I plucked Jean-Baptist “Jay-B” Lacroix’s silver boy-racer Toyota Prius, with its rash of go-faster stripes and after-market bulges, from a line of gypsy-cabs at the intersection of 231st and Broadway, their windows fogged by the breath of drivers waiting for fares to clamber down the cast-iron stairway of a subway station suspended over Broadway in the dark — getting darker, wet — getting wetter, night sky.
He smiled and welcomed Monica with a fast and lose ¿Qué lo wha? as we dipped onto the back seat and the headlights of the cabs behind us reflected off his precious string of pearly-white teeth, but Monica kept whatever is was she was thinking to herself.Jay-B’s handsome, molasses-brown, Yoruba, Taíno, conquistador mix was framed by a blue baseball cap branded with the image of an ornate key and Collares necklaces made of six alternating scarlet and black beads that shuddered as he shrugged.The key and the necklaces were tributes to Eleggaú, a powerful Santerían saint who predates creation and runs all communications between heaven and earth and hyped Jay-B’s tribal loyalties.
The red and blue flag perched on the Prius front cheek suggested that Jay-B had one foot planted 17 miles south of Cap-Haïtien, where his ancestors --- direct descendants of King Henri Christophe who, between 1805 and 1820, with an army of 20,000 other free slaves, built the enormous Citadelle Laferrière fortress on top of the mountain Bonnet a L’Eveque to protect Haiti’s hard won independence from Napoleon’s France --- had cropped cotton and woven yarn into fine fabrics for Haute Couture houses in Paris like Christian Dior.
The yellow shell on key-ring hinted that Jay-B’s other foot was planted in Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic’s Cibao Valley where his grandpapi had died with a machete in his hands failing to protect his wife, 5-yearold Jay-B and his two younger daughters when in late 1996 soldiers rolled into the sugar-plantation where the family lived with rape top of mind.
His grandpapi died with a negative net-worth and with debts to the usurious merchants of the batey compounding beyond him, against which his family was held hostage.
So, one dark night his papi fled to go find fortune enough to free them.
His first stop was the killing fields of La Romana where, working brutal 12 hour shifts from 4 AM to 4 PM, he cut 3 to 4 tonnallata of cane a day for $2.50 a ton until he broke the neck of a soldier who’d whipped him with a cat-o-nine-tails when he complained his tonnallatas were being under-counted.
He fled the Dominican Republic with the help of an Episcopal priest, landing in Miami on New Year’s Day 1997, before joining a distant cousin in Union City New Jersey selling dope to bankers in New York City.
Business was good and a few months later his papi was able to buy freedom and safe passage for his family to the USA. The price of freedom was high though and he paid it quickly when he was murdered by competitor he was too green recognize.
The gang paid Jay-B’s mami a stipend, moved the entire family to the Bronx, and provided them all with green-cards and finally US passports to compensate them for their loss, but the sum of his mami’s losses was by now too great for her to grin and bare and on Friday July 3, 2009, a day before his nineteenth birthday, she jumped off the George Washington Bridge.The day she died, Jay-B’s sisters moved out to live with bad boys that would never make it to becoming bad men. A few days after that Jay-B joined the Marines.His military career ended on the last night of his first tour of duty in Afghanistan when he was shot in the chest by some ever-so-friendly fire while pulling a wounded soldier out of harms’ way.He left the Marines with one less lung than is optimal, a hard purple-heart, and the blinding ambition to become a cop and sample creature-comforts he’d thought out of reach.He joined the 34th Precinct, trained hard and got promoted fast out of respect for his combat record and as a result of a little late-breaking affirmative action. He ‘made good’ by perfecting the science of only busting the enemies of his benefactors while protecting their friends.
His downfall came when he got gluttonous and dipped his paws into the drug-bust honey-pot and was betrayed by his Commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Jose Diaz [iii] a filthy cop who would do almost anything for the piece of your pie and a crate of Johnny Walker Blue Label, that Jay-B had paid handsomely to look the other away, and who then made Jay-B’s franchise his own.
Tough as Jay-B was, nothing had prepared him for Rikers, a 400-acre island jail that sits in the shadow of New York’s LaGuardia Airport, and the brutality he barely endured at the hands of enemies of his benefactors he’d shopped while protected by NYPD-blue.
He left jail hooked on painkillers and needing speed to get through the day, habitually expressing opinions under his breath, sure that in the broader scheme of things they were worthless.
His worth to me was that he knew how to handle himself and a car, had jammed a small block V8 into his Prius to get away fast, and was infinitely loyal to those who were loyal to him, which includes me.
Jay-B turned the key in the ignition and brought the car to life.“¿ Adónde rames, Degas?” he asked, thrill seeking,
“Co-op City, Jay- B, wait and return,” I replied
“¿ Algún problema?” he suggested hopefully, with a wink to the rearview mirror I shook him off : “I hope not.”
“Ohhh shit,” he said, licking his lips
We broke from the curb silently powered only by the hybrid’s electric motor, made a brazen loud V8-fueled U-turn on 232nd street and idled at the intersection with Broadway to let a pack of blue-topped Crips ‘riding out’ on dirt bikes and ATV’s trick their way to urban fame, led by a couple slaloming between the steel columns of the elevated subway train on the rear-left wheel of their Yamaha Banshee ATV’s. [iv]
Jay-B swiped his cap across the rearview mirror and revealed the matte black X5 Security Edition truck with a rifle barrel poking from it.
We broke the red-light with a roar and Jay-B tucked his Prius behind the bike ‘lifers’ before swerving suddenly off Broadway at W233rd onto the ramp, onto the Major Deegan Expressway North.
At the intersection with the Deegan he hurtled the Prius across the lanes to the left and then wove through traffic back to the right When he looked back up at the mirror X5 was gone.
“The motherfuckers in the X5 were flashing a VSS Vintorez silenced sniper rifle Degas. That shit is Spetsnaz, SVR RF, GRU, Russian special forces. Your friends? Or are they her friends?” Jay-B asked to the rearview mirror, and then one more time with feeling in Spanish, “Son tus amigos? O sus amigos de ella?” Before adding definitely and defiantly, “What’s for certain is that they don’t want to play nice.”
I nodded my appreciation from the back seat and shot “What was Freddy to Edwin?” at Monica who was looking out through the window at a world all of her own and was not at all pleased to be interrupted.“
A snitch. A fence. Same as he was to you.” She fired back, keeping her eyes locked to the river of lights flowing towards us on the south-bound side of the highway.
At the back of my head a bell was ringing.
I let it chime.
The only other time I’d heard Freddy and Edwin mentioned in the same breath was in early 2016 in connection with Fancy Bear a.k.a APT28, a.k.a Pawn Storm, a.k.a Sofacy Group, a.k.a Sednit and a.k.a STRONTIUM a Russian cyber espionage group, associated with Russian military intelligence agency GRU units 26165 and Unit 74455 that reports directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin. [v]
Fancy Bear had tilted the 2016 Election Kunt’s way by hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s Email accounts and data bases through phishing emails that captured contact lists and finally Cunt’s Emails which they then leaked, tying FBI Director James Comey in knots.
Later in August they launched a massive phishing hack on WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, and then used the fancybear.net website to leak the Olympic drug testing files of superstar athletes including world champion gymnast Simone Biles, Venus and Serena Williams, and 10,000-meter world record holder Mo Farah, all of whom had received therapeutic use exemptions to use otherwise banned and likely performance enhancing drugs.
Monica had broken the story, which was that Freddy and Edwin were what many of the athletes had in common — Edwin as the source supplying Freddy as the distributor with psychostimulants like the methylphenidate Ritalin, the amphetamine Vyvanse as well as prednisone, methylprednisolone, hydromorphone and oxycodone., triamcinolone and formoterol. Edwin and Freddy were both dead now, which may or may not be a coincidence, but it seemed that the case had life beyond them.
Jay-B broke the unsettling silence by dialing up “10-10 WINS,” an all-news radio station that delivers on its promise that "The news-watch never stops" with such mind-numbing efficiency that it is the most listened to news radio station in the USA.
A familiar teletype sound effect and the tagline “You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world” signaled the start of a news rotation. The lead story was the reaction to Kunt’s “big, beautiful” unexpected, but (hindsight being 20/20) predictable win:
Conventional wisdom is that change is good and that over time we gravitate to center. I’d rejected the left, right, center convention even before I learned I might be Kunt’s half-brother and that Kunt had moved the center several degrees closer to hell.
I called Mami from the car, to forewarn her I was coming over — with Monica, making it clear we were colleagues and not lovers to manage both her and my expectations, and spare Monica blushes I doubted she owned. Monica may or may not have appreciated the forethought. She didn’t say nor shift her gaze from lights of passing cars and the passage of storm clouds over a silvery half-moon.So, I whiled away the time rummaging through the case and its enigmas to see if anything shook lose:Who was in the matte black X5? And how were they related to Freddy?Why did Edwin have to die, and who had his crypto?Am I a Kunt?Was I entitled to a sixth of Joseph Kunt’s estate?How much was that worth?Is there a statute of limitation on inheritance fraud in New York State?How long is it?Are there exceptions?Did somebody alter Joseph Patrick Kunt’s will?If so, who was that somebody?And by whose direction?Ray Cohn would have been a good place to start, but he’d been dead for 3 decades. Joe Kunt had been dead for two. And James Alexander Kunt, my prospective half-brother, was the President fucking elect.So, I started with what I already knew and searched for holes.A few days before my fifth birthday, my Mami, Beatriz Marisol López Katz discovered that my Papi; Abraham Katz, a snack foods distributor with vodka stoked, Karl Marx inspired revolutionary pretensions and a Zionist soul, was a bigamist — he had another family stashed away on Roosevelt Island, who believed like we believed that he was exclusively theirs. He accomplished this fraud by carefully laying a firm foundation of attentive fatherhood and passionate husbandry.
He attended all my birthday parties, cheered enthusiastically at little league games, fawned over me at piano recitals and read me Shakespeare and Chandler with equal enthusiasm, breaking into the “King’s English” he’d inherited from his Papi every time he saw the opportunity, which was rather more often than the characters required. He actively engaged himself in PTA meetings and agonized over my indifferent school reports. Damn, he even patted Mami’s toosh affectionately, repeatedly, publicly. But on nights he was supposed to be delivering Fritos, Cheetos, Ruffles, and Lays, to South Bronx bodegas, delis, and bars, he was in fact agonizing over the school reports of six more orthodox cubs, while pumping a fat pin-eyed witch he’d grown up with in Rego Park.
The truth finally caught up and overtook Papi’s carefully laid lies, when one colder-than-to-be-expected October morning, his delivery truck took the Jerome Avenue exit-ramp off the westbound Cross Bronx Expressway way too fast, on balding tires, and skidded off the road into a flock of kids waiting for a school bus. Four died on impact, and another a few hours later.
It took emergency crews three hours to blowtorch the driver from the wreckage, and transport him, unconscious, to the Montefiore Medical Centre Moses Division Emergency Room on Bainbridge Avenue and Gun Hill Road, where he lay on life support, in critical condition.Surprisingly, as Papi was a stickler for compliance, the driver had no ID. However, the truck was registered to our address, and coppers came knock, knock, knocking on our door in the late afternoon, in search of next-of-kin.Mami insisted I join her in praying for a miracle as we were whisked to the hospital in the back of a wailing patrol car. But try as I might, I could not find an appropriate image of God taking a break from his chores to save Papi, given our lowly lot in life and the horrors papi had apparently wrought with his truck. And my eyes squinted open, so that I might properly immerse myself in the fast, loud pyrotechnic, magic-carpet ride.Mami, moaned chunks of the bible, through semi-automatic sobs, as she made what sounded like a strong case for the forgiveness of her few and far between sins, while taking the entire blame for the tragedy and crossed herself as we entered the ward, accompanied by two coppers who would have worn regulation earmuffs and blinkers to shield them from her despair. If there were in fact such a regulation.
But when Mami opened her eyes and saw, lying in that bed, on life support, Amos, Papi’s much younger brother, the wailing aborted, replaced for a moment by bewilderment. Then doubt chiseled deep ravines around her clenched lips.
It was soon apparent that Mami didn’t believe that this particular miracle was the result of her prayers.
We returned home to find Papi with his legs propped up on an ottoman, nibbling round the circumference of lox loaded poppy-seed bagel, watching the Israel Defense Forces slaughter the Egyptian 3rd Army on the West Bank of the Suez, as the clock wound down in the final quarter of the Yom Kippur War.
Papi nodded, secure in his prejudices --- A-rabs would be A-rabs, an eternal and existential threat to the civilized world order and we would win the war, because we were the better coached team, and because (and this was the big one) God had ordained it so.
It was only when he looked up and saw us that dread made a rare and fleeting visit to the suffocating complacent expression that usually decorated his grill.He played for time, worrying out loud whether there was a school holiday he’d missed, or whether either Mami or myself or both of us were sick. When all his questions were met with dry nay’s and no further explanation, he lost interest in the mystery, shrugged, pinched his belly-roll, as if to confirm his good fortune, and turned his attention back to the game.Mami gave him a few minutes to marvel over a slow-motion replay of an Egyptian Mig-17 fighter being obliterated by an air-to-air missile from an Israeli F-4 Phantom jet, and then asked him calmly, though with an accusatory hint, noticeable only because it was so rare, how his delivery route had gone the previous night?His nonchalant ‘fine’ was a mistake.His patronizing grin compounded that mistake and drew a barrage of disturbing screams, formed of magnificent bilingual curses, a flurry of kicks and punches, and the destruction of everything breakable in the living-room – including his precious Trinitron.It took Mami less than ten minutes of total assault to extract the truth — which was that Papi employed Amos to drive his truck, while he worked two families.It took her another fifteen minutes to pack his bags, a few hours to have the locks changed, a day to get an ex-directory number, and a month to swap Katz for the name of her favorite artist, the French impressionist painter, Edgar Degas.We hadn’t seen or heard from him since.
Loathing somebody you’ve loved is a painful way to go, because somewhere in all the anger there’s the hate you reserve for yourself for having been tricked.