Freddy Colón, a fence, a snitch, and a pop-up valet who had serviced IHOP’s undersized parking-lot for more than two-decades; tolerated but not endorsed by a franchisee that would have been lost without him, sat on a worn-torn-green leather club chair, roasting his mitts over a paraffin-heater.
He was protected from the now wetter rain by an oversized golf-umbrella, which like his Mohawk, was made of the red, white, and blue of the Dominican Flag.
His salvaged car radio was hooked up to a pair of powerful, blown, JBL PA speakers and tuned to El Jukeo on La Mega 97.9 FM; the most popular show on the most listened to music radio station in the USA.
Joel Severino, aka “DJ Supreme,” the station’s youngest and most popular DJ was on air spinning Marc Anthony’s 1998 monster-hit “Contra la Corriente;” a Cuba-inspired, Salsascape, propelled by marauding horns.
The song describes a life spent swimming against the tide (without getting very far).A life like mine.
Freddy slyly angled his phone at us as we passed by and I heard a shutter click. Given Freddy’s various trades, I assumed he’d been paid to take the photograph, which got me back to thinking about the matte black armored BMW X5 Security Plus we’d tripped over lurking outside my office a few minutes ago and wondering who was responsible for the goons inside.
I was still wondering as I opened IHOP’s front door for Monica.
The restaurant was drenched in fluorescent light and the smell of grease well past its prime and dressed in brand-blue Formica. It was busy; not packed. There was no line. So, a portly, powder-puffed, waitress led us to a table right away.
“Patsy’s who wave flags don’t deserve them,” I waved back, throwing Banksy over her platinum mop to Monica, who dropped it and bagsied a small orange juice instead.
I added a coffee; black.
Neither of us spoke for a while after that. She was waiting on the starting pistol and I was in no hurry to fire it. A chronic shortage of victories had left my ego banging on empty and it felt good to keep her waiting.
The ho hum of the traffic lumbering up and down Broadway was louder now on account of rush hour and punctuated by the bright beat of cheap cutlery bouncing off thin china plates and accompanied by a chorus of English to English to Spanish to English to Amharic, Ibo, Twi, Yoruba, Bantu, Swahili and Somali, chatter[ii]
Restless, I swung my gaze from menu pages decorated with the thumbprints of diners long forgotten to Monica, but there was nothing behind that fine facade to see.
Patsy returned, dumped the drinks on the table with a splash, pulled a long thin note pad out from apron ties she’d wrapped a couple of time around her ample waist, magiced a pencil from behind her right ear, and asked like it made no difference either way, if we were ready?
Monica ordered the Silver Dollar Five off the Kids Menu, which Patsy, somewhat surprisingly let pass with an eye-roll. I demonstrated I was paying more than lip-service to her story by selecting a Breakfast Sampler, with a side of white toast to mop up the grease the bangers and bacon left behind.
The cops tipped their caps at Patsy as they sniggered by. They were birds of a feather, stuck together — she fed the animals and they made sure we behaved.
Suddenly, the Cops spun back around and spat Kid Rock’s ‘Redneck Paradise’ at us to make sure we felt unwelcome. Swapping lines:
“I like moonshine whiskey,” Lady-cop called.
“I like home-made wine,” Man-cop responded.
“We don’t look for greener grass. Home grown suits us just fine,” they spat together at us and our kind.
Monica bit on her bottom lip a couple of times before twisting it into the most sardonic of smiles, tapped her paws together lazily, sucked on the third finger of her right hand and flipped the cops off.
Lady-cop stepped towards us spoiling for an escalation, but Man-cop, wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her away. At the cashier stand, by the exit, Man-cop spun around, made a pistol of his right hand and shot us.
Monica didn’t flinch. She didn’t recoil. She didn’t respond at all. She looked through and past the Cops and maintained that stance even after they were gone.
Patsy returned to slap dinner on the table and asked gruffly if we needed anything else. She fulfilled my request for hot sauce with a bottle from a nearby table and hammered it down in front of me, as if to draw attention to her burden — the impossible task of feeding the animals with a smile on your face while being paid the minimum wage plus low rollers occasional tips.
Monica parted her lips minimally as if to speak and then aborted the project. She was struggling with something deep inside. I assumed it was with her story — when to tell the truth and where to position the all-important defensive ring of falsehoods, fabrications, and lies.
The third and most important thing you learn in the law business is that truths and fictions are built on the same shaky foundation - the trick of our trade is to tell them apart. That’s generally tough at the beginning of a case, because so much thought has been invested in leading you up a particular garden path. Until facts collide, and truth overtakes the most carefully constructed of lies.
Our grub was shiny and brand new, so, I searched for my reflection in a sunny-side-up egg,
“Are we ready; I’s dotted, and T’s crossed,” I asked, spicing my skepticism with a bite of sausage.
She leapt off the starting blocks and quickly found her stride: “Degas, Lady-cop is Michelle Dowd, Man-cop is Denny Tyrell. Last year I wrote a story for the Post on dirty cops of the 5-O. They were hitting up dealers for protection and then using cash to buy cocaine for resale. I didn’t name Dowd or Tyrell, but they are in it.”[iii]
“So, you’re a hack?” I mused to accuse.
She launched her brows skywards, clacked her tongue against her palate, and laughed my Sherlock off. “Degas, I didn’t get kissed into this business. I’m from the Bronx. I had to work hard --- fucking hard. I graduated from City University’s School of Journalism in 2013, first in my class. To pay my way, I waitressed at KOI in the Bryant Park Hotel, blowing off offers to blow swinging dicks for more money than I’d earn in a month. I studied nights, weekends and holidays. I contributed to Vice, Daily Beast, Huffington Post and the Bronx Times in my spare time. I also blog on police brutality,” she said at me, like I was complicit.
I shook it off.
She carried on, picking up the pace: “My first job was as Press Officer to the Bronx DA, a horny perv, who went from sticking out his fat tongue and wagging it at me very nasty, to spiking my Chardonnay with enough GBH to get to slobber over my boobs, to sending me dick-snaps as a keepsake. That shit stopped when the New Yorker published, ‘Bronx Zoo,’ an article I wrote that accused the perv of opening and shutting cases for cash; screwing his ADAs in bulk and sharing STDs family style at methed-up Borough Hall stripper parties’ courtesy of the NYPD. I may not be the greatest journalist that ever lived (yet) and I don’t have my Pulitzer (yet) but ‘Bronx Zoo’ got the city riled up enough to force the DA to quit and got me the gig at the Post.”[iv]
“So, you traded in Grand Concourse for Park Avenue?” I said raising my coffee mug to toast.
“Yeah, and on the days, I feel uppity, I remind myself there are more walking canes per person in the Bronx than any other place on earth on account of all the gun-shot wounds, and I feel better about my Westside, low-floor, glass covacha.” She said to back me off.
I dug in deeper. “You went after the 5-O right after Papi went down with the coke?”
“Papi was between the Narcos and the 5-O on the trades. He supplied the dealers. He snitched on the dealers. He bought coke from the Narcos with the money the 5-O extorted from the dealers, which he then sold back to the dealers. He died because —"
She caught herself, as if there might be betrayal involved in saying any more. Under that elegant bourgeois exterior, she knew how it worked on the street; to survive, you limit yourself to answering questions asked that have already been answered, to thrive you turn the other cheek.
So, I completed the sentence for her and added a couple more: “— he got greedy. That’s what always gets chancer’s like Edwin. They start off doing a bit of this and a bit of that, which is a game they know so they thrive. They end up big-time, only they don’t have an institution like the Narcos, government, or the church, to protect them or share the risk. So, they drown.”
I licked my lips with the fat part of my tongue and brushed up against the short hard stubble my razor had missed at my mouth’s extremities. I liked the way my repartee tasted --- acrid.
“Yeah, he got reckless,” she said to end the thread, but I persisted.
“And you know all this because?” It was the first question I’d asked, that I hadn’t known the answer to since we met, and a rookie mistake, as I had no idea where her answer might lead.
“When Papi died, I decided to tell his story to understand our story, and why from being so close, we drifted apart. So, I called Carmen, my-stepmother-young-enough-to-be-my sister and asked if I could take a look at his shit. She said yes, but I don’t think she was really listening to me. She sounded like she had a lot on her mind, which is as scanty as the panties she models and just as easily overwhelmed,” Monica said, rolling her rock around her ring-finger to offset the scary stuff, decorating our booth in irs dancing reflections.
“A couple of days later I flew down to Miami and made my way to their palace at Bay Point. But Carmen was gone. The garage was empty. And the palace had been sacked by Atilla. I spent a few days trying to make a lot of dead ends meet but all traces of Papi has been scrubbed clean. When I finally got back to the Post there was a large manila envelope sitting on my desk with no return address. The thick file inside had ‘Seguro’ scrawled on its cover in thick black Sharpie. I scanned the file and uploaded it to Dropbox. Check your phone, and you’ll find the link in your text messages.
”I left my phone in its pocket. I had no doubt the link would be there. She was not the stand and under-deliver type.
“Apart from a BitAddress paper wallet to keep Papi’s 2,331 Bitcoins in Cold Storage and detailed records of his business with Narcos, dealers and Cops, there are a couple of documents in the file that will mess you up — Esto te liará Degas.” She leaked, amused by the big-number math, nicely framed by a smile that was as wide as it stretched, which was bracketed by slim laugh-lines.
The net-net was that at this morning prices Johnny’s fee was worth $15,000 to me and Edwin’s Paper Wallet was worth over $17,000,000 to Carmen or anyone else that had access to it.
Monica didn’t, or so she said: “The shit requires an un-hackable password. It’s as useless to me as empty Birkin.
”Then she spread her feathers, cleared her largely untouched plate to the right side of the table to make space in front of her, dipped her right paw into her tote, and pulled out a yellowed document with the bluster of a card shark holding the trump card.
She placed the document face-down on the table and drummed her fingers on it. She seemed to be debating something.
I assumed it was how best to manage her risk.
She dipped back into the tote and pulled out a document that looked like a contract or a will and a few faded photographs and laid them out next to the document, also facing down.
“Are you going to introduce us, or I do have to guess?” I said grasping for mojo and the upper hand.
She fixed her eyes on mine and kept them there as she flipped the photos over and spread them out over the table like a hand of cards with the ease of a croupier, so I could see them better.
The head of the man in the photograph was encircled with red highlight from which an arrow led to the word KUNT. This old cunt was all chin and overbite, which was barely hidden by a military style, extended-lampshade moustache and flanked by brows shaped as wings.
“I don’t like the way his rabbit-mouth twists corruptly up his left cheek. Or the elongated Hitler bush smeared over his top lip. Or how his pin-hole eyes are locked to the camera, demanding our attention.” I said expending bravado I might need later.
“That’s reasonable!” She leaked, playing with her upper hand.
“I call ‘em as I see ‘em,” I said, leaning over the table to study the photograph more closely. “And everything this lean, mean, always selling machine has got in the world he stole.
”We both knew I was sweating the small stuff, and she decided to end it. She flipped the document over, turned it around, and pushed the LAST WILL & TESTAMENT OF JOSEPH PATRICK KUNT at me like it was important.[vii]
“The President is this motherfucker’s son and YOU ARE THE PRESIDENT’S HALF-BROTHER,” she said with great certainty. Then she shrugged, like whether or not I was the son of God made no difference to her at all.
“The hell I am!” I jabbed back slamming my fist down on the table, succeeding only in making my coffee tremble.
She unfurled a thin dismissive smile that broke up before she had the chance to use it and raised me to infinity:
“Degas, I highlighted the Distributions paragraph in yellow, so you won’t have to work too hard to find it. Admittedly, I’m no attorney, but the gist of it is that Old Man Kunt’s assets were to be split six-ways. Five shares were to go to the legitimate Kunt’s he reared with his wifey, Victoria Anne. And one of the shares was to go to you, Elia Joseph Degas, the bastard son of Kunt and your ma, Beatriz Marisol López. Your office address and mobile number are hand-written in the margin in pencil, so I’m supposing Edwin was planning on contacting you, but I don’t know why?”
I found the highlighted paragraph and read, and read again, while around me, the hubbub of second-hand talk roared until it drowned out thought.
My first idea was that the document was a fake, though the whys and wherefores of that soon culminated in, why me, why bother? And that the story had the tangled web of fact rather than the marvelous simplicity of fiction, and therefore might be true.
Reading my thoughts, Monica dipped into her tote again and magiced up a Confidentiality & Settlement Agreement on the letterhead of Cohn & Kennedy LLP., dated Tuesday, October 17, 1972.
A couple of sentences were decorated with yellow highlight, but she let me know what they said anyway: “It seems like Beatriz agreed to keep your bastard status on the down-low for $20,000. The agreement does not mention your inheritance so perhaps she was unware, which makes you either the luckiest or unluckiest Kunt on earth depending on the Statute of Limitations on inheritance fraud in New York State and the existence of a later version of the will that cuts you out — either way, you just inherited some serious pull.
”Monica paused as Patsy arrived to clear away the dishes and dump our check on the table. Then they both moved on leaving me gasping.
“Here shit gets lunatic, Roy Cohn, the attorney that prepared both the will and the settlement, is the very same, queer, gay-baiting, narcissist that was Chief Counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Anti-Communism turkey-shoot and Outside Counsel to John Gotti and his Gambino Mafia family. He was disbarred six weeks before his death of AIDS in the mid-eighties, for trying to force a dying man to change his will in his favor.”
“I guess hell hath less fury with more trinkets,” I mused to slow down the pace. But she was blinkered and in sight of home.
“The point is that Cohn had the scum-bag pedigree that the job of disinheriting you required. And his son, Michael has carried on in the family tradition, fixing shit for cunts like Kunt. So, we should go visit him after we go to see Beatriz.”
“Why we?” I said flailing.
“It’s my story.” She demanded.
“Es mi madre — my damn mother!” Which sounded more definitive than it was given the stakes.
“Who hasn’t told you the truth for fifty-plus years”
I took her point and massaged it awhile. Where I ended up was, that by a trick of fate, I had become the case, and that I didn’t want to be that alone. So, I rose, patting breadcrumbs off my lap, dropped two twenties on the table to cover the twenty-seven dollars and change check and Patsy’s time — here seemed no point making the bitter more twisted — and, we left together, side by side.
Lady-Cop, Dowd and Man-Cop, Tyrell were leaning in wait against a tricked-out Ford Explorer Interceptor patrol car, hands on hips sleeves pulled up over the elbows despite the cold wet getting wetter night. The Three Percenter ink on their forearms bragged membership of an alt-right militia whose white supremacist, neo-Nazi, Holocaust-denying soldiers pledged to protect the Second Amendment and resist ‘Deep State,’ their comic book inspired moniker for Federal Government..
The yellow and black tape in front of them spoke to a crime scene that the semi-circle of muted emergency vehicles flashing red and blue behind them confirmed.
“Monica is what’s known in the trade as a dangerous package,” hissed Dowd as we passed, through a plump lop-sided snarl, intended to sell the idea that she knew everything there was to know about my business and the trouble it was in.“
I guessed that much. But I’m still waiting for someone to tell me why.
”Tyrell knew why, and he was bursting to share. “‘Coz she doesn’t got no friends,” he leered
“She’s got me.” I said in passing.
Dowd chortled. “LOL! She’s got nothin’ then.”“We’ll see,” I said to myself, and the wind.
Monica stared at me, doubtfully and barked: “Veremos, si, ya varemos.”
She was waiting to see how I was going to do, too.
We moved on menaced by the coppers Kid Rock inspired chorus: “Welcome to our Redneck Paradise Degas, where disloyal fuckers die.”
Apparently, the case in hand was Freddy Colón, who was stretched out on the ground in the center of the car park, frothing at the mouth. His eyes were wide open despite the rain which was stronger now, and they were Novichok-5 nerve agent white.[viii]
A couple of paramedics were trying to shock Freddy back to life with a Canary-yellow Physio Control Lifepak 500T Defibrillator. When they failed, they covered him in a white blanket, which instantly became a canvas for their flashing lights.
We walked right past it all into the rain as a 1-train rumbled above us travelling south.