Sleep, in all her lovely pleasantries, introduced herself to me early last night, in the middle of an inquiry at the Fort Night Tavern on Lark Street. I don’t usually find myself to be consumed by narcolepsy, but after all this time, her will was too much to bear. Bad luck for me. Or so I thought.
I awoke in the dead-dark center of night, snow flurries tumbling around me, my body undoubtedly causing a blacked out figure on the sidewalk amidst the white cake of snow. A reverse chalk mark.
I’m not the nostalgic type. Recent nights, I’ve found it better to roam the streets trying to forget everything that’s happened before, and ignore all the things to come. Not last night. As ice cold hands lifted me off the cracked concrete, I could not help but remember that moment as a child when I rode my brother’s sled down Farmer’s Hill, slid out under the thorny brush and out into the middle of Lark street, nearly flattened by an 18-wheeler, and ending up still, nearly paralyzed on my back, similar to my current predicament.
Only this time, three pairs of eyes glared down at me, blood in their irises.
“Still wanna ask your questions?” Their leader sneered. He was known as Muscle. Scratchy chin and a forehead broken by worry lines. When you’re that big and sneering like a rabid hyena, what have you got to be worried about?
“Depends. You got any answers?”
“Wiseguy.” He lifted me up by the collar, breathed his nicotine up my nostrils. A true Tough Guy, like back in the day. I’d seen him before, when I used to run the stoops of Lark Street for Mookie and Stills, slinging brew to minors and smokes to the pimps, in exchange for the hard stuff. He hadn’t aged a day. Time flies when you’re slugging on the meek.
“Beat it, back over the Hudson. ‘less you wanna take a swim.” He boomed with laughter, his boys laughing with him. He placed me gently on the ground, even had the nerve to brush the dirt off my jacket, a classic leather trench. Bogart meets high-society. Thanks to mom for her last Christmas gift.
“Swimmin’ is the only way I get home. Do you know how to swim, Blockhead?” I took a powder, hightailed my body between all three of ’em. Wasn’t until I reached Bomber’s Cafe, six blocks down, one to the left, that I stopped to check the wallet I snatched out of Muscle’s back pocket. Taxi cash for me, and a little credit for the week.
Plus, the information I needed, in the form of a hotel key to the Holiday Inn, room 201.
Four in the morning, by the hands of my watch. Still two hours to dawn, enough time to be in and out before Mookie would have a chance to open his eyes after last night’s drinking. One thing I remember, one thing I’m willing to wax nostalgic over, is Mookie’s habit of late nights, seven nights a week. When you spend the latter half of your life in prison, you have a lot of time to think, to remember — and to forget. Forever. Focus, concentrate on the necessaries.
For me, Mookie has always been a necessary. Then, and now. Since the day he escaped the wide reach of the law, scampered off at the first siren, I knew I’d hung my coat on the wrong hook. He scurried out of Albany faster than a prostitute hops from John to John.
Left me for the pigs, Mookie did. And I took the fall. I named no one, I claimed to be working on my own. Not once did he plunk down a cool fifty, not even a deuce for the guards to treat me nice. He sat in the back of the courtroom during my trial, as the judge read off the names of three people still being treated in the ICU for assaults I was alleged to have committed. Not once did Mookie bat an eye — except to look away when I glanced in his direction.
And my first week in prison, my wife comes in, tears in her eyes: Niagara Falls with mascara. She’s pregnant, she says. Our little boy’s gonna have a sister — or brother — to pal around with and pick on. But I can’t be there to watch it, because of these bars. And because that kid is not mine. Neither of them are.
So much for waxing nostalgic.
I found myself standing at the doorway to room 201 at the Holiday Inn, sweat cooling the back of my neck like the soft hand of a lover after an insatiable night. Dawn creeped its’ way through the curtains on the window, and I could hear the rustling of the morning maid as she rolled her cart out of the closet. My mind raced with the thought of what I would do to Mookie, what I would say. I pulled my .9 millimeter from my belt.
No words were needed.
I’m in a cab, now. Muscle’s last bills in the sweaty palm of my driver, whose look of terror fled when his eyes saw green instead of red as I climbed into his car. I’m shooting up to Canada, spend a few weeks in the snow, maybe lay on the sidewalks of Montreal and let my body shape the cake around me.
Fifteen years, two months, and two days since my last decent night’s sleep. Looks like it’s gonna be a while ’til I get another.
I’ve only just woken up.