“One night back in 1972; in old New York. That’s when I met him. OK, maybe it wasn’t just any night, it was Christmas Eve. After that one though, I never felt no warmth it my fuckin’ heart ever again.”
Donny hadn’t even sat down before Grandpy had started. He was getting worse. Donny smiled and handed him the box. “Cannolis?” Grandpy said, rolling his eyes and turning away to stare out the window. Donny sat, hoping whatever story he was launching into would be over quick. It was Carla’s afternoon off. Resigned to his fate, for the next half-hour at least, Donny lit a smoke and prepared himself to do his bit. It was family after all and Grandpy was already misty-eyed and faraway.
“By the time he showed I was already kinda drunk.” Grandpy began. “It was too damn cold outside to leave, but if the weather outside hadn’t been so shitty I would have left a hell of a lot earlier. At least in the bar I didn’t have to be alone in an empty apartment, where only a hangover and a cold calzone was waiting for me. I was as happy sitting there as I was going to be that Christmas, listening to the jukebox; Elvis was singing I’ll Remember You and the guys at the bar where telling dirty jokes and drinking like it was New Year’s, so maybe I didn’t mind the wait so much. I barely noticed the battered Mustang as it pulled up across the street; piece-of-shit car. Once it would have been white; it was a faded dirty shade of grey. It never even occurred to me till many years later.
“I remember that night as if the memory of it crowded out every other single one I had gathered during my entire life, burning through them like a cigarette through a photograph. Like a fuckin’ cancer. Waitin’ in some shitty bar, at quarter to midnight — it didn’t feel like fuckin’ Christmas. In the days runnin’ up to it, the news had been full of depressin’ shit. Apollo 17 had returned from space, no more Americans on the Moon and Nixon was dropping more and more bombs on Vietnam.” He detached himself from whatever memories were preferable to the present and shot Donny a strange quizzical glance.
“Shit ain’t changed much since then, has it? Bomb the fuck out of people who don’t agree with us; or because they’re too yellow or red. Or for their fuckin’ oil. You ever think about that Donny — course you fuckin’ don’t!” They sat for a moment in silence. Grandpy shuffling his slippers on the carpet. Donny wondering what the hell was up with him. Maybe he should go talk to a nurse about Grandpy’s meds? He helped himself to a cannoli instead. They were good. Grandpy was off in the past again. Donny listened while he licked cream from his fingers.
“Back then, New York seemed to be at the very center of this shitstorm. The city’s got many names: The Big Apple, The Capital of the World, The Empire City. In 72’ the big fuckin’ apple was a bad fuckin’ apple. It was just slidin’ down the sewer. Junkies and rapists everywhere. Junky fuckin’ rapists everywhere. Even on Times fuckin’ Square — you believe that shit? What the fuck we doin’ on the Moon and making war in the jungle on the other side of the world when New York is a goddam cess-pool?” He shook his head in the resigned dis-belief of one who had seen it all before. “Anyway, so I’m waiting in this bar, a guy walked in, I’m thinking is this him? He’s frozen to the bone. I mean really fuckin’ cold. New York is cold right, you ever been there in the winter you know. New York is fuckin’ evil in the winter; frozen and empty like the eyes of a killer. All the shops with their pretty lights and the smell of hot coffee and doughnuts wafting out into the street don’t mean shit. Out there on the real streets, back then, something old and primal stalked the sidewalk, past the blocks as empty as graveyards where even the junkies feared to tread; hidden in the howling wind and snow, like a wolf on the prowl or some shit.
“I remember the glass in the door rattlin’ as he came in; rattlin’ like my fuckin’ bones did every day since. By the time he shut that door that wolf had come in, huffin’ and puffin’ and blown all the heat out of the room, all the fuckin’ cheer. A couple of guys at the bar grumbled through their beers at him and I saw him drop his eyes. Ha! Imagine that! Him! The lights dimmed, someone says; ‘as long as the whiskey don’t run out no-one cares about the lights!’ The guys gathered round the bar start laughin’ like they’re the three fuckin’ wise men; guided by a string of flashing fuckin’ fairy lights and a two-for-one offer on doubles. Pricks!
“I’d done this thing a hundred times before. It’s what I did. A guy comes to me, he says I know this guy, a friend of a friend, he wants a meet, a sit down. He wants to talk to someone. He wants to trade something — whatever. I arrange something; nine times outta ten I speak to him and then something will happen, the guy disappears, end of fuckin’ story. He’s never seen again. This guy, this meet was different: it put the fear of God into me. The first time I ever really felt it. The first time I ever really believed it.
“He sits down. He’s nervous — fuckin’ nervous. Shit — I seen that before though, the fear, in the eyes of a hundred different guys. But there was something about his eyes, his fear and what I saw there, like nothing else. Fuckin’ believe me! This guy was different. At first I thought he was a fuckin’ junky — Jesus Christ he looked like Jesus fuckin’ Christ doped-up, his hair all over the fuckin’ place, long and scruffy. He was shaky and sweatin’ up the place; he looked like a fuckin’ bum. He was scared. I swear to God! Ha! So I offered to buy him a drink, maybe calm him the fuck down — nervous guys make me nervous — it fucks up business. But he said he didn’t drink. Never touched the stuff. He had a fuckin’ coke instead. But Jesus Christ did he smoke. By the time we’d finished talkin’ that night he’d filled the ashtray. After what he told me that night — that’s when I fuckin’ started smokin’ too.
“I remember a dull light in his eyes, his pupils were softened with dope. I used to wonder why kids did that, fukin’ up their bodies and minds with that shit, pumping it into their veins, flushing away their souls. Maybe now I know; it’s like comin’ in from the cold for a while, to sit next to a three-bar heater and fallin’ asleep. You forget yourself and your troubles in this world; its emptiness. Because it’s fuckin’ empty I tell ya. Remember this Donny; gather up your family, your children, and their families. Hold them fuckin’ tight and don’t let ‘em go. Shield yourself from the rest of the world, Donny, bury your heads in the fuckin’ sand somewhere warm — maybe California or down in Florida and live a quiet life and don’t get the fuck involved. Take a little piece of the pie and go hide under the fuckin’ table somewhere and don’t share none, not even a fuckin’ crumb. You know why?
“’Cause that’s the only way you get to keep it. You take it and run Donny. Ain’t nobody lookin’ down that’s gonna even things up for you and yours when you get fucked over. Who’s that fuckin’ guy, with the hair and marijuana and shit? The one the niggers are always listening to. Bob the fuck. Do what he said: ‘If you know what life is worth – you will look for yours on earth.’
“Those motherfuckers in the White House, all that Skull and Bones shit, they fuckin’ sold our souls already. And they’ve fuckin’ stalled on the foreclosure.”
Donny looked at his Grandpy Joe, he had the best seat in the house; literally. A nice big comfy chair that the sun fell on all day long until it set. He could watch TV or look out the big window onto the park across the street. Sometimes, he’d cross over to buy a coffee and a paper at the shop on the other side when his legs were OK. Sometimes, guys would talk to him about the old days, drink their coffee with him, maybe smoke a cigarette and then help him back across the street; his chair would always be empty still. And no-one had ever changed the TV. What was he still griping about? He’s had it all, all his life. Everything stacked in his favour. Now he acted like he’d had nothing, like he’d missed out. And worse he was talkin’ crazy.
“I knew what I was doing, Donny, back then, I knew I was a bad guy. That was my choice — I didn’t fuckin’ care back then. But I was happy, I was content ‘cause I knew there where good guys too. Good people. Shit was balanced. The world was the way it was and I played my part in the great fuckin’ American fairytale. I was the wolf then. I was cool with that. But I still believed in America Donny. I still fuckin’ believed. The guy I met that night — the things he said — after that I no-longer believed. We can’t all be fuckin’ wise guys; you know why Donny? Because everyone ends up gettin’ whacked in the end. Pretty soon Donny, the whole world is gonna get whacked.”
Donny sat down and sighed. Grandpy Joe was in one of his moods.
“You been drinkin’ coffee all morning Grandpy? I told you, you gotta drink the decaf.”
“Decaf? Fuck that shit. If I asked you for a kick up the arse, would I cut your foot off first?”
Donny hid a smirk and tried to placate him. Though he talked a lot of shit, he still respected his Grandpy. He liked the stories of the old days; Grandpy made the world seem sweeter back then, purer; even for guys like Donny. This particular story however, was a little odd to say the least.
“So what’d this guy tell ya? Huh? What’d he say?”
“I remember he sat there, sunk into his chair, sucked down into it. He smoked constantly, holding the cigarette in his hand like a kid with crayons, scratching the air in the bar with his little glowing crayon; then he’d take a drag and carry on spilling out his shit as if there wasn’t enough time in the world to tell me everything he had to say and he only had them few minutes he was with me to say it.
“What did he say? Grandpy, who was he?
“Who was he? It was him, Donny. It was fuckin’ him!
Once, when he was a kid, Donny remembered his Grandpy telling him about the time he’d met Mickey Mantle. Donny couldn’t remember all that much about it because he had been so young himself. But he remembered how impressed his Grandpy had been. The way his eyes still lit up when he mentioned Mickey years after, the way talkin’ about him seemed to make his Grandpy more alive. The impression he had made left an indelible mark upon his Grandpy; a man he had briefly met and shook hands with somewhere, sometime long ago when the world was sweeter — a man he would never remember but who had never forgotten him, whose life had seemingly been graced by that chance meet as if Mickey Mantle had bestowed him with a magic fuckin’ bat made of silver. The way he spoke now, it was kinda like that, but reversed. Like if Micky Mantle had played for a team that Grandpy didn’t like. Like the Dodgers. Grandpy had changed. Everyone knew who he was, what he was capable of; but the rest of the time he had just been a fun guy who had kept the family together. Something had changed all that a long time ago. Apparently something that had happened to him on Christmas Eve 1972.
Donny sat quietly, Grandpy seemed vague, troubled somehow; as if he was pacing to and fro in his mind, trying to find a way past something that blocked his thoughts and refused to budge. Like a dump-truck parked across three lanes of traffic.
“He asked me if I believed in fate?” Grandpy Joe blurted, his panicky voice struggling into the air like a startled game bird. He reached for a cigarette. Lit it. Drew hard. Relaxed. Somewhat.
“I said I wasn’t sure. Maybe? Maybe not?” Exhaled.
“He said it didn’t matter what I believed, I was about as fated as a sheep. Any other guy had said something like that to me I woulda bust his nose there and then, or worse. Not this guy, when he spoke I believed him. There was something about him, in his voice and eyes. Sometimes you meet guys, famous guys or made guys who the other guys really respect — or maybe the President — whatever. Some guys have a weight about them, an assuredness. A confidence that is more than normal. Well this guy had it and then some. But he didn’t make me fear him, or talk down to me or boast or whatever normal guys do when they’re talking to you. He didn’t even try, Donny, yet I feared him more than any other man I have ever met. His fear became mine.”
Donny was becoming uneasy and also a little confused.
“I don’t understand Grandpy?” Donny struggled to gain a handle on the conversation. He wasn’t the brightest in the family. “Did he have a gun?” he asked feebly.
“No you fuckin’ schmuck!” Grandpy snapped, more like his old self. “It was what he said; how he said it. Like he knew things, things I didn’t want to know. That no guy ever wants to know because they are the truth. That’s what fuckin’ scared me Donny. The truth. And everything that’s happened in this country since that night I see the truth behind it. Behind what the say in the newspapers or on FOX or CNN. It’s there Donny, as plain as day and bold as brass, while we’re munching on pizza and sucking down Budweisers.
“What is Grandpy?” Donny was keen to wrap the visit up. He was going out tonight and had planned on seeing Carla before he showed up to meet the other guys. She always had good blow and she always gave him a great blow. Carla was his sweet little secret and time was ticking when she should be licking.
“You got a girl Donny?” Donny felt his heart sink, Carla’s voice sighed unlucky honey in his ear. The promise of his hard-on for her faded.
“Yeah, sure.” he said resigned and bored. He picked up the remote and started flicking through the channels. Maybe there was a ball game on.
“Sure you do, you probably got a different one each night of the week you little pussy magnet!” Grandpy smacked him round the head, splashing his hair into disarray as he did so.
“Ow!” said Donny, genuinely shocked. He was glad there was no-one else in the TV room with them to see.
“Turn the fuckin’ TV off!” snapped Grandpy. “Listen to me, for once in your fuckin’ life!” Grandpy Joe’s eyes were fire, his mean mouth slashed hard and flat like a knife across his face. Donny knew it would be best to listen.
“Your wasting your fuckin’ life Donny; like the rest of this country. Wasting the best of yourselves on things that don’t mean shit and at the same time your getting fucked in the arse and ya don’t even know it! That guy. He said he knew I knew people. He said he knew I knew people in the old country.” Donny started listening now. The old country meant Italy. That meant serious. Grandpy Joe shook his head at some memory as if he still could not believe it after all these years. Donny could see he was no-longer in his chair next to him, he had drifted back to that night in ‘72, was reliving it, describing it to Donny like a sports commentator from back in time…
Joe couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Was this guy for real?
“You really think I can set that up? You really think that can happen?”
“Oh I know it can.” Something about the way the kid said it unsettled Joe. The kid had been in on things before. He had sat in those circles, Joe could see it. Then Joe asked the one thing he wished he had never asked for the rest of his life. The answer he got was the thing he could not change. It would not go away. Ever.
“I want to ask him to forgive me.” The kids eyes were flat, dead-calm, Joe could see he meant it. He wanted it, fuck — the kid needed it. Joe’s hands shook. He’d lit his first cigarette ever and smoked it before he had even realised what he was doing. Just then Mikey Bordino walked in with two other guys. Joe watched the smile on his fat face vanish like paper in the wind when he saw Joe.
“Joey, what’s wrong? Your white as a fuckin’ sheet man. Did someone die?”
The kid turned and said something to Mikey, quietly, so only Mikey could hear. Mikey left without a second thought. Mikey never left for no-one. Then the kid turned back to Joe, his face changed, his eyes full of pleading again — hollowed out with fear.
“Please!” he whispered. “I want to come back in. I need him to forgive me; but he won’t.”
“This is over my head kid.” said Joe. “Jesus! I can’t set that up. Yeah — there’s maybe people who can speak to…”
The kid eyeballed him.
“The Pope?” said Joe again, hissing under his breath, each time it sounded more absurd. He could still not believe what he was being asked. And just exactly who was asking.
“Even if I can get someone to speak to him, which I’m not saying I can; he’s never going agree to it. He’d never talk to you. Even if he did, do you honestly think he will forgive you? What doing that would mean?”
The kid sank back into his seat again. As if he was expecting it all along.
“There’s worse guys down there than me.” he said, voice straining with deep rooted regret as if invisible hands were slowly choking his voice away. Joe felt his heart go out to him. It was one of the strangest moments of his life; because after that he could never get his head round the world again. It just seemed too fucked up. He could no longer believe in the things he was supposed to.
“Sorry kid, I don’t know about this shit. Hell – you know more about it than I do.” The kid had smiled at that; a smile that had spread over his face like butter on a hot plate. Then, was gone. That haunted look returned. Joe had a vision of a face looking up from the bottom of a dark lonely place of misery with no hope of release. Forgotten and abandoned, the face turned away back into the dark, for comfort. That image stayed with him forever.
“It was worth a try.” said the kid, shrugging as if he’d only been stood-up by a date or something and lit another cigarette. “Maybe I’ll have that drink before I go after all. Doesn’t seem that it’ll change much in the long run, does it? Whether I do or I don’t?” Joe relaxed a little. He needed a drink again too. They talked for a while. About baseball, about rock ‘n’ roll, about cars and women. The kid just seemed like he wanted to hang, glad of the company but Joe was getting tired. Also he wanted to leave and to forget. The kid looked at him and began to speak again.
“There will come a time.” he said. “When things happen in the world, that you cannot understand. Things that twist your gut like a knife, make you think: that’s wrong, that can’t be. And the people who run things in America will tell you: that is how things are now; this is the way of the world. Those things, they are lies Joe. And it is not me that whispers them. It is men, Joe. Men who sit in darkened rooms, in expensive suits, smoking big cigars through wide white smiles. And they laugh Joe, they laugh at America, because you all get fucked by them everyday. I’m old school Joe, like you. Those guys laughing at you, I got no time for those fucks. They are neither side of the coin and yet at the same time — they’re both. They fuckin’ sicken me. And he does nothing about it, until it’s their time. I don’t want to do this anymore Joe. Not any more. Some other mug can take care of that shit.” Joe looked at the kid, suddenly very afraid again. The facade of small talk trailing off into the night like a wisp of smoke from a candle.
“I’m gonna tell you something Joe and it’s not because he won’t forgive me. I can understand why he won’t though, I suppose. Maybe. I just hate hypocrisy Joe. I fuckin’ hate it. America is hypocrisy. America forgot it’s own stripy-starred fuckin’ arse!” He paused, grinding his jaw, chewing words and swallowing them instead of spitting out whatever bitter taste still fouled his mouth. “The game is rigged Joe, I just want to even things up a bit again.” He scratched three numbers in the air with his cigarette, burning them onto the back of Joe’s mind. “Promise me Joe, you’ll tell someone, before you die. After it happens, tell someone, they lied about it. You’ve got to get people to wake up Joe. America will have to wake up…”
Donny shook Grandpy Joe.
“Grandpy, wake-up.” he had fallen asleep telling the story, Donny had been only half listening anyway, half watching the ball game. If he left now he could still make Carla’s. He stood up and left the box of pastries he’d bought with him on the seat where he had been sitting.
“Donny, I got to tell someone what he told me. I’m gonna meet him again soon; the kid is expecting me!”
“Sure Grandpa, it was ‘72. Kid’s probably dead now. You ain’t going nowhere except to bed, when the nurse comes.” Donny had had enough for one day, enough of his Grandpy’s cuckoo bullshit, he just wanted to get to round Carla’s as soon as he could. Now his Grandpy was trying to get up, becoming agitated.
“Listen Donny, it’s important, I’ve been on the internet, I’ve been reading about it. I think it’s true, Donny! What he said, it wasn’t like they said. They made it happen. Or let it.”
“Sure Grandpy, sure. Listen, I gotta go.” Donny tried to push Joe back into his seat, but the old bastard still had some fight, he clearly didn’t want to sit down. “Grandpy you gotta sit, what’s got into you? Sit down Grandpy, I’m going; here — eat your cannoli. I bought ‘em special for you.” The old man strained, his eyes bulging, a flailing arm knocking the box of cakes to the floor where it landed with a damp squidge. One shrivelled hand grasped at his chest — the other clawed deep into the fabric of his chair. Donny shouted for the nurse, trying to hold Grandpy Joe still. He was muttering something, Donny couldn’t be sure of what he said though. It sounded like; ‘No heaven, no heaven.’ Then again it might have been; ‘Nine eleven, nine eleven’.
An hour later than he planned Donny eventually blew his wad down the back of Carla’s throat. She went to the bathroom to clean up. Donny lay back in bed and flicked the TV on. A film with Nicolas Cage in called World Trade Center was on. He used to be one of Grandpy’s favourite actors, he thought sadly. Then Donny realised the film was nearly over. Shit, I missed it.
Somewhere in a darkened room, some old white guys in expensive suits are sitting around smoking big cigars; they smile a little wider these days than they used to, their perfect teeth shine a little whiter. Somewhere in another place, Grandpy Joe waits for the men in suits with the kid he met on Christmas Eve back in 1972; for when it is their time.
Also, someone had lent Grandpy Mickey Mantle’s bat.
~ 4222 ~
The spaces between posts are getting longer, partly because I’m writing more in general, rather than talking about writing and partly because I’m spending more time crafting things of significance than I so far have been.
The above piece is written around an idea that had been kicking around in my head for a while. I’ve used it in a setting I’m not familiar with and in a style I’m not familiar with, as such. I’d really, seriously love any con-crit I can get. This was under-taken with serious intent so please feel to respond in kind. I will say something on it’s themes though. It’s the most provocative piece I’ve yet written, though it’s also purely fiction. The identity of the unnamed character should (hopefully) establish that. So please don’t be offended by the politics or the language. (There’s only a few ‘F’s) I’ve always been a big fan of all things Mob-themed but I have never attempted to write anything based around that.
I’m normally tapping out something involving dark-magic and womanising swordsmen. So, please let me know what you think…