Jay-B helped me into a cold shower and said he would stand guard outside the locker door while I cleaned myself up.The caked blood on may face dissolved slowly, staining the white-water swirling around and over my toes red, and slowly I regained by senses.
My skin felt tighter, the pain less acute, and my sperm count may have ratcheted up a notch, but I still didn’t feel clean. Cases either start dirty, get dirtier and end prettily. Or start dirty, get dirtier and end messily. This one was trending dirty-south.[i]
I stepped out of the shower onto a marauding cockroach, but there was nothing I could do about the maggots bathing in the stagnant water that filled the gaps in-between the floor tiles, where grout had originally been.I slapped myself dry with a towel. The sting felt good and the sound of the wet cotton against my skin ricochet around the locker-room like gunshots, which brought Jay-B scurrying back with his Ruger’s extended, ready to pop-a-cap.I pulled a laugh to ease the burden on my bruised ribs and watched the storm die on Jay-B’s face softly.He giggled that I was a “Loco hijo de puta,” which at that moment seemed less a compliment than a diagnosis, and that he’d wait for me in the truck, which meant he wasn’t sharing any more rides today.I changed into my street clothes, brushed my hair back as far as it would go and stretched a Band-Aid over the bridge of my nose to pull an often opened wound together humming the jingle “I am stuck on Band-Aid (brand) ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me!” to an audience of maggots and roaches.[ii]
I turned on the S7, which needed a charge, but had just enough juice to pass on mami’s message that I should pass by Abraham, AS IN MY EX-PAPI, on my way to Co-op city, as he had something for me. The advice came with an address and a telephone number and a smiley kiss.Going to Co-op City via Roosevelt Island adds 18-miles and over an hour to a 9-mile journey but I decided to go visit Abraham anyway to tend to a 45-year old open sore, tie up a few lose ends and because I like presents.I left the locker-room in a tempestuous frame of mind made stormier by the sight of Jay-B in the huddle with “Doc” Torres, a toadish, red-eyed Puerto Rican quack who pushed Dox Rox Good Luck Energy Xtreme energy-pills, he said were made from Himalaya Organic Ashwagandha and ginseng in a Swiss lab, but were actually “cooked” by his wife on a hot-plate using a tried and tested recipe of caffeine, water, sugar, salt and more caffeine, and then manufactured at the rate of 5,000 pills per hour on a $2,000 TDP 1.5 Desktop Tablet Press.[iii]Jay-B left the huddle as I passed, carrying a 12 bottle stacker-pack of Dox Rox, and followed me outside where dusk, the drab gray dead space between day and night, had misted in and a cold light rain was spraying a fine even coat on the love of Jay-B’s life, a matt-black HAMANN tuned Range Rover 5.0 V8 Autobiography with a four-pipe stainless-steel exhaust system tuned to deliver an additional 50 horses and grunt.He placed the stacker-pack on the back seat, bumped the fists with a fellow practitioner in the dark arts of the pimped-out ride who had rushed out of 718 Auto Body to greet him, and opened the front passenger door for me, genuflecting like I was royalty.“Where to killer?” he mocked gently.“Roosevelt Island, and then to Co-op City to see mami put a spell on Kunt.”“What’s in Roosevelt Island?” Jay-asked excitedly.“A detour. A Lead. A blast from the fucking past,” I lobbed back over shrug and then I tucked a half-smile away for safe keeping as Jay-B beat the early rush-hour traffic by ducking and diving through back roads he’d been traveling his entire life.Soon, we were riding high above the East River on the upper level of the double cantilever Queensboro Bridge racing the Roosevelt Island Cable Car high to the right of us towards a heavy sky, pouring heavier rain.
We turned right onto 21st Street passing the enormous red letters on scaffold SILVERCUP STUDIOS sign, made a sharp right onto Queens Plaza South, followed by another onto Vernon Blvd, and then hung left onto Roosevelt Island Bridge where roles-reversed and we were suddenly facing the cloud-piercing towers of Billionaires Row.We took a left into Main Street and pulled up at 609 in front of China-1 Kitchen, a delivery-centric Chow Mein to Chop Suey joint sandwiched in between Island Wine and Spirits and the Amalgamated Bank.I left Jay-B to grab an early supper and walked up to and through the entrance to Westview Apartments at the southwest corner of the block.
You could know New York City a long time without knowing Roosevelt Island, and you could know Roosevelt Island forever without knowing Westview Apartments or Number 206, where Abraham Katz, a man I’d once called ‘Papi’ lived in an empty nest above the China-1 kitchen.
His door was like the others I passed on the way down the corridor except for the green enamel, deco, Mezuzah screwed to its frame and the Nest Cam IQ trained on his front door. His bell was like all the others too, right down to the typeface, and I supposed his life similar all the others in this 10,000 Pax dorm — it started with the first Manhattan bound cable car of the day and paused when it shut at 11 pmI rang the bell.After a while the door cracked open.
The ghost on the other side was impossibly decrepit and brutally stooped under the weight of a jet-black velvet yarmulke.His skin had the rough sandpaper-like texture of fine stucco.His grey nicotine-stained beard hung below his waist.His eyes were gray too, dull and jaundiced at the corners. So, they matched the beard.He coughed a dry smokers hack as he opened the door and coughed again as he asked me what I wanted.And in that instant, I wanted so much that I didn’t know where to start, which led to a pause during which we studied each other carefully, nursing our pride and its prejudices.“I’m Elia, Elia Degas,” I said as casually as I could, though I suspected he recognized me before the bell from the camera guarding the front door. “Beatriz said you had something for me — a memento, a souvenir, a certificate, a fucking medal commemorating 45 year of neglect.”“We don’t want any trouble Elia,” he said once and then a second time with feeling, standing to one side to let me into an immaculately musty dark living room with brown walls a deep-red rug and a welcoming display of plastic flowers in a cut-glass vase on a side table by the front door.He pointed me to a deeper-red velour couch in front of an enormous Samsung 65-inch OLED TV, which I took as an invitation to sit down. It was tuned to CNN and a story about an Taylor Swift worshiping, [iv] male exotic dancer and red-capped Kunt lover who had been caught with “pipe-bomb making paraphernalia” and a target list of 17 synagogues that he apparently hoped to destroy because, according to his Gab page and John 8:44 “Jews are the children of Satan,”[v] which took me back to 1973 and the final quarter of the Yom Kippur War and the thought I had then that no humiliation goes unpunished. A fat little lady appeared from a brightly lit room to the left of the entrance, which I assumed to be the kitchen because she was carting lemonade. Her puffy, sun-starved face had fright plastered all over it. Like, I’d come to snatch Abraham back, which I might have if there was anything left worth taking.
She poured me a glass and something Yiddish I didn’t understand that didn’t sound like welcome home Degas. And then Rachel introduced herself as Abe’s wife and wrapped an arm around him, which pissed me off.I spun my gaze away from the plump porkers and around the room.My first surprise was a photograph of me riding on Abraham’s shoulders with my right paw dipped in a bag of Cheetos and my left in my mouth, in a silver frame standing on the ornate mantle above a raging gas fireplace.
The second surprise was a photo of me five-years younger and five pounds lighter and then another of Monica tickling Nadiya’s ear, which, in the context of this Breaking News segment from the CNN studios in Washington DC., looked particularly seditious.
Then, CNN’s Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger, explained in explicit detail (to Wolf Blitzer, Brooke Baldwin, and Anderson Cooper and us)[vi] the “sensational” allegations Monica had made a couple of hours earlier in a special online evening edition of the Gotham Post, and in an exclusive interview for CNN taped “earlier that day.”And then we were looking at Monica and she was looking at us fiercely and I supposed that bellow the frame she was rolling that rock because occasionally a reflection kissed her cheek:
“Degas is the son of the rape of his mother by the President’s father, the late Joseph Kunt”
“Degas is therefore the President’s step-brother”
“Degas is a Bronx lawyer and my friend”
“Degas was disinherited by President Kunt.”
I looked to Abraham, hoping to see pride, but he looked away. I got the same result when I looked over his shoulder at Rachel. So, I waited, not saying anything, which got silly after a while.“How much did they pay for your silence Papi?’ I said softly, without bark but with bite to spare.Then was another silence. This one broken by Rachel who chose her words one at a time: “Ray Cohn came to see us three days after you were born. He’d been investigating Beatriz and he knew that Abraham was polygamous, had two families. He said he’d keep it quiet, but that one day he’d call in the favor.”She looked over to Abraham for permission to continue that story, but he shook her off and continued it himself, looking anywhere but at me:“He came back to see us after my delivery truck crashed. He knew that Beatriz had thrown me out and he wanted the separation to stick. He said he was trying to extend the distance between the Katz’s and the Kunt’s as far it would go, and that his firm would pay us $3,000 a month to stay away from you and for our silence. 27-years later, a few days after Joseph Kunt died, his son Michael came to see us to thank me for my loyalty and he raised the payments to $5,000. A week after Kunt won the election Monica Rivera reached out to me and I told her the story — ““Monica found you?”“Yes Elia. She came to us through Beatriz. I passed her a record of the payments and a check made out to you for all the money we received plus 4% interest. But, she wouldn’t take it,” he said, shaking his head. “She said I should give it to you myself as everybody needed closure. That’s why I opened the door.”“To close things out?”“To give you the check,” he said pulling a white envelope out of his pocket like a rabbit and then he passed it to me like I was leaving.I opened the envelope as he turned away and pulled out a check — $36,000 a year for 27 years and then $60,000 a year for 18 years at 4% interest made a for a big number.I ripped the check up anyway.
“Papi,” I spat because I knew it would hurt, “You spoke to Monica. So, you know Kunt owes me much more than three and a half million fucking dollars. As for you and me? There is no amount of money that you could pay me to lighten the load of your guilt.”
He turned back towards me like he had something to say, but Gloria Borger interrupted him with the Breaking News that Kunt had denied all the allegations in a violent Tweet-storm, characterizing Monica as dyke bitch.Then CNN flashed a photograph of Monica and Nadiya at the Inauguration earlier in the day, before, with a dull thud, the screen went black.When I turned back to Abraham, he was clutching the remote tightly in his right hand and Rachel with his left, shaking his head muttering something about Kunt having been a good friend to Israel, like that excused a multitude of sins.“It’s time for you to go Elia,” he said with authority borrowed from his wife.For a beat I stood still searching his gaze for a trace hint of approval, but a beat later I thought better of it and turned towards the door determined that wouldn’t, mustn’t ever end up as stooped and as dismal and as blind as Papi.The door slammed shut and then cracked open behind me and a dull gray eye filled it.
And then he was rudely interrupted: “Abraham, you should have stayed with your wetback whore — it would have saved me the misery.”Rachel didn’t believe that, though.She was greedy. She wanted both the misery and the company.The door slammed shut behind me.I walked away.Magically, I didn’t feel sorry for myself anymore. And I didn’t feel sorry for him.He’d chosen tribe over passion and sacrificed his life as a result.And they do say that a life is a terrible thing to waste.Perhaps, because you only get one.We set off Co-op City the way we came only now heavy dark clouds had closed in and the hard rain battering the windshield distorted our view of the East River and the towers beyond.“So, no welcome home Degas. We missed you all these years?” Asked Jay-B breaking the silence with kid-gloves.“No welcome at all. But on the way out the cabrón told me that I was not the President half-brother, but his son.”Jay-B whistled softly.“That’s a terrible gene-pool” he growled and then the melancholy dissolved in fits and giggles as his found the bright-side: “¡La buena noticia es que todavía eres un bastardo Degas!”“Yes, I’m still a bastard” I chuckled as we both convulsed into mad hysterical laughter — y voy a derribar a mi papi.”