Our footfalls thump in unison on the rusted iron stairs as the three of us quickstep down the back fire escape as fast as our pigeon-toed feet will carry us. No one has dared to breathe or look back yet; it's too risky to slow down for even a second. We imagine the Puerto Ricans gaining on us. They may already have a pistol pointed up our sorry asses so we say our prayers and drum down three flights of stairs listening for the crack/crack sound from a twenty-two— the pistol of choice in the grid of city streets after dark because it's quiet and there's no mess. The entrance hole is small and sweet and almost bloodless and the bullet plays pinball with your skeleton bouncing off ribs and slicing through vital organs as it settles a score.
When we finally hit the blacktop in the back parking lot, we pick up speed and move along the brick wall in the shadows till we get to the corner of the building and screech around the turn single file sticking tight to the brick. Still no crack/crack from a small caliber pistol; only soft grunting sounds escaping from our tense tender bodies as tears fill our baby-boy eyes. Finally we suck some oxygen. Duncan starts in stating the obvious, bitching about how stupid we were to let ourselves get drawn into a fixed Puerto Rican poker game. He mumbles something that sounds like, You get what you deserve in this life. No one is interested in listening to Duncan's lament. He's forever beating up on himself. If it's not one thing it's another with Duncan, he's never happy. And that's the way he likes it. But still no one's looking back yet. We really don't want to know how deep the shit. Best-case scenario is when we hit the Avenue the car is close by otherwise we may have to have to split up fast. One of us is going to have to grow balls quick and glance back. We make the Avenue. It's a well-lit dreamy world blazing a hellish tangerine fire from all the security lamps burning shadows out of the corners of the night. Every stoop has languishing ghostly figures passing around warm bottles of Thunderbird and brownbag quarts of Schlitz while shrouded in the thick yellow stink of cheap cigarette smoke. A Latin beat drums across the night. As we make the turn all the desperate red eyes fall upon us like we're holy rollers stepping out from behind the wings of a gospel stage. We slam on the brakes. A black cat scoots out from behind a trashcan. Fuck! Not a good sign. Black cats and timing are everything in this life, but as luck would have it Duncan's car is sitting right across the Avenue in a loading zone, the chrome grillwork glinting at us, smiling, enjoying our dilemma. We bolt across the street. TJ glances over his shoulder before diving into the car.
Gogogogogogogogo! he orders.
Duncan fires up the engine, bangs the shifter into gear, fishtails away from the curb leaving a curtain of acrid blue rubber smoke hanging in the heavy air behind us. Relief. We breathe. What a scare. But now it's over and we're all feeling safe and cozy as if we were riding in the back of Granddad's black Buick stroking the mohair upholstery.
Crack/crack. Crack/crack. SHIT! We scream and hit the deck and bury our heads and wait for hot electric lines of pain to violate our bodies. Duncan crouches, lowers his head but never lets go of the steering wheel. Crack/crack. Two more shots snap out in the night. Duncan steps down on the gas pedal. We sideswipe a parked two-toned Mercury. After a couple more blocks Duncan makes a squealing turn, blind and wide down Lafayette Terrace sending trash cans flying into the air before hitting a tall curbstone, crushing a mailbox and flipping the car over onto its roof sending us into a slow, spinning, slide down Lafayette a ways before coming to a graceful up-side-down stop in front of a fire hydrant adjacent to The Tic/Tac Lounge. All is quiet on the Lafayette front for the moment as we sit on our heads and sort things out. Duncan reaches up and shuts off the engine. A stack of parking tickets from behind a visor float down around us.
Anybody hurting? TJ wants know.
I caught the steering wheel in the gut.
I think so.
The blood is rushing to my head.
My heart's pounding.
That was some scare.
I've been scared but never like that before.
You can't buy scare like that.
We just did, Duncan says. Those bastards took us for some cash.
No, I think we're up, TJ tells him.
Not a chance.
Just as Paulie flipped over the table I grabbed the last pot. It was huge. Biggest pot of the night. I'm sure it put us up.
No wonder the Puerto Ricans are so pissed: not only did we snag their dough but we dumped their rice and beans all over the floor at the same time.
They're pissed because Duncan insulted Miguel's sister.
I thought he was pimping her?
She's just a kid.
Puerto Rican girls mature early.
What do I know from Spanish? His own sister ... Damn, I thought they were Catholics.
A siren blares in the distance.
We should get out of here.
What about my car?
You got fire and theft?
Call it in stolen.
Pairs of curious Friday night shoes start shuffling around the car: black zippered boots, tasseled loafers, high-heeled sandals —very stylish— and they're all jabbering in this fast talking alcohol/amphetamine laced street ramble.
TJ nods towards a set of pretty toes painted in black nail polish. He cranes his neck trying to look up the skirt.
The guy should have a statue somewhere.
The guy who designed stiletto heels.
I think it was a woman.
Not a chance.
The siren gets louder.
We need to get out of hereŠnow.
Duncan can't open the driver's door; he shimmies out the window. TJ forces open the passenger door and we rollout headfirst, clumsy but with elegant overtones like a couple circus clowns. We jack-in-the-box up to our feet, stretch our necks, check to make sure everything is in proper working order, brush ourselves off and find all the stylish upsidedown Friday night shoes are holding up a bunch of strung out barflies and they're all standing around in tank tops wearing too much jewelry and make-up with drinks in hand gawking at us like we're the sideshow freaks.
Paulie winks at the black-toed stilettos.
The siren is bearing down. There is a strong smell of gasoline in the air.
Duncan crouches on his hunches, bends and looks back into the car, he salutes and says, Thanks for the ride sweet heart. Couple of the barflies bend down to see who's left in the car. They scratch their heads at the empty cab. We move off down Lafayette working on our swagger when one of the barflies calls out to us. We turn; face him. A big soft cocoa-colored man is holding up a Zippo lighter. We shrug. He flips open the lighter fancy like with one hand and strikes the wheel at the same time. The lighter flames.
What's he up to?
The Statue of Liberty.
The barfly flashes a wide gold-tooth grin in our direction and nods towards Duncan's upside-down automobile.
He wants to torch it.
Fine...I don't give two good shits one-way or the other.
You care plenty.
Knock yourself out, Duncan gestures to the potential firebug.
We get a couple more blocks away before the big BANG. A police cruiser with flashing lights and a caved in front fender sirens past; pretty soon a second cruiser, then a fire truck. That's when we turn down a back alley, vault a Cyclone fence, and with our best boys-are-back-in-town strut we cut across a cobblestone courtyard past a sputtering water fountain and duck into a cool damp parking garage glowing neon red from all the exit signs and lined in rows of Greek cement columns. Our footsteps ricochet off the low ceiling in the empty garage.
I'm going to miss that car.
You'll get a new car.
I loved that car.
Love comes, love goes, love comes back again.
We each pick a column, step behind it and take high-pressure nervous leaks.
The steady streams play off each other as they echo around hollow concrete.
Oh, Christ, we hear Duncan moan from behind his column.
I must have taken that steering wheel harder than I thought. I'm pissing blood.
We're all pissing neon blood.