NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD – Chapter 2 by Peter Nolan Smith

A baby’s plaintive cry bounced down the airshaft into the pitch-black bedroom. The middle-aged man on the mattress opened his eyes. The upstairs neighbors must have brought their infant home from the hospital. The bawling ceased as soon as his feet touched the bare wooden floor. Sleep belonged to another day and Sean Collan stumbled from his tomb into the sunlight flooding the living room.

Its blinding brightness meant another beautiful spring day for January, although Sean wished the city had been buried by a blizzard. At least then he would have an excuse for staying in his apartment since New Year’s Day.

Celebrating the First Night at his best friends’ loft had been a time-honored tradition. Soul-kissing their angelic daughter at the stroke of twelve was a drastic detour from other parties. While he had zero reservations about sleeping with someone less than half his age, Sean had known Allee, since she was three, and he fled without wishing “Happy New Year.” to either parent.

Union Square glowed with thousands of revelers’ high expectations for the infant millennium. Everyone was with someone. None noticed the tuxedoed man walking into the East Village. This solitude was too familiar and Sean arrived home with a resolution to not die an old person in New York.

A fast accompanied by a vow of silence should have brought on revelations. The days of starvation simply unearthed visions of pork satay, French toast, bacon and fried eggs in bacon grease, chicken pots pies, fried clams and finally this morning corn flakes with bananas drowning in cold milk.

Hunger had him in the submission hold, yet six days in a New York apartment were no forty days in the desert. Stretching his stocky body reminded of his age. His left knee popped from thirty-five years of basketball, his right torn shoulder was torn after pitching relief in a fastball game at age 40, and his crackling knuckles had busted from too many heads.

Thankfully his face had abandoned its beer bloat and his weight was nearing ten pounds beyond his fighting prime. His waist could fit into 34 Levis, although not today and he dressed in khaki trousers, Irish sweater, and black leather coat> he exited from his cold-water flat and passed two neighbors without saying a word. As safe as New York had become during the recent mayor’s regime, the city was packed with people firmly intent on remaining strangers.

Outside on the sidewalk he weaved through the discarded Christmas trees to his motorcycle. A handful of parking tickets fluttered from the 1970 Yamaha 650cc XS. No parts had been stolen and he continued west. The block between 1st and 2nd Avenues was under siege by a dozen RVs and scores of burly film technicians. Their walkie-talkies squawked out orders from the director and the cameraman across the street was focusing a 35mm camera on two diminutive actors.

His names escaped Sean, for his love of the movies had been ruined by over-bloated budgets, gun ballets, parking lot car chases, and the digital FXs. Even sitting in a theater had become a chore. When one PA tried to bar his progress, Sean stepped onto the pavement rather than start an altercation.

Passing through the police barricade Sean entered Veselka’s. He sat at his usual corner stool and picked up a discarded NY Times. The short Ukrainian counterman came over with a glass of water. “Happy New Year, where you been?”

Sean shrugged to indicate nowhere.

Anton was accustomed to his long-time customers’ quirks. “The usual?”

Sean nodded and Anton stuck his order above the grill.

Across the counter three French tourists studied the diner, as if they were on an anthropological expedition. Back in the late-70s these foreign gawkers would have been plundered for their last franc. That era’s thieves were dead, imprisoned or burnt out. Junior execs paid good money to live on the Lower East Side. Sean was an anachronism too and a quick read of the Help Wanted Ads reinforced his stranglehold on true meaninglessness. No one would hire him for a sales person, cook, or tugboat captain and a rescue from ruin appeared uncertain at best.

The Trappist Order had accepted Tony Curtis in THE GREAT IMPOSTER. Their vow of silence was a vacation for the flimflam man. They served good food and Sean’s late avocation to the Cloth would please his mother. He could sublet his apartment and after six months have enough money for a trip to Asia. If you walked around Mt. Khailash, all your sins were forgiven by the gods of the Tibetan plateau. A swim in the Ganges couldn’t hurt either.

Anton delivered his coffee and buttered bagel. Sean wrapped his hands around the ceramic mug and thanked God for having left him that one last move to save his soul, until a gruff voice commented, “That’s not much of a breakfast for a grown man.”

Frank deRocco was five years younger than Sean. He looked older by ten. Drinking laced Ninth Precinct detective’s face with red veins, tobacco had yellowed his teeth, and his scalp gleamed under his thin white hair. “Been callin’ you the last couple of days, but you ain’t been answerin’ the phone. You sick?”

Sean shook his head glumly, for the two men weren’t friends.

“What’s the matter, Seano? You lose your voice?” deRocco spoke out of the side of his mouth, so no one else could hear them. “No matter, you only gotta listen. You know, it’s funny, but the other day I’m up in Midtown South, readin’ some bulletins to kill time, when I find this Identikit picture of that skinny French bitch you were runnin’ with last year. A blonde, no tits, no ass. Just like a boy.”

deRocco opened the complimentary notebook from an off-shore Cayman Island bank, then paused, as if he had forgotten what to say. The stalling ploy played as badly in real life as it did on TV. “Seems a year ago there was a series of robberies in Midtown and East Side hotels. I’m from the Ninth Precinct and normally don’t give a shit for what goes on outside my territory, but this set-up was cute. A skinny French broad shows up at a hotel bar and she’s a piece of ass. Now your typical out-of-town businessman hits on her, though he’s not typical, since he’s wearin’ a gold Rolex or Cartier or somethin’ foreign. They talk, have a few drinks, get touchy-feeley. He invites her upstairs. She agrees, and, like friggin’ magic, once in the room she gets naked and the guy’s lickin’ her breasts like ice cream, because she says drives her nuts. Then the lights go out for the guy. Wakes up eight hours later with a killer headache and no gold watch, cause here comes the cute part. The French broad coated her nipples and tits with a very strong knockout drug. I can’t remember what. Anyway she works this scam fifteen times we hear about, probably another ten where the suckers are too embarrassed to tell the police. The watches run for ten to twenty thou each. Definitely Grand Larceny. Midtown stakes out the hotels, only gettin’ a nibble from some whores workin’ the hotels, but no blonde French broad. She made her nut and bolted.”

Sean had met Mira Lachelle in Paris. She had been a fashion model before a heroin habit banished her from the runways. The Frenchwoman said she was here on holiday. Sean gave her a place to stay. Resistance to the wasted princess’ advances was impossible. Mira said the watches were presents. Sean didn’t ask from whom and for the six months after she had left New York, he had come to view Mira as a failed morality test.

He reached into his pocket to pay the bill.

“I ain’t got to the story’s happy ending yet.” The cop gripped his forearm. “Anyway I put one and one together with her being the ‘perp’ and you fencin’ the ‘swag’ through your Jew friends in the Diamond District.”
The chances of Mira ratting him out were nil. She barely spoke English.

“The way I figure it, those out-of-town suckers got what they deserved.” The cops can claim how much DNA, fingerprints, and evidence help their investigations, however 95% of the crimes are solved by informers and the other 5% from dumb luck. “I mean, New York’s not New York without a few hicks gettin’ ripped off. That’s how you rationalized it, right? Rob from the rich and give to the poor. Anyway I reckon you and the broad grabbed maybe like a hundred thou and out of that you owe us ten grand.”

deRocco was rousting him on a long shot uncomfortably close to the truth and Sean speechlessly moved his head from left to right. The only real score had been a platinum Audermars-Picat Royal Oak, otherwise the bands, cases, and movements of limited edition watches were etched with corresponding numbers and no fence on 47th Street would give more than ten cents on the dollar.
“Stop shakin’ your head like a dog that’s gonna get beat.” deRocco’s bloodshot eyes regarded Sean, as if he was a pet turtle on his back. “I know you’re busted, but you still owe me and my ex-partner. You remember Kev, right?”

Kevin Driscoll had been invalided off NYPD after a Dominican dealer holding out on their cut had popped off a lucky shot into his knee. Driscoll had succeeded with an even luckier shot and the perp had arrived DOA at Bellevue, forestalling any departmental investigation into the bagman’s wrongdoings.

“You should thank your stars, that you’re talkin’ to me and not him, because Kev’s real pissed, but me I like you. I mean we go back to when? 1980. The National Club. You never spoke to Internal Affairs and I respect you for keeping your mouth shut.”
Due to a juvenile belief in the criminal code of honor, Sean had not informed Internal Affairs about the precinct cops accepting bribes to turn a blind eye to an after-hours nightclub, thereby adding one more chip to his leaning tower of wrong turns.

“A long time ago, but it has to count for something, which I’m giving you an out to get straight with us. You’re goin’ to whack a stranger.” Frank deRocco’s lips barely moved, as the words crackled like old leaves off his nicotine-stained tongue. “Do it and we’re quits.”

Sean blinked in disbelief.

“What are you lookin’ at, hotheads.” DeRocco sneered at the French tourists across the counter. “This ain’t no Martin Scorcese film. You want a free show. Go to friggin’ Mickey Mouse Times Square, you Frog bastards.”

The tourists retreated to the restaurant’s dining area and Frank deRocco demanded,
“So what do you say?”

If Sean refused the cop’s offer, Frank deRocco would undoubtedly drag him out to 2nd Avenue and shoot him dead. One by one the jumbled syllables crawled onto his atrophied tongue. “First, that I owe you 10K is bullshit. Second, you want someone to killed for free, then go up to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and pray for God to strike him dead with lightning. Otherwise it’s ten thousand.”

“Balls, lotsa balls. I thought it’d come to this, but ten thou’s a lot, considering we weren’t gonna to pay you squat.”

“That’s the deal,” Sean took a bite from the bagel. His demand for money would buy time, which is always a valuable commodity, when your moves are down to none.

“Okay, you get the five up front.” The burly detective had counted on Sean’s being greedy. “And you get the other five, when the ‘vic’s’ history.”

“I do?” Sean didn’t have any time to ponder why the cop had accepted his counter-offer. deRocco yanked Sean off the stool. “C’mon, we’re out of here.”

The early morning passers-by on the sidewalk thanked their stars that they weren’t being stuffed into an unmarked Chevy Caprice. “Relax, Seano, you’re going to Las Vegas, not the Meadowlands. America West out of JFK at 9:30.”
“That’s an hour from now.”

“Plenty of time.” The cop stepped on the gas and the Chevy lurched into the Second Avenue traffic. “I got your getaway bag from the apartment. Always ready to go, right?”

“I try.” Sean breathed a little easier spotting the old leather bag inside which everything he needed to affect a getaway. Everything other than money and deRocco seemed willing to take care of that problem.

The cop lit a cigarette. “You always talked about writing a big story. This is as big as it gets as only as you change the names to protect the guilty.”

“Thanks for the inspiration.” Sean had given up on writing years ago. There were already too many words being scribbled for television, movies, books, greeting cards, and ads without another writer adding the tower of babble about events better left secret.

“I mean you got Vegas, a murder, two dirty cops, a loser, maybe a hooker and an Elvis imitator thrown in for a little color.”

“This isn’t going a kamikaze job?” Sean had to ask, whether or not he intended to commit the murder.

“Hey, you get to ride into the sunset. Up ten thou. Can’t do better than that.” Frank deRocco knew his passenger’s fate.

“No, I guess I can’t,” Sean replied with the reggae chorus ‘Murder, she wrote.” repeating in his head.
Sean’s lawlessness began with joy-riding in the 1960s, pot-dealing in the 70s, and illegal after-hour clubs and money laundering in the 80s, yet he had never killed anyone and he had no intention of breaking that streak.

Somewhere between New York and Las Vegas he would get the chance to vanish into the crowd and avoid being the executioner of a faceless stranger. Sean would have take advantage of that moment, but thankfully Las Vegas was all about luck, unfortunately sometimes more bad than good. Sean could only bet on the latter, because he didn’t need to crap out again in this lifetime or the next.

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