Cold city, p.1
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       Cold City, p.1

           F. Paul Wilson
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Cold City


  Cold City (Repairman Jack - the Early Years Trilogy)

  Wilson, F. Paul

  Wilsongs (2012)

  * * *

  COLD CITY

  a Repairman Jack novel

  The Early Years Trilogy: Book One

  by

  F. Paul Wilson

  Copyright 2012

  This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  COLD CITY

  Copyright © 2012 by F. Paul Wilson

  All rights reserved.

  First international ebook edition: (December 2012)

  Acknowledgments

  Thanks to the usual crew for their efforts: my wife Mary, my editor David Hartwell, Steven Spruill, Elizabeth Monteleone, Heather Graham, Kathy Love, plus Becky Maines, Blake Dollens, Dannielle Romeo, and my agent Albert Zuckerman.

  Author’s Note

  If you’ve never read a Repairman Jack novel, Cold City is a good place to start. It kicks off The Early Years Trilogy which begins in 1990 and recounts how Jack arrived in New York City as a callow twenty-one-year old and made the city his home.

  NYC was a different place then. The Disneyfication of Times Square was still years away. A national recession was on, the crime rate was high, and 42 Street was still Grindhouse Row.

  Jack was different too. He didn’t know the ropes yet – hell, he didn’t even know where to find the ropes. But he’s a quick learner, adaptable, and choosy about who he’ll call a friend. In other words, a natural-born survivor.

  Meet the new Jack, not the same as the old Jack – but all the ingredients are there to brew up the guy people will come to know as the Repairman.

  F. Paul Wilson

  The Jersey Shore

  THURSDAY

  1

  Jack might have reacted differently if he’d seen the punch coming. He might have been able to hold back a little. But he was caught off guard, and what followed shocked everyone. Jack most of all.

  No surprise where it came from. Rico had been riding him since the summer, and pushing especially hard today.

  The morning had started as – usual. Giovanni Pastorelli, boss and owner of Two Paisanos Landscaping, had picked him up at a pre-designated subway stop in Brooklyn – Jack lived in Manhattan and trained out – and then picked up the four Dominicans who made up the rest of the crew. The Dominicans all lived together in a crowded apartment in Bushwick but Giovanni refused to drive through there. He made the “wetbacks” – his not unaffectionate term for them when they weren’t around – train to a safer neighborhood.

  Jack had arrived in the city in June and came across the Two Paisanos boss in July at a nursery. His landscaping business had started with two paisanos but now had only one, Giovanni, who almost laughed Jack off when he’d asked if he needed an extra hand. He was a twenty-one-year old who looked younger. But he’d worked with a number of landscapers in high school and college, and ten minutes of talk convinced the boss he’d be taking on experienced help.

  But Jack’s knowledge of Spanish, rudimentary though it was, clinched the hire. The boss had come over from Sicily with his folks at age eight and had lived in Bath Beach forever. He spoke Italian and English but little Spanish. Jack had taken Spanish in high school and some at Rutgers. The Dominicans who made up the rest of Giovanni’s crew spoke next to no English.

  Giovanni worked them all like dogs seven days a week but no harder than he worked himself. He liked to say, “You’ll get plenty of days off – in the winter.” He paid cash, four bucks an hour – twenty cents above minimum wage – with no overtime but also no deductions.

  Though a newcomer, Jack quickly became Giovanni’s go-to guy. He could understand the Dominicans if they spoke slowly, and was able to relay the boss’s work orders to them.

  Before Jack, that had been Rico’s job. He spoke little English, but enough to act as go-between. He probably felt demoted. Plus, Giovanni loved to talk and would launch long, rambling monologues about wine, women, and Italy at Jack, something never possible with Rico. That had to gall him. He’d been with Giovanni – or jefe, as he called him – for years, then Jack strolls in and becomes right-hand man within weeks of his arrival.

  Jack had come to like Giovanni. He was something of a peacock with his pompadour hair and waxed mustache, and could be a harsh taskmaster when they were running late or weather put him behind schedule. But he was unfailingly fair, paying on time and to the dime.

  He liked his “wetbacks” and respected how hard they worked. But his old-country values didn’t allow much respect for his clients.

  “A man who won’t work his own land don’t deserve it.”

  Jack had lost count of how many times he’d heard him mutter that as they’d unload the mowers and blowers and weed whackers from the trailer. Giovanni charged jaw-dropping lawn maintenance fees, but people paid him. He had the quality homeowners wanted most in their gardener: He showed up. On top of that, he and his crew did good work.

  On this otherwise unremarkable late October day, the Two Paisanos crew was in Forest Hills performing a fall cleanup around a two-story Tudor in the shadow of the West Side Tennis stadium. Last month they’d worked at the club itself, planting mums for the fall. His dad was a big tennis fan and Jack remembered seeing the place on TV when the US Open was held here.

  Carlos, Juan, and Ramon were happy-go-lucky sorts who loved having a job and money to spend in the midst of a recession. But Rico had a chip on his shoulder. Today he’d started in the moment he got in the truck. Childish stuff. He was seated behind Jack so he began jabbing his knees against Jack’s seat back. Jack seethed. The months of bad ’tude and verbal abuse were getting to him. But he did his best to ignore the guy. Rico never seemed to be playing with a full deck anyway, and appeared to be missing more cards than usual today.

  When they reached the work site Rico started with the name-calling in Spanish. One thing lacking in his Spanish classes in Rutgers had been vernacular obscenities. But Jack had picked up quite a few since July. Rico was using them all. Usually the comments were directed at Jack, but today Rico had expanded into Jack’s ancestry, particularly his parents. With Jack’s mother buried less than a year now, the guy was stomping on hallowed ground. But he didn’t know that. Jack set his jaw, tamped the fire rising within, and put on his headphones. He started UB40’s latest spinning in his Discman. The easy, mid-tempo reggae of “Labour of Love 2” offered a peaceful break from Rico’s rants.

  Rico must have become royally pissed that he couldn’t get a rise. So pissed he hauled off and sucker punched Jack in the face.

  As his headphones went flying and pain exploded in his cheek, Jack felt something snap. Not physically, but mentally, emotionally. A darkness enveloped him. He’d felt it surge up in him before, but never like this. He took martial arts classes but whatever he’d learned was lost in an explosive rush of uncontrollable rage. Usually he fought it, but this time he embraced it. A dark joy filled him as he leaped at Rico with an animal howl.

  He pounded his face, feeling his nose snap beneath his knuckles, his lips shred against his teeth. Rico reeled back, and Jack quarter spun his body as he aimed a kick at his left knee. His boot heel connected with the outside of the knee, caving it inward. Even over the roaring in his ears he could hear the ligaments snap. As Rico went down, Jack stomped on the knee, then kicked him in the ribs, once, twice. As Rico clutched his chest and rolled onto his side, Jack picked up a bowling-ball-size rock from the garden border and raised it to smash his head.

  A pair of powerful arms encircled him and wrenched him around. He lost his grip on the rock and it landed on the grass, denting the turf. Giovanni’s voice was shouting close behind h
is left ear.

  “Enough! He’s down! He’s finished! Stop it, for fuck’s sake!”

  The darkness receded, Jack’s vision cleared, and he saw Rico on the ground, his face bloodied, wailing as one arm clutched his ribs and another his knee.

  “All right,” Jack said, relaxing as he stared in wonder at Rico. “All right.”

  What just happened?

  Maybe five seconds had passed. So little time, so much damage.

  Carlos, Juan, and Ramon stood in a semicircle behind Rico, their gazes shifting from Jack to their fallen roommate, their expressions alternating between fear and anger.

  Giovanni released him from behind and spun him around. He looked frightened, upset.

  “What were you gonna do? Kill him?”

  “I don’t know. I mean, no. I guess I lost it.”

  “Lost it! Damn right, you lost it!” He looked over Jack’s shoulder at where Rico lay. “Christ, I never seen anything like it.” His expression darkened. “You better get outa here.”

  “What?”

  “You can catch an E or an F back into the city over on Seventy-first Avenue.”

  Jack felt a new surge of anger, but nothing like before. “Hey, aren’t we forgetting something here? I was the guy who was minding his own business when he–”

  “I know all about it, but you’re still upright and moving. He ain’t walking anywhere after the way you fucked up his knee.”

  “So–”

  “So nothing. I know these guys. They’re thick like brothers. You stick around you’re gonna find some hedge trimmers chewing up your face. Or a shovel flattening the back of your head. Git. They’ll cool down if you’re not around.”

  The heat surged again. He was ready to take on the remaining three right now.

  “They’ll cool down? What about me?”

  “Don’t be a jerk. You’re outnumbered. Move. I’ll call you later.”

  “Yeah?” Jack said, resisting the urge to take a swing at Giovanni. “Don’t bother.”

  Railing silently at the unfairness of it all, he picked up his Discman and started walking.

  2

  He got off the F at the 42 Street stop with his cheek throbbing, his right hand swollen and tender, the knuckles scraped and purpling.

  He’d cooled off but was still angry at Giovanni for sending him home. Yeah, well, what else was new? He’d spent most of the year angry at something.

  He’d got off a good ways from what he called home these days – a tiny apartment he’d found over a flower shop down in the West Twenties. But he didn’t want to go there. He didn’t hate the place, but didn’t much like it either. Two rooms, good for sleeping and reading and little else. Except maybe watching TV – if he’d had a TV.

  He was feeling pretty low, and sitting in that drafty, empty box would only push him lower.

  He didn’t know what to do with himself. Free time? What was that? Here it was October and he hadn’t had a day off since hiring on with Two Paisanos back in July.

  He came up to street level in front of Bryant Park, which wasn’t much of a park at the moment. The city had rimmed it with boards and a high chainlink fence, closing it for “renovation,” whatever that meant. A black guy in a crisp blue windbreaker and jeans saw him looking and stopped.

  “Yeah, used to be a great place to get high.”

  “So I hear,” Jack said.

  As he’d heard someone put it: “Home to the three H’s – hookers, heroin, and homeless.”

  “Speakin’ of gettin’ high, you lookin’?”

  Jack glanced at him. Didn’t look like a dealer. Had to admit, a little oblivion might ease the pain, but he’d never got into that. Tried weed in Rutgers but found beer more to his liking. Sure as hell tasted better.

  “Nah.”

  A preferred form of oblivion waited farther down the Deuce.

  “You have a nice day, then,” the guy said and strolled on.

  Jack looked around. He saw the back of the New York Public Library. He could walk up to Fifth Avenue, pass between the stone lions guarding the entrance, find a book, and read.

  But the siren call of the grindhouses beckoned.

  He crossed Sixth and started walking west on 42. Halfway along the block the porn shops began to appear. Not exclusively. The XXX peep shows competed with delis and a pizza place and an electronics shop, and of course the ever-present souvenir stores offering the tacky cast-metal Empire State Buildings, World Trade Center towers, and sickly green Statues of Liberty. All made in China.

  Dinkins had been mayor for close to a year now and was threatening to clean up the Times Square area. Jack didn’t know how he felt about that. Sure, it would be great for tourists who wanted to bring their kids here, but… West 42 was the Deuce, and it wouldn’t – couldn’t be the Deuce without the sleaze factor.

  But so far, no cleanup, no change.

  The Deuceland uber alles.

  He crossed Seventh and entered Grindhouse Row – the stretch of the Deuce between Seventh and Eighth, a cheek-by-jowl parade of glittering movie marquees, each trying to outblaze the next along the length of the block.

  A back alley of heaven.

  Some of the theaters showed first-run hits from the majors – Goodfellas had come out last month and was still going strong here, as was Arachnophobia – but most offered either reruns or low-budget exploitation films. Choices ranged from Zapped Again and 10 Violent Women to ancient oldies like The Immoral Mr. Teas and The Orgy at Lil’s Place. None of those appealed. But then he came to a Sonny Chiba triple feature: The Streetfighter, Return of the Streetfighter, and The Streetfighter's Last Revenge. He’d seen these on videotape but never on the big screen.

  Yes!

  He checked the twenty-four-hour timetable on the box office glass and saw he had about twenty minutes before the next feature began. So he walked back up to Times Square and hit the Roy Rogers there for some roast beef – or was that Trigger? – on a bun with extra horse – see? – radish sauce.

  He wandered as he ate. The newspaper that gave the square its name was published half a block down 43. The Light had offices here too. An Armed Forces recruiting station sat on the downtown end of the triangle formed by Broadway’s angled path across Seventh. Not much activity there. With all the saber-rattling since Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait a few months ago, enlistment was essentially a nonstop ticket to the desert.

  Speaking of tickets – a big crowd was gathered around the TKTS booth on the same triangle. With the recession in full swing, discount Broadway tickets seemed in greater demand than ever. Cats and Les Mis were still going strong, and The Phantom was somewhere down one of these side streets. Jack hadn’t seen any of them, and had no desire to. Well, The Phantom might be okay if it weren’t a musical.

  A pang stole through his chest as he remembered how his mother would buy all the Broadway soundtracks as soon as they’d come out. Broadway was the Muzak of his childhood. That had been one thing he hadn’t missed when he’d moved out to live at school.

  He shook his head. Still couldn’t believe she was gone.

  He tucked the memories away and covered the still-open wound. Yeah, he really needed an afternoon of chop-socky.

  Might even stay and see the trilogy a second time.

  3

  Vinny Donato stood back and let Tommy do the talking. Tommy Totaro loved to talk. He was known as “Tommy Ten-thumbs” because he had the goddamnedest thickest, shortest fingers anyone had ever seen. Like little Genoa salamis… like, well, like eight extra thumbs. But these days he should have been known as “Tommy the Snorter,” on account of how he liked the powder. And once he had a snootful, he became “Tommy the Talker” and never shut up.

  Vinny preferred eating to talking. And the only white powder he liked was the sugar on his zeppoles. He pulled one from a grease-stained sack from his favorite bakery in Bensonhurst and popped it into his mouth. He offered the sack to Aldo D’Amico standing next to him, but Aldo shook his head and took a d
rag on his Camel instead. That was why he was so skinny – he preferred smoking to eating. Anyways, he only had eyes for Tommy and the guy seated beside him.

  Vinny almost felt sorry for Harry Detrick. Almost. Some guys never learn.

  “So Harry,” Tommy was saying, waving and wiggling those salamis in the air. His left nostril was rimmed with white. “You and me we got this… this connection, y’know. It’s a very complex thing. It’s cosmic, it’s karmic, it’s… money. It binds us. It flows between us like… like love. I love people and you love the ponies but you can’t love the ponies the way you’d like to love them without money, and so money has flowed between us to facilitate that love. But lately, Harry, the love has been flowing only one way, and that hurts me.” He placed a hand over his heart, or at least where it was supposed to be. “It hurts me in here, and it hurts me deeply.”

  Harry Detrick squirmed in his wrinkled suit. Vinny guessed he was about forty, maybe five years older than Tommy; no guessing about him being overweight – his gut was as big as Vinny’s. His comb-over had got messed up when Vinny and Aldo dragged him into this West Side garage; its sweat-soaked strands were plastered down every which way, exposing his pink scalp.

  His lower lip trembled. “Look, Tommy, I can–”

  Tommy grabbed his wrist, almost gently. “Shh, my brother. The love not only connects us, it binds. But that’s not all that binds us. Our karmas are intertwined, and binding us as well. And yet, with all that, there’s still more that binds us.”

  The click of the handcuff closing around Harry’s right wrist echoed off the bare concrete walls.

  Harry jumped. “What–?”

  Here we go with the cuffs again, Vinny thought.

 

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