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Nicky drew back. His eyes widened and his brow crinkled. “I have NEVER fucked up in my life. Name one fuck up. Go on, go on.”
“How about the truck full of Jap cameras that turned out t’be dildos when we pried the boxes open?” Anton blurted.
“That was due to bad info. I hate bad information.” Nicky almost mentioned it was Philly who managed to cake him up on those dumb rubber dicks. “Anyway look who’s talkin’! The crowned king of fuck ups. You been tweakin’ again, Anton?
“See? He deflects!”
Nicky looked at Marko and nodded toward Anton. “A few years ago this fuck made no sense when he talked. He was useless. Pathetic. Finally I had t’ take away his cocaine and lock’m in my mother’s basement on bread’n’water for a freakin’ month.”
“It was seven days, and that was over four years ago,” Anton defended. “And I had food. Your mother gave me – ”
“You had sugared mush. You wouldn’t eat nothin’ else. We use’t laugh about it.”
“Well see, you picked up on a friend doin’ weird shit and you stepped in to help,” Anton pointed out. His face wrinkled with an afterthought. “Mush? That’s why I can’t even look at a bowl of cereal.” He shook the thought out of his head and returned to the present. “Anyway Nicky, we’re on your case ‘cause you might hurt yourself with that sack of Dacron. We’re worried about it.” He let out a puff of frustration. “You should be thankin’ us for givin’ half a shit.”
Marko gave Anton a wicked smirk. “You were a fuckin’ menace in those days, Anton.”
Anton chuckled and shook his head, eyes wide in innocent amazement at his own crazy past. “Yeah that fuckin’ powder kicked like a mule. A wonder’m still breathin’. Half the time I had my head up my ass.”
“Hey remember you thought your neighbor was stealin’ your dead dog?”
“Yeah, yeah.”
“Tell the story, Anton.” Marko leaned back and waved for a few guys who were sitting nearby to pull their chairs up and listen. He and Nicky had the story memorized, but it was always fun to see new guys take it in.
“Somebody try t’cop your dead pooch?” asked Marko’s side man Tommy Satano.
Anton suddenly had the attention of a dozen sets of eyeballs. He fell right in. “Yeah, I had been tweakin’ with Nicky’s kid brother in my mother’s attic.” He flicked his thumb downward over a nostril and sniffed. “I was just hoofin’ it. Nicky’s bro was on the stem. He’d cooked an ounce’a coke into base and it came back a hundred-percent. T’celebrate he decided t’ smoke it all up. I had an ounce a’ pink flake and was snortin’ like a bull. This was around two days into it. I look out the window and see the guy who owns the house next t’mine and some other guy heftin’ this box along the side of our houses. It’s dark but I can see. It’s the same kinda box I buried my dog in! Now’m on fire. I break into a sweat. The motha fuck’s stealin’ my dead dog.”
“So who steals dead dogs and who gives a shit?”
“Hey me’n that raggedy-ass pooch saw eye t’eye on everything! Had her over fifteen years. Gave her a proper burial in the backyard. Every year on the day that dog died I stay in my house and don’t talk t’nobody. I spend the day in my head with my dog. Okay, so I go run to the back window t’see if the grave’s been touched. It’s darker in the back than in the front. But I see that the grave looks kinda different. I can’t decide if the ground just settled or if my neighbor – who I been livin’ next to and greetin’ twice a day for ten years – is stealin’ my dead dog! I go back to the front window and peep that box. Sure as shit, it’s the box. Also I hear the other guy say, ‘This thing really smells.’ Now’m coiled like a fuckin’ cobra. The fucker’s not just stealin’ my dead dog, he’s insultin’ her too. So I get my shotgun. I’m wearin’ pajamas so I throw this long raincoat over me and the shotgun is under my armpit and down t’my thigh. I charge out the door and storm up to the two of’m. I must’a looked crazy ‘cause they was freaked before I said a word. They’d just dropped the box in the trunk of a car. I turned to my neighbor. I said, ‘Jim, open the trunk.’ He looked at me like he never saw me before. ‘What?’ I got in his face and barked, ‘Open the fuckin’ trunk.’ The color drained from his face. Then he got real flushed. He didn’t make a move. ‘Open the trunk!’ I barked.
“So he opened the trunk. I said, ‘Now the box!’” Anton laughed at his own craziness. “So the guy looks at me like he’s expectin’ me t’explode. Sweat pourin’ down his face, his eyes all popped with fright. He’s stiff as a board but his arms move slightly, his hands come up and he opens the box. It’s fulla rags. Rags! I just looked at’m’n said, ‘Okay Jim. Goodnight now.’ Then I backed up real slow’n went in the house.”
“That was four years ago and Jim still disappears when he sees you comin’,” Nicky added.
“Yeah, yeah, the guy’s like a ghost. He’s on his stoop. I get out of my car, turn around, he’s gone.”
Laughter shook the rafter. When it cooled Nicky said, “And
right after that I had t’beat the shit outta Anton’n my brotha’ t’make’m stop fuckin’ with that freebase shit. They was runnin’ a fuck-up festival.”
“Hey I never freebased in my life,” Anton corrected.
“Okay okay, so you cowboy’d that shit up your fuckin’ nostril. You was still a complete wackadoo.”
“So what about your fuck-ups, Nicky?” Anton slid out. “We never got back t’the real subject.”
“You ain’t come up with one, hey?”
Anton shrugged. “Maybe later.” He turned his attention on Marko and hatched an evil retaliation for Marko’s helping Nicky bring up those embarrassing cocaine years. Some of the younger guys who had gathered around the table were still there. It would be a goof to get Marko to tell the eyeball story.
“Hey Marko, I bet a lotta these guys never heard the eyeball story.”
“Fuck you, Anton.” Marko banged on the table. “You pull this shit on me five times a year – ”
Anton looked hurt. “Is there a problem? I didn’t mean any – ”
“The eyeball story?”
“What the fuck?”
“Let’s hear it, Marko, c’mon,” Tommy Satano implored.
Marko shot sparks at Anton, but could not penetrate the air of bewildered innocence Anton had learned as a kid, under the scrutiny of the nuns.
“Tell the fuckin’ story, Marko,” Nicky confirmed. “Anton wants t’hear it. Then we can give’m some warm milk’n put’m t’bed.”
“Alright,” Marko conceded, “but after this that fuck better stay away from me for the rest of the night.”
Anton bright-eyed and bogus, chirped out, “Oh boy! Golly! It’s a deal!”
“Fuck you, Anton!”
“Don’t say that, Marko. Everybody knows’m here t’help.”
Marko rolled his eyes. “Ok, so it be.” He glanced at the circle of guys who were waiting for his tale, examining their faces. He knew how impressed they were with his street credentials. They had no idea what it really meant, this great position he was in. You have a button, you spend your time driving around to storefront social clubs kissing stubbled old bald guys with cheeks that smell like those knarled black stogies they are always sucking on. If you are lucky they just bark at you a little.
Marko lit a cigarette and began. “Okay, this was back in the day. I was fresh. Bein’ called to the table was a giant trauma. Somebody had beef with me. This crazy asshole said I shorted his young hump of a nephew on a swag deal. It was bullshit but there I was, sittin’ with the nephew in a social club out on Neptune Avenue by Coney. So the boss walks in with a few guys fanned out around’m. Everybody settles down. Actually it was an acting boss ‘cause other parties were inside at the time. I don’t know this ol’ crinkle haired withered up cootie from shit and he sits down’n glares at me’n the hump like it’s our fault he’s got dyspepsia. He gravels out some shit about hearin’ both sides of the story. Then he says, ‘But first, silence.’ So we’re sittin’ there not sayin’ a word for maybe five minutes. Sweat’s pourin’ down my back. Then the ol’ cootie does somethin’ that knocks us off our feet. He reaches up and pops out his left eye. See, we didn’t know he had a glass eye. So he puts the eye on the table facin’ him and he looks at it with his other eye for a minute or two. Then he bends down low and looks the eye in the eye and starts talkin’ to it. ‘What The Fuck Are You Lookin’ At?’ He draws back. Whatever happened in his head, he seems satisfied. But only for a second. Then he glowers at the hump and me again. I mean a look so fuckin’ nasty I still see it in my nightmares. He’s mumblin’ some shit we can’t hear but we gotta look at’m ‘cause hey, he’s the boss. You can’t turn away or look down. But that empty socket’s hard t’peep man, hard t’peep. You look in that empty eye socket, you’re lookin’ at all that rots. You’re lookin’ at your own future.”
Marko paused and drew on his smoke. The whole clubhouse was silent.
“So the ol’ fuck drones on a while but we can’t really hear’m. Suddenly he jumps to his feet. He says, ‘I gotta go t’little boy’s room.’ Me’n the hump look at each other. We’re wonderin’ by now if this is real, if the guy’s crazy, if we’re dreamin’ this up. The ol’ guy bends down low to the table and starts talkin’ t’the eye again. He turns it on us. He says, ‘I’m gonna be gone a minute. Keep an eye on’m.’”
Marko looked around playfully. As soon as his audience saw it was okay to laugh, the place exploded in wet jollies. When it died down, Tommy Satano asked, “So who took the table?”
Marko shrugged. “We never fig’d it out. Me’n the hump jumped up an’ booked. Funny thing . . . we sorta bumped the table. The eyeball rolled off an’ across the floor. It settled under the radiator in a little dust cloud. Man we was feelin’ lucky t’get out’a there.” Marko looked around. His tale had painted shock on their faces. “So we happy with this little taste of upper management or do I gotta top myself now?”
“Crazy shit.”
“Man look out!”
Marko got to his feet. He had enough. “Anton, have a list of Nicky’s fuck ups on my desk in the morning.”
“You got a desk?”
“Fuck you. It’s an expression. I’m outta here. The Probation people call my house every night aroun’ nine-thirty.”
“You’re still on supervised release?” somebody wondered.
“Yeah, a few more months. Could be worse. I could be wearin’ a bracelet’n stuck in the house. I may come back out after they call. If I do I’ll be over at the diner.”
“I’m gonna split too,” Nicky said. “Gotta get up early for work. You comin’?”
“I’m stayin’ for a while. Play some poker. Try out my new system.” Anton decided.
Nicky frowned. “With a system you can tell yourself that losing is part of winning. A great comfort while taking your daily losses.”
“Gee Nicky. Why the negative attitude? You play poker.”
“Notice I tend t’win. For me playin’ poker’s not gamblin’.”
”Hey sometimes I win.” Anton’s shoulder went up slightly. “Think I’ll lose?”
“Is the Pope in Rome? I look at your face, I know exactly what you’re thinkin’. Yer an expressive fuck, Anton.” Nicky threw a paternal smile. “Come on’n walk me to the avenue.”