TODD ROBINSON is a three-time Anthony Award nominee and internationally award-winning author of the Boo & Junior series, which he has loving coined as his own genre of "Idiot Noir." Despite the self-imposed descriptive, the most recent novel in the series won the Prix Libra Noux for Best Crime Novel (2017 France), and was selected as one of Ten Best of the Year in both LIRE Magazine (France) and STRAND Magazine (USA). His short stories have won multiple awards as well, and been reprinted in Best American Mystery Stories.
Everybody needs a dumb motherfucker in their lives. Somebody who will do the stupid shit that needs to be done when stupid shit needs to be done.
I have one of those guys. His name is Manny. He's six foot three, two hundred and seventy pounds, and is so dumb, he thinks an innuendo is an Italian suppository.
And he's banging on my front door at 2:45am on a Sunday night in the middle of a fucking pandemic. I was in my living room and woke from the chair I'd passed out in, heart in my throat. You do what I do, when they come to your door at three in the morning, you do your best to remember yesterday's sunrise because knowing it or not, that was the last one you were going to get.
Mozart was playing on the speakers, and my drunk ass had dropped a full tumbler of Pappy Van Winkle onto the left side of the chair. The smoldering last inch of my Gurkha Black Dragon had fallen from between the fingers of my other hand onto the edge of the rug. The tassels on the fringes of the Persian were blackened and smoking already, so I stomped on the embers with my slippers and thought about the bullshit I was going to hear from Sandra about it. Whenever the hell she decided to come back to Long Island, that is. She and the girls had been out on Staten Island with my mother-in-law ever since this COVID shit got real and fucked everyone's life. Even mine.
Because everybody feels bad about the restaurant workers and the Broadway actors and those like them that had their lives suddenly wadded up, stiffed into a cannon and fired into the fucking sun.
Let me tell you something, nobody posts GoFundMe's or sets up charity accounts for bookies.
Which leaves me and mine utterly fucked.
Even if there were alternatives to the old-school way of drop-off tickets and penciled over/unders, they cancelled all the fucking sports, too. What the fuck were people supposed to bet on either way? My way of life and income had been gutted from the roots on up.
My only comfort was that those online sports betting pricks that had cut my business down by eighty percent over the past decade were taking as much of a hit as I was. In the end, what I was left with were the sad sacks, the degenerates, the shitheels who couldn't get a credit card in 2020.
These jokers were also the highest risk demographic to do any kind of money exchange business. For chrissakes, I even had to start taking bets again from Donnie Grosjean, from whom I wouldn't trust to hand me two nickels in exchange for a dime. All of which was why I needed to keep a guy like Manny on my payroll in the first place. Manny eventually got my money from Donnie, and Donnie got a speech impediment from his absolute belief that the Red Sox wouldn't win a second title within a century.
I looked at myself in the mirror. Fifty-one years old, unshaven, stomping out a rug fire in dirty slippers, a seven-hundred-dollar robe, and the underpants I first put on four days ago.
I saw a fucking mess in a three-million-dollar home, who had zero income, and a half-shaved gorilla banging on my front door.
I felt embarrassed at myself and pissed off at my own hubris. It really wasn't any different than Donny Grosjean's. Never in my life did I think that human weakness for gambling could ever fail me. And to be fair, it didn't. It was just that in a matter of days, my whole way of life went the way of the VCR repairman.
Sure, it would come back eventually, but it still bugged me. I was also concerned that the type of dum-dums that bet the Jets every week like Broadway Joe Namath was still behind center would be making up the bottom layer of every Potter's Field from Jersey to Long Island.
I had fourteen days so far without any wife and kids, likely significantly more to come, and my goddamn girlfriend Loretta wouldn't come over because she was paranoid about infection. I tried to explain to my balls what Social Distancing was, but for some reason, they couldn't grasp the concept.
I whipped the door open with all my pent-up … everything, and nearly caught one of Manny's meatloaf-with-knuckles-sized fist to the face as he swung it down in a further attempt to either get my attention or break my door in.
"The FUCK are you hammering at my door at three in the morning for?"
Manny's wide mouth hung open. "I … uh … didn't want to ring the doorbell, Mr. Rossi."
"I didn't want to wake Mrs. Rossi or the girls."
"What?" I said again, buying myself the time to process the man's reasoning. "No. Why are you here? At my house. At three in the morning, ya fucking potato!"
"Mr. Giandini wants to see you."
Fuck. Three in the morning? Why the hell is the old man seeing anybody right now, much less at three in the morning. Either way, the old man calls, you show. Let me rephrase that … the old man doesn't call. He never calls. The man hadn't used a telephone since 1981. It was one of the reasons that they'd all been able to remain in business before, during and after Rudy Cocksucker Giuliani went RICO crazy on organized crime in New York. No. As much as me and the boys made fun of the old man's ways, it had kept their circle from the inside of a cell on Riker's Island.
Which, if anybody was keeping score, pretty much amounts to a death sentence by the time this virus shit wipes out a large portion of that prison population.
"Do I have time for a shower at least?"
"I think so. He just told me to come get ya."
I went up to my bedroom and took my first shower in days. I didn't realize how much personal stank I'd been able to generate until I took my t-shirt off and exposed my armpits to the air and my nostrils. Woof. Still a little drunk and not fully awake, my mind raced about what the hell was going on. I'd sent a message through the appropriate channels to the old man once fucking hockey had been shut down. NBA and March Madness being shut down was devastating enough, but I was still pulling in some money from the true degenerates. Like alcoholics chugging down a bottle of vanilla extract in an otherwise empty cupboard, these schlubs, who had probably never watched a Rangers game in their lives, would still plunk down a bet just to have something to put money on.
Then they shut down fucking hockey.
And my money flow went from a trickle down to a desert within hours. What didn't stop were the payments up the ladder, or the bills, or having a wife and daughters who couldn't understand that credit cards didn't amount to free money and that circumstances changed. I'm not even going to mention Social Distancing Loretta who ate more fucking lobster than a school of cod.
My message to the Old Man was that the money would be on hiatus for a bit. I didn't expect him to be happy about it, but Christ, he had to grain-of-salt this shit and at least understand.
His other guys were fine. Jon Bass still had the private sanitation running in lower Manhattan. Shit, he was even charging a premium for hazardous working conditions. Nickie D still ran black market cigarettes up from Virginia, and Frank the Stuttering Prick was making a fortune price gouging his guns to the paranoid one-percenters who were increasingly living in fear that people were going to spend their stimulus checks to build their own guillotines.
Yeah … The only guy getting fisted up to the elbow by the Kung Flu was yours truly.
As it was, I fattened his envelope with money from my own accounts the past couple of weeks if only to give the appearance of a normalcy that I thought would return sooner than it had.
Except it hadn't, and my bank accounts, which had already been on life support since those internet fucksticks took away most of my business, now had the plug pulled from the respirator.
Even as I had the thought, I realized just how appropriate and timely that metaphor was.
As I dried myself, I heard something break at the bottom of the stairs. It was probably something expensive, probably something my wife bought that I was going to answer for whenever the hell she came back. I sighed and put pants on for the first time in a while.
Manny was standing right where I left him, with broken shards of a flower vase at his feet. Not sure how it wound up there, why it was broken, or why he would have felt the urge to touch it in the first place.
"All right, let's go."
I didn't bother asking how the old man brought in Manny to get me. He had a network of runners, messenger boys, mostly the nephews and cousins of the organization who would deliver a handwritten directive one step up a ladder, who would then burn the note, commit it to memory, and so on and so on until it reached its destination.
That might explain the late hour for the meeting. Subways were running a bare bones schedule. Cabs were nearly nonexistent. Some of these kids had bikes or motorized scooters, but the cops would be busting the balls of any kid on a locked-down Manhattan street.
Lord knows, Manny might have gotten lost twice on the way to his house, even though he'd been going there for twenty years.
"You gonna follow me?" Manny asked as he opened the driver's side door to his beat-up Jetta. Looking through the windshield, I could see that half-dozen bags of fast food containers strewn across the seats. Jesus Christ, as if this coronavirus shit wasn't bad enough already, I'd have to worry about contracting tetanus, rabies, and the bubonic plague if I had to sit in that car for more than a five-minute drive.
"Any other way I'm supposed to know where I'm going, ya lummox?"
Manny blinked, the thick ridge of bone and skin atop which his eyebrows sat furrowed in confusion as he no doubt raced his brain through the three-page dictionary in his brain for the word "lummox."
"You gonna follow me then?" he asked again.
"Yes. I am going to follow you." Dumbass. I got into my Cadillac and drove into the street behind Manny. I'd been watching television, on social media and shit, and seen the footage of the empty streets, but nothing prepared me for the utter quiet of it all, especially as we headed towards downtown Brooklyn and the BQE. Even at that late hour, Brooklyn on a Saturday night was never that bare. I spotted two dog walkers, and one kid racing down the street on his dirt bike. Might have even been one of Giandini's messengers. Shit was just weird. The silence of the city was even weirder. I put on a Miles Davis CD just to cut the void of sound.
As we pulled onto the BQE, I thought about what the hell the meeting could be about. No doubt, if meetings in general were to be had, the Old Man was going to be having them one at a time. I chuckled for no one but me as I realized that social distancing and social distancing alone might be the cause of the lateness. Giandini had a lot of threads in his quilt, and he wanted to talk to all of us, one at a time, it was going to take days to get through all of us. But why not just get me tomorrow? Why was a man in his mid-seventies still holding meetings in the middle of the goddamn night?
All of the questions I had shifted to the back of my mind when I passed by the exit that would have taken me to Loretta's shitty studio apartment, were I so inclined. I was so inclined, and thought about popping by on the way back. Maybe I could convince her to at least give me a surgical glove hand job.
We turned off the BQE just before the exits to Laguardia Airport. The creeps again worked their way through me seeing the airport completely silent, no planes coming in or taking off. Then I remembered what time it was and that even a month ago, the airport would have been quiet in those hours.
It was all getting in my head. I was starting to see an ominous nature about things where there was none. Like Manny would have said, "Paranoia ain't just a river in Egypt."
Then it hit me. I had it. I could turn this shit around.
Gambling was all about numbers. And motherfucker, we had numbers. Number of cases. Number of deaths. In China. In Italy. In New York. You could break it down as much as you needed to, and I had the network of desperate bettors in my Rolodex to pull in some real money again.
I whooped and punched the roof of my car in excitement. I was gonna be right back in the mix, baby. I almost called my Jew numbers guy in Brooklyn right then and there, but remembered the time. It would take one or two days for him to crunch the numbers, line up odds and statistics. We could have the slips going out and the cash coming in inside of two days.
Whatever the Old Man had to bitch about, I could turn around now without humiliating myself, begging and kissing the wrinkled old fuck's rings or ass for more time or understanding. Two things, ironically, that we were not known for.
Manny pulled his stuttering shitbox into the Queen's Motor Inn parking lot, a sucker bet of a motel if there ever was one. It was the kind of place where only the dumbest and cheapest of tourists booked into when they saw it had the lowest nightly rate in all the Five Boroughs. Continental breakfast was free, and so was the hepatitis.
The parking lot was completely empty and not a light was on in any window. No tourists were choosing America's Coronavirus Hot Spot for their family vacation that week. Truth be told, it made perfect sense for the old man to be holding meetings there. Might as well have been in Antarctica, for all the people around.
Manny led me up the single flight of stairs to the second level, his heavy footfalls thumping through the dirty halls. There wasn't even the normally ever-present white noise from the all-night drivers on the expressway to cover his hooves.
He stopped when we got to room 213, opened the door, and stepped in, turning on the lights.
I had half a second to wonder why the Old Man was waiting in a dark room. The other half of that second was used up when my nose was suddenly flooded with the smell of blood and shit.
The Old Man wasn't there. Something I probably should have realized when I didn't see another car in the parking lot, were I not so enthralled with my own goddamn genius.
I realized right fucking quick that he wasn't going to be coming by, either.
There was a girl on the bed.
A girl I recognized as the daughter of the Capo in the West Village.
Tied to the bedposts lay the corpse of the daughter of one Jonathan Bass.
Jonathan to his friends.
"Butcher" Bass to those who weren't.
"What the fuck?" was all I got out as I turned to Manny, who was weeping like a child.
He wiped a sleeve across the snot that was running down his face. "I think I fucked up, Mr. Rossi."
I was utterly gobsmacked, my mouth hanging open. He … THINKS … he fucked up? Although none of us ever talked about it, we all knew about Carrie Bass. "Butcher's" daughter was a hellraiser. Delighted in pissing off the dad who she knew would never hurt her, but sure as hell would enter some pain into the lives of anyone who fucked with … or just fucked his daughter.
And Carrie Bass liked to fuck. Mostly people she shouldn't have been. Because where's the fun in fucking the people you're supposed to?
That said, I had personal suspicions about at least three lower Manhattan cold cases that could lead directly back to that girl's pink panties … which just so happened to be wrapped too tightly around her neck as she lay cooling on the filthy mattress in a Queens motel room.
"I wuz just doing the things she told me she wanted," Manny blubbered.
I'm sure she did. But what I'm sure she didn't realize or want was to be erotically asphyxiated by a man who possessed the strength of a gorilla, but with half the cognitive skills.
Put everything else into perspective, really. I thought I was deep in the shit five minutes ago? What the hell was I supposed to do with this? Manny was the guy who was on the payroll specifically to handle shit like this, not cause it.
"I'm sorry, Boss."
I didn't even have the time to realize that he was now apologizing for something other than making a corpse out of the only daughter of a man who was going to make a duvet out of his skin, while keeping him alive long enough to examine the fine stitching. Five sausage fingers closed around the back of my neck, the other hand bringing a gun towards my temple.
The gun that was in the drawer underneath the vase. The vase that Manny broke. And now I knew the how of it. I really fucking hated that I also knew the why.
I had three quick thoughts before the bullet went into my temple at point-blank range and turned my brains into paella.
Three: I probably shouldn't have grabbed his wrist. I was going to get powder on my skin, that was only going to reinforce the appearance of suicide.
Two: At least that fucking virus wasn't going to get me.
One: Manny maybe wasn't as stupid as I thought he was.
What were the odds on that?
Copyright © 2020 Todd Robinson.