Avenging Olimpia

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4-23-09 6:54 –– I’m two blocks from the studio walking against traffic on a one way street when everything starts hurting at once. I see a cab stopped at the light on the other side, so I hold the script in the air like I’m somebody. Morning traffic is in full effect, so when the light goes green the driver punches it and cuts off three lanes of pissed-off commuters. Horns blare like an angry parade and a Cutlass Supreme rear-ends a rickshaw stopped in the middle of the intersection. The driver, a twenty-something with stingy brim fedora and glasses, jerks forward and both items go flying into the street.

He jumps off to retrieve his specs as the cab reaches the curb. I open the door and look down to see the fucking hat at my feet. It’s kind of nice, actually: real leather and only a few scratches. I wedge my boot under it to flip it to my hand but it flies into the cab instead. The pain the trick causes me convinces me to keep it. I look up to see if anyone’s impressed, but my audience––now apoplectic with rage––clearly couldn’t give a fuck. Sometimes, I really love this city.

“Get in!” says the cabbie, and something heavy cracks the rear window. I’m sure he figures the tip he’s getting will cover it and then some. Wait’ll he finds out I’m just another asshole with a limp.

We’re stuck at the entrance to the Queensboro Bridge and all transgressions are forgiven––except perhaps, for my own. I’m reading through the script––picking pages here and there––and from what I can glean Mr. O’Leary had some ties to the State Department. There were a fair amount of Irish immigrants that he helped settle in and around Hell’s Kitchen, and some of them were pure shitbird. I know what it feels like to be a poor, filthy immigrant, having been raised by two of them, and there is very little one wouldn’t do to keep his or her family alive. Guess O’Leary saw a little of that shitbird in me. Being smarter than the average shitbird, however, may have gotten me the better of the jobs to do. No telling where some of those desperate Paddies off the boat ended up. Dead, probably. Or worse.

There’s bloodshed on page 32. I’ve seen my share, but not like this. An entire building full of squatting immigrant families has been set alight, and it looks like O’Leary gave the order. He’s trying to make a point with the local politicians. Jesus, and some of it was Union blood. He must have been getting paid from every lowlife racketeer in the tri-state area. Why he fucking cared so much about all the little markers I was picking up for him, I’ll never know. Maybe he wanted to keep his reputation out there while he was in the back room, stubbing cigars out on illegal purchase orders. Then again, some old habits die hard if they don’t kill you first.

I read some more. This Robert Hesse is a strange cat. On page 76 he’s eying up the boss’s mistress. Could that be me he’s talking about? I barely remember a thing from my days with O’Leary. I was way too drunk, and they were too nondescript: he’d point and like a dog, I’d fetch. Two hours later I’d be lying in a puddle of my own sick somewhere behind a pile of trash. I didn’t even have a bank account. All my cash went into the mattress like my mom and dad used to do. They never trusted a soul and neither did I. Judging from this screenplay, I think that might be the one thing O’Leary liked about me. If Hesse is me. Let’s see what he does.

Oh, fuck…he kisses her. I don’t remember anything like that. It’s possible, I guess. Her name was Dorothy and she had great legs but she never wore heels. I think it was because they made her taller than him. Maybe. I do recall her having perfect toes, though. How would I know that if she only wore flats? Maybe I saw them once in entirely innocent circumstances?

Did I really kiss her? Says here I did and then Ellie shot him in the ass when she saw us because she thought the affair might hit the papers. Hmm…so she knew about him and Dot, but that’s not what pissed her off. Fucking ‘nother world.

The cab gets going and the bridge is moving nicely into the City. I say to the cabbie, “Hey, you mind stopping by a liquor store.”

“Which one?”

“I don’t know, which one do you go to?”

“I’m from Jersey City,” he says, “you don’t want to go there.”

“How do you know?”

“It’ll cost you a hundred and fifty bucks with this traffic!”

I close the script and lean into the seat. The window is cracked and I can smell the bay. I once performed what was supposed to be a one-way swan dive into that bay. If the water hadn’t tasted like diesel fuel, I’d probably still be there.

“Is it open?” I ask.

“This one is,” he says, like a guy who’s been there.

“Sounds good,” I tell him. “Maybe I’ll see something I can use in my movie.”

“Your dime,” he says. “By the way, what’s it about?”

I close my eyes and feel Derek’s desk in my back. For a second I think I might start to cry, and I don’t know why. Maybe I’ll have him stop by Kiki’s and work a freebie for the both of us.

“I don’t know,” I say, opening the script to page one, “I’m still trying to figure that out.”

4-23-09 11:29 –– The cabbie’s name was Chet de Niro, of all things. An Aussie from Perth. I didn’t detect an accent until Jersey, when the vulgar combination of Bowery and Bush drilled a hole into my eardrums. Nice enough bloke, just wish he didn’t like Top 40 radio so much. No one should have to be subject to Celine Dion’s version of “All By Myself” via this man.

True to his word, the liquor store was open and I even found my Bulleit on special for 17.95 USD. An additional twelve of Corona for us to share, and we were back in the City before noon. My back was really acting up, so I directed him uptown to The Harlem Flophouse and drained two fingers of bourbon on the way. The pain subsided with the added benefit of shelving the script in my head. Still, the morning was forcing my pen hand, and these days the only place my muse was comfortable was the Chester Himes room. Kiki said she’d meet us there as long as we saved her a few beers. She might be an angel, Kiki. I’ll check her for wings when I’m able.

Chet finds a parking spot in front, which amazes me. We buzz our way in, I hand René my check book, and as usual he tells us to remove our shoes and grab some slippers. For most, I imagine this would be a major pain the ass. Not me. Where else in New York does this happen without them also taking your belongings and putting them in a box?

We climb the twisting stairs to the room, and I crack open a beer for each of us. I’m not sure why I want Chet around, but he’s the kind of guy that lightens the air a few stops so I tell him I’ll pay his average day’s take, plus the window, plus booze. He reacts like he’s won the pick-six, grabs one of the Himes novels from the night stand, and slinks onto the bed. I get behind the old desk and finger the carved graffiti. In the 60’s, many of the jazz greats playing down the street at the Apollo used to come here to fix, René says.

That in mind, I open my brand new moleskin to the first page. I don’t get my pen to it before I hear a buzz.

Angel face.

She comes in barefoot, having, I assume, forgone her slipper privileges, and places a kiss on my lips. She’s cut her hair, and at first I’m displeased. Even for a spoiled-to-fuck, half-educated daughter of an assassinated Chinese general, she had the most luxurious locks I’d ever seen. She must sense my disappointment when she says in her low voice, “Fuck off, Hobert. It was getting in the way.”

“I didn’t say anything,” I say.

“Who’s this?” she says, looking to Chet peeking over his book.

“That’s Chet. He drove.”

“Good. You smell like you’ve been lapping up mop water.”

Kiki wasn’t the prettiest girl I’d ever seen, but she was fucking smart. She could have had any job and any man she wanted, but opened up a high-end massage parlor instead. It made her more money than she needed, and she set her own hours. Independence over comfort; that’s the choice of a smart woman.

“So what are we doing?” she asks.

“I figure you could work on Chet here a little while I write. In an hour, I’ll send him out for Chinese––”

“Thai.”

“––and I’ll stay in for some.”

“What’s he want?” she asks, unbuttoning her blouse.

“Something easy. Chet likes easy.”

She finishes the last button and unsheathes her delicate torso, revealing a black lace bra darker than pure evil against her fine, white skin. She reaches back for the clasp.

“Take off your shirt and roll onto your stomach,” she says to Chet.

The bra falls away. No wings, but better: small breasts with thick, erect nipples that remind me of halogen light bulbs. I arm my pen and take the image into my story. It begins, “The road burns hot, like coals beneath natives’ feet…”

(continued)