Bulls, Bears & Benjamins
by Dwight Geddes
"You want some of this man?"
I turned and waved my left hand to Quincy, who was holding out a blunt.
"Nah, man. I gotta go to work soon and I gotta be straight."
"Straight? Yo man, this ain't nuthin but some weed, kid! What, you can't handle your smoke no more?"
"Yeah, right, nigga! I know you lace your shit with some dust! What, you trying' to make me go in there buzzed so them people can fire me? Nah, man, I'm straight."
Quincy grinned at me, took a puff and exhaled, looking at me through the smoke. We were sitting in Quincy's car outside of my building. The car, a brand new Honda Accord, was parked near the intersection of South Road and Edgar Avenue. Quincy had bought the Accord a few weeks ago and he had it hooked it up like a dream. As I sat in the passenger's seat, I looked around the interior and marveled at it. The car had expensive wood paneling and leather everything, individual heating under the front driver and passenger's seat, and more fancy gadgets than that Knight Rider shit on television. There was a CD and tape deck with ten speakers, and Quincy was showing me earlier that when he turned the car off there was a security panel that slid over the stereo system and prevented it from being stolen. Not like anyone could break into it anyway: There were no door handles, it was opened and started by the remote control on his key ring. The darkest tinted windows I had ever seen and shiny chrome rims completed the look. Quincy was proud of his ride, and was always talking about it.
"Yeah, them little crack heads around here ain't never seen shit like this before. They can't mess with my ride."
I was impressed. I had known Quincy since Junior High. Over the past year I had seen Q, as he liked to be called, was living large. Quincy was still smoking on the blunt and looking at me.
"So yo, you gonna kick it with me later or what, man?"
I nodded in response.
"Yeah man, I'll roll with you when I get back from Brooklyn. You want me to page you?"
"Nah, I'll call you later. I gotta go see my man Dean over by Farmers this evening. I'll catch you later, aiight?"
"Cool, just call me when you get back, Q."
We exchanged pounds, and I opened his door and stepped outside. It was early, about 7:30 in the morning, and the public housing project known throughout the city as the 'Forty Projects' was just coming to life. I looked up and down the street as I waited to cross Edgar Avenue. A couple of cars rolled by slowly, seeming to epitomize the attitude of the early morning in dead-end city. Slow, unconcerned, don't-really-give-a-fuck. The sunlight peeked through the few trees and many tall, bleak looking buildings lining the street, giving the illusion of a warm morning when in reality it was about forty-five degrees. As I crossed behind a slow moving bakery truck, I pulled my down jacket closer around my frame and looked back towards Quincy's car. The Honda was truly a thing of beauty; a sleek, silver automobile that seemed to hug the road. As Quincy pulled away from the curb, his car gliding over the asphalt, the stereo system started pumping out the new Puff Daddy remix. I felt the old yearning in my chest as I watched the car. I want one of those. I want get paid like that. And I will too.
I opened the lobby door of my building and walked towards the elevator. The heating vents hissed noisily, and the pungent smells of body odor and stale urine wafted through my nasal passage. A quick look around led to the discovery of a sleeping derelict curled up in a corner by a heating vent, just past the elevator and next to the door leading to the basement laundry room. I knew the old man. His name was Anthony Rowe. At one time he was one of the biggest drug dealers in these parts. I remembered him from when I was a kid, back in like '83, dressing up in flashy red suits and patent leather shoes, jheri-curl juice dripping onto his shoulders. Someone had told me Rowe had gotten busted by the cops, sent upstate to some shit hole prison where they punked him out. By the time Anthony Rowe came back to the Forty Projects he was an old, lifeless addict, craving any drug he could get his hands on to relieve the reality of his existence. I looked at the huddled, sleeping figure and quickly turned away. The elevator arrived just then and I stepped aside to allow a young girl pushing a baby carriage to get off. I kinda remembered her from junior high, Sherice or Sherelle or something like that. I said hello, and she stopped to chitchat, her doe-shaped eyes peeking out from under a baseball cap pulled low over her braids.
"How you doin' Dion?"
She was younger than I was by about two years, which would make her around sixteen or seventeen, but her face had the look I had seen all too often on a lot of the girls in the neighborhood. A mixture of youth, cockiness and growing awareness of her sexuality.
"I'm cool. How you been?"
"Chillin', chillin'. You still goin' out with Tonya?"
I looked at her. Shorty looked pretty good, standing there in her cropped top blouse, tight jeans and leather coat. I couldn't check her out fully under the coat, but I remember seeing her over the summer around the way. Shorty was boomin'. Nice, thick thighs, nice butt, them little breasts that pushed up against her cotton shirt. No bra.
"Naw, me and her just friends, y'know? It ain't like that no more. She supposedly going out with this kid who's some manager or something at Popoye's on Eastern Parkway. I'm doing that single thing right now."
I paused and stared at her. I knew what she wanted to hear; she had been checking me out since last summer. She had even told a friend of hers I know that she thought I was cute. If only I could remember her name!
"What about you?"
"Me? I'm single too. I just don't wanna be bothered with all these little boys around here, y'know? I need a man now. Them trifling brothers around here, they be fronting like they on something positive but they all about getting some, and I ain't no tramp." I remembered her name now. Sherice. The baby she got is Charlie's little girl. Last I heard Charlie was doing a bid up north for manslaughter. Hey, he ain't going to be around for a while...
"So what you doing later? You wanna get together, go see a movie or something?" She made a face, and for a second I thought, Oh shit, she's gonna dis me! But after a couple of seconds she smiled.
"Alright. What time?"
"Uhmm... like, about eight. Eight o'clock. Cool?"
Right at that moment the derelict, Anthony Rowe, shifted and made a loud sound that sounded like a cough. I glanced at him fleetingly and I turned away from the fresh wave of body odor created by his shuffling. I turned back to her as Sherice's baby girl started to cry. She was still smiling.
"Alright, Dion. I'll see you around eight. My apartment is 406."
"406. Cool, cool. I'll see you later then."
I went upstairs, feeling very happy with myself and got ready for work. Let me explain what this work deal is all about. I got this job working for Evan Cohen through my aunt, Joyce DaCosta.
Aunt Joyce worked as a legal secretary at one of those big Manhattan law firms. She was a hard working, Bible toting woman. Upon my release from the Spofford Correctional Facility, where I was an unwitting [and unwilling] guest of the state, Aunt Joyce felt that she had to throw a bone to her younger brother's only child. She spoke to one of the attorneys she worked for and he in turn arranged an interview with a cousin of his who ran an investment company in downtown Brooklyn.
The chain of events and people leading to my job was a curious one, to put it mildly. Aunt Joyce was a religious zealot taken to reading her bible at least six times a day. When she wasn't doing that she was harassing people on the subways with her loud prophecy of imminent fire, death and eternal damnation if every single soul taking the D train did not repent and run willy-nilly to the nearest church. Preferably hers. But this eccentric lady hooked me up with Evan Cohen. Mr. Cohen was a short, plump man; the first person I had ever seen who fit the definition of 'fleshy.' Not quite fat, a little more than chubby. His face was fleshy, his fingers were short and squat and he just kind of.... jiggled.
At our first meeting, I was chaperoned by Aunt Joyce. Evan looked at me curiously, like I was unusual. It was kind of like how I had looked at this albino waterbug I saw when I was visited my grandparents in Fort Lauderdale a few years back. Like me and the albino waterbug, I guess he probably did not see too many convicted felons in the course of his business day. I really couldn't blame him, after all I was a criminal. That wasn't always the case though.
At the time of my being sent to jail two years before, I was completing my senior year at Brooklyn Tech. The entire school knew who I was: the sixteen-year-old whiz kid from the Forty Projects. I was getting the type of attention usually reserved for basketball recruits, stacks of mail with college applications, brochures and the like. Telephone ringing all day with offers to 'fly out and see our facilities.' People who had lectured about but never actually seen what a low income housing project really looked like were knocking on my door, trying to entice me to campuses far away. Pepperdine, Duke, NYU, MIT and Princeton, they all wanted to be the one to enroll Young Master Dion DaCosta, Boy Wonder.
Until the day I went to Uncle Barry's shop for a beef patty. Uncle Barry was the oldest of the DaCosta clan, older than Aunt Joyce was by a year and my father by five. If you looked in the dictionary under 'black sheep' Uncle Barry would be right there in all his glory. Uncle Barry was a tall, slim man with dark deep-set eyes in an angular, handsome face and dreadlocks that reached his waist. He was dark skinned and very charismatic, a real ladies man. Every time I saw him he had a different girlfriend, and he would counsel me often about the wiles and ways of 'big people business.'
This particular day I had stopped by his patty shop on Church Avenue to get some free food. Barry's shop sold Jamaican cooked food, beef and chicken patties, Caribbean newspapers and ganja. Not necessarily in that order.
On this day I was hanging out in the back storeroom with Three-Foot Johnny. Johnny worked for Uncle Barry and normally he was in charge of regulating the sale of the weed. I once overheard Uncle Barry and some of his friends joking about Johnny and the prodigious size of his member, hence the nickname. Since then I have looked at him with awe and reverence. On this day Johnny was busy bagging out a shipment of weed that had recently come in. I was on my second patty and watching this process intently. A blue Reebok travel bag was on the floor next to Johnny's foot, and it was stuffed with some high-grade marijuana from the Cockpit region of Jamaica. Johnny had told me that Uncle Barry was in Family Court haggling with his ex-wife over child support. Half an hour after I had walked in to get some food, NYPD kicked in the front door of the shop and grabbed the young man at the front counter. He surrendered quickly, but not before pushing the alarm buzzer running from the register to the back storeroom. Johnny sprang to his feet, peeped through the small eyehole in the door and threw the travel bag to me.
"Yow, youthman, run with this! Carry it go home and call Uncle Barry. Run it out now, youth! Police de yah!"
Even as he was talking I could hear loud voices, and pounding on the other side of the metal door separating us from the front of the store. My mouth went dry and I started to get very nervous. I grabbed the blue Reebok bag and ran out the back door, my mind in a state of shock. I was a pretty fast runner, but the bag was cumbersome and I got about two and a half blocks before a plainclothes officer grabbed me and threw me on the sidewalk face first. The judge was not very sympathetic to my pleas of innocence and bad timing. I was the nephew of the nefarious Barry DaCosta, a known purveyor of mass quantities of illicit hallucinogens. I was in a known drug location, in the processing area and had been caught trying to escape with over seventeen pounds of marijuana. NYU was out of the plans; the only 'higher learning facility' I would be visiting was one of New York State's Bed n' Board for Black Folk. While in jail I had devoured all of the books and magazines a very repentant Uncle Barry sent to me. By the time of my release I had acquired more knowledge of networks and programming than most college graduates. After all, computers had been my specialty in high school. But no high tech, Silicon Alley business was going to hire me and no college scholarships were open to a convicted drug trafficker. Not even one who had scored 1480 on his SAT's. No escape for me until Aunt Joyce stepped in.
Evan Cohen owned the brokerage firm of Martin, Rogers and Associates. Yeah, I know, his name was not Martin or Rogers, but trust me, it was his baby. He told me that first day of how he had started it from a small, one-desk pony to a multimillion-dollar corporate steed. Evan Cohen was a man who took his father's small fortune and made a bigger fortune. The name was thought up by an ad agency guy who told him it would sell better in Bloomington, Miami and Memphis than Evan Cohen Limited. So Martin, Rogers and Associates was born. Evan was very skeptical of me at first, even after Aunt Joyce had given me a glowing recommendation. So he put me at an empty terminal and told me to run a report on the year to date activity of a particular account. I did it in ten minutes, when his accountants were taking an hour per report.
I was hired on the spot.
In seven months I had moved from help desk technician to supervisor in the margin department, handling what the company employees called the 'Five-O' accounts. Not Five-O as in police, but as in account transactions valued at over $100,000. That's American Dollars, son. I handled orders and sales over the telephones and the Internet, and I had been given free reign to develop a better system for the reps to handle multitask orders. Evan had given me a raise when I moved to my new position; I was now making $35,000 a year. But unbeknownst to Evan, I had developed the program with a little twist designed to augment my own bank account. My deception was so simple it was funny. I would buy the requested shares for a selected few client accounts that I had screened beforehand. If I got an order to buy, say, 1000 shares of Intel stock, I would buy 1,100 shares. The extra 100 shares went to a dummy corporation set up for that purpose. Cash out the stock within the day; transfer the proceeds through another dummy company and two numbered accounts in the Cayman Islands and viola! Advanced embezzlement. I had...earned...close to $750,000 in just under six months, not including interest. Who says a brother can't make it on Wall Street?
I got to work at 9:55am, after taking the J train to downtown Brooklyn as usual. I didn't own a car, and even though I could easily afford one right now, I didn't want to raise any suspicion. I had requested vacation time for the coming week, and I had purchased an air/hotel package to California, and from there I was thinking about maybe traveling the world for a little while. As I walked through the revolving door into the lobby of the office of Martin, Roger and Associates I was feeling very confident in my future.
Everything got very, very, bad the second I sat down at my workstation. There were two interoffice e-mails waiting for me. One was from the night supervisor Duey Newman. Duey wanted to know if I could run a list of people who had accessed the account of one Sal Salaganta within the last month. The second e-mail was from Evan Cohen himself, requesting that I come into his office when I got in. I looked at the time. It was 10:06. The e-mail was sent at 9:50. The notification features of the e-mail system meant that if Evan was sitting at his desk, he would know that I had just opened his e-mail. Knowing the hyperactive nature of Evan Cohen, if I wasn't in his office in five minutes he would be in mine in seven.
I got up from my desk, a sense of trepidation running up and down my body like an electric current. My head felt really light, and my brain was trying to work but everything felt like slow motion. Salaganta's was one of the accounts I had fleeced. I tried to imagine the possible scenarios. Were they onto me already? Could it be possible? Were police officers waiting in Evan's office right now, ready to humiliate me in front of everyone? My mind raced furiously, as I absently chewed on a fingernail. An image of the broken, homeless bum Rowe flashed into my head and I quickly blocked it out. What should I do? Run now and hope I have time to get back home, grab my newly acquired false passport and get out of town? Or should I try to bluff my way through till lunch and then make a run for it? I made up my mind, took a deep breath, and walked down the hall to Evan's office.
I knocked and entered his office, my stomach churning in anxiety. I had a strong suspicion that the jig was up. Evan was sitting there, his 5'8, 300 plus pounds frame overflowing from his leather seat. Across the polished oak desk from him, and close enough to me that I caught a big whiff of Drakkar Noir cologne, was a gentleman I had never seen before but from whom I got really bad vibes. He was a tall, solid looking man with thinning black hair and a deep tan. He rose to his feet as I walked in, and my gaze caught sight of the walnut handle of his shoulder-holstered gun. Evan was saying something to me, but I did not hear him. My attention was riveted to the stranger who was now towering over me as I stood there, his roman nose and hard dark face giving me twice as many tremors as I had before I walked in the room. Evan was still talking.
"...Mr. Salaganta is here because there seems to be some problems with their account. I wanted you to come in because I know if anyone can get to the bottom of this, you can." Dominic's open hand was extended to me and looming near my chest area, as if he were waiting for my pounding heart to leap out of my mouth and land beating in the palm of his hand. A thought flashed through my mind. I never imagined my heart could beat so fast and I still be alive! Slowly I held out my own hand and shook the hand of Mr. Salaganta. I was amazed to lose sight of my wrist and fingers in his massive grip, and I managed to stammer something that sounded like 'pleased to meet you.'
Salaganta's hard eyes in his even harder face stared back at me, and I began to feel the onset of a fresh ulcer popping somewhere in my stomach. I turned my eyes back to Evan, my hand still trapped, my eyes pleading painfully for some type of help.
"Mr. Salaganta, Dion here is our top programmer. I am confident that with him giving it his full attention we will have this wrapped up shortly." He addressed me.
"Dion, Mr. Salaganta and his father don't want the police involved, not if it can be avoided. They are very private people and prefer to handle indiscretions...privately." I still hadn't gotten my hand back, and through the pain going up and down my arm it suddenly clicked in my head. Sal "Double S" Salaganta, the alleged second in command of the Genovese crime family. The man who was reputed to have once publicly dressed down John Gotti in a restaurant because he failed to come over and pay his respects quickly enough. He was a legend, but if I remember correctly he was also close to seventy. So this man-mountain crushing my metacarpals into fine powder must be his son. I attempted to sit and my hand was released.
Reluctantly. I sat in a chair across from Evan and stared at my almost pulped hand. There was still a tingling sensation going up my arm and I tried to mentally shift gears. Confession was out of the question; I had no doubt Dominic would only be too happy to get a workout on me. I was only five-seven and a half, and even though I carried a solid 170 pounds on me, I was giving up about seven inches and close to a hundred pound to Dominic Salaganta. Evan was still talking.
"Do you have any idea on where to start?"
I pretended to be thinking, which I certainly was, and finally I asked.
"How much money is missing from Mr. Salaganta's account?" Dominic supplied the answer readily.
"$157,650.70." He paused, then added. "That's over the last two months." His eyes never left my face, even as I steadfastly refused to make eye contact. I whistled softly. I impressed myself with the extent of my criminology. I wondered if they had checked on the other accounts I had siphoned money from. I recited the names to myself. Goodman, Gentille, Squire, Boyd and Schekman. I had a little over $750,000 sitting in two numbered accounts, and I might not live long enough to see a dime of it.
"Well, ah, First off, the security measures in our program are of such a nature that there's always footprints."
Dominic frowned, his eyes briefly moving from my face to Evan. "Footprints? Whose footprints?"
"It's not actual footprints, Mr. Salaganta it is a term we use for electronic trails; the way to back track through a system and determine who accessed each account, what time and what was done. It would take a couple of days to accurately figure out who got in but..." "I ain't got a couple days. Try to hear what I'm saying. I want this information tomorrow. What I want right now is a list of everyone who has worked on this account in the last two weeks."
My heart was beating so fast I felt they could hear it.
"Well, Mr. Salagan-..." Evan was starting to sweat profusely. I was momentarily entranced by the relentless growth of a stain under his left armpit. He was probably as nervous as I was. He shouldn't be, I was the one who had scammed one of the biggest gangsters in New York out of over $100,000. He could lose an account; I could lose my kneecaps.
"I don't wanna hear excuses, Evan. As a matter of fact, what I do wanna hear is the names of everyone with access to Papa's account. I am assuming only people with special access can get into the account, right? So it should be a short list, right Dion?"
He was staring at me again. "Ah...yeah...yes. Well, actually I guess so, y'know? I mean, if someone from outside knew how to circumvent the system, theoretically, using a remote station they could access the server, and that would be harder to trace."
Dominic Salaganta rolled his eyes and looked at Evan. "Jesus Christ, what is he saying now? That some kid from Okey Doke, Iowa could be behind this? What kind of fucking operation are you running here?" Evan stammered as he responded. The sweat stain was getting bigger and a matching one was now under his right armpit.
"Mr. Salaganta, I assure you we will get to the bottom of this very quickly, and again, I am very sorry for this undue hardship...." Mr. Salaganta shrugged his shoulders, rose to his feet and scowled at me as he prepared to leave. He was truly an intimidating figure.
"Alright, gentlemen, I expect to hear from you within the day. You have my card, Evan, let me know when you have something." Mobsters carry business cards? I smiled to myself at the thought and Dominic caught it. He took a menacing step towards me.
"What are you laughing at? What, You think this if funny? My old man is out a hundred grand and you're laughing?"
I started to feel light in the head and wobbly in the knees and I braced for a hit but he just turned to Evan.
"What a fucking outfit! Jesus, I'm surprised this didn't happen sooner!"
With that he opened the door slamming it so hard behind him that Evan's NASD certificate fell off the wall nearest me. I jumped as it crashed to the bleached oak floor. Evan was looking at me as his fingers began to beat a staccato pattern on the desktop. He was clearly very agitated.
I shook my head.
"Not, yet. This is a complete shock to me, but I'll get working on it right away, sir." I never called him sir, and I guess that's why he gave me the strange look that he did. I said nothing more, I just walked out of his office.
The rest of the day was a blur, like one of those scenes in a movie where everyone is whizzing by and the main character is in super slow motion. At 6:30pm I logged out of my terminal and left the building. I got on a J train headed to Jamaica and tried to think of what I could do to get out of this situation.
I was so deep in thought that I almost missed my stop. I exited the subway and walked the few blocks home. I knew mom wasn't home; she worked nights as an aircraft cleaner at JFK and was rarely home before midnight. It was still light out, and I suddenly remembered my date with Sherice.
I ran into my building in a half-trot, running up the stairs two at a time. I reached my apartment at 7:20pm. I had told Sherice I would meet her at 8. I flicked on the stereo in my room, put in a mix tape and it started blasting a jam from Kurupt and Snoop. I turned on the shower and then remembered I had a nickel bag stashed in my sock drawer.
I rolled a blunt in my bedroom as the shower pattered on without me. I was unwinding a little bit, the music blasting throughout the house. That's probably why I didn't hear the first knock on the door. I was sitting on my bed in my boxers, smoking the blunt, in full lounge effect, when I finally heard it. It was a hard insistent ratatatat, and I felt my heart jump for the second time today.
Silently I crept across the darkened living room to the front door and snuck a quick peek through the eyehole. I almost fainted when I saw who was there. Dominic Salaganta, my own personal demon was standing outside my front door. A hundred thoughts raced through my head in the three or so seconds that I stood frozen at that spot. I had flashbacks; the Italian hoods I had know at Spofford, guys who were hard-core criminals but would speak in hushed tones about people who were connected to any of the five Mafia families in New York. I remembered hearing harrowing accounts of Mafia retaliatory tactics, and shit, I had seen Good Fellas! I felt a sudden urge to pee. Slowly, I backed away from the door, looking around carefully to avoid any chance of bumping into something and being heard. The next sound I heard intensified my fear tenfold. There were keys being inserted into the lock of my front door, and as I watched in horrified fascination, the knob turned slowly.
I sprinted quietly and quickly back into my bedroom, and was slightly relieved to hear the chain-lock snap back and hold the door shut. I stood in the middle of my bedroom, the music still blasting, and looked around frantically. Where the hell could I hide? I ran back into the hallway as I heard Dominic talking loudly, still outside my slightly ajar front door. It took a few seconds after I had run into my mother's room to realize he had been calling my name.
"Hey, Dion! Open the door, buddy, I know you're home. I want to talk to you for a minute." BUDDY? Hell no, I ain't gonna open that door! What am I, stupid? I looked under the bed; too tight a squeeze, and probably the first place he would look. I was beyond frantic at this point. I heard a Crack! from outside and realized it was the front door giving way. I rushed into my mother's walk in closet and quickly pulled the folding door shut behind me.
There were a few moments of eerie, nerve-wracking silence while I waited in the closet, sweat trickling down my neck and forming a rivulet down my spine. I reached out with my right hand for some kind of weapon, and was struck by the absurdity of my thinking. What the hell kind of weapon am I going to find in here? I saw a shadow pass into the room as I peered through the wooden slats in the closet door.
I heard heavy, labored breathing, and it fell into a syncopated rhythm with my own fearful heartbeat. I was alternately wondering why I was cowering like a punk even as I was silently making a multitude of promises to a God I had tried to forget. I watched Dominic get down on his knees and peer under the bed. Briefly I considered rushing past him out the open door and hightailing it to freedom. Even before I could will my immobilized limbs into action he was back on his feet and heading towards the closet. I couldn't see a gun, but I was sure he had one. I watched in horror. The few seconds it took him to cross the room to the closet where I stood frozen, deer-in-headlights like, seemed like a hazy dream sequence. I saw a set of huge, fat fingers grab the edge of the closet door, caught a scent of Drakkar Noir and then the door was pulled open. For the second time that day I was face to face with Dominic Salaganta I saw a smile begin to creep across his face. He began to say something, and that's when I hit him in the face with my mother's shoe.
I couldn't get a full extension on the swing; after all I was in a closet. What I lacked in strength I made up for with adrenaline. I heard a yell, then another, and then what felt like an enormous vice grabbed my neck. I swung again and again, getting lucky the third time as I felt some relief in the pressure around my neck. Almost immediately there was an explosion of pain and little twinkling lights inside my head, followed by another scream. Stupidly I realized through the haze of pain that the screams were mine. Dominic had punched me in the face, and as soon as that thought crystallized in my brain he punched me again. My neck was still in a death grip, my knees could no longer support my weight, and my mouth was full of blood and what I guess were loose teeth. My arms were still flailing wildly as I started to black out. I fell in a thrashing heap to the floor, half in, half out of my mother's closet. With another burst of energy that only someone in utter desperation could summon, I started swinging the shoe that I still clung to as though it were the last life preserver on the Titanic.
I heard a grunt from above me and a huge knee crunched down on my chest. I kept up my feeble assault with the shoe and barefooted kicks even as all the air left my body. I twisted to my knees and felt a forearm encircle my already stretched neck. The smell of sweat and blood and now putrid cologne assailed my nostrils, and I bit down deep and with feeling into Dominic's hairy forearm. I heard a yelp and him calling me a 'fucking asshole' as my teeth sunk deeper still into his flesh. Out of my good eye I got a reflective glimpse of our death struggle in the vanity mirror. I looked like a Jack Russell terrier attacking the postman, standing there in my boxers and hitting this guy twice my size with my mother's pumps. In the mirror I saw Dominic's free hand come around to slug me again. I moved to avoid it while swinging at his face with the shoe. Instead of avoiding the blow I actually turned into it, accelerating the force of his fist into my jaw. I fell hard to the carpet in a heap. I was stunned, I think I may have passed out for a few seconds. My body tensed reflexively in anticipation of being hit again. But it didn't happen. The next thing I recalled was when I rolled to the side and away, trying to scramble to my feet. Dominic Salaganta lay sprawled on his back on my mother's carpet. My mother's red pump was sticking out of his left eye. He wasn't moving, and I just stayed there for a long while staring numbly at his prone body. I realized he was probably dead, and I got to my feet painfully, slowly. The gravity of my present dilemma was fighting for attention in my brain with the ridiculous pain I was feeling.
I had just killed Dominic Salaganta.
I sat down on the edge of my mother's bed, an act that would have gotten me a stern tongue lashing if she had seen me. Considering the body on the floor and the way I looked she might not mind.
'Oh shit.' I managed to mumble through rapidly swelling lips. 'What have I done?' I held my head in my hands, and fresh waves of pain shot through my neck, arms and stabbed down my torso. My mind felt dull. I truly had no clue of what to do next. My tape was still playing outside, and the mix-tape DJ was cutting up something by Busta Rhymes. I squeezed my eyes shut, then opened them quickly, as even that slight action to clear my head produced tremendous pain. After a few more seconds like that I decided on my next course of action. The date was out. I needed to get out of town. Now. I don't know where I could go and be safe, but I knew that I could not stay here. This, That, was Dominic Salaganta. I had killed him. That meant my life expectancy options had narrowed down to either going to go to jail or ending up as fish food. Not to mention the issues my mother was going to have if I didn't move the body. In the middle of my ruminations I heard my telephone ringing. I stared around the room, trying not to move my head or my body. After five or so rings I located it on the floor near the doorway, and shuffled over to it. It was Quincy on the other end, and as I heard his voice the beginnings of a plan started to form in my head.
"Yo, Q, I need you to come over here, man. I'm in some serious shit, man."
"What happened man? What kind a trouble?" My head was throbbing and I struggled to speak coherently.
"Yo, I need to leave town like tonight. Yo, I fucked up big, man"
There was silence on the other end. I began to feel as if I may have made a mistake in saying anything to Quincy. I spoke up again, with much effort and desperation.
"Yo, Quincy? You still there? Talk to me man!"
"What happened, D? Is this some shit that's gonna involve the cops? I don't need Jake all over my ass right now, kid."
"Q, I can't talk on a cell phone, nigga! You gonna help me or not? I'm in trouble here, man!" There was another short silence, then a deep sigh.
"Alright, man, but I hope this ain't no shit to do with your stupid ass uncle, cause that nigga is like a walking wiretap..."
"Yo, where are you?"
"Well, come on up, man!"
The wait for Quincy was one of the most torturous times of my short life. I had moved into the living room, put on some clothes and shut the tape off. Dominic had closed my front door behind him, I guess so that my neighbors wouldn't hear my screams and whimpers of mercy. I paced the living room a few times before sitting down on the sofa. As soon as I did, there was another knock on my front door. I got up as quickly as I could, and opened the front door to the beaming figure of Quincy, decked out in a Yankees cap, a crinkly, bright yellow warm-up suit and brand new Air Jordans.
He looked at my face and grimaced.
"Damn, nigga! Who fucked you up like that?"
I led him wordlessly to my mother's bedroom and pointed to the lifeless body on the carpet. His mouth fell open and he covered his mouth with his hand. "Ohhh shit." He turned and looked at me. I was shaking slightly, and he glanced back at the body then at me and shook his head.
"You did this?"
I nodded. He was still staring at the body, then at me. And then back again.
"He was trying to kill me, yo."
I walked slowly back to the kitchen, poured myself a glass of lemonade from the refrigerator as he stood staring from me to the body.
"Want some?" I rasped. My throat was still throbbing and raw. Quincy shot me a disgusted look and sat down at the kitchen table.
"What! Yo, you just killed some white boy in your apartment and you're offering me something to drink? Is this some bugged out Martha Stewart shit or what?"
I was actually impressed that Quincy knew who Martha Stewart was, but I knew this was not the time to be thinking about that. It had been barely thirty minutes since I had gotten home, and very soon somebody's going to notice Dominic's not home yet. And Dominic was not just some ordinary white boy.
The sudden, jarring sound of the telephone ringing caused both Quincy and I to jump. I stared at it as it rang two more times then I went into my mother's room and picked up the cordless on the fourth ring.
"Hello?" my voice sounded muffled, probably because of my swollen and still bleeding lips. There was silence, then a man's voice responded.
"Dion? Is that you?"
"Yeah, yes. Who is this?"
"It's me Evan Cohen. I'm sorry. Did I disturb you?"
"Nah, ahh...no, Mr. Cohen. Sorry, I'm ...ah, I had a little accident. Why, ah, what can I do for you?"
There was another period of silence, and when he spoke again his tone had changed.
"I guess you had a visit from our friend, then?"
"Huh?" was all I could muster. I was totally confused now.
"Didn't Dominic come to see you?"
I turned around, glanced at the body and gingerly stepped over it towards the door before answering.
"Yes, he did. How, .....How do you know about that?"
Evan laughed. It wasn't a pleasant sound, kind of like a half-wheezing hilarity.
"How do you think he got your address, Dion? Duey Newman was working on the situation from home and he caught on to your little plot...I must tell you, I was furious, and when I told Dominic Salaganta, boy, he wanted a piece of you in the worst way."
I looked at the dead body and kicked him in the side. Evan continued.
"But, y'know, his father didn't want to do that. I mean, if it were my money, I would have.....Anyway, that's beside the point. I guess you criminal types are more similar than you're different."
I ignored the insult, mostly because my mind was still trying to understand what he was saying to me. Something was not adding up.
"What are you talking about, Mr. Cohen?"
There was a very long silence now, and I felt truly, totally confused by the turn this whole day was taking.
When Evan spoke again, his tone was quizzical, and I could picture his cherubic cheeks and fat eyebrows wrinkling. "He didn't tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
"Wait a minute, is he still there, Dion?"
I looked at the body.
"Nah, he's gone."
Evan sounded like I felt. Bewildered.
"His father wanted you to go to work for them. He said your little embezzlement scheme would help them with their money laundering. Basically, he told me I didn't have a choice in the matter. That's really strange that he did not talk to you about it."
Quincy was still sitting on the chair in my kitchen. I was standing in the hallway with my mouth wide open, and at that point I decided Dion DaCosta was going to make a career change. Immediately.
"You know what, Mr. Cohen, I want to thank you for everything, but I really have to go now." He started sputtering something but I cut off the phone and turned to Quincy. I had my fake passport in my sock drawer, and I knew there was no looking back now. I didn't want to leave a dead body in my mother's bedroom, but hey, I didn't want there to be two dead bodies up in here either.
"Yo, Quincy, I need a ride to the airport."
Quincy got up, and I could tell he was going to start asking me a million questions. I cut him off with a wave of an open palm.
"I'll tell you on the way to Kennedy."
We walked slowly out of my building and into the frigid evening. I looked back at the place that had been my home all of my life, and thought about everyone I was leaving behind, probably never to see again. I hated to leave my mother in a jam like that, but sticking around wouldn't help either one of us, and the further I am away from her the better off she would be from here on in.
The bum from earlier this morning was sitting on a bench nearby, and he raised a bottle in our direction as we walked by.
"Alright, fellas. You all look ready to party. Handle your business, black men!" I smiled again, despite my pain, I was feeling strangely happy, giddy again. I nodded towards him and raised a fist.
"Yeah, old man. I'm going to do just that."
"Where you goin' go?" persisted Quincy.
"Someplace, nice, warm and far away from here."
"You need anything, bro? Cash or something?"
I laughed. It sounded weird to me, but hell everything that happened today was weird. "I don't need a thing, man. I already planned for my future, and it starts tonight." I don't think Quincy got it, but he would. Everybody would get it real soon.