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Bone in the throat, p.8
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       Bone in the Throat, p.8

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  Seated behind the desk, the chef put his grimy workboots up on a stack of magazines and took out his cigarette pack. He reached into the space between the cellophane and the pack and removed a glassine bag of dope. He got a cut-down piece of a plastic straw out of his desk, stuck it in the bag, and snorted most of the contents. He held out what was left to Tommy, the straw sticking out of the bag.

  "You want a poke at this? You can kill it."

  Tommy thought about it for a moment. "No, thanks," he said. "I'm trying to be good."

  The chef replaced the bag in his cigarette pack, nodding his head in approval. He pursed his lips and said, "You know, I got myself on a waiting list for a methadone program."

  Surprised, Tommy said, "Oh, yeah? That's great."

  "I went in and signed up the other day. But I gotta wait till a spot opens. I don't know when that's gonna be."

  "At least you're on the list, right?"

  "Yeah . . . " sighed the chef. "That's something . . . " He rubbed his face with both hands. "I gotta get off this shit, that's for sure. It's taking away all my money, all my time. You know, I forgot to call in the fish order the other night? I had to run leftover stuff... I lucked out, we were dead or I never would of had enough. Can you see me eighty-sixing fish? The shit is fucking my whole life up."

  "When do you think you're gonna start?" asked Tommy. "How long you have to wait?"

  "I don't know, I don't know. They said they'll call me . . . when there's a space. They're gonna call me."

  "You gonna make it? You can hang in till there's a space?"

  The chef shrugged. "Don't have much choice . . ." He looked up at Tommy and lowered his voice. "You know, I can hardly even get a hard-on anymore?"

  Shocked by this confession, Tommy didn't know what to say.

  The chef continued, undaunted. "At first . . . at first. . . it's good for sex . . . but later . . . you know . . . " The chef shook his head, sadly. "You know, I was gonna ask Cheryl out the other night. . . Stupid, right? I got all dressed up in clean jeans, put on a clean shirt. Even managed to save a few bucks I didn't spend on dope. I come all the way over from my place at the end of her shift, I was gonna go in, she's getting off, ask her out to the Crow or someplace . . . You know what happened?"

  Tommy looked at the chef intently.

  "I stood there. I just stood there out front a the restaurant. Afraid to come in . . . I mean, what if something happened? I go home with her or something, get her in the sack, my prick's just hanging there like a fuckin noodle . . ."

  "So, what happened?" asked Tommy, quickly.

  "I went home. Never even came in," sighed the chef. "A glorious and triumphant end to a glorious fuckin' day. Went home and watched Dobie Gillis and shot up." He shook his head and crinkled up his eyes, disgusted with himself. "Can you believe that?"

  Sixteen

  The united states attorney for the Southern District of New York, Raymond Sullivan, pushed his half-eaten plate of corned beef and cabbage away and wiped a thin mustache of beer foam off his upper lip with a napkin. Al, sitting opposite him in the darkened bar, stubbed out a Marlboro and looked around in vain for a waitress.

  "You didn't eat," said Sullivan.

  "I try not to eat anything comes out of a steamtable," said Al. "You know how long that shit sits there?"

  "They put it up fresh every day he says," said Sullivan.

  "Sits there under those light bulbs, people hockin' and sneezin on it. Shit grows under there. Like a petri dish."

  "It's not that bad. You exaggerate."

  "What I wanna know is—who do I have to fuck to get a beer around here?"

  "Here she comes," said Sullivan, indicating a ruddy-faced blond woman with big hips headed their way.

  "All done with that?" she asked Sullivan. "Can I get anything for anybody else? Some dessert? Coffee?"

  "I'll have another Bass," said Al, curtly.

  "Anything for you, sir?" she asked Sullivan.

  "Same for me," he said.

  After she had returned with their drinks, emptied the ashtray, and left with their empties, Sullivan leaned forward, elbows on the table, and inquired in a hushed voice, "So what's happened?"

  "What happened," said Al, "is a couple of our local geniuses supposed to be watching the restaurant go chasing Tommy Pagano halfway across town to some shooting gallery on the Lower East Side. They leave their post, they follow him over there in the surveillance van and then they collar him when he comes out. Oh, they called in first, spoke to some pimply-assed AUSA and told him they got Tommy Pagano comin' outta there and he's gonna be dirty. Problem is—it ain't Tommy Pagano, it's somebody named Michael Ricard. He's the chef down there."

  "They didn't get some ID?"

  "By this time, they had such a collective hard-on they didn't bother to look."

  "How did they—"

  "Detective Rizzo says he left the photos home that day. He says he was sure it was Tommy, he just got mixed up."

  "Son of a bitch," said Sullivan.

  "They were pretty pissed off when they found out. They must have been 'cause they scared the shit out of him. By the time I got down there the guy was ready to deal his own mother."

  "So he's agreed to work with us. Is that necessarily a bad thing?" asked Sullivan.

  "It's a colossal fuck-up," said Al. "What's this guy gonna tell us we don't already know? What's he gonna tell us we're not hearing from the other guy? I got one fuckin' flake on the payroll already I gotta worry about. I need some junkie dirt-bag?"

  "So why didn't we just throw him back?"

  "We have to keep him. We couldn't have him running around talking about how two detectives just happened to see him coming out of the restaurant and decided to follow him across town. He's been around, this guy. He's not stupid."

  "So why didn't they just say they saw him coming out of the building. They just happened to be there."

  "That's what they said they said, the detectives. But who knows? They were starting in on the pitch right after they got him in the van. They called him Tommy for Christ's sake. There's no way they get the toothpaste back in the tube. We have to keep him now," said Al.

  Sullivan winced. Al took a long drink of ale.

  "Anyway, I talked to him. Why not? I can always use a new friend, right? Right away he wants to give us Harvey. Harvey cheats on his taxes, he says. Harvey's got something sinister going with Sally Wig. Harvey meets with strange men in suits. Yawn."

  "So he didn't tell us anything useful?"

  "Well, he says he's good friends with young Tommy. He says they're close. Says Tommy's a good kid, doesn't even like his uncle, says he's embarrassed by him."

  "I don't blame him," said Sullivan. "Anything else?"

  "One point of casual interest," said Al. "Seems they got two kinds of dinner checks at the Dreadnaught—You got your white ones and you got your off-white ones. End of the night, Harvey throws all the off-white ones in the garbage."

  "So your dentist friend is skimming," said Sullivan.

  Al shrugged. "Personally, I don't give a shit. He's a restaurateur, right? If he didn't steal it would look suspicious."

  "So like it or not, since this chef fell in our lap, we have to keep him," said Sullivan.

  "He's ours now. For better or worse," said Al.

  "What a mess."

  "I tried to make the best of a bad situation," said Al. "I told him, he's such good pals with Tommy he can get next to him for us. I reminded him of the thousand and one delights of a detox out at Riker's. We had a nice talk. I told him to go back there and concentrate on Tommy. I said I don't care if you have to suck his dick for him but get close to him."

  "What does Tommy get us?"

  "Maybe we can trade up." Al paused, leaned forward, and low ered his voice. "I had a very interesting talk about Tommy with Harvey. I looked at some pictures they got the other night. This is where we come to fuck-up number two. Last week, you remember, we got some pictures of Skinny di Milito droppin
g by the restaurant service entrance at two-thirty in the morning. Half an hour later, Sally comes by with a Mr. Freddy Manso. So, I ask Harvey about that and he tells me the night before, Sally calls him up and tells him he should give the porters the night off. He wants a little privacy, he says, to talk to somebody. So there's nobody else there but Sally and Skinny and Freddy. And who lets them in the door? Tommy."

  "So where's the fuck-up?" asked Sullivan.

  "Problem is they got pictures of everybody going in but they missed them coming out," said Al.

  "This is a fuckin' nightmare. Son of a bitch. What are they, fucking sleeping out there?"

  Al shrugged. "That's why I wanted Bureau guys watching the place. So we got Sally and Skinny and Freddy and Tommy getting together in the middle of the night, and they don't want anybody watching," said Al.

  "I remember Skinny. We know him. A real piece of work," said Sullivan. "But what does it mean? So Sally has a party with his nephew and a couple of friends. Sally's Supper Club. Big deal."

  "What makes it interesting is Freddy Manso. Freddy's not even in Sally's crew. What's Sally doing with Freddy? He's with Philly Black over the fish market. And from what I hear nobody's too fond of him over there. He's a gofer, a nobody, a wannabe. He's not a made guy. What makes the uninteresting Freddy Manso so interesting is that nobody seems to have seen him lately—and even more significant, nobody's looking."

  "Ah," said Sullivan, settling into his chair. "So we think Freddy's gone. Never to return. Rest in pieces. Is that it?"

  "That would be my guess," said Al. "Of course my guess would be a lot better, we had some pictures, see who came out of there."

  "You know there's talk of a grand jury hearing testimony on control of the fish market," said Sullivan. "I'm not saying there is one. Just that there might be."

  "Uh-huh," said Al skeptically. "So maybe somebody started to wonder about Freddy."

  "Could be, could be," said Sullivan. "So now we have to play catch-up. Dig ourselves out of the shit. I'm gonna be hearing it from some people about Freddy, I can tell you that for sure. We don't know for sure anything about who, when, or how anybody left the restaurant. Is that right?"

  "That's right," said Al.

  "So Tommy has to be the one if we're talking about adding a homicide."

  "I wouldn't want to count on it," said Al.

  "But it's worth taking a run at him."

  "The way things are, yeah, sure," said Al. "That's the prevailing wisdom anyway."

  "Have you been listening to the tapes we're getting?" asked Sullivan.

  "Yeah," said Al, glumly.

  "We've got two extensions on the Title Threes for Sally's apartment already. I'm on my second on the pay phone outside the Evergreen and I don't think the judge is going to go for another," said Sullivan.

  "The pay phone is giving us nothing," said Al. "A bunch of old men making bets. Bitching about their losses. We get a lot of'Did you see the guy?' 'The guy down there?' 'No, the guy from the other place,' that sort of thing. They're careful."

  "And Sally's place?"

  "Sally doesn't own a telephone. That's a nonstarter over there. You read the transcripts from the room bug? You should for a laugh. Hour after hour of Sally watching cartoons. He likes The Jetsons you know. Sally watching Met games. Sally farting. He does a lot of that, especially when he's alone. Sally arguing with his bimbo, asking her if she thinks he looks fat. She says he looks 'husky.' "

  "Maybe we should tickle the wire a little bit," suggested Sullivan.

  "You can tickle the wire all you want. Sally doesn't entertain at his place. Just the odd bimbo now and again. He has any of the fellas over, it's only for a minute, they don't talk much. You can listen all you want, all you're gonna find out is Sally's got bad gas and a crush on Judy Jetson."

  "So it's got to be Tommy," said Sullivan.

  "I guess. A real criminal mastermind all of a sudden, our Tommy," said Al.

  "Ask your CI what he thinks Tommy's doing. What's Tommy doing in a place with a bunch of known LCN associates? Follow up on this. Tell the other one, the chef, to keep us apprised of young Mr. Pagano's activities. I want to know what the fuck is going on before this whole thing falls apart."

  "What about the Brooklyn end?" asked Al. "Harvey's into them for twenty long."

  "I don't know what to do about that," said Sullivan. "I was thinking that's something we can tickle Sally with at some point in the future. I don't know. If this murder thing pans out I may just give the Brooklyn DA a lay-up."

  "You don't want to do anything there, right now?"

  "I don't want to go down that road at this precise moment. Later. We might want to piss somebody off at some point. The Brooklyn thing might do that."

  "Okay," said Al.

  "Let's see what happens with Tommy. Tommy interests me."

  Seventeen

  Harvey steered the black Toyota into the parking lot of the Skyline Motor Lodge and parked the car in the last space on the right. As he got out of the car, he looked over his shoulder at the traffic whizzing by on Route 46. It was early afternoon and very hot, and Harvey was perspiring. He reached in his pants pocket for his handkerchief and wiped his face.

  The door to room twelve was unlocked, and Harvey let himself in. Al was sitting on the bed with his shirt off watching a Met game. An open bag of Cheez Doodles sat next to him on the bed. He was drinking a Diet Pepsi and trying with one finger to pick a piece of Cheez Doodle out of his navel.

  "You're late," said Al.

  "I'm sorry. Traffic on the bridge," said Harvey. "Help me get this fuckin' thing off. It itches like a motherfucker."

  Al pushed his bulk off the bed and stood up. Harvey took off his shirt. There was a Nagra recorder adhesive-taped to the small of his back and a wire running down under his crotch and up his chest to a tiny microphone. Al turned him around and, in three quick motions, tore the whole apparatus unceremoniously from his skin.

  "Jesus! That hurts!" said Harvey.

  "Shave your back next time. It won't hurt so bad," said Al.

  Harvey stood in front of a streaked mirror at an angle, examining the pink welts on his back. "I should put some cream on this," he said. Al went to the closet, found his jacket on a hanger, and tucked the little Nagra and the mike into the inside pocket.

  "No air-conditioning," said Harvey. "You don't get any air-conditioning in here?"

  "It's broken," said Al. "I'm hot too."

  "You're hot," said Harvey. "I've been sweating my balls off, I can't even get a nice room to cool off in. It's like an oven in here." He wrinkled his nose. "And your feet smell."

  "It's these sneakers," said Al. "I gotta get a new pair." He turned off the Met game. "You want a Diet Pepsi?"

  Harvey waved his hand dismissively and sat down in a scratchy, floral-print chair that made his back itch.

  "And Fort Lee," he asked. "I got to come all the way out to Fort fuckin' Lee? You know it's four fuckin' dollars get back in the city?"

  "Just looking after your security there, Harvey," said Al. "So how'd it go?"

  "I thought he was going to pat me down or something. I'm standing there with the guy and I'm thinking, These guys are huggin' each other all the time. What happens he gives me a hug and feels it there. I end up in the fuckin' trunk of a car. One pat on the back and that's it. You know he put his hand on my shoulder. I thought I was gonna let go in my pants."

  "But it went alright?"

  "I'm here aren't I?"

  "So what happened?" asked Al.

  "We went out for a walk-talk," said Harvey. "Down Spring, up West Broadway, over Prince, and back. He was nervous. Says people are watching him, he's got to be careful."

  "Well, he's right about that," said Al.

  "I gave him the money," said Harvey.

  "All of it?" asked Al. "You didn't give him a story?"

  "I gave him what I was supposed to. It's on tape."

  "He say anything interesting?"

  "It's all
on the fuckin' tape," said Harvey. "Listen to it."

  "I want to hear it from you," said Al. "What did he say? How did he seem? Happy? Sad? Nervous? Whimsical? What?"

  "He seemed nervous. And pissed off about something. Didn't talk much. Just 'Where's the money, make sure you have it together for next week.' He asked about the other people. The people from Brooklyn. Whether I'd seen any of them around."

  "What did you say?"

  "I said no. What do you think?"

  "Did he believe you?"

  "I don't know. Like I said, he seemed pissed about something."

  Harvey got up from his chair and went to the bathroom. He took a few sheets of toilet paper and wiped under his arms. He found a water glass wrapped in paper on the counter. He took one of the sodas off the night table, unwrapped the glass, and poured himself half a glass of Diet Pepsi.

  "Shit is warm."

  "Sorry, I've been here awhile. It was cold when I got it."

  "They don't have ice here?"

  "There's a machine by the office," said Al. "But I didn't want to leave the room."

  "I didn't see your little red Alfa out there," said Harvey.

  "No. I got something else today," said Al. "You see the black van on the other side of the lot? Got a sunroof and a mural on the side? That's me."

  Harvey peered through the blinds. The van was parked all the way over. The mural on the side depicted a black man standing in front of some extraterrestrial landscape, surrounded by bejeweled naked women with melon-sized breasts, "Who's the schvoogie on the side?" Harvey inquired.

  "Jimi Hendrix," said Al. "I think so anyway. It's a fuckin' seventies whorehouse on wheels, that thing. Carpet, beanbag chairs. Got it off DEA, they took it oft some druggie—Florida, I think."

  Harvey took a sip of his warm soda and sat back in the chair.

  "I went out with the chef the other night," he said.

  "That's Michael, the chef—isn't it?"

  "Yeah," said Harvey. "He's French, you know. Or his family's French. I don't know,"

  "So?"

  "Well we go out for some drinks together. Talk about the menu, discuss a few things. Well, all night long he's bitchin' about his chef's knife. It's some expensive Jap knife he got custom made, costs about a million dollars, they got to measure your hand and everything to make it. Anyway, he's bitchin' about it getting all fucked up. He comes in the other day and it's all beaten to shit like somebody's been pounding on it with a hammer. There was chunks missing out of the thing, blade all bent up. Like somebody tried to cut through a chain-link fence with it. So after he comes into my office and a lot of pissing and moaning, I sent him out to get a new one. Cost me five hundred bucks. So we're sitting there at this bar and he's going on and on about his fuckin' knife and who could have done such a thing and I start thinking. I'm thinking about when the knife got so fucked up. See the chef keeps asking who could've done it and I realize who it was in the kitchen the night before. It was that night Sally was there."

 
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