Greyson followed the routine laid out by his cousin Cael to get to his car. He had to take the subway to Penn Station, where he entered Madison Square Garden and picked up the limo in a private garage owned by Henry Lucas’ corporation. Per Cael’s carefully crafted guidelines, he walked along certain shadowed walls to minimize recognition on the known overhead cameras. He wore a baseball cap and kept his head down as he weaved through the crowds.
He met Gina by the ten-foot-tall poster of Mark Messier and they proceeded into the attached garage where his car sat in the furthest spot from any surveillance cameras.
While Henry started to let out the slack, Cael still tightened the leash to help ensure that the wrong eyes don’t track their movements and connect the dots.
“The driver of the subject is the number one target,” Cael told him one day as Jaio entered the back of the car. “Get to the driver and you have the whole schedule, the whole routine and all the players. Get to the driver and you can control the hit. That’s what happened to us on 7th Ave. We figured it out just in time.”
Greyson pulled away from the overhang of the MSG garage. Jaio had spent the weekend with Henry in Bayonne sharing stories about his early years in the Middle East and his future plans to return. He stayed with Gina’s aunt in her spare bedroom.
Gina fixed her hair in the mirror and reapplied her lipstick. Greyson looked forward to his time with her in the car. They didn’t always speak. And oftentimes, the comfortable silence wrapped them like a soft blanket. Gina hummed the tune on the radio and Greyson tapped the steering wheel to the drum beat.
“First stop is Bayonne to pick up Jaio at Eleanor’s apartment,” she read from her itinerary. “Don’t ask me how he survived in her tiny, little guest bedroom.”
“He seems like a man of simple needs.”
“Eventually we hit the office to pick up … Curley and Moe,” she laughed. “Men of much more demanding expectations.”
Greyson laughed with her as they sped down 33rd street to the west side.
“The flight isn’t until later in the day. Jaio wanted us to pick him up early. He and I decided to run a few errands before we come back to Manhattan.”
The apartment in Bayonne sat on a tight street lined up and down with similar looking tenement buildings. Garbage bags bordered the street, waiting for the city to haul them out of sight. Power lines draped back and forth between the buildings and formed a spider web over the crowded street.
The stairs smelled of Raman noodles and urine. A single dim light bulb cast a faint glow from an outlet next to the front door. They fumbled up the dark stairs to the second-floor apartment of Gina’s Aunt Eleanor. They entered the stuffy living room. Gina opened windows to let in the sun and the air. A plump but frail old woman rounded the corner and greeted them with a soft, wrinkled smile. She had wet tomato sauce on her apron and held a wood spoon coated in tomato like a bloody knife.
“Jaio and William are in the second bedroom together,” she said.
Greyson sat in the cozy living room watching Eleanor hobble back and forth across her tiny kitchen to prepare the evening’s diner. Only 10:00am, he imagined the tomato sauce stewing all day, filling the room with the pungent aroma of fresh tomatoes and chasing away the foul smell of the rest of the apartment building around her. He looked for a remote control to the small round 1980s television sitting across from him but could not find one anywhere.
He heard Gina speaking in excited tones in the other room but could not make out what she was saying.
“Grayce,” she poked her head around the corner. “Come look at this. Look what Jaio and William have done.”
The room had large beige tarps, speckled with various vibrant colors, all over the furniture in the room. William, a short, heavyset young man of indeterminate age stood in the middle of the room next to Jaio. They both wore long plastic rain jackets over their shorts and T-shirts. Jaio looked incredibly fit in the tight white shirt, athletic gym shorts and calf-high tube socks.
William, who bore little resemblance to his older sister, held a fist full of paint brushes. Jaio held a round palette smeared with a rainbow of paint smudges.
They had painted the entire room including the ceiling in a massive mural of a beach scene with sandy dunes, palm trees, boats, islands in the distance, birds and clouds overhead and rolling waves that looked like they could leap off the walls and inundate them in the middle of the room.
Gina hugged her brother and gushed about how beautiful the room looked. She turned to Jaio and her face brightened like the massive crimson sunrise on the wall behind him.
“He did this all on his own,” Jaio said, raising his hands to showcase William’s work. “He has a unique talent.
“There is an art supply store about ten blocks from here,” Eleanor called out from the kitchen. “They walked there last night.”
“We discussed what he might like to paint,” Jaio added. “And then he did all of this from his wonderfully talented imagination.”
Gina looked around the room, spinning 360 degrees. The magnitude of what Jaio had drawn out of her “handicapped” brother brought her to tears.
“The man at the Art store told Mr. Jaio that I could get a job,” William beamed. “A couple hours a week unpacking the boxes and cleaning up the back room.”
Gina looked at Jaio with wide eyes. Greyson observed.
“He’s going to teach me to paint even better,” William continued. “Someday, I could be an artist.”
Out of Bayonne, Greyson, Gina and Jaio headed west to a small peninsula between Jersey City and the rest of the Garden State where the Hudson Valley Correctional facility overlooked the confluence of the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers.
Gina sat in the passenger seat with a look of inner peace on her face. The glow from seeing her brother’s artistic expression and joy beamed from her arched lips. She sat quietly staring out the window, oblivious to the radio or the other passengers in the car. She occasionally glanced up into her mirror to meet eyes with Jaio in the back seat.
Jaio spoke with Melanie Johnson on the cell phone about a meeting with area pastors and regional church leaders in Churchville later in the week that Jaio would fly to attend along with Henry. After their detour to South Hackensack, they would pick up the team and get to the Westchester airport for their late afternoon flight.
“So, Carlos was your boss?” Greyson reiterated Gina’s explanation as they crossed the Hackensack River. “And he was your boyfriend?”
“mmhm,” Gina answered, still gazing out the window, lost in thoughts of her brother working a steady job and edging his way into a more mainstreamed life that she never imagined for him. “He was hardly much of a boyfriend. More of a control freak than anything else.”
“And he is in prison for being a pimp?”
“So …” Greyson hesitated before asking the next logical question.
“No,” Gina turned to Greyson with playful, but slightly flared eyes. “I would never.”
“Ok,” Greyson backed down quickly.
“He had other girls he managed,” Gina filled in the gaps. “He beat some of them pretty bad.”
“A little bit,” Gina’s eyes dropped to the black rubber matt at her feet. “Sometimes, a lot.”
She changed the angle of her body in the passenger seat to be able to face him a little better.
“One time he knocked me out cold,” her voice grew more somber. “One of his girls told me he did lines on my back while I laid there on his apartment floor.”
“Did he …” Greyson started to ask.
“Did he rape me?” Gina finished his sentence. “No. At least I am 99% sure he didn’t. The girls tell me he got wasted and passed out on top of me. A girl usually knows if that happens to her. At least that’s what they tell me. I am pretty sure he didn’t. At least, that’s what I have convinced myself to believe since I wouldn’t know 100% either way.”
“See these two teeth?” she continued. “He knocked them both out. My mouth was bleeding all over the place and he got pissed off that I got it on his leather couch and beat the shit out of me. I didn’t even have any insurance, so I had to pay for all the dental work myself out of my savings.”
“And you are visiting this guy in prison?”
Gina walked a step behind Jaio. She looked small behind him and her hunched posture diminished her already petite frame. Greyson ambled behind them both taking in the surroundings. He thanked God that his drug issues never landed him in a facility like this one.
The main building resembled a New York City high school with its tall brick façade, gated entrance and small barred windows. The inside glowed a strange greenish yellow from the exposed overhead fluorescent lighting. The grey, drab walls seemed to repel the light as if sickened by its ugly hue. Crowded with visitors, guards and other Administrative staff, Greyson had never seen such a vast collection of people in a room completely devoid of a smiling face. Except Jaio.
Shadows darkened Gina’s eyes as she kept her head tilted downward. But Jaio whispered words of encouragement to her and both her eyes and her face brightened.
After reviewing a stack of paperwork and signing multiple forms, they were led down a hallway by a guard who could have been Ruben Herrera’s second cousin. They entered a small, dark room with four mirrored walls and sat at a stark metal table. The door on the other side of the room opened and a gaunt skeleton of a man, covered in tattoos entered. He wore chains on his wrists and an orange jump suit, which gave the pale man some semblance of color.
“Nice to see you again, Babe,” said Carlos, hesitating before sitting on the opposite side of the table. “Who the Fuck are these guys?”
“They are friends of mine,” Gina replied. She looked confident, with her head up. She met Carlos face to face and did not back down from looking in his eyes.
He sported a black eye and what looked like a missing tooth or two just beyond the gap in his lips. One lip looked swollen.
“Are you OK?” Gina asked.
“Apparently, I have some old friends here,” he answered, coughing slightly as he chuckled at his own response. “What do you want Ginny?”
“I wanted to see you,” she answered slowly. “I wanted to tell you that we could get a lawyer to help you.”
“Neither of these two slicks look like a lawyer to me,”
“Carlos,” Jaio’s clear, crisp voice caught him by surprise. “They want to move you to Bergen County Correctional Facility. You have other acquaintances there like the ones you have here. We want to protect you from harm.”
Carlos snorted and rolled his eyes. Greyson caught a twinge of panic in his face, accentuated by a bead of sweat that danced just above his heavily lined brow and below his ragged hairline.
“We have a lawyer who has agreed to get you moved to the East Jersey facility instead,” Gina continued. “He will do it Pro Bono. That means he will represent you for free. This would be much better for you.”
Carlos continued to slouch with his arms crossed against his drawn stomach. But he paid closer attention to Gina’s words.
He ran his eyes up and down Gina’s body. Greyson debated whether his ogling was sexual or genuine curiosity at her new look and her willingness to help him. He turned his glare to Jaio. He opened his mouth as if to spit out more sarcastic epitaphs, but the possibility of moving to East Jersey eased his apprehension about the impending stay in Bergen, where he would surely suffer unspeakable acts of violence and possible sexual violation.
“Why would your lawyer help me out?” he asked in a softer, more restrained voice. He looked almost vulnerable to Greyson.
“Because,” Jaio replied. “Gina believes you have the ability to be a better man. She wants to forgive you for your past interactions with her.”
“Just let us help you out Carlos,” she added. “We want you to get yourself straightened out … I want you to be OK.”
Carlos squinted and scratched the back of his curly unkempt pile of hair. The negativity he felt toward the strange man sitting across the table from him eased from his consciousness. He looked at Gina’s emerald green eyes. He saw sympathy, maybe even forgiveness.
“Gina asked the lawyer to take your case,” said Jaio.
“I am a different person from the lost girl that took all that abuse from you back then,” Gina moved close to Carlos and looked him dead straight in the eyes. “I had to face you. I have to believe that I am capable of forgiving you and maybe even helping you despite what you did to me and how you hurt me. It’s just something I have to do. It’s what I want to do.”
After the guards removed Carlos from the room, they filed out and traveled back down the dimly lit hallways to the exit. Gina walked ahead to the car on the phone with Henry Lucas’ lawyer.
Jaio ambled slowly across the parking lot next to Greyson.
“She’s really changed,” said Greyson. “You’ve done a great job working with her to turn her around from where she was when we first met her.”
“She is a good person,” Jaio replied. “She has a lot of love in her heart.”
“She’s got a cause that she believes in,” Greyson agreed. “And you’ve given that to her.”
“She has passion in her life. Everyone needs that my friend …”
Greyson looked at the former stripper in her professional outfit, deeply engaged in her business conversation. He expected Jaio’s last words and could even have spoken them in harmony with him.