RIPE FOR THE TAKING.
That's all I can think as I watch them.
The crowd pouring out of the Stadium, tens of thousands cramming out onto River and the Concourse, flooding the street under the 4-train tracks as the trains screech in and out overhead, more people packing the cars sardine tight, tripping up the steps, cascading down into the tunnels, mashing into Stan the Man's, northbound traffic making for the Cross Bronx Expressway and the Triborough stalled out from all the people wandering the street. Drunk and half drunk, ecstatic from a win or enraged from a loss, a blue-and-white pinstriped mass of thousands.
All of them full up.
Each of them enough to keep some sad son of a bitch on his feet for weeks. For months if he has some self-control and knows how to go about his business. Most of them strangers to the South Bronx, never seen more of it than this one subway station or the parking lot and the Stadium itself. Each one full to their pumping heart with quarts of blood.
Any wonder every fucking game brings trouble?
Sure, no big secret. That's why the cops are out there. Cops keep the traffic moving in fits and starts. Cops keep the Bleacher Creatures from chewing the ears off any Sox fans stupid enough to stay through the ninth inning on a night their team came to town and won. Cops keep an eye out for pickpockets and for drunks falling under the buses and for snatch-and-grab artists.
If I gave a shit about any of that stuff I'd give them a hearty pat on the back and maybe buy a boy in blue a beer sometime.
But I don't care.
What I do care about are poachers. What I care about are starvelings. I care about the greedy and the weak, the foundering and the lost and the plain stone stupid. I care about them so much that I try to show my face around here after every night game. Just to make it plain and clear.
Clear that they should get off this turf before I come up behind them in an alley one night and put two in the back of their fucking skull before they even know I'm there.
The halt and the lame. They got no place. Not as long as I'm stuck up here.
Stand up top long after a game, well before sunrise. Stand on the 4 platform and look south and you can see it. You can see the City right there. One stop over the river.
Fucking China to me.
Coming down to the street, iron bars walling stairs and turnstiles and platforms, arching overhead, meeting the steel undercarriage of the tracks, like walking circles in a cage.
No one shits in my cage.
So after a game I make the scene. Truth to tell, figure I'd make it even if I didn't have practical concerns. Figure I'd be out there on River just to take advantage of pretty much the only time I can stick my face out of doors in the neighborhood and not pique someone's curiosity.
A white face in the South Bronx after dark, it draws a little attention. During the day, around the courthouses on One Sixty-one, you see plenty of them. Cops and lawyers and the occasional plaintiff. But they all go home come night. Closest any of them live to One Sixty-one and the Concourse might be Riverdale. More likely Jersey or Queens.
Still, during the day I could blend in real easy eating a Cuban from Havanna Sandwich Queen on one of the benches next to a statue of Moses bringing the Ten Commandments down the hill. Look at my build, my face, my black boots and black Dickies on a summer day, with my leather jacket draped over the warm stone bench, and someone might naturally think undercover. Think I'm some cop up here to testify.
But that would require I was out during the day.
Which isn't on my agenda. Ever.
Not until I develop a serious taste for dying from instantaneous eruptions of bloody pustules on my eyes.
So if I desire to take the air, my promenades must come betimes at night. And, man, there just ain't no other fucking white people in these parts after the sun goes down. And drawing eyes is not something I have much desire to do.
Who that guy?
Seen him around?
Gotta be Five-0.
Naw, see him for months. Never make a move on no one.
He ain't livin' up here.
Don't know, could be he is.
What block? What building?
Next thing you know, go down a block on a hot night: Old guys got their card table and their wives' favorite kitchen chairs out on the sidewalk to play dominoes; young guys standing around someone's leased Escalade, bass beats rippling their baggy shorts, shooting texts to the shorties looking down from a fire escape across the street; windows open, rice and beans and stewed chicken smells coming out, mothers and grandmothers and pregnant girls inside laughing and sipping sangria made from jug red and 7Up; someone catches sight of me and the party just shuts down. Hear nothing but my boots on the pavement, see nothing but sideways eyes scoping me out all the way to the end of the street until I turn the corner and they all look at one another.
Who the fuckin' white guy?
Figure a question like that can drive some people crazy. Figure some people got to know. Figure sooner or later someone gets in my face. Figure that doesn't end well.
Figure that isn't the real fucking problem anyway.
The real fucking problem is when that question circulates too far, rumors start, people tell stories, stories spread.
The river, I can't cross it, but any of these people can. And they can take questions and rumors and stories with them. And once that kind of shit is over there on the Island, no telling where it ends up. Ends up in the wrong place, maybe someone hears it. Someone hears it, maybe someone decides to look into it. Someone looks into it, maybe someone sees me. Someone finds me. And once I'm found by someone from the Island, figure my game is played out. Figure me dead.
Well, that's on the agenda, but I'm trying to see if I can't attend to that matter at a later date. More pressing business at the moment.
Places to go. People to see.
Goals. Ambitions. They keep a man going.
Any case, all the restrictions my new neighborhood puts on me, figure I'd stroll over after the games just to mix with the crowd. Just to be out. Anonymous. Free is a word you could use if you like. If you like a good laugh, that is.
And while I'm there stretching my legs, I take a look around, take a sniff of the air, see if I maybe smell something I don't like. I smell something I don't like, I can make a point of finding who it is. Maybe find an intimate moment when the crowd eddies around us, lean close and make myself clear.
I had such an opportunity tonight.
Waiting on the last couple outs of the ninth inning inside Billy's, nursing a plastic cup of tap beer, mentally adding the last of the singles and change in my pocket to see if I could make it come out to enough for a real drink before I wrapped up. I smelled something waft in from the street. I knocked the bottom of my cup against the bar and watched the foam rise, watched it boil down, drank the last of it lukewarm and headed out to the street where the crowd from a not very close loss was already pouring surly out of the Stadium.
Want to smell rank? Smell a few thousand baseball fans on a hell- humid night after a bad loss. Sweat-soaked jerseys, urine-soaked sneakers, dribbled pump-cheese, a cloud of exhaled peanut breath and hot dog farts.
And still, I can smell it.
Scent like slightly diluted acid, cutting my nasal passages. Hard sharp poison. Venom.
I start cutting the crowd, working my way back and forth across the street on sharp diagonals, looking for the scent. And finding it. Finding it over and over.
The dildo somewhere up ahead of me must be following a similar path, but cutting for signs of different prey. Looking for a mark. Someone who will cull themselves drunk from the herd and wander down the wrong long street, into an absence of light where any old bad shit can take place.
I can be patient. Wait till he starts moving in a straight line. That will be the sign, when he stops blundering back and forth leaving trail after trail, that'll be the sign he's found what he wants. The idiot, out here making a spectacle of himself, hunting in the open like a bag-snatcher.
Yeah, who's the idiot now?
It's not a single trail zigzagging the crowd.
A pack. A fucking pack in the crowd. A fucking pack of youngbloods working the crowd after a game. Cocky in numbers, ignorant of fear, dumber than dirt.
Christ, does that ring a bell.
Like my own bell tolling away before I learned a thing or two.
I can't tell how many. Their lines are all stirred together in the dead air by the shuffling herd. But the scent is strong. So make it three. Maybe make it four. No more than that. Four together is pushing any kind of balance. Four can't last together for long. Tear each other apart.
No more than four. More likely three. Two?
That's wishful thinking.
But Christ, let it be no more than three.
More than three and I just won't have enough bullets. Three bullets being all I have at the moment. Three bullets, a likewise amount of dollars, and maybe that many days I can get through healthy before I need to get my hands on some more blood of my own.
Well, not blood of my own. More like blood of someone who can maybe spare a couple pints. Those people, they tend to be a rare commodity. Most people need all they got. And some of us, some of us need all we can get our damn hands on.
Every last drop.
-Now! Now! Clear the fuck off now!
-Yeah, fuck you!
-Not your fuckin' street!
-Gonna meet the street in a second. Gonna be assumin' the position gangsta style, face in the gutter in a second.
-Man, fuck you!
I swing round and watch some cops dealing with four kids whipping through the crowd on bright little pocket bikes, knees jutting high from the two-foot-tall cycles, engines rising and falling as they give little pulses of gas to keep themselves in motion.
The cop on point adjusts his gun belt.
-Say that word to me again! Say it again! Taser your ass right off that bike. Know what happens I hit you with a Taser? Make you shit your pants, kid. Lie there crying mami, mami and your pants full of shit just like when you were a baby.
One of the kids guns his bike, the tails of his do-rag flapping behind him.
-Man, Taser you mama.
-What? Say what?
The kids cut back and forth between cars and pedestrians, never losing balance, staying just far enough from the cops that if the officers get serious the kids know they can get away.
-Say you mama need a Taser for her stinky pussy.
The cops are half smiling as they walk slowly, herding the kids away from the heart of the Stadium outflow. Enjoying the distraction. But clearly not above busting a little skull if they can get their hands on the fuckers.
The point cop fingers the handle of his baton and tilts his chin at his partner.
-Kid's clearly never met your mama, Olivera, otherwise he'd know how sweet her pussy smells.
Olivera hoists a middle finger at him.
-Not as sweet as your mama says my dick is.
Do-rag rises on his pegs.
-Cops be all in each other mama's pussies. I wait till you at it and fuck you daughters.
The point cop's fingers curl on his baton.
-That ain't fuckin' funny, you little shit.
Olivera adjusts his hat.
-I ain't even got a daughter and I don't think it's funny.
Do-rag shrugs, weaves around a clot of baseball fans watching the scene play.
-No problems, man. I fuck you wifey instead.
And the two cops run at the kids and the two other cops that had been working their way over from the north end of the street where the new Stadium is going up run at the kids and the kids hit the gas, the tiny 49cc engines whining and the crowd scatters and the cops scream and when the dust settles the backs of the kids flick out of sight around the corner, one of them waving the cap he snatched from the head of one of the cops.
The crowd rustles back into its former rhythm and shape, everyone avoiding eye contact with the cursing cops. The cops stand in a circle and ask one another if they've ever seen those kids before, what block they maybe live on, what building they maybe live in, discussing how much ass they're gonna kick when they catch up to them.
I wander across the street, crossing the path the kids took as they rode off, knowing the cops will be lucky if they never see that particular group of little shits ever again.
Poison in the air.
Poison left hanging by that pack.
Kids no older than thirteen. Could they be older? Sure they could. If they were heavy feeders they could be old men on the inside. But they're not. Old men wouldn't make a spectacle like that. Old men wouldn't bait cops. No, they're new.
New to the life.
Jesus, thirteen, they're new to everything there is. And destined to never get old to it. Not the signs they're flashing. Big signs, neon and bright: KILL ME NOW!
I cross to Gerrard, the crowd thinner, the traffic for the CBE and the Triborough heavy, past the long low bunker of the parking garage.
Yeah, I'm thinking about the kids. But I got other things on my mind as well. Like I'm thinking about who made them that way. Who bled into them. And how many must have died ugly on the way to infecting those four.
And I'm thinking how life isn't an easy thing. Nasty, brutish and short, so they say. And how you got to take your pleasures where and when you find them. Because they may not come again.
And I'm thinking just how much pleasure I'm gonna take from scalping the guy who infected those kids. How much fun it's going to be to peel his skull and shove the rag of skin and hair down his throat to muffle the screams while I figure ways to make him live as long as possible as I yank his ribs out.
From the Trade Paperback edition.