Outside the store, a snarling, disappointed crowd, partially sheltered from the incessant light ice-rain by a blinking store sign that protruded a couple of feet over the sidewalk, window-watched recaps and analysis of James Alexander Kunt’s ‘surprise’ victory over Scorned Cunt in the previous day’s Presidential Election, on a checkerboard of large flat screen TV’s tuned left, right and center.
On Fox News, a beaming Sean Hannity, took credit for the win as he fawned over Kunt’s first Tweet as President Elect — a promise that the forgotten men and women of America would never be forgotten again.
88.4% of the forgotten people of the Bronx had voted for Scorned Cunt, but neither candidate meant much to me. */
“Mandate my ass!3 ” I mumbled at the cover of Gil Scott Heron’s classic, It’s Your World, double-album which was propped up against a speaker, first among equals among a sprawl of albums by Pink Floyd, Santana and The Notorious B.I.G.
So, I picked up the stylus and dropped it midway through Side C, track-2 and I closed my eyes and soaked in Bicentennial Blues — life being a carousel, the blues being eternal and déjà vu all over again you know.“And it’s a blues year all over this countryAmerica has got the bluesAnd the blues is in the street looking for the 3 principlesJustice, liberty, and equalityWe would do well to join the blues looking for justice, liberty, and equalityThe blues is in the streetAmerica has got the bluesBut don’t let it get by us”[iv]
Kunt, who was clearly a world-class-narcissist, had already gotten past us and was turning to faciasm to achieve immortality. The question now was how long would he last and how much damage would he do along the way? Was he a B-Movie actor playing the-buck-stops-here? Or was he a tyrant, in the mold of Putin, Mao, Stalin and Hitler --- LIFE BEING A CAROUSEL, THE BLUES BEING ETERNAL AND DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN YOU KNOW?
Opposite Radio Shack on the east side of Broadway, a frayed white Baptist church smoldered in the dusk, the last gasp of a blaze that tormented the firefighters of Ladder Company Six and Engine Company Eighty-one with its resilience.
Madam Esmeralda Ramos’s forty-berth brothel had occupied the old redbrick tenement next to the church since the mid-90’s. Her girls worked fourteen-hour shifts in cubicles little bigger than their beds. They were expected to service at least six Johns a night and comp a 50th Precinct copper. Consequently, the brothel had never been busted.
The Johns paid Esmeralda, a gaudy old owl with a heart the size of your wallet, $150 and up, depending on the length of the session and talents of the girl you chose –- harder-core wants like bare-back and anal, were exchanged for tips.
The girls were mostly illegals from Central America, Africa and the Caribbean. If you were fortunate enough to get one just off the boat, the experience was equivalent to anything you might or might not get for free, but without the emotional rope. After a month or two, when the first STD’s had come and gone and come again and a prince still hadn’t shown up to save them, the girls hardened and gave you exactly what you paid for, or less.
I’d been with Esmeralda when the fire started at around 7pm. She’d been charged along with her three stepsons, of conspiring to defraud the IRS of more than $2,500,000 from 1992 through 2012, and I was handling her flimsy defense. I’d just persuaded her to cop a plea, when oily black smoke begun to seep through the floorboards.
We scurried to safety down the rusting fire escape at the side of the building, whores and their Johns’ spilled out of the brothel and out onto the sidewalk in various stages of undress, as if Caligula had come to Broadway. Last one out was a skinny cop in red fishnet stockings, searching for a place to hide as he took catcalls like punches to the whip-scared copper-brown skin stretched tightly over his six-pack abs.
The fire had left the sidewalk carpeted in soot, which now, sixteen hours later, was being washed away by icy, sulfur-rich, rain, which had begun to play on my office window like a de-tuned xylophone.
She was swiped away by the 9 train, clattering north along a rusting, cast-iron skyway, high above Broadway, on its way from Manhattan to Van Cortland Park, the end of the line.
From my perch, a tired second floor office above Broadway. I was directly opposite the train. Through its scratched windows, I watched as a crew of ‘Showtime Kids’ flipped in place, spun around poles, and cartwheeled up and down isles that had cleared to greet them — immersing riders in gravity-defying magic for an occasional cash donation.
A whoosh of air brakes and the train squealed to a stop tossing sparks into the gloom like a Catherine-wheel. As the train doors struggled apart, I pulled my gaze away from the endless shuffle of passengers trading places, searching for another distraction from a career going nowhere and the stack of bills on my desk that I couldn’t afford to pay.
I snatched my reflection in her expression. The suitcases under my eyes were same shade of grey-brown as was my unruly, three-day growth of stubble. My bespoke, grey, Harris Tweed, double-breasted, wool suit was tight everywhere, and had been pressed so many times that the pants had multiple crease lines. My white shirt had been whiter. My brogues had been re-soled so often they’d webbed at the balls of my feet. But I’m six-three and reasonably self-sufficient and largely drug free, which excuses a multitude of sins.
The Pretty Lady offered up a slim right hand, like it was something special.
When I took it, the platinum Tiffany Three Stone (an ‘Excellent Cut’ three carat diamond sandwiched between identical twin sapphire side-stones) Engagement Ring on her ring finger snatched the light like a mirror-ball and threw it around the office.
Her mahogany eyes were prettily framed by eyebrows that made elegant arches.
The eyes themselves were expressionless. Ink on the side of her neck suggested she’d been manufactured on Christmas Eve, 1986. So, she was 31 years old.
“Take a seat,” I said grandly.
With a sharp tilt of the head, she drew my attention to two worn dark-red leather club chairs at the client side of the desk. They were piled high with manila files.
I ran around the desk, pumping my arms like a sprinter, grabbed the files, and piled them on the desk on top of others. My wit may or may not have been lost on her. I couldn’t tell. It didn’t show on her face. Nothing much did.
The files were piled too high and the top file slid open, spilling polaroid snaps of a boney middle-aged white woman and plump young black girl screwing out over the desk.
She arched her brows higher, spread the snaps like a deck of cards, and picked out her favorites.
“Very nice,” she said dryly, as if she’d seen better.“
The groom didn’t think so.” I growled.
“Why? Did he want to be in the picture, or was he just trying to stop the bitch having fun?”
She decanted ‘bitch’ carefully – calling someone else a bitch soothed her.“
The old man was looking for an economical way out of a relationship that had gotten stale. I found him one.” I jabbed back.
She let the snap flutter back to the desk, shrugged minimally, clapped derisively, and purred: “A dirty job that you were just compelled to do?”
“Lady,” I snarled, “The sign on the door says ELIA DEGAS, ATTORNEY AT LAW in big, expensive, black and gold, letters.
I defend thugs with drugs and mugs on drugs equally, so long as they pay upfront in cash.
I write wills to protect the wishes of the dead from the greed of the living. I separate small men from wives they do not love so that they can spit money on whores.
I free women from men that mistreat them so that they can roll the dice again.
Occasionally, I get lucky and a poor fuck with a limb in a cast hobbles in off the street and tells me they tripped and fell, were rear-ended by money, or injured at work --- If you’re looking for a lawyer to save you from your sins or those of others, then you’re in the right place, but if its salvation you seek, hunt down a priest.”
This particular juxtaposition of self-serving truisms was a variation on a theme I resort to when my ego’s running low. It’s designed to put the world on notice that, while I may not be the Clarence Darrow I idolized in my youth, I’m no shmuck.[v]She shook her head and spat back: “I don’t need you at all Degas. You got that the wrong way around. You need me!”She let the status quo marinate a while. Then she introduced herself: “My name is Monica,” she announced at me, “Monica Rivera — My papi, Edwin, was a cop with the 5-O.”She paused, gave the ring a spin, decorating her face with tiny shooting stars. She’d played her first card and was waiting see if I’d call or raise. I hadn’t decided. Edwin’s trade was information, and I’d made that trade a few times before he moved on to bigger, more corrupt endeavors. He’d retired to a waterfront mansion on Sabal Palm Road in swank Bay Point just north of downtown Miami; a garage full of supercars, a 38-foot, wave-breaking, radar-defying, Picuda cigarette-boat; and a lingerie modelling second wife, who inherited it all when his boat sunk along with 500 kilos of cocaine, on its way from Venezuela to Vieques, an island paradise off Puerto Rico’s Caribbean coast, that was home to US Navy base and Training Range. Until, a Marine Corps F-18 dropped a pair of 500-pound bombs on a civilian, whose death triggered a wave of protests that led to the base closing in May 2003.As the Navy retreated, Colombian and Venezuelan Narcos moved in and Vieques became the landing point for drugs destined for the East Coast of the United States. Not uncoincidentally, if Vieques were a country, rather than a municipality of Puerto Rico, it would have the highest murder rate in the world.[vi][vii]I didn’t go to Edwin’s funeral.Our ledgers were balanced.There were no respects to be paid.Monica pushed an old-school Polaroid-selfie of her with Edwin and the legendary Yankees shortstop, Derek Jeter, grinning under matching baseball-caps, across my desk. Her point being that she was REALLY Edwin’s daughter, about which I had no doubt, as they were a spitting image.
“I’ll listen,” I lobbed back over a shrug “But I skipped breakfast and my first Jack of the day, so I’m in no mood for a fucking command performance.
”She reached over the desk, her breasts pulling on the fabric around the top button of her white shirt and pointed through the window to the pitched sky-blue roof of the International House of Pancakes, beyond the tracks of the elevated train on the other side of the street.
“We’d go to IHOP on Sundays after church. I’d get the Silver Dollar pancakes and soak them in as much fake-maple syrup as I could get away with, and he’d get the Breakfast Sampler ‘with a side of white toast to mop up the grease the bangers and bacon left behind.’”
I was supposing that the syrupy flashback meant that father and daughter weren’t close, and I was wondering why, when she discarded the thought with a flick of the wrist, undid the top button, cupped her breasts through her shirt and squeezed them together.
I ignored all I’d learned.
I slid back from the desk, spun away from Monica as I stood to give my interest time to subside, and helped her with her coat.
Yes, I keep a little humanity tucked away inside for special occasions.
We stepped out onto Broadway together and into a show — a girl clinging to her methed-up teen mama who was clinging to a life she’d never get to live; big-headed dogs barking at bigger-headed men barking at women barking at kids when they bark back; a posse beating a man unconsciousness for glancing at a girl that was gang property; Mister Softee jingling 24/7/365: the wailing sirens of patrol cars, ambulances and fire trucks smearing the dusk with their flashing lights; throbbing Detroit muscle way past its prime; The Chainsmokers smash hit “Closer”, a drum and bass nursery-rhyme, with a Blink-182 reference as a Millennial prop, on the hour every hour, with spins of Nicky Jam’s hyper-flirtatious billion view reggaetón monster “Hasta el Amanecer” wedged in-between; and a NYPD Bell 429 chopper taking it all in percussively from its sky-high box.
An idling matte black armored BMW X5 Security Plus SUV lurked among the mess of vents and scoops and strakes and wings and bumps and edges of the double-parked late-model Uber and Lyft shared rides; headlights off, flashers on.
The sweet chariot was weighed down low on its haunches by heavy metal and glass strong enough to withstand street crimes (attacks with blunt objects and handguns up to a caliber of .44 Magnum), organized crimes (attacks with the most commonly used automatic weapon in the world, the AK-47) and attacks with explosive devices and armor-piercing weapons.
On hunch, I re-routed our J-walk to say hi, but the X5 rolled back, spun around and left a 450-horsepower turbocharged impression that whoever was inside didn’t want to be friends.