Tag Archives: books

The Kind People of Denary

2 Oct

                                The Kind People of Denary

                                                       By

                                           Daniel O’Connor 

 

“What is all of this shit and where does it come from?”

He sat on his couch, mumbling to himself.  The “shit” to which he referred was basically everything in his view: books, records, the lamp, his phone, the couch, and his nearly-empty whiskey bottle.

These thoughts would pester him whenever he washed down his marijuana edibles with a 92 proof chaser.  He’d tell himself that the earth was rock, water, plant life, oxygen, some other crap, but yet all of this random stuff was made from it.  Plastics, fabric, whatever.  Did we need any of it?

Then, most of the man-made objects would orbit his head – if his THC/booze concoction was potent enough.  It had previously possessed enough potency to get his ass bounced from the NYPD, and to transform his wife, Kathleen, into his ex-wife, Kathleen.  She, free from his shackles, remained back in Staten Island with their house, while he, (former) Officer Bladen Dieci, relocated to a shithole apartment in a shithole town in Northern Arizona.

He’d been filling out job applications with a plastic pen that he deemed to be a worthless creation of man when his phone rang.  The chewed-cap Bic float-circled his head as he scanned the caller ID.  He raised his right hand and watched the pen, along with a tattered paperback copy of “Ten Little Indians”, pass cleanly through his forearm, like Casper the Friendly Ghost.  He was sure it was all hallucinatory.  Pretty sure, at least.

Bladen envisioned the radio waves, the base station and the cell tower, as he stared at the phone in his left hand.  The caller was Uncle Arlo.  Sheriff Arlo.

“Hello?”

“Bladen!  It’s your old uncle!  Hey boy!”

“Hi, Uncle Arlo.”

“You doin’ better since you came out west?  Nothin’ like the desert.

Should be a good restart for a kid like you.”

“I’m thirty-one.”

“Still a kid.  I’m pushin’ seventy now, Blade.”

The paper job application floated up to join the pen, the book, and all of the others in orbit.  If Bladen owned a laptop there’d be little need for the pen or the paper but his current finances didn’t permit such an extravagance.

“So kid, you wanna be a deputy?”

The orbiting ceased.

“A deputy?  For you?”

“Yup.  Down here in Denary.”

“Um, Uncle Arlo, you do know that I was shit-canned from NYPD, right?  Harold and Kumar would have a better chance of passing a drug test for your department…”

“Who?  Are they like a Cheech and Chong?  I get it!  Anyway, we can work on all that.  I basically am the department.  We have me and my three deputies.  We don’t even really need that many, yet we do need one more.  Long story.  Come on down to Denary and we’ll talk.  Decent pay, benefits, and you can stay with me till you get on your feet.”

 

Bladen’s next call was cross-country.  He reached voicemail.

“Hey, it’s Kath.  Leave a message. Fake IRS and fake Dell Computer can fuck off.”

 

The next morning Bladen Dieci rolled south, deeper into Arizona, in a Ford that had rolled off the assembly line while he was in high school detention. It was blue, apart from one black door.  Denary was a little more than an hour’s drive, as the vulture flies.

He was just finishing an Egg McMuffin when he saw the road sign.

                                              Welcome to Denary

                                      Where our kind are the kind kind

All Bladen knew about the place was that there had been some strange and brutal murders there ten years prior, and not long after, his father – Uncle Arlo’s twin – ventured there to visit his brother and was promptly diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor He was never again whole enough even to return to New York to die.  Bladen never went to see his dad as the end neared.  He’d meant to, but it all happened so quickly.  At least that’s how he rationalized it.

He saw his father’s body at the Staten Island funeral home, after it had arrived there like some fucking Amazon Prime delivery.

 

Bladen walked into the Denary Diner, greeted by the sound of Dwight Yoakam and the sight of his uncle sitting in a booth, eyes down under his Stratton straw hat, tying and untying some kind of rope knot.  Uncle Arlo sure looked every bit the cowboy.  That he came from the Big Apple thirty-some years before and that his actual first name was Nick mattered little.  This is who he’d become: the wrangler with the rope and the big sheriff’s hat.

“Blade!  Hell, you got skinny.”

Arlo stood, dropping his piece of rope to the table.  His smile was broad, uncomfortably so.  Bladen noticed that the years were catching up with his uncle; he was still tall and broad, but now a tad hunched over and maybe a bit wobbly.  The men embraced.

“Good to see you, Uncle Arlo.  I can’t thank you enough… ”

“See that?  A Buntline Hitch,” said Arlo, pointing to the length of rope, “Was hooking my key ring to it.  Killin’ time.  Easy knot.”

As Bladen sat in the booth, across the table from Arlo, the waitress approached.  Her smile might have been broader than the sheriff’s.  Her middle-aged choppers screamed tobacco and gum disease but she presented them proudly.

“Hello, handsome!  I’m Maggie, I’m a Taurus, I love lake fishin’, and we make the best omelets in Arizona!  Your uncle told me all about you, big city policeman.  Good for you.  Can I get you some coffee?”

“Uh, yes.  Black, please.  No food, thank you.  I just had a couple of McMuffins on the drive,” he smiled.

“Mc whats?”

Bladen laughed, politely, “I’m sure your eggs are better, but I was starving.”

“But really, Mc whats?” she pressed, eyes and mouth wide.

“McMuffins.  Egg McMuffins?”

“That’s a new one, I guess,” she chuckled before heading to the coffee station.

Bladen looked over at Arlo.  Same giant smile.

“You do know what Egg McMuffins are, right Uncle Arlo.”

“Yes.  Hey, you ever tie a Knute Hitch?”

With the coffee cups near empty and the small-talk dwindling, Uncle Arlo got down to business.

“I know you have questions, Bladen, and I know that one of them is about why we are meeting here rather than at my house – I’ll get to all that.”  Arlo was still smiling, as were the older couple who had just come through the door, nodded and headed to a booth toward the back.

“That did cross my mind.”

“I know.  Well, first off, we need to have at least four law officers in the town.  Not that we have any crime, but it’s just how it is with shifts and all.  I’m gonna be stepping down soon.  I’m not in the best of health and I need to find someone I can trust.  Not that you’re gonna be sheriff.  Not right off, anyways.  That wouldn’t be right for the deputies who’ve been in the department for years.  Not that they’d even complain.  One of them’ll get promoted, you’ll become a deputy, but your rank won’t matter for the job I have for you.”  Arlo grasped his nephew’s hand and stared into his eyes, smiling all the while.  “It’s a very important job.”

“Sounds weird.”

“Finish your coffee, Bladen.  I’ll have to tell you the rest in private.  Get in your car, follow me to my house, and we’ll talk out front of it.”

 

Bladen shoved the key in his ignition, popped a THC lozenge and followed his uncle’s sheriff’s SUV through backstreets and brush until they came upon a neat Mediterranean-style single story home.  It featured a small gated courtyard with a detached casita.  Thick dark clouds gathered as Uncle Arlo exited his vehicle and loaded himself into the passenger seat of his nephew’s old Ford.  The first thing Bladen noticed was that for the first time since he’d arrived in Denary, there was no smile.  Arlo’s withered scowl looked like something on Rushmore as he turned toward his nephew.

“What do you know about the mass murder that took place here back then?”

“Well, it was strange as fuck, as far as I know.”

“That it was.”

“Wasn’t it the old mayor?” asked Bladen.

“Was the mayor, the sheriff, the school principal, and a local preacher.  They just all got together and went through the town shootin’ up anyone they seen: kids, the elderly, didn’t matter.  Then, best the FBI could figure, was that the mayor, when they was done, killed his accomplices and then himself, as they had probably all agreed on beforehand.”

“Sick.”

“And that school principal was a woman.  You don’t usually see females involved in this kinda thing.  Anyways, the nagging piece was that a couple of very young children – witnesses who hid and escaped death – wouldn’t stop sayin’ that they saw more than just the four murderers.  They said there was maybe six or eight of ‘em, and more than just one female killer.  Problem was, they couldn’t identify them.  They were terrified and never got a clear look at faces.  But they never changed their story.  Not once.”

“But, even if there were more accomplices, nothing further has happened in like ten years, and everyone in this town is pig-in-shit happy all the time… ”

“Almost everyone,” replied Arlo, his face steady as Easter Island Moai.

The rain began to pepper Bladen’s Ford.

“Not long after the murders,” continued Arlo, “a young girl came.  She arrived with her mother, off of a freight train, they said.  Now Bladen, this is where things take a strange turn.  In the course of this story, I’m going to tell you something that I have never uttered to anyone.  If you don’t want to hear it please tell me now.  You are family, and I couldn’t imagine telling this to anyone who isn’t.  But, if you don’t want to know, I’ll be forced to trust someone else.”

“Can I vape while you tell me?”

“Vape?  Christ kid, either smoke or don’t smoke, but what’s with that electric shit?”

“Just tell me your story, Uncle Arlo.”

Sheriff Arlo studied the rain as it pelted the windshield.

 

                     TEN YEARS EARLIER

 

On Arlo’s second day as sheriff of Denary, they stepped through the front entrance of the tiny police station, each toting one small, weathered piece of luggage.  They presented huge smiles; the only such grins in a town burdened with fresh grief.  The girl appeared to be about fourteen; the mother looked more like a grandmother.  They donned sprightly attire, mother in blue, child in pink.  The youngster possessed the most dazzling blonde locks, and eyes like select drops of tropical ocean.  Unlike the girl, the mother’s features were unremarkable, even drab.  But again, the dress was a nice shade of blue.  They managed to get themselves seated across a desk from Sheriff Arlo as he, though swamped, made time for his two visitors.  The station secretary, a sweet dark-skinned go-getter in her late twenties, who everyone affectionately called Miss Nini, bustled around the office, from desk to desk.

“We were saddened to learn of the horror that has befallen your town, sheriff,” offered the mother.  “I am Ludovica, and this is my daughter, Giada.  We have traveled a long way to see you.”

“Oh.  Where from?”

“East.  By train.”

“Train?  The nearest train station is almost… ”

“Freight train, sir.  It didn’t actually stop.”

Both ladies continued to smile.

“Okay,” sighed Arlo, feeling pressed for time, “what can I do for you?”

“With respect, sir, it is what we can do for you,” replied Ludovica.  She glanced over at her sunny-faced daughter, at which time the girl spoke; high-pitched, Disney princess-style.

“Mister Sheriff, I can take away all of your sadness and bad thoughts!  If there are naughty people in your town who are pretending to be nice, I can make them nice for real!”

Arlo began to stand, ready to show them the door, when, for whatever reason, he decided to ask, “How would you go about doing all that, young lady?”

Giada’s smile grew even wider.  “All I do is hold your head in my hands!”

Ludovica nodded, but Arlo had lost patience.  “Miss Nini here will show you ladies out,” he bellowed, loud enough for the secretary to hear.  As she approached, the sheriff added, “If you folks need a ride somewhere, I’ll have a deputy take you.  Good day now.”

Their smiles remained as Miss Nini led them to the outer office.  Arlo sat back down, slipped on his reading glasses and directed his attention to the paperwork on his desk.  He was going to find out if any other townspeople took part in the mass murder.  No matter that the FBI had taken over the case.  Toward the bottom of the pile were the grisly crime scene photos.  One of them – a shot of two dead children – filled his frame of vision when Miss Nini hurriedly came through the door.  Arlo looked up to see her shaking, tears pouring from her captivatingly cocoa eyes.

“It works,” she cried.

“What?”

“I let the little girl take my head into her hands.  I… I feel beautiful.  Sheriff, I feel so free.”

A smile took hold of Nini’s face.  It was not unlike those of Ludovica and Giada.

 

 

              PRESENT DAY

 

Rain was seeping into the Ford.  It invaded via the cracked window that provided an escape for Bladen’s blueberry-scented vapor. Uncle Arlo continued his decade-old story:

“That smile that day on Miss Nini’s face was the first one in our town.  Now everyone has one, and has had one since the day that little girl grabbed their heads.”

“You mean the whole town did that shit, Uncle Arlo?”

“All but one of us.”

Arlo stared through the vape cloud, sans any trace of a smile.

“You didn’t do it?  How is it that you’re the only one?”

“It was all voluntary; from the mayor on down, but everyone did it.  Call it peer pressure or the desire to belong, or maybe they all just wanted to feel as good as it was advertised to be, but they did it.  Stood in line to be touched by Giada, with Ludovica grinnin’ beside her.  They all shook, they all cried, and they all became so motherfucking nice.”

“They have no idea that you didn’t get… baptized, or whatever,” stated Bladen.  “That’s why you keep that goofy grin on in public.”

“That’s right.  Try smiling for ten minutes straight.  Then think about doing it for ten years.”

“How did you get away with not participating?”

“This is hard, Blade.  Your father helped me.  Of course, I couldn’t have known, but I think… Bladen, I think that’s what killed him.”

The vaping ceased.  The window rode back up.  The rain intensified.

“What do you mean?  How did it kill my dad?”

“The short answer?  He was my twin.  He liked the idea of being happy and carefree for life.  He knew I didn’t want to do it.  As sheriff, I needed a clear mind, a neutral thought process.  I needed an analytical brain.”

“Get the fuck… ”

“Yeah, he volunteered to dress as me and go kneel before Giada.  No one knew any better.  Well, no one except Giada, I suspect.”

“But how did… ?”

“He got headaches almost immediately.  His vision started to go, along with his equilibrium.  Got the brain tumor.  Died looking up at me.”

“The touch of the girl gave him the brain tumor?”

“I’m sure of it.  She sensed our deception and made him pay for it.”

“But the girl and her mother came to help the people… ”

“Seemed that way at first.  I’m still the only one who thinks otherwise.”

“Where are they now, Uncle Arlo?”

“The grateful mayor had set them up in a little trailer near the tracks.  It was clean and modern.  Hell, I’d live there.  One night, a few years back, Ludovica, the mother, well, she was just gone.  The girl said she went back east and that they’d reunite one day.”

“She just left the girl here alone?”

“Blade, let’s say that little Giada is, um… beyond her years.”

“By now she’s what, like twenty-four?  Does she still live in that trailer?”

“How about we go in the house now.”

 

Bladen held his piece of luggage over his head to shelter himself from the downpour.  Arlo walked in front of him, oblivious to the weather.  They passed the casita, the courtyard, and approached the front door.  Arlo turned the knob and opened it.

“You didn’t lock your door?” asked Bladen.

“No crime in Denary, boy.”

 

With Bladen seated comfortably in a living room chair, Arlo walked over carrying two full shot glasses, and handed one to his nephew.

“Here’s to my new deputy.  We gotta go make it official at the mayor’s office, but that’ll just be a formality.”

Bladen slid his head back and downed the whiskey.  “Will I have to put that bullshit smile on all day?”

The sheriff put his hand out for the empty glass.  “No, because they’ll understand that you were never touched by Giada.  Kid, you will be the first person to move into Denary since that, er, girl, and her mother, got here.”

“What?  In all those years?”

“Yeah.  No one has moved in.  Or out for that matter; ‘cept for Ludovica, I guess.”

“How is that possible?”

“Beats me.  Above my pay grade.  No kids been born here either.”

“Can you pour me another shot?  This tale is fucking with my vibe.  The rain seems to have slowed.  I’m gonna go to the car and grab my other bags.”

“Need a hand?”

“I’m good.”

Bladen stood and strode toward the door.  He walked into the courtyard, toward the gate that led to the street.  Something made him stop in his tracks by the casita.  He glanced back at the front door of Arlo’s house, then stepped to his right, not toward the gate but toward the door to the casita.  He turned the knob.

Locked.

 

The Office of the Mayor was smaller than Bladen had anticipated, but the furniture was pretty sweet.  Mayor McComb was adored by the townspeople.  He didn’t exactly have a hard act to follow, since the previous occupant of his office checked out of life as a mass murderer.  Arlo referred to him as Mayor McComb-over, but only when complaining aloud to himself.  He made a mental note to share the joke with his nephew.

“Soon as we get you sworn in, we’ll get you fitted for your uniform,” smiled the rotund leader; four strands of hair across the top of his head, looking like the Finger Lakes.  “This here is Deputy Gonzalez.  We call him Alamo.  He’s gonna be the new sheriff once Arlo signs off.”

The deputy reached out and shook Bladen’s hand.

“So they call you Alamo?” stuttered Bladen, “Guessing you’re from Texas?”

“Arizona, born and bred,” answered the deputy, with a grin as wide as the Lone Star State, “I used to work for the car rental company.  Alamo.”

“Oh.”

“Hey, is that a touch of booze on your breath?” quizzed Alamo, still smiling, of course.

“I…I… ”

“Yup.  I gave him a shot for nerves,” interrupted Sheriff Arlo, fake grin eating his face.

McComb and Alamo burst out in laughter.  In walked Miss Nini, bible in hand, already guffawing.

“I told you about our lovely Miss Nini,” said Arlo to Bladen, forcing his own awkward laughter.

“Yes. So nice to meet you, Miss Nini.”

“Oh, but she is Deputy Mayor Nini now, for the past three years,” responded Arlo.

“Ready to get that hand on the bible?” she asked, eyes still lovely, teeth still prominent.

 

Two hours later, Deputy Bladen Dieci had a pair of temporary, and slightly baggy uniforms, a bag full of equipment, and a Smith & Wesson pistol.  The first thing he did after signing for his supplies was to place a call to Staten Island.  To Kathleen.

“Hey, this is Kath.  Leave a message. Fake IRS and fake Dell Computer can fuck off.”

 

 

That evening, he sat in his uncle’s living room again, plopped on the sofa, half-scrolling through his phone while Arlo mastered some complicated knot-tying from his recliner.

“Why no TV, Uncle Arlo?”

“I was never one for the television.  I’d rather read a book or tie some knots.  I got games, if you wanna play.”

“Games?”

Arlo stood.  He strolled over to a closet and opened the door.  There they were, stacked high.  Monopoly.  Risk.  Clue.  Maybe twenty board games in all.  Still in plastic.

“Holy hell,” said Bladen, “I never pictured you… ”

“Did you say ‘Pictionary’?  I got that, I think.”

“I did not.  Why all the games?”

“That’s what they do around here.  Every goddamned house is filled with these.  I don’t play unless I have to – you know, if I’m a guest.  I bought these to blend in, but I never have anyone over so I ain’t never opened ‘em.  I’ll play, if you wanna.”

 

“Pop a six and you move twice!” exclaimed Bladen.  “You don’t know that rule?”

“Whatever.”

Bladen danced his little blue game piece around the Trouble board.  Arlo then placed his palm on the clear plastic dome, pressed down, and set to motion the single die imprisoned within.  As it landed on the number 1, he spoke.

“I have her, Bladen.”

“What’s that?”

“Giada.  I have her.  Or, I have it.”

“Hmmmm.  Okay.  Uncle Arlo, I am going to ingest some marijuana cookies before you go any further.”

Bladen walked to his bag, removed a cookie, and bit.  Arlo moved his red game piece one space.

As crumbs tumbled from his lips, Bladen spoke, “I never made detective in NYPD, but it wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to conclude that she is in that locked casita.”

It.  Not she.  Not for a long time.”

“Maybe that’s a tad harsh, Uncle Arlo?”

The sheriff laughed.  “Your move.”

Bladen pressed the plastic bubble.  Another 1.

“Fuck me,” he mumbled.  “Uncle Arlo, you do realize that you are committing a felony by holding someone against her will.”

“I’ve learned – the hard way – that evil can’t be eradicated.  It can only be relocated,” answered Arlo.  “If I ate your THC cookie, maybe I’d get a little high; but if I ate a THC cookie from every person in this town tonight, well… you tell me.”

“You’d be screwed.  Also, are you saying that everyone in town has edibles?”

“No, jackass.  I am saying that this here, at the time, young girl, took the bad out of a whole town, and that might include some major league bad from a couple of folks who might have been murderers.  It seems, after what has transpired since, that all of that evil didn’t just vanish.  It went into her.  Changed her to a… a… thing.”

“I’m having another cookie, Uncle Arlo.  Want one?”

“Not for me.  Listen, I’ll be right back.  Don’t cheat.”

Arlo stood, grabbed some keys, and stepped into the kitchen.  Bladen heard the fridge door open, followed by the sound of containers being moved about.  The refrigerator door closed and Arlo walked back in, past his nephew, and to the front door.  He was wearing big headphones and carried a decent-sized piece of rectangular Tupperware.  The door to the courtyard slammed behind him.  Bladen sat staring at the Trouble board.  The game pieces began to rise from their slots and float.

“No!”

They stopped and returned to the board.  He grabbed his phone and tapped, expecting to get Kathleen’s voicemail once again.  A man answered.

“Listen,” said the deep voice, “enough of this shit.  Do you even know what time it is, you fucking loser?  She wants nothing to do with you.  Go away.”

“W-What?” stammered Bladen.  “Who is this?”

“This is Kathleen’s husband.  Her real husband, in the here and now.”

Click.

Bladen started to call the number back, but decided against it.  Husband?  This needed to be processed.  His hands went cold, his throat tight.  He gazed at the game on the table and reached for his vape pen.  By the time of his first puff, Arlo was back.

“Did I give you permission to fill my house with that vape shit?” he said through the initial cloud.  He spoke more loudly than normal, as his headphones were still on.

“Sorry.  I wasn’t thinking straight.  I’ll go outside.”

“Never mind, kid.  Just do it.  Who cares?”

“Uncle Arlo, were you just in the casita?”

“Yeah.  I fed it.  It eats once a day.  Raw meat.”

“Why the headphones?”

“It tries to trick me.  I don’t listen no more.  Also, it has a toilet in there, but I think it eats its own shit.”

“Here’s the deal, Sheriff Uncle Arlo, you are gonna take me into that casita, because I sometimes have trouble with reality.  Maybe you do too.  So I need to know right fucking now if you are crazy, if I am crazy, if we are both crazy, or if neither of us is crazy.  That last possibility is the scariest of all.”

“I am going to show you, Bladen.  I’ll give you the headphones and I’ll shove some other shit in my own ears.”

He presented his nephew with the huge ear cups and the attached Sony Walkman cassette player.

“Cassettes?  I don’t know if you’re old school or cutting edge, other than the fact that I actually do know.  Let me see what’s in that player… ”

“It’s the only tape I got.  I bought the machine at a flea market and the tape was already inside.”

“Hmmm,” uttered Bladen as he popped open the player and removed the cartridge, “Let’s see, ‘Once’, ‘Even Flow’, ‘Alive’… hell, the print is worn to shit, but that’s Pearl Jam!  You like them?”

“I dunno.  I hear it every day, so I guess maybe a little.  I ain’t never flipped it to the other side, though.”

“Okay, let’s do that.  Tomorrow, you’ll hear all new songs.”

“Don’t bother.”

“Hey, it’s done.  It’ll be ‘Oceans’ for you tomorrow!”

“Well, you’re wearing it first.”

“I’ll be kind – rewind.  Now take me to see the girl.”

“Listen, uh, did you move your piece ahead while I was out?”

“Excuse me?”

“Bladen, your Trouble game piece.  Did you cheat?”

“Of course not.”

Arlo looked down, studying the board.  For a full minute.

“All right,” he finally said, “I will take you out there, but promise me that you’ll understand.  I’ve had it locked in that casita for years; since I noticed the changes beginning.  I’m the only bastard in Denary that isn’t brainwashed, so it was all up to me.  I drugged it while it slept in its trailer, then brought it here.  Took me weeks to get that brig set up.  The town thinks that Giada up and left to go find her mother.  They wouldn’t understand why I have her here, even if they saw for themselves.  They are that batshit, Bladen.  I don’t know if I have the power, or the will, to kill it.  That’s my curse.  I keep it alive.  It eats once a day.”

“You said that part already – about the eating.”

“Oh, and it don’t wash or nothing, but there is a shower in there too, near the toilet.  It eats its own… ”

“Shit.  I know.  You said that already as well.”

 

As Arlo slid the key into the door of the casita, he hummed to himself; not a tune, but a steady drone, designed to assist the cotton balls in his ears with blocking out extraneous noise.  Bladen stood behind him in the darkness of the courtyard, the sounds of Pearl Jam glutting his skull.  Behind the heavy front door was a second one.  Gated.  Steel.  Arlo unlocked that as well.  He turned to his nephew.

“The vape?”

“What?” asked Bladen, lifting a cup from his ear.

“That vape thing.  Ditch it.”

“Sorry.”  He blew out the last cloud and set the vaporizer pen on the ground.

Stepping into the dimly-lit casita, Bladen coughed, then gagged.  The first thing he saw was the enormous cage.  A jail cell. There was also a sign:

WARNING! HIGH VOLTAGE!

Hanging from above, covering the top half of the cell, were several altar cloths, embroidered crosses facing inward toward the bars.  The walls were covered in crucifixes, which were affixed to the soundproof tiles.  Bladen could see shadowy movement within, but the deepest part of the cell was dark as night, due in part to the boarded and barred windows, and the altar cloths were no help.  Pearl Jam filled his head as fear filled his heart.  Arlo motioned Bladen to look in.  He knelt below the hanging cloths, peering.

Too dark.

Arlo went to the corner of the room and retrieved a heavy flashlight.  He handed it to his nephew.  ‘90s grunge blasted in Bladen’s ears.  He turned on the light and trained it on the back of the large cell.  Almost before the light hit, a figure retreated into the shower area, which couldn’t be seen from in front of the bars.

Bladen’s left ear was on the far side of his uncle, and out of his view.  The new deputy, using one finger, slid the earphone off, hoping to hear anything.

“Can you help me, sir?” came the voice, pixie-like and soft.  “He keeps me here and does things to me.  Terrible things.”

Arlo, cotton-eared and humming, slowly stepped to the other side of his nephew, and Bladen re-positioned the headphone cup.  Pearl Jam again.  The sheriff stomped his foot in frustration, realizing that Bladen would not be able to see into the shower area.  He interrupted his humming to utter a single word.

“Cunt.”

 

Arlo and Bladen were back in the main house.  The new deputy took off his headphones.

“You could have given me some of those cotton balls to stuff in my nostrils, Uncle Arlo. What the fuck was that, Godzilla’s colonoscopy?”

“It eats its own shit.”

“Yeah, yeah – I got that.  You just could’ve… never mind.”

“That goddamned shower,” sighed Arlo.  “Used it as a hiding spot.  My faulty design.  I can’t think of everything.  It don’t hide from me.  Guess it don’t want you getting’ a look at it.  Slick bastard knew you were with me.  Explain that one.  Tomorrow you can draw it out with food.”

“Uncle Arlo,” began Bladen, placing his hands on the taller man’s shoulders, “Uncle Nick – remember when you were Uncle Nick?”

“Yeah,” he responded with a trace of an actual smile.

“Uncle Nick, is there a terrified and sickly young blonde woman imprisoned in your casita?”

Arlo stood silently.  His smile died.  He removed Bladen’s hands from his shoulders.

“No,” was all he said.

The sheriff turned and walked toward his bedroom.  With his back to his nephew, he said, “I’m tired.  If I ain’t awake by ten tomorrow, come and get me.  Don’t bother tryin’ to get in that casita without me; it’s locked tight and I have the only key.  You’re a kind-hearted kid, Bladen, but the thing in that cage killed your father.  Remember that.”

One more vape, one more edible, and Bladen was ready for bed.

 

The morning sun shoved past the overmatched window shade.  Bladen Dieci hadn’t slept much.  The image of a girl held hostage tortured him as the coyotes prowled the night.  A girl in an Arizona cage; a girl in a New York relationship.  He ambled to the bathroom, then the kitchen.  As the coffee brewed he saw the Trouble game still atop the living room table, he saw the Blood Knot draped on Arlo’s chair, and he saw the clock on the wall – a wooden cat with moving eyes and tail.  He surely had done something, but before he knew it, it felt like he had stared at that cat for two hours.

10 AM.

He turned the corner toward his uncle’s bedroom.  Sticking halfway out of the crack below the door was a thick envelope.  It contained something, but Bladen first spotted the handwritten scrawl on the face of it.

I tied my last knot, kid.  Don’t come in my room.  Just read the contents within.  God be with you.

He blasted through the door.  Sheriff Arlo was adorned in full uniform. He swayed slowly below his final knot.  The rope had been tied to an attic beam, which had been exposed by the removal of a ceiling fan, which sat neatly in the corner of the bedroom, a few feet from a toppled folding chair.  Bladen ran to Arlo, but it was obviously too late.  He knew not to disturb the scene, because an investigation would soon come.  The keys to the casita hung from the late sheriff’s belt.

Bladen sat in the living room, eyes on the Trouble board, holding a cassette he’d found in the envelope, along with a suicide note.  His mind raced, trying to find an order for what his next actions.

Call it in?  Read the note?  Listen to the cassette? Enter the casita?

He decided the order would be: 1) Read note. 2) Enter casita. 3) Play cassette. 4) Call it in.  He then added: 2) Ingest marijuana.  The others were pushed to 3, 4 and 5.

It was more than a note.  Arlo had left to Bladen his mortgage-free house, his life savings, his truck, and a detailed account of the inhabitant of his casita.  He explained why he performed a drop-hanging on himself: for forensic reasons that would clear Bladen of any suspicion.  He also noted that there would not be much of an investigation because all of the law enforcement officers in Denary were oblivious to anything but kindness.  He concluded that they would not consider the detached casita a part of any potential crime scene, so he needn’t worry. He also wrote that he hoped Bladen had more resolve than he, and might consider slaughtering the “thing” that had given his father a brain tumor.  The note concluded with a reminder to play the tape and an apology regarding the future chore of reattaching the ceiling fan.

Bladen devoured a pair of laced cookies, took the key ring that dangled from the belt of the man who dangled from the ceiling, dropped a raw steak into a bowl, removed the Pearl Jam tape from the Walkman, replaced it with the suicide cassette, and walked out the front door.  The headphones dangled at his side.

The hot sun warmed his neck as he unlocked the casita door.  Blood oozed from the cold steak.  He opened the second door, the steel one.  He thought he heard a man’s voice within, a deep one.  Gravelly.  It ceased immediately.  He blamed it on the cookies.

“Hello?” said Bladen, hesitantly.  “I don’t know if you really like raw steak, but I… ”

“I’m used to it,” came the cheerful response.  Sounded like a 12 year-old girl.

“I can… I can get you something else,” he stammered.

“It’s okay.”

“I want to help you,” replied Bladen.

“Where is that man?  The sheriff.”

“He was my uncle,” answered Bladen, ducking to see beneath the altar cloths.  He saw the flashlight in the corner.

Was?”

“How do I give you the steak?”

“There are two very little, locked openings, side by side.  You need to turn off the electricity, open them both… ”

“Oh yeah, I read that,” said the deputy.  He placed everything on the floor, retrieved the flashlight, took Arlo’s instructions from his pocket, and shone the light on them, reading.

FEEDING: Turn off electric on wall switch, open ONLY ONE of the pair of side-by-side food slot doors.  The monster can’t fit both hands through just one slot opening.  It needs BOTH hands on you to fuck with your brain…

Bladen went to the wall.  There were two labeled switches, one larger than the other.

LIGHT.  CAGE.

First he hit the light.  A single dim bulb on the ceiling turned on.  Didn’t do much.  Then he pulled the larger switch.  A low buzz that he hadn’t even noticed, stopped.

“Good,” said the childlike voice.  “Now just come and open both slot doors.  Or you could just open this whole cage and get me the heck out of here.”

Bladen walked to the slots.  The prisoner was again hiding in the shower stall.

“I’m just opening one slot for now,” he said, as he unlocked it.  He kept an eye on the shower as he placed the bloody bowl of steak on the small shelf.  “If you come out of there so I can see you, I might open both slots, or probably even the whole cell.”

“I’m shy.”

“What?  I’m talking about getting you out of here!”

“Okay, maybe not shy, but I… I’m so ugly now.  I’ve been here for so long.  Mistreated, malnourished. It all hurts so much, Bladen.”

He had his hand on the second slot door.

“I never told you my name,” he said, taking his hand away.

“Silly, the sheriff told me about you when he fed me yesterday.  Why did you say he was your uncle?  Did something happen to him?  He is not a good man, but still, I wouldn’t wish harm on him.”

“He was a good man!  I… I think so, anyway.”

“Has he passed away?”

“He has.  He’s gone.”

“Oh, no.  I am probably too silly for even offering this,” said the juvenile voice, “but, though I am a good girl, I do have special powers.”

“You do?”

“Yes.  Have you seen the kind people of Denary?  I made them that way!  I help people.”

“My uncle said you’re evil.”

“No way.  He was evil, Bladen.  I don’t know why my touch never helped him.  He was the only one.”

“He said you killed my father.”

“Who?”

“My dad.  Uncle Arlo said you gave him the brain tumor.”

“I’m not sure what any of that means.  I don’t believe I ever met your father.”

“Your hands touched my father.”

“When?”

“When he stood in for my uncle.  My uncle never received your touch.”

“None of that is true, Bladen.  My hands only help.  Do you have access to your uncle’s body?  If you can bring his remains to me, I might – no promises – be able to bring him back.  But only if we hurry.”

“Bring him back?”

“Yes.  Hurry!”

THC raced through his bloodstream as Bladen raced out of the casita.  In the cage, hurried footsteps bolted toward the raw meat.

Minutes later, Bladen Dieci was dragging Arlo’s body through the courtyard, and into the darkened casita.

“Hurry!” said the girly voice.  “Either let me out or bring his head by the food slots.”

Bladen, winded and sweaty, peered into the cell.  Giada was still hiding in the shower stall.  He lugged Arlo’s body near the food slots.

“I will come to help your uncle, but only if you don’t look at me.  Okay?” asked the prisoner.

“Whatever,” huffed Bladen, “Just do it.  Bring him back.”

“You’ll need to open the other slot, too.”

Bladen heard the footsteps within the cage, and pondered if he should open the second slot door.  Arlo’s head was just in front of it.

That was when the hand came through the slot.

It grabbed Bladen by his throat.  When he was six years-old, Bladen had seen something billed as The World’s Largest Pipe Wrench.  His dad took him to see it.  Now it felt like that wrench was crushing his windpipe.

This was not the appendage of a girl.  It was calloused and thick.  It stank.  Bladen grew dizzy as he heard the command again.  It was delivered in a deep growl.

“Open it.”

The key ring was in his hand.  Bladen decided he’d rather die than unleash whatever was in that cage.  At that instant, something else slid through the open food slot.  Losing vision and sense, Bladen couldn’t tell what the snake-like entity was, but it looped through the key ring, like one of Arlo’s ropes, ripped it from his grasp, pulled it toward the second slot, operated the key, unlocked the other opening, and enabled the second hand to slide through the cage.  The hands then went, not to Arlo’s head, but to Bladen’s.  Though his throat was now free, the grip on his skull was overpowering, and he couldn’t move.  He felt the tears coming.  His body shook violently.  As, just seconds before, he felt the cold sting of death approaching, he now enjoyed a rush of the greatest happiness and peace he would ever experience.  Light years beyond any drug.

The hands released him.

When he finally stood, wearing the largest smile ever to grace his face, night had fallen.  The daylight hours had passed, as if he’d been anesthetized.  He stepped over his uncle’s body and pulled down the altar cloths.  The light was dim, the shadows full, but he could see Giada behind those bars.

To almost anyone, the sight could be described as ‘grotesque’, but not to Bladen.  He wiped his most recent tears as he studied the figure before him.  It was large and naked.  Shaped more like something from a cave drawing than a human.  Its body was a combination of patches of matted hair and oozing blisters, but muscled.  Atop its voluminous head were small, scattered remnants of the blonde hair that had adorned Giada upon her smiling arrival in Denary.  Foam dripped from its mouth, like a rabid dog.

In a voice like an ancient Roman earthquake, came the command:

“Open the cage.”

Bladen complied, and the creature rose.  Its dark yellow eyes stared into his as it emerged.  It pointed at a corner of the room.

“Wait,” was all it said.  Bladen walked over and sat on the floor.  The Walkman was already there.  The creature stalked out into the night, to prowl amongst the coyotes.

Still grinning, Bladen put the headphones on and pressed play.

The first voice belonged to Arlo.  “Talk into this, you fucker.  If you ever want to eat again, you will explain what you are.  Otherwise, you can rot in there and starve.”

The tape rolled on, with the deep gravelly voice taking command.

“I am Sorbera.  We are Sorbera.  We are the beginning of time.  We are the end of time.”

 

The creature, lit only by the moon, came upon the first house in its path.  The home of Miss Nini.  She stood alone in the kitchen as it came through the front door and into the living room.  It strode past a table with Chutes and Ladders, Scrabble, and Sorry stacked upon it.

In Arlo’s casita, the cassette continued to roll.  “Your people, many of them, were no longer pure,” said the creature.  “They were taken by Haagabus.  Haagabus is what you call a demon.  A powerful mutator of souls.  Your world, for all generations, has fallen to Haagabus.  I, we, the Sorbera, consume Haagabus.  We absorb them, and all evil.”

 

When Miss Nini saw the beast before her, right beside her double oven, her smile grew wider.  It took her head in its hands, and opened its jaws.  Stinking foam dripped onto Nini’s face as the Sorbera’s mouth covered hers.

 

“We live for what you’d call a thousand years,” said the Sorbera on the tape.  “We absorb the evil, but then, as we must do, we return to retrieve the rest.  We consume the entire soul.”

Bladen absorbed these words through the headphones, never altering his smile.

 

Miss Nini’s remains rested on her tiled floor.  She was unrecognizable; a mass of dry, shriveled skin and pulverized bone.

 

The Sorbera had visited eleven more homes before it entered Alamo’s.  The former car rental agent had just packed up his game of Chinese Checkers when his front door caved in.

“Giada?” he asked, as if seeing a human figure.  His bliss remained as it grabbed his head.  The creature’s dripping mouth cranked wide on Alamo’s.  As they touched, the snake-like appendage that Bladen had seen, slithered its way out of the demon’s wretched mouth, down the deputy’s throat, and through to his stomach.

After consuming the souls of Alamo and his sleeping wife, the Sorbera visited every home in Denary, like Santa Claus on Christmas.  The final house belonged to the mayor.  The monster claimed the souls of McComb’s wife and elderly mother as they played Jenga, then took to the staircase.  Mayor McComb awoke as it came through his bedroom door.  His smile was on before he could reach for his eyeglasses.  It took him before he could stand.  The awful fetor of the sticky tongue filled his nostrils as it burrowed into his intestines.  From the rear of the Sorbera emerged another appendage; not unlike the tongue, but more of a tail.  A slim, serpentine rapier, thorny spikes covering it like porcupine quills.

The splintery tail tore through McComb’s silk pajamas and shredded its way into his rectum, and up through his intestines, until it met the tongue deep inside his abdomen.  As it had done, in this exact manner, to virtually every citizen of Denary, the Sorbera consumed the mayor’s soul.  It sucked all liquids from his body, crushed every bone, and filled itself, satiating a decade of hunger.

 

In the casita, the cassette had long stopped.  Bladen Dieci remained on the floor, grinning, four feet from his uncle’s body.  The light of the moon, which had shone in through the open door, became eclipsed by a figure.  The Sorbera stood at the entrance

 

When Giada and Ludovica had arrived in Denary, they came as stowaways on a freight train lugged by a steam locomotive.  Technology and environmental awareness have nearly done away with the image of the smoking, chugging train, yet here was Giada, admittedly looking quite different, sitting again in an open-doored box car.  The Sorbera, now strong and full, was going home to its mother.  Beside it, sat a new companion.

“Where are we going?” asked Bladen, beaming.

“East.”

The 180 car train rattled slowly through the night, with the classic image of locomotive steam replaced by floating clouds of blueberry vapor.

“East?” he asked.  “Ever been to Staten Island?”

See why Daniel O’Connor’s writing has been praised by creative minds behind DEXTER, TRUE BLOOD, CONSTANTINE, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, V.C. ANDREWS, ONLY SON, and more.

 

Daniel’s new thriller, CANNI is the Publisher’s Weekly/BookLife #1 choice horror novel for fall 2019.

 

It has earned the “Most Requested Horror” title at NetGalley, and has a bookseller’s rating of 100%.
CANNI has been nominated for six literary awards, including Best Horror Novel 2020.
Current cumulative rating over all review sites: 4.4 out of 5 stars.

 

From the author of SONS OF THE POPE, in paperback or for Kindle:

Everyone Wants to Kill You

10 Jul

Imagine if everyone in America wanted the same thing.

Your plumber, the mail carrier, the folks next door, the girl at the coffee shop, firefighters, cops, those who worship in churches, synagogues, and mosques.  Your best friend.

The same exact thing.

Your parents, your children, your lover.

Every one of them wants only one thing.

They want to kill you.

And you, them.

But not usually at the same time, or for longer than twenty minutes, at which point they will return to their human state, temporarily.  At least until things get worse.  Much worse.  No one can tell where or when they might flip, so there is no safety.

Not anywhere or anytime.

A mother and child cannot occupy a room together without risk of murder.  Think of any routine situation in our daily lives.  That scenario is now an intensely deadly threat.  The more people present, the greater the risk.

The President of the United States, and his teams; medical geniuses, secret operatives, Navy SEALs – they are all working feverishly to eradicate the hell that has befallen us.

Oh, all of them also want to kill you, and each other, now and then.

For a young couple in love, having driven across the country for a Las Vegas wedding, their changing perceptions of bliss, honesty, greed, intolerance, and the ever-present threat of violent death, has taken them to the only place that some locals have whispered about as being “safe”; the 200 miles of drainage tunnels beneath Sin City.  One thing is certain; they won’t be alone down there.

We are all human beings.  We are not the living dead, the evil dead, or the walking dead.  We breathe, we feel, we love.  We are not, in any way, zombies.

Lately though, on occasion, we are hungry, we are angry, and we focus only on immediate feeding.  Human flesh and blood is all we crave.  We have become cannibals, in a sense, but with regard to manner and implementation, achingly worse.

You, me, and everyone we know.

We are Canni.

See why Daniel O’Connor’s writing has been praised by creative minds behind DEXTER, TRUE BLOOD, CONSTANTINE, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, V.C. ANDREWS, ONLY SON, and more.

CANNI is a Publisher’s Weekly/BookLife choice horror novel for fall 2019.
It has earned the “Most Requested Horror” title at NetGalley.

It has been nominated for seven literary awards, including Best Horror Novel 2020.
Current cumulative rating over all review sites: 4.4 out of 5 stars.

The NetGalley Booksellers recommendation rate  for CANNI is 100%.

From the author of SONS OF THE POPE, in paperback or for Kindle:

 

What terrifies you?

24 Apr

Dan Canni Possessed croppedDo the dead scare you?

Does the unknown?

Does anything truly TERRIFY you?

 

Let me start by stating that I am a true skeptic. About everything.

That doesn’t mean I rule anything out, though. You say you can communicate with the deceased? Cool. Prove it.

No one has. Certainly not the practitioners of clumsy televised parlor tricks.

All that being said, I will strap into a polygraph, bellow on a bench of bibles, have Dr. Phil stare into my soul, and tell you that, when I was six years-old, the faces of my deceased mother and father graced the blue Brooklyn sky above me.

Did I tell anyone at the time?  I must have, but I can’t remember.  I do remember that I sat alone, gazing up for what seemed like at least most of the length of whatever AM radio hit was filling my first-grade senses as I fed breadcrumbs to a colony of ants.  Mom and Dad didn’t communicate with me. They just studied me as I studied the ants. I feel it is important to state one thing:

I wasn’t afraid.

When I was seventeen I began reading THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. There is a section in that novel that features a swarm of houseflies. Beelzebub, you know. Lord of the Flies. Satan.

My aunt’s basement apartment had a vestibule – a small, maybe 5X5 room that sat between the door from the street and the door to the actual living quarters. I opened that first door as I arrived home from high school and was met by hundreds of houseflies. The so-many-flies-I-can’t-see-the-other-door kind. There were no insects in the apartment and we’d never had an issue with them. They just all showed up that afternoon. None outside the building, none in the apartment, hundreds in the 5X5 vestibule. No trash in there, no rotting carcass. Just the flies, same as in the book that sat in my schoolbag. I liked the ants better.

That incident was surely odd. I have no explanation for it.

But I wasn’t afraid.

That night I went to visit my two older sisters. I was going to spend the night at their place, listen to music, watch old movies, have some New York pizza.

When all of that was done we were just lounging around. It was about 2AM. We had the radio volume low as we talked about this and that. It dawned on me that I hadn’t told them about the crazy housefly incident. As I recounted the itchy episode and linked it to the book that I had brought with me to their apartment, the radio dial began to move – all on its own. We watched as it slowly slid from the station we had on to one at the far end of the dial.

Okay, I was a little afraid then.

I never finished reading THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. I did eventually see the movie. I liked the half-finished book better.

The thing about the flies and the radio: They happened. They happened to me. I have witnesses. But I can’t explain any of it.

None of the above had any life-changing effect on me, they are just (hopefully) interesting stories. The next and final experience however, probably saved my life.

I was driving home from work at about 3AM. Suburban neighborhood, no one on the streets, no traffic to speak of. Just the dead of night.

I came to an intersection about a mile from home. Stopped for a red light. No other vehicles to be seen. Quiet. Still. Just low chatter from the sports-talk radio station in my car.

Then I saw it. Her, I think. You know how so many movies portray ghosts as almost translucent beings, but often wrapped in flowing white garments? Vestments even. Damned if I didn’t see that, right on that Long Island street corner. I don’t know if she was standing or floating, but the white attire flapped ornately in a breeze that wasn’t there.

As I tried to make sense of all of this, the traffic light turned green. I should have motored on, but I remained, transfixed. Just then, out of nowhere, a loud truck came blasting across in front of me. It ran the red light. It would have surely broadsided me had I moved on my green light, as I was supposed to.

I took a deep breath and looked over for the flowing white vision on the corner.

You’ve probably guessed it. She was gone.

“No fucking way”, I thought. I drove around so I could see more of the sidewalk.

Nothing. There is no physical way she could have walked far enough in any direction to avoid my eyes in the seconds it took me to turn that corner, but she was gone. Vanished.

So, that happened. It happened to me. I can’t explain it. I can only report what I saw.

But I wasn’t afraid.

Oh, the radio in my car remained on the sports-talk station.

I got to thinking about what would truly scare me. Not just a little bit. What would TERRIFY me? Now, I had a full career as a police officer in New York. I wasn’t Dirty Harry – just a regular cop.  Even so, there were uncomfortable moments: disarming people with guns, entering buildings that were ablaze or filled with carbon monoxide, raiding full – and fully-armed – crack houses, trying to aid and comfort people who knew, as I did, that they were about to die.  Those are all unnerving situations and my heart raced some during all of them, but were they TERRIFYING?

I came to the (probably obvious) conclusion that the most terrifying situation I could come up with would be to have a loved one befallen by great catastrophe.

Imagine those you adore most.  Nothing could match the terror of true harm coming to any of them.

Unless the most barbaric, heartless atrocity to ever be unleashed defiled ALL of your loved ones simultaneously.

It made them want nothing more than to kill you.

And sometimes, you, them.

My brand new novel is called CANNI. My feeling is that the three strongest experiences we can have, and the three over which we have little to no control, are love, laughter, and terror.

My goal was to pay homage to each.

I hope I did them justice.

CANNI went airborne on the 4th of July, 2019. Out NOW for Kindle and in paperback!

See why Daniel O’Connor’s writing has been praised by creative minds behind DEXTER, TRUE BLOOD, CONSTANTINE, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, V.C. ANDREWS, ONLY SON, and more.

CANNI is a Publisher’s Weekly/IBPA choice horror novel for fall 2019.
It has earned the “Most Requested Horror” title at NetGalley.
It has been nominated for six literary awards, including Best Horror Novel 2020.
Current cumulative rating over all review sites: 4.4 out of 5 stars.

A Day in the Life; The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” turns 50.

22 May

I’d known of the Beatles for a few years.  My lovely older cousin Pat used to teach me how to dance to their music.  That began when I was four years old, and I had just lost my mom.  When I was five, Pat wanted to take me to see the band when they played at New York’s Shea Stadium.  She worked hard at it, but she was only a teenager herself and my grandma said “Patsy, the boy would be trampled!”

Of course Mama was correct, and I never got to see the Fab Four in concert.

Then, I turned six.  Things were changing; the world, the Beatles.  The boys started to look different.  My brothers, Ed and Kevin, both about a decade my senior, looked different too.  They looked more like the Beatles.

I finally owned my first full length lp.  I’d had a bunch of 45rpm singles given to me by Pat and my brothers, but owning an album was big time for me.  It was the North American release entitled, BEATLES ’65.  It was already over a year old, but it was new to me.  The three songs that opened that album weren’t in the happy-go-lucky “She Loves You” mold.

“No Reply”, “I’m a Loser”, and “Baby’s in Black”.

The titles tell the story.  That third track always reminded of how everyone had dressed at my mom’s funeral.

Then, Dad died.  It was right as I began first grade.

The Beatles stopped touring.  No one would ever see them in concert again.  They wanted to concentrate on making the best music possible, rather than just keep singing “She Loves You” to screaming fans.

As first grade came to an end, I was feeling accomplished – the way most of us do when we think we are getting “big”.  I lived with my grandma; my four older siblings resided together with our aunt.

One day, toward the end of that first school year, my big brothers came to visit.  They had a new album with them.  Ed was beginning to look a whole lot like Paul McCartney, especially the way Macca looked on that colorful new record sleeve.  We were going to experience, for the first time, SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.

Something seemed different as my brothers got set to play the record.  EVERYONE came into the room to listen; cousins, Aunt Peggy and Uncle Henry.  Hell, even Mama, almost 80, sat back in her chair as the needle dropped.  I, at age six, had no idea why everyone was suddenly interested in the Beatles.  I mean, Uncle Henry?  I recall he took quite the teasing as we listened to “When I’m Sixty-Four”.  He was probably just over fifty – and younger than I am now – but he laughingly took all of the “64” jabs with grace.

He took some shots about “Henry the Horse” as well.

As PEPPER played, I just wanted to get my hands on that record jacket.  It looked like it had so much; all kinds of people, lyrics, colors, and maybe even…clues.

I don’t have too many memories from when I was six years old, or younger, but oddly, most of the ones I do have revolve around the Beatles.

Rather than recount that initial playing of SGT. PEPPER via the bits and pieces of my foggy memory, I will include an excerpt from my novel, SONS OF THE POPE.  I used my actual experience to create a scene where a young special needs boy named Joey got to enjoy, with his family, the recent masterpiece by the band he loved so.  Joey had received the album as a Christmas gift, six months after its release.

“Hey, Joey,” said Kathy. “I got you something.”

She knelt beside him and took the brightly colored album

jacket out of the thin bag. The first thing Joey noticed were

the colors and the images of all the people. He recognized

W.C. Fields because Peter would always watch his movies,

but he didn’t immediately connect with anyone else—except

for the four lads in the kaleidoscopic military garb. They held

brass and wind instruments instead of guitars, and though

Joey could not read what was spelled out by the red flowers

at their feet, he knew.

Beatles.

Kathy helped him remove the shrink-wrap. She had

already taken off the Woolworth’s price sticker.

“Ooooh,” yelled Mary. “He’s gonna love that! We buy him

the little records, but those big ones are expensive. You

shouldn’t have done that, Kathy.”

“I know he loves the ‘Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane’

single; this album is like that.”

Joey’s grin was wide as he stared at the record cover. He

opened the gatefold and got a closer look at his favorite band

in their vivid garb.

“Let me lower the television set. Put the record on for

him,” said Mary.

As Kathy placed the record on Joey’s portable turntable,

Mary turned down the Christmas music. The yule log still

burned, though—a constant loop that reset every twenty

seconds.

“He loves that music, and it’s okay ‘cause he’s always with

me and can’t do any harm to himself, but I think this music

can lead kids to bad things. You know, the drugs and all,” said

Mary.

“Maybe, but it doesn’t have to. I don’t think drugs are

needed to expand the mind,” replied Kathy. “I think a needle

in the groove beats a needle in the arm any day.”

The family sat there as the recording began. They

eventually met Billy Shears and Lucy. Mama left her chair to

make some coffee, but the rest remained. They were taken

away to a color-splashed circus. Kathy flipped the record over

and they arrived in India, only to be quickly transported to a

1940s dance hall. It was at this time that Sal began thinking

of the old music that he loved so much. Mama returned in

time to hear a chicken cluck morph into a guitar pluck. The

military band that had unleashed this animal were now trying to

get it back in its cage. There came an incredible crescendo

that sounded as if all the music they’d ever heard was being

played at once. Then it stopped—but not before a thunderous

piano chord that seemed to echo into eternity. Mary wanted

to speak but wasn’t sure when to start, fearing another

explosion of sound. Peter beat her to the punch.

“Wow!”

“These are the same fellas that sang ‘I Want to Hold Your

Hand’?” Mary asked.

“Hmmmm,” replied Joey before another could answer.

“What did ya think, Ma?” asked Mary.

“Nice boys. But I like the Italian music. I wish them luck.”

Of my real family, from the factual version of my first exposure to SGT. PEPPER, I am the only living member who was in that room on that evening in June, 1967. I dedicate this memory, with love, to all of them.

Life goes on within you and without you.

SONS OF THE POPE is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine retailers. Also on Kindle, Nook, and Audiobook.

TRUE GANGSTER STORIES (Part 2)

29 Apr

For part one of “TRUE GANGSTER STORIES“, scroll down to the post from March, 2015.

“Hey, I’m Sonny.  My father is in the Gambino Crime Family.”

This was the opening line of a neighborhood Brooklyn jackass when he tried to impress a girl.  He used it on a 15 year-old who, years later, became my wife.  Maybe it worked on the dimwits, but it repulsed at least as many.  He may as well have worn a sign that read “Wannabe Gangster”, but he’d probably have had to borrow it from his clown father.

This particular father was a real tough guy, and Mafia enforcer.

At least, in his mind, and amongst a crowd of impressionable teenagers.

Young punk Sonny would start trouble with everyone.  Then, when he had to fight to back up his instigations, he would show up with his bigger, older cousin to do battle for him.  If that failed, he’d be back with his father.

No one we knew ever saw that father fight a man his own size or age.

Real “mobster”.

In my prior gangster blog post, I referenced an old Brooklyn health club a couple of times.  Sonny’s father had a memorable moment in that gym one day.  While pumping iron, he mentioned to another member that he had been in that weight room on the night of the famous New York City blackout (July, 1977).  He said “It was pitch black when the lights went out.  I couldn’t see a thing.  Couldn’t even find the stairway.”

The other guy said, “How black can it get in here? I’m pretty sure I could find the stairway.”

“No, you couldn’t.”

“Yeah, I could find the stairway.”

Boom.  Weights flying everywhere.  Fucking this.  Fucking that.  Walls being punched as everyone looked on.  Sonny’s dad did his best Lou Ferrigno-becoming-the-Hulk impression, as he raged all over the gym.

Important note: He did not approach the other weight-lifting adult male or challenge him to a fight.  If the other man was a young boy, the intimidation would have been full-on.

Word is that Sonny is doing life in prison, and his cousin died in jail.  Not sure what became of the dad, but I’m guessing it wasn’t pretty.

He loved to describe himself as “Limo driver for the Gambinos”, which could only mean one thing; he was not a limo driver for the Gambinos.

You know the guy in the neighborhood who calls himself a “car service driver”? Now HE might be driving for the mob.  I knew one of those.  Let’s call him “Mac”.  Mac was an Italian/Jewish-American, and as a non-full-blooded Italian, he could not become a full-fledged member of the Cosa Nostra, even if he so desired.  But that didn’t preclude him from lower-level jobs, as long as he could keep his mouth shut and know his place.

Mac began by picking up customers – initially mostly well-off, older Jewish women from Long Island – and transporting them (and their checkbooks) to some of the backdoor, illegal gambling houses in Bay Ridge or Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.  When driving those ladies, he was Jewish.  In the casinos, he was an Italian.

After several weeks of chauffeuring, the powers that be had grown fond of Mac.  He did his job and kept his mouth shut.

“Can you deal?”

Mac was offered a spot working the Blackjack tables.  The secret casino had seven “21” tables and 4 for Poker.  The bosses noticed that Mac had an eye for catching mistakes and before long he was a pit boss.  The former driver was raking in the cash because he was on duty seven days per week, eleven hours per day.

One night, “The Shiek” walked in.

This was the highest of rollers.  He owned an unknown number of gas stations and whatever he needed was provided by Mac and his staff.  Mac was now in charge of extending credit, and The Shiek had the rare privilege of being offered unlimited credit.

It was a bad night for the gas tycoon.

He couldn’t win a hand.  The Shiek wound up staying at the casino for three days.  They fed him anything he wished.  He was permitted to nap and bathe.

By the final night, the mob boss who ran the gambling house also was the proud owner of two gas stations.

When that big boss, and family don (a famous gangster whom Mac, decades later, still refuses to identify), decided to visit one of his casinos, everything stopped.

He would enter, as in a movie scene, with a beautiful woman on each arm, and a pair of enormous gorillas behind him.  Mac would hurriedly, but politely, ask all seven gamblers seated at a given table to please stand and wait for an opening at another.  Mac would then escort the boss to his now-private table, where he, and his entourage, could play as they wished.

Mac is one of many regular Joes who never hurt a fly, and certainly never killed anyone, yet provided for his family by working for the New York Underworld.  He is a lot like the character Salvatore Salerno in my New York gangster novel, SONS OF THE POPE.  The way Mac respects and protects the identity of his former boss is similar to the way some characters in SONS will not even mention the name of their don in public.  They merely touch the tips of their noses when referring to him.

A lot of this stuff is amusing, but it’s important to understand that the mob is no comedy show, and if you choose to involve yourself, you may have to pay the ultimate price. (Continued below SONS OF THE POPE link).

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope

I had a childhood friend I’ll call “Lenny”.  He was probably the best all-around athlete with whom I’ve ever played sports.  Could catch and run with anyone.  When we played football, be it tackle or touch, when he received a kickoff or punt (or, in Brooklyn street football, a “throw-off”) there was probably a 50% chance that he was returning it all the way for a touchdown.

We used to sucker guys from the neighborhood who didn’t know us too well.  We’d be tossing the football around in the street, throwing it weakly, dropping it here and there.  Soon enough, they’d want to play us 2-on-2.  We’d put a little money down.  I’d be the quarterback, Lenny the receiver.  We pulled it off so many times.  We only lost once.  It was a great gig.

Apart from his athletic prowess, Lenny was a scholar.  A computer wizard in the 1970s.

Then, within a brief span, he lost both of his parents.  He turned to drugs.  Next, he owed money.  Money borrowed from the streets.  Before long, he was gone.  Just gone.  I’ve heard different rumors about his demise, but to me, my friend Lenny just vanished.  Forever.

Another friend-of-a-friend had a similar issue with owing money.  He went around asking everyone he knew for cash to pay back his street lenders.  He asked everyone except his own family – he was too ashamed.  None of his pals could afford the amount he owed.  He was found, in pieces, in the trunk of a car on Bond St.  No head.  It was probably somewhere in the Gowanus Canal, with all the others.  After that, his entire family moved to California.

Rules had to be followed.  Yes, the mob sold drugs, but there were certain areas that were “off limits”. Maybe they were too near a church or school, or too close to the home of an important boss.  Fred sold drugs for the Mafia.  His problem was that he kept selling them in the “off-limits” areas.  He’d been warned, but would “slip up”.  A meeting was called.  Fred left his house in a fancy suit.  He wanted to make a good impression.  At the meeting, he was relaxed by the other attendees.  He got another warning, all very friendly.  The meeting officially over, he changed into his sweat suit to make a meal for the boys.  With the important business concluded, his clothes changed, and there no longer being the threat of him wearing a wire.  They killed him as the pasta boiled.

There was a baker in Brooklyn who also happened to be a “numbers runner” for the local crime family. This was basically an illegal lottery.  The runner would collect the money from a bettor, and, ideally, turn it in, with the chosen numbers, to his boss.  If the bettor’s number came up, he won, otherwise he lost.  Oftentimes these numbers runners would hang onto the bets and never turn them in.  The odds were with them.  Usually, the numbers wouldn’t come out.  It was a longshot bet.  The runner would just pocket the bet with his bosses none the wiser.

The problem was, sometimes the bettors did win.  This particular time, a man had bet $50, playing the numbers in his wedding anniversary.  He hit for $25,000.  Adjusted for inflation, his score was worth almost $200,000 in today’s currency.  The baker – the runner who never turned the ticket in to the crime family – was on the hook to pay the winner.

Nobody ever saw him again.  His wife stood in front of their home screaming when he never came home from work.  Did he flee the country?  Was his head floating in the Gowanus?  No one knew, but the next day the closed bakery went up in flames.  The authorities never determined who torched the bakery, but soon after, a local kid was given a new nickname.

The Flame.

Right near that bakery lived the fella who was dating the daughter of the local boss-of-bosses.  She became pregnant.  It was assumed and arranged that they would be married immediately.  One the eve of the big day, not only did the groom call off the wedding, he broke up with his expectant fiancée.  I’m not sure what this man thought would come of this, but shortly after, he had his face sliced open from ear to mouth, then, on the other side, from mouth to ear.  Many assumed he was permitted to live because he was still the father of the unborn child.  The two up-and-coming gangsters contracted for this particular job had earned their own new nicknames.

The Surgeons.

Then there was The Butcher.  Scary name, but not what you’d expect.  The Butcher was a family man, and neighborhood good-guy.  He was a great husband and father who had served our country quite honorably in the armed forces.  He worked in the meat department at the A & P supermarket.  Then, just like that, he was laid off.  All he knew was honest work, so he applied for a job at something called Meat Kingdom.  It was a thriving local business, their management knew he was a top-notch butcher, so he got the job.  It was only then that he learned that Meat Kingdom was owned by a super-famous gangster (and one who would soon be rubbed out in one of the most famous hits of all-time).  The big gangster’s son ran the shop’s day-to-day business.  The Butcher happened to be father to one of my best friends.  That friend had a very realistic, and quite creepy-looking, rubber rat.  One day, the Butcher – always one for a good laugh – brought the fake rat to work.  He placed the creature in one of the meat lockers and waited to see how the prank would play out with his co-workers.

You could probably finish this story for me.  The junior gangster, son of the big boss, and manager of the store, came upon the toy rodent.  The young mobster screamed like a cheerleader, wet his pants, and almost backed into a working bandsaw as he rushed to escape.

The backfired prank actually had the butcher concerned for his safety, and the future of his family.  Having the don’s son make a fool of himself in front of all of his employees is not something that the Butcher intended.

Here’s what happened after.

Nothing.  No broken legs, no sliced face, no “meeting”.  No apology required.

The employees, after some time, figured that the Butcher escaped punishment because of a combination of things; he was not part of “the life” – just an ordinary citizen, he turned out to be the best meat-cutter they had, and maybe most of all, how could pants-wetting junior explain to his father the reason for any punishment?

Interesting fact about that Butcher: though he was a regular guy, and law-abiding citizen, his own father had been a collector and enforcer for a well-connected Brooklyn loan shark.  He remembered that his dad always carried a tire iron on his person, and never entered or exited his own apartment through the front door.  He would use the fire escape of an adjoining building, then, walk across the rooftops, leading to the fire escape of his own apartment.

St. Agnes Seminary was located on Avenue R in Brooklyn.  Grades K-8, girls only.  My cousins attended in the early 70s.  Two of their young friends happened to be the granddaughters of the biggest crime boss in New York.  A bit of a war broke out and there had been kidnapping threats against the two little girls.

The police were never involved.  Instead, the girls showed up at school each day with a parade of black cars.  Their “private security guards” were permitted to be posted all over the school grounds, and always outside the classrooms of the threatened children.  Word was that this permission was granted due to a sizeable donation.

My cousins found it to be fun and exciting because the gangsters brought them along for a pizzeria lunch almost every day, and paid for the whole thing.

Kids born into a mob family are different than those who aspire to be gangsters.  Those children of gangsters know nothing different.  By the time than can make decisions for themselves, they’ve effectively been brainwashed.  The outsiders trying to get in have made their own decision.  I’ve known both kinds.  A kid used to live next door to me.  I’ll call him Petey. He was a decent kid, but not a friend of mine.  Maybe he tried to act tougher than he was.  He hung with a bunch of wannabe gangsters a bit older than he and I.  They pretended to be “connected” but were basically big-talking morons.  Petey had a younger sister who was a very sweet girl.  I felt bad for her, always surrounded by those fools.

One time Petey came around in a car with three of these goons.  I was standing on a street corner with one other friend.  They called me over to their vehicle.

“Listen, did you take anything from Mrs. Freiberg’s yard?” one of them asked me.  Mrs. Freiberg was my landlord, and I lived in the basement.

I told them I had no idea what they were talking about.

“You sure?” asked one obese faux mobster.

“Yeah. I didn’t take anything from the yard.”

“Hmmm,” he said, with Petey looking down.  Petey wouldn’t make eye contact with me.

“What was taken?” I asked.  Not sure why I cared.

“We planted some marijuana in her yard and it’s all gone.  We’ll look into it further before anything gets done,” said Chubby.

I wanted to say, “Gets done?  Who the fuck are you to threaten me?” But it was just me standing with one guy who wasn’t much of a fighter, and there were four of them – three who were quite a bit older. Almost men vs. boys.  I said nothing and they drove off.  I made a mental note to tell my older brothers – who did not live with me – but would’ve been there anytime I needed them.  I wonder how tough those guys would’ve talked if a couple of big guys their own age had been with me?  My brothers, Ed and Kevin.

Nothing ever came of that stolen marijuana situation.  I assume Mrs. Freiberg just dug the shit up and threw it away.  As for my neighbor Petey, a year or two later he was shot in the back of his head in Manhattan.  Dead.  I still feel bad for his little sister, wherever she may be.

Sometimes our mobsters seem to have better international relationships than our government.  This became evident to a friend of mine who attended the funeral of a prominent Canadian gangster, north of the border.  He wandered around the funeral home, reading the cards on the huge floral arrangements.

“Deepest sympathy, Detroit.”

“Condolences on your loss, New York.”

“Loved and remembered, Chicago.”

There was a ten year-old boy whose step-father would always bring him to a bar in Astoria, Queens.  The kid was allowed to sit right at the bar, amongst the grown men, drinking his Shirley Temples, while the step-dad did his business in the back room.

Sometimes two men would come to the boy’s house.  The same two well-dressed men – every time.  The stepfather’s name was Fritz – everyone called him that.

For whatever reason, these two men called him Frank.

It turns out that Fritz (or Frank) did a lot of “favors” for these men.  Much of the time it involved transporting weapons from New Mexico to New York City.

One day, the favor they requested would have had Fritz testifying in court as a witness to a major accident that had occurred.  The thing was, Fritz had never witnessed the accident in question, and was quite adverse to court proceedings of any kind.

For the first time, he refused their request.

The outcome: Fritz immediately packed up his entire family and left New York for the southwest.  No one who knew them has seen them since.

Well, I may have.

I will conclude this blog with the words of some mystery man whom I would be in contact with almost every evening, for a time, in The Borough of Churches.

During my first year at Brooklyn College, I was on an emotional roller-coaster.  Things weren’t so great for me.  I was quite depressed, but tried to keep a happy face.  It wasn’t working.  I had a Sociology class and I figured I could make something out of it.  As an assignment, based on my suggestion, I transformed into another person.  There was a neighborhood kid who was always picked on.  He wasn’t the best-looking guy, and had some hygiene issues.  He sold the New York Post on the street.  I stopped shaving, showered a lot less, stayed away from my friends, and got a job selling the Post.

I would sell the evening edition, after school, out near the Verrazano Bridge, right off the parkway exit.

The newspaper sold for 25 cents.  Each evening a long, black sedan would come off the highway and stop in front of me.  The windows were nearly black.  The rear window would roll down just a crack.  I could never see who was in that car, but the transaction was always the same.  There I was, looking borderline homeless, holding the papers, many times in the rain, with plastic over them and nothing over me.

He would slide a five dollar bill out the window crack and I would stuff the newspaper through it in return.  He never accepted any change. He paid twenty times the price of the New York Post. Every night.

Then he would say only one word, and roll his window up.  It is the same word I will sincerely pass along to all who have taken the time to read this blog.

Grazie.

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope

These true stories would not be possible without the help of Paul Smith, Ken Angelos, Deborah Joyce MacDougald, Nora Ball, M.a. Tarpinian, Michael Musumeci, Marc Sheer, Thomas Pirics, Jason Altman, Richard Anderson, Ernest Loperena, Maureen O’Connor, & Joanne O’Connor.

TRUE GANGSTER STORIES (Part 1)

23 Mar

Long before Gangsta, there was Gangster.

“John Gotti is my uncle.  He’s gonna kill your whole family.”

Most people I know enjoy a good mob story; especially, the TRUE ones.  As a former police officer, I have no love for lifelong criminals.  The world would be a wonderful place without them.  There is a certain fascination with gangsters, though.  The REAL ones, anyway.  Those who won’t bring harm to your loved ones – unless your loved ones are part of “The Life”.  The ones who keep their bloodshed exclusively in-house gain a certain respect from me, even though I’d put them behind bars in an instant.  I’ve seen the workings of the mob through the eyes of a Brooklyn kid who lived among the legends, and then, much later, from my perspective as a New York police officer.  My New York friends and family have a seemingly endless supply of mob stories, as well.  Actually, there may not be any true good guys or bad guys.  Only differing shades of gray.
I, along with my late cousin, Peter Randazzo (who had even more tales than I) have a novel called SONS OF THE POPE.  It is fiction – but based on things all too real.  It is the story of a family-within-a-family.  It spans five decades of New York.  It, as the best-selling title ever from its publisher (Blood Bound Books) has achieved something that doesn’t happen often – an option for television for an indie novel.  More on all of that, and some pretty big name praise for the book, at the end of the post, but how about some REAL organized crime stories – FOR FREE – from the mouths of the Brooklyn folks who were there?  None of these incidents appear in my novel. That is chock full of the better ones. Unless an incident is already public knowledge, names have been changed to protect – everyone.  Feel free to add your own stories in the comments section for all to see!

If this post draws interest, I will add additional true mob stories in a series, so be sure to “follow” this blog to be notified of the latest updates!

It might now be relevant to include a quote from the first page of my novel as we begin:

“Though inspired by certain true events, SONS OF THE POPE is a work of fiction.  Because as many a New Yorker will tell you when asked about organized crime…There’s no such thing.”

(To be continued below SONS OF THE POPE link).

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope

“John Gotti is my uncle.  He’s gonna kill your whole family.”

I’ve heard that, or some variation on it, countless times.  Sometimes Mr. Gotti was their cousin, or their aunt’s ex-boyfriend, or their girlfriend’s neighbor.  The smarter ones would use John’s older brother, Peter Gotti, as a more realistic curveball.  This was when I was a cop in New York.  Mind you, I was working in Suffolk County, Long Island.  My precinct was 30 miles from John Gotti.  Seemed any punk who was unhappy with being locked up, somehow thought the cops would shudder in fear, and open up the jail doors, at the mere mention of their fictional connection to a famous mobster.  I can only imagine what the NYPD cops heard.

Years before, as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, if I happened to have the upper hand in some street fight, or even just an argument, I’d get Carlo Gambino or “Big Paul” Castellano thrown in my face as the man who was going to do me in.  That’s right, the alleged head of an organized crime family was going to execute a 15 year-old boy because he happened to have someone in a headlock.

The point of all this is that the big mouths who are quick to tell you how “connected” they are, or boast about who they “know”, and who is going to be dumping you in a swamp, are always completely full of shit.

If you have a confrontation or altercation with someone, and they dust themselves off, give you a steely-eyed smirk, and quietly walk away, THEN you might have something with which to concern yourself.

My wife watches the VH1 television series MOB WIVES, and whenever I have seen a bit of it, my mind has been blown.  Some of these ladies may actually be connected to alleged crime families (or were – before they were excommunicated), yet they are the complete antithesis of a true gangster, in every way.

The late Vincent “The Chin” Gigante – a man who, to downplay any relationship to the criminal mastermind the government accused him of being, spent decades walking the streets in a bath robe and staring into space – can you picture his reaction to watching an episode of MOB WIVES?

Seems all they do on that show are scream at each other, call one another “rats” or “cop-callers”, and boast about their affiliations with “the lifestyle” – oh, and they do this all ON NATIONAL TELEVISION!  Back in the day, this would not have stood a chance of happening.  In fact, in the early 1970s, the makers of the film THE GODFATHER made a deal with legendary wiseguy Joseph Colombo, whereby the terms “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” would not be uttered in the movie – and that motion picture, based on Mario Puzo’s novel, was FICTION. Shortly thereafter, Colombo was shot, paralyzed, and eventually died from his injuries.  Word on the street was that he was targeted because he was bringing too much unwanted publicity to the five crime families of New York.  This was the guy who thought THE GODFATHER was bringing too much attention to the Mafia – and HE was likely gunned down for doing the exact same thing.

Now, think about MOB WIVES one more time.

I lived in the heart of the Joe Colombo/Joey Gallo stronghold for a part of my youth.  I lost my parents before I turned seven, so I bounced around a bit between families – both mine and the territories of the “Five Families” of New York.  I always, however, lived in Brooklyn.  From 1960 through 1990.

Joe Colombo’s Italian-American Civil Rights League offices were directly across the street from the apartment in which I lived, on Fifth Avenue.  I could see it from my bedroom window. Right around the corner, on President Street, was the entry into Joey Gallo’s territory.  Many believe that Colombo was shot (in 1971) because of his many television appearances in connection with his Civil Rights League.  Too much of a spotlight brought to the families.  Most also believe that Joey Gallo was behind the shooting, though he did not pull the trigger himself.  A year later, Gallo was murdered in a restaurant in Manhattan.  Bob Dylan even wrote a song about him.  “Joey” appears on my favorite Dylan album, DESIRE.

Did you know that the mob even controlled gumball machines?

Joey Gallo’s crew used to give neighborhood kids a quarter to smash any gumball machines that were not owned and operated by their gang.  Well, one day, a shoemaker on Smith Street caught three kids in the act of destroying the machines in front of his store.  He managed to grab one as they fled and began to inflict some street justice.  I guess he didn’t count on the other two returning to help their captured friend.  Return, they did – and the three of them handed the shoemaker one of the more serious beatings the neighborhood had seen.  The kids made their bones that day.  Instead of the 25 cent piece they would normally receive for the routine machine-smash, they each received a stack of crisp bills.  Within days, the Joey Gallo gum machines stood in front of that shoe repair shop.

As a child, my own Italian wife, Joanne, growing up near Court Street, was told by her parents, “Do not go too far down President or Carroll Streets.  That’s where the gangsters are.”  The many law-abiding Italian-Americans went to great lengths to steer clear of the trouble.

After Gallo’s murder, his sister Carmella declared, over his casket, that “The streets are going to run red with blood, Joey.”

This may have run through the minds of some of my childhood friends as they sat, one late night, on a street corner in Sheepshead Bay.  They were in their early teens.  A black car pulled up, and two well-dressed, burly men got out.  They walked up to the teens and said “Yous might wanna go somewhere else.  It ain’t safe here.”  Now, these kids usually would have risked a smack in the teeth by responding in some smart-ass manner, but they had the street sense to know this was the big leagues.  They retreated into the alleyway behind the buildings.  Within the hour they heard the shots fired, screams, then, a bit later, police sirens.  That meant, to them, that they could emerge.  They ambled from the alley to find people surrounding a bloodied man on the sidewalk.  He was in front of a restaurant and a health club.  They recognized the woman kneeling over his body as a young lady they knew from the neighborhood.  For reasons known only to her, she was wiping his blood on her arms and face as he died.

“The streets are going to run red with blood, Joey.”

Those same kids, in that same back alley, had an incident happen in broad daylight, as they played a game of Wiffle Ball.  The stores and restaurants along a certain section of Avenue U would have their back doors open into small yards that were fenced in from that particular alley.  There was a restaurant there that had closed down and was converted into a “social club”.  The kids were often given five bucks by the club members to run to OTB (Off-Track-Betting was a legal form of wagering on the horses in NY at the time) and bring back copies of The Racing Form (also known as the “scratch sheet”).  The kids had earned their cash, brought back the Racing Forms, and were now onto their Wiffle Ball battle in the alley.

They thought they heard fireworks.  Maybe some M-80s or “ash cans”, they figured.  Then the men from the social club began to scale the back fence and spill into the alley, completely disrupting their ball game.  It was a shotgun hit in the club.  The kids later learned that the victim was the father of someone they knew fairly well.

Remember that health club I mentioned, outside of which the young woman was wiping her dying boyfriend’s blood all over herself?  As a kid, I “worked” there.  It was also featured in the documentary PUMPING IRON, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou (“Incredible Hulk”) Ferrigno.  When I say I “worked” there, I mean I had a handshake deal with the owner.  I would come in at the end of each day and put away all of the weights that were strewn about the floor.  I would keep the place tidy, and in return, I could work out any time I wanted. That is how Brooklyn operated back then.  That’s how an orphaned kid, without a cent, could secure a prime health club membership.  Also, see nothing and say nothing.

The Story of Muscle Matty:

Muscle Matty might’ve been the strongest guy I’ve ever met, in terms of physical power.  Sometimes it would take two of us kids to hand him the dumbbell he was going to pump with his ONE hand.  We were in awe of him.  He was a monster.  Unfortunately, he was also a monster of a different kind, and we had no idea.  It seemed Muscle Matty had a thing for under-aged boys.  Word was, if the boy wasn’t interested, Matty might just take what he wanted anyway.

Who was going to stop him?

This may have been one of those cases where the mob actually did some good.

Matty apparently came upon a boy he fancied in a public restroom.  The kid wanted no part of him, but the muscle-man forced himself on the child.

Unfortunately for Matty, that kid was one of the quiet ones who knew better than to boast about the connections he had.

Maybe a week later, Muscle Matt’s body was found with his own severed penis stuffed in his mouth.

Lest anyone think my claim is that only Italian-Americans can be gangsters, I can assure you that I am well aware that there are gangs and gangsters of almost every ethnicity.  It’s just that the Mafia has risen to a strange level of popularity in American culture.  My own father, at the age of eight, in 1931, was almost accidentally gunned down – most likely by Irish-American gunmen.  He was just a kid walking down a Brooklyn street at the wrong time, when one of those machine-gun-out-the-window-cars we have all seen in the movies turned a corner blasting at somebody.  He dove under a parked car for safety.

“You shouldn’t hang around here, Eddie,” said one of the local toughs as everyone dusted themselves off.  My father ran straight home, never bothering to survey the aftermath of the drive-by.  He also knew, at that tender age, to be “in the wind” by the time the coppers arrived.

In fact, my father’s first cousin, Helen Walsh, was, at that very moment, gun moll, and accomplice for Irish/German-American gangster, murderer, and cop-killer, Francis “Two-Gun” Crowley.  Miss Walsh was in the fifth floor Manhattan apartment with Crowley and his partner, Fats Duringer, as they waged a gun battle with 300 New York City police officers, before finally surrendering.  15,000 people found their way to the scene of that incident that day.  My cousin Helen wound up testifying against the two men, and both went to the electric chair.  Needless to say, I am not proud that my own blood was an accomplice to a cop-killer, and also had the distinction of becoming a “rat”, or a “canary” – “singing” to the feds.
Well, we all have family members who go astray.  But, the reporter who gave the tip that brought them all down was named Joe O’Connor.  Shared my family name.  Way to go, Joe.

Two-Gun Crowley was immortalized by the character Cody Jarrett, as portrayed by James Cagney, in the 1949 film, WHITE HEAT.  I never met my cousin Helen, who lived her life out on Long Island – never uttering another word about her times with Francis “Two-Gun” Crowley.  I did know her sister, Margaret, who was all too willing to share details about the entire story.

Currently, if one does a YouTube search for “Two Gun Crowley”, footage of his arrest is available.  After he is wheeled out, wounded, Helen Walsh can be seen being escorted, and arrested, by police.  So too can Fats Duringer.

I wonder, is there any chance my then eight year-old father, wasn’t just “accidentally” in the sights of those machine-gunners?  Could this have had anything at all to do with his high-profile gangster cousin and whatever the heck she was up to her elbows in?  Could he have been a pawn – or part of some message to her and Crowley?

Probably not, but I’ll never know for sure.

I have some amazing, true mob stories all set for the next blog post, so please stay tuned!

If you’d like to read a novel that Amazon reviews have compared to gangster classics such as THE GODFATHER, GOODFELLAS, and THE SOPRANOS, take a FREE peek at SONS OF THE POPE.  It’s available in a new, second edition paperback, and for Kindle or Nook.

It has a 4.9 rating (out of 5) on Amazon.com.  4.4 on GoodReads.

It has been optioned for television by brilliant creative forces behind incredible shows such as DEXTER, NURSE JACKIE, RECTIFY, RED WIDOW, and CONSTANTINE.

Remember AL PACINO’S incredible performance in THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE? Well, the man who wrote the novel upon which that film was based, ANDREW NEIDERMAN, has praised SONS OF THE POPE, and his quote can be found on the back of the book.  Mr. Neiderman has also written all of the books in the VC ANDREWS series for over thirty years.  He has sold over ONE HUNDRED MILLION books.

New York Times best-selling author, KEVIN O’BRIEN, who has brought readers to the edge of their seats with ONLY SON (optioned for film by TOM HANKS), THE NEXT TO DIE, THE LAST VICTIM, and UNSPEAKABLE, called my novel, “A rich, epic chronicle of murder, the mob, and miracles.”

JOHN LOCKE, who was the first self-published author to sell over ONE MILLION novels on Kindle, felt so strongly about SONS OF THE POPE that he ran a contest for his readers to win copies of the book.  He bought those contest copies with his own money.  Mr. Locke’s DONOVAN CREED thriller series and EMMETT LOVE westerns have proven so popular, he became the first author ever to sign a distribution deal with Simon & Schuster.  He retained all editorial rights, and control over design, content, and pricing.  In the publishing world, that is unheard of.

Take a FREE peek at what those three New York Times best-selling authors are all excited about.  See what might spur a top television producer and director to option an independent novel for television.

Have a look at SONS OF THE POPE.

Thank you.

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope

These true stories would not be possible without the help of Paul Smith, Ken Angelos, Deborah Joyce MacDougald, Nora Ball, M.a. Tarpinian, Michael Musumeci, Marc Sheer, Thomas Pirics, Jason Altman, Maureen O’Connor, & Joanne O’Connor.

Who Says A White Guy Can’t Like Funk Music?

25 Feb

I have been enjoying Black History Month in the way that most excites me.

Sure, I appreciate the African-American scientists, inventors, civic and political leaders – but the innovators who pluck my strings the most are the musical masters. Yes, my 3 favorite bands of all-time are the pale, but prolific, Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin – but I know quite well that they all formed out of a love for black music. Most everything we listen to today has come by way of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

Right now, though, I want to express my thoughts on one particular genre;
BIG, FAT, BONE-RATTLING, FUNK.

There are many sub-genres within funk. I want to focus on the nasty stuff from the early 1970s through the early 1980s.

Full disclosure: On the outside, I am very white. An Irish-American former New York police officer. About as far from Rick James as a person can get.  However, funk is all about the feeling.  It’s inside you. I feel I am qualified to write a few words on the subject because
A) I have yet to meet a person who owns more funk CDs and vinyl than I. They number in the thousands.  You, the reader, may indeed have more, and if so, I can only hope we will meet someday.
B) I can name a whole lot of folks who have been members of Parliament/Funkadelic, and not just the obvious ones.
C) I am well aware that the Commodores could bring some of the ugliest (in a good way) funk to ever fill a wax groove, yet most of the world knows them for the syrupy ballads. I still own my original 45rpm single of “Machine Gun”, and it is in mint condition.
D) I have been retweeted by George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and Freekbass.

I also will not be trying to gain false credibility by peppering this blog with terms like “thang”, “dat”, and “y’all”. I feel the funk, but I don’t really write the funk.  To do so would be disingenuous.

Over the past 25 years or so, I have heard very little “new” funk of the type I like, the aforementioned Freekbass being a notable exception. Not sure why this great musical monster has all but vanished, but I hope that somewhere, some kids are listening to the classics and putting their own spin on them.

For those kids, I humbly offer a few tips on what would get this funk lover (and countless others) to give their songs/albums a listen.

What follows is a bit of goofy fun, but is also oddly true. So, let’s get “on the one”, shall we?

SONG TITLES. Featuring some of the following in your song names, would have me greedily snatching up your music:

Use parentheses. A song title that follows this theme: “This is our song (but this is what you probably call it)” is pure gold.

Toss in a title that ends in “A-Zoid” or “Zilla”.

Mention creatures such as worms, maggots, birds, mice and dogs.

Use the wonderful apostrophe. Movin’ – not Moving.

Exxtra letters are funkalicious. Toss in a “Bbam” or a “Ffloor”. Bonus points for multiple Z and X use. “Foxxy” tops “Foxy”, and the triple X “Foxxxy” is the nastiest of all.

Name a dance after your song.

Have a part 1 and part 2. Pure brilliance.

Make a song a “Theme From” record. There need not be anything tangible that the theme is actually from.

Toss an abbreviated year in your title. “Mudd Splatter” is not nearly as cool as “Mudd Splatter ’74”

Don’t limit yourself to “funk”. “Fonk”, “Funck” and “Fungk” are just the tip of the iceberg.

Write a song about the tip of an iceberg.

Exhaust all possibilities of outer-space references. Name things after planets, stars, galaxies, basically anything celestial. When you run out of space junk, start on the underwater stuff.

In addition to aliens and aquatic life, fill your record with munchkins, elves, chipmunks, grannies, and clueless, straight, bean-counters. Every creature in your funk world should be able to speak.  The voices will range from the deepest bass to shit only a dog can hear.

The following words are like precious metals: Sticky, Sweaty, Nasty, Greasy, Gooey, Chunky, Fat, Hot, Smoke, Jam, Thump, Stuff, Robot.  Add additional letters as desired.

Instruct your listener to do something.  It can be Dance, Work, Ride, Jump, Hump, or another thousand different things.

Incorporate any variation of traditional Universal Studios monsters into your song/album/band name. Dracula, Frankenstein (or his Bride), Wolfman, or Mummy.

Make a song title one long word. “Can’tgetmyjamoncauseIgotnobread”. Feel free to use that one.

Multiple exclamation points make for bad prose, but hot song titles. Use them!!!

Name a song after a Disney character.

OTHER STUFFF: Wear colorful clothing; from African-inspired garb to Martians on acid – just bring the color! Black cowboys are good too.

Consider donning something along the lines of a long dinosaur tail, big yellow chicken feet, pastel hair and/or a gargantuan hat.

Have a guitarist who sounds like he could comfortably play in a major rock or metal band.

Have a bassist who sounds like he has at least 12 fingers.

Individuals might consider a single, descriptive name.  Bootsy, Sly, and Sugarfoot have already been claimed.

ADVANCED CLASS: Create a large family of side projects.

WHEN YOU HAVE “MADE IT”: Have two identical groups, with all of the same members, recording brilliant albums for two different record labels, under different band names, at the exact same time.

Well, there you have a list of funk tips from a white guy who can’t play a single instrument. You’re welcome.

It is also important to remember that, before anyone was “Gangsta”, they were “Gangster”. The latter term was proudly used in song and album by funky masters such as George Clinton, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and the man who broke down all barriers, Jimi Hendrix. Hell, even Heatwave used “Gangster” in their groove!

Your pallid funkateer (me) knows a little about Gangsters too, and I’ve written a book about them. You can grab a FREE peek, and see some great reviews and big name praise by following the link below. If a book can have the funk, I promise you that Sons of the Pope has it.

It’s on the one.

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope