6

THE LIMO—MORE OF A TOWN CAR, REALLY—pulls up to the corner. The window rolls down. Danny’s got a shit-eating grin.

“Get in,” he says.

I walk around to the other side of the car and climb inside. As I close the door behind me, I realize Danny’s grin doesn’t have anything to do with eating shit. There is a head, female by the looks of it, bobbing between his legs.

“Jesus,” I manage.

“You don’t mind, do you, buddy?”

“Uh, no. I guess I don’t.”

“I was glad that you called. You’ve reconsidered.”

“Not yet,” I say. Better not to sound too desperate. “Just considering my options.”

“I’m not giving you an option. Options are like, rare or medium rare. Onions, no onions. Brunette or redhead. Which are you, by the way?” He taps the bobbing head. She disengages from Danny’s crotch with a wet sound that makes me feel ickier than I already do.

“It’s red, asshole,” she says.

“We’ll see about that,” he replies, guiding her head back between his legs. “What I’m offering you, buddy, isn’t an option. It’s an opportunity. An opportunity to double your weekly salary.” He gestures toward a row of bottles on a built-in shelf. “Fix yourself a drink while I talk.” I pour a whiskey named after a Scottish glen I’ve never heard of. The taste makes me think I’ve never really had scotch before, that up until now I’ve been drinking piss water.

“Like I said at the office, the quarters, or what you guys pass off as quarters, they’re fine for the week. But on the weekend, I entertain. Place in Bridgehampton, another in Miami. You’ll see for yourself. But then, there, I need pounds.”

“I’ve got to be honest with you. I think you’ve got me mistaken for someone who has some juice. I just deliver the stuff.”

“I’m not asking you to grow it for me.”

“No, I mean, I don’t control the flow. They give me one bag, one customer.”

“You ever heard of the expression ‘thinking outside the box’?”

My gaze is drawn involuntarily back toward the bobbing head. “Uh, no.”

“Business school bullshit. But it’s actually a useful idea. Don’t let your perceptions of your circumstances limit your possibilities.”

“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”

“If the only way to secure more product is to sell to more customers, then sell to more customers.”

“Aha,” I say. “You mean you could call in more than once a day.”

“Me? No. Too busy. But you could.” The car pulls to a stop. “Take five,” he says to the head. “We’re at the hotel.” I smile at her as she smooths off her dress, both because she’s lovely and because I don’t want to catch a wayward glimpse of Danny’s exposed package.

“This is where we get out,” Danny says as a valet opens the door. The lady exits the car. “Where do you need to go?”

“The train,” I reply. “Grand Central.”

“No, I mean, where do you need to go?”

“Levittown?”

“Mel!” he says to the driver. “Take this man to Levittown.”

“Yes, sir,” the driver responds.

Danny hands me ten hundred-dollar bills. “Get me five extra bags before this weekend. The rest is yours to keep.” He jumps out of the cab. “I know I can count on you, buddy!”

The car pulls away from the hotel. I settle back into the seat, careful to avoid any residue Danny and his “date” may have left behind. There’s a copy of the New York Post stuck in the back of the seat. A kid in the Bronx, seventeen, shot dead during a high school argument. Two cops, accused of kicking and beating a protester in Tompkins Square Park, found innocent and acquitted of all charges. A composite sketch that could have been any black man with a mustache, this one in particular wanted for breaking up a subway mugging, as he’d stabbed one of the muggers to death in the process. The stories reinforce Uncle Marvin’s view of New York City, a fucked-up place to be sure. But they don’t describe the city I’m seeing from the back of the limo. I feel like a king in a carriage, the rain and the lights and the constant motion all a private performance for my benefit.

One hour and three Glen-whatevers later, the car pulls up in front of my parents’ three-bed, two-bath Cape Cod, one of dozens like it mass-produced after World War II. I slink quietly up to my room and remove the cash from my pocket. I jam it into a wooden box, some ornate thing an exgirlfriend brought me back from India, that I keep on my dresser.

“That’s a lot of scratch,” says my father.

He’s sitting on my bed, suit rumpled as the sheets, his eyes a shade of light red I recognize as the short sabbatical between the night’s second and third scotch. In other words, he’s keeping roughly the same pace as me. “They keeping you late at the office?” he asks.

“Grabbed a beer with a friend of mine.”

“Your friend’s got a nice car.”

“Belongs to the company. I had to work late. Is there a reason why you’re in my room?”

“Your room.” He pounds his chest. “My house.”

“Whatever.” I flip on the TV. “I’ll be out of here soon.”

“You lied, you know. To your mother.”

“About what?”

“About your job,” he says, nodding at the box on the dresser. “Or do temp agencies pay in cash?”

I’m about to make up an excuse, who knows what, when he continues. “I’m not going to say anything. Don’t worry. But you’d be doing your old man a solid if you spotted him a hundred bucks.”

“You want to borrow a hundred dollars from me?”

“You mind, kid? I’m a little stuck this month.”

“Stuck?”

“You know what I mean.”

I do, in fact, know what he means. Even I’ve noticed Dad’s recent attention to his appearance. More frequent haircuts. More fashionable shoes. Mysterious tubes of Binaca breath spray springing up around the house. I’ve also seen Mom paying extra attention to the bank and credit card statements, putting a serious crimp in Dad’s ability to finance an extramarital affair. My guess is that the hundred-dollar “loan” would pay for lunch pour deux at Beefsteak Charlie’s, with enough left over for an hour at the conveniently close-but-not-tooclose Starlight Inn.

“Sure, Dad,” I say. “You’ve done so much for me.”

I retrieve a bill from the box and hand it to him. He rises to his feet and claps me on the shoulder. “That’s my boy. So where is it?”

“Where’s what?”

“The restaurant where you’re working.”

I almost cry out with relief—he knows exactly nothing. “Must not be too shabby,” he adds, stumbling off toward his third scotch of the night. “Like I said, that’s a lot of scratch.”

Contents