip, youíve
got to break them down first; it takes a while to really learn the
technique, youíve got to practice. Remember," I said,
opening the car door, "keep your eyes open."
Fellini!" he said again, in a tone of admiration.
"Fuckiní putz," I
said out loud, shaking my head after sliding the gun into my
pants. I closed the car door and walked across the street.
Inside of the skipís house was
dark, only the glow from a television set was radiating through
the front window, with shadows flickering on the wall. I checked
the hood of his caróit was cold, probably been inside for quite
a while. I walked down his driveway towards the rear of the house.
There was a light on in the kitchen but nobody was inside. A white
lattice porch with a glider hanging from the roof was in back
where the rear door was. The door leading into the kitchen was
open, and a screen door, which I bet only had a cheese lock, was
in itís place. I heard the Cheers theme-song coming on
and guessed it was twelve. I looked at my watch, smilingÖsure
as shit, it was a little after midnight. I tried the lattice
door, sliding the skimpy pin bolt open with my screwdriver, but
stopped before going to the kitchen door. I had an idea.
I walked back down the driveway
and tapped on the door, making Romero turn quickly from adjusting
the CD player.
"The fuck, man, donít
go creeping up on me like that," he said, trying to
compensate. "Youíre done already?"
"Not yet, rosebud. You
shouldíve been paying attention, what if that was the skip
coming to blow a hole in your head? Youíve got to stay sharp,
manÖ always be on the lookout for your partner because heís
doing the same thing for you. Pass me my bottle."
"I was paying
attention," he said, reaching for my bottle, "I just
turned away for a second," passing it to me. "So what
"Shut the car off," I
said, taking a swig, "I need you to ring the guyís
"What? Ring his
"Yep. Ring it hard and get
out of sight for a minute. His backdoor is open and I donít see
anything moving in the house, no dog either; heís watching TV,
maybe even sleeping. When he goes to check the front door Iím
going to slice the screen and step inside," I said, taking
another hit from the bottle. "Wait a little while then go
back in the car, but donít turn it on until I come out; this
neighborhoodís too quiet, people might get suspicious. You
ready? Donít ring the bell until you count to thirty-five.
Start," tossing the bottle into the car window, "nÖoww."
I walked back down the driveway,
eased onto the back porch and waited for seven seconds. The
doorbell rang like hell. I heard someone blurt something out and
start moving around, just under the hum of an air-conditioner in
the front room. Fuck, I hated gorilla-ing an old man. I
sliced the screen and opened the door handle from the inside. The
Cook said this guy was a cop but didnít say he was retired. This
poor bastard had probably been living here for forty years, his
wife dead for about five; probably eats frozen dinners, judging by
the boxes of Tasty Cakes on the counter. He had to be around
seventy-five, seventy-nine. I probably wouldnít even need the
hammer. A few pops, break his nose maybe, or at least make it
bleed. Damn, I wish I didnít throw the bottle back in the car; I
could use a drink about now.
I stopped at the doorway that
led from the kitchen into a dinning room, then into the living
room. The living room had a glass cabinet off to my left, next to
the steps leading upstairs, a large plastic cloth-covered table
with framed pictures all over it, and a grandfather clock off to
the right side. The televisionís glow was giving off all the
light in that part of the house, and the thick, green shag carpet
was concealing my footsteps. The television was turned up so loud
that if I did have to make him scream, I donít think the
neighbors would notice anything.
He was just starting to walk
away from the window as I walked into the living room; at least
the old man had the commonsense not to go to the door. When he saw
me, I could tell I scared the hell out of him.
"Get the hell outta here!
What are you doing!" he yelled stepping away from me.
"Are you Dominique Santini?"
I asked him, keeping my hands in my jacket pockets.
"Who in the hell are you?
What do you want?"
The old coot still had it in
him; he was startled, but did a good job at keeping up a front.
"Just answer me, popsÖare
you Dominique Santini?"
"Yes I am, now get the hell
"It seems you owe some
money to an associate of mine, a Mr. Cassavetes. You want to tell
me whatís going on?"
"I donít owe nobody
nothing! Get the hell outta my house before I call the cops,"
he said, walking towards a telephone sitting on an end table.
"I wouldnít do that,
pops," I said, taking a step closer to him. "Look, donít
fuck around, I donít want to hurt you and Iím sure you donít
want to get hurt. Now what are we going to do about the money you
owe Mr. Cassavetes? And donít give me any excuses like you donít
know what Iím talking about, or that youíre just an old man
and donít have the money. I could give a shit, popsÖmakes no
difference to me what you have to say, except for either yes I
have the money or else, I can give you some of it."
"You look here, you son of
a bitch, get the hell outta my house right now! You got the wrong
person!" he said, still holding his ground.
"Well, pops, I asked you
nicely not to give me a reach around, and you didnít listenÖnow
weíve got to talk," I said, taking the hammer out of my
jacketís inside pocket.
As I took a step towards him I
heard the floor creak and felt a breeze of air behind me. "What
the fuck?" I said, trying to turn sharply. Jimmy the Cook
was standing behind me with a Dessert Eagle pointing at my head. I
had no clue what the hell was going on; that damn shag carpet
covered up his sneaking on me.
"Go upstairs, Mr. Santini,"
he said, still holding the gun on my head, "you done good.
Donít worry about nothiní, weíll have this place cleaned up
by morning." Romero casually strolled through the front door
as if nothing was going on, holding a large, folded plastic sheet
in his hands.
"Donít move, Frankie, you
fuck. You know somethiní," Jimmy said, "You owe Monaco
a hell of a lot more than twenty large and todayís payday."
"Get the fuck out of here,
Jimmy, what are you doing?" I said, acting like I didnít
know what he was talking about.
"Lookíit here, you stupid
fuck, Monaco paid me to whack youÖyouíre into him for over a
quarter mil and he wants an end to your games."
Fellini," Romero said, smiling at me like a knucklehead.
All I saw was a flash.
"Damn, Uncle Jimmy, you
blew that niggaís head off!" Romero said smiling.
"Romero, you schmuck, quit
talkiní like a niggerÖhow many times do I gotta tell you
that," Jimmy said, giving me a kick to make sure I was dead.
I was barely alive, but beginning to fade to black. It actually
felt relaxing; I was getting so sleepy and numb, almost itchy.
"Fuckiní A, that was cool
as hell," Romero said, still holding a smile.
"Now itís time to be a
man; youíre a Cassavetes, so act like oneÖclean this shit
up," Jimmy the Cook said, lighting up a fresh Cuban blunt.
"Frankie FelliniÖhe ainít
a legend no more," Romero said, spreading the plastic sheet
out on the floor next to me. The game was finally over, my debt
was paid in full.
Darren Subarton lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his
Congo African Grey parrot, Simone, slinging do-dirty noir fiction
and breaking hearts internationally with his poetry. His poems and
short stories have been showcased in such magazines as Plots
With Guns, Hardboiled, Blue Murder Magazine, Aura Literary
Arts Review, Fat Tuesday, The New York Hangover, Global Tapestry
Journal (UK), Futures, and 12 Gauge Review. Currently
he writes a column for Futures Magazine, and is busy
shopping an agent for his novel The Sick-Machine. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org