Something about business travel made everything around me look gray. The lush green grass, brown wood fences, and brightly colored houses of my hometown slipped away from my thoughts as I hit top speed for the 65.
Morning commuters were out in force. My drive was only a half-hour, but it seemed much longer. It struck me odd how dark the world looks when I’m focused. I have three targets as of this morning. Nick has many friends and twice as many enemies. Both groups require my attention periodically.
The laundry list of objectives included a property I needed to inspect. It’s owned solely by Nick. He and his longtime friend Arthur use the building to store hard goods. The building’s usefulness was described in the same terms you hear in an old western. Hard-goods, tackle, and provisions I nodded my head in agreement with the men as they spoke knowing full well we were discussing a warehouse for guns and drugs.
Civilized lies that described our dirty business kept the conversations about housekeeping matters light. The bastard son of a close friend monitors the day to day of the building without much oversight. The group wanted me to report back my findings.
The black road, the gray sky, the concrete, and the buildings in the airport are gray or beige. Even my rental car was black. The carpet in the terminal for the private flights was burgundy and beige. Not much of a change, but it was noticeable.
I sat in a dark beige upholstered chair in my black suit with my black bag resting on my black shoes, reading my gray paper waiting for the white plane to be rolled into position. The lull of the non-threatening colors almost had me completely subdued.
A neon pink shirt walked past my view trailing a tail of spicy floral perfume. I smelled something like it at the mall in Tulsa a few weeks back. Spicy floral undertones are how the perfume advertisement described the smell.
My last job was more of a surveying situation. You know the kind of situation where one fat bastard’s mistress has a boy toy on the side. Why wouldn’t she, right? I mean, Christ let the girl enjoy herself. Her situation wasn’t permitted, or she severely bruised the fat man’s ego. Either way, the toy has been thrown away never to be seen again. I was compensated well for my trouble. I can’t complain.
The neon pink shirt was attached to a young woman— I put her at 20, maybe younger. She must be from a family of means traveling on this flight. If I had to guess, I would say she was off to visit friends in the city, away from her parents’ prying eyes. She looks clean and over-educated. Her phone cover is pink and bedazzled. You can tell quite a bit about a woman from her phone case, this case shouted, full-grown child.
The plane settled in front of the hanger, and the announcement to start boarding was made over the loudspeaker. Some travelers were already waiting impatiently in line others like me were still seated in the waiting area. I didn’t see the point in rushing the gate. It was a small plane, and we would be stuck in it for more than I would like to think about. I hung back and waited for everyone else to board. The hot pink shirt noticed that I didn’t jump up; she seemed to be following my lead.
“No use acting like a bunch of sheep. The flight crew will hold us captive for the next two hours.” I mentioned looking at her from the corner of my eye.
She laughed, nodded in agreement, grabbed her phone from her purse, continuing with whatever entertainment she was involved with a few minutes prior. The young woman followed me out when I decided it was time to board. By the time the plane landed, I knew almost everything there was to know about Kristen.
She was nineteen, a singer, and on the way back to school in the city. With everything she told me I could’ve easily found her, divided her from her classmates, and made her disappear. I wanted to explain this to her. I went over my speech in my mind tossing out every creepy phrase or seductive remark.
I wanted her to understand she couldn’t talk to men like me so casually. I must have looked safe to her eyes, the expensive suit and the big silver watch, and my inherited charm. My predator smile as Aunt Sissy calls it. She claims it makes me look innocent and lonely. I suppose that makes it only half a lie.
“Kristen, you’ve told me way too much about yourself. You need to be careful while you’re in the city. An innocent girl like you stands out like an angel among the demons. I would have no trouble finding you from everything you told me.”
“I guess you were listen’n then.” Kristen put a folded piece of torn magazine paper in my palm. “I’m busy getting settled in today, but you could always take me to lunch tomorrow. You could explain more of your safety tips for country girls run loose in the big city.”
I shook my head and smiled, “I could share some of my city living for country folk program. I didn’t mean to imply.”
“Oh, stop. Here I’ve gone and made you uncomfortable. It was sass, that’s all. I appreciate your concern. You know most people here are not all that bad,” she explained, wiping a thick pineapple scented gloss across her lips.
I put the folded scrap of paper back in her hand, “You’re wrong about that. People are much worse than you have figured out.” She smiled an uneasy smile as she realized I was giving her back her phone number. It was for the best. I don’t allow myself these kinds of distractions until my job is finished.
I made my way off the plane with my carry-on bag in hand. A dark blue town car was waiting for me in the rental lot. I chuckled. It wasn’t black or gray, but it was still dark.
Upstate is so much different from the city, Albany is a nicer airport than JFK, in my opinion. It was my first stop before driving upstate an hour further. My contact Bob is an old family friend. He was eager to get out of the life but still kept close ties with Nick. Bob was happy to help for a price.
Rule number two don’t trust people who do a job for free. They are getting paid somehow, and it’s usually with pounds of your flesh. Anyway, we needed to outfit the trunk of my rental car to hide my hardware. Bob knew a guy for the job, and he kept his own guys too. Anthony, Mikey, Saul, the common names I was comfortable saying while shaking a man’s hand.
The crew inspected the car, wiped it clean of fingerprints, vacuumed it meticulously, spoofed the tracking, and performed some essential maintenance. It was mechanically ready for whatever I would need.
The men made quick work of the trunk. The car’s carpet was dark blue common stock material. The false bottom they fabricated blended seamlessly. If you didn’t know the trunk was supposed to be two inches deeper, you wouldn’t notice the modifications. I stashed the spare tire and the original trunk floor in Bob’s garage for safekeeping.
By dinner, all my clean, unregistered hardware had been secured beneath the false carpet floor. We visited Bob’s brother Vinny, who operates a butcher shop and likes to barbecue in the alley after closing. Bob’s other brother Joe had a commercial janitorial business and dropped by to bring my chemical supplies.
There was a large kit for cleaning hard to remove stains and a smaller kit for wiping down rooms and cars. Bob’s wife steamed my suits and told me where to buy a few more shirts. I’d be ready to head into the city in the morning.
My first stop was a building in Manhattan. Equipped with a google map and gallon bag of Bob’s wife’s homemade cannoli’s, I took the 87 past the Parkway and beyond the convention center almost to Chelsea. I reached the industrial pocket just as it turned to daylight.
The building had a great view of the Hudson and seemed to be tucked away from most prying eyes. Edwin Bianchi was the custodian I needed to see. He kept the property invisible by keeping it active. Nothing sticks out more than an empty-looking industrial on this part of the island.
Nick received several serious offers from people wanting to buy the building over the years. Buyers wanted the land or possibly the air rights, but he claimed he would never sell. His grandfather purchased the parcel, and later his father and uncle built a four-story office building. It’s been in constant use ever since.
Edwin was about as happy to see me as I expected. A tall, fair-skinned man that didn’t look anything like his stereotypical Italian father. I greeted him, and his men introduced myself and shook everyone’s hand. It’s incredible how much a man can convey in his handshake. I could tell none of them were happy to see me. I didn’t blame them. No one likes eyes on them, even if it is part of their agreement.
I walked the building and scoped out the loading dock. There was a wet room at the back of the first floor. It was floor to ceiling white tile with everything you might need to remove a few stains. The plumbing was in good shape, and the room remained unused as per the arrangement. Satisfied that I could complete my other business in the space, I unloaded my cleaning supplies from the trunk and wheeled them to the back of the small room on a dolly.
The chemicals by themselves get a strange enough reaction from people, but when I pulled out a new saws-all still in the iconic red box, the tone of the tough men around me changed. Edwin’s face contorted. He looked at me like he saw a bug too big to squish under his boot. It was the reaction I was used to, and the response I waited for before moving to other unpleasant parts of my visit.
“Mr. Bianchi, Nick requested a reporting of the building. Content and counts of the product floors and a progress report for the construction areas. Would you mind giving me the nickel tour,” I asked.
“Not at all. Call me, Ed. Everybody here does. I talked to my guy Lou, he said big changes are coming this way, told me to expect a visit from the Greek soon.”
“My father doesn’t travel far from his golf course unless there is a real pressing need for his attendance,” I explained, looking in Ed’s eyes. He was hiding something big that was making him squirm.
“Sure, sure, and why would he need to? What are we all here for right. Am I right?” Ed’s men all nodded like a line of bobbleheads at a baseball game giveaway. “Let’s get walking, lots to see, and we have the construction crew in at nine.” Ed and three of his guys walked me through every floor and room.
The guns and ammo matched the inventory numbers. That was Nick’s biggest concern. He has customers to keep happy and needed to be sure his products were ready to move. The next was the general merchandise, the coke, and the skag, the heroin. It was a necessary evil to push, but I knew Nick felt it was beneath him to say the words coke and heroin out loud.
The quantity was close on both product lines. Deliveries and shipments were the problems I was there to correct. So some irregularities in the numbers were expected. The construction, on the other hand, was less complete than Edwin reported.
“This floor was reported complete last month?” I questioned openly. “I don’t see the kitchen area?”
“Yeah, you got me there. We moved on to the next floor before finishing this one. It needs the crew for three or four more days.” Ed explained. A slimy tone oozed from each word he spoke. He was uncomfortable, and now I could tell what he sounded like when he was lying.
“No bother, try to get it completed in the next few weeks. Several groups think this floor is useable. I would hate for them to drop in and find it as is.”
“I thought this was only the Greeks operation? I didn’t know other families were involved.” Ed seemed turned off by the prospect of guests. I still wasn’t sure what he was hiding, but I figured if I was patient, he would show me.
“Ah, you know how it goes. Everyone hears you have a good thing, a new shiny thing—they all want a piece. It’ll die down. Everyone will find some new location they need to access,” I said.
“Exactly,” Ed tossed his tattoed hands in the air. “we will do our part. You know whatever portion your father needs us to do. We do it. No questions, right? Am I right or what?” The bobbleheads joined in with a chorus of agreement.
“Of course, you’re right, Ed. I want to get out of your way. Leave you to your construction.” I pointed out across the cityscape. “I’ve got a room not far from here. I need to scope out some locations. I’m meeting with a few people tomorrow. I’ll be gone by mid-week if all goes well,” I explained.
“No room. No, you should stay here with us, see the top floors. We have plenty of space. Be my guest, ha. Keep your car out of sight in the back. No need to advertise it around. I can send Jimmy to scout with you. Keep an eye out during your meet. No need for you to stay with strangers.” Ed seemed firm on this offer. He intended to keep me in eyesight.
“I appreciate your offer, Ed, thank you. I’ll take you up on your hospitality. I could use some sleep with both eyes closed for a few hours and Jimmy if you don’t mind giving a tour of the city. I have a few places I need to see.”
“No problem, I would be happy to help any way I can.” Jimmy was nervous to shake my hand, but he did it anyway. The fact that he was able to force himself to do something uncomfortable that needed to be done gave me hope. Even though it was a tiny thing, it showed me that he might be a useable guy.
Every challenging endeavor we complete is a series of small tasks we didn’t want to do or never thought we could. At least that’s how my father thinks. Nick suggested I stay with Edwin if the offer was made. Ed’s father is a crucial mover for the ammo and the shipping end of things. Nick wants his old friend to feel represented in the new order of business.
The three principal families will divide the territory. The problem is the route runs through Hell’s Kitchen, so the Irish have to be included. In my opinion, it's better to give them a bigger part of the grief than a bigger part of the profit. Jimmy looks Irish with his freckled skin and brown hair. I look more Italian than Ed, so I needed Jimmy around to ease my dealings with our new red-headed friends. It was all working out for now.