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The Best Things in Life are Someone Elseís

Darren Subarton

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 snicker.

"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 for blood."

"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 neighborhood."

I wanted to laugh but decided to play the ice card. "So you wanna take a walk around the block and talk?"

"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 smoke.

"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' Amelia?"

"Thatís the one," I said; Jimmy knew good whores when he saw them, and she definitely had talent.

"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 understanding."

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 business."

"Thank you, Jimmy, I knew I could count on you. Which nephew do you want me to start training?"

"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 before?"

"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 here."

"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 hand.

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 of women.

"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 legend."

"Yeah whatever," 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, rosebud."

"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 kiss."

"Youíre a fuckiní fanuq!" he said, sliding closer to his side of the car as the light changed.

I knew I could get him to shut up.

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 ours.

"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.

"Fuck off. 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 gloves.

"Kick fuckiní 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 dead?"

"Youíre the one with the gun, how the hell should I know? Itís not like I ever did this stuff before."

"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 your money."

"Yo, Frankie, thatís some bad ass, gangster-ass shit. When do I get to do that kindía stuff?"

"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."

"Frankie fuckiní 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 happened?"

"Shut the car off," I said, taking a swig, "I need you to ring the guyís doorbell."

"What? Ring his doorbell?"

"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 outta here!"

"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."

"Frankie fuckiní 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 sirdarren@hotmail.com


 

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