Once in a while something had to go your way. It couldn’t be all shit all the time. I mean it could but for once we caught a break. We had found our opening. When you’re presented with a chance, a small window to take action, should you take it? Of course, you should. You’re not always warranted enough time to consider things that deserve real time and thought. Game time decisions are made with in instinct and from the gut.
Queens was far too small of a place to stay hidden, our paths would intersect eventually, and the Galaxy was a place where most secrets are not well kept. With patience and dumb luck we would stumble upon our mortal enemy and learn where to exact our vengeance.
Viggo brought a pint up to his mouth. After his tour ended at the firehouse he went to a bar with one of his coworkers. Viggo’s father was a good man who stayed on top of Viggo to keep him on the right path. Viggo would be out all night, fucking or fighting, drunk or sober, it didn’t matter he maintained a weird level of responsibility and never missed a day of school or work. As long as his grades never dropped below a B, and had no issues with any jobs then there would not be any conflict with his father. He gave Viggo direction, something that most of us lacked, though you only had yourself to blame for any mistakes or shortcomings. Any time we got advice we didn’t listen anyway, so whose fault is it really, but your own. Viggo was advised to excel in school, to take all the civil service exams, he checked The Chief every other week, he put in the work. The objective was to secure a city job. Viggo’s father stressed the importance of financial stability, pensions and 401Ks, and health insurance. Bennies. The Fire Department seemed like the best option and he aced the exam, the written and the physical, it also allotted Viggo plenty of time to pursue anything else he might’ve wanted to do. It was a time in New York City where you could still get away with a lot, just by being on the job helped, not that Viggo wasn’t already a slippery motherfucker. He was a hard one to catch, he made it to Central Bookings a fraction of the times that we went. Viggo loved trouble, and at that point in our lives no cop or chlamydia were wrangling that boy in. Just as we thought that we were indestructible, sometimes you get caught out there and the truth is painfully cathartic. We knew that now. One day you wake up and it feels like any other day, real regular, only the coffee tastes different, you’ve lost a step, someone is no longer with you and it burned when you pissed. It happens to the best of them. When I said them, I meant us.
Viggo relished his drink in a different shithole, not unlike our own, this particular one happened to be located in Middle Village. Glasnevin, a pub similar to the Memorial Park Bar, a place for blue collar folk, to momentarily wash away the reality that their dreams have died and will never come true. Every dive bar is full of that, they have regulars, the day drinkers, the old timers, the Joker Poker fiends and the degenerates. Where were we on that list? I think we all knew the answer to that. The bar was fairly packed and Viggo knew no one but his coworker. He liked the idea of being a stranger, he enjoyed the anonymity, especially when it came to the prospect of meeting new chicks.
Women were a welcomed distraction. The grieving process was not going well for any of us, Viggo included. Viggo had mistakenly attacked a random patron a week earlier outside a random bar, thinking it was Carlton Ailse. After copious amounts of the drink visibility does not always fare well, but Viggo thought he saw Carlton everywhere, walking in the street, at work, in the grocery store, he thought he saw him because he wanted to see him. Viggo wanted round two, we wanted all the rounds and more.
“You really need to set up your deferred comp. I’m going to cash out another half a mil when I retire in a few years on top of my pension. If you start now you’ll have the same if not more. It’s the smart move.” Chef, a senior man at Viggo’s firehouse, had salt and pepper hair, a mustache and the start of a beer belly. The name on his polo shirt said Imrey, and they either called him by his last name or by Chef, Viggo didn’t even know what his first name was.
“You’re right, I have to set that up.”
“What time is it?”
“I think it’s almost seven.”
“The game is coming on.” Chef called the bartender over to set fresh beers in front of them and to change the channel of the small, old television hanging above the bar to the Met game. The bartender walked to the end to retrieve the remote for the TV, and Viggo focused on one of the kids drinking at the end of the bar. It couldn’t be. There was no way. He convinced himself that he was losing his shit, it was the alcohol, he was only through the first round. Maybe it was fatigue.
“Chef. Chef. Don’t make it obvious but do you know that kid in the corner in the yellow and blue button down? Don’t look right at him.”
Chef took the last of his pint and turned his head, making a sound, mmm, acknowledging the culprit. He leaned into Viggo, and spoke quietly. “Yeah, I know him.”
“What’s his name?” Viggo asked.
“What’s up? Everything cool?”
“Yeah, fine. I know him from somewhere is all.” Viggo hadn’t told anyone at work about what happened to Ozzy and he wasn’t going to start telling them personal things about himself just yet.
“The kid’s a bad seed. His dad is an old timer here. The kid is ruining his parent’s lives. He was caught up in some shit and killed a kid recently. Stabbed him to death. Honestly I think the asshole is fucking proud of it. I hear him in here talking. He’s almost bragging about it. Shameful.”
“A damn shame. Excuse me for a second,” said Viggo, getting up from the bar stool, and pushing the chair in. “I have to take a piss.”
“Leave a piss, don’t take it.”
Viggo pointed to Chef, and smiled, before heading toward the restroom. Youth Gone Wild by Skid Row played throughout Glasnevin. Viggo had stopped dead in his tracks, on the left was the door to the bathroom and to his right, two young men sitting on barstools, the furthest one being Carlton Ailse. Viggo turned right. He quickly grabbed Carlton’s friend and threw him, tipping the bar stool over, the unsuspecting friend, guilty by association, dumped his Guinness on himself in an attempt to grab at something to break the fall. Nothing did but before the chair or the pint glass touched the floor Viggo was already hitting Carlton in the face with a barrage of punches. The bartender hopped over the bar and a couple other level headed patrons helped him pull Viggo from Carlton. It appeared random to everyone but we knew the truth. Carlton was our arch nemesis. When Carlton recognized who had hit him, it sunk in deep and he felt fear.
Carlton’ s nose bled as he screamed at Viggo while Chef bear hugged him and walked him out of Glasnevin, “You’re not supposed to be within a hundred yards of me, motherfucker. I could have you locked up, yo. Don’t ever come back here. You don’t want this. You hear me. I’ll kill you too, motherfucker. Don’t push me.” Viggo had caused a scene. Viggo couldn’t help but smile to himself, thinking we got him, we got our opening, we know where he chilled now.
Viggo was escorted out through a heavy looking, solid cedar door with a black thumb lever handle. A short time later a beautiful woman would enter through that very same door. Once in a while a woman who had no business being in a place like Glasnevin walked in, and immediately put everyone under her spell, commanding attention, wanted and unwanted. It was someone’s lucky or unlucky night, depending on that someone.
This woman had shoulder length fiery red hair, and a shape that kept the gaze of the boys fixed on her. Such beauty intimidated most men. She made them doubt themselves, she made them uneasy and clumsy. She was deemed unattainable by most who were caught in her beam. She walked and everyone in the bar watched her walk. She found an unoccupied stool and gracefully sat, planting a dog eared copy of The Outsiders on top of the bar. The mysterious woman in tight blue jeans and a dark grey V neck long sleeve shirt, smiled and ordered a glass of Balvenie, a 12 year old doublewood Scotch. Neat. The book was a gift. The drink was for special occasions.
After a few attempts from some of the more tipsy clientele failed to secure any dialogue. She sat and drank and read and jotted down liner notes in the novel. Carlton and his friends watched from afar and talked about her. Carlton was told he didn’t have the balls to approach her. He was reminded of how poor his game was. His friends laughed him off, knowing him well enough that he didn’t stand a chance. He told them to watch, and made some corny joke about learning from the master. He was never one to be known as a ladies man, or tough but he saw himself differently these days. There was a confidence about him, since returning home from Rikers Island, since he plunged a knife into my best friend. It was cowardice but he perceived his actions to be noble and valiant. Murdering Ozzy had inflated his puny ego. In his mind it had given him some street credibility and that was a feeling he never felt before. He omits certain details when he recounts his version of what went down like the fact that he stabbed Ozzy from behind.
“Hi, my name is Carlton. My friends call me Carl. What’s your name?”
“My name is Diane and my friends call me Diane.”
“What are you drinking, Diane?”
“So I know what to buy you.”
“I can buy my own drinks. Thank you,” said Diane, peeved.
“I didn’t mean anything by it. Of course, you could,” Carlton stammered. “I’d like the pleasure of buying you a drink is all.”
“I like to do things for myself.”
“I respect that. You just moved here?”
“something like that. ”
“What’s wrong? Why are you so hostile? I’m just trying to be friendly. You don’t like to make new friends?”
“Yeah. Friends. So what do you do? Are you like a model or something?”
“A model? That’s a laugh.” She sipped her drink. “Is that an attempt to flatter me? Why couldn’t I be an astrophysicist?”
“I don’t even know what that is?”
“It’s a scientist. One that studies space and the laws of physics and chemistry in regards to the stars and planets, celestial bodies and other goings on in the universe. Some people are intimidated by the vastness of the universe because it makes them feel small, inadequate, useless, but for me it is quite the opposite. I find it reassuring.” She thought about how it takes stars a couple million years to burn out and die. She thought Carlton was rawny.
“You learn something new everyday, no?”
“It’s good to learn new things. You know what I learned today?”
“Do you know what Hitobashira is?”
“Is it a new sushi spot?”
“No, dummy, but it is Japanese. It means Human Pillar and back in the day in Japan, they would sacrifice a human, burying them alive within or near a new structure like a bridge or a castle to appease the gods and to bless the building or whatever. How cool is that?”
“You’re a little off, aren’t you, Diane?” asked Carlton, motioning to the bartender for shots. “I like that.”
“Maybe just a little. What are these?” The bartender placed two shot glasses in front of Diane and Carlton, with golden liquid swirling within the little glasses.
“I prefer Tully but I accept. Thanks.”
Cheers, said Carlton.
“To human pillars. You know it takes the human body between eight and twelve years to decompose.” Diane lifted the shot, without tapping his and brought hers back down to touch the bar before drinking it. “This place is beat. Are you coming home with me?” Carlton’s eyes were wide with her, she saw the way he looked at her, as if she was a meal. A last meal, maybe.
Diane took Carlton by the hand and walked him out of Glasnevin. He didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to his friends. He flashed them his pearlies as they looked on in amazement. He bagged the red head. It was a rush, a high only a few other dodgy activities could compare too. He was overjoyed and kind of in shock about the whole thing. Count your lucky fucking stars, he thought. Carlton wasn’t dwelling on what he had done, he wasn’t concerned about the impending trial, there had been a shift in his life, and everything was going to go his way.
The air outside of the bar was cool, pleasantly hitting, a bit sobering. Carlton loved the feel of her hand on his own.
“I’m parked just a bit up ahead.”
“Alright. Cool.” Carlton was on top of the world, he maintained a good buzz, accompanied by a beautiful woman. This was one for the record books. He felt invincible. Only feelings are not always the truth.
“This is me.” Diane stopped next to a freshly washed 1985 cream colored Ford Econoline van.
“This is what you drive?” Carlton laughed.
“Yeah. That’s my whip.”
“Of course it is.”
Diane opened the side doors on the passenger side of the van, and stopped Carlton, embracing him, her hands clinging to his hips and his wrapped around her waist. She stared into his eyes, and he leaned in for the kiss. As their mouths inched closer, Martin snuck out of the shadows, quickly grabbing Carlton slipping him into his signature move, the choke hold, Martin wrapped his right arm around his neck tightly, sliding his left up to grasp the back of his head, applying hard pressure to cut off the circulation. Carlton had no time to react, he panicked and in a few short moments he was asleep, and wrenched into the back of the Polito’s van. Martin had been practicing this move on us for years. Now it seemed worthwhile all those times he choked us out in his living room.
Viggo borrowed Sonny’s sky blue Caddy, which we sat in patiently waiting across the street for the right time, for Carlton to be in the cross hairs. Raekwon spit street stories all the while we sat in wait. The Caddy pulled up in the street alongside the van, I hopped out, I hugged the red head and held the car door for her. I hoped no one saw anything. I shut the car door, and she rolled down the window.
I said, “Thank you, Saoirse.” I leaned in and kissed her on the cheek.
“You’re welcome, Colm.”
“I’m sorry that you even had to.”
“Colm. It’s family. That boy is a dirty tooth and dirty teeth need pulling. Handle your affairs and we’ll see you in Thurles. Make your way to the Hayes and there will be a pint waiting for you. Now, fuck off. You’re taking too long, love.”
“Bye, Colm,” said Viggo, as the Cadillac took off.
Inside the van we used quarter inch manilla rope to tie his hands behind his back and his legs to his hands. He looked like a living origami nightmare. I employed knots I learned during my apprenticeship and used on site daily. Knots didn’t come easy to me but I put in the effort and the time to learn how to properly tie them. Lives depended on it, and now our freedom relied on the strength of my knots. Manilla rope was strong but doesn’t hold up as long as synthetics, but it would be perfect for our brief intentions.
Carlton smelled like rotten milk. It stuck out in my mind and added to the repulsion I felt for him and the disdain I had for his entire being. I was flooded with emotions that I kept to myself and not one of them was remorse. Martin tossed me a roll of duct tape, which I caught and secured around his mouth and head. Martin started the van and we left for Memorial, inside the cassette deck was a Thin Lizzy mixtape Ozzy had made ages ago. Roisin Dubh played loudly, Philip Lynott sang, “as Shaw, Sean I was born and reared there, where the mountains of Mourne come down to the sea, is such a long, long way to Tipperary.” Tipperary seemed like light years away at that precise moment, but it was the closest I had ever been to it, if we got away with murder I’d find myself back at the beginning. We had one last foul deed to complete. I wanted to drink whiskey out of his skull.
If you’re looking to make time, the Van Wyck is not to be trusted. Saoirse had very little time to play with. Viggo always heavy footed, he did not want her to miss her flight, it was the last one out until the morning, until the flight I’d board. Her carry on bag rested underneath her sneakers. Behind them were two old military issue army green canvas backpacks sitting on the backseat next to a worn Mets comforter. One backpack was empty and ready to be jettisoned if need be. The other held the star of the evening, one of Mr. Polito’s treasured collectibles, a vintage M3 trench knife was tucked away inside it, ready for combat. This was the only M3 I’d ever want in my lifetime. Above the hilt of the knife was an engravement, it read JF. What did that mean? Who was JF? Did it mean a lot to someone at one time? Was it the owner’s initials or a dedication to someone else? The name of a life taken with it? Was JF someone of valor whom you would want to know and shake their hand? I bet it was. There are not many people in this lifetime that you would want to shake their hand or spill blood for. Most people don’t warrant the extension of a hand, they don’t deserve respect, they haven’t earned it, so know when I don’t shake your hand that is what I think about you. You sir, are no JF.
“My American accent was sound.”
“What name did you give him?” asked Viggo, lowering Glaciers Of Ice on the Alpine, in order to hear her answer.
“I said that my name was Diane. Why?” Saoirse removed her fiery red hair, and unfurled long beautiful black hair, tossing the wig onto the side of the highway.
“Just curious. What made you pick Diane?”
“Diane Lane played Cherry Valance in the movie.” Saoirse lifted the copy Colm gave her of The Outsiders to show him. She thought it was something he would have gotten. “Acting the maggot.”
“I’m sorry I never read that and I’m shit with names. That sort of thing is all Colm and Ozzy. Not me.”
“No. No. Not the puppy. Watch,” said Saoirse, the volume increasing as she pointed to the road ahead of the car. There was no time to maneuver the Cadillac, nowhere to swerve, the dog was killed immediately.
A mangy, stray dog, unloved and frightened, made his way frantically onto the Van Wyck. An expressway named after a mayor who left office in 1901. A man who would live much longer than Ozzy and this poor mongrel. The dog, of poor breeding, sought shelter and love but couldn’t bring himself to trust anyone enough to be rescued, only to find his demise by way of a Cadillac in slow moving traffic. I understood the sad existence of the mongrel better than anyone.