Imago: An idealized image of someone, formed in childhood and persisting in later life. From Latin imago (image). Ultimately from the Indo-European root aim- (copy), which also gave us emulate, imitate, image, imagine, and emulous.
Even now I get lost in the thought of it despite the fact that in so many ways I am now far, far removed from that place and that time is gone forever and will never return.
Although it lasted such a short time I can still see their faces, hear their voices and feel the warm air from the summer of 1971 when I was 16 years old. That summer when I learned to wash dishes, deliver hot goods to the Boston mob, fall in love and break a heart. It was also the summer that I lost and then found my father, my best friend over all those years and it was the summer that I stood in a corn field and watched an innocent man get shot to death and the summer that I saved my own life.
I lost my mother to cancer in 1965 and six years later my Dad and I moved from Connecticut to Warwick, Rhode Island, just outside of Providence, in the fall of that year to live with his new wife, a woman named Angelia, a native of Ocean State, that’s what they call Rhode Island, the Ocean State. Anyway, I didn’t like Angelia and she didn’t like me mostly because I was a reminder of a past she couldn’t control and Angelia was a woman who liked to control everything, especially my father.
They signed me up to go to Pilgrim High School that in September and I went of course, but I went reluctantly. I missed my old school and my friends and now that I think about it, I was depressed over everything and maybe because of that went about the business of becoming a screw up, falling in with malcontents, cutting classes and taking off a few days a week to take the train up to Boston and goof around up there.
I had made one friend, and only one at school, a character named Colin Ahern. He tall, thin and lanky, in fact he didn’t have a muscle in his entire body and he was, putting it mildly, different. He was irascible, difficult, fun, quick tempered, opinionated, smart as a fox and dumb as a brick. He was probably some kind of a genius because he was interested in everything and in nothing at all and he had the attention span of a Gnat. As far as I could tell most of the kids at school didn’t like him but he didn’t seem care about that or them or their school.
Looking back now I can clearly see that Colin was a wreck and doomed for failure in this life but I didn’t see that then because I was as lost as he was and I liked what I thought was his sense of rebellion.
As miserable as I was, Rhode Island in the approaching warmer months made life bearable. There was a magnificent coastline with miles of beaches and I Colin and I spent many days wandering its shores and seaside towns.
Life was good for a while and then in May, the school sent a certified letter to the house explaining that I was failing in my grades, regularly absent from classes and was AWOL from campus at least two days a week.
My new stepmother opened the letter, of course, and of course, she made a big deal out of it, of course, because that’s what she did, she made mountains out of molehills. The thing is, she didn’t really care if I went to school or not but still she rode my father for two days over it, pushing him to “take that kid of yours in hand” and finally, if only to shut her up, he did.
He was on my butt from dawn until dust and I didn’t know how to deal with it because it was a side of him I’d never seen that side of him before because we were friends. I know that sounds strange, but we were. We liked each other, we got each other’s sense of humor and in a lot of ways I tried to be like him. Still he rode me hard for the entire month of May and into June. I had to work with him on weekends as a painter’s assistant, laying the drop clothes and mixing the paints and one weekend and because he was on me all the time, we had stopped talking to each other like we used to, you know, general junk about nothing and everything.
One Sunday afternoon, we were sitting in the truck in the Burger King parking lot eating our lunch and I guess to break the silence he said “You see those protestors down there in Washington? Anti-war nuts”
I waited to answer him, I didn’t want to talk about it. I was sick of the war and tried of him acting the way he was towards me.
“It was May Day. It’s traditional to rally on May Day. They do it in Europe”
“May Day is a communist day” he said.
“People are sick of the war”
“I saw on the news the cops locked up 12,000 of those God dam hippie guys. You know how many that is? That’s more than ten thousand”
I didn’t want to hear about it. I was miserable and lonely so I turned to him and said “You turn on me to make her happy and I’m on your son. That’s what a coward does”
It cut him, which was what I wanted I suppose. I don’t know. One way or the other it was a mean, rotten thing to say and I still regret it because I loved the guy, very much.
His eyes widened and he looked away from me and we didn’t speak for the rest of the day and it went on like that for a few more weeks and then all hell broke loose.
In the last week of May, I left the house and walked down to school but it was a magnificent day, I remember that. One of the first days of summer, filled with sun with a slight warm breeze in from the Atlantic and everything was bright and fresh. I met up with Colin in the hallway and we decided the day was t0o beautiful to stay locked up inside so we went to the beach but first we waited around for 11:00 when the package stores opened and bought some beers. In those days anyway, at best, Rhode Island was lax in enforcing liquor laws. Basically, if you looked reasonably close to 21 years old and had a cash, they’d sell you beer.
Bulling school for the beach and the beer were all good ideas. But going home drunk was a stupid idea. Angelia found me staggering across the kitchen on my way to my room and lit into me, poking me in the chest with her long, pink colored fingernails, yelling so close to my face that her spit landed in my eyes. She did that on purpose. I tried to walk around her but she stepped in front of me, over and over again, sticking the point of her nails into me. Finally I took her by the shoulders and moved her out of my way. That’s when she slapped me. I felt warm blood running down my nose and I blew up. I punched the wall behind her, breaking the plaster.
She crumbled to the floor, covered her head with her hands and screamed “He’s trying to kill me”.
My father rushed out of the TV room, saw her floor and assumed I punched her. He rushed up and shoved me backwards and picked a sobbing and whimpering Angelia up from the floor. I remember she grabbed the wall for support and I though “Wow, nice touch” and then she started screaming “He tried to kill me, he’s drunk and I was just trying to help him and he tried to kill me”
“Dad” I said “that’s a lie”
“Look what he did to the wall!” she screamed “He tried to punch me and missed and look, just look at that!”
That day I moved out of my father’s ranch house with its broad lawn and spiral driveway and into Colin mother’s cramped and dilapidated house in a run-down area of Warwick called The Bog Trot. They called it that because it’s where the famine Irish, who mostly came from the poor bog lands of western Ireland, went when they arrived and they only settled there because the entire neighborhood flooded every couple of years and nobody else wanted to live there.
The broader area was called Norwood, a series of working class neighborhoods on the edge of the City of Warwick, Rhode Island’s second largest city. But unlike all those other neighborhoods, the Bog Trot was a neighborhood inside a neighborhood. The place was made up of only six or seven street where everyone, literally, knew everyone else. There was no way not to know everyone else because the neighborhood was like a fortress. The Pawtuxet River bounded us one side and the back streets bordered a wetland where most of the streets stopped in dead ends. Best of all, there was only one entrance into the Bog Trot from Elmwood Avenue, a busy main thoroughfare that goes all the way to Providence. So we were closed off and if an outsider should wander in, everyone knew it. Like I said, the place was like a fortress.
Colin’s family had lived in the Bog Trot since they climbed off the boat from Ireland and he was related to six or seven other families in the neighborhood. He lived in a small, cramped house with his younger sister, Ilene, and his mother, a well-meaning, slightly crazy, heavy set lady named Maggie.
Ilene was about 13 years old, I don’t remember but she was younger than us. She was a freckled face, brown eyed girl who went to a Catholic school up on Elmwood Avenue, was deeply religious and had a crush on me.
Like a lot of other people in the neighborhood, Maggie worked for old New Haven Railroad office in Providence. I never learned who or where Colin’s father was and I sensed it was better not to bring it up. Colin was the Prince in the house and Maggie accepted, without question, everything that said Colin’s including the fact that I was moving in with them.
He really was treated like a prince around that house. Maggie bought him a car, a brand new red Ford Mustang and she paid for his insurance. My father would have bought me an old used car but I would have to have paid him back by painting walls over the summer, hell, he didn’t even pay for my driving lessons.
At best, life at Colin’s house chaotic. Maggie worked the night shift as a telephone operator for the railroad because night paid more so we rarely saw her. Ilene did our laundry and changed the sheets on her bed and Colin and I bought the groceries, cooked and gave her rides everywhere and walking around money when she needed it. The only time they were all together was on Sundays when Maggie would make a baked scrod and we’d sit out on lawn chairs in the driveway, eating the fish sipping Narragansett, the local beer that everyone called ganset’s.
Colin and I shared a small bedroom on the second floor and Maggie and Ilene shared another room across the hall. Our room had a widow that opened on to a porch roof and most nights we would sit out there sipping cold ganset’s and talking about everything, like the places we wanted to go and see, the things we would buy when we were old, everything, we talked and we dreamed and plotted out the summer months ahead.
To me, in those first few weeks, through my youthful and hopeful eyes, Colin was a loyal and generous friend, a pal. I learned that around the neighborhood he had a reputation as a spoiled brat, a Momma’s boy, but that was a part of him I didn’t see, either because I didn’t want to or he was good at keeping that part of him hidden around those he wanted to like him. But overall, people didn’t like Colin. He was too hyper and too smart for most people in the Bog Trot to handle and behind his back they called “The Mental case”.
Over time I learned why. He had serious emotional issues, a lack of control, especially over his temper and almost no sense of moral code and boundaries. He had an almost complete inability to understand that stealing was wrong. The way he looked at was “If you really liked it you shouldn’t have left it where I could steal it” but that mentality extended into his breaking into people’s home to take what he wanted.
I never stole anything in my life, the guilt what have killed me. So I went to work a week after landing at Colin’s house. On the corner where Elmwood Avenue met Wingate there was a restaurant called Alice’s Kitchen. It had been an International House of Pancake’s franchise and it still looked like one, but the owner either lost the franchise or gave up on it and renamed the place after his daughter Alice.
I never met the owner, or Alice either for that matter. Instead the place was left in the capable hands of a manager named Milos, a Greek immigrant, who was about 40 years old then, I suppose. He was a short, muscular guy with a charismatic way about him who had run a series of restaurants in New York before landing on the edge of the Bog Trot.
He was in the galley overlooking the dining room when I walked in so I walked up the service counter where the waitresses placed their order. I had never applied for a job before so I blurted out “I’d like a job if you have one. I’m a hard worker”
Milos nodded gravely and replied “I need an international Vice President of Intergovernmental relations and imports. Do you have any experience on international relations?”
“No sir” I said, disappointed so young and naïve I believed him.
He rubbed his chin thoughtfully and asked “Can you wash a dish?”
“Good because I also need a dishwasher. Are you from the neighborhood?”
“Yes sir, across the street” I pointed to the Bog Trot
Good. You start tomorrow. Be here at 6:00 in the morning. I have all the shift work you can handle. I pay minimum wage for the first three months, $1.65 an hour”
I was ecstatic. I was now a working man, earning my own way at $1.65 an hour, minimum wage, but still I was proud of myself and I took my job very seriously.
Milos liked me and gave me all the extra hours I wanted and since I had nothing else to do, I worked 16 hours a day. You can do that when you’re young, besides, the meals were free and waiting for a meal at Colin’s house could lead to famine.
I didn’t have a car so I walked the block and half to work in the morning and every evening. At the end of Bog Trot, across, the street from Alice’s Kitchen, there was a battered, white cement industrial building that held a plumbing company office on the street level floor that faced Elmwood Avenue and everyone in the neighborhood knew that the plumbing company on the top floor of the building was owned by the Boss of the Providence mob who also owned the building but I never saw anyone come in or go out of the plumbing business and nobody with any sense ever asked why. In those days, Rhode Island was drenched in Mob Guys.
One floor below the main entrance, facing the Bog Trot, there was a two door industrial garage that was filled with cigarette machines and juke boxes in various states of disrepair. I scanned a quick look at the young men who sat out in the front of the garage on ancient lawn chairs. The people in the neighborhood called them the garage crew and they were there, every day, seven days a week. They were supposed to be, according to the scuttlebutt, low level bad guys associated with the mob up in Providence.
From what I could tell they mostly just stood around the driveway. Someone would pull their car up close to the road, open all the car doors and blast music from WPRO, the local rock station, from the car’s radio. They grilled out there, worked on their cars but mostly they’d stand around spitting, swearing, smoking, lying about burglaries they’d never done and women they never knew and staring into passing cars. If a motorist stared back, a hood would wait until the car was out of ear shoot and yell “Yeah? Come on back you scum bag and give me that look!”
It was all about show. They were draped in jewelry and wore pants that were too tight and unlike most young people in those days, you never saw one of them in blue jeans. They spent a lot time scratching and resifting themselves and wondering aloud if “That whore” which they pronounced as ‘who-wa’, so-and-so “gave me the drip”. Inevitably someone else would then counter with “You don’t want the drip”….crabs… and then would go on about the horrors of the dreaded the drip. Of course, the reality was, neither one of them had ever had the drip, it was all macho talk meant to impress.
You had to speak the unspoken language to understand what they were really talking about. What the guy who said he was worried about having the dip really said was “I’m having so much sex I have to worry about a social disease” and the guy who claimed to have lived through the dip was actually replying in one “If you haven’ t had the drip you’re not having as much sex as I am”
One day I was at work and I stepped out back of the kitchen to have a smoke with Milos. We could see the boys at the garage on the other side of the river, lounging in their lawn chairs, smoking cigarettes, sipping beer and listening to music.
“Look at that” I said “Now that’s the life”
“Those guys?” Milos answered “They’re the junior varsity team. Second stringers. Bad guys in waiting. The real bad guys are all up in Providence. They tell the clown at the garage to jump and they ask “High how?
He sighed and waved them off with his hand, turned his back on them and then turned around to gaze at them again “Look at em. You see how they all lounge around like that? Like they don’t have a care in the world?”
“Well don’t buy it. Almost every one of them is in hock up to their ears to a bookie or year behind on their child payments. Bunch of bums.”
Over that summer I saw some of their women, girls who were mostly in their mid-twenties who travelled in packs, all of them wearing tight everything and hair-dos that even I knew were out dated by a decade. They chewed Dentin gum loudly and they all smoked, mostly Kool’s. Marlboros were for the guys including me. Women could smoke Kool’s but not white men because only black guys smoked White men smoked Kools or at least that was the going theory. If a garage guy or anybody else in the Bog Trot smoked Kool’s the question was “So what are you? A Fuck’n queer or a nigger, suck’n on those things?”
Of course, whenever you mix low-IQ hustlers with cheap women, there were moments of great street drama, like the night they beat Texas Beef to a pulp. Texas Beef was one of the girls who travelled in the garage girl’s she-pack and got dubbed Texas Beef because she had a huge rear end and wide hips. She was homely, hefty for such a young woman and she had the strangest color hair I’ve ever seen. I think it was supposed to be blonde, dyed blonde, but something must have gone wrong during the transformation from whatever she had been because the color she got was sort of a yellowish-white with silver tossed in.
One night in June, the boys from the garage and Texas Beef finished off a couple of cases of Gansetts and Texas Beef treated all present to blow job right there in the driveway.
Word of what happened spread across the neighborhood and the next night the girl pack waited outside the garage for Texas Beef to arrive. When she did, happy and all smiles, one of the girls, a girl who was much smaller than Texas Beef, punched her square in the face. Texas Beef stumbled backwards and then another girl came up from behind her and smacked her in the back of the head, hard, really hard and then hit her again with a punch that sent her to the ground face first. Then the other girls piled on, kicking her, spitting on her and pulling her hair.
The boys filed out of the garage and formed a circle around the women and laughed hysterically and let a loud “Ohhhhhh” whenever another solid punch landed on Texas Beef’s already swollen face as she tried to crawl to her feet.
She never offered any resistance, she just had this look on her face of complete and absolute shock. Her mouth, the center of the attack, was bleeding and her strange color hair was sticking to the blood that had run down her face. When she looked over to men for help, they poured beer over her head.
The beating stopped when Texas Beef knelt down in the middle of the road and covered her head with her hands and sobbed. They boys poured more beer over her and peed on her until she eventually picked herself up and got in her car and drove away. I figured she was gone forever, but a week later she was back and it was like nothing had happened.
Across from the garage on Elmwood Avenue there was a field, where a guy named Benny Benito worked. Everyone called him Benny the Booster.
Well, worked…he sold stolen items from the back of his car. That’s what a Booster is, he’s a guy who sells stolen goods, except he doesn’t steal them himself. Thieves sell the stuff to the Booster for pennies on the dollar and Booster resells the stuff for about 75% less than it would cost you in a store.
Benny sold stolen everything out of his trunk car like house paint, ladders, washing machines, TV’s, you name, he sold it. He never sold the same product twice because it’s hard to steal a lot of the same thing twice. People tend to close the barn door after the cow gets out.
Benny was a sight to behold. He was abnormally short and slight, short like a racetrack jockey, that kind of short, with jet black hair combed back and high in a DA and he draped himself in stolen, gaudy jewelry and sometimes he wore black cowboy boots with red rope designs on the sides. The cowboy look is hard to pull off in Rhode Island but to his credit, Benny managed to do it.
Benny had a thing about black people. He hated them and he particularly hated dark skinned Portuguese but I guess it’s safe to say he just had a thing about all dark skinned people in general and I still don’t know why that was. In those days, Rhode Island was about one the whitest places in world. In fact if you really wanted to see a black person you’d have to drive way up in to Providence and I don’t think Benny ever did that. But still, whenever you were around him for more than five minutes Benny would say “Fuck’n niggers though, huh? They’ll steal the stink out of shit those people, they’re fucking animals, what you gonna do, right?”
Aside from his looks and apparel, Benny was shrewd, not smart, but shrewd and I really think that if he had applied his energy and focus to the legitimate world, he would have been a millionaire before he was 30. He never stopped selling, he was always on the hustle and unlike most of the guys in that strange universe of outlaws, and he never drank or got high.
Most of the stuff that Benny sold was pure crap that was hustled off of a train car in Providence by a bunch of Irish guys from around the neighborhood who worked for the railroad. But once in the while Benny would get his hands on something everybody wanted, like hairdryers. When he had good items like that, the whole of Norwood would turn out to buy at least one of whatever it was, cash only.
Not matter what he had for sale, Benny was sure to send over a complimentary box to the boys in the garage because if he didn’t they would rob his cash and his swag and toss him out of the neighborhood. But even the Boys in the garage couldn’t protect him from the Warwick cops who would swoop down on Benny every now and then and impound his items for themselves but let him keep his cash.
After I got to know the garage boys I was there one day when Benny came over to the garage parking lot when the guys were cooking sausage and peppers on the grill. He reached into a bag and started handing out calculators to everyone except me. I didn’t rate.
One guy, Vinny, who was as dumb as a brick, tried to open his calculator, couldn’t and smacked it hard on the side of the grill ‘What the fuck is this, Benny?”
“What, like a sex thing?”
“No, no, it’s a calculator to figure out mathematical numbers and dollars and all that. A Pocket Calculator”
Fits in your pocket?
“Almost….but down in the big fancy stores in Providence, you know how much they’re selling these things for?”
“How in the fuck would I know that? Don’t axe me stupid questions, Benny”
“They sell these things for $395 bucks. I’m offering mine for fifty buck each, minimum order is a hundred. That’s five grand in your pocket.”
“Or I could just bust your fuck’n head and take them all free”
“No, Vinny, I wasn’t say’n that”
The garage boys didn’t know anyone who would want a calculator so they gave them to Colin who took them up to Providence over the weekend and sold them to the summer student at Brown University.
Now that I look back on it, in a lot of ways, those days marked the end of the Providence Mob and the Mafia in general. Down in New York, a shooter working for Crazy Joe Gallo killed Boss Joe Colombo, Meyer Lansky was finally indicted and the Fed’s started moving in on Las Vegas and dope, heroin mostly, was decimating the discipline of all the families. In Rhode Island, a guy named Raymond Patriarca, who had been the boss for decades, was put in prison for murdering a bookie and the Boston fraction of the Mob in New England was running things and they were crazy paranoid because they knew the Justice Department had a rat inside the Providence operation
In early June, just when I moved in with Colin, a ranking Providence hood named LaPorria was in hanging out in the mob social club on Federal Hill when he got into an argument with another, lower level hood called Little Frankie. One thing led to another and Little Frankie took out a pistol and shot LaPorria dead. A week later two shooters from Boston found Little Frankie at an ice cream stand and shot him dead.
A week later an undercover state cop went to the lot where Benny the Booster worked and bought a hot pistol from Benny, a pistol that turned out to be the same gun that was used to kill Little Frankie up in Providence.
Benny didn’t have anything to do with the murder but he did buy the gun from one of the Boston guys who killed Little Frankie. The guy was supposed to trash the weapon afterwards but instead he sold it to Benny for a quick one hundred bucks. And that’s what ended Benny the Booster life, a hundred bucks. Can you imagine that? A life for a lousy hundred bucks.
The next day, it was all over the newspapers, the radio and even TV. There was Benny the Booster, our Benny, a jacket pulled over his head to cover his face from the camera’s with reporters sticking their microphones in his face yelling questions at him. The cops had to let him go. They had the murder weapon but nothing else and even the state cops, who don’t know anything, knew that Benny the Booster didn’t kill Little Frankie.
After a few weeks Benny tried to go back to his lot to sell his stuff but the garage boys told him to beat it and never be seen in the neighborhood again. He was too hot to have around. So he left. I mean, what else could he do? They would have beat him half to death if he defied them, worse maybe, so he left.
Even though they wouldn’t let anyone else commit crimes in the neighborhood, the same rule didn’t apply to them. Across the street from the garage there had been a lot where a contractor from Massachusetts had built a three story apartment house, a triple decker in Rhode Island jargon. Just before the building was completed the garage boys chopped the lock on the building and pulled out all the toilets, sinks, bathtubs, shower stalls, dishwashers and laundry machines. They even took the towel racks. Then they sold the entire lot back to the contractor for a couple of hundred dollars. It wasn’t much money but it was all profit for maybe an hours work.
Then there was the garage boy’s playground, the Diplomat Lounge, the Dip, a bar up on Elmwood Avenue in the middle of the block. It was a small place with a solemn, dark interior that tried for a sense of exclusivity. The chairs were imitation black leather, the floor was dark marble and the walls were polished pine and the lighting was always dim. There was an ancient juke box of polished silver and red plastic glass that played mostly late fifties do wop and soft music balladeers like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
The Dip was run by a guy called The Pharaoh who was from Portugal. They called him Pharaoh because, well, he looked like a Rhode Islanders version of a Pharaoh mostly because he wore a God awful Goatee.
The Pharaoh was swarthy with chiseled facial features and had exaggerated, formalized European manners and always wore a cheap, dark colored, hideously ugly suits with the jacket was always buttoned.
Nothing about him fit into the neighborhood except for the fact that he was crook. Between drinks, his bartenders took numbers, called the Nigger Pool in Rhode Island, sold marijuana by the dime bag and ran a sports book and probably did a hundred other things I didn’t know about it. Anyway, he was a degenerate gambler and the word was that he was into some local loan sharks for a fortune and as a result the mob guys more less ran the place.
The Dip would serve a drink to just about anyone regardless of age if they knew you from around the neighborhood. The rules were simple, you can drink, and you can get drunk but don’t do anything stupid, loud or violent inside the bar, out in the parking lot or around the neighborhood. If you wanted to go a little nuts, you go to somebody else’s neighborhood and do it there. Everyone obeyed the rules because it was good for the neighborhood.
Colin introduced me to the Dip and the Dip introduced me to my fondness for 7&7’s. I was in there one night, in late June, and Colin came in with a guy called Big Sully. I don’t know what Sully real name was, I assume his last name was Sullivan. And he was big, about six foot five or more, muscular, with enormous hands and a ruddy red complexion like mine. He also had strangely peaceful blue eyes that were in contrast to everything else about him which was tense and menacing.
I knew Sully from around but I didn’t know much about him except that a lot of tough guys were afraid of him. They said he was crazy, which, in that neighborhood was really saying something.
He always seemed pissed off about something, I knew that and I knew that the Warwick cops had it out for him although I don’t know why. One story I heard was that he beat the living crap out of a cop who was tried and arrest him. I also heard the cops once had him trapped on a bridge that went over the eight lane highway that went into Providence Sully leaped off road down the fifty feet on the highway, with oncoming cars and all, and made his escape.
Colin had fallen under Sully’s spell earlier that year and by the start of the summer and I was old hat. He was mimicking Sully’s mannerisms and dress, which wasn’t much since Sully dressed badly in worn jeans with an enormous belt buckle and multi-colored button down polyester shirts.
The two of them, Colin and Sully, were working together disappearing cars for the insurance money. It was a simple scam. If someone was behind in their car payments, they would contact Sully who would have Colin steal the car, drive it to Star Street, a black neighborhood in Providence and set it on fire. The car owner would file an insurance claim and they’d split the cash. It was a real money maker because it never failed. The insurance companies always paid. Always.
That night at the Dip, they sat down in the booth with me and Colin muttered some sort of introduction to Sully who nodded at me and asked “You got a car?”
“Yes” I said flatly because I was suspicious of him.
“A car that works?” Sully smirked. It was an insult, a wise ass, wise guy insult.
“Yes” I replied coldly but not too much. I didn’t need a problem with this guy. He already knew that I drove an Oldsmobile Cutlass S Sedan that my father had wrapped around a poll, repaired and gave to me. It had a massive, V-8 engine, a large trunk and could fly like a bat of hell.
“You got a record?”
“A what?” I asked.
“You ever been pinched?”
Sully turned to Colin and nodded his head towards me and Colin took over “We want you to drive up to Boston and get a box and bring it over to some Guineas on Federal Hill.”
Federal Hill was a neighborhood in the center of Providence that was overflowing with Italians and, those days, Mob guys.
“Naw” I said. “I don’t need any trouble Colin”
“I’ll go with you” he answered with a smile “Up and back, boom, we’re there and we’re here”
They needed me because Colin had smashed his car up in some sort of mishaps and until his mother replaced it, and she always replaced it, and there was no way that Sully was going to risk his own car in a job like this, chump change or not.
“There’s a quick Fifty in for you” Colin continued. I found out later that they were being paid four hundred for the run, two hundred each. Still, in those days fifty buck was a pretty good pay for a days work.
“What are we delivering?” I asked.
“Fireworks” Colin answered “The Guineas got some hillbilly’s down south that drive a truck load up to Boston every year on the 4th of July and they need somebody to bring a shitload of the fireworks down from Boston someplace to Federal Hill. Hey, believe me, Paddy Boy, this is one, two, three quick money, trust me on this one. We take a ride, stop for lunch, pick the shit up, drop the shit off, we’re done”
Sully said nothing. His theory was that if I took the job and got stopped by the cops, having said nothing, he was in the free and clear.
“The cops” Colin added “will never stop you, Paddy you look like an altar boy, like one of them priests in training guys”
I took the job. I don’t know why, boredom maybe, peer pressure, who knows, but I took it. But I knew it was a dumb move.
After and half hour long argument over who would drive, Colin and I left for Boston the next morning. Colin insisted on driving and I insisted he wouldn’t drive. For one thing, I’m not sure he even had a license and when he did drive he was like a madman behind the wheel and was absolutely guaranteed to speed up whenever we drove by a cop. I ended the debate by saying “Let’s call Sully and see who he wants to drive”
“Alright, fuck you” he said “and the great white horse you rode in on too”
I’d never been to Boston before that and I still don’t know the name of the neighborhood the directions took us to but it was run down, crowded and filled with triple decker’s, New Englandise for a three story apartment houses.
We parked and knocked on the door of a first floor apartment and short, swarthy man in a dirt stained tee shirt opened the door wide and asked “Yous from down Providence?”
We nodded. He pointed to the driveway that ran alongside the house and walked out with us. The guy was typical working class Boston, he talked fast, didn’t listen and every third word was “Fuck” spoken loudly “This Fuck’n driveways a tight bitch” and so on.
He led us to a garage in back of the house and told us to back our car up to the door. I gave the keys to Colin since I couldn’t reverse drive to save my life. When the car was in place, the guy pulled up the garage door and pointed to about twenty mid-sized boxes and said “That’s your stuff. What’d you got for me?”
Colin reached into pants pocket and made a big show of peeling off twenties and handing them to the guy.
“We square?” he asked
“Yeah, we’re square” the guy said.
The guy didn’t help load the boxes which made me suspicious and when we were finished and about to climb into the car his entire demeanor, I mean everything from his voice to his stance to the look in his eyes changed. He said “All right you guys”
I was jumpy and it wasn’t clear to me that what he meant to say “All right you guys, have a good trip” or “All right you guys, Federal Agent”. I wasn’t going to give him a chance and I turned on him quick, stepped in his face and said “If you’re a cop I’m gonna punch you in the face till you don’t have no more face”
He held his hands in the air and his mouth dropped open. Colin leaped out of passenger’s side of the car and yelled at me “What the fuck is wrong with you? He’s no Fuck’n cop, get in the car and let’s go”
To this day, I swear, the guy was a cop, maybe a rogue cop who was going to flash a badge and take back the fireworks we had just paid him for, I don’t know, but there was something about that guy that wasn’t right. I’m sure of that to this very day.
As for Colin and his trust of anyone that came across as a bad guy, ten years after that incident, he befriended an undercover Massachusetts State Policeman who busted him for selling stolen goods. He made bail and took off for Florida that same day and stayed there for almost twenty years.
We drove to a triple decker in the Federal Hill section in Providence where a young, slick looking Italian guy, older than us, helped us unload the boxes in the back yard where there were already tables set up for display the wares we had just brought. But this house had no driveway and the only way to the back was through a narrow alley way that was cut between two houses, that way they could regulate who came into the back or slow down a raid by the Providence cops in the very highly unlikely event they should raid the place.
When we were finished, the guy peeled off four one hundred dollar bills and handed them to me. Colin tried to take the cash but I pulled it away.
“Fifty bucks, Kev?” I said “You’re pulling down 400 bucks and I get fifty? What the fuck?”
“Yeah” he answered “I get fifty and Sully gets the rest, that’s the way it is”
I didn’t believe him and was going to argue the point but the guy said “Listen, ladies, take your bitch fight someplace else. This is a place of business”
Sully said that he was collected bags of cash from cigarette machines and juke boxes for the guys who worked at the garage basement and that his route stretched from Warwick south to Newport Island, about a hundred stops in all, and he wanted me to take the bottom half of the route, Newport Island and Jamestown.
“You start with that, we’ll see how you do, and we’ll go from there” he said. “It’s more than I can handle right now”
“What’s it pay?” I asked. It was all I really cared about. The fact that it was illegal didn’t faze me mostly because it was collections of the mob and in Rhode Island that bordered pretty close to legal.
“A hundred a day, cash. You work three days” he said with a big smile.
I took the job. In those days, $300 a week was big, big money.
The first week was a little rough because I had to find the dozens and dozens of small, out of the way barroom’s, dinners, and pool halls where the garage boys had installed their machines but after that everything ran like clockwork. I drove up, unlocked the vending machine, pour the change into a brown bag, tied it, tossed it in the truck and moved on. At the end of the route I drove back to the basement, got a plastic container stolen from the post office, took it to my car, open the trunk and tossed in the cloth bags of money and lugged the container back into the basement. Then I told Sully I was done and he handed me a hundred dollar bill. The first he did that I just stared at it because in 1972 the minimum wage was only $1.62 an hour and that was only if you could find a part time job.
That’s what I did all day. Drive from here to there. Gas was 38 cents a gallon then, I mean it doesn’t sound like much now, but you know, a lot of people were making a buck sixty five an hour, so for them 38 cents was a lot. But for me, with the kind of money I was making, it was chump change.
One day Sully wasn’t there and I turned the cash over to Sully’s contact in the garage, a thug named Chicky, a garage regular who was probably a little bit more mobbed up than Sully was. He seemed to be some sort of foreman for the crew. Later, when I asked around I learned that Chicky’s father was Angelo Montana, a big wheel in the mob who came up through the ranks with the man on the Hill. He got put away for thirty years on some deal gone south because he didn’t take a deal to rat out the man on the Hill in Providence.
When I was finished, I looked at him for my money and he said “How much you take for yourself?”
He was scowling at me. The room went silent, everyone looked at me and I panicked and you would have too. Then, I can’t exactly explain why, I got angry and my face, which is ruddy red under the best of circumstances, flushed full red.
I don’t know, I think it was his disrespect that set me off, the tone of his voice or his wrong assumption that I wouldn’t throw him through a wall. It was what he said and it was the way he said it.
“Nothing” I said and I stepped forward into his space and it unnerved him and then it scared him and do you know why I know that? Because that’s how guys in that life see the world. Something is a threat or it isn’t.
He looked around the room for support and then made a big show of a fake laugh that he forced out of himself.
“Look at him!” he roared and was pointing at me “Calm the fuck down, Billy the Kid, we’re just play’n with you”
“I don’t need this shit” I said “I don’t steal”
He stood up from the desk and made a wide gesture with his hands over the bags of money “You don’t steal? What the fuck you think you was doing?”
He meant we were stealing the money from the machines then he reached into the desk and took $200 in two fresh bills out of an envelope and handed it to me. I handed him back a hundred.
“Sully gives us a hundred” I said and left. I was shaking from a combination of rage and fear.
About an hour later Chicky and the guy they called Coglioni, which means big balls, or a man of nerve. They cruised down Wingate Avenue where I was sitting on the front stoop with Colin’s sister, sipping Ganset’s, I had told her what happened at the garage and when Chicky called me over to the car she whispered “Be careful Paddy”
I reluctantly walked over and stood about two feet from the car door since I figured his plan was to either toss open the door and come at me or drag me in through the driver window and smack the hell out of me.
I was wound up tight.
Chicky was smiling and had lost his tough guy accent that I had always suspected was something he put on for the boys in the basement.
“Listen, don’t be a hot head when I talk to you okay? I’m fucking with you, that’s all. You get mad fast, you got a godman Guinea temper”. He laughed when he said it because was intended as a compliment.
Gabbadost’ Irlandese huh? He said to Cazzo who smiled and nodded.
“What?” I asked quickly. I was looking for the offense in every word
“I said your hot headed Irishman” he held his palms up “No offense in that”
He used his hands to indicate every word. My father used to say that you tied the hands of an Italian they wouldn’t be able to speak.
He pointed to the house “You live here?”
“Across the street” I lied. I wasn’t going to let him know where I lived.
“Sully tells me you’re a good kid and he says you and your old man got problems. Listen, I know what that’s like. Same thing happen to me, all right? You okay living there? You eat all right? Because a young guy like you, got eat right, you know”
His voice was smooth, gentle and he was smiling in an understanding way. I felt myself relax and smile against my will. He seemed sincere. “Yeah, thank you” I said “I work over at Alice’s so I eat okay”
He leaned to one side, took out $100 and looked over at Ilene and asked me “That your girl?”
Ilene and I both laughed, embarrassed.
“No” I said with a smile.
He leaned out the car window and said “What’s you name sweetheart?”
“Ilene” I answered.
“Ilene?” he said. He looked her over “You got a guy there Ilene?”
“No” she laughed.
“Well what’s the matter with this guy?” he asked pointing at me.
She blushed and didn’t answer and that caused everyone else to laugh.
“Here” he said handing me the hundred “Take that little girl to dinner, buy her a nice dinner. Girls like that.”
He had charmed me. I shook his hand and said “Thank you mister…” I stopped short of saying Mister Chicky since I was positive that wasn’t his name, although I figured that with the Italian you never know.
“It’s Chicky, you call me Chicky. I’ll see you tomorrow right?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there”
And then he sped off. I turned to Ginger and showed her the $100.
“Holy Gees” she said.
The reality was that he needed me more than I needed him because, collecting the coins for illegal cigarettes and copied records was in violation of a dozen federal laws. The boys in the garage weren’t about to take the risk.
The other reality was that he had lost face in front of the boys, not a lot, but in that world losing face is losing face and he didn’t do anything about it. Maybe he was scared or maybe it was the politics of it. If he slapped me he would have to answer to Sully since I was with Sully and God only knows what talking to Sully…about anything…could lead to.
A few days after the incident with Chicky, Sully came by the Dip with a few of his Mick goons from the neighborhood and said “Listen, I understand you had some words with Chicky. Don’t give him no lip. Do what he says. He acts like a shmuck, go with it and tell me about it later, I’ll take care of it, got it? The way the Italians see it, you’re with me. They end up smack’n you in the head or something, then I gotta step in because you’re with me”
I wasn’t with him but I knew what he meant.
“I got it” I said “And I’m sorry”
“For what?” Sully asked “Fuck him”
To my amazement, he wasn’t angry and this was a guy was angry all the time over everything.
The next day I asked Colin why and said “You made him look good. You’re one of his guys and you didn’t take any shit and that’s good for our rep” It made sense, especially in our universe where stupid was king.
“But I’m not one of anybody’s guys Colin” but my words went in one ear and out there other.
“You know” Colin said with a grin “The guineas are afraid of us. They’ll never say that, but they are. They’re a-scared of the niggers too”
“Us who?” I asked
“The Irish” he said “They think we’re nuts”
Actually, if they only Irish people you ever met were Sully and Colin, I could understand reaching that conclusion.
Before Sully left the Dip that night he came back to my table and said “You go with Colin tomorrow after your runs”
“He’ll explain it to you then. Watch learn and listen” then he tossed twenty bucks on the table and left. I didn’t like that, it was an insult. They money, the way he tossed it at me, his arrogant attitude. I really wanted to slap that guy.
That night I met up with Colin and asked him what was going on.
“Don’t worry” he said “it’s a good thing. You got promoted”
Colin and I drove to an old factory building on Elmwood at the Warwick-Cranston town line. We parked and lugged cloth bags filled with coins out of the van and into the freight elevator and took it up to the third floor into some kind of manufacturing shop. Everything in the place was wood and it smelled of sawdust and mold. There were a few dim light bulbs on and the place was empty except for a bunch of really old, fat Italian guys who stood around watching us for a while before they disappeared into a small office with glass windows and shut the door.
Colin had the procedure down cold. He told me to pour the coins out of the bags into enormous wooden crates and separate the pennies from the dimes, nickels and quarters. It took almost two hours.
“Who are those guys, Colin?” I asked nodding my head towards the office. He stopped counting and looked over at the men and explained that during World War Two, Italian prisoners of war, officers mostly, were held in a military camp down on Jamestown Island, near Newport, but they were given work releases by the US government because of the labor shortage and after the war ended a lot of them simply stayed at their jobs.
There were a couple of these old guys working in the dozens and dozens of tiny junk jewelry shops that were spread across the state. Most of them did menial work but some of them were skilled artist who cut the molds for the jewelry designs and other knew a lot about valuable minerals like how to cut them and reshape them and melt them and that’s how the mob guys got to know them.
“Now separate the dimes and quarters” he said.
“Why are we doing this?” I asked.
“Those old guineas are gonna melt em’ down.” he said way too loudly “Pennies for copper, all the other coins for their silver, especially the ones made before 1965, they’re something like 90% silver. They turn it into ingots.”
“What’s that? Ingots?”
“They get the silver out and then shape into blocks and things like that. They melt them in those things over there” and pointed to the room behind marked “Ring Room”.
The lights were out, but I could see six casting machines, something like barrels made of iron that had two tops the size of a tambourine, one had a closable lids and the other one was open. I learned later the machines were used to make cheap finger rings. One of the tops held hot metal. The other top, the one with the closeable lid, was where the mold for the rings was placed. The hot metal was poured down inside the mold and the mold was spun until the rings were shaped. The Pisans, the ones brought in from Europe, had figured out a way to fit the machines to melt coins and then shape them into ingots.
The entire operation had something to do with the Mafia down in New York but I’m not sure what that was, but I do know that that’s where the finished product went, down to New York in white paneled van driven by the garage boys.
While we were standing around waiting I asked “Does Chicky know about this?” and Colin laughed “It’s his operation for Christ sakes”
And that was why Colin would never be the bad Guy that he dreamed of becoming. He had to show and tell people what he knew. You know how a real Bad Guy would have answered my question? He would have said “It’s not none of fucking business what Chicky know and don’t know”
A while later Colin whispered “Don’t say noth’n to Chicky that you were here, you’re not supposed to know about this”
When we were finished sorting the coins Colin went into the office and told the old guys we were done. One of them came out, looked over the bins and mumbled “Okay” and we left.
The next morning we went by the garage and Sully gave us $200 each. From then on, once a week, we carried coins over to the factory. That extra $200 and the $300 I was making from my rounds was good money. I mean a good income back then, for a 40 hour week for a guy with a family, was about $8 or maybe ten grand a year. I was making half of amount working one three a week. Crime pays.
I continued to work a few nights a week as a dishwasher at Alice’s Kitchen because it brought me a certain kind of peace and I liked the place and I liked Milos, who in turn took a liking to me and cooked Greek food for me and when things where slow he showed me how to short order a dish.
Milos was a simple, incredibly hard working man who called the shots as he saw them and he made it clear he didn’t care for the garage boys because whenever Colin or Sully dropped by for a coffee, Milos would find something for me to do. He didn’t like them although he didn’t have a reason to dislike them. All these many years later I can see why and I appreciate him more. Later in the shift he would ask in his thick accent “Why you around clowns like that? What’s the matter, you can’t find nice people to be around?”
“Their my friends” I said
He wagged his finger at me “They’re not your friends, don’t fool yourself. Your family are your friends”
I told him, bit by bit, about the trouble with my father and quitting school and moving into Colin’s house and as I spoke he looked so sad and disappointed but he didn’t say anything. Days later he sat me down in his booth where he had the week’s bills spread out and said “You know what your problem is?”
“I didn’t know I had a problem”
“Don’t be a wise person” he said wagging his finger.
“Wise guy.” I correct him “Don’t be a wise guy”
“Yes, don’t be a wise guy” he answered “Listen to me. Your problem is that you are young and you are smart and you are foolish and you make bad decisions about your life because no one is there to tell you otherwise. But I, I will tell you. Go home. Talk to your father. Make things better. Be a good son. Go back to school. Go home to your father”
“I couldn’t if I wanted to Milos”
“Let me tell you a story we Greeks have, it is a very old story. There was a rich man who had two sons. One son was hard working and obeyed his father always. The other son, he was like you, a knuckle head.”
“One day the stupid son ran away”
“And he fell in with the wrong crowd” He paused and sat back dramatically in his seat, nodding his head in a knowing sort of way and then continued “Then he came back to his father and said ‘I am a knuckle head son, forgive me’ and the father, he forgive him and the knucklehead son went back to work in the family business, married a nice girl and became a rich man”
“That the Prodigal Son story” I said “more or less”
Milos waved the thought away “I don’t what his name was. It could have been Prodigal, it sounds Greek, that’s not the point of the story. Do you understand what the point is?”
“The father forgave him and brought him back to the loving family”
“No. Love is love. Love is no big deal. It’s everywhere, same thing with forgiveness. It’s easy to forgive. The point is the father loved his son better than that, better than everyday love and forgiveness, he loved him with a father’s love for his child and that is the purest love there is because he expects nothing for it and nothing in return for it”
He leaned forward and clasped my hand “Your father, he loves you like that. You watch, you wait, you see”
One day in the beginning of July when I finished my collecting and came back to the garage, Chicky called me into his office and sat me down next to his desk. He smiled at me and asked quietly “How you do’n kid? Everything all right?”
“Yeah it’s fine, thank you”
“You making a few bucks? Sully treating you right?”
“Yeah” I laughed “I got a lot of money”
He leaned forward and said “Don’t spend it crazy, spend it right. Don’t bring attention to yourself.” He leaned back “I mean have some fun, enjoy yourself, you know, but put a few bucks aside.”
“You still living over there with that Colin jerk-off?”
“Yeah, but he’s okay, Chicky”
He leaned forward again and the smile was gone from his face “No, he’s not okay, and fuck’n Sully’s not okay. He’s what we call a boombots, an idiot’s idiot and that Sully is a disgraziat, a dirt ball who would fuck over his mother for a nickel. One’s a moron and the other one is his trainee. Gabish?
“Gabish” I answered because I knew in my heart he was right about the both of them.
He sat back again and whispered “It’s time for you move along with yourself. You’re a smart kid, a good looking kid, you got a lot going for you. Alright?”
I didn’t understand but I said “Okay, I will” and he went back into his relax mode.
“I need you to do something for me” he said as he reached into his desk and pulled out a plain colored, very large envelope and whispered and leaned very close to me “I need you to take this up to Providence” he looked over at the clock on the wall. It was just pasted noon. “This needs to be there by 2:00, so no fuck’n around with this okay?”
“You know where the Providence Athenaeum is?”
“Athenaeum” he answered “it means like, a library in Greek or something. Whatever. It’s a library. Near Brown University. It’s in the middle of Benefit Street”
“Let me write it down” I said.
“No” he hissed “You never ever write anything down, you understand?”
“I need to hear you say you understand”
“You understand what?”
“That I don’t ever write anything down, no matter what”
He nodded and smiled and said “Kid, I’m not bust’n yer balls here, okay? But this is serious business”
“Okay. I’m sorry”
“Nothin to be sorry for.” I see now that he was playing me like a fiddle “Now listen up, this has to be there today so you go there, you park, you go inside and you find the ancient history section but don’t ask nobody where it is if you can’t find it, just find it yourself. This has to be there today. In a few hours”
“I’ll find it” I said and he winked and nodded.
“I know you will, that’s why I’m why sending you. They said “Send the smartest guy you got” and I told them I was sending you. See?”
“Who told you?” I asked
“You don’t need to know who” he answered and handed me the envelope “You go to that section and you find a book called “The Conquest of Gaul” by Julius Caesar, you ever hear of him?”
“Of course” I said quickly and he smiled and nodded again.
“You see? That’s why I gotta send you.” He waved his arms across the garage where his crew was sitting around “These monkeys here, they don’t know anything about Caesar. A great Italian and they never heard of him” he turned his attention back to me “Anyway, take the book from the shelve over there and open it in the middle and you put this inside. You put the book back on the shelve and walk out. Got it?”
“Tell me what I just said?”
“I’m going to take this envelope and I drive up to the Providence Athenaeum near Brown and I find the ancient history section and then I find a book called The Conquest of Rome and I open it and put this in the middle, close it, put it back on the shelve and I walk out and I don’t ask anybody anything”
Chicky was all smiles. He was staring at me with admiration of his choice
“See?” he asked “See? Your gonna go places kid.”
He stood up, reached into his pocket and pulled out five one hundred dollar bills and held them before me “You don’t tell anybody, ever, not never that we talked about this or what you done for me today, right?”
“What about Sully?”
“Especially that giamoke Mick, no offense to you or yours, that guy is a Gidrul Mameluke”
Like a guy who is stupid even the retarded people walk away when they see him coming down the street.
He handed me the $500.
“This is for you”
“Jesus Chicky” I said and shrugged “You don’t have to give me that much”
He held the money over his heart and rolled his eyes and said “Nnumu fai shcumbari! Don’t embarrass me! Take the money”
Five hundred bucks. For $500 I was willing to carry Mafia money to bribe an elected state official. Even as a first offense I could have served two years for that as a minimum. Gidrul Mameluke is right.
Chicky looked up at the clock and said “Get going. This has to be there today”
Just as I got to the garage door Chicky waved me back to him. I walked back across the room and he put his arm around my shoulders and whispered “Listen, don’t come back here after the drop. In fact, stay in Providence for a while, like till when it’s dark. Go see a movie. They got movie theaters up there, get something to eat.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills and shoved them into my hand. I tried to hand it back “I don’t need this Chick, its okay” but he turned and walked away.
Going up to Providence, even though it was only a mile away, was a big deal for me. I was young and had almost no experience in city driving and by the time I found the goddamn Athenaeum thing my nerves were shot from the traffic and getting lost over and over again and I got there at 1:30. To this day, I hate that goddamn Athenaeum. The building itself wasn’t much to write home about. It had some kind of fancy Roman-Greek front entrance but otherwise it was just another regular building in the city.
I went inside and I remember the air was cool in there and it took my eyes a moment to adjust from the glare outside but when they focused I looked over a beautiful library filled with a thousand books I guess.
I did what Chicky said to do and I didn’t ask anybody for direction to the goddamn Athenaeum but I did ask the lady behind the desk for help finding the Conquest of Rome book. She was a nice and all and she took me right to the book but then she wouldn’t leave. She stayed there talking about what a great story it was and smiling while I figured my way through the book, smiling back at her and nodding and trying to seem interested.
Finally she left. I waited a few more minutes and then stuck the envelope between the pages exactly in the middle of the book and slid it back into its space on the shelf. I was going to leave and then I got paranoid. What if the smiling librarian went back to put the book in order, open it, saw the envelope and whatever the hell was in it and called the cops and gave her my description?
I walked back inside to the main hall and down the aisle across from where the Conquest book was and waited. At a little bit after 2:00, I watched a man in a blue seersucker suit walk down the aisle and open the book where I put the envelope, take the envelope out and slide it into his inside jacket pocket. The guy looked like a prize fighter enough so that the suit and expense shoes didn’t look right on him. A year after I saw him take the envelope I saw him again on TV. It turned out he was a judge in Warwick, an important one and he had written a letter of recommendation or something for a Mob guy who was in jail and trying to get out. Welcome to Rhode Island.
The next day I went to the garage and Chicky called me into the office.
“How was the ride to the place I told you to go?”
“It was good” No problems at all”
“Good he said” he answered “that’s what we want to hear” he looked up at the clock and then at me and asked “Sesenta fame?”
“Yeah I could eat.”
“We gotta teach you Italian, come on”
Eating, food, restaurants, these were important things to the garage boys who went out to eat almost every night and they took me along a few times. They went to two types of places only. Fish houses along the shore that served the fresh seafood or to fancy Italian places with white table clothes and expenses dishes whose names I couldn’t pronounce. I loved the fish places but not so much the fancy Italian places because I’m not a fan of Italian food. I didn’t eat it growing up, the garlic and tomatoes were too spicy for my stomach and I felt out of place in jeans and a T-Shirt when the waiter was wearing a tuxedo. But by the end of that summer, there I was, with the garage boys chowing down on every kind of pasta there is, spaghetti stains on my shirt. We never went to Providence to eat and I thought that was strange so I asked and one of the garage boys told me “We can’t go into Providence, the old guys up on the hill don’t like it. They want everybody where they’re supposed to be and we’re supposed to be here. You gotta have permission to go into Providence and gotta have permission to go into Boston”
That afternoon Chicky drove us to a clam place overlooking the Narragansett Bay. We took a table away from everyone else, ordered our chowder, Rhode Island clear of course, made some small talk and then Chicky asked “Don’t you want to know why you’re going up to Providence?”
“I think I’m not supposed to want to know” I said.
He laughed, nodded “Smart move”
He wanted to talk about it “This guy that picks up the cash you drop off, he’s high up in the state government. He can send a lot of our guys to jail if we don’t pay”
“Why don’t you just shoot him?” I asked. It was a teenager’s question, a dumb question.
“Shooting just leads to no good.” He said “The cops don’t like shooting. It makes them look stupid and then they get angry and they start shooting guys then you got all around craziness. You look at what the mobs did down there in New York a few weeks ago when they had that nigger shoot Joe Colombo in public like that. The whole world is watching them now. One thing about our thing up here, the guy on the Hill on Providence, he likes everything done quit with no fanfare not like the other families.
What family are we? I asked.
“We? What do you mean we white man? You’re in no family.”
“I’m an associate or something right?”
“No, you work for me and I work for them. An associate is somebody on the outside who brings us a cash deal, they make a few bucks and we make a few bucks.”
“So what family are we?”
“We’re just” he paused and thought it through “We’re just us, Rhode Island. The man on the Hill has interests in Boston but mostly we’re just us. We got Rhode Island and stuff around Rhode Island. Connecticut west of the Connecticut River belongs to the Genovese family, bad news those guys. You got the Bruno organization up in Western Mass, it’s all mixed up, it’s not like you see in the movies.”
He stopped talking, looked around and lowered his voice “You know, you don’t ever talk about this, this thing we’re talking about. With me, that’s one thing, that’s okay but otherwise…” he placed his index finger over his lips.
We sat in silence for a few moments and I looked out of the cool blue ocean water and took the wonderful smell of sea salt. I breathed deep and exhaled.
“It’s nice huh?” Chicky asked.
I nodded, put my head back, closed my eyes and relaxed. Chicky tapped on the table with his finger and I opened my eyes.
“Look, I want to tell you this. You could get in a lot of trouble if something goes wrong delivering the dough to this clown.”
“What could happen?” I asked as of nothing could possibly happen.
“A lot could happen. The State cops could follow him one day, maybe the FBI, they put and two together, they haul you in for questioning”
“I wouldn’t talk” I said
“Let me tell you something” he looked around, leaned forward and lowered his voice “Those old Gumba’s up on the Hill? They not going to take a chance on you. They’re like animals those guys”
“Then why did they pick you to handle this?” I asked
“No record. I’m clean. Plus they all knew my old man and guys on my level, we do the heavy work, that’s how it’s always been”
“Then why did you pick me?”
“Same thing. No record, you’re clean. I know you from around the neighborhood. I know you’re not a cop and, you know, other things…”
Other things meant I wasn’t Italian and if I got nabbed the prosecutor’s would have a hard time selling me as a mob guy to a jury.
“I’m saying” Chicky said “I’m sorry I got you into this”
I delivered one envelope to Providence every week for the rest of the summer.
Each time I hung back out of sight and watched the guy leave and when it was clear, I left to. Stepping out into the gorgeous sunshine of the day I looked around the street for the first time and I liked what I saw. I was standing across from Brown University, an Ivy League school situated high up on a hill in a wealthy neighborhood overlooking the city.
Compared to the brick and mortar ugliness of Bog Trot, this place was really beautiful. And the people looked different too. I took a table at a sidewalk café, something I’d never done before and feeling very European, I ordered an expresso, something else I’d never done before. And then I sat and I watched, observed and noticed and took in a lot of information about the people walking past me. I was fascinated with the entire scene. These people, Brown students mostly, were different from everything I knew in my world. They dressed differently and as I caught bit and pieces of conversations I noticed they spoke differently too. They didn’t curse, they spoke in lower tones and they smiled as they talked. Everyone looked nice. The men were well groomed and handsome. The girls were pretty.
I liked what I saw. I felt at home with what I saw and I felt safe. I wanted more of that life if only because it seemed to lead somewhere and the life I had led to nowhere, even as a kid I could see that. The whole thing was getting old. I had the freedom I wanted, the freedom to do what I wanted. But those days taught me this; doing what you like is freedom but liking what you do is happiness and I wasn’t happy.
So I started going back up there when I could, wandering around and eventually, having walked around Brown and figured out where they buy their clothes, I traded in my long sleeve polyester print shirts for cotton, single color short sleeve pull overs. I kept my jeans, khaki’s seemed to be overdoing it, but I did give up my Keds sneakers for brown dock siders.
One night, just as I was preparing to climb into my car for the ride up to Providence, Colin and Sully drove by and saw the way I was dressed and yelled out “Wadda you go’n fuck’n queer on us?”
Sully was out of control and headed for trouble and Colin, who was never seen without him, was hell bound and determined to go along with him. Word was getting around that Sully was talking trash about Chicky, how he could run things better than Chicky and how all Chicky did was sit around the garage all day and how he wasn’t a money maker and Providence had no respect for him. His mouth was going too led to something bad, real bad and I stayed out of it.
A few days after the run up to Providence I was in the Dip and Sully and Colin came in and sat at my table and had a few beers. Everything was cool until the check came.
“Let me pay for this” I said and reached for my wallet.
“Yeah” Sully said “I guess you’re float’n in cash now, right?”
“How much Chicky pay you for the trip up to Providence?”
I looked up and to see Sully and Colin smirking back at me. I felt myself turning red. My mouth went dry. I tried to stall “What?”
“You know what I’m talking about. How much does he pay you for that?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about” I lied.
Sully jabbed his finger into my lips and I leaned back quick
“You ever take a job with the garage again and keep me out of it, I’ll cut your fuck’n eye out of your head” and he got up and walked away and Colin, of course, followed him.
I was too dumb struck to react and there was nothing I could do anyway. If I told Chicky he would say that I told Sully and God only know what he would have done. So I said nothing.
It got to the point between Colin and I that I slept in my car to avoid going to his house and I escaped the Bog Trot and Chicky and Sully by going back up to Providence almost every night. I liked it up there because it was just different, so normal and clean. Even the bars up there on the Hill were different...polished wood not the imitation leather like at the dip…..and people sipped wine not mixed drinks and the beers they drank weren’t the local stuff. The beers had German names and the people at the bars weren’t drunk and they didn’t yell at each other. And the places up there didn’t smell like old beer.
I guess being up there took me away from the garage and the Bog Trot and everything that went with it, the stench of low standards, of people who had given up and the others who you just knew were just destined to fail eventually. Being up there reminded me that I was just visitor to all that rubbish, that in the end result I wasn’t a tough guy or a hood the making, I was a middle class house painters son.
I thought about my father a lot during those warm days. I missed him. I missed him telling me about how he fought Nazi’s in the war in Europe, about his childhood in the Great Depression. Mostly I missed being normal. I missed staying home on Sunday nights and watch The Wide World of Disney. I missed my aunts and uncle and I missed being a kid. I was lonely.
That changed one night when I was sitting at a bar in Providence after I had an envelope drop off. A girl, a pretty girl, suddenly appeared standing very close to me. I could watch her from the mirror over the bar. She was staring at me but every now and then she would glance back at the table where her girlfriends were sitting, smiling and laughing. One of them motioned for her to grab my butt. Another waved her along to talk to me. It never occurred to me that a girl, especially a pretty girl like her, would be interested in me. I figured they were just drunk rich kids looking to have a few laughs at my expense. That’s how overly sensitive the garage and all had made me.
I turned and looked at her.
“Do you want to buy me a drink?” she asked.
“No. Not really” then I turned to her girlfriends who were still smiling and said “I told her no, I am not going to buy her a drink”
The smiles disappeared and the girl standing next to me turned a bright red and walked off the bathroom and all of her girlfriends at the table rushed off to join her except one, a chubby girl, who was kept behind to “watch the table” as one of them said.
I gave the chubby girl a quick look and she caught my eye and said “That was a mean thing to do.”
I didn’t answer her at first. I just turned back around and sipped my 7&7, the mandatory drink of all Wise-Guys-Wanna–Be’s everywhere, but my better angels took over and I turned back around and said “I didn’t mean it that way. I was just nervous, like, you know surprised. I thought she was being a wise guy”
She smiled in an encouraging way “Why? You don’t think you’re cute?”
I was lost for words. These girls were just plain different from the ones I knew but then again, I didn’t really know too many girls.
“I dunno” I mumbled.
She stuck out her lower lip and said “Be a good boy and buy her a drink. Scotch rocks”
The girls I knew either didn’t drink at all or guzzled Boones Farm apple wine at a dollar a bottle. I ordered her a Scotch Rocks. It wasn’t until the drink arrived that I figured out that rocks meant ice, scotch on ice.
She returned to the table the way she left, flanked by her girlfriends, all of them sullen faced. I stood up from the bar stool and walked over to the table and handed her the scotch rocks.
“I’m sorry I was rude” I said and then watched her watch the drink.
“What’s your name rude guy?” she asked.
“Paddy” and then corrected myself “Patrick”
“Paddy Patrick what?”
“Rude guy, Paddy Patrick Rude Guy” I answered.
“Well Patrick are you too cheap or too poor to buy my friends a drink too?
I didn’t expect it and I became flustered and muttered something about how sorry I was and started to dig into my pockets for cash. They all broke up in laughing and she said “I’m kidding you. Please join us”
“Please, let me get some drinks” I said and pulled an enormous roll of hundreds out of pocket that was held together with elastic bands. Their eyes went big.
“Did you rob bank Patrick?” one of them asked.
“Or are you a lawyer” another said.
I sat and with them and after a while the other girls slipped away leaving me with her.
Her name was Gwendolyn. The girls that I grew up with weren’t named Gwendolyn. They were named Kathleen and Maria, Coleen and Francesca but not Gwendolyn. And her last name was Everett. What the hell kind of a name was that?
A few days later I asked Milos the same question and he asked me about her, where was she from? Where did she go to school? What were her patents like? And I told him what I knew.
“What you got there, my young friend, is a heaping bowl of ‘Out of your class’”
“What do you mean?” I asked offended by the remark.
“She‘s a Yankee, her people came over on Mayflower and all that. New England is full of those people. They’re different from us”
I knew what he meant by us but not by different.
“Different. The rich are different from us. They’re different from everybody. You gotta be born that way to understand it. You can’t learn it. You can’t mimic it. They’re different. They got standards because they can afford to have standards”
She lived down on Jamestown Island with her parents and had just graduated high school from a place called St. George’s preparatory in Newport.
“It’s a boarding school” she said.
“You lived there?”
“But why? You live like, five miles away”
“But why live at home when you can live at school? Be around other kids all the time, it’s great”
She said she would be attending Brown in the fall, that she was a legacy. I think she suspected I had no idea what a legacy was so she told me “Everybody in my family forever went there. All good Episcopalians”
In my world there were no Episcopalians. There were Catholic, Jews, Protestants, Holy Rollers and everybody else. So I asked Milos about that too.
“Episcopalians?” he told me “Catholics with less kneeling”
We sat and talked for hours and hours. We ordered lunch and talked some more and then dinner and talked some more until finally they closed the place and we had to leave.
Gwendolyn, she told me no ever called her Gwen, invited me to her parent’s home down in Newport that Sunday.
It was a fine house, the finest house I’d ever been in. It sat back about a quarter of mile from a tree lines road and between the road and the house was a magnificent flat lawn.
Gwendolyn, smiling broadly and holding a tray with a pitcher of lemonade and glass, was standing on the front porch to greet me. As I climbed out of the car I noticed that parts of the back lawn fronted the ocean and there was a dock with a fairly large sail boat moored to it.
Gwendolyn had walked down the set of wide wooden steps from the porch and greeted me in the driveway.
“Welcome!” she said and took my hand “I hope you didn’t have problem finding us, we’re a bit out of the way”
Before I could answer she added “Would you like a tour of the house?”
We entered the house through a side door and the first I noticed was how cool the house was, almost cold really, unusual for a New England home in summer I looked towards a window to see the AC unit but there was none there. “It’s cold in here”
“We use the air conditioning constantly” she answered.
I looked again towards the window “Where is it?”
“It’s called central air condition” she said “It’s like central heat. All the houses are getting it now”
The kitchen was white and wide and spacious and had a high ceiling and a floor was made of large black and white squares of marble. The equipment was old but spotlessly clean.
“Where’s your table?” I asked.
Gwendolyn looked around the kitchen as though she expected to find a table and said “We don’t have one in here”
“Then where do you eat?”
“In the dining room” she replied and then added “But I know most people eat in their kitchens”
There was a pallor, two or three pallor’s or so I thought in my understanding of the world at that time but not one of them had a television set.
“Don’t your parents watch TV?”
She considered the question as if it surprised her and answered “Sure…..sometimes, not a lot, but sometimes”
“Where’s the TV?” I asked waving an arm around the room.
“In the family room”
“Which one is the family room?”
She pointed down a long, tiled hallway “Down there, off the kitchen”
“Where are your parents, anyway?” I asked
Mom is involved with the Newport Historical Society and this is their big season, you know and all that, and Dad’s working. He works in Manhattan. He’s a lawyer”
Manhattan, New York, Manhattan?”
“I know, it’s a long way, but he’s a partner in the firm. But he’s home on Thursday night through the following Monday. Otherwise we have a condo in the city”
“An apartment that we own, that sort of thing is very big in the right now” she answered and then said “Shall we sit out on the veranda?”
“We shall” I said.
The veranda was screened and blocked the glare from the sun that came in off of the ocean and as we talked we looked straight ahead into the water. A rotund black lady dressed in white brought us sandwiches and drinks on a tray. We ate and fell into a comfortable silence for a while.
“Do you want to go sit on the break wall” she asked
We sat on boulder that jutted into the oncoming waves and we talked. She was interested in what I had to say, about me, about my life. So I explained the situation between me and father and my God-awful step mother and how I ended up at Colin’s house in the Bog Trot. I didn’t say anything about Chicky or the garage or any of that, it was better not to talk about those thing, especially with somebody from the outside.
We only realized how long we had been there when dust covered the beach and we made our way back towards Providence.
“What’s it like? Bog Trot” she expanded the words Bog Trot and then said it again to herself quietly.
“You want to see it?”
Alright, let’s go”
Warwick was less than a half hour away. I drove the long way in, around the garage and the idiots who hung out there, she didn’t have to know about things like that.
Colin was home when we got there, a rare thing since he usually only showed up at the house to sleep, shower and change clothes.
Colin was gracious, funny and more than hospitable. He poured us beer and asked Gwendolyn about herself and family and school. He was delight up until the moment we were leaving. When Gwen was out the door, Colin motioned me back to the house and hissed “What the fuck you bring her around here for?”
I was dumbfounded “What?”
“Who is she?” he asked “She don’t belong here for Christ’s sake Paddy, wake the fuck up”
I shrugged in confusion and said. “I thought you liked her”
“What are you?” he answer “Going all college on me now?”
That’s what it was about. She scared him. She was out of our class, I liked and she might pull me away from the life Colin and I knew. That, and he was a reverse social snob. He didn’t like anyone not in our class and I don’t blame him. There’s safety and comfort in staying in your tribe.
I walked back to the car and said “I’m sorry about that”
“Did I do something wrong” she asked
“No’ I said kindly “He just gets in a mood sometimes, that’s his way”
That Saturday I was sitting in an ancient green lawn chair in front of the garage waiting for Chicky to arrive. The crew was there, doing what they always did, standing around, shifting their balls thought their pants, spitting and lying about something. Milos was right, they were cavemen with wardrobes.
When Chicky arrived, one of the guys, they called him Ouguts.
Ouguts. They loved that word. Its Italian slang and depending on how you say it could be “shit” or bullshit” or “dick, as in if you’re playing poker and you get a bad hand you were dealt Ouguts, dick.
He got the name because one night he was caught driving around Warwick with a trunk full of stolen tires. When the cops asked him what was in the trunk he answered “Ouguts.”.
In fact, he answered Ouguts to every single question they asked so the cops assumed he was an Italian import who didn’t speak English and booked him under the name Ouguts.
“You see this Apollo rocket ship that was in outer space is coming back out of outer space today?” Chicky asked no one in particular “And then you see how the whole earth got last night with that lunar eclipse shit? On the news they said the sun disappeared for two hours”
“What happened?” Ouguts. asked
“What happened? Wadda mean what happened? They had a lunar wadda call it.”
“Eclipse” I said.
“Lunar eclipse” Chicky said
“I don’t know what that is” Ouguts. said
“You don’t know what a lunar eclipse is?” Chicky asked
Shoot me already.”
“It’s when the sun disappears, it disappeared for two hours yesterday”
“I didn’t see that. I was here all day to.”
“You were here?”
“Where here? On earth?”
“Yeah, like in front of the sun.”
“It didn’t happen here, it happened in like, in Africa or one of those places. It was dark there.”
“If it was dark there, how do they know there was a lunar thing?”
“You know what?” Chicky answered “Fuck you. The point is, the sun disappears and then this Apollo rocket ship comes back to earth, see there’s something else go’n on, they don’t want you to know about….who knows what they were doing up there.”
“They were riding around in a lunar rover, Chicky”
“The astronaut guys, that’s what they were doing up there. You said “What were they doing up there” and I’m tell’n you, they were riding around on this lunar thing, it looks like a lawn mower with big wheels on it. That’s what they were doing up there.”
“You know what, Ouguts? If you talk again, I swear on my mother’s eyes, I’m gonna fuck’n shoot you in the face, I swear to God”
After a few minutes Chicky said “You look at what’s going on down there in Camden, New Jersey. Some cop kills a Puerto Rican, like that’s a big loss and the niggers riot. Not the Puerto Rican’s but the niggers. You know why?”
“Rican are too lazy to riot?” somebody said.
“No” he started to answer and then laughed “Well yeah, but besides from that, niggers just like burning down their own neighborhoods that’s why. What we need to do is import this Idi Amin character from over in Uganda over there.”
“Uganda?” Ouguts. said.
“Yeah, Tarzan country. You see about him on the TV news? Those niggers over there even look guilty he chops their heads off. You put him in charge for a couple weeks everything will run clock wise like a clock because that’s what niggers understand, violence.”
“Yeah. Edi Amin.”
“Why he got a girl’s name?” Ouguts. asked
“Because he’s a foreigner. They’re all fucked up those people. Girls names, boys names, they don’t know they’re dicks from they’re elbows these people” Chicky sighed and continued “I don’t know what the deal is with Nixon, I mean whose president is this guy? Ours or there’s? I’m asking you. He gave Okinawa back to the fuck’n cross eyed Japs and what did we lose to get that place, like a million guys probably”
“More than that.” I added
“And now he ends the embargo thing with the Chinese….Who are just taller than Japs, that’s the only difference.”
“No, that’s not true” Ouguts. said “I think the Chinese ones, their eyes go up and the Japs eyes go down”
“Is that true?” Chicky asked me “Cause I heard that someplace else too.”
“Absolutely” I said.
“And then he lowers the voting age to 18.” Chicky said “Watch, these kids, they’ll put a nigger in the White House someday, you just watch and see.”
“What do you know when you’re 18?” he asked and then answered his own question “You know Ouguts, is what you know”
I leaned my head back and let the sun shine down on my forever pale face when I heard one of the “Jesus Christ look at this. What is she lost?”
I knew who it was before I opened my eyes.
Gwendolyn had spotted me in the chair and pulled her father’s Mercedes over to the front of the drive way, something nobody was ever supposed to do. You could rape, rob and steal in the Bog Trot and nobody would care, but blocking the driveway of the garage was a no go no matter who you were.
“Maronna mia!” one of them said and yelled “Cuore stuppau!” and held his hands over his chest “You stopped my heart!”
Gwendolyn rolled down the window, leaned across the seat and called to me, smiling “Paddy”
The rest of what she said was drowned out by the catcalls and smart ass remarks from the garage boys.
“Paddy” she called me again.
I sat there, motionless, embarrassed but I didn’t know why. The boys were looking down at me.
“Ue, goombah! Scubata?”
“You fuck’n that?”
Paddy” she called again.
“Better go kid, you’re rich bitch is calling you”
With them, the garage boys, women didn’t call a man and a man didn’t get up out of seat when a woman called him. They saw it as a sign of disrespect.
What?” I called back to her and immediately a pained looked fell over her face. My answer stunned her. She sat back in her, her face flushed. She looked straight ahead, shook her head and drove off.
“That’s how you treat em” one of them said.
“Yeah, but I gotta say “another said “My bitch embarrass me like that, I’d slap her teeth down her face”
I knew it was wrong when I did it and to this day I don’t know exactly why I did it. All I can figure was that I had acted like a weasel to save face in front of the garage boys and maybe, just maybe because Milo was right. I was out of her class. She didn’t care about that, but being with her took me out of the places I knew, the places where I was comfortable, those safe places where I was the smartest guy in the group and not the working class guy who butchered English and wore slightly shiny clothes off the rack at a department store.
I was guilt ridden and later that night I drove to her house. She met me at the door and didn’t offer to let me inside. She was polite but distant. That look she had, that look her eyes, it was gone.
I told her I was sorry and I said “I said I don’t know why I did it” and she said “Because you’re coward” and to this very day that answer still cuts me. The truth hurts. I left after that and never saw her again.
By the end of the summer, things in the Bog Trot were changing. One night in early August we were hanging around in front of the garage when two jet black Cadillac’s pulled up in front of the place and a group of guys, led by an older man, climbed out and without a word to anyone, gestured for Chicky to follow them inside. They slammed the office door shut behind them. After a few minutes we heard Chicky yell out “What?”
A few of us creeped inside the garage and peered into the office and watched the old guy slapped Chicky, hard, across his face just as the other guys who came with the older guy circled around him. And then he slapped him again.
We slipped back out on to the drive way and lapsed into silence. We had watched the unthinkable. Chicky was getting slapped around like a rundown street whore and he wasn’t doing a thing about it. One by one the garage boys slipped away so that by the time the old guy left I was the only one in the driveway.
I never found out what the whole thing was about but later that night I learned that when Chicky went up to Providence that he was treated like a delivery boy. It was only down at the garage that he was something special. But after that night, Chicky didn’t impress me too much anymore.
A few days later the Warwick Police pulled Colin over and searched his car. They didn’t have any reason for the search, no legal reason anyway but all that stuff, warrants and cops using legal reason, that’s just on TV mostly.
They found a box of 8 track player in his trunk. They weren’t stolen, well at least they weren’t stolen by Colin. Other people stooled them sold to Sully for a quick loan because in those days 8 tracks were in demand. Colin would park by one of the high schools and sell them from his car, ten bucks as is and he couldn’t get enough of them.
The cops had enough of Colin. They didn’t like answering calls about 8 tracks stolen in a smash and grab, they knew he was behind a rash of low end burglaries and they were certain it was Colin who had ploughed a stolen garbage truck into the rear door of Pharmacy in Cranston and made off with everything in a bottle.
They told him to follow them to the police station but instead they drove into an out-of-the-way field called Confreda farms and they went to town on him and his car. They used paddy clubs to break everything on the car that could, windows, mirrors, everything. Then they went to work on Colin. They smashed one of his toes and broke his wrist and generally left him a bloody mess. He was black and blue for a couple of weeks and limped most everywhere but he wore it all like badge of courage.
I have to tell you, I liked Colin, and there was much to like about him. He was smart, smarter than most people, observant, generous to a fault to those he liked and he felt things sincerely. But he was changing and not for the better. With virtually no education and guided by an overwhelmed and indulgent mother, he was drifting aimlessly. He idolized Sully but more and more he worshipped the boys over at the garage and that’s why he was proud that the cops worked him over. He limped over to the garage twice a day to show off his wounds and tell the tale again, adding more and more cops to each retelling.
I thought he was going insane and more and more I realized what a mistake I had made throwing my lot in with his.
By the end of that summer, I was starting to see that everything about Wingate and the Garage and Sully and Colin and Chicky was sad and empty and stupid and old man Milos was right, I was headed down the same path.
“You see Benny the Booster around, come and tell me” Chicky told me.
“Okay” I said “Should I tell him you want to see him?
“No, that’s last thing you wanna do. Just come and see me if spot him around”
“Is he in trouble?”
Chicky leaned in close to me and said “You know how I always tell you don’t be stupid?”
“Well here’s an example of stupid. Two days ago, a guy who works at a tire shop over in Cranston left the back door unlocked for Benny to rob the place and then sell the tires.”
“Yeah” I said flatly. I mean after all that’s what Benny the Booster did. He stole things and sold them.
“The shop belong to a pisan of the man up in Providence. You understand who the man is?”
“Yeah” I nodded “The guy at the office on the Hill”
“Yeah, the guy at the office on the Hill. And everybody knew the tire guy was tight with the Man, including Benny”
“Why would do something like that?” I asked.
“Probably because Benny figures all these places he rips off got insurance to cover the loss except this tire guy is connected and every tire in that shop fell off a truck in Connecticut where they make the tires”
Nothing ever got stolen. It fell off a truck. It was one of their favorite expressions because if you happened to be talking to an undercover cop, he didn’t have anything on you because as far as you know, nobody stole anything. It fell off a truck and somebody found it.
“Now” Chicky continued “This tire guy is screwed five ways from Sunday. And so is Benny”
“Are they going to kill him for it?” I whispered.
Chicky gave me a look that let me know I was being dramatic.
“You don’t whack a guy for stealing, we’re all thieves for Christ’s sakes” then he looked into my eyes and said “Listen, this is an opportunity. The guy on the Hill wants us to find Benny and tell him he has to compensate the guy on the Hill a hundred percent of what he took plus a fine.”
“What about the tire shop guy?” I asked little bewildered “he took the hit”
“Yeah, well fuck him. Welcome to the underworld kid.” He looked left and right and then leaned in towards me and said “We get to tax Benny after this. Twenty percent a week”
“For how long?”
“Forever. We own him now, he’s ours. We take twenty percent of what he earns every week, we send half of that up to the guy in the Hill and its all gravy”
“How do you know how much to tax? I mean nobody know what he makes”
Chicky pointed for us to start walking towards Alice’s Kitchen “I dunno, you pull a figure out of your ass, say, two hundred bucks a week, every week”
Two hundred bucks a week was a lot of money in 1971. An entire family could live on that much and have left over to spare.
We walked along in silence for a few seconds before I asked “So he’s not going to catch a beating or something?”
“No” he answered without looking at me “You deliver him a beating he can’t work. He can’t work, he don’t bring in any money. It’s all about turning a buck”
I didn’t see Benny around and the truth is I went out of my way not to see him but everybody else was looking for him.
A few night later Sully and Colin appeared at the back screen door of Alice Kitchen where I was washing dishes. Sully’s car was parked only a few feet from the door, the engine was running the lights were on but the radio was off.
Colin wrapped on the wooden frame “Come out, Sully’s here, we want to talk to you”
I turned off the dish hose and walked outside. Sully was leaning on the car smoking.
“Benny’s around” Colin said “He’s at the Dip”
“Benny?” I asked.
“Benny the boaster” he snapped “How many Benny’s you know”
“So he’s at the Dip, so what?”
“So the Pharaoh wants him out of there” he was hissing now “He doesn’t want any problems with the garage boys”
This wasn’t Sully’s business. This was between the Italians and he knew that, and he probably knew about the tires that got jacked from the Man on Hill’s pisan and figured this was a way to get in good with Providence. This was also another move on Sully’s part to take over Chicky’s neighborhood. This had trouble written all over it.
“You know” I said “Chicky’s handling this”
“How do you know?” Sully asked.
“Because I know”
The thing about people like Sully, bottom feeders, they have a second sense to see things.
“Providence told Chicky to handle Benny right?”
“I don’t know Sully” I said and looked away “All I know is this is Chicky’s business”
Sully shrugged and smiled “I’m just gonna roust him a little bit, that’s all. Shake him down, slap him around a little”
“Then let the Pharaoh throw him out, Sully wadda you care?”
“They banned Benny from the neighborhood” Colin said “because he’s bringing down way to much heat from the cops”
“I know” I said “But none of that is my concern. It’s none of yours either Colin”
Sully crushed out his cigarette, leaned into my face and said “I think it’s in your best interest to come along”
“Because Chicky talked to me the other day, he’s says he’s not right with you. Somedays your around, some days your night. People see in Providence up with the college kids, it don’t sit right with people”
I didn’t believe him. Chicky could care less if I fell off the earth.
“Well I can’t go” I said “Until I finish the shift”
“Naw, that’s not good” Sully shot back “Benny won’t be around the dip that long. We gotta strike while the thing is hot. So let’s go” and with that that he turned and climbed in to his car but I stalled. Colin walked up to me and whispered “Just come on”
I don’t know why I went, but I went. I was going to get fired for sure, even if it was a slow night and besides that, I just sensed that this whole thing was way out of whack. Something just wasn’t right.
We drove up to Dip and parked and Sully turned to me in the back seat and said “You go in, tell Benny to come out. Tell him you got something to hock. He won’t suspect anything from you”
“I don’t want to get involved” I said “You get him”
Sully screamed “Get in that fuck’n bar and get him”
“Fuck you Sully” I yelled back.
Sully reached for his door handle but he was so angry he missed it a few times before it opened giving me just enough time to get out of the backseat and stand over his door. I wasn’t going to wait to see what happened with that lunatic. He was good with his fists, better than most people and he was fast and strong so I wasn’t going to wait it out.
Colin, sitting in the front seat, got out of the car and walked around to my side.
“I don’t want a problem with you Colin” I said and he held up the palms of hands and stopped walking.
“You need to calm down” he said.
“Me? I need to calm down? Talk to your crazy fucking friend here. He needs to calm down”
Sully took his hand off of the car handle and said to me “Get back in the car. Colin, get Benny and bring him out.” He sounded and looked oddly calm.
Colin went inside and I carefully got back into my seat. We didn’t talk. Sully smoked a cigarette and we stared out the window watching the cars speed by. After a while he said “When this is over me and you are going to get your attitude straightened out”
It was a weak threat but he had to do it, I understood that. He’d lost face. I was sick of him and I wasn’t scared of him anymore and I was disgusted with myself for getting buffaloed into coming along in the first place.
“Why wait?” I asked “Straighten me out now”
“If you didn’t fuck this up tonight, you could have had a real chance here tonight to go places”
We went back to our silence.
“Look” he said “Chicky is out. He fucked up to many times, the neighborhood is mess and Providence ain’t happy with him. He’s out. We got to show them that we control this neighborhood, you understand? Do you see the opportunity I’m handing you?”
For some reason I suddenly felt nothing but sadness for him. This was all he had. Being a hood and trying to impress other hoods was all he had and for the first time I saw him for what he was; a sad, stupid little man.
“Sully” I said quietly “The Italians are never going to let you in. Or me. Never. Let’s forget about this and go home”
At that moment Colin appeared with Benny. Sully’s face lite up in a broad, warm smile and he called out “Benny, sweetheart, hop in, we need to do some business”
Colin immediately got back into the passenger’s front seat and Benny, probably more out of habit than anything else, got into the back seat next to me. He nodded to me and then turned his attention to Sully who extended his hand to Benny and shook it.
“Benny, my man! Let’s make some money. I got something for you” Sully said.
“Wadda got?” Benny said but he sounded more suspicious then inquisitive.
I looked over at Colin and he was playing his role to the hilt, all smiles and nodding.
“Guns” Sully lied “Old ones, antique old ones, like the kind the Pilgrims or something used”
“Interesting” Benny said “Where’d you get em?”
It was a stupid question.
“They fell out of a guy’s house and we found them on the road” Colin said.
“How many you get?” Benny asked.
“A bag full” Sully answered “Maybe like, twenty”
“Yeah” Colin said “at least twenty”
“Interesting” Benny said “Very interesting, I can move antique guns, especially old ones, let me see em”
“We don’t have it here, you think I’m stupid?” Sully said “I’m gonna travel with hot guns? The way the Warwick cops are out for me? We hid them. Let’s take a ride and I’ll show you”
In that world, it made sense that Sully wouldn’t have the goods with him and it was true that the cops knew his car and they knew him every now and then they would pull him over to roust him and search his car.
In the middle of Warwick in those days there was still active farm, fredia’s farm. I don’t know what they grew and nobody knows why the fuck they were still there but they were. But it was big and dark and a lot of underground shit went down over there at night.
Sully turned off the headlights just as we left the road way and deep inside the field, he stopped suddenly and leaped out. “Get out of the car Benny”
“Get out of the car, Benny”
“No. No way. You think you’re knock the shit out of me. I got no beef with yous”
Colin, who seemed more like a Sully ass kiss now than ever before, leaped out on his side and pulled open Benny’s door but Benny slammed it shut again and locked it. Sully used his keys to unlock the door and yanked Benny out onto the field and tossed him to the ground.
“What’s your problem Sully?” he yelled.
“You’re my problem, you Portuguese piece of shit, you’re my problem.”
Those were the last words anybody said. I got out of the car and stood next Colin. I can see Sully lift the gun from his side. I can see it as clearly today as I did when it happened. He lifts the gun slowly. There’s a look of contempt on his face, a look of distance. He knew he was going to do this. He stops lifting the pistol when it is directly across from Benny’s ear. He squeezes the trigger and Benny falls down. There is a sharp ringing in my ear. I turn to my left and see Colin’s face splattered with Benny’s blood. Dozens and dozens of little red spots cover his face and they seem alive enough so that for a second, just a second, there are five of us here; me, Colin, Benny, Sully and the blood on Colin’s face.
Then there was silence. The night seems darker and the moon brighter. It is a brilliant, beautiful night and it shouldn’t have been. For the first time I notice that Colin had a pistol but he let it slip from his hand. It landed with a solid thud in the soft sand. His deep blue eyes were darting left and then right. I could see Benny at my feet, face down on the ground. Sully was talking but it was all background gibberish. Nothing he says makes sense
“Did you see that?” he asked and slapped me on the arm for an answer “You see me off him?”
He looked down at Benny’s corpse and after a few seconds he nodded and looked at me again for approval for a job well done.
Colin began to shake. I’d never seen anyone shake the way he did, his entire body trembled. He was gasping for air. Sully realized that Colin was useless and turned to me “Let’s drag him under a bush”
I remember he was smiling when he said it.
“I’m not touching that guy” I whispered “Do it yourself”
“You know, some day, we’re inside and we’re not outside no more, you’ll thank me for this”
“I’m not even here” I answered.
Sully took Benny’s wrists and tried to drag him into the trees at the edge of the field but kept losing his grip and dropping Benny’s corpse so he grabbed it by the ankles instead and finished the job. While he was gone, I grabbed Colin’s arm and shook him “Colin, you got to snap out of it. We gotta watch Sully, I think he might shot us next”
Colin turned and watched Sully’s dark figure coming towards us in the dark. He drew his lips tight across his lips, spotted his pistol on the ground and picked it up and fired every round at Sully who stood motionless while the bullets whizzed by him and when the firing stopped he dropped to the ground.
“What the fuck, Colin? What the fuck?” he screamed.
Colin tossed the gun and ran into the fields and disappeared into the night. Sully ran up to his car and leaped in started it up but when I tried to hop in he swerved the car to hit me, forcing me to jump out of the way. I watched his tail lights disappear in the dark and I stood there, in what was now a murder scene, alone. Colin had run north, Sully drove away south so I walked east across the field, toward the light of Airport.
I walked back to work. I didn’t know what else to do. I was part of murder. I was sure a squad car would pull up in back of me, lights flashing. The cop leaps out of the car, pistol drawn and screams for me to get on the ground.
It took me an hour but I made my way back to Alice’s Kitchen and came in through the kitchen door in the back. The place was closed. Everyone was gone but Milos who was cleaning the last of the night dishes at my station.
“I’m sorry I left Milos” I wanted to tell him what happened but I wouldn’t. He would tell me to tell the cops or he would call the cops himself. But even with that I still wanted to tell him. I needed to tell someone.
“I heard you took off with those two no-good guys friends of yours” he said without looking up at me and then gave him that enormous shrug of his “Anyway, go out to the front”
He didn’t answer me. I stood there for a long waiting, but he didn’t turn to face me, so I walked out to the front where the register was even though I was sure the cops were waiting for me out there. The waitresses were flocked in their favorite booth, smoking cigarettes, counting their tips, all five talking at the same time, nobody listening to anyone else. They stopped talking when I came through the swinging galley door. I was so scared I felt my knees giving out. Biaggio, the sweetest of the group, smiled at me and pointed to towards the register. It was my father.
He wasn’t in his painting clothes, the white pants and white shirt, the paint stained shoes. He had on what he called his good clothes, brown acrylic slacks that had a slight shine to them, a black belt that was more for show than practicality, a dress shirt and his green suit coat, his suit coat. His only suit coat, worn for special occasions, wedding and funerals. He looked at me and smiled “You ready to come home?”
For him those five words were tantamount to a six hour speech from someone else.
Did you ever see someone you were used to looking at and then you don’t see them for a long time and everything in you just relaxes? That’s what it was it when I saw him and I think that’s the way he felt too.
He looked past me and spoke to something across the room “You wanna come home?” and then correcting himself he said “I would like you come home, you’re my son”
The waitresses went silent and the place was oddly still, not even the sound of traffic from outside, just still.
Biaggio whispered “Go home to your father”
The cops found Benny’s body the next day and basically wrote off his murder as a professional killing by the mob. Big Sully would have been delighted. Anyway, the whole thing blew over in about a week and that was that.
But the boys at the garage didn’t let it blow over. You can’t kill someone they’re connected to, even if they hate him, without clearing it with them. They figured out pretty quickly that it was Sully and Colin and they both left town that week and didn’t come back for years.
I reentered high school that September. They let me back in, no questions asked and wrote off my past as an antic of a dumb kid, which it was.
My Dad and I eventually worked it out and after I graduated from college and married had a family of my own, we grew to close friends, or as close to friends as a father and son could be, and when he died I was sorry that I had let so much time slip past us. But I loved and I miss and I think about a lot.
It was Milos who had called my father and told him he was worried about me, that I was headed for trouble and then he probably gave the old man an impassioned argument, the kind only a Greek can give, about family and compassion and forgiveness and it worked and thank God for that. Whatever he said, it probably saved my life.
All of that was so long ago.
I never went back Colin’s house, not even to pick up my stuff and I never went back to the Bog trot or The Dip or the garage and I never saw any of those people again. I’m sorry that I never goodbye to Ilene and Milos, they were decent people who deserved at least that but I like to think that understood why.
The Bog Trot is gone now. The Pawtuxet River flooded it once too often and state came in and declared the neighborhood uninhabitable and moved everybody out and then tore down all the tiny houses that were there so that now all that’s left are the streets and the foundations
The Dip is long gone too. The Egyptian, the Euro clown who ran it, disappeared one day and never reappeared forever. The word was he “Took a cab”, that somebody killed him. Most of the Dip burned down one night in a mystery fire. The field across from the garage where Benny the Booster made his living is still there and still empty, like some sort of monument to Benny.
The garage stands just where it was except the garage boys are long gone. Chicky went to federal prison in the 1980 along with a lot of other mob guys. His days at the garage must have been the highlight of his life because now he works as a maintenance man at an apartment complex down by Newport.
That politician I made the payments to didn’t fare to well either. I saw on TV that the FBI arrested him, he turned state’s evidence and one rainy afternoon he stopped at a phone booth in Cranston to make a call and somebody shoot him full of so many holes they say he was dead before he dropped the phone from his hand.
Sully came back to Rhode Island after a while and worked as a car mechanic and then he died of cancer. I can’t imagine death being bold enough to take him on, but it did. He left behind a wife and two young children.
Colin spent the next few decades in Florida. He married and divorced a couple times, had a slew of kids, did jail time for non-support and a few other things. He was almost forty years old when he came back home to Warwick. By then and Ilene had grown and married and moved to California and his mother had died. She left him a house, a couple of cars and a small but decent pile of cash that he gambled away with a few months. The last I heard he was living in a men’s shelter in Providence.
I am an old man now, quickly coming into my seventh decade with fewer days before me than behind me. I have seen and done many things in the time given to me, a few marriages, children, a career, most of it I recall, some I don’t. Some left impressions, others are a blur but that one summer in the Bog trot stays with me always, standing just inches from my thoughts, ready for me to walk the warms streets again, to see their faces, to hear its sounds.