An Afternoon in Brooklyn
by Joseph Giordano
There was a knock on the door, and I froze like the flash of a strobe. My Glock was on the metal-top kitchen table, and the apartment entrance faced me. I clicked off the whirr of the portable fan. Sweat clung the shirt to my back. I wiped my palms on jeans. I dropped behind a wooden chair and steadied my aim with the seat. My temples throbbed. The wall clock ticked like a metronome. I glanced at the fire escape outside the window. A car honked, tires screeched, and a woman screamed for her kid to get out of the street.
The knock came again. Louder.
Should I shoot through the door? Maybe I had time to shimmy down the fire escape?
The muffled voice of my landlady, Mrs. Scaramucci, came through. “Mr. Tomasina, I’ve come for the rent.”
Was it a trap? Her voice was calm. I stepped silently to the door and looked through the peephole. The lens stretched her face like a float balloon. She was alone. I slid the Glock into the small of my back and cracked the door.
Mrs. Scaramucci’s flower-patterned housecoat hung down to her calves where elastic hose bunched up around blue-snake veins and tassel-toed slippers. She smelled like damp mold.
“Mrs. Scaramucci, rent isn’t due until the fifteenth of the month.”
She gave me a sly look. “Two men showed up at my door, grande e brutto. The ugly one had a glass eye. They asked for you.” She wallowed in the news.
My gut went queasy, but I kept my face impassive. Beppe Lerma’s nickname was mal occhio after he lost an eye in a bar fight. He baseball batted his opponent into a paraplegic.
I focused on my breathing to slow my heart rate.
Mrs. Scaramucci tilted her head. “I told them nothing; maybe they were tax collectors. If you’re leaving, I want the rent.”
Scaramucci collected rent in cash. Paranoia about an IRS audit kept her from fingering me.
“Mrs. Scaramucci, I’ll pay when it’s due. I’m busy.”
She peered past me. I closed the door and turned the dead bolt.
I went to the front room of the railroad apartment and peeked at the street through the screen. Meat hung in the window of the butcher across the street. A few patrons entered the sawdust-covered floor. The owner of the corner bicycle shop replaced a flat tire. He had greasy hands. A red city bus rumbled down the street. The window glass vibrated, and I smelled diesel fumes. Alternate Side Parking was in effect. Cars had been shifted from the day before. A gray puff of exhaust belched from a black Lincoln I hadn’t seen. Its tinted windows were rolled up, but there were a number of spent cigarette butts on the sidewalk near the driver’s side. My stomach churned acid. Probably Lerma got a hit on my description at the D’Agostino’s where I shopped. Now he and his crew waited to pop me when I came onto the street.
I called Terry O’Donnell on my cell. A little later I heard a bang on my door. “It’s me, open up.”
Terry had a bald spot in his red hair, and a well-earned beer belly hung over the belt of a too tight brown suit. I knew his wife, Jean, and their five kids. We met at P.S. 63. Our first order of business was to determine which of us was tougher. We punched and wrestled until we accumulated sufficient mutual respect to tie for the honor. Terry became a detective. Despite my nefarious activities, Terry never reconsidered our friendship.
He said, “You know who’s downstairs waiting for you? You screwed his woman? Are you stunad?”
Madge was a platinum blonde in her early forties, with a rack you could lose yourself in, and I did. Smarter guys wouldn’t even look at her for fear of Lerma. But she came at me on a wave of Eau De Roches and had me unzipped before I could say, “Che cosa fa?” I didn’t even like her.
“Terry, don’t spread rumors, especially to Maryann.”
“Shit, I assumed Maryann gave you up.”
Maryann was a green-eyed pixie I’d gone with for over a year. Every third week she’d drop some hint about marriage. Terry’s cop instincts were sharp. If Maryann knew about Madge, she’d want me flayed, starting with my pecker. I said, “You have a dirty mind.”
Terry said, “People who cross Lerma find themselves gargling cement at the bottom of Sheepshead Bay.
“Can’t you arrest the prick?”
“I could keep him for a day or two on some bullshit charge. Would that solve your problem?”
“So I have to kill the guy?”
“I’ll pull into the back alley. Come down the fire escape, and I’ll drive you out of Brooklyn.”
“And then what?”
“I hear Texas is nice.”
I crossed my arms.
Terry rubbed his chin. Outside, I heard a mother call out for her son, “Salvatore, Salvatore.”
Terry puffed out a breath and unholstered his 357 Magnum.
I said, “What’s this?”
“I’m a cop. I shoot gangsters.”
“And what’s Internal Affairs going to say about you helping your crooked friend? You need to stay out of this.”
“We always had each other’s back.”
A memory flashed into my head. Some older kids had Terry in a circle and were pushing him around. I jumped in. They kicked both our asses. His mother screamed when she saw his face, and ordered me out of the house. Through the open window I heard her forbid Terry from, “hanging around with that Italian delinquent.”
“You should’ve listened to your mother.”
“My mother wasn’t right about everything.”
“Today she’s right. How many guys downstairs?”
“Three in the car with Lerma.”
“Long odds. Four against two is better.”
“I appreciate the offer, but Jean wouldn’t forgive me. You have kids for Christ’s sake.”
He frowned. “You’re not an easy guy to love.”
“Save it for the eulogy.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I haven’t decided.”
He let his gun arm fall to his side.
“Thanks for coming.”
“They’ll kill you.”
“I guess they will”
“I’m not sure I can live with that.”
“Then don’t think about it.”
“I’ll call for some back up and arrest them.”
“Like you said, it won’t help.”
I said, “By the way, I could’ve out fought you in school. But I became too fond of your Irish butt and lost my killer instinct.”
“Get the hell out.”
“Call if you change your mind about Texas.”
We shook hands, and he left.
A knock, and Maryann said, “It’s me.”
I opened the door. Her green eyes shot lasers through me. “You bastard.”
I raised my eyebrows.
She stormed by me and went to the stove. She turned away and pressed her hands on the black iron burners. “You screwed that whore. How could you?”
I kept silent.
“I thought you loved me. We talked about getting married.”
I looked at the ceiling. It was an old embossed tin one. The pattern looked like a wire cage.
Maryann turned. Her eyes were wet. “Lerma’s an animal. He gave me no choice.”
She crossed her arms. “He says he’ll let you leave New York.”
I didn’t laugh. “Sure.”
She wiped her eyes. “He wants you to come down and talk.”
“You’ll reason with him?”
She turned in the doorway. “Why did you betray me?”
I looked away.
I heard the hollow echo of her shoes down three flights of wooden stairs. The front door squeaked open, and then slammed. The hallway smelled like stale garlic.
My cell phone vibrated. It was Madge.
“Vince, where are you?”
“You sound odd.”
“He beat me. I think my nose is broken. I’m locked in a storeroom on Euclid Avenue.” There was a tremor in her voice. “I don’t know what he’ll do to me.”
I knew what Lerma would do to her. I said, “Try to stay calm.”
She sobbed. “Please help me.”
“Yeah, like the cavalry. You should call the cops.”
“Are you crazy?”
“There isn’t any doubt.”
“Lerma would kill me. What kind of man are you? You need to get me out of this.”
“Yeah, but call Terry O’Donnell. I need to go.”
I sat on the kitchen chair, and turned on the fan. The air felt good on my face. I closed my eyes. So what was it to be? Down the fire escape? Probably Lerma had some goons waiting. And if I got away, what then? I couldn’t show my face in the neighborhood as long as Lerma was alive. I got up and looked out the window. The alley was deserted. Call Terry, and escape to Texas? I thought about life without decent Italian food and shook my head.
I hefted my Glock. Shoot it out? I’d avoided thoughts about death. My parents were gone, and it comforted me to think there was a place where I’d see them again. But church attendance as a kid didn’t stick. I wasn’t going to heaven, and afterlife was probably a bullshit story anyway.
I scanned the alley again. Still no movement. Why would Lerma let me escape? Why wasn’t he up here already? Did he want me to leave town? Maybe he’s worried about the loyalty of his crew in a gunfight over a woman?
I sat in the chair.
Maybe Terry could even the odds? Force the three thugs to step aside. Just me and Lerma, mano a mano. The matador always kills the bull, doesn’t he? I shook my head. This was no time for fantasies.
I ejected the clip from the Glock and checked the load. Fourteen, all-coppers; they’d penetrate auto glass. I slid two extra magazines into my jeans. I opened the door. The hallway was dark and cool. I stepped onto the wooden stair; it creaked. Could I be heard? I needed the element of surprise; I had no other advantage. I listened. No sound. The drum of my heart quickened. I sped down three flights. Inside the front door, I waited. A car honked. A truck rumbled past. I thought, this is crazy, better to go back to the apartment. I looked into the darkness that shrouded the stairs. No, retreat would only postpone the inevitable. I took a deep breath. I shoved my shoulder against the door and rushed out.
Lerma and his men flew out of the Lincoln. I emptied the first clip and shoved in a second. Two thugs were down. Lerma and a hulking dude took cover behind the black sedan and blasted at me with pistols. A bullet exploded like dynamite into my left shoulder. My legs wobbled. I went to my knees, and then on my back. The world went into slow motion. Shots sounded hollow like echoes in a canyon. The stoop had a red brick edging that protected me as long as I stayed on my back. My shoulder felt like a blowtorch was pressed into my flesh. My left hand was dead, useless to load the third clip. Only a few bullets were left in the magazine. Gunfire stopped. I raised my head to sneak a peak. Immediately bullets splintered brick and showered me with shards. I fell back on my shoulder, and groaned in pain. My eyes blurred; I blinked to restore my vision. Warm blood ran down my arm and smeared the stoop. The smell of copper and gun smoke filled my nostrils. I figured Lerma would sneak up on me, and I chanced another glimpse. Lerma snaked behind the parked cars. More shots hit the stoop, and I ducked. When Lerma reached the Ford parallel to my position, he’d have a clear shot at me. I needed to get back into the apartment building, but if I rose I was dead. Lerma was almost at the Ford. I decided to try and get through the door, but before I moved, I was frozen by the cannon fire retort of a 357 Magnum. Two, three, four shots. Then quiet. I chanced another glimpse. No bullets came. I lifted my head. Terry strode toward bodies on the street, revolver at the ready. I dropped my pistol and grabbed my shoulder. I heard police sirens. Two black and whites arrived from opposite directions and screeched to a halt, red lights flashing.
I was crumpled on the stoop, my head on a brick step, when Terry appeared. He had concern on his face. “You okay?”
My throat felt like it was filled with sand. “What a stupid, goddamn question. My shoulder burns worse than pissing with the clap.”
The pain on my face brought a smile to his. “You’ll live.”
“You didn’t save my life.”
Terry’s smile widened.
“Don’t tell people you saved my ass.”
A fat cop, in his fifties, came up to us out of breath. He looked at Terry, “I called a bus.” He pointed his head at me. “He’s the only one alive. What do you wanna do?”
Terry gave a little laugh. “Read him his rights. He’s under arrest.”
Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife, Jane, have lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium and Netherlands. They now live in Texas with their little shih tzu, Sophia.
Joe’s stories have appeared in more than fifty magazines including Bartleby Snopes, Newfound Journal, and The Summerset Review.