“A User’s Guide to Keeping Your Kills Fresh” by Ted Anthony (from Staten Island Noir)
A User’s Guide to Keeping Your Kills Fresh
by Ted Anthony
Fresh Kills, Staten Island (from Staten Island Noir)
New York Newsday
Wednesday, April 11, 2001
3 CORPSES IN L.I. CAR TRUNK
Authorities Unsure How Long Ago Deaths of Men, Woman Occurred
By Silvia D. Bruce, Staff Writer
The bodies of two men and a woman were found yesterday in the trunk of a Chevy Impala in Captree State Park in Suffolk County, and authorities said the deaths may not have been recent. A source said the case may have a connection to Staten Island . . .
* * *
Now and then, there are moments in a man’s life that offer up complete clarity. They’re rare, and rarer still is the ability to recognize them. It is only the truly intelligent, self-aware man who finds himself in a moment of clarity and actually sees it for what it is—and moves forward in a productive way.
Manny Antonio was not that kind of man.
If complete clarity sidled up to Manny in a tube top and fishnets and offered him a freebie, no strings attached, he would bitch-slap it and choose the company of his right hand and some Jergens instead. If complete clarity were an all-you-can-eat buffet of Chinese food, Manny would ask for the menu and order the chicken and broccoli. That’s just Manny.
Or, I should say, that was Manny. Because all of Manoel Antonio’s verbs got turned into the past tense on Staten Island exactly ten years ago today. It was ugly, it was messy, and it was—what are the exact right words here?—fucking hilarious. And it was precisely because Manny didn’t know the moment of clarity when it came rushing toward him like a steroid-addled fullback.
I. MANNY’S PROBLEM
That would be Josephine and Conrad Spencer, late of Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey (what’s with those dashes, anyway?). They weren’t a bad sort, really. Their problem was that they loved to redecorate. Obsessively. Couldn’t stop, in fact. Did up the living room in a South Pacific tiki theme for thirty grand, then redid the den in midcentury modern. Eames chairs and clean lines. That was another forty-five grand.
They borrowed big time from Marine Midland for those two rooms. Then they wanted to remodel some more. I mean, you and I may not like our kitchens to look like a warehouse from the 1930s, but to each his own. They wanted to borrow 50K more, but Marine Midland was wising up to them, and the loan officer told them to talk to the hand. So they looked for other, more . . . creative, shall we say, options.
Long story short, those informal solutions got mad when the repayments weren’t happening on schedule. They turned to their own informal solutions, things got ugly, and the conundrum finally made its way down the food chain to Manny.
Manny Antonio was what Sergeant Joe Friday would have called “a small-time hood turned contract killer,” a Portuguese thug who was a bad seed from the get-go. When he was a kid, at a neighbor’s sixth birthday party, he popped all the balloons with a paring knife and pulled both claws off the birthday boy’s pet crawfish. Blame the parents, if you must—divorced, addled by pills, dogged by anger-management issues before those words were ever invented—but if you ask me, Manny Antonio was born bad.
And even in that, he kind of sucked. I once had a basketball coach who said the wisest words a thirteen-year-old can hear: “If you’re going to do something, be good at it. If you’re going to chase pussy for a living, that’s a choice—but be good at it.” Manny wasn’t even good at being bad. The best you could say about him was that he was very average at being very average.
Which was why he was a forgettable thug, the kind of scrub who gets the job done eventually, without any great panache. He inspired no emotion in anyone whatsoever. Remember Duffy Dyer, that second-string catcher from the early 1970s? What he was to the Mets in those days, Manny Antonio was to the people in the tri-state area who needed some thumping and killing done.
That points us back to Conrad and Josephine. She was the kind of woman who, when you see her berating the Acme cashier about the price of Shedd’s Spread or complaining about the pepperoncini in the endless salad at the Olive Garden, you’re glad she isn’t your next-door neighbor. So when the informal loan outfit starts getting increasingly persistent in recovering its investment, she makes the tactical error, in an unfortunately aggressive phone call, of telling its duly appointed agents to take a hike.
Predictably, the duly appointed agents are not thrilled with this turn of events. They are particularly agitated about the part where Josephine implies that if the pressure does not abate, the involvement of local law enforcement might ensue. Namely the detectives of the Ho-Ho-Kus Police Department. “And don’t think I won’t do it. We have rights!” Josephine Spencer yells over the phone.
So the duly appointed agents, realizing the potential calamities associated with imminent police intervention, decide to schedule a visit to offer more personal customer service.
As you may be aware from the movies, these kinds of duly appointed agents rarely choose to undertake such visits on their own behalves. So they duly appoint their own agent. That is Manny.
I will pause at this point to say that the unfortunate breakage of an $8,500 original Eames Lounge Chair was not intentional on Manny’s part. Though I will say also that Manny has no idea what an Eames Lounge Chair is as he breaks Josephine Spencer’s neck across its armrest. He does, in passing, note the comfort of the vintage piece a few minutes later when he reclines in it briefly while using his boot-clad right foot to kick the supine Conrad Spencer’s Men’s Wearhouse-panted ballsack.
I doubt any other of Charles and Ray Eames’s creations have witnessed such an assortment of unpleasantness—particularly to the soundtrack of a small-time hood humming Alan O’Day’s forgotten 1977 pop anthem “Undercover Angel” while occasionally interrupting himself to growl at his victims, “Fuck you, you fucking fuck.”
But I digress.
With the Spencers appropriately lifeless, Manny sets to getting their bodies into the Impala he has rented the night before, under an assumed name, from the Avis in Weehawken. It is past ten p.m. on a Wednesday night, so he is able to roll them up in two throw rugs (certainly not from the midcentury modern den; that is, of course, hardwood flooring) and, with some exertion, get them into the car without, he thinks, anyone getting a glimpse of his activities. He then sets out for his favorite dumping ground.
That is where the trouble that ended Manny really begins.
II. FRESH KILLS
I knew Manny pretty well. I was there at the beginning, and I was there at the end. I made the effort to get what he was about, even when it was clear there was not much there to be got. So here’s how I think it went from his point of view at this juncture.
Manny crosses the Goethals, which he hasn’t done in a while. He hates the Goethals. He hates all bridges. What if you stall on a bridge? What if you get a flat? You’re a sitting duck, and if there’s a body in the trunk, much less two, you’re totally and completely fucked. Mister State Trooper, please don’t stop me.
What’s more, the Goethals is vertigo-inducing, and Manny has vertigo bad. Don’t even talk to him about crossing the Verrazano or the GW. They’re much longer and higher, and that would just be too much. He’s also claustrophobic, so no Lincoln or Holland. Good thing he never needs to get to Long Island.
Fresh Kills is his go-to dumping ground. It’s huge—things can get lost there with very little effort—and it’s actually hard to get caught disposing of a body as long as you stay near the edges. If you get into the belly, you either get lost or get accosted. So far, unbelievably, neither has ever happened to Manny. At age thirty-seven, he’s dumped about two bodies in Fresh Kills for each year of his life.
It’s not as if he has any other choice. Manny used to go inland for his body-disposal needs, but inland New Jersey was the purview of the Chinese syndicate down in Metuchen. Nobody dared get anywhere near the Meadowlands; that had belonged to the Italians since Eisenhower. And the Pine Barrens has become entirely Eastern European territory; if the Russians don’t cut off your balls for using it for corpse disposal, the Serbs or the Ukranians will. All of them know Manny for trying to litter his hits in their territory. All despise him with that dull, unmotivated disdain that means he can probably stay alive as long as he doesn’t actually get in their way too much.
Those nuances haven’t really mattered much lately, though. Business has been slow for Manny, as it often is for mediocre people who do things mediocrely, particularly contract killing. He hasn’t even been to Staten Island for eighteen months, not since that date with the Vietnamese chick who worked at the nail salon on Richmond Avenue. Like most of his dates, that one hadn’t gone well for Manny. He was hoping the evening would end with her on her back saying, “Fuck me.” Instead, it ended with her on her high horse saying, “Fuck you.”
“Fuck you too,” Manny replied. He hasn’t had a date since.
Manny makes it off the Goethals and eventually exits onto 440 South, careful to put the Impala’s turn signal on at exactly the appropriate points. No sense in getting stopped for a stupid traffic violation.
For the next few minutes, he takes a series of narrow back roads to the edge of the landfill, to an access road that leads to a stone hut, inside of which is Manny’s guy. By that I mean the watchman Manny pays to look the other way while he goes into the landfill to get rid of what he needs to get rid of, no questions asked.
Imagine a landscape brimming to the horizon with garbage. You saw that Pixar movie WALL·E, with the robot scampering around in a future America that has been turned into a giant garbage dump? That’s sort of what it used to look like in big chunks of—well, big chunks of New York City, frankly.
These days it’s difficult to imagine what it used to be like around here. You drive around now and see mostly rolling hills of green with roads gently snaking through them, and they’re turning the whole thing into reclaimed wetlands and a giant park. Hard to believe that the detritus of our parents and grandparents lurks underneath, entombed for generations. Probably until the end of the planet itself. If the aliens ever land, they’ll be able to learn a lot from the Clorox bottles of the Beat Generation, I’m sure.
That night, though, it had been just a few weeks since something game-changing had happened, something Manny—moron that he was—had no idea about. Fifty-three years after Robert Moses created it, the Fresh Kills Landfill had closed for business. Giuliani and Pataki had been on hand that day to watch the last barge, with a huge sign on it that said, LAST BARGE, chug to the dock. All that meant one thing: Manny was about to be royally screwed.
He thinks it’s business as usual, though, as he pulls up and climbs through a hole in the razor-wired fence to get to the door of the hut. It is dark, but that’s not odd. His guy is often asleep at the switch.
“Yo. Rodrigo.” Manny dry heaves a couple times. The humidity is ugly for early April, and the place stinks to high heaven.
“Rodrigo! Manny! Manny Antonio! Got some transacting to do! I need the digger!” Manny bangs on the door of the hut. Silence. Another minute passes. Finally, Manny leans in and shines his pocket Maglite on the window part of the door and sees the sign:
FRESH KILLS LANDFILL
CLOSED PERMANENTLY 3/22/01
CONTACT DEPT OF SANITATION
“Fuck,” Manny says to no one in particular. “Goddamnfuckingshitcocksuckerfuckfuckfuck.” Manny’s command of English, not exactly Wordsworth even on the best of days, falls apart completely when he’s stressed.
Manny pulls a map of Staten Island from his back pocket and is gazing at it with the flashlight in his mouth when he sees a light in the distance. A car approaches. There’s a flashing light. It’s a cop—no, wait. It’s some sanitation patrol truck. It pulls up, sees a human being in its headlights, and screeches to a halt, kicking up the dust of a billion spent Marlboro butts and empty dishwashing liquid bottles and discarded maxipads.
“Sir, can I help you? What are you doing here? You’re not authorized to be here.” The guy is about twenty-three, scarfing fast food and dripping melty drive-thru cheese onto a uniform that, if it weren’t khaki, would look like a mall cop’s. He seems utterly bewildered that Manny is standing in front of him.
“Don’t worry,” Manny says. “Just tying up some loose ends.” He puts on his best I’m-in-control voice.
The rent-a-cop sighs, puts down his Arby’s, and starts to get out of the car. “I’m going to need to see some—”
At that moment Manny does the last rational thing he will do on the final night of his life. With his Maglite still chomped in his teeth like a panatela, he pulls his Kel-Tec P-11 out of his waistband and shoots the guy between the eyes. The report rings out, echoing across the trash-saturated emptiness. Inertia keeps the guy standing up for a second, dead on his feet. Then a dark stain starts to spread around his khaki crotch. His ears twitch and he collapses with a dull thump.
“GodDAMNit!” Manny has no idea what to do.
He stands there for what feels to him like hours but is probably more like five minutes, wondering if rent-a-cop reinforcements are on the way. He searches the body and the car; no sign of a walkie-talkie. Maybe the guy wasn’t in communication with base, or whatever.
So what does he do next, the dumbshit? Well, he says to himself, I gotta get rid of this body, and I might as well get rid of the van too, so—and this is the logic of a lifelong dullard—he sets the van on fire with the rent-a-cop’s body in it. It promptly catches the gas tank and, as Manny hurries off, the whole thing explodes, taking the hut and a pile of garbage with it. A huge plume of smoke and orange flame claws into the air.
Manny floors the Impala, banking off a pile of old kitchen appliances and skidding along the dark dirt road as he tries to regain control of the wheel. Behind him, everything is fire and thick soot.
As he gets back onto the West Shore Expressway a few minutes later, he hears sirens in the distance. He diligently uses his turn signal to get back onto I-278.
Manny is crossing the Goethals for the second time in an hour when he notices that something is caught in the passenger-side windshield wiper of the Impala. He can’t quite see what it is, so he turns on the wipers. The only thing that tells him what he’s looking at is the Dole sticker. It is an old banana peel, decayed beyond recognition.
Nervously, Manny starts singing underneath his breath: “Undercover angel . . . midnight fantasy . . . I’ve never had a dream that made sweet love to me . . .”
In the trunk, the Spencers do not hear him. They are, after all, dead.
Two days pass.
No one hears from Manny.
Multiple police departments are sniffing around.
The disappearance of the Spencers after what looks like a violent struggle has made the Bergen Record. On the radio, 1010 WINS is calling it a possible home invasion by a stranger and telling people in North Jersey to lock their doors.
The rent-a-cop’s murder has made the Advance, the Daily News, the Post, and even the New York Times.
The informal loan outfit is not happy. Which means the duly appointed agents are not happy.
Phone calls are made. Arrangements are set up. Money changes hands.
Another day passes.
IV. THE END, MY ONLY FRIEND
I had always liked Manny despite his shortcomings. But the world has to evolve. Hopey I don’t know about, but we definitely have to be changey. The trouble with Manny was that he couldn’t change. He got stuck in his own rut and created his own feedback loop.
So here’s how it ended, ten years ago today:
Three days have passed. The cops in Ho-Ho-Kus have cordoned off the Spencer home and started an investigation. Neighbors are worried. One reports she saw a guy carrying carpets out to the trunk of some Chevy. A Lumina, she thinks it might have been.
On Staten Island, the rent-a-cop’s murder is being investigated as some kind of mob hit. Turns out the kid, who had the job only because someone’s uncle’s cousin’s brother-in-law got him on the books, was linked to some crime family down in Philly. His name was Pascale. He was studying computer science.
Manny has not called in to the duly appointed agents. The cops find his StarTAC in the parking lot of the Showplace bowling alley, and find it has a lot of calls to numbers that are entirely too close for comfort if you happen to be one of the aforementioned agents.
In fact, Manny is on hour seventy-five of a full-on, tri-state panic attack. He has driven from Staten Island to Watchung, from Totowa to New Haven, trying to figure out what the fuck to do with the bodies in the Impala’s trunk. He considers briefly dumping them in the water in Bridgeport, but the docks are too well patrolled. He even starts heading, via back roads, to Rhode Island, where he thinks he can dump them in the salt marshes on the coast. But, in quick succession:
He overheats his engine heading east on I-95.
He (you’ll love this one) flags down an AAA truck for help.
He manages, somehow, to keep the AAA guys out of the trunk. They fix things and go on their way.
He turns around, heads back toward Jersey, makes it to Secaucus, where he buys a disposable cell phone. Then he thinks: I’ll go back to Staten Island. I’ll just sneak into the landfill from another direction and dump the bodies. Brilliant.
He is panicking. He hasn’t showered in four days, hasn’t eaten in two. He’s surviving on Jolt and NoDoz. The ticking clock is haunting him, floating above him in his mind like it used to in those 1950s noir flicks that starred actors like Edmond O’Brien. He actually thinks he can see the clock in the sky as he crosses the Goethals yet again, cursing the Spencers and the duly appointed agents and Goethals himself, whoever the fuck he was.
Manny approaches Fresh Kills again. It’s about one a.m. on Saturday, and nature, as it will forever do, is reasserting itself. Like the garbage that encircles them for acres upon acres, Josephine and Conrad Spencer are starting to putrefy.
In the driver’s seat, with the air-conditioning on, Manny can’t really smell them. But the moment he gets out of the Impala, the odor that envelops it is almost intolerable. This makes him very paranoid at red lights. What’s worse, the remnants of Josephine’s Dior Poison, freshly applied to the nape of her neck only ninety minutes before Manny cracked it over the Eames armrest, is still a potent ingredient in the olfactory mix. It’s as if hell were slow-roasting a pork shoulder one evening and trying to cover up the scent with some demonic Glade Solid.
Manny has nowhere to go, no place left to turn. So he does what he’s always done in these dead-end situations, where there are no more options: he calls me.
“I’m fucked,” he says. “I need help. This job’s gone way bad.”
He knows I’ll come. I always do. I’m his big brother, after all.
I’m the reason he’s so mediocre, or so he likes to tell me. I’m the educated one, the one who (according to Manny) got spoiled and sent to college or (according to me) did the work that pushed me forward. I’m the one our parents had the foresight to send away to my aunt’s when they started fighting and having the drug problems. They kept him with them in North Jersey as they fell deeper into their slow slide, through the Nixon and Ford administrations and well into Carter. Talk about general malaise.
I was, of course, expecting his call. See, there’s something Manny doesn’t know about the whole situation, and it’s the key bit of information: Yes, I’m going to help him out if at all possible. But I’m also probably going to end up killing him too.
The informal loan outfit, it seems, has given up on the duly appointed agents. One of the “loan officers” is an old crew buddy of mine and knows that I, like my brother, supplement my legit income with occasional freelance dirty work. He knows that the guy his outfit is trying to track down is my brother. He also knows, and I won’t get into why here, that at heart I’m an amoral prick who would do anything for money. He’s mostly right.
“Make your brother disappear,” my crew buddy tells me. “I don’t care how, I don’t care where. I don’t care if he’s dead or living on an estate in the Falkland Islands. Just. Get. Him. Out. Of. Our. Hair.”
For that he offers me $11,000. I accept.
That’s where my head is when I pull up to a remote corner of the Fresh Kills Landfill, not far from the South Mound, at 2:46 a.m. on Saturday, April 7, 2001. I am going to tell my brother that he has to leave the United States of America for the rest of his life, and that I will give him $8,000 with which to do so, and that we will never see each other again. And that if he comes back to this country and I find out about it, I will kill him.
You may notice that $3,000 of my fee is unaccounted for in my plan. Hey, every job has expenses.
I see Manny lurking in the dark, right where he said he’d be when he called from the pay phone on Forest Avenue. I pop in two sticks of Doublemint and get out of my car. I am driving a gray 1983 Chevy Citation, which I got for $700 from some guy named Honest Achmed in Yonkers. It’s the perfect kind of car for this line of work: just old and cheap enough to be ignored, not old enough to be considered classic yet. And easily disposable.
“Thanks for coming.” Manny is wired. His voice is pulled taut.
“No problem. Tell me about the last three days.” Frantically, kinetically, he recounts the saga from his point of view, leaving nothing out. I am amazed that he can still think coherently, but his tale makes sense. And, from what I know from my employers, it’s all true.
I look at him, trying to keep a poker face. “So what are we going to do about this situation?” I am calm, and he sees it. That makes him more tense. He always hated that I knew how to keep my cool when he didn’t.
“Do you think I fucking know? Why the fuck do you think I called you?”
“Don’t Manny me, dickhead. Just help me.” He is trying to be menacing, which he knows doesn’t work with me. He just sounds pathetic.
I lay it out for him. Leave the United States, go somewhere, don’t come back. Or choose what’s behind Door Number 2, which will only end badly.
“Wait. What?” The realization is dawning for my dimbulb brother. “You’re working for the fucks who are coming after me?”
“Yeah, Manny, and if it were anyone else working for those fucks you’d be lying on the ground already with a bullet in your brain.”
“Fuck you. You want a chance to get out of this alive?”
“Lemme get this straight,” Manny says. “They hired you to kill me? You took a job to kill your own brother?”
“It doesn’t have to be this way. Just say yes. Just walk away. This is the moment where you get to change things. You can do anything you want. You just can’t stay here. Don’t be a dumbshit. Just this once, don’t be the dumbshit you’ve always been.”
“No,” he says. “Fuckfuckfuckfuck. They send my own big brother to kill me.” He is flop-sweating, almost crying. I notice that he is wearing a Members Only jacket. I thought those disappeared around the time the first George Bush was elected president.
“Look, Manny. You’re a cocksucker. You’ve always been a cocksucker. I can’t say I love you, but we have a lot of history and a lot of blood. You’re my brother. Let’s at least try—”
That’s when things go south. Something changes. Manny stands up straighter. I know this moment. It’s the one where people realize the end is racing toward them, so they have nothing to lose. This is the about-to-die version of beer muscles.
Manny reaches into his waistband and pulls out his gun. “I’m not going anywhere, motherfucker. But you are.” He aims the Kel-Tec at me. “Later,” he says, and fires.
Fuck, I think to myself. I’m smarter than this. I can’t believe it.
His shot misses. To this day, I have no idea how.
I move quickly, instinctively. I leap at Manny, punch him in the throat even as I bring my steel-toed boot down on his left ankle. The gun bounces away. He goes down instantly, gasping. I marvel at how much his face looks like my own, but without the intelligence. It’s like he’s a clay dummy molded and sculpted and fired in the kiln to resemble me, but without any of the life. I think of when I was nine and he was five and we slept in the woods behind the house one night. I tried to protect him by beating a rabid squirrel dead with a tree branch. He asked me, eyes shining, if we could find another squirrel and do it again.
I head butt him. His eyes, decidedly not shining, loll and sink back into his head. I kick him in the nuts. I hear a sound like a beach ball deflating. He waves his arms, lashing out in semiconsciousness, and connects with my left ear. I go down and see stars, my mouth open against the ground. Stuff goes into it, and I taste the garbage of New Yorkers in my mouth. I spit frantically, crawl to my knees, and go right back at him.
Fuck you, you fucking spoiled brat, I think to myself. I’ve been putting up with this for too damn long. I lean down, head butt him again, and then bite off his right ear. I spit it out in his face. I realize I am crying.
I also realize, through my haze of anger and tears, that the Rubicon has been crossed. There is no going back.
My baby brother is still gurgling when I take a decaying single-serving milk carton off the ground, crumple it up in my hand, and shove it into his mouth. I grab his chin and ram it upward into his skull repeatedly, which has the odd effect of making him look like some Warner Bros. cartoon character chewing a particularly recalcitrant piece of beef jerky. I can hear his jawbone squeaking. Inside his mouth, lit by the moon, I can see the words 2% milkfat.
Manny strains to breathe. I am picturing, in my mind, Joe Pesci’s final scene in Casino, when he is buried alive in the desert. Manny and I watched that movie on video the last time we hung out a few months back.
I spit out my wad of Doublemint, pull it into two pieces, and shove one up each of his nostrils. That does the trick. Airflow is now nonexistent. As he pushes to clear the airway and take in oxygen, his face turns red, then purple. His left eye blows out and goes dim, taking on the look of a built-in eye patch. Arrrrrr, I think to myself, making the pirate noise in my head.
Like I said: fucking hilarious.
I spot the Kel-Tec on the ground a yard or two away. I grab it, anchor my heel, and fire down at him. His head explodes at my feet. Brain on my boots. The shot has knocked the gum out of his nose, and he makes one final, inadvertent exhale.
“You asshole!” I yell, spitting in what’s left of his face. “Couldn’t you have just this once listened to me? Couldn’t you have just fucking said yes?”
No one hears me. I have just killed my brother. I feel . . . nothing. I feel absolutely nothing.
I black out. When I wake up, it is thirty-five minutes later. It is still dark in the landfill. It still smells. My brother is still dead, lying next to me.
I climb to my feet, reach into Manny’s pocket and take out the key to the rental car. I shamble over and open the trunk of Manny’s Impala. Josephine and Conrad Spencer stare up at me with unknowing eyes, supine, the lump of the spare tire under rough felt between them. The smell is almost unbearable.
I lift up Manny’s body, carry it to the trunk, and place it between the two people he killed. I do so gingerly; he is, after all, my brother.
Turns out I was Manny’s moment of clarity, and he chose the hand and the lotion. Offered the grand buffet, he went with the chicken and broccoli. Maybe it was gonna be this way no matter what. Maybe my parents just did him too much damage. Maybe it’s true what they say: garbage in, garbage out.
I, however, am still alive. And I need to get out of the country’s biggest dump and deal with the mess that my brother made and that I have to clean up.
That I can do. I know what Manny does not—that when it comes to dumping bodies, Suffolk County is the new black. In the new millennium, everyone who’s anyone is getting rid of their dead people there.
How could Manny have known? He was too phobic to take the tunnels into Manhattan and Long Island, too stupid to even consider there might be a new frontier beyond the ones he spent his life haunting. The closed-minded fuck couldn’t even consider there might be another way to do things. Just like Dad. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly stop taking the pills. There’s no other way, boy.” Assholes.
I park the Citation where it won’t be seen and wipe the steering wheel and driver’s area free of any prints. I get into the Impala and make my way to Richmond Avenue, then I-278 East and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge beyond. I am careful to use my turn signal and not speed; no sense getting nailed on something stupid at this point in the game. Dawn is starting to break. I love the Verrazano and the chance to see lower Manhattan at dawn. The Twin Towers are always so beautiful just before the sun starts to rise.
I pass through Brooklyn, pass through Queens. I get on the Utopia Parkway and hit the gas on Manny’s rented Impala, humming “Undercover Angel” as I drive east toward Suffolk County. Maybe I’ll stop in and see my big sister in Yaphank while I’m out here. She and I have always been close.
V. ME, HAPPILY EVER AFTER
I can’t believe my brother is dead ten years. Seems like yesterday. I have lots of fond memories when I think of him, ones that predate the day I pocketed the money that finished him off. Family’s like that, though. No matter what, in the end you still feel connected. Nothing feels better than blood on blood.
These days, I run a legit business—data processing for corporations that need to outsource it. It’s pretty good—I have twenty-three employees who call me boss—yet I sometimes miss the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-dirty flavor of my former job. But being a thug for hire is, I suppose, a game for the young.
Funny thing, though: the money I got from getting Manny out of the way started me down this path. After that I got better at killing, more nimble, and I really started to rake in the cash. I innovated. Within months, I was the first in the business to use a GPS to plot the distance between burial sites, the first to use tasers for more efficient and cleaner torture, the first to understand how the Internet can be used to mine data and make contract killing more efficient. Change is everywhere these days, and people who don’t adapt will die. Figuratively speaking.
I got out in 2004 when I met the woman who would become my bride. She has no idea what I used to do for a living. Today we live on Staten Island, on a little hill where you can see the bottom of Manhattan. The Towers are gone from the view, of course, but still—I can’t imagine being anywhere else. It’s right in the middle of things, but it’s remote too. We have two boys, six and two, the same age difference as me and Manny. They’re good kids, but sometimes they fight. I hate when brothers fight.
I do think this park they’re building where the landfill once stood will be cool. I’ll probably even take my kids there. History is history, even when you can’t talk about it. Even when it involves fratricide. I like to think that I did Manny a favor, got him out of an unresolvable situation—and a life—that he simply couldn’t handle. This is rationalization, I know. But that’s what killers do. We rationalize. It allows us to pretend we’re regular members of society. I’ve just managed to do it longer than most.
You could argue that people never change. I would disagree. Because the day I killed Manny changed my life. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. It was a horrible thing that taught me how to improve myself. These days, I almost never feel like a killer anymore. I owe that all to Manny.
Now and then, there are moments in a man’s life that offer up complete clarity. They’re rare, and rarer still is the ability to recognize them. It is only the truly intelligent, self-aware man who finds himself in a moment of clarity and actually sees it for what it is—and moves forward in a productive way.
I am that kind of man. My brother, as I stated earlier, was not.
TED ANTHONY, a longtime journalist, has reported from more than twenty countries and forty-seven US states. He has been a foreign correspondent in China and covered the aftermath of 9/11 in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the early months of the war in Iraq. He is the author of the cultural history Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song.
Posted: May 16, 2013
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