At about half an hour past dusk we rumbled through a heavy mist made of light warm rain over Broadway Bridge, passing hollering congregation of emergency vehicles on the Bronx-bound side of the street that had come together to tidy up a nasty collision between a midnight-blue 2016 Chevy Cruz sedan and a matte-black Ford F-150 monster truck, squatting on 7-inch Icon Vehicle Dynamic wheels and super slim Maxxis RAZR MT tires.
The trucks’ driver lived to tell the tale.
The driver of the Chevy Cruz had a blanket over her head which stretched all the way to her pink COMME des GARÇONS x Nike Air Max 180’s.
We dribbled south, dropping onto Broadway where double and triple parked cars traded places outside stores and take-out restaurants that extended out onto the sidewalk to bring their goods to the people and to lure the people off the street.
Once the stores had belonged to the Irish, then Jews, and now 49.9 % of Inwood’s population is Dominican[i] and the signage is in Spanglish — TRY THE ESPECIALITY OF THE HOUSE being my favorite.
Our pace quickened as we blew by Inwood Hill Park and the only natural forest left in Manhattan, which looked very Blair Witch Project, peeking out of the mist on our right. Urban legend and a plaque marking the spot has it that, on May 24, 1626, Peter Minuit, the director general of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, bought Manhattan island from the Lenape Indians, under an enormous tulip tree, for 60 Dutch guilders and some gaudy trinkets. Though, the more likely story is that the deal was made where South and Whitehall Streets meet near South Ferry at the southern tip of Manhattan where Peter Minuit Plaza marks the spot.
We bled right off Broadway onto Dyckman Street and right again onto Naegle. I asked Jay-B to pull up to the sidewalk at the junction with Sickles Street.
I wanted to walk the rest of the way to collect my thoughts and put them into phrases.
The mist smothered me and the fast tambora, dexterous bongos, and the one, two, three, four, bass-drum of “El Jardinero”, the Wilfrido Vargas merengue classic, hit me in the chest as I eased the car door open. The song tells the story of a gardener who tries to get over by endlessly planting flowers for the lady he loves in his El Jardin Del Eden, hoping that his love will be returned. The song ends as all great courtships should, with the lady phoning Vargas off the hook.
When I asked Jay-B to stay behind and wait for us, getaway driver style, he turned a sulk into a bill-of-rights, muttering something silly pertaining to a man’s Derecho a portar armas, tucked his Colt into his belt and tagged along regardless.
Lady-Cop Dowd and Man-Cop Tyrell were leaning in wait for us against their tricked-out Ford Explorer Interceptor patrol car, which was parked outside Twenty-five Sickles Street, under an old lamppost. Its dim yellow light was no match for a hellish fog that softened and obscured everything — except Kid Rock’s ‘Redneck Paradise,’ which they gobbed at us to make sure we felt unwelcome in their El Jardin Del Eden.
“I like moonshine whiskey,” Lady-cop Dowd reprised.
“I like home-made wine,” Man-cop Tyrell responded.
“We don’t look for greener grass. Home grown suits us just fine,” they gobbed together, full voice.
Kid Rock’s patronizing “nod to hardworking people who love the simple things in life,”[iii] echoed in the mist like déjà vu all over again, until Joy swatted it away with Shit Damn Motherfucker inspired gospel laced-blues:[iv]“Welcome to my shanty --- motherfuckers”“Drop by anytime --- motherfuckers”“I don’t like your Redneck Paradise --- motherfuckers.”
Joy’s take-down drew wild applause from two pre-roll puffing urban cowgirls with happy-go-lucky faces. I blew them ‘Toda la suerte del mundo,’ as they floated off on their naiveté, because they were going to need all the luck in the world and more.
Twenty-five Sickles Street was squeezed between a Dominican/Mexican rotisserie chicken place that had been closed down by the Department of Health, when inspectors found a colony of live mice, rats and a swarm of filth flies in the kitchen, the drains and dead in the food, and a stark neon-lit check cashing store that charged 11% to turn your paper into cash and send it back from whence you came.
The building wasn’t much to look at from the outside. Pre-war housing for the middle-classes, transformed by neglect into post-war housing for waves of immigrants, chasing a dream so powerful it has become a religion --- the fundamental tenant of which is that hard work and sacrifice will be rewarded with heaven this lifetime. The catch, being that the meek sacrifice to the strong who inherit the earth, which is why veintiseis bastardos con suerte own as much as the poorest 50% on earth.
At the end of a small, underdressed lobby, was a stainless-steel elevator that wore its Tupac as Jesus graffiti well. A note from the building’s managing agents, hung above the elevator call-button. The gist of it was that this once drug free neighborhood was being ravaged by bad seeds and that good seeds should be vigilant, and report instances of drug trafficking and sightings of drug traffickers to the ‘confidential hot-line’ number provided.
The note summed up Inwood perfectly — it was a nice place nice people still cared about, but I doubt the nice people were nice enough to turn in their own.
We left Tupac in the stainless-steel tube at the third floor and walked into a gun-metal gray corridor, as harshly lit as the lobby. It featured long lines of identical hunting-green metal doors.
Twelve-A had a camera peering over it, El Jardin Del Eden signage, and a video entry-bell.
I knocked on that door — hard.
Loverboy opened it, flashing his over-bleached predatory teeth, which he brushed repeatedly over his lower lip like he was satisfying a ten-year-itch. I had seen him perform that party trick before, so, I waited for him to sweep his mane back with his left hand and then I introduced Joy.
“We know each other,” he said like he’d been there done that and there was something to the more to tell as he offered me a limp paw. I walked by it into a vast room made of many apartments knocked together and filled with rows of dark-wood pews arranged around a center aisle.
The pews were filled with clean-shaven young Santeros wearing Beasts for God branded flowing white robes with blood-red trim.
They were chanting “Cabio Sile, pá Shango.” To which Shango replied “Cabio Sile,” back.
At the end of the aisle a decapitated saint with sagging breasts and a calabash, where a head should have been, was perched high on an altar; lit by a flock of fidgeting votive candles. I supposed the saint was Santa Barbara and the thunder-axes and thunder-rattles in the copper pot at her feet were for Shango’s protection; as were the horns on the wall behind the altar, and that the tattooed, white-masked, bare chested, Vors were there to police Eden and prevent the young Beasts escaping.
Beyond the altar was a raised stage. On the stage three old gray-black men sat beating the ritual drums Iya, Itótele, and Okónkolo in turn, as if they were having a three-way conversation. Red handkerchiefs covered their hair, and red and white beads dangled from their neck, wrists and ankles to honor the chief.
In front of the drummers a King of Kings and Lord of Lords, sat on a Caddy electric mobility scooter with an UZI in one hand and a clicker in the other, making a presentation to the young beasts, one of whom was his son, Mitch.
Sheldon Winner, the fourteenth richest person in the world, was two-hundred and forty pounds of flab and forty billion dollars of muscle. He owned casinos in Las Vegas, Singapore and Macau; oil in Kazakhstan, diamond mines in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, the Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, and the Central African Republic, and various pro-sports and cable franchises. And his Winner Network of libertarian big swinging dicks gave almost one billion dollars between 2009 and 2017 to organizations that lobby against efforts to expand government's role in health care and combating global warming; giving generously to Kunt’s presidential campaign and consequently owned Kunt’s hustle.
I already knew from Monica’s take-down in the Post that the Beasts and Winner were close AND THAT WHEN SHELDON’S SON MITCH WAS APPARENTLY ABDUCTED, THE BEASTS FOR GOD EVIDENTLY MAGICKED HIM BACK and delivered the perp (wrapped up in a tidy coffin) to Detective Diaz at the 4-4.
So, it appears they were play pals, which made sense as according to Monica the Beasts had performed the exact same party trick on three other occasions, netting more than $11,000,000; which suggested Beasts might be returning goods they themselves had stolen. It was less apparent who was the senior partner, though my money was on Vlad!
Sheldon had a lot to say and a projector to throw what he had to say against the back-wall of the stage. The image was of Obama as a baboon and Kunt as Franco: “AFTER 8-YEARS OF A BABOON IN THE WHITE HOUSE WE NEEDED A BENIGN DICTATOR IN THE WHITE HOUSE THAT WAS RESPONSIVE TO OUR NEEDS.” He confided, warming to his subjects by rubbing his miniature hands, “So, my Winner Network and patriots like Isaac “Ike” Mercer and Stephen Bannon made it happen!” And the Beasts bayed “check” in response.
This time the beasts bayed “Cabio Sile” in unison and the ritual drumming intensified into an argument. And a lone white follow-spot picked out Shango on the stage.
“Eleda Eda Li Olorun Da Ni,” he offered his hordes, which Joy, tickling my ear let me know translates to “the creator made us with different qualities.”
And then he wrapped up with: “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”
The house lights burned on.
The Beasts filed out neatly, pew by pew from the front.
Sheldon slid off the stage on his scooter, down a disability ramp, with Shango in his slip-stream and they hovered towards us with a squad of tattooed, white-masked, bare-chested, Vors in tow.
Seconds later, we were surrounded. And I had Sheldon’s Uzi in my face.
So, I popped a question that wasn’t really a question at all — more a statement of fact: “I was wondering what a crackpot billionaire and a prophet for hire had in common, but I’ve since worked out that the billionaire hired the prophet.”
“Degas,” Sheldon whispered, because he expected to be heard however softly he spoke, “You’re overthinking things — we simply share philosophies.”
I snorted at that, which pissed Sheldon off and he started to wag the Uzi in my general direction, which pissed me off:
“Except that you don’t have a philosophy. Yes, I know you claim to be a conservative, libertarian, radical, with a hard-on to change the world. But when push comes to shove-it-up-the-ass of everybody else, you and your buddies will leave shit exactly the way it is. Because you’ve done well with everything this way round. That’s why the rich are conservative, and why the powerful are libertarian, and its why white trash scared of getting trashier has become radicalized. Which has become a problem, because Kunt embraced these redneck monsters and built a base that threatens your interests. So, now your you’re trying to reign him in --- encouraging him to read your polemics off the teleprompter and surrounding him with more rational playmates. Only dictators seldom go quietly, they’ve got too much God in them for that. WELL, I DON’T LIKE ANY OF IT! So, I’m offering you a limited time, one of a kind, special offer. I’ll trade the tape we just made of Kunt genuflecting to Vladimir Putin at the G-20 shindig in Hamburg --- I assure you, it’s way past treasonous --- for the Stallion snaps, Kunt’s resignation and my birthright, which I calculate, conservatively, to be five-hundred million dollars. It’s the same deal I offered Cohn a few hours ago, so you’ve had more than enough time to consider it.”
The grip of Winner’s gun rammed into the side of my face was the first indication that Winner was unhappy with my proposed deal terms. It hit me so hard my brain slammed against my forehead, which yelled so loud it hurt my ears.
I fell forward, but a Vor’s helping hand grabbed my chin and yanked it back to keep it in position for Shango’s fist, which raced towards me eclipsing all light.
Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, I heard a violent scream. It might have been mine, and it could have been Joy’s, but another smack silenced and darkened everything before I was certain. I thought I saw green daggers in the darkness, but they might just as well have been a couple of Jupiter’s moons.
The dull thud-thud-thud of boots pounding against my chest sounded like a tight kick-drum to me. It didn’t hurt. Nothing could but it kept me entertained.
Unconsciousness became consciousness and then the altered states fused. At one point I cracked open my eyes, and saw Loverboy, Winner, Kunt, Cohn, Vlad, Shango tying a yellow ribbon around a bouquet of barbed wire and then laying it on my shallow grave. Jay-B was lying next to me with his head cracked open and Joy was anchored to a tree with rope.
And then I thought I saw Jay-B picking himself up off the mat and exacting his revenge Bruce Lee style --- A One-Two kick laid out the first Vor swinging the second Vor into the third, neutralizing both. A “one-inch” punch to the face took out Shango. And then another disfigured it.
Winner waved the Uzi but did not pull the trigger. And then it was too late because a vicious chop broke the arm of the hand that was holding it. I think Jay-B turn back to me wearing a fat contended smile and bragged: “Hecho a la brigandine.”
But I fainted again, before I could congratulate him.