He was standing there, upper-torso burrowed deep inside Mike’s Eagle Premier, when I emerged from The Vacationer. He was wearing dark tan work boots under worn and faded jeans, the entire length of which ran dabbed with splattered paint and streaks of gypsum.
There was a jet-blue women’s 10-speed leaning up against the side door, and so I swiveled round to port, took a seat behind the driver.
“Is this your boy?” the gravelly-voiced silhouette demanded. “Is this the one who live inside?”
“Yeah, yeah,” my buddy Mike assured him. “This is the guy who we’ve been waiting for.”
The gravelly-voiced silhouette turned his focus toward me. “Your homey here said it might-could be OK for me to stash my bike inside your place there for a minute, y’know, so as he and I can conduct ourselves a little bit-o-business.”
“I said that you could ask him,” my buddy Mike interjected.
“OK, then,” the gravelly-voiced silhouette persisted. “And so I guess that I’m-a ask you: you think it might-could be OK for me to leave my bike inside your place there for a minute?”
“Sorry, man,” I called up from the back seat, “but I just now finished locking up the entire building for the evening.”
“And so what?” the gravelly-voiced silhouette insisted, “You can’t just right-on unlock the joint and let me wheel my goddamn bike inside? I’m just tryin’ to do your homey here a solid, yo.”
“Yeah, well, I really don’t know anything about that,” I responded. “The best advice that I can offer is you either park your bike around the back or see if you can fit it in the trunk. Otherwise, maybe the three of us can meet you up the road somewhere.”
“What the fuck is wit-your boy here?” The gravelly-voiced silhouette asked Mike. He was pointing off toward the rear now, dashboard glow casting a glare upon his nose. He pulled his head out from the window, wheeled his bike along the hollow, the shadow of both thighs elongating like spears. He turned the corner, disappeared.
“You mind if I ask you what the hell that was all about?” my buddy Mike said. He was adjusting the rear-view mirror till it faced me.
“Look, man,” I responded, looking directly past Mike toward the rear of The Vacationer, “we really don’t have ample time to get into this right now. Just believe me when I tell you the smartest thing that we can do is throw this fucker in reverse and hit the bricks before that asshole turns around.”
Mike threw his fingers on the gear shift, dropped it slow into reverse. He was still holding one good foot over the brake pedal when that asshole reappeared, stiff legs collapsing inward as he approached the idling vehicle.
He slithered low into the front seat, swung his weight across the lumbar.
“Yo, man, my name’s Junior,” is what that smarmy motherfucker said.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure the two of us have met,” is what I said back in return.
There was a 16-year-old named Kevin sitting across from me in the rear, and he leaned forward with his arm out, shook Junior’s hand to ease the tension.
Junior grappled for his seat belt, pulled it over, faked a yawn.
He had a live one on the hook now. He knew much better than to ruin it with questions.
Mike and Junior were negotiating terms up in the front seat, Junior insisting on full payment while Mike countered, refusing to pay anything more than 50% up-front (with the other 50% immediately available upon delivery). There was talk of a graphic equalizer and dual back-window subwoofers, Junior sneaking in consistent jabs at Mike’s existing stereo along the way.
“Shit, man, this thing ain’t got no treble worth a damn,” Junior might say, or, “Shit, man, I seen more bass on a goddamn eel.”
None of us had any idea what the fuck Junior was talking about. But he just kept right-on yammering straight up until we pulled into a boarding house where Mike was staying. The Harris House, as it had become known, looked a lot more like a converted motel. There were concrete landings set outside both matching floors, the red-brick exterior rubbing hard against pink trim and purple accents. There was a huge asphalt courtyard sprouting daisies in the center, jagged shards scattered like crystals all along the blighted surface. I got out of the car along with Mike, insisting that I needed to go use the bathroom.
Mike and I were jogging up the stairwell, cast-iron rail tweaking my arm just like a tuning fork. “Hear me out,” I kept on calling from behind. “That’s all I ask, is that you hear me out.”
“I’m listening,” Mike told me. He was unlocking his front door now, rushing in, then kneeling down before a three-foot chest of drawers. He went rooting through the bottom, reaching back and to the left.
“Look, I’m just saying,” I was just saying, “this guy, he ripped me off to the tune of $300. Three-Hun-dred-Dollars! He just, like, kept showing up there on my doorstep every evening. It felt like it was his job or something.”
“Oh yeah?” my buddy Mike responded. He was standing with his back toward me, adjusting both his waistband and his collar. He checked the mirror, pulled his shirttail. Then he shuffled past me toward the landing, flipping the light switch off along his way.
“You mind if I lock up?” Mike asked me.
“Umm, no,” I responded. I shimmied a few feet to my left, clearing a wide berth for the door.
“Look, man, I understand where it is you’re coming from,” Mike whispered, as he fiddled with the doorknob. “I do. And I totally respect the fact you might never want to deal with that cocksucker again. But all I’m doing here is buying a goddamn stereo off the guy. That’s it. It’s a one-and-done transaction. In fact, I’d be willing to bet the whole goddamn thing’ll be over in a little less than 15 minutes.”
“Yeah, I know, but …”
“And if it turns out you’re really not OK with this,” Mike added, “then I totally understand that, as well. Kev and I’ll just meet you over at Raymond’s once the two of us are finished.”
I remained there on the landing, looking off into the courtyard as Mike galloped down the stairs. Less than a minute later, I was stewing in the backseat of Mike’s Eagle Premier, marking time as the four of us headed south along New Jersey, breezing through a string of stop lights on our way into the heart of town.
Mike’s car was idling in an abandoned lot behind the Wildwood Bowl, Junior tugging at his chin as he considered his next move. To our right there hung a sprawling sun-dried marquee with the word “ROCKADERO” stenciled on it in big, brown, boulder letters. The Rockadero had been shut down since the beginning of 1993, but sitting in the parking lot that evening, I found my conscious drifting, drifting back toward the fact The Rockadero was the first – and only – nightclub I had ever gotten into, that I had slipped in past the doorman using an international ID, that said ID had been passed back to me by a 25-year-old from Sheffield named Mustafa, that Mustafa stood 5’6 with jet-black hair and Arab features.
I found my conscious drifting back toward the fact a dozen or more of us had wandered over to The Rockadero on that evening, that we there to see a tribute band named Solar Circus, that Solar Circus played straight through until the stumbling verge of dawn, that there were purple lights and green balloons doing cartwheels in mid-air, that every one of those balloons was filled with either CO2 or nitrous.
I found my conscious drifting forward to the notion every person I had been there with was gone now, that Mike Higgins and Joe Lamoureux, Chris Modica and Steeley, Dirty Dowd and Herpes Heidi, Jenny Black and Kev the Weasel, that they had each moved on to bigger, if not better, things. I found my conscious drifting forward to the notion I was stuck there in spin cycle, stewing mad inside the back seat of Mike’s 1990 Eagle Premier, my focus irretrievably diverted by some asshole who once robbed me.
“What to do? What to do? What to do, do, do?” Junior kept saying in the front seat. He pulled a Newport from his pocket, packed it hard against the dash.
Junior was wearing the same ensemble he’d been dressed in every previous time the two of us had met (i.e., crisp white T with package creases over worn and faded jeans). In my mind I pictured Junior living rent-free in some tenement, the entire length of which ran rank with slow-settling dust and fruit flies. All except for Junior’s T-shirt drawer, that is. That drawer was stocked immaculate with mint-condition BVDs.
“See the problem we run into,” Junior was explaining, “is that I got most of my merch stashed up inside this big ole’ house around the corner. Now if I roll up on that mo-fo with some skinny-ass bleach-blonde white boy in tow? Well, now, suffice to say we might-could have ourselves a little bit of an issue.”
“OK,” Mike said, tapping his left thumb against the steering wheel. “So how exactly do you want to do this?”
“Why not say we roll around there to the Sportsmen?” Junior instructed, pointing off toward New Jersey. “There’s an alley round the back there. You and me, we can conduct ourselves a little bit-o-business right-chair.”
The Sportsmen’s Tavern, located half-a-block away from Garfield and New Jersey. The inside bar ran dank and dreary, brass rail scuffed rust-brown clean by gurgling sots who drank from bags. Back-wall display cases ran tepid, poorly stocked with ghetto 40s.
Kev and I were sitting in Mike’s Eagle, the atmosphere so desolate you could hear the click and ping of cooling spark plugs. Mike and Junior were both gone now, absconding to the alley, where they planned on finishing their transaction. Junior insisted Kev and I wait in the car. “I sure as shit ain’t here to rob you,” he assured us. “But all them gangster motherfuckers that I live with? Those motherfuckers, boy, those motherfuckers might rob ya just as soon as rib ya.”
I was shifting to and fro, causing the interior to squeak and fart. There was a six-foot row of hedges to our right and a 13-story tower to our left. There was an egg-yolk-yellow light hanging down from overhead, and it spread out across the boundary like some feeble strain of sulfur.
“I don’t like it,” I said to Kevin. “We’re like perfect marks out here.”
“Relax, man,” Kevin told me. “Mike’ll be back in just a minute.”
A minute passed. No Mike.
I unfastened my seat belt, hopped out and hurried over to the corner, where I stood under a streetlight, feeling slightly more secure. Kev followed suit, offering me a cigarette as we looked out across the projects. There was a motorcycle convention in town throughout that weekend, and we could hear the burning throttles all the way along Atlantic. We could hear the drunken screams from high atop of The Bolero, weathered voices carried bayward by the cool September breeze.
“What the fuck is this?” Kev whispered. He was nodding off toward the hedges.
I swiveled ’round to find a pair of hoodlums, splitting ranks as they approached Mike’s car. They wandered round to either side, peering in through rolled-up windows. There appeared to be a moment of confusion, then the two of them stormed off.
“This whole thing is fucked,” I said to Kevin. I stamped my smoke out on the sidewalk. “Y’know what the two of us need to do? We need to march right down to 7-11 and wait for Mike outside. I mean, he’s bound to drive straight by us, y’know?”
But Kevin wouldn’t hear of it. He insisted on sweating it out there on the corner, explaining that it might be beneficial for one or both of us to stay. And he may very well have been correct upon that score. But it made no negligible difference to me. My fight-or-flight response had already kicked in. So I made the two-block trek to 7-11, where I stood beside a pay phone, dialing Mike’s home number ad infinitum.
That is until I saw a pair of squad cars speeding south along New Jersey. When I saw a pair of squad cars speeding south along New Jersey, I disconnected with the quickness, making sure to check the drop slot for my quarter as I ran.
My buddy Mike. Mike D. Mike Delinski. AKA The Dog. He’d been standing in the alley for a little over 15 minutes, staring off into an unlit house where Junior claimed that he was going. There were no outward signs of life inside, and – try as he might – Mike failed to note the subtlest hint of any movement.
Mike kept his cool. He stood his ground. He was a local, after all, and, as such, he was intimately familiar with the lay of Five-Mile Island. He knew the police station was situated less than seven blocks away. He knew that Ladder One was situated in a building right next door. He knew that half-a-dozen other businesses were situated in between. He could go and ask for help at any one of them if necessary.
Nonetheless, Mike was out there on his own. In fact, had it not been for the $90 Mike had already plunked down, he might have skipped out on the bullshit deal entirely. Eager for distraction, Mike zeroed in on every ambient noise that he could hear. A creaking here, some rustling there. But still no worthwhile sign of Junior … or anyone else, for that matter.
And then, as if from out of nowhere, Mike heard the rattling of fences, followed by the sound of clomping footsteps, Junior wheeling round into the alley where he caught Mike by the arm. “Go, man!” Junior called, completely out of breath. “Just fuckin’ go.”
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Mike said. “Go where? What’s happening?”
“The cops, man,” Junior said. “Somebody called the goddamn cops. Told them there was a bunch of stolen bikes out on our lawn.”
As if on cue, a pair of cruisers made a sharp left onto Garfield, bulbs turning, sirens muted. They hit the brakes and threw a spotlight. Car doors opened. Car doors closed.
Junior was gone now, sprinting off toward a breezeway set behind the row of houses. For a moment, Mike considered simply emerging from the shadows. But it occurred to him that stepping out there with a pocket full of 20s might arouse undue suspicion. So he stormed the fence, then cleared the hedges, made an end run for his vehicle.
There would be no further trace of Junior, nor accounting for if he’d called the cops himself. Only the fact that Mike Delinski was $90 in the hole, with nothing more to show for it than a jet-blue women’s 10-speed.
(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB)