I don’t like to talk about myself, and I don’t like small talk. Guess that makes me the odd man out in LA.
The scene before me spread out like the opening of a movie. Interior establishing shot. A party. Extras hovering around, moving lips without anything coming out. Even with a bunch of people all grouped together, the place felt sparse. Ten thousand square feet and twenty-five-foot ceilings will have that effect.
What was I doing here, in a penthouse loft on Spring Street?
Dance music from the 80s pushed out of a 90s plastic boom box, the kind that looked like the front end of a car. No one was dancing.
I’m driving over the Francis R. Buono Memorial Bridge for the nine hundredth time (figuring once a week, four times a month, times twelve months, times eighteen years). The bridge connects the Queens mainland to Rikers Island, which is floating in the East River and a mere hundred yards off the runways of LaGuardia Airport. Rikers Island is the main New York City jail, housing 12,000 or more inmates at any given time, depending on how tough on crime the NYPD chooses to be. Rikers Island is America’s largest penal colony, a city of rolling razor wire far as the eye can see. I’m en route there because I’m a lawyer assigned by the Criminal Courts to defend a fellow who claims to be “indigent” (no dough to hire a lawyer), so he gets me, whom the inmates call “an 18-B” (short for the section of the County Law), as distinguished from “a real, paid lawyer,” whom they’d hire if they could. I pay no mind; I’ve heard it all before . . .
Matty stared out the front window of the Emerald Club, muttering curses into his coffee. On the corner opposite the bar, the Africans huddled, laughter spilling out in front of them in long, frigid plumes.
Only three this morning. The little guy was missing. Sleeping in maybe.
A low rumbling startled him. Declan had left his cell phone on the bar when he went upstairs and the goddam thing was vibrating every few minutes, skittering across the bar like a deranged metallic cricket. He glared at the phone, which soon fell silent.
One of greatest tests of self-control is the ability to keep your eyes closed even after you wake up. When I came to I knew he was watching and listening to me, checking to see if I had awoken yet. The gag taped in my mouth forced me to breathe through my nose, which I did steadily. When he started making little sounds, I peeked out: My abductor, a geeky kid in his late teens, was wearing a poncho, a shower cap, and surgical gloves, prepped for my kill…
The vice principal asked if I wanted a ride home. It had just started to rain so I said okay. I was walking down Plum Street and was just about to disappear into the forest preserve when he pulled up. He was driving a station wagon that looked like it was twenty years old. There was a rusty patch on the passenger side door that looked like a dark red hand…
They were at the Gulfport Shaggy’s, about to celebrate a decent haul on a pot deal with a late-morning bloody and there stood The Treat, looking less Dutch than usual, a little more redneck, talking to some senior stoner with ass-length white hair in a sectioned-off ponytail . . .
You will probably bleed out in the next ten minutes. The totality of every bad decision that brought you here has become a laser, cauterizing the hole in your chest. You can tell that nothing inside you will work properly anymore. You’re just an engine now, pumping fluid through a ruptured hose . . .