Johnny, Slim and a "sure thing". (Awkward)
|Hard Times in NYC
Grey storm clouds scuttled across the sky like roaches scattering when the kitchen light flicks on. The city outside my window certainly needed cleansing, but like the Augean stables, nothing short of rerouting the Hudson straight through downtown was likely to do more than move the filth around. New York needed a hero, that was certain, but as for me, I just needed a buck. More like two thousand of them, and I was no closer to getting one than New York was to finding Hercules.
Slim's plan had gone poorly from the start. A "sure thing, Johnny", he'd said, which should have clued me in it was destined to failure. "I tell ya, Johnny, we just grab her and you can help yourself to the loot... or at least half of it." Slim's judgment was pretty suspect, maybe due to spending most of his thirty seven years behind bars for one "sure thing" or another. But I didn't have much choice. We were going to have to do it his way. As usual, I was in debt and needed something to throw to the circling loan sharks, and chump change wasn't going to be enough this time.
The plan was simple, I'll give it that, but simple and lousy isn't a hell of a lot better than complex and lousy - just less strain on the brain. Every Friday, just after 5pm, the back door of Carrie's Comix opened and out walked Jessie, and a whole lot of sweet cash. She'd stroll down the street, graceful hips swaying, blond hair bouncing in the breeze, 5' 2" and all devil may care. With a whole week's earnings in her purse, she'd make her way down to the First Express Bank three blocks away, the same route every week. Now, I'd be willing to accost Jessie any time, but with the extra enticement of a wad of cash she seemed a pretty attractive mark. That dough would give me something for the loan sharks to keep them off my tail. The one problem I could see was that Jessie knew me, not in a biblical sense, unfortunately, but more in a line 'em up, identify 'em and ship 'em off to Attica way.
"We'll be wearing masks, ya dope!" Slim grinned like he'd solved the New York Times crossword puzzle in ten minutes rather than watching too many Looney Tunes on Saturday morning. But given that I didn't know of a better plan, and Louie had called that morning and threatened to "bury me deep, close to Jimmy Hoffa" if I didn't come up with something soon, I figured that masks were going to have to do.
So, a few minutes before five on Friday, Slim and I were waiting in a dark alley near Carrie's Comix, feeling rather stupid in Lone Ranger masks I'd found at Nikki's Funtastic Emporium on 52nd Street. I was worried that somebody might call the police if they saw us, but figured that in New York, we'd have to be a lot more dramatic for anyone to take notice. There was a man who ran in my street every once in a while wearing nothing but a Superman cape, and nobody had ever done anything more than try to sell him a watch. Still, we were two misfits huddled together way back in the shadows, while Slim kept peering around the corner watching and waiting for Jessie.
"Ok, she's coming out the door. Get ready!" Slim had watched and knew that Jessie always came right by on her way to deposit the money. I grimaced and hoped that by some miracle, Slim knew what he was doing. A few seconds later, as Jessie walked in front of the alley opening, we each grabbed one arm and pulled her into the dark alley.
In Looney Tunes, the helpless victim doesn't know karate. The two of us flew in different directions, and I swear I never even saw her move. All I knew was I hit the ground and lay there in a crumpled heap, staring at Jessie in a fighter's crouch. It seemed a futile gesture now, but I made sure my mask was still in place. I was at least right about one thing - it was futile.
"Johnny? Slim? What the hell are the two of you doing in those idiotic masks? And what are you thinking, grabbing my arms like that? Shit, this is New York. You guys are lucky I didn't kill you." Jessie's pale blue eyes narrowed, but she was raised in Brooklyn, and nothing really fazed her.
We sheepishly took off our masks and explained. Jessie wasn't even angry, except that she said we had to be dense as last week's cat shit if we thought Lone Ranger masks were going to fool anyone. Jessie had to head off to the bank with the money, but she made me promise to take her out to Muldonatto's to make up for the attempted robbery and all. I asked if we could make it Benitto's instead, because Louie liked to hang out at Muldonatto's, and I didn't want to have a scene during dinner, even though I was pretty sure from what I saw and felt that Jessie could handle Louie, and a couple of his goons, too. Jessie said Benitto's was okay with her.
Lucky thing, too, as Joey Benitto owed me a little favor, so I could be able to get away without paying for dinner. Unfortunately, Joey didn't owe me two grand, so I was still going to have to sneak out the back way, or I'd be hobbling into the restaurant on crutches. Jessie was a dish, alright, and I wanted to make sure I made a good impression.
The next day would be early enough to worry about the two grand. There'd always be another debt to pay, but gals like Jessie don't come along every week. Maybe Slim's plan wasn't so bad after all. I'd have to let him know, but later... He was locked up again - another "sure thing" on Saturday didn't quite work out.
* This is an edited version, thanks to suggestions from a number of helpful reviewers, although I am still feeling it is a bit short. I am not quite sure whether to lengthen this or make it a chapter in a series of events. Any opinions welcome!