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Bone in the throat, p.15
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       Bone in the Throat, p.15

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  "You're kidding, right?" asked the chef.

  "No. I'm not fucking kidding you. It's you that goes straight to the fuckin' can. You," said Al.

  "But why?" protested the chef. "You said . . . they said if I helped, if I helped—I did help."

  "You get to detox off the methadone in a holding cell. Who knows what happens to Tommy. I imagine you'll be able to read about it in the day room."

  "They'll medicate me out there," said the chef. "My counselor said they can do that."

  "There's a happy thought. I guess you have no problem then," said Al, smirking.

  "They will. Half the people on my program are in and out of there all the time. They can get you medicated right there," the chef insisted.

  "You'll lose your job," said Al.

  "Restaurant's fuckin' terminal anyway. It's probably only got a few months to live."

  "And there's your reputation to consider. Amongst your culinary brethren. It's a fairly small community—restaurants, chefs, owners. That's what I hear anyway. Always bumping into the same people. I'll bet people get squeamish about hiring ex-cons. I'll bet they get even more squeamish about hiring junkies to handle their food for them. People don't like to think about things like that, they sit down to order a nice dinner. Am I right? They think they might catch something . . ."

  "We made a deal," said the chef, his upper lip sticking to his teeth.

  "Let me explain something to you, Michael. You were a NYPD collar, in case you didn't know. Now, I was able to exert some influence, I was able to keep you out of the shit because of, and I quote, your ongoing assistance of a confidential nature in an investigation of the highest sensitivity.' The key word here is 'ongoing.' That means when the information is not 'on,' then you're the one who's gonna be going.' I've kept you out of it for months, out of a dead-bang drug case the DA would be happy to prosecute, and you've been feeding me shit. You try to serve up your boss, fine. Only we're not interested in your boss. I told you then what I was interested in. You haven't delivered. You haven't told me anything I don't know already. All you got to trade is your influence on Tommy. I can't hold the dam forever. Some of these local boys would be happy to get their collar back. They don't like it when I take a nice, easy possession case away from them. I'd like to keep you out of it. I really would. But you've gotta give me a reason. People are asking me all the time, 'What has he done for us? What has he done for us lately?' What am I gonna tell them?"

  The chef sat there, shaking his head and blinking.

  "Get him to talk to me," Al continued. "He's your good buddy. Spell it out for him. Tell him it's either that or he gets a subpoena. Tell him if he lies to the grand jury he's gonna go away for sure. He doesn't talk to us and I don't even want to think about all the problems the two of you are gonna have. It's just too depressing to contemplate."

  "What if I talk to him and he still doesn't want to talk to you?" asked the chef.

  "Then I guess you're fucked, for one. NYPD gets their case back. You get to eat American Regional out there at Rikers. Tommy gets to grab his ankles upstate. That's if his uncle and his pals don't turn him into fertilizer first."

  "So, I have to get Tommy to come in and rat on his uncle," said the chef. "Nothing less . . ."

  "That, my friend, is exactly what you gotta do."

  Twenty-Eight

  When the alarm went off, Tommy sat up blinking in bed. He looked over at the empty space next to him, remembered that Cheryl was away for a week, visiting her parents. He went into the kitchen and put on coffee, wandered idly over to the TV set and turned it on. He channel-surfed around the dial, waiting for something to catch his interest. After fifty-one channels, he turned off the TV, rolled a joint for later, and went back into the kitchen for his coffee. The milk in his refrigerator had gone sour, so he had to drink it black. He put his robe on and went to the window.

  There was a softball game going on in the small playing field down the street. He smelled eggs cooking and home fries from the Greek coffee shop around the corner on Hudson Street. He looked up and down the street for the van. He didn't see it. The Jeep was gone, too . . . Maybe they'd changed cars.

  From what Al had indicated, from all he seemed to know about Tommy, it was a sure thing he was being watched . . . Tommy looked up at the windows of the front apartments across from him. He tried to see past the trees into the playground next to the softball field. He looked at each parked car, each truck, each pedestrian visible from his window and saw nothing out of the ordinary.

  That guy Al had really upset him . . . Thinking about it now made his palms sweat. They really were following him. Al had talked about a file. He even knew where Tommy ate breakfast. Tommy looked over at the phone and wondered if it was tapped. He imagined a room full of cops, their jackets off, shoulder holsters exposed, crouched somewhere in a dark room opposite him, looking into Tommy's place, looking at him now through long lenses, taking pictures, big reel-to-reel recorders ready for him to pick up the phone. He wondered if they could hear him, too. They had those big parabolic jobs, didn't they, they could just point one at him from a block away and listen. He had read in a book where they could even bounce a laser beam off your window; turn the glass itself into a microphone. He hadn't seen his next door neighbors in a while, the old Ukrainian couple . . . Maybe they had moved out, maybe the cops moved them into a hotel so they could skulk about in the apartment next to his, driving probes through the walls, little cameras.

  Tommy poured the coffee into the sink, unable to drink it. His stomach felt sour from all the worrying. He wished Cheryl was here. Not that there was anything he could tell her . . . There was a loud bang as a newspaper was delivered across the hall, hitting a door, and Tommy jumped.

  He went into the bathroom, showered, and shaved. While he shaved, he realized how much he wanted to tell somebody. But there was no one he could tell. Cheryl was in Rhode Island; the old school pals he'd known in the old neighborhood, the ones most likely to understand a situation like this, they were long gone, abandoned and forgotten when Tommy had moved to the West Village. He couldn't tell them anyway. He even thought about telling his mother and had to laugh, bitterly, as he imagined how she'd handle it. Call your Uncle Sally, she'd say . . . or that nice Mr. Iannello, you know, Charlie? He likes you . . . He'll know what to do. He could tell the chef, he supposed. He couldn't picture what that would be like. The chef had his own problems. And of course, to Sally and Skinny and that bunch, telling the chef would be the same as telling the police. Subject to the same penalty anyway.

  Tommy got dressed, fed the cat and changed her water, and left the apartment. He hoped it would be busy today at the restaurant; it would help take his mind off things.

  Tommy stepped out onto Morton Street and was looking up and down for any sign of the van or that Jeep with the tinted windows when he saw Skinny.

  He was standing behind the Cyclone fence in the playground across the street, looking straight at him. Tommy didn't know what to do. His first instinct was to pretend he hadn't seen him; keep walking, not acknowledge he'd seen him. But it was already too late for that. Skinny had already lifted a finger to his lips, telling Tommy to be quiet, act natural, then he'd motioned with his thumb in the direction of Hudson Street, wanting Tommy to follow.

  Tommy walked slowly down Morton to the corner. He stayed close to the buildings on the uptown side of the street, trying to see around the corner to where Skinny had gone, trying to get a preview of what was waiting for him.

  He saw Skinny walk straight across to the west side of Hudson without looking back. He stopped in front of a brown Lincoln double-parked in front of a renovated apartment building and gave Tommy a quick glance before getting behind the wheel. Tommy approached the car, saw a solitary figure in the back seat.

  He approached the Lincoln slowly, crouching a little as he got closer, trying to see who it was in the back seat. He could make out a dark business suit and wide shoulders, a tie with a gold tie-clasp. It wasn't
Sally, that was for sure.

  Tommy looked at Skinny behind the wheel, a quizzical expression on his face. Skinny jerked a thumb toward the rear of the Lincoln. Tommy took this to mean he should get in the back seat. Back seat. That's a good sign, he was thinking. If Skinny was to be in the back and I was to be in the front, now that would be a bad sign. Somebody wants to talk to me, that's all.

  Tommy opened the rear door on the street side and got in.

  It was Danny Testa sitting in the seat next to him. All dressed up, like he'd been to church. He was smiling, not in itself a good or a bad sign . . . He patted Tommy on the thigh with a big hand a few times and said, "Hey, Tommy. . . good to see you. Thanks for comin'."

  Skinny started the car and took off up Hudson Street, his eyes meeting Tommy's in the rearview mirror. After Skinny had taken them over to the river and turned downtown on West Street, Tommy said, "I'm gonna be late for work."

  "Sorry kid," said Danny. "You're just gonna have to be a little late." End of discussion. Skinny gave Tommy another look in the rearview.

  They drove in silence down the West Side, Danny looking behind them periodically, Skinny speeding up and then slowing down, changing lanes, seemingly at random. They swung around the Battery and were soon heading uptown again on the FDR Drive. Tommy noticed they passed the exits for Canal, then Houston, and were still heading uptown. When Fourteenth Street disappeared behind them, Tommy turned to Danny and, in as friendly and as disinterested a way as he could, asked him what was happening.

  "Can I ask you where we're goin' here, Danny? I haven't seen you in a long time . . . You pop up outside my place, take me for a cruise in your car . . . You mind if I ask why?"

  Danny put his fingers to his lips, much like Skinny had done.

  "Later," he said. "Wait'll we get there."

  A few more minutes of silence. The car passed Forty-second, went through a tunnel, passed Gracie Mansion. Skinny slowed the Lincoln down, as if to take the exit, even putting on the directional. Then at the last second, he stomped on the gas, wheeled the big car left across three lanes of traffic, right directional still blinking, before slowing the car down to a crawl again.

  Trying to smile, Tommy said, "Can I at least make a phone call? Call work, tell them I'll be late?"

  Danny didn't respond. He was looking out the back window again . . .

  At 125th Street, Skinny stomped on the gas, back across the three lanes, no directional this time, and sped down the off-ramp. At the bottom of the ramp, he touched the brakes for a split second and then accelerated, plowing through an intersection against the light. Tommy was bounced around in the back seat next to Danny, almost falling onto his lap. Tommy tried to hold on to the seat, his sweating hands leaving wet prints on the red leather.

  Skinny was taking them west now. At intervals, he would turn off and head in another direction, wheel the car uptown a couple of blocks, back-track east on a side street. Once he gunned the engine and took them the wrong way down a one-way street, one eye looking in the rearview mirror the whole way.

  Arriving at the corner of Broadway and 125th, they turned left and headed downtown again. Another turn without warning at 116th and they were headed uptown on Riverside Drive, the trees in the park whizzing by Tommy's window as he looked apprehensively at the river, wondered if he'd be floating in it in a few hours. By the rotunda on Riverside, Skinny bore right and barreled down Claremont the wrong way. Halfway down the street he stomped on the brakes, Tommy's head bouncing off the front seat, and pulled the Lincoln into a space in front of some stone steps leading up to a small park.

  Danny smiled at Tommy and said, "We're here . . . Let's take a walk." Danny led the way, Tommy behind him. Skinny trailed at a distance. They walked up the stairs to the park, an oblong, sparsely landscaped place with a commanding view of the approaches on all sides and the passing tugs on the Hudson River. There were two women with strollers on the far end of the park, but they were headed away toward Riverside Church. Tommy was alone with Danny, Skinny around fifty yards away, walking in wide circles around them, his back to them, guarding the perimeter.

  "We can talk here," said Danny as they walked. "In the car . . . I don't talk inna car. I keep it inna garage, an' the niggers they got workin' in there . . . anybody could get in. Guy I know used to talk in his car, he got in a lotta trouble. He had a pretty bad surprise, he heard himself talkin' when they played it back for him in court. Got a lotta other fellas in trouble too. Ya can't be too careful. I got responsibilities."

  Danny sat down on a bench, facing the river, and Tommy, after a quick peek to see where Skinny was, sat down next to him. He wished the bench faced in another direction. He wanted to keep an eye on just where Skinny was going to be every second.

  "Danny," he asked, "what is it? I gotta tell you, you're makin' me fuckin' nervous."

  He looked back again at Skinny. He was standing at the edge of the park, looking down at Claremont.

  "Well," said Danny, "I been axed to talk to you . . . Actually, nobody axed, but I thought maybe I should have like a word with you, look into things on some other people's behalf. Axe you about a few things, see what's goin' on in your life."

  Tommy looked puzzled. Danny smiled, made him wait.

  "You was with Sally and Skin for that thing . . . You know, that thing that happened over there, when they had to do a thing . . . You know which thing I'm talkin' about?"

  Tommy nodded carefully. "Yeah . . . " He felt his stomach sink.

  "When they tol' me you was there, I was surprised. Don't get me wrong . . . I wasn't upset or nothing . . . I was just surprised, bein' how in the past . . . in the past, I heard you didn't wanna be involved in things. For reasons of your own which ain't none a my business . . . The old man was surprised too . . . Did Sally give you some money? Some people thought you should have some, since you was there, since you helped them out with the problem . . ."

  Tommy didn't know what to say, what the right answer was going to be. He tried to read Danny's expression and saw nothing that would be of any help. So he told the truth. "He offered. I didn't take it . . . Nothing personal... I mean I didn't mean anything by it . . . I just . . . I just thought . . . I didn't know what was gonna happen. It was a favor. They asked me to do a favor so I did the favor. I didn't expect any money, so I didn't take it."

  "That's what I heard," said Danny. "So . . . you haven't changed your mind about nothin' . . . You ain't comin' in with your uncle, is that right?"

  "Well..." said Tommy, not wanting to say anything to offend Danny or implicate Sally in some breach of protocol.

  "You don't want to come in with him, that's your own business. I respect that. You do your own thing, that's fine with me. It's fine with everybody. Nobody's gonna tell you do something you don't wanna do. You wanna be a regular jerk, that's fine. And I don't mean that in a bad way . . . y'unnerstan'."

  Danny took a paper bag out of his pocket and began to sprinkle bread crumbs around for the pigeons. None came.

  "I used to keep pigeons," he said. "I had my own coop up onna roof a my buildin ."

  "I remember," said Tommy. "When I was a kid. My mother was always bitchin' 'cause they'd crap on her laundry."

  "Well, a lotta time gone by since then. I got responsibilities now. Things I gotta take care. I gotta see that things that get done, that they get done a certain way, that nobody makes a mistake that's gonna cause any other persons to get hurt. Now, I like your Uncle Sally, we been friends a long time . . . but, I just wanna make sure, for his sake you unnerstan', that maybe he didn't make a mistake without knowin' it. That's what I'm tryin' to find out."

  "What do you mean?" asked Tommy innocently.

  "Well, the fact he used you . . . I just wanna make sure. Just wanna talk to you, make sure he didn't make a mistake."

  Tommy tried to look shocked, even offended.

  "I mean, you're a grown man, now, right, Tommy. And you still don't want nothin' to do with us, right?"

  "It's
nothin' personal, Danny," said Tommy. "It's just, just. . . there's other things I wanna do with my life."

  "I mean, I been thinkin', talkin' to some people . . . I hope you don't hold no kinda a grudge what happened to your father. I hope you don't hold nothin' against nobody. There was nothin anybody coulda done about that, I hope you know that, right?"

  "I don't know what happened . . . " said Tommy, surprised at the mention of his father. "He was just gone one day. That's all. . ."

  "Well. . . you know . . . and I'm telling you this straight, what happened to your old man had nothin' to do with anybody, with anybody you know. Just so you got that straight in yer mind. I just wanna know you ain't holdin' no grudge against nobody else. You don't have no grudge or nothin' do you, Tommy?"

  Tommy was confused. "No, no, no. Not at all. My father did what he did. Something happened, he knew it could happen and it happened."

  "So, that didn't have nothin' to do, you not wantin' to come in with your uncle?" said Danny, looking at him.

  "No," said Tommy "It was a girl, actually."

  This seemed to take Danny by surprise. He laughed uproariously. "A girl . . . A girl!? What, some chick tell you she ain't gonna put out for you, you keep bouncin' around with your friends? You let some broad pussywhip you inta leavin' your friends, your neighborhood, people love you, take care of you your whole life? I don't believe it . . . It hadda be somethin' else." "

  It wasn't just that," said Tommy. "It was a lotta things. Sally got me that job out in the restaurant that time and I really liked it. It made me feel good. I like what I'm doing . . . It's my thing. My own thing, not somebody else's. Nothin' to do with anybody. No bad feelings."

  "How about Sally?" Danny asked carefully. "How you feel about him?"

 
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