Screams came from the upstairs apartment.
I was reading the Post at the foot of the stairwell.
A door opened at the end of the hallway. A small man scowled under the chain. “What the hell’s goin’ on out there!”
I closed the paper and pushed off the wall.
The man muttered curses and shut the door.
The screams kept coming – pleading, pitiful cries.
I hiked my sleeve and smelled my forearm. The scent was familiar and calming.
There were dull thuds in the walls before a door broke open and footsteps thundered down the stairs. A shirtless fat man with a plastic bag torn open around his neck stood panting on the riser.
I put the paper under my arm. “It’s okay.”
He pushed past me and burst mewling through the front door.
After a while the three college kids came down with their masks lifted. The tall one went into his back pocket and shucked off a few twenty-dollar bills and handed them to me.
I took the money and put it in my fob pocket.
“Next month?” said the tall one.
They stood back and I walked out of the building into the cold night.
An exhausted 6 train trolled home over the warp towards Pelham Bay station, washing leaves off the crown of a shedding elm in the park below.
The leaves blew in a curling sheet towards the mess of strangers crowding the platform. The few who flinched were enough to spark a mass reaction. Someone shrieked and someone fell as people shoved to escape the billowing plague. In the end the leaves only fell on their hair and shoulders and the train floated soundlessly home.
I toed the gap in place of a man who balked all the way back to the turnstiles. The last few windows of the train passed close to my face. The train settled and hissed and won me one half of a pair of doors. A cutthroat secretary with tall black hair and white tennis shoes stood tetched beside me, teething fricatives under her breath as the doors stayed shut.
The car was full of dark forms.
A face emerged in the window, indistinct.
The secretary slung a fat white purse up her arm and slapped the side of the car. “C’mahn!”
The shadowed face receded.
The woman sighed brutally and used her hip to nudge her enormous bag onto her shoulder. She caught it against her belly as it fell. Three or four small plastic things and an aerosol can spilled out onto the platform.
“Christ!” She bumped me off the door and spread out to squat.
The doors bonged open.
Her hair bobbed up. “Hold on! I dropped my crap…”
I stood aside watching the curvature of the train. Opposing volumes of humanity filtered on and off.
The secretary reclaimed her dropped crap and shoved forward into the car. I followed behind her. Several riders had not gotten off, remaining in their seats for whatever reason, merely a trip in the reverse direction. Others vied for what was left, grasping at straps and poles. I squeezed into a spot against the opposite door.
The doors bonged shut and the train lurched westward, coughing a somnolent old woman in a plastic headwrap out of the hangers-on. She was nearly five feet and asleep in ragged black sneakers and an oversized blue nylon jacket that read Lim’s Cleaners over her breast. Her limp hand reached for something to hold on to.
She struggled to keep her footing as the train curved and fell against the legs of a bearded man sitting rigidly with his hand behind a large black cardboard box on the seat beside him. He shoved the old woman away with his knee.
She blinked and stumbled to lean against the secretary’s purse.
I leaned to tap the man on the shoulder.
He looked up at me. His eyes were grey and vacant.
I spoke between us. “Can you let her sit?”
He looked away and hid his hands in the pockets of his denim jacket.
I tapped him again.
He scowled. “What?”
I gestured at the woman.
He looked around, feigning not to see her.
She was right there in front of him, teetering.
I spoke calmly at his face. “You could put it on your lap.”
He knocked at the box with his elbow and shrugged. “I mean it’s already there…”
The tracks wailed as the train rounded.
I said loudly: “Put it on the floor.”
The gorgon secretary twisted to give me a vulgar look.
The man looked away and coughed falsely.
The train hissed to a stop at Buhre Avenue.
The doors bonged open. I reached over the man and grabbed the box. It was weightless. He leapt up and clamored at my arms as I threw it over the heads of the oncoming passengers.
He shoved past me out the doors, chasing the tumbling box down the platform. “My box!” The wind blew it against a trashcan where it exploded in burst of styrofoam peanuts.
He stomped back with his fists clenched. “You son of a bitch!”
The doors bonged shut between us. He punched the window and swore wildly as the train lurched into motion. He followed, pointing and cursing me through the window as the train gathered momentum and carried away.
I settled back against the doors. The secretary had already claimed his spot and propped her bag on the seat beside her.
The old woman found a place on the pole under a stack of hands and stood with her head down as the train carried on to Westchester Square.
I drew my coat collar against the wind and hustled through Owen Dolan Park to the office on Tratman Avenue. The stairwell was unlit and frigid. I got to the third floor and shook out my keys and opened the door. The phone was ringing in the dark.
I wiped the wall and the lights came on in the anteroom. The phone stopped as if I’d chased a ghost. A chevron of old mail was scattered past the threshold.
I collected it all and dropped the pile on the front desk and went to the back office. The radiator between the bookcases was susurrating like a trapped rodent. I went behind the desk and opened the shades. The panes braced audibly in the frames.
November’s debut was a stirring act of clashing winds under a cemented sea of grey, worrisome if you listened to it.
The phone started again. I took the call at my desk.
It was Mrs. Dolarhyde calling about her wayward husband.
I updated her on the Halloween events, about chasing him from a dingy Gun Hill motel through a residential Morrisania neighborhood. “Yes, ma’am. T-D. Ted Dwinnels. He destroyed my camera and I had to use what was there. In this case it was a pair of letter blocks.”
I waited as she protested.
“Don’t believe him when he says it’s an accident. I staked him out for the better part of October at every other hotel in the Bronx, his favorite being the Hi-Lo Motor Inn off Gun Hill Road. And I’m sorry to say there was another woman Mrs. Dolarhyde. I confronted him with my camera, which he promptly snatched from my hands and took off with across the freeway and over a fence. Oh yes, it was that absurd. Me chasing him through a neighborhood full of trick or treaters, him in a bathrobe and a screaming escort chasing behind us.”
She went on chastising me. I opened the bottom left drawer. An empty plastic quart of rum rattled at the bottom. I closed it.
“Well, I trapped him in the basement playroom of a nice family’s house. That’s where he smashed my camera and came at me with his fists. I merely sidestepped and guided him to the baseboard. I apologize for the aggression. In lieu of a camera I stamped my initials on his forehead with some alphabet blocks.”
Wind gusted against the windows as Mrs. Dolarhyde argued.
“Right. And I apologize for that. But had your husband not destroyed my camera I wouldn’t have had to. If you’d like me to testify in mediation, I’ll write a statement. In the interim I’d be grateful for remittance of my service fee. $225 for the three weeks with $50 for my ruined Roelli.”
She disputed the camera.
“I don’t want to quarrel Mrs. Dolarhyde. On good faith I ask you pay the damages. If not, I may not know your husband from Sam Huff in a deposition.”
I hung up and fished an invoice carbon and envelope from the middle drawer and wrote out the amount for the three weeks or so and the busted Roelli. I gathered up the folders and thumbed to “DOLARHYDE.” There was nothing in it except a retainer slip, handwritten receipt and a list of Mr. Dolarhyde’s weekly whereabouts. I transcribed the home address to the envelope and went to the front room and left it in the mail tray.
I made a mental note to put an ad in the paper for a secretary. The last secretary had left in the spring, without notice. The summer was very lonely and hot in the office and there was a phantom grinding coming from somewhere inside the building that stopped with the solstice. I had been managing things singly since.
The upshot was I’d not had to substitute box in months without a secretary to pay. The downside was my records were in disarray. I’d made due with spot jobs here and there – door duty for the blackout crew, staking out philanderers and every so often armed guard for a paranoid old livery driver. I.
I took the mail back to the desk and swept up the mess of loose papers and manila folders, set them aside. The desk calendar showed the month of July, scribbled all over with cross-hatched polygons and phone numbers and last names.
I dialed the Post. A dozy voice answered: “Copy.”
“I’d like to place an ad.”
The voice sighed. “Go ahead.”
“Secretary needed for Investigative Office. Must be friendly, phone-savvy and adept with clerical work. $10 per hour, flexible weekdays. Dwinnels Investigation, 4664 Tratman Street, Bronx.”
“Ten, twenty – twenty five. $12 for the month.”
I thanked the voice and hung up. I tore the past months off the blotter crumpled them into a large ball and stuffed them in the bin under the desk.
I wiped all over the fresh page, felt the indentations. Some were deeper than others. I wrote Dolarhyde billed in the box for November 1 and cut open the mail with my thumb. Bills for heating, office lease and a license renewal.
The phone rang.
I picked it up and trapped the receiver against my shoulder.
The voice was decrepit. “C’mon kid. It’s Sal! I been callin’ you for two, three days now!”
I set aside the mail. “Is this about the car?”
“Is this about the car - yeah, its about the goddam car! What, you don’t remember?”
I trapped the handset in my neck and shuffled through the folders to Calabrese.
There were notes scrawled on a deckled tearsheet.
Sal Calabrese, 2021 Hollywood Avenue BX
August 9, 3PM Newark to Norwood
Sept. 10, 7:15PM Newark to Rockaway Beach
Oct. 10. 3:00PM LaGuardia to Morris Park
“Sal Calabrese,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s right! The car service!”
He’d hired me to sit shotgun in his beat up luxury sedan on three agonizing car rides from airports to hotels north of Manhattan. A father and son from Cincinnati flown in for a funeral, a sanitation chief from San Francisco to a garbage truck expo and a good ‘ol boy Texan with a trunk full of bullets to a Spuyten Duyvil gun show who tossed racist comments as he drank dark liquor in the back seat.
Sal drove visibly nervous. He was in danger of some kind but wouldn’t tell me what.
“You got a secretary or what? I been callin.’”
“The position’s being filled.”
He coughed away from the phone and came back. “Now listen, Dwinnels – I got another ride I need you to come with.”
I smoothed my tie. “Sal.”
“If someone was going to kill you they would have done it by now.”
“Kill me! Whaddaya talkin about kill me?” He laughed and coughed away from the phone. “Look no one’s getting killed. Just one last trip and that’s it.”
I leaned over the desk . “Sorry, Sal.”
“A hundred bucks to Randall’s Island.”
“Two hundred. Hour back and forth.”
I sat back and scratched my face. “What time?”
“That’s my boy. Four o’clock. An hour and you’ll be back in your chair.”
“Don’t be late.”
“You’re a good man, Dwinnels. I don’t care what Joe Dibennidetto said about you.”
He laughed. “I made him up to play a trick on you. I mean he exists, but he ain’t said nuthin about you.”
A voice squawked in the background.
“Whaddaya know, my wife say’s Joe’s dead. You’re off the hook then. Not with me though. Not just yet. I’m kiddin’ yah. Hey I appreciate it babe. 4’oclock sharp.”
“Fine. Just remind me why you need me riding handgun in your car again?”
His voice sunk. “I’m an old man, Dwinnels. I told you not to ask questions, okay.”
He cleared his throat. “I’ll pick you up around then. And no questions, yeah? I mean it. No he said she said. Nuthin. I’m paying you to keep an eye out and your mouth shut, that’s it.”
For a guy who wanted things hushed, he told a lot of stories about how he used to drive old pro ballplayers, New York Yankees and later the Jets’ Joe Namath.
“Gimme your address one more time.”
“Tratman Avenue off Westchester Square.”
“Yeah okay I got it. Tratman.” He coughed. “You know Eddie Lopat? He used to live over there.”
“Really.” I wrote the appointment on the calendar.
“Oh yeah. Loved his sauce. Kicked a guy in a chair once. Some fella at a steak house on 39th street. You didn’t hear that from me though. Listen, see you then.”
I stripped Ceezy out on the desk. The barrel and magazine were moist with spoiled oil. I’d not used him in months, hadn’t had to sitting in the back of a cab for most of the summer watching naughty husbands go in and out of motel rooms.
I cotton-swabbed the fouling out with solvent and put him back together and cycled the action a few times. Oil spilled from his joints and made stains across the middle weeks of the desk calendar. I wiped him down and holstered him under my arm and righted my blazer.
I wrote out checks and read the Post. At four o’clock I went to the window. Wind tossed trash against the tenements across the street. Shortly Sal’s dirty black Chevrolet Imperial limousine sedan turned the corner and slunk to a stop at the curb.
I put on my overcoat and went down and got in. Sal had the heat on. The interior was sour with decade-old cigars and Old Spice.
He strained to look to me: “You got it?”
I opened my jacket.
He pulled off the curb and drove lazily down side streets. The car was vacuum silent except for indistinct AM news radio and the chassis rattling on rifts in the pavement.
Sal drove the speed limit and with his hands calcified at 8 and 4 o’clock. He was shrinking old, a little lummox livery driver from another time altogether. He wore a small bronze high school ring over his wedding band. Liver spots flecked his hands and forehead under a stiff shell of silver hair he combed back over his box skull.
He’d committed to the Phil Rizzuto look, dressed like a baseball umpire, navy blazer, grey slacks and a black turtleneck. His thick glasses gave him a three second delay on communicating with the world.
He gestured at the back seats. “You know I used to drive Joe Namath in this thing.”
I did. He’d told me last time and the time before that. He had a half-century behind the wheel of his livery, decades of watching clients from the world of professional sports in the rear view of his 1957 Imperial with almost 250 thousand miles on the odometer. His atelier was wide and spacious with a cabin of two long seats for as much as six people to sit facing one another, the navy leather and felted ceiling nicked with cigarette burns.
We turned off East Tremont onto Bruckner Boulevard. He let the wheel spin against his palm as the car righted.
“Yeah I started with the Yankees. Had Moose Skowron for a while. Then Joe Pepitone after that and some of the football Giants before they went to Jersey. Drove Namath all the way up until they sent him to Los Angeles. The stuff I seen, jeesh. Lemme tell yah…”
He coasted wide of a double-parked sedan.
“If they was hitting good, everything was fine. 200 yards and a touchdown, no problem. But one week of oh-for at the plate, one late interception, forget it. Grown men back there tearin their hair out havin nervous breakdowns.” His voice crannied with phlegm. “Never mind the illegal stuff. I seen things back there that could put your whole Topps collection in jail.”
Sal coughed and took his foot off the gas to reach in the pocket of his gray slacks. He’d given me the same skinny twice now, with the same locutions and spit take. I looked away as he spat catarrh into his cream green handkerchief. The hood ornament was a silver bullet with streaking wings.
He held up the handkerchief. “Lookit.”
I glanced at it. J.W.N. was embroidered in the corner.
He stopped at an intersection before the ramp down to the Cross Bronx.
I guessed the stories he’d tell on the expressway. The Bobo Newsom origin myth, the Joe Pisarcik fumble scandal or the one with Joe Pepitone and the Bangor hookers. His stories were choreographed to his route, switching lanes to jump time periods, coasting for exposition and endings timed to off ramps. He used the six feet of hard plastic dashboard to map out his theatrics, gesturing here and there and over his shoulder to any place distant, Jersey or California or the South China Sea.
The light went green. Sal checked his side mirror and took a sweeping turn down the ramp onto the expressway. Traffic was dense and moving swiftly. Sal muttered curses as a grey sedan shot by very close to the car.
He filled in after a red Moishe’s cargo truck.
“Anyways,” he said. “Namath.”
I sat back against the window. Trash was caught in a cluster of dark tree limbs overhanging the highway.
“Poor guy was sick with booze a lot of the time. Because of dem wiseguys at his bar and whatnot…” He eased off the gas as the truck slowed ahead of us. “That stays in the car, by the way.”
We drove for a long stretch until the comment was distant.
“People always ask me…” His voice went shallow as if someone was calling from the past. ‘Ey Sal, tell us some stories…’” He chuckled. “I mean, what could I tell em? Mickey, Whitey and Billy at the Copa? Nah. That stuff’s confidential.” He jabbed at the dashboard. “If it happened in my car, ain’t no one gonna hear about it. Not the wives, the coaches, the front office. Surely not the papers. I mean unless they wanted it in the papers.”
Sal searched the mirrors. “Nah, I ain’t say nuthin but generalizations as to the things I seen.” He changed lanes, to the right. “I could write a book. Talk about the old days growin’ up in Crotona Park. Stickball. Riding trollies and listenin’ to the radio…War of the Worlds. Jesus. Had the whole family panicked. Gave me nightmares for weeks.”
He twisted the rearview mirror an inch. “Anyways. How I got started. That’s a good one. We all got drafted outta high school. I just barely made the height requirement. I’s only 5 foot 6, you know. Had to beg them to let me in. They tell me ‘okay kid, you’re going you’re going to the South China Sea.’ Made me a stewards mate, 2nd class – sorry, 3rd class.” He gestured over his shoulder. “Had me on a coastwatch cruiser lookin for wounded battleships sneaking home through the islands. I tell ya I didn’t know my left from right at sea. All that nautical stuff was over my head. Luckily I was good with a radio and got game broadcasts overseas.”
He waited for a gap and swept back to the center lane.
“I found the signal on a game between Great Lakes when they beat Notre Dame. That was ’44 or ’43. Early on. This petty officer from Chicago, Ernie DiFiore, he was over the moon! Turns out he used to play ball himself for Great Lakes. Took me under his wing from then on. He tells me about how he was good friends with George Halas and how he drove his car for im back home. Turns out he n’ Halas used to play with the Great Lakes Navy team that won the 1919 Rose Bowl, then pro ball with the old Decatur Staleys, before they were the Bears. Believe that? Halas ended up the owner while playin end - same position as Ernie. George felt bad and traded him to the Providence Steamroller in ‘25 where he ends up winnin’ the league title with Johnny Conzelman! He had a gold watch for that.”
He chuckled. “Anyways, Ernie gets upended by the Depression, makes his way back to Chicago in a boxcar with his wife and kids and goes to Halas who gives him the keys to his car and says ‘You’re my drive.’ So there he is, a chauffer for George Halas making dough! You believe that?”
Sal tapped his temple. “Now Ernie, he’s got this idea in my head. ‘Come to Chicago,’ he says. ‘I’ll take care of you.” I told him, ‘Ernie, I can’t leave my dear old ma in Crotona Park.’ ‘We’ll see,’ he said. Then towards the end or the war, we dock in…what was it. Quingdao I think it was. Anyways Halas was a lieutenant over there for a recreation squad playin football. For morale’s sake. So Ernie introduces me to him at this banquet. Here I am, little Salvatore Anthony Calabrese meetin the great George Halas!”
He switched lanes. “So Halas gives me this firm handshake and says, ‘Ernie says you’re a Yankees fan.’”
“I says, ‘Sure am, sir.’”
“He goes ‘I used to play for them, son.’”
“‘The football club?’ I says like a dummy.”
“‘The baseball Yankees!’ he says. ‘1919, before I did my hip in.’ Said when he came back they’d given my spot in right field to a big fat pitcher by the name of Babe Ruth!’ Oh, we had a laugh.” He slapped the steering wheel.
“So Halas tells me he knows someone with the Yankees and writes a phone number down on a pack of matches and says ‘Call that number when you get back.’ A month later we drop the bomb and I’m back home with my duffle and the book of matches in my wallet. I call the number he gave me and a secretary says she’ll get back to me. Wouldn’t you know a week later I get a letter from the Yankees telling me to bring my registration down to an office on Madison Avenue. I ain’t even had a car! The very next day I get check a check from Uncle Sam for thirty-eight hundred bucks. I tell my ma and she’s pleadin,’ ‘Salvatore, go to school and learn a trade!’”
“I told her ‘don’t worry, mamma, I got myself a job.” Sal laughed and adjusted the mirror again. We drove on for a stretch before the Moishe’s truck exited at Hunt’s Point.
He leaned at me. “Where was I, the podiatrist?”
I said: “The car.”
“Right, so I go down to my uncle Frankie’s Chevy dealership and bought this brand new ’46 town car for $4400. Was every dime I had. Frankie, god bless ‘im – gave me $1500 off the price. Brand spankin’ new. You believe that? So the next day I drive down to Madison Ave on this boilin hot July morning. I remember the elevator was busted and I walked up to the ninth floor to this big office fulla fancy limo drivers with gloves and hats and the velvet lapels. They’re all sitting rigid like they’re in church and I come in soaked through my shortsleeves. These guys are lookin’ at me like ‘who the hell is this guy?’ Some wiseguy in a housecoat mutters something in German. I gave him the evil eye and went up to the desk and show this broad my registration and the note from the Yankees. She looks at me over her glasses then goes in the back. A minute later this prim fella in a chamois suit comes around the corner with the letter in his hand. ‘Salvatore Calabrese?’ I go up to the desk. ‘That’s me.’
“Guy looks me up and down and says ‘Whaddaya know Sal?’
“I says, ‘The Bronx like the back of my hand, sir.’”
“A navy man keen on the Bronx, huh? How fast can you get to Grand Concourse?’”
“Grand Concourse and where, sir.”
“Right answer, Sal. 2342 between 172nd and 3rd.’”
“20 minutes,” I says. So he snaps his fingers at this Hispanic guy sitting against the wall. ‘You, give Salvatore here your tie.’ The poor fella gets up and undoes his tie and gives it to me.”
“‘Right,’ the guy says. ‘Put that on and go take Bobo Newsom to the podiatrist’s.’”
“I put this fella’s tie on and hustled down the stairs and pfft took off like a rocket. I’m thinkin, ‘this is your Holy Grail Sal, don't drop it.’ I remember the address. 2342. Magic, those numbers. You see that’s my license plate – 2342. So I get up there and wouldn’t ya know – there’s Yankees pitcher Bobo Newsom sitting on the stoop in front of his building with a pair of Florsheims on his lap!”
“Phew, we was a big guy. Highest paid pitcher in baseball at the time. He just got sold from Washington and was brand new to New York. So he comes limping over to the car all hot and bothered with his Florshiems and says in a southern drawl: ‘Hell, ain’t you gonna open the door for an old man?’”
“I jump out real quick and open the door for him. He shook his head and gets in. Then I start drivin’ down the street and realize, I don’t know where the hell I’m goin’! He’s eye’n me in the mirror, a 21-year old kid just back from the Pacific driving around the Yankee’s new pitcher and I’m drivin around Mott Haven like an idiot lookin’ all over for shoe stores. Finally he says: ‘You drivin in circles, you simp!’”
“Thank god, I look across the street and see this big sign - Sol’s Soles. I mustah passed it two, three times. I spin round and Bobo gets out and goes limping in with his shoes. So I’m thinkin I got him there safe and sound and take off back to Crotona Park. I stopped at the butcher’s for some little fillets my mother used to soften her sore heal. Wasn’t until I’m walking up the stairs I realize, Jesus Christ, I gotta take him home! So I fly back over there and there’s Bobo on down the sidewalk.
“I pull up next to him and get out to open the door. He opens it himself and cusses me out. ‘You ain’t gonna have this job for long, simp!’ Now we’re stuck in traffic and after an hour we’ve gone maybe 8-9 blocks at the most. Bobo’s hemming and hawing back there about his shoes. I asks him what’s wrong and he says ‘my dang heel spur.’ I told him my ma uses a little round piece of steak when she’s gonna walk a long distance.”
He held the mirror. “Well the guy threatened to sock me cold. But I can see him thinkin.’ After a while he says ‘Where you goin?’ I said, ‘Back to your house.’ He slaps me in the back of the head. ‘I’m on the goddam mound today, simp!’”
“So there it is half past noon and I break every law there is, driving up on the sidewalk down Jerome Avenue to get this guy to the Stadium. We get there at ten minutes to one, right up to the front gates. Bobo reaches over the seat and grabs the steaks. ‘We’ll see about the steak, simp. If not, I never wanna see your face again.’”
Sal slapped me on the arm. “Well wouldn’t ya know he goes out and throws a shutout against the Browns! Turns out he was hurting so bad he tried the steak in his shoes. The story got in the press and, well….” Sal coughed laughing. “That’s where they gave me the handle - Svengali Sal.”
“They let Bobo go at the end of the season, but kept me on doin spot rides here and there. I picked up real quick on places to go after hours. Made real good money, $5000 for the summer and an extra grand for the World Series. I’m not sayin’ it was me or nuthin,’ but, heh, in the 18 years from the year I started, the Yanks made the Series 16 times and won 10 of um.”
A pale silver sedan was very close to the bumper. Sal veered right to let it pass. “So I upgraded to this black beauty in ‘57. 18-foot of Chevrolet steel for $9500 with the continental tire. I drove Moose Skowron for the next few years, a quiet guy for the most part until 1962 when he got sent to L.A. After that it was Joe Pepitone and his antics. I loved the poor bastard, but lemme tell ya. Drugs, liquor and women - he nearly got us into some serious trouble. Cops found powder on the floor one night. The called it in then let us go without any trouble. Anyways.”
“In ‘65 the Jets called and wanted a car for their new kid quarterback outta Alabama. The rest is history as they say.” Sal shook his head and patted the steering wheel. “Joe coulda been the greatest had he ain’t got hurt and fallen in with those bookmakers. Tragic I tell ya.”
He swallowed a nervous agitation. “Hasn’t been easy since.” He changed lanes again and went silent, realizing he’d talked too much. He futzed with the radio, turning from AM news to Dean Martin and back.
After a while he asked: “Anyways. How you doin?”
“Fine,” I said.
He nodded. “Good.”
I went back to watching wind throw plastic bags against the divider.
“Windy,” he said. He gestured at the windshield. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” I said. I’d figured everything was rhetorical.
He searched the side mirrors. “A bit aloof ain’t you?”
“You’re paying me to be aloof.”
He shrugged. “Fair enough.”
Traffic was thick in the eastbound lanes.
“Any relation to Wally?”
Lamps popped on over the expressway. Smoke rose from a cluster of buildings to the south.
“Kid I went to grade school with at St. Ignatius. Wally Dwinnels.”
The car braced against a burst of wind.
“Anyhow. Good name to have on a list.”
A black pickup truck pulled up beside us. A sticker on the back window read SCEMP FOR MAYOR. A goateed driver glanced to see me looking at him. He put his arm on the steering wheel. He checked his mirrors, nearly drifting into the next lane. He wiped his face and slammed on the gas and disappeared ahead of us.
Sal turned on his blinker and drifted towards an exit. We came off the Triborough to an intersection before a truss bridge spanning the Bronx Kill to Randall’s Island. He slowed to negotiate a threshold of sunken pavement before stopping at a light. “Look at this guy,” he said, gesturing at a woman stuck in the intersection with a blown tire.
The light went green and Sal turned onto the bridge where Randall’s Island was dark ahead of us. We came to a weakly lit tollbooth where Sal gave a token to a shadowy figure and drove on off quickly.
Randall’s Island spread out after of the bridge in a dark landscape of cemeteries and public works plants.
I said: “Where we going?”
Sal turned on his headlights. “Don’t worry about it.”
A red light flashed at the top of a concrete dome in the distance. Sal pointed at it. “That’s a wastewater plant. 25 miles of sewer pipes drain right there. You know they find a few thousand dollars in change every day? 9am. ‘The Big Flush,’ they call it. Biggest load of the day. They spin the water out of it, clean enough to drink. Make fertilizer pellets with the leftovers. You believe that?”
We passed a stretch of deserted buildings and an old stadium with dimmed lights in the growing gray.
Sal slowed as at the treatment plant. “Anyways. Here we go.”
We sat with the headlights off in the darkness of an open-ended quonset hut facing a shattered greenhouse. The structure was a hemisphere of broken glass triangles, an amphitheater overgrown with vines and thrush.