MAYBE TOMORROW – A novel by Peter Nolan Smith Chapter 1

The November sun flattened atop the Jersey Palisades and the fiery frisbee flashed a dying ray off a West Village window. Its wavering reflection stalked the Christopher Street pier to a lone youth tuning a battered guitar. The blonde twenty year-old appeared unaware of the approaching glow, then he broke into a smile shy of surprise, as the sapphire shimmer transformed the leather boy into a fallen angel regaining his halo.

Nearly every parent in America would have ordered their children to flee this aberration of the Bicentennial Spirit, for no suburban mall stocked his black leather jacket, torn t-shirt, or heavy engineer boots and his skin pallor rivaled the paleness of the rising moon. Most kids would have obeyed their mothers and fathers, but not all and the guitarist disintegrated the heavenly mirage with a windmill slash of his fingers against the steel strings of his Les Paul.

Johnny Darling shut his eyes to envision a small stage. The overhead lights enveloped a drummer, bassist, and keyboard player. The Kingsmen meet the MC5. A skinny teenage girl sang words of love and no tomorrows. Nico of the Velvet Underground tainted by Lolita. The imagined feedback of Marshall Amps filled his ears and the audience might have materialized within his eyelids, if a young boy’s voice hadn’t shattered Johnny’s trance.

“Hey, man.”

This time of night only gay bashers and leather freaks frequented the docks and the guitarist waited for the last coda to sizzle beneath the subsonic range before turning to address the intruder.

The Puerto Rican teenager in a distressed leather jacket was two inches shorter and his slanted eyes hinted Chinese blood. Some Times Square johns found Frankie Domingo pretty, despite the multitude of scars crisscrossing his 17 year-old body. Most did not come from fights.

“Couldn’t you let me finish?” Johnny fingered the last chord progression.

“I been waiting thirty minutes.” A gust off the river blew a shank of greased hair across his eyes. “That a new song?”

“Just three chords strung together.” Johnny rubbed his calloused fingertips. The magic had disappeared with the mirrored incandescence.

“Doesn’t get more basic than that.” Frankie rattled off a drum roll with frayed sticks. “Got these from Jerry Nolan at Max’s Kansas City.”

“How were the Heartbreakers?” Johnny had skipped the last night’s show.

“Great and the crowd loved them.” Frankie shivered with hunched shoulders.

“No one asked for me.” Johnny owed two band members money.

“They asked, but I said nothing. I saw the owner pay them over $200 each. When we gonna have a band?”

“Now I got my guitar back, we can audition for the other members.”

“Great.” Frankie stepped from side to side to relieve the damp seeping through his sneakers’ paper-thin soles and then stammered, “Johnny, you got ten dollars?”

“The pawnshop took my last fifty.” Johnny slapped his guitar.

“Damn, I wish we could get out of here.” Frankie resembled a runaway in need of a dime to phone Mom for a bus ticket home.

“And go where?”

“What about Florida?” Frankie glanced south, as if the Sunshine State lay over the horizon. “It got beaches and sunshine and palm trees. How far away is it? Five hours?”

“More like twenty–four if you drive straight.”

“What about by plane?” The young Puerto Rican’s teeth clattered a 10/10 beat.

“Where we getting the money for two tickets?” Johnny was down to $5.

“We could hijack a plane. Tell them to give us a million dollars like in DOG DAY AFTERNOON?” Frankie had seen that movie five times on 42nd Street and pumped his fist in the air. “Attica, Attica.”

“Aren’t you forgetting how the cops shoot Pacino’s friend in the head.”

“Movies aren’t real.”

“DOG DAY AFTERNOON comes from a real story.”

“It does?”

“Yeah, it does.” The guitarist grabbed the young boy’s arm. It was almost as thin as his own. Their habits were bad with the promise of getting worse. “Florida’s not worth a bullet in the skull.”

“Your parents live in Florida. If you called them, then they could wire you money to come home?”

“Yes, but screw the airplane. We hit the Holland Tunnel, stick out our thumbs, and tomorrow night we’ll be eating home-made apple pie.”

“I love apple pie.”

“My mom makes a mean gravy.”

“I love gravy.” Johnny’s parents were Frankie’s answer to everything, but teasing Frankie was cruel and Johnny reeled him down to earth. “Only one problem.”

“We don’t have enough money to score?”

“No.” Johnny was disappointed in the teenager’s lack of ambition and gestured toward Manhattan. I’m not leaving this behind.”

“New York’s nothing, but hustles, hungry, and sleeping on a roof.” Frankie chucked the drumsticks into the river. “All I gots a subway token.”

“A subway token gets you the five boroughs of this city.”

“Jumping the turnstile gets me anywhere too.”

“With a token you can walk and not run. Cops don’t like it when you run.” Johnny slipped the guitar into its case and started walking toward the elevated highway. “But if you want to go to Florida. I’ll give you my parents’ address and write you a sign. FLA. Everyone entering the Holland tunnel will know where you’re heading.”

“I’m not going by myself.” Frankie looked across the river. “Out there they ain’t people like me.”

“And there aren’t in Florida, which is why I ran away.” Johnny stopped on the curb of West Street. “That first summer I crashed under the boardwalk at Coney Island. I always found enough money for hot dogs. This old gypsy woman liked me. She’s the one who gave me the name ‘Johnny Darling’. Anyway she read my fortune and said my name was destined to be up in lights and that that means I’m going to make it here. Me and you will make it here.”

“But not tonight.” Frankie kicked an empty beer can into the river.

“No, not tonight.” Johnny couldn’t lie to Frankie. “What were you doing the night I met you?”

“I was at the hot dog stand across the bus terminal talking to these guys from Jersey.”

“Two chicken hawks and what they wanted from you was none of my business.”

“And you’ve never explained why you stopped.” Frankie blew on his hands, warming the tips for a second.

“Yeah, I didn’t and I’m not going to now, but since that day you’ve had me and that’s most than what most people got in this city. Tomorrow Max’s will put on a turkey dinner for us orphans. We’ll be okay tomorrow, right?”

“And what about tonight.” Frankie was fine with anything as long as he was with Johnny.

“Tonight it’s time to go to work.” The uptown lights were changing to red.

“53rd and 3rd?”

“We’re not competing with the midnight cowboys tonight.” Cars were accelerating to make the lights. Across the street the bars were filling with men in search of nameless sex. A few lurked between the trucks underneath the elevated highway. It was no mystery how they were celebrating the night before Thanksgiving.

“Times Square then?”

“Times Square is all about luck.”

“And head I win, tails you lose and never give a sucker a break.”

“You’re learning fast.” Not all of his learning was good. Johnny slung the case’s strap over his shoulder. “How I look?”

“Like a prince.” Johnny was two inches taller, ten pounds lighter, blonde and white. Johns stared at him and ignored Frankie, unless they were after young.

“Where anyone from Jerome Avenue meet a prince?”

“My grandmother read me fairy tales.” Happy endings were as rare in the South Bronx as royalty and Frankie had to ask, “They really have princes and princesses?”

“Real as you and me, except they were born in a palace, instead of a dumpy apartment.” The chilled air scrapped over Johnny’s right lung like a boat striking a reef. He spat out an unpleasant taste and touched his chest wishing his fingers could probe beneath his ribs.

“You meet one?” Frankie was oblivious to his friend’s discomfort.

“Not this side of the silver screen.” Johnny fought off the shakes, figuring his ‘jones’ was knocking on the door. “Princes and princesses are like any suckers. We meet one and what we do?”

“We take them for everything.” Frankie snapped his fingers.

“And leave them begging for more.” The ache faded from Johnny’s chest and he draped his arm over the younger boy. Family might more suitably define their relationship, except they were more comfortable never saying what they were to each other. “One day we’ll hit it big and laugh about today.”

“I believe you.” Big to Frankie was a thousand dollars. Maybe five thousand, although he had never seen more than $300 at one time.

“Just don’t trust me.” In their business people got hurt for believing in someone more than they did themselves.

“I’m a big boy.” Frankie accepted the warning with stubborn resignation, for his childhood had already revealed the worst of what the world had to offer. “I’ll take what I get.”

“Then let’s head to Times Square.” Johnny dashed across West Street between two taxis. Neither touched him and he arrived on the other side, convinced he could live forever. He was twenty and his feeling of immortality would not be a sacrilege to youth, at least until he reached twenty-one.

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