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"HE BEATS ME."
One line, one simple sentence and I'm off.
I'm sitting at the counter, peeling the label off a longneck, and the rage is filling my mouth, the bitterness rising like the old bile and I bite down, take a deep breath and try to ease a notch.
The deep breath helps?
Debbie is the woman who works the bar, not bad looking, a bit of mileage on the odometer but who's counting? I can see the bruise under her left eye and it's going to blacken more in a day. I know, I've had my share and given them too. But not to women, never hit a woman in my goddamned life. Hurt them?
But that's a whole other trip and we'll get to that, like later.
I miss New York, every freaking moment and never more so than now. If this were Brooklyn or even downtown Manhattan, I'd be going to my car, opening the trunk, getting the bat out, taking care of business.
I guess I could say to her
"Suck it up."
It's what I've been doing for the past ten months and I'm sick of it. This one-horse shithole, this constant rain and the people, as miserable a bunch as you'd ever come across. So, the rain doesn't help their disposition, like I tell you now, that's a crock. You put this bunch down in Florida, you know what? They'd be bitching, it's what they do.
I say to Debbie
"Give me another brew?"
And she gives me the look.
Like, I'm not going to say anything about the shiner or what she just told me. Not today honey.
She sighs, plunks the bottle on the counter, and the way she does it, she's mad as hell. Disappointed too.
Disappointment, honey, I wrote the book.
Ask my old man.
I look out the window, the grime-stained panes and I can see the arc of the mill. It's throwing a shadow, for all the world like the tower, the North Tower, where my old man worked.
That shadow has been with me all my life.
"What, you think I can't find a fucking supermarket? I've been living in Brooklyn seventy-five years. I know this city better than anybody."
—Jason Starr, Tough Luck
10 MONTHS EARLIER.
My old man was as Irish as they come, Micksville in extremis. See that in extremis, so you know I'm not just some thug, I got me some learning. Not that I wanted it but my old man, he was a whore for books, always trotting out some shit, a book in his hand every goddamn minute. My Mom, she'd go
"Your father and books, don't get me started."
As if she needed an excuse. She was Jewish, she was born started. To say they were a poor match? Man, they were the worst marriage on the block and we had some beauties there. See the street on a Saturday night, after a ballgame and the brews had been sunk? Buckets of blood and recriminations.
Did the cops come?
Most of the participants were cops.
Mick neighborhood, what'd you expect?
I was christened Nick, after some Hemingway story. My old man loved him. His dream was to see a bullfight. I said to him one time
"What else do you think the hood is on a Sat night?"
And got a clip round my earhole.
He had big hands, the Irish inheritance, and though he was second generation, he was probably more Celtic than Notre Dame—the team, not the Cathedral. He'd been a cop for a while and he flat out loved it, then ...
Got hurt in a drive by, pensioned out. That's when the bitterness set in.
Not that he was a bundle of good nature before. He was always a mean bastard, made him a good cop, but after the shooting, he peaked. Began to soak up the Jameson like a good 'un, and he'd have sat on his ass for the duration 'cept my mom, she rode him till he screamed
The union got him a gig at the World Trade Center, a guard on the North Tower. The day, his first, a wet barren Monday, he donned the uniform, he went
"Bollix to this."
My mom, aiming for some peace if not calm, tried
"You look swell."
He was enraged, spat
One of the few times I ever agreed with him.
But he hung in there. A few years went by and he was promoted, still in the North Tower but pulling down more bucks.
And he liked it.
Not the job so much but he loved the building. Got himself a photo of his station, up on the 107th floor, and my mom framed it, put it beside Ariel Sharon and John F. Kennedy, over the fireplace. I said to my buddy, Todd
"The three stooges."
The Irish sure have odd ways of looking at things, and the way they talk, full of twisted language. As if they see a perfectly good expression, then mangle it. Why?
Maybe because they can.
Me, I figure it's all the Guinness, rots the brain and gives them that slanted view of the world. My mom, no slouch in the words department, would say
"Your father, like his race, they love the sound of their own voice."
Could be right.
Like, who gives a rat's ass?
I can do a rap with the best of 'em but the difference, I try to measure the content. Not just shoot my goddamn mouth off. My teens, I started getting in shit, being rousted for nickel-and-dime stuff. My old man, he'd lose it, go
"You're a thundering disgrace. You're nothing but a punk."
The cops, cos he'd been on the job, would cut me some slack. Time came when that didn't work and I got sent to juvie hall. Hell with puke-green walls. I did six months and came out, hard.
The first thing my old man does, does he crack open a cold one, welcome me home?
He gets a hurly, sent from the heart of the old country, made from the ash, and gives me a flaking. I can still hear the swish of that wood as he swung it, the end walloping against my back and it hurt like a son of a bitch. He wanted to hear me cry. Dream on you prick. Finally, spent, sweat coasting down his face, he threw the hurly aside, said
"Let that be a lesson to you."
And he opened the Jameson, poured himself a serious one, knocked it back, said
"There's a chance I can get you on the tower, even with the sheet you've got. We can get it sealed but you're going to have to cut the crap."
I was picking myself up off the floor, pain everywhere and I looked him right in the eye, said
Got another hiding. My mom, later, said
"Nick, he's got the bad drop."
She'd learned a few Irish-isms and she certainly got me nailed. I did what I do when I'm hurting, hooked up with Todd and we went to Park Slope, always lots of action there, had us some weed, and Todd had gotten tequila, boosted off a guy who'd hit a warehouse. We drank that, with Bud as back, and I went to that place, the cold zone, an icy territory I knew like the back of my hand, said
"Let's rock 'n' roll."
We caught a guy in an alley, fooling with some babe, and I used my feet, till Todd pulled me off, saying
"Jeez, Nick, enough. You'll kill the bastard."
I wanted to.
I can still hear the sound of the guy's teeth cracking, my boot hitting his mouth for the third time. Way I see it, you have to lay it off, get that poison out and maybe teach the guy something, like, stay the fuck out of alleys unless someone's got your back. Later, coming down, chilling, Todd passed me a smoke, lit me up, said
"You've got to rein it in, bro."
I asked him, not out of cussedness though there was some, but I really wanted to know, asked him
He sighed, shook his head, said
"You'll never last. They'll kill you or send you up for some serious time. You have to, like, ration it."
I dunno why, but that seemed to me hilarious. He stared at me, said
"You're one demented dude."
I moved out of Brooklyn shortly after, got a crash pad in the East Village and began my love affair with Manhattan.
Todd was into all sorts of scams: cards, hot goods, intimidation, muscle, and he got me taken on by a guy named Boyle, small-time racketeer. I began to pull in some change. Boyle was a big bastard and mean as hell. Took a shine to me, started to give me more and more work, usually boosting cars. I had a knack, could hotwire one in record time and be out of the street before you could count to ten.
Then the worst thing happened. Todd met a woman, went to South Philly with her. Didn't last too long, the woman that is. He came back for a week, then off to Boston, some business for Boyle. He ran with the gangs in South Boston, learned some moves with those guys and came back ... quiet. I asked
"The fuck happened down there?"
He was drinking Jack D, Sam Adams as chaser, with a look of what I can only call controlled ferocity. He gulped the Jack, let it burn then
Fucking with those outfits, not the best idea.
He hadn't gotten a liking for violence, not like I had, but he definitely had a change in outlook, now he saw that sometimes you couldn't avoid it. One evening, on the Upper West Side, we were casing an apartment that Boyle figured was ripe for taking. We were doing the weed, nothing major, just mellow time and he started in on the Red Sox. He'd become a fan. Is there a bigger treachery? I shouted, the weed not mellowing me that much
"The freaking Sox? You're a Yankee's fan. The fuck you think you can switch like that? It's as bad as that asswipe who sold the Dodgers."
He gave a soft laugh, said
"Nicky, everything changes."
I came back with a reasoned, rational defense, a New York tolerance, said
We watched the apartment. The doorman went for a sneak brew on the hour and that would be our window. To get us back, to balance, I asked
"What's with that South gig, South Philly, South Boston, what's that all about?"
He didn't answer for five minutes, his eyes locked on the building, then
"Buddy, one way or another, the business we're in, everything goes south."
I blew him off.
He was right but by the time I knew that, it was all gone to hell in a shitcart.
I said to him, before we got out of the car,
"My mom, she says I've the bad drop."
He tasted that, let it hang. Like I said, he'd gotten this quiet gig going, then
I slapped his shoulder, said
He glanced at where I'd touched him, a glance that warned
"Don't make a habit of it."
Then he said, real low
"More than a drop."
That evening went south.
I couldn't believe Todd picked the locks so easy at the apartment. I asked
"What the hell? No deadlock?"
Todd nearly smiled. Nearly. Smiling wasn't his strong point since Boston, said
"They got a doorman. Figure, why waste bucks on locks?"
I didn't get it, said
"I don't get it. They can afford the best."
We were in and Todd said
"Why? They're rich and us, why we rob 'em."
The place was a goddamn palace, could have put my whole neighborhood in the living room and the furniture, that white leather must be a bitch to keep clean.
Todd headed for the bedrooms, said
"Remember, cash, dope and jewelry."
I was staring at the art on the walls, said
"We're leaving this? This shit must be worth a bundle."
"Pain in the ass is what it is. Can't fence it."
The paintings had little lights over them and I figured that must make them expensive. I was on the point of taking one when the door to the apartment opened.
Todd had promised we were cool, no one would disturb us, the owner was a stockbroker, doing stock stuff. I heard
"The fuck is this?"
Turned to see a guy in a suit. If he was scared, he wasn't showing it. Todd came out of the bedroom, muttered,
Shot the guy in the mouth ... twice.
I was stunned. Of all the events I'd expected, this was not on the list. Todd was staring at his weapon, said
"Piece of shit, keeps jumping high."
I couldn't believe what I was seeing, went
Todd indicated the gun, said
"I was going for a heart shot. Next time, I bring a Glock."
The guy was lying in the doorway, his ruined head in the corridor. Todd walked over, grabbed one of his feet, said
"Gimme a fucking hand."
We stashed him in the bathroom, having dragged his ass across the carpets, blood trailing. The smell of cordite was heavy in the air and I went to the drinks cabinet, grabbed a bottle of Makers Mark, drank from the bottle. Todd protested
"Hey, not while we're working."
I pointed the bottle at him, asked
"What you gonna do, shoot me?"
He was hefting the gun in his hand, said
"If I have to."
I don't think he was kidding.
We put our haul in a black garbage bag and as we moved to the door, I asked
"Did you have to kill him?"
Todd, unruffled, glanced up and down the corridor, said
"Since the house is on fire, let us warm ourselves."
We brought the haul to Boyle. I was still reeling from the casual way Todd had offed the guy. Todd said
"There's a nice chunk of change in that."
He was driving with that total concentration, like he did most everything those days. I asked, sarcasm dripping,
"You got time to count it?"
He caught it, looked at me, asked
"What's with you?"
I wanted to lash out, grab him, shake some sense into him, tried
"You just killed a guy and you don't even mention it. We're going to act like it never happened?"
He reached into the glove compartment. For a mad moment, I thought he was reaching for his piece. Got his cigarettes out, fired one up, all fluid motion, his eyes never leaving the road, said
"It's over. What's to discuss? You want to dwell on it, replay it, do it on your own nickel."
I wanted a cigarette, a drink, some weed and mainly, the hell away from him. I cracked my knuckles, knew it annoyed the shit out of him, asked
"What happened to you in Boston, sorry, South Boston? I don't know you any more."
He shrugged, went
"Maybe you never did."
We were pulling up at Boyle's. Todd was sliding into a space right outside the warehouse that Boyle conducted business in, said
"Don't mention the shooting."
I laughed, not with any humor, asked
"You think Boyle's not going to hear about it?"
Todd was easing out of the seat, said
"No need to get into it now."
Boyle was known as Biblical Boyle but not to his face. We called him Mister Boyle. His tag came from his fondness for the Good Book. On his desk was a battered bible and he quoted from it, a lot. Pain in the ass is what it was. He was a comer, moving up from penny ante stuff to major league, had at least ten guys in his crew and had ambition. How he got to wherever the fuck he was going, he didn't care.
My life was crammed with Micks, my family and most of the guys I knew. Boyle was one of the most irritating. Third generation, he'd been to Ireland a few times and had more than once told me to get my arse over there, touch my roots. I assured him it was one of my goals but the only place I wanted to go was Miami. The warehouse had posters of Dublin and Galway, Galway with that Bay, and Boyle wasn't above singing a few bars of the song, "If I ever go across the sea to Ireland" and he sang like a strangled crow. In his late fifties, he had that barroom tan, the bloated face from too much Jameson, the busted veins along his cheeks. Small eyes that darted like eels and it would be a huge mistake to think the booze affected his attention. If anything, the drink seemed to work on him like speed for anyone else, got him cranked.
He always wore a crisp white shirt, tie and vest, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up, show he was a working stiff. He was running to fat but the arms were still formidable. He was sitting behind a massive desk, a wooden harp on the side and a family snap beside it, a team of kids and his wife, looking frightened. Probably with good reason.
Couple of guys were piling boxes and shooting the shit. Sitting in a hardchair, to Boyle's left, was his main guy, a genuine Mick, born in Belfast and rumored to have been with the Provos. Name of Griffin, he never said much, just stared at you with dead eyes. He'd never spoken to me but I had the feeling he didn't much care for me. I gave him lots of distance. Not that I was afraid of him, just, who needed the aggravation? Todd had cautioned
"Keep your eyes on Griffin."
And being contrary, I'd asked
Todd had sighed, as if he had to explain every damn thing, said
"Because he'll be watching you."
Boyle stood up, stretched out his arms as if he was going to hug us, and maybe if he'd had enough hooch, he might have. He said
"Me lads, back from their big adventure."
His accent grated on me. It was stage Irish. I was sure not even the Irish spoke like this. Todd put the garbage bag on the desk, the loot piled in. Boyle nodded to Griffin who moved slowly, took the bag, spilled the contents on the floor, began to sift through it. Boyle took a brief look, said
Then indicated two chairs in front of his desk, said
"Take the weight off, fellahs."
He sat down, reached in a drawer, took out a bottle of Jameson, said
"Wet your whistle?"
He placed three shot glasses on the desk, filled them. I reached over, took one. Todd didn't move. Boyle had his glass raised, looked at Todd, asked
"You're not drinking?"
Todd, in a lazy gesture, waved his hand, said
"Little early for me."
A look passed over Boyle's face, a tiny peek into what went on behind his eyes, and it was dark, malignant. He was still for a moment, then casually swept the glass off the desk. It narrowly missed Todd, the liquid spilling onto the cheap carpet. Todd never flinched, just sat there, his face without expression, as if dramatic gestures were so much smoke. Boyle said to me
Excerpted from Tower by Ken Bruen, Reed Farrel Coleman. Copyright © 2009 Ken Bruen & Reed Farrel Coleman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted July 30, 2013
Started out encouraging but eventually lost interest three quarters the way through. The mob culture described here did not really have any substantial story line and without that I gave up.
Posted December 6, 2011
An Absolute brilliant book. two of the most dynamic crime writers today join forces to create this compelling story. Dark and violent at times, but it is a must read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.