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Bone in the throat, p.13
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       Bone in the Throat, p.13

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  "Hey dude," he said, flashing a row of very white teeth. The skin around his eyes crinkled like old leather.

  "Hi, Julius," said Harvey. "How you doin'?"

  "Just got back from Belize," said the man.

  "Nice?"

  "Oh, it's great down there. Really outstanding diving. Nice reefs."

  "Sounds nice," said Harvey.

  "I'm buying a new boat next week," said the man. "A sailboat this time. Thinking about sailing it down to Antigua in the fall."

  "Ahhh, Julius, what a life you lead," said Harvey. "That's what I should be doin'—sailin' around the Caribbean. That's what I should be doin'."

  "You over at the beach today? Catch some rays?"

  "Yeah," said Harvey. "Nice weather for a change. I get any color?"

  "You got good color," said the man. "You use any sunscreen?"

  "Yeah, I use a sunscreen," said Harvey.

  "What do you use? What number?"

  "I use a 12 on my face and a 7.5 on the rest. Estee Lauder. It's expensive."

  "You should use a 15 on your face," said the man. "You want to end up lookin' like Willie Nelson? No way."

  "You have that thing for me?" asked Harvey in a hushed voice.

  The man reached into the chest pocket of his Hawaiian shirt and removed a crumpled tissue. He glanced over to the bar and then slipped the tissue across the table and anchored it under the ashtray. Harvey picked it up and slipped it into the pocket of his shorts.

  "There's a half there. That's what you wanted, right?" said the man. Harvey nodded. "It's not racy like some of the shit that's around."

  "Can I get you for this next time?" asked Harvey. "I didn't stop at the bank on the way to the beach. I didn't wanna miss prime ray time."

  The man nodded. "Try to get me next time, though. We're getting up there. I'd like to carry you, but I gotta get some things for the speedboat."

  "I can run to the cash machine," said Harvey. "I think there's one in town."

  "Get me next time. That's cool," said the man. He glanced at a thick Rolex dive watch on his wrist. "I should be getting along. I got some people I gotta see over in Atlantic Beach. Try to get that bread for me next time." He got up and walked to the stairs leading down to the dock, and disappeared from Harvey's view for a couple of minutes. Then there was a loud roar from below, and Harvey saw him, standing at the helm of his speedboat. He pulled out into the center of the waterway, opened the throttle, and sped away, leaving the other boats bouncing in his wake.

  Harvey finished his drink and headed for the bathroom.

  Twenty-Five

  Al pulled the red Alfa over in front of the Evergreen Sportsmen's Club. The Rolling Stones' "Jigsaw Puzzle" was playing on the tape deck. Al rolled down the windows, turned up the volume, and got out of the car. The old men in front of the club grimaced at the blasting rock and roll and looked at Al with stricken expressions.

  Charlie Wagons, standing in the open doorway of the club in his bathrobe, screwed up his face and squinted at Al.

  "Do I know you?" he asked.

  "I don't know," said Al. "Do you know me?"

  "You're a cop," said Charlie.

  "Federal cop, Charlie. Eff-A-Bee-Eye. My name's Al."

  "You have to play that jungle music so loud out front of my place? I can't hear the fuckin' game in there," said Charlie, struggling to maintain his temper.

  "Gee, I'm sorry, Charlie," said Al. "Damned disrespectful of me." He made no move to turn down the music.

  "So, whaddaya want, Mr. FBI? You want somethin? Talk to my lawyer. I'll give you his number."

  "I'm sorry," said Al. "Is this a bad time for you? I didn't come over here to bother you. Not at all. I'm just lookin for some help on a thing I'm workin' on. Looking for some assistance in an investigation."

  Charlie threw a half-smoked cigar in the street. He turned his head and looked suspiciously at Al. "What do you want?"

  "I've got this case I'm working over in Brooklyn. Big RICO case. My boss has got me chasin' all over torn tryin' to put something together. The Calabrese crime family. You heard of them?"

  Charlie said nothing. Al continued. "I just wondered if you, being a concerned citizen and a resident of this neighborhood and all . . . if you would care to help us out on this thing. Help keep your neighborhood free from the insidious infiltration of legitimate businesses by criminal elements from the other boroughs."

  "My neighborhood—" Charlie started.

  "I mean, you've lived here all your life, You're a respected man in the neighborhood. I understand people look up to you around here, they come to you with their problems. You've got family here. I figured you'd be outraged that these people from Brooklyn feel free to come down here and loan money at usurious rates to some of your local businesses. Extorting nice hard-working people like yourself. I would think you'd find that sort of thing disgraceful." Al smiled.

  "I'm not talking to you!" said Charlie, taking a step back.

  "You mean you're not concerned?" said Al, with a look of feigned shock.

  "Go away," said Charlie.

  "I didn't mean to get you upset," said Al.

  "I'm not upset," stammered Charlie. "I'm not anything! Talk to my fuckin lawyer. I'm not talkin' to you. Not a fuckin' word.

  Al held up his hands, palms up. "Hey, hey, Charlie, you don't have to get all defensive. Don't run away."

  Charlie stood his ground. "I'm not running anywheres. This is my place here. If somebody's running away, it's you. You should get lost."

  "Alright," said Al. "Alright. I can respect that. You don't want to get involved yourself. How about your friends and associates here." Al motioned toward the old men sitting in the chairs outside the club. "You know, maybe they'd like to assist us. Out of concern for the area. They could start up like a neighborhood watch thing. You, they could sort of keep an eye out for us. Look out for some of these Brooklyn types who are coming around here lately and committing these illegal acts. You could set up patrols. Walkie-talkies, flashlights. No guns or anything like that, so it's safe. We'd be happy to help. Maybe we could get you guys uniforms. What's your jacket size, Charlie? What are you, a forty, forty-two? You'd be like the Guardian Angels. The eyes and ears of the neighborhood. What do you think? Interested?"

  "What the fuck are you talking about?!" roared Charlie.

  "Where's your friend Sally Wig?" asked Al. "I don't see him around. I thought you guys were tight. Everybody says he's like a son to you. I thought maybe he'd be here. You think he'd want to help?"

  "Get the fuck outta here!" said Charlie, waving his arms. "Motherfucker! You fuckin hand job, get offa my stoop! Get the fuck out! Prick!"

  Al looked ostentatiously at his watch. "I guess this is a bad time for you. How about we reschedule some other time. Tomorrow okay with you? We can have lunch, talk about this neighborhood watch thing. Go over the details. I can get some sizes for your friends here, it'll go a lot faster getting the uniforms. How about I take you out for lunch? Or you want to eat here? I could bring lunch. What do you like? I could bring sandwiches. What do you like? Turkey club? Ham? Nice Reuben sandwich? Personally I'm a pastrami man. I know a place over there on Second that makes a great Reuben." Al paused for a moment and looked thoughtful. He patted Charlie on the stomach. "Or you want something light? Maybe a salad? All that starch you guys eat, it's bad for the heart."

  Charlie, his face crimson, stalked into the club, muttering curses under his breath. A few seconds later, a big man in a V-neck sweater closed the door.

  Al turned to the old men in the chairs. They sat there mute, star ing at him. "Jeez, what a grouch," he said. He got back in the red Alfa and pulled into traffic.

  AL FOUND DANNY TESTA sitting on a crate of oranges on the loading dock of Testa Produce in Hunt's Point in the Bronx. Men pushed hand trucks laden with produce onto waiting trucks. They wore leather trusses around their waists and T-shirts with the Testa logo printed on the back. Danny sat smoking a cigar, going over a clipboard ful
l of orders and invoices.

  "Hi, Danny," said Al.

  Danny looked up from his clipboard and said nothing.

  "My name is Al. I'm a special agent assigned to the Organized Crime Strike Force, Southern District of New York. Maybe you read about us in the Post ?"

  "So what?" said Danny.

  "I'm sorry to bother you at work," said Al. "Really. I know you're a busy man. But something's come up at the office and I could really use some help."

  Danny smiled sardonically. "Oh, yeah?"

  "It's a missing persons case, really," said Al.

  "I didn't know you guys did missing persons," said Danny.

  Al continued as if he hadn't heard. "We're seeking to ascertain the whereabouts of a certain Freddy Manso. He's been missing a long time. People are worried. His family must be worried sick. It's been so long nobody's heard from him and frankly"—Al lowered his voice—"people are beginning to, you know, fear the worst."

  "I don't know the guy," said Danny, a smile still frozen on his face.

  "Freddy Manso? You don't know the guy?" exclaimed Al. "Damn! I feel like a fuckin' jerk. I come all the way out here, use up a quarter tank of gas. You don't even know the guy. This is really embarrassing. I told my boss, I said, 'I'll go out there, Hunt's Point, see Danny Testa. He knows Freddy. I'll bet he's worried too. I'll talk to him. Maybe he knows where we can find him. Maybe he can help.' "

  "I guess you made the trip for nothing," said Danny.

  "Yeah," said Al. "Looks like it. I guess I got mixed up. It's those damn photos they give you down at the office. The long lenses. You don't get the resolution. So much grain in the picture, the light is bad sometimes. I look at a picture, I see two guys standing next to each other, smiling and clappin' each other on the back. I think—hey, these guys are friends. They know each other. They know each other well. Just look at them there goosin each other like a couple of fags. They must go way back. Then I take another look at the same fuckin picture and I'm not so sure. Maybe the picture's a little fuzzy. Maybe I got it all wrong. Maybe that's not Danny Testa there smilin and laughin' and horsin around with old Freddy M. Maybe that's not even Freddy, these pictures are so bad. Who can fuckin' tell for sure? Could be fuckin Winston Churchill standin' there out fronta the Evergreen. What do I know?"

  Danny shrugged, his smile starting to disappear slowly from his face.

  "I mean, I know it's not Winston Churchill. I'm sure of that 'cause he's dead, isn't he?" said Al.

  "Who's dead?" asked Danny.

  "Churchill. You know, 'We will fight them on the beaches' and all that. The English guy."

  "I don't know any English guy," said Danny, confused.

  Al feigned a look of shock. "You think he's dead? Freddy, I mean?"

  "I have no way of knowing something like that," said Danny. "I don't recall ever meeting—whassis name? Freddy something?"

  "Freddy Manso," said Al.

  "Manso, Manso . . . No. It don't ring a bell. He in the produce business?"

  "No," said Al. "I believe Freddy was in what you'd call the entertainment and financial services industry."

  "I wouldn't know the guy then," said Danny.

  "That's too bad."

  "If he was in the produce business, he buys produce, he sells produce, maybe I woulda seen him around. But, no . . ."

  Al rubbed his chin. "Oh well. I guess I got it wrong then. I was sure you knew the guy." He extended a hand. Danny declined to take it. Al turned to go back to his car. "Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I'll be seeing you around."

  "Yeah, sure," said Danny.

  DANNY TESTA STOOD next to Charlie Wagons in the late afternoon sun.

  "Somebody from the FBI been to see you?" asked Charlie.

  "Yeah," said Danny. "You too?"

  "Yeah. Somethin' he said. Somethin' he said about Calabrese people—"Charlie began.

  "Maybe we should take a walk," said Danny. "They got microphones. They been takin' pictures."

  Charlie motioned to a tan Chevy four-door a hundred yards down the street. "That's them there. I had Mickey bring 'em coffee the other day."

  "We should walk anyway. Maybe they can hear," said Danny, eyeing the surveillance car.

  "Make you feel better," said Charlie. They walked down to the corner of Spring and turned downtown. "This fed, he said something about the Brooklyn people shylockin' down here."

  "Oh, yeah? Maybe he's just pullin' your chain," said Danny hopefully.

  "Course he's pullin' my chain. He's rubbin' my nose in something that I don't know what it is," said Charlie. "That's the thing. I don't know what it is. What is it I'm supposed to know that I don't know?"

  "I don't know," said Danny.

  "You hear anything?" asked Charlie.

  "No, nothin'."

  "What did he say to you, this guy? What did he want?" asked Charlie.

  "He wanted to know about that guy. You know, that guy from over there. The one we had the problem with."

  "What did you say?" asked Charlie.

  "I said I didn't know the guy," said Danny. "What am I supposed to say. He said they had pictures."

  "Of you and him?"

  "That's what he said," said Danny. "By the club, they got pictures."

  "That's not news. They got a lotta pictures. Don't mean nothin'," said Charlie dismissively.

  "I don't like it," said Danny. "He wanted me to know, right? There's gotta be a reason he wants us to know something."

  "Same shit. He's tellin me somethin talkin about Brooklyn," said Charlie.

  "So what's goin on?" asked Danny, frustrated.

  "They don't have shit. That's what's happening here. They don't have shit so they try to make you nuts. Try to make you do somethin', say somethin' stupid. You say anything?"

  "He didn't get word fuckin' one outta me," said Danny.

  "They're playin fuckin' games. They love that. They send you cards? They send me cards. Christmas, my birthday. 'Happy Birthday from the FBI.' I was home with a bug last year, they sent me a 'Get Well Soon card. Can you believe that shit?" Charlie shook his head in wonderment.

  "They sent me a card one time," said Danny. "When I got straightened out. 'Congratulations on Your Promotion.' '

  "That's your tax money at work. These guys got nothin better to do, they sit around jerkin off sending guys cards," Charlie complained.

  "So it's nothin," said Danny.

  "I still want to know," said Charlie. "I wanna know if somebody from over there's puttin' money on the street over here."

  "So who do you think it is?" asked Danny.

  "He mentioned Sally Wig," said Charlie. "He mentioned him, so I gotta figure maybe it's one of his places."

  "So which one you think it is?"

  "I'm thinking maybe that new one. The Jew dentist he's got. The place next to the Count's. Wouldn't be the Count, we know him."

  "So what should I do?"

  "Well, you gotta talk to Sally. That you gotta do first. After that I'm not sure. I'm not sure. I can't decide who I wanna whack out first—the guys from over there, I don't know if I want to get into a big thing with Brooklyn right now, or Sally for fuckin' up. Not minding the store. There's things I'm not sure of. When I'm sure, I'll know what to do," said Charlie.

  "Sally's got shit for brains he let this thing get past him," said Danny.

  "Makes sense, the guy's been paying regular last few weeks. Before that every week was a fuckin' problem."

  "You're talkin' about the dentist?"

  "Yeah. It's the sort of thing I'm not surprised. Sally fuckin' up—that I can see. I can see that happening. And Calabrese, he don't like me anyways. I can see him tryin' to get his foot in the door over here."

  "You wanna put paper out on somebody from Brooklyn, friend of ours, you gotta get permission, right? You gotta go the Commission," said Danny.

  "Fuck them. Buncha old men. They'll say no. Then it'll be me gets whacked. No. I don't wanna hit any bosses. Just the people that come over. W
e give the paper to Sally. Let him handle it. We tell him we got permission, if it's his mess, then he can clean it up."

  "So what happens later?" asked Danny.

  "He done it on his own. I'm sick a his shit anyways," said Charlie. "He's a bone in my fuckin' throat since forever."

  "So I should talk to some people. Find out a few things," said Danny.

  "That's right. That's what you should do," said Charlie.

  "And if what's happened is what we think happened—"

  "Then tell Sally to fix it. He can use Skinny."

  "We're not gonna have any problem with Calabrese later?"

  "That faggot? I served time with him in Lewisberg. He takes it in the ass. He had some nigger car thief there suck his dick for him, some punk. Guy wears a dress around nobody's looking," said Charlie bitterly.

  "You're kidding, right? The fuckin' guy's huge. He's built like a brick shithouse. I seen him—"

  "I'm tellin' you he's a faggot. Everybody knows, all the bosses. They don't do nothin' 'cause he earns."

  "I can't believe it," said Danny.

  "Believe it," said Charlie. "He owns all those fag places on the West Side. Maybe he saw something he liked. That's how he got in Manhattan in the first place. Now he maybe wants to make a move east. Fuck him. I'll put a fuckin' rocket in his pocket," said Charlie.

  "The guys that collect," said Danny. "Right?"

  "Yeah, find out who that is. Then check with me before we send anybody over."

  "Okay. What about the other problem?" asked Danny.

  "Oh, the other thing? The guy? The guy who isn't around? Don't worry about it. They're just blowin' smoke up your ass."

  "I hope this isn't gonna be a problem," said Danny nervously.

  "If it's a problem, it's gonna be Sally's problem," said Charlie.

  Twenty-Six

  Sally sat behind the wheel of his new Buick. It wasn't really new, though the odometer registered only 150 miles. Sally had picked it up two hours earlier at a chop shop in Queens. There was something wrong with the power steering, it made a terrible noise when he turned too far to the left or right. The rubber insulation around the driver's window was coming off, and the car smelled bad, like somebody had kept a wet dog in it. Sally pulled the car up to a stoplight and fiddled with the dial on the radio, trying to find an easy-listening station.

 
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