Taking Care of Business (Ryder Blade Title Match RP) Aug 14, 2016 17:40:07 GMT -6
Post by Ryder Blade on Aug 14, 2016 17:40:07 GMT -6
Sprintex HQ, Manhattan, New York City
August 12, 2016 3.35AM
I've had another one of those dreams.
I should have gotten used to them by now, but I never do; I'm fairly sure I never will. Seeing everyone you love being taken away from you is not something you can adjust to. Even if it's all in your head. Even if you see it coming. It's still going to leave a mark, every time. And for me, this time, it left a hell of a mark.
What made this one even worse than all those other dreams I've had before was that this time, we weren't in the Caribbean; this time, we were right here at home. In Central Park. A place me and Ryder go to at least twice a day when it's time to take Ruby for a walk. A place Izzy runs around for a few hours every morning. A place we've come to see as safe in our waking life. A place I'll never see the same way again.
I do my best not to scream as I come out of the dream world, but I still feel Izzy stir and mutter something undistinguishable in her sleep. I almost wake her up and told her, but think better of it; she has plenty enough on her plate as-is, what with the divorce papers from Asshole McHusband finally coming through and her trying to get along with Ryder. No need to add extra fuel to a fire that's already burning dangerously high. So I just wrap my arms around her until she stops tossing and turning, then slip quietly outside for a night-cap and a cigarette,
I never get to either of those things, however. As I come downstairs to the compound's eating area, something else catches my attention, and drives all other concerns to the back of my mind.
The kitchen light is on.
I don't even stop to consider the different possibilities for why that is the case. It never enters my mind that someone forgot the light on, or that someone else might need a pick-me-up in the middle of the night; either as a result of the dream I've just had, or due to a lifetime of being taught to always watch my back, my brain immediately assumes the worst, and springs into action.
Being careful to make as little noise as possible, I scan my immediate surroundings for a blunt object, or something else that can split a skull open or cut a nice long gash into an arm, leg or chest. It does not take me long to locate it, and one tip-toed trek across the living room later, my right hand is clenched around the neck of a plain glass flowerpot. I hold it by my side like a club as I creep towards the kitchen door, then hold it up above my head, ready to strike, as I slam it open and come face to face with...
'...yo Dad, keep it quiet, yo! You tryna wake up the whole a' Manhattan?!'
Ryder. Sitting at the kitchen table, in his pyjamas, a half-eaten plate of cold chicken and a glass of Sunny D in front of him.
'Ryder?' I bring my hand down, my whole body posture relaxing as I pull up a chair. 'You scared the fuck out of me. I thought somebody had broken in here!'
I can feel my heart racing a mile a minute as I sit down opposite Ryder, and feel a slight pang of irritation as I see him smirking.
'C'mon, Dad. If someone was trying to bust in this joint, we would'a known. Ruby would'a started barking her butt off. Besides...' He holds out a chicken drumstick towards me. '...isn't this place like, super high-security and stuff? How's some dude supposed to just walk in here like that and not set off any alarms or nothing?'
'You'd be surprised.' I bite into the chicken, and it's the most delicious thing I've ever eaten. I feel my heart rate slowly decelerating as my brain begins to process that everything's fine, everyone's alive and no one's snuck in here to kill us.
Even still, I could do with a drink to steady my nerves – and I know just the one. I pad through to the living area, duck behind the bar, and emerge with a particular bottle of fifty-year-old whisky, one I tend to save for special occasions. This isn't exactly the sort of time I'd normally bring it out for, but what the hell; I need something extra strong, and this little baby's just what the doctor ordered.
I pour myself a double shot and pad back through to the kitchen. Ryder is still working away at the chicken – and in the few minutes I've stepped out to fetch the bottle, he's found himself an assistant.
'Don't feed her scraps at the table, Ryder. You'll get her used to it.'
'This isn't a real meal, Dad,' Ryder states coolly, as he reaches down to give Ruby another chicken skin. 'Besides, I don't like the skin.'
'Makes no difference what kind of meal it is, Ryder. It's a bad habit, and I don't want her to have it.' I shoo Ruby away from the table and back to her bed – a trek she makes sulkily and begrudgingly – then walk over to close the kitchen door.
'So...another sleepless night, huh?' It is more a statement than a question.
'Mm-hmm.' Ryder is mid-mouthful as I resume my seat across from him, his cheeks puffed up like a squirrel's. I sigh.
'Ryder, this can't continue. You haven't had a full night's sleep in almost two weeks. It's even worse than when we were in the Pacific!'
Ryder glowers at me, but – with his mouth full - finds himself forced to finish chewing and swallowing his bite before he can properly respond. Once that task is accomplished, however, he wastes no time firing back at me:
'Yeah, Dad. 'Cause I'm totally doing it on purpose. I really love having so much crap on my brain that I can't turn it off even if I try!'
That, I can certainly relate to – which is why, the next time I speak, my tone is much softer:
'Sorry. I know how that feels.' I gesture around the otherwise empty kitchen. 'It's why I'm here right now.'
Ryder nods curtly, his meaning clear: apology accepted.
'So what was it for you?' He plucks the last drumstick out of the greasepaper and bites into it, but his eyes never leave my face.
'Another dream. An even more messed up one than usual.' He nods again. 'You?'
Ryder shrugs, suddenly very interested in his chicken drumstick. 'Losing my undefeated record on Breakthrough. The match at Heatstroke. That stuff we talked about on the boat. Take your pick.'
Whoa. The kid does have a lot on his mind. No wonder he's not sleeping well nights.
'You want to talk about it?'
Ryder looks up at me. 'Which part?'
'All of it.'
He shrugs again. 'Nothing to talk about. Just my own hang-ups.'
'Yeah, well, sometimes talking to somebody else helps. With perspective, and all that.'
Ryder's expression opens up slightly, a glimmer of hope breaking through the glumness, but he still seems reluctant to accept help.
'It ain't right for me to be bugging you with this stuff, Dad,' he says, after a moment. 'I mean, you ain't bugging me about your dreams or whatever...'
'I'm also thirty years older than you, Ryder,' I retort. 'If the roles were reversed...I'm not going to lie, I'd probably be opening up to you.'
'So why don't you?'
I grin, reach across the table to place a hand on his shoulder. 'Because, it's my place to worry about things, not yours. Your place is to...'
'...become the World Visionary Champion?' For the first time tonight, I hear a hint of hope in Ryder's tone, and spot a glimmer in his eye.
'...be young while you still can,' I complete, over his guess. 'You'll have plenty of time to worry when you're older and the big boss of Sprintex Corp.'
This, at long last, causes Ryder to laugh.
'Yeah, right! As if!'
I raise an eyebrow in mock offence. '...and why not?!'
Ryder is still laughing. 'I don't wanna be some corporate lame-o in a suit! The Blade's way too cool for th--'
He halts himself suddenly, eyes widening as he realized he fucked up. He hesitates for a second, then proves the growth I have perceived in him over the past few months is not all just in my head.
'...sorry, Dad. But that's your thing. Not mine.'
I nod. 'That's okay. All that matters is...'
I lean forward, eyes twinkling, a smirk on my features. '...still want to tell the corporate lame-o what's bothering you?'
Ryder laughs again, visibly more at ease, but says nothing for a long moment. He is silent for so long, in fact, that I have all but resigned myself to the fact that I'm not getting anything from him when he catches me by surprise by speaking up again.
'Is it...' He is visibly struggling to speak, the words stuck in his throat and replaced by vague, ineffectual gestures. He takes another long moment to compose himself, takes a deep breath, and tries again:
'...is it lame for a dude to be...'
He halts himself again, as far from the Ryder I know and grew to love as the Empire State Building is from the Sydney Opera House. I hesitate myself, torn between offering words of encouragement or letting him come to his query on his own; I have only just decided on the latter when Ryder renders my decision moot:
'Dad...is it lame for a dude to be...' He almost halts himself again, but makes an effort to push that stubborn word out: '...scared?'
Well, well, well. What do you know? We are all grown up!
'Scared?! Of English?! Or Carlisle?!'
'Well...' I pat myself in the back as Ryder dallies, telling myself I still know the boy as well as I know myself; the joy is short-lived, however, as a moment later Ryder reveals the real reason for his hesitation:
'...it ain't really scared...it's more like...anxious?! I guess?!'
Damn this kid and his coming of age! I'm too old to be surprised by people!
'I mean, after what happened two weeks ago...I'm kind'a thinking...do I really got what it takes?! Know what I mean, Dad?'
Ryder looks up at me, and there's despair in his eyes, and all I want to do just then is hug him. I'm fully aware that would be counter-productive, though, so instead I just pat his shoulder.
'Two weeks ago wasn't your fault, Ryder.'
'Yeah it was!' His voice is choked with wounded pride. 'It was my fault for trusting that buttmunch.' He looks up at me again, defeated. 'I thought we could work together. I thought he wanted to win as much as I did. But turns out...'
He looks back down at his shoes, his shoulder sagging, his voice faltering, a far cry from his usual blustery swagger.
'...it turns out all he really wanted was to punk me.'
I once again resist the urge to hug him, instead treating him like the man I know he wants to be seen as.
'...and what are you going to do about it?'
He looks up again, genuine surprise in his eyes this time. 'Do?!'
'Yes. Do. Are you just going to let English win?!'
He flies to his feet so suddenly, he startles me. 'Heck, no!'
'Well...what do you want to do, then?'
'I want to punk him.' Ryder's face has suddenly gone beet red, his eyes all but flashing with barely contained rage, his voice coming between gritted teeth. He is so incensed that I feel the need to hold out a hand in warning, my other arm pointing upwards to indicate people sleeping. He nods, and lowers his voice to a muttered, yet no less intense growl:
'I want to make him the world's biggest butt monkey. In front of everyone. Just like he did to me. No, worse. 'Cause he ain't done it to me live on Pay-per-View, for the World Visionary Championship!'
'...which is why you will,' I conclude. Ryder nods again, determinedly, fiercely, finally seeming like his old self again.
'You bet I will, Dad.'
'Even if you don't win. Right?' I feel the need to stress that, if only to keep Ryder grounded, to keep him from getting carried away in whatever revenge fantasy he is now almost certainly plotting. I expect the usual amount of resistance to this statement, and am genuinely shocked, not for the first time tonight, to find none; instead, Ryder simply nods yet again.
'Right. Even if I don't win. 'Cause you know what?'
Ryder looks down at me, no longer the oblivious, immature boy I thought I knew, but a man bristling with righteous indignation.
'You know what, Dad?,' he repeats.
A smirk forms on his lips, for the first time this evening, as he concludes:
'He ain't winning it, neither.'
With that, the boy I brainwashed into becoming somebody else, lodged as my ward, developed feelings for and eventually filed to adopt turns and walks out of the kitchen, leaving his surrogate old man to wonder when, in the time elapsed since February of last year, his son had become a man.
Sprintex HQ, Manhattan, New York City
August 11, 2016 4.15AM
I ain't even care if it's four in the freaking morning.
Dad's right. I can't let this stuff get to me. I can't let my own brain punk me. It's bad enough English did; I ain't need it from my own dang mind. Nah, bruh. I gotta deal with this. I gotta deal with this now. Dad's right. I can't be losing sleep every night thinking 'bout this hish. I can't do anything 'bout that other thing that's been keeping me awake, but this? This I can do something about. And I'm gonna. I'm gonna own it. Blademeister style.
Problem is, it's four in the freaking morning. It don't matter to me, but I ain't think Big Dogg's gonna be too happy if I wake him up 'cause I'm screaming so dang loud. Or K-Dogg. And especially not Dad's boo. She ain't even like me when I ain't waking her up! Which means I gotta find someplace to shoot where it ain't gonna bother nobody. 'Cause like I said, it can't wait until morning.
Computer's out; I can't take it outta my room, and if I do it in there, it's gonna make mad noise and wake everyone up. And he iPad's with Big Dogg, and he probably gonna kill me if I go sneaking into his room to get it in the middle of the night.
'iPhone to the rescue...'
...iPhone to the rescue.
Okay, so I know how I'm gonna do it; now I just gotta figure out where. Anyplace in here is gonna wake everyone up, and I ain't fool enough to go walking in Manhattan in the middle of the night. There's the video room, all the way at the other end of the building, but I'm pretty sure Dad locks that up when it ain't being used, and I ain't got the key....
...hold up a minute...
…I got it!
Aw, man, but it's probably locked!
Still gonna check, though. Sometimes, after we're in there, Dad or Big Dogg forget to...
And being in here means I ain't gotta use my phone to do the video anymore. 'Cause this is the games room. And what's in the games room? The XBOne.
I turn the console on, bring up the Kinect video editor, and select 'Record Home Video.'
Put your brown pants on, Cassie.
It's 'bout to be on like Donkey Kong.
'All right, you know who I am, we all know why we're here, let's cut the crap and get straight to the point.'
For real, this thing only records five minutes of footage. I gotta make those count!
'English...the gloves are off. No more trolling. No more screwing around. This ain't abour who's better anymore. This ain't even just about belts. After what you did to me last Breakthrough...this is personal now, bruh. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, punks The Blade. You played with fire, Cassie. And you 'bout to get burned.'
And I ain't talking Chinese burns!
'See...I ain't the same dude I used to be. I ain't the same dude who came into VoW. I ain't even the same dude who was Xcel Champion. That dude had stuff to fight for. That dude had records. That dude had streaks. This dude right here? The dude who's going into the Main Event of Heatstroke? He ain't got anything anymore. Last Breakthrough, when you walked away, Cassie...you took the last two things I had left. You took my undefeated streak on Breakthrough...and you took my pride.'
Saying that kind'a makes it hurt all over again. But I gotta deal with it. I can't stop now.
C'mon, Blade. Man up, bruh.
'That's right. Thanks to you, I ain't got a thing left to lose anymore, bruh. I ain't got no more streaks, records, none of that shizz. But I do still have something to gain.'
I lean forward, point out at the TV.
'That thing around your shoulder. The World Visionary Championship.'
Like a baws! Hope dude's wearing a cup, 'cause I just aimed for his balls.
'Oooh, struck a nerve, didn't I, Cassie? Don't even front, bruh, I can see you getting mad and we ain't even in the same room. You're probably getting on your camera right now, calling me a punk kid or whatever, saying you're gonna kill me. And you know why that is, Big Cass? It's 'cause that thing 'round your shoulder...that's your pride, bruh. And you know I'm 'bout to try and take it from you, same way you took mine at Breakthrough. And that look on your face? That's you realizing this time, I can do it.'
Yeah! You tell 'em, Blademeister!
'English...the last time we met...you were the better man. It was the biggest match of our lives, the biggest match in VoW history, and you went Super Saiyan to make sure that punk kid with the best record in VoW didn't take away your belt. And it worked. You beat me. But see, English...the thing is...that time, I wasn't trying to own your butt. That time, I was just trying to win. Trying to complete my legacy. That time, it wasn't personal.'
...and this is we lay some truths down on old Cassie.
'This time, though? This time, I ain't out to get your belt...I'm out to get your nuts. I'm out to get your pride. This time, I'm out to do to you what you did to me at Breakthrough. I ain't even care if I win. I just wanna make dead sure you don't. I ain't even care if Princess Gothface wants to come in and pick you clean afterwards, Long as I'm the one who puts you down. Long as I'm the one who punks you. Long as I get to stand there in front of everybody in that arena, pull your pants down, and make you show more ass than Ren and Stimpy!'
Just you watch me!
'English, on August 19, in Norfolk...I'm gonna show you why they call me The Blade. I'm gonna chop off your nuts.'
'And when you're lying there and your pride's been taken away and somebody else is holding your belt...I'm gonna look down at you...hold my arm up real high...'
I hold my arm up to demonstrate.
'...and go 'DEEZ NUTS?! GOT 'EEM!''
I know there's a grin on my face. I can feel it. Time to ride this wave and talk about the other person who's gonna be out to get Cassie on Friday night.
'As for you, Princess Gothface...here's what you gotta do. You gotta stay outta my beeswax and lemme kill Big Cass myself. A'ight? And then once I'm done with that, you and me can go. Mano a mano. One on one. Last one standing gets the whole enchilada. And if you win, I ain't even gonna be mad. I ain't got nothing against you. Fact, you'd be kinda hot if you weren't freakin' cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. This ain't your scene, you're in way outta your depth, the Chaos thing is kind'a dumb...but since they put you here, The Blade ain't gonna hate. But until I'm done turning Big Cass into Big Mess...you stay of out. Capisce? I don't wanna have to mess your world up too.'
There. That ought'a tell her not to mess with The Blade. Back to Mr. P-A-B.
'English...I know you ain't taking this seriously. I know you think this is just my usual bullshizzle, all bark and no bite. Heck, you're probably even laughing right now. Well, bruh, when I whup your butt at Heatstroke like I was LBJ and you were the Milwaukee Bucks defensive line...we'll see who's laughing.'
I lean forward again. Time to end this sucker.
'English...if I gotta go down...I'm going down fighting. And I'm gonna make darn sure you remember my name.
I'm Ryder Blade.
And at Breakthrough...
...I'm'a be your worst nightmare.
See you suckers in Virginia.'
Dang! That felt good, yo! I should do more videos when I'm freaking cheesed off! Even better, getting all that off my chest made me kind'a chill. All that rage and stuff is gone. Which means maybe I can get some sleep, for the first time in...
'Why aren't you in bed, Ryder?'
I was so happy with how that video came out that I ain't even seen Dad standing at the door.
'I was making a video, Dadhead.'
'Making a what?!' Good thing Dad ain't drinking anything, 'cause he would'a spat it all out. 'At four-thirty in the morning?!'
'Yeah. Needed to get some stuff off my chest. I feel better now. Gonna try and get some sleep.'
Dad's looking at me with his mouth hanging open, looking like he wants to say something but can't. I don't hang around waiting to see what he has to say, though; it's the first time in weeks I don't have a bunch of stuff on my mind, and I'm gonna make it count.
My bed's looking real inviting right about now.
Sprintex HQ, Manhattan, New York City
August 12, 2016 10.15AM
On the morning of August 12, once I've caught up on a few more hours' sleep, I make two phonecalls.
The first one is to an orphanage in Brooklyn. I introduce myself – a fake name, of course, I haven't gone completely round the bend yet – and ask if there is someone there I can speak to, who has been working there for five, maybe ten years. As it turns out, there is, and I end up speaking to a couple of nice ladies who know exactly what I'm talking about once I get to the real point of the call. We set up a meeting for later, and I hang up with the satisfaction of having accomplished one half of my plan.
The other half, though, is a whole different story.
My second phonecall is to a private number, hidden inside a drawer in an office in a penthouse on the Upper East Side. It rings for almost a full minute before someone picks up, and when they do, it's not anyone I recognise.
'Omertá.' My tone is cautious as I give the password that lets whoever's on the other side know I'm meant to have this number. Judging by my interloper's tone, however, this does nothing to assuage them.
'I could ask the same,' I deflect, throwing the question right back at whoever's at the other end of the line. 'Who is this?! 'Cause it ain't nobody who used to know about this number...' I feel my tones slipping into the street accent of the common wiseguy, and ask myself if I really want to do what I'm about to do.
'This is Nicky.'
'Nicky? Fat Nicky? Or Nicky Horses?'
'Horses. Look, who da fuck are you, pal? How you get this number?'
Nicky Horses. Nicky fucking Horses. He wasn't even a made guy when I knew him. Ran a small-time racket in the Bronx. Times sure have changed.
'Nicky Horses?! Since when do you answer this phone?!'
'Since none a' ya business, pal. Now, you gonna tell me who you are, or am I gonna hang up this phone right 'ere?'
'You can hang it up...' My tone is much cooler now I know I'm dealing with a mook. '...but I don't think the capo is gonna like that. You're not supposed to hang up on people who have this number, Nicky. It's bad form.'
'Look, buddy, you gonna tell me your name or not?!' Nicky tries to play it cool, but I know I've got him.
'What's my name matter?' This is actually fun now. 'All that matters is I got this number.'
'How do I know you ain't a cop?'
'You better hope I ain't a cop, Nick, or everyone in there is dead. But I ain't no cop. This is the Hawk,' My codename, based off my real name. Falcone, Hawk. No brainer.
'The Hawk?!' Nicky's about to retort, but before he can, I hear a soft, cultivated voice behind him. A voice speaking Italian. A voice I know all too well.
'Who is it, Nick?'
'It's some piece of shit fool who won't tell me his name. Says he's a hawk or something...'
The next thing I hear is a rustle, and an undecipherable grunt; a moment later, the voice of my capo supremo comes through the line, sounding tired but welcomingly familiar.
'Long time no see. Word on the street is you'd gone legit without telling us...'
I swallow, suddenly feeling very, very queasy in my stomach. Still, I have to press on. I promised myself I would.
'Actually, Don Crea...that's what I'm calling about. I would like to meet up with you.'
'Oh?' The capo di tutti cappi sounds amused. 'Dropping in to see the Family?'
We both know that is a joke on several levels, and have the appropriate chuckle over it. Then, it's right back to business.
'I have something to discuss with you, Don Crea. Do you think you could make some time to meet me?'
For a long moment, Don Crea says nothing, and I fear the worst; eventually, however, I'm able to breathe again:
'Of course, Carlo. I always make time for people who have this phone number.'
'I know. It's why I called it.'
Another moment of silence, making me fear the worst, before Don Crea allows my heart to resume beating.
'I'm going to be at Rao's for lunch today. You think you can make it?'
I check my watch. 'Sure. I need...two hours? Maybe three?'
I know I don't have that kind of time, and Don Crea confirms it:
'Come in three hours. Maybe I'm there, maybe not. Come in two...maybe you'll catch me.'
The message is clear: I have two hours, tops. Which means I'm going to have to yank Ryder out of bed whether he likes it or not. Don Crea is not a patient man, and I won't be the one to keep him waiting.
Brooklyn, New York City
August 12, 2016 11:45AM
When we step out of the car, Dad still ain't told me where we're going, or why he woke everybody up and rushed everybody out like the place was on fire or something. He just keeps smiling and telling me I'll see, and I still got no idea what I'm supposed to see.
This place we're at ain't ringing any bells, neither. It's this real nice, red brick house in the middle of Brooklyn, the type of place I think Dad's friends must live in, but Dad ain't in no hurry to go in. In fact, he ain't even going in at all. He said he has someplace to go or something. He told Big Dogg to go in with me, said they'd know what I was here for. Me, I'm just glad someone does, 'cause I still ain't got a clue.
So we walk through the gates into this big-ass house, Big Dogg and me, and there's all these kids running around and stuff, and a sign in the door:
GUARDIAN ANGEL HOME
Except it don't look like a church to me – and when I ask Big Dogg, he says it don't look like one to him, either. So we're both mad confused as we walk up to the door. Mike rings a buzzer, someone opens from inside, and we go in.
Inside, there's more kids. All shapes and sizes and ages. Tiny-ass ones, older ones, white ones, black ones, Asian ones...all kinds. Just running around, being kids and stuff. And in the middle of the room, in the middle of all these kids, there's a desk with a lady sitting there. Guess this is the information desk or whatever, 'cause that's where Big Dogg heads to as soon as we walk in.
'Hey,' he says to the lady. 'We here for a visit. My boss called earlier.' He points at me. 'For him.'
The lady looks over at me – she's about thirty, and kind'a hot in that MILF kind'a way – and gets this look like she knows me or something, and nods at Mike.
'Take a seat. I'll get...'
She ain't even finish the sentence; this black lady just comes running out of another room and just stands there, gawking at Big Dogg and me like she's just seen LeBron James and Tom Brady. I mean, we kind'a look like them, but y'know...
'Ah, here she is,' the front desk lady girl says, but the other lady just keeps on walking towards us with these tiny baby steps, still looking like she's seen a ghost or something.
'It—it is you...Jordan...'
Suddenly, when she talks, I remember...something. Nothing real specific, just...something. Her voice saying that name...but in the past. Some other time and place. Somewhere...happy.
'Oh, honey...I thought you were never gonna come visit!'
This lady is hugging me now, and normally I'd be creeped out, but this time, I let her. It's like I said – I'm pretty sure I know her. Knew her. Whatever. This lady is something to me. The only question is...what?!
I'm about to just ask her when she lets go of me, walks over to Big Dogg and looks him up and down, like she's sizing him up for carving or something.
'And you are...?'
Big Dogg's got this goofy-ass grin on his face. 'Michael. Mike.'
The lady holds out her hand. 'Well, Mike, I'm Donna. Miz Rivers if you nasty.'
Big Dogg laughs and shakes the lady's hand. 'If you nasty, I ain't Mike no more. If you nasty, I turn into Big Mike.'
'Oooh....!!' They both laugh again, and I think I'm starting to see what's up. But if Big Dogg thinks he gets to go and boink that lady before I talked to her, he's tripping. I want to know what's up with her and me; and I'm starting to get the feeling maybe that's why we're here in the first place.
By the time this lady takes us to this room where there's a table with cookies and Kool-Aid on it, I know that's what we're here for. She tells me and Big Dogg to sit, but he says he's gonna wait outside. This catches me totally off-guard – I thought he wanted to get in this lady's pants – and I give him this look, but he just shakes his head like, it's fine. I got time. I kind'a grin at him and give him a thumbs-up, and he gives me one back. Then he leaves, and it's just me and this lady sitting in this room by ourselves.
At first, there's this awkward silence, like neither of us wants to be the first to talk. But then I start to feel like I should say something, so I just look around at this room we're in.
'Nice place...what's it, like a school or something?'
The lady, Miss Rivers, laughs. 'Boy, guess it's true what that man told me...you really don't remember nothin'!'
'What do you mean?!'
The lady smiles bigger. 'I mean, you used to know this place inside and out, and now you ain't even know what it is.' I must look real confused, 'cause she gestures around herself. 'This here's the Guardian Angel Home for orphaned children. It's where you grew up.'
Suddenly, I remember something Dad told me a few weeks ago. When he told me...all that other stuff. About how I'd been left outside an orphanage, and the ladies there had liked me so much, they didn't let anybody adopt me. I tell Miss Rivers this, and she starts laughing her ass off.
'Oh, child...it's true. You were like our mascot. Our little angel. We was all your mothers. Down to the last one.'
Her mentioning mothers reminds me of my goal. The goal I fought with Dad about back on that boat a couple of weeks back. The goal that's been keeping me up at night. And suddenly, I get it. Why Dad brought me here. What he's trying to do.
Dude. Dad rocks.
'Oh, child...don't you 'Miss Rivers' me. I'm Momma Donna. I know you're not four anymore, but you was still callin' me that when you left...'
'Sorry, Mi—Momma Donna.' She smiles, and another bit of something comes into my head. 'Anyway, can I ask you something?'
Suddenly, I don't want to ask her; I'm afraid to know the truth.
'So...Dad said I was left here when I was like, a week old or whatever...'
'That's right. Not a day older than two weeks. You was the tiniest little thing....you looked like a jumping bean!'
Momma Donna starts laughing, and it's the kind of laugh that makes you want to laugh, too. I can't get distracted, though; I gotta know this.
'So...when I left...did you see...my Mom? My real one?'
Momma Donna nods. 'Yeah. She was this little blonde girl. Sixteen, maybe seventeen. Wearing these short clothes in the middle of winter 'cause she ain't had nothing else to wear. She had one little suitcase to her name, that was it. No wonder she had to leave you here.'
Suddenly, I feel a great big bubble growing up inside me. 'Did...did you catch her name?!'
Momma Donna shakes her head, and the bubble starts shrinking. 'Didn't have time to. She was in a hurry. She was running away.'
'Running away?' The bubble starts to grow again. 'Running away from what?! Running away to where?!' Suddenly, I have so many questions!
Momma Donna shrugs. 'Dunno. She never told me. Just said she had to go and please take care of her baby.'
The lump begins to grow inside my I'm about to ask the million dollar question, but before I can, Momma Donna pops the bubble for good:
'Don't matter anyhow. She didn't go much of anywhere in the end.'
Suddenly, I'm real cold inside. Real cold.
'She left you with me, and walked out onto the road, right outside here. She was hitch-hiking. This was at night, so there weren't a lotta cars coming through. One did. She got out on the road to flag it down, but it was coming real fast, and swaying. She never stood a chance.'
Suddenly, I want to barf. 'So she...?'
Momma Donna nods, and puts an end to my big plan.
'He ran her over. Died right there and then.' She looks up at me, and I must look as bad as I feel, 'cause she hugs me.
'I'm sorry, honey. Wish I could tell you different.'
She lets go of me, looks me straight in the eyes. 'But hey...least you had a bunch of great adoptive mommas...'
She grins, and it's a real nice grin; tired, but real nice. I grin back.
'If they were all as cool as you, then you bet I did.'
She starts sort of laughing again, but there's tears in her eyes. She looks like she's about to say something, but instead, she just sort of throws herself forward and hugs me again.
And this time, I hug her back.
Rao's, East Harlem, New York City
August 12, 2016 12.30AM
I make it to Rao's just in the nick of time. At first, I have some trouble getting in – you don't just walk into Rao's, you need a reservation – but after a while, somebody in Don Crea's party spots me, and comes over to get me. This turns out to be the man himself, Nicky Horses, who is apparently enough of a bigshot to eat with the boss now, too.
'How you doin', Mistah Falcone? Sorry 'bout that shit earlier. You can never be too careful, know'm'sayin'?'
As we walk towards Don Crea's table, I become sure of one thing: Nicky may have moved up in life, but he is still the same brown-noser he ever was.
As I approach the table, everyone sitting there stops talking and turns to look at me. In the middle is Don Crea, of course, looking older than I remember, but otherwise very much the same. The rest are an assortment of people I remember from back in day, and some new faces who I'm pretty sure used to be mooks. Looks like Don Crea is changing the guard.
'Charlie. Take a seat.' Don Crea gestures to an empty chair which, judging by the look on Nicky's face, used to be his. I sit down, enjoying yet another little victory over the ex-mook, and greet Don Crea in the traditional, Italian way.
'So how you been, Charlie?' Don Crea leans over and stares into my soul. At least it seems that way. 'You seemed troubled on the phone. Everything's okay, yes?'
I nod, but a lump forms in my throat as I do. This is it, Charlie. Moment of truth, buddy.
My voice is barely more than a husk, and I take some wine to help with it.
'Don Crea,' I repeat. 'You know how you told me people thought I'd gone legit?'
Don Crea nods. 'Go on...'
'Well, I...I sort of did. I mean, my last legitimate venture is quite successful, and...'
'...and there's the other thing, too. The fighting. With that boy.'
My jaw drops, but only for a moment. I should have known. Don Crea keeps tabs on his boys – even when they're no longer his boys.
I nod. 'Yes. That.'
'Are you fixing that?'
I shake my head. Don Crea looks disappointed.
'Not even a little gambling on results?'
I shake my head again. 'All straight, Don Crea.'
Don Crea grins. 'You've gone soft, Charlie. But now, I think I know what you came here to tell me...'
His eyes pierce mine, and my heart stops. For the first time, I'm acutely aware of the fact that I'm sitting at a table, unarmed, and surrounded by multiple men with guns. Clearly, I didn't think this through well enough.
Still, no turning back now. I'm already here, and already ass deep in the shit; might as well dive in.
I take the deepest breath I ever took in my life, think of Ryder meeting his surrogate mother, of Izzy waiting at home for her ex-ex-husband.
'Don Crea,' I manage. 'I want out.'
Almost instantly, half a dozen pairs of eyes turn to stare at me. I'm almost certain I hear a gun click somewhere out of sight.
Well, Charlie, you really did it now. At least you've had a good one.
I hope Izzy takes the kid in. I'd hate to see him back out there by himself.
I close my eyes, to avoid Don Crea's piercing ones, lower my head, and wait for the end.
At least it's not going to hurt.
Outside the Guardian Angel Home, Brooklyn, New York City
August 12, 2016 13.30AM
'Where the hell is he?!'
Big Dogg looks at his watch, then back down the road. Still no Dad.
'He should'a been here by now...'
Big Dogg takes out his phone, starts calling Dad.
'Dang! He ain't answerin'!'
He tries two more times, but each time, Dad doesn't pick up. The last time, I can hear it going directly to voicemail.
'DAMMIT BOSS! WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU?!' Big Dogg just about manages not to throw his phone on the floor, he's that worried and mad. I want to say something to make him feel better, tell him it's gonna be all right or something, but the truth is, I'm starting to get worried myself. All the good feeling I got from talking to Momma Donna for the past couple of hours is starting to go away. What good is having a Mom if I ain't gonna have my Dad, too?
Still, I keep telling myself it's gonna be fine, Dad's gonna turn up any minute now. He's just gone to find a sponsor or something. But with every minute that goes by without Dad showing up, I start to believe that less and less.
After about twenty minutes, me and Big Dogg start to lose hope. We start trying to tell ourselves we'll get on just fine, we just gotta stick together, we'll make this work as a family...
...and that's when Dad shows up.
'BOSS!! WHERE THE FUCK WAS YOU?! WHY YOU AIN'T ANSWER YOUR CALLS?!' Big Dogg is almost jumping down Dad's throat, but Dad don't even seem to notice; he just grins up at Big Dogg and me, with this goofy-ass grin, like he gets when he sees his bae.
'Get in, Mike,' he says. 'You're making a scene in public.'
'YOU DAMN STRAIGHT I'M MAKIN' A SCENE,' Big Dogg yells, but already inside the car. 'WHERE THE HELL WAS YOU ALL THIS TIME?!'
'Taking care of business.' Dad grins at Big Dogg and turns to me. 'Did you like your surprise?!'
'Heck yeah! Thanks a bunch, Dadhead!' I lean forward and hug him, and I ain't even care who sees it. Then, almost without thinking, I do something I never saw myself ever doing to another dude – I kiss Dad on the cheek. He gives me this look like he's shocked or something, but just for a second; then, his big goofy grin comes back, and this time, even bigger. It makes me feel good inside; good enough to ask Dad something I've kind of been feeling for a while now.
'Hey Dad...whatever happens at Heatstroke...we're gonna be fine...right?'
He looks at me, but it's almost like he's looking past me, at the skyscrapers or something. When he talks, it's not just for me, either. It's to the whole of the car, the whole of New York, maybe the whole of the universe.
'Yes, Ryder,' he says. 'No matter what happens, we're going to be fine.'
And I believe him.