Authors: F. Paul Wilson
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To David G. Hartwell
Many years …
Many books …
Many edits …
Thanks to the usual crew for their efforts: my wife, Mary; David Hartwell, Marco Palmieri, and Becky Maines at the publisher; Steven Spruill; Elizabeth Monteleone; Dannielle Romeo; and my agent, Albert Zuckerman.
Special thanks to Tony Harrington for his input.
And a tip of the hat to Dennis N. Griffin and Andrew DiDonato for their wonderfully informative book,
Surviving the Mob: A Street Soldier’s Life Inside the Gambino Crime Family.
An invaluable resource for a certain character in the trilogy.
—F. Paul Wilson,
the Jersey Shore
FEBRUARY 23, 1991
The van speeding down Seventh swerved toward him as he stepped off the curb. Would have ripped off a kneecap if he hadn’t spotted it out of the corner of his eye and jumped back in time.
He’d come to West 23rd Street hunting lunch. Despite its grit and grime and unabashedly crass commercialism—or maybe because of it—Jack dug the big two-way cross street. Only a few blocks from his apartment, its mostly tiny storefronts offered a cross section of all the low-end merchandise available throughout the city, a mishmash of deep-discount, off-brand electronics, cheap luggage, Gucci knockoffs, the ever-present XXX peep shows, a dizzying selection of ethnic fast foods, plus an endless variety of VHS tapes, music cassettes, and CDs—all bootleg.
The humanity crowding the sidewalks was always varied, but on a Saturday at midday, despite the February cold, even more so. As a white guy in jeans and a denim jacket over a flannel shirt, Jack was barely noticeable among the yellow, black, and various shades of mocha, the saried Hindus, turbaned Sikhs, straights, gays, and unsures, socialists and socialites, bankers and bohos, tourists and transvestites, holies and harlots, felons and fashion victims, viragos and virgins, commies and capitalists, artistes and Aryans.
He was going to miss the bustling energy when he moved uptown, but reminded himself it would remain just a few subway stops away.
Still, despite all the varied bright colors, the city had a dark feel. The recession was holding on, casting a pall that refused to lift, and everyone was feeling it.
Back in the day, his father used to come into the city now and then to visit Uncle Stu in his three-story brownstone a little ways downtown and toward Eighth Avenue. Sometimes he’d drag Jack along. Dad would always come away with samples of Uncle Stu’s single-malt Scotches. Long gone was the Nedick’s where they’d stop and grab hot dogs with the weird rolls and delicious pickle mustard. A McDonald’s filled its shoes now, but as much as he liked Big Macs, he wasn’t in burger mode at the moment. He eyed the line of chromed street carts along the curb. One offered Sabrett hot dogs—pass—while another offered mystery meat on a stick—pass again.
He paused near Seventh Avenue, before the redbrick and wrought-iron façade of the Chelsea Hotel. Across the street he spotted a gyro cart he’d visited in the past. The owner, Nick, had a vertical propane rotisserie that he used to cook the meat. He fresh-carved the slices and wrapped them in a pita with onions and a cucumber-yogurt sauce. Jack’s mouth was already watering. Yeah, that would do nicely.
That was when he’d stepped off the curb. That was when the gray, unmarked commercial van damn near killed him.
It swerved to a screeching halt a half dozen feet away and he took a step toward it, ready to give the driver hell. But then the side panel slid back and three dark-skinned guys about his age erupted from within. Two wore beads and had scarf-wrapped heads, the third wore a backward trucker cap—typical streetwear, nothing special. Then Jack noticed that all three carried short, shiny machetes and looked out for blood. When Rico leaned out the front passenger window and screamed something in Spanish, Jack got the picture.
He turned and ran.
Last fall he’d been leading an uncomplicated life as a cash-paid landscaper/gardener, the lone gringo among Dominican immigrants in a five-man crew for Two Paisanos Landscaping. Rico, a member of that crew, came to view Jack as a rival for his leadership position. Pre-Jack, he’d been the boss’s go-to guy. After Jack joined, Giovanni Pastorelli came to depend more and more on Jack because they shared English as a first language. The seething Rico began to ride Jack, most times via colorful Dominican insults that went beyond Jack’s rudimentary Spanish, occasionally punctuated by a push or a bump. Jack realized the problem but didn’t see what he could do about it, so he let it ride for months until the day Rico culminated a week of relentless heckling with a sucker punch to the jaw.
Jack still didn’t remember much of what happened next. Apparently he flashed into berserker mode, launching a Hells Angels–style counterattack so vicious it left him in shock and a battered Rico coiled on the ground clutching a ruined knee.
The other Dominicans were Rico’s buddies who used machetes to clear brush. The boss, Giovanni, fearing Jack would end up with one of those blades in his back, had fired him for his own safety.
It should have ended there. But for some reason it hadn’t. Giovanni had mentioned a link to a machete-wielding street gang called DDP—Dominicans Don’t Play—and told Jack he’d better get himself a gun. Jack had bought that gun but didn’t have it on him now—he’d only stepped out to grab some lunch, for Christ’s sake.
Jack raced west, putting some distance between himself and his pursuers. He glanced over his shoulder and noticed the three
after him all wore baggy gangsta jeans halfway down their asses. That had to slow them down. He recognized the one in the trucker cap—Ramon—from Giovanni’s landscaping crew, but the other two were strangers. DDP members? Why wasn’t Rico, the guy with the biggest grudge, among them? Had he gone in another direction, trying to flank him?
Couldn’t think about that now. Subway entrance ahead near Eighth Avenue. That van could be in motion, complicating things. Best to get off the street. A subterranean wind blew against his face as he scrambled down the white-tiled gullet into the token area. Train arriving. No time for a token and no transit cop in sight, so he waved to the attendant as he raced past the booths, hopped atop the turnstile, and leaped across. Good luck to his pursuers trying a turnstile hop in those saggy pants.
The fetid gale was stronger here, flowing up from the subway platforms one level below. A
sign hung above a stairway to his left,
over another to his right. He didn’t care which direction he went, all he wanted was to go-go-go. The big question: Where was the train arriving—uptown or downtown side?
The wind began to die with the tortured
of train brakes.
The sound echoed from all directions, but seemed louder from the left. Without breaking stride he veered toward the
sign. As he pelted down the stairs he saw the train pull to a stop below. An A train. Great. Get on that and he could take it all the way to Far Rockaway if he wished.
The loose weekend crowd on the platform gravitated toward the train as the doors slid back. Jack darted among the travelers, debating whether to take the train or climb the next set of stairs back up and crouch near the top while his pursuers boarded the train in search of him. Then he saw a rag-topped face peer over the railing.
No dummies, these
. And they moved fast despite their potato-sack jeans.
The guy on the steps let out a high-pitched howl as Jack raced by. The arriving passengers had left the train and hit the stairs by then. Jack reached the third set and faked going up a few steps, then leaped over the rail and through the subway doors just as they started to close.