Ghosts

At few ticks past 10 pm, Jay-B made the right off Main Street and tucked the Range Rover into a string of red tail-lights waiting for a superyacht styled after a military submarine[i], flying the red, white and blue of the Stars and Stripes and the Russian and Bermuda flags, to pass under the elevated section of the Roosevelt Island Bridge. Its glide south traced by the powerful searchlight of the NYPD liveried “Ghetto-Bird” Bell 429 light, twin-engine helicopter hovering above us, which, distorted by the incessant rain, poked out of the starless night like a heavenly beam.

As we waited Jay-B fielded one text and then another and then a flurry.

As his text conversation wore on his mood darkened and he started to unconsciously and repetitively pound his thighs with the heel of his fists, mumbling at the rain splattered windshield: “Jugar con fuego es peligroso. Jugar con fantasmas es una locura”  

And then he crossed himself and turned a wafer-thin smile on me, but his worries got the best of it and it landed as a frown “I think God makes the night to hide evil.”

And just in case I’d missed his point he warned that “stories like Monica’s end en tragedia, Degas. “

“We have to outwit and outlast our tragedies to get to the happy-ending,” I replied to the East River as the elevated section of the bridge slowly slid down to level with the road and the superyacht slipped out to sea.

“Nah, you have to see Maria at Paradise Spa in Washington Heights and tip her $40.”

I reached inside for a snigger, but there was nothing left — I was all sniggered out. So, I forged a little irony: “That’s nice.”

Nahhh. Eso es real,” he said nonchalantly, as if ‘real’ explained and excused everything.

And he put the Range Rover into gear.

And we finally pulled away pacing the traffic rolling west over the bridge towards Gotham City.


“Real bastardized that way is a horrible little word like its sibling’s destiny and fate used to explain that shit has to be a certain way because it already is.  And shit happens because it was meant to be.  And that one fuck-up leads inexorably to another fuck-up because it went that way before. And things can never get better, so we should leave them the fuck alone.”   I said, gift-wrapping my vitriol in a velvet whisper. “So, Kunt is really the President of the United States because it was his fucking destiny to win, even though he lost the popular vote by a five times greater margin than any President in history,[ii] and my destino is to be robbed of my inheritance, even though it’s far less than Beatriz is due --- If that’s the real, I don’t want any part of it. I choose to believe reality is an endless series of paintings that improve as we get better with the brush!”


Evidently, Jay-B found my uncharacteristically optimistic polemic inspiring as he took his hands off the wheel to applaud. Then he roiled a blunt steering the next few hundred yards with his knees.

We splashed off the bridge right onto Vernon Blvd, passing the Ravenswood Generating Station AKA “Big Allis,” which burns 3,264,000 gallons of cheap, dirty, nitrogen oxide-sulfur dioxide-carbon dioxide-methane-particulate matter polluting, number 6 fuel oil a year.  The power plant generates more than 20% of New York City’s energy supply, and is the largest carbon polluter in New York state, causing the residents of the drab pre-war housing projects on the opposite side of the street increased respiratory illness, higher asthma rates, and the highest rate of emergency room visits in New York City.[iii]

We retraced our steps turning left onto Queens Plaza South and left again onto the Upper Roadway of the Queensboro Bridge with its sweeping views of the incandescent city, before peeling off onto the FDR drive, which was stop and go, which rocked me gently to sleep.

When I woke up, we were parked by a fire hydrant on Thayer Street outside the Mi Nido Taverna in the heart of Inwood, a 75% Latino neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan, a long way from Co-op City.

I knew the bar well.

I’d represented it and its founder/owner/manager Johnny Caro, a white-haired, rotund, gentleman-hustler type, since 2013, volleying or settling the various charges that came our way — illegal gambling, selling alcohol to minors, and denying access to New York’s Finest during several large and brutal altercations.

We were scheduled to meet again the next Tuesday January 24th at a hearing in front of Community Board 12, which was gearing up to deny Caro’s On-Premises Liquor License renewal application, which didn’t explain this evening’s visit.[iv], [v]

Before I had a chance to pop the question Jay-B, lifting the 12-bottle stacker-pack of Dox Rox off the back seat, explained dryly that there had been: “A last minute change of plans.”

And: “We had to make an unscheduled stop.”

And: “There’s someone inside you need to meet.”

He left the who and why hanging.  So, I left it there.

He paid José Vásquez, a crackhead ex-cop, snitch and odd-job man, with less teeth than he had fingers (and he’d lost two of those to a dealer he’d short changed) $10 to look after his car, which he left, flashers on, parked at the hydrant.

The rain beat hard against the sidewalk, but it felt very fresh on me as I followed Jay-B inside.

The bar was long, thin and dim and made longer and thinner by a mirror that stretched across its haunches and was lightly populated.

A row of brothel red lamps ran the length of a bottle-rich bar, flooded with community fliers’ way beyond their sell-by date and old signs with yellow-brown nicotine-stained edges that aged the bar with dendrological certainty like rings of a tree.

The room reeked a dark musky weed/nicotine blend, but the No Drogas banner above the bar, tenacity, and Caro’s regular tributes to the 34th Precinct had kept the license current despite the violations.

An old LCD TV sat on top of the door pumping Noticiero Telemundo 47 news.

The lead story was me.

CNN reporter Jim Acosta had asked Kunt whether I was his step-brother?

The President had answered, so unequivocally that I almost believed him, “No.”

But Acosta persisted: “So Monica Rivera’s story is inaccurate?

“What a stupid question. The story is a total fabrication. Fake-news!! A hoax” Kunt had responded, bowing hard.

“So, you did not disinherit Elia Degas?”

And Kunt lost it, yelling “That’s enough. That’s enough. That’s enough. That’s enough.  That’s enough. That’s enough.  Put down the mic. I’ll tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN.”

Finally, as an intern stretched towards him to snatch the mic away, Acosta lobbed a grenade: “But, the fact is that Elia’s mother, Beatriz, worked for your father, and that the Kunt organization has been paying her off for years?”

And Kunt walked off stage in a huff.

Eva, the-bottle blond with the thick, red, tough-luck but-still-a-smile behind the bar was first to applaud me.

Then Elvis, a former sanitation worker who propped up the bar every Friday from open to close and seldom ate because he’d “He Visto suficiente SHIT para toda una vida” joined in.

And the pool players joined in chanting: “Hola señor presidente, ¿queremos saber por qué eres tan Kunt?”

At the front of house, Caro came to wrap his arms around us, with glass of Brugal in each paw.

“Degas, pronto serás TOO RICH para trabajar. ¡TOO RICH para representarme, y tendremos que cerrar!”  And then he switched to musing on his favorite topic, Johnny Caro, his place in the world and his own mortality. “Some nights, I look over to the end of the bar where my Papi used to sit, and I think that I don’t want to die in that chair.  Degas, if we fail on Tuesday, I’ll walk out not owing anyone any money and with a little bit tucked away to go play with —- Perhaps it’s time.”

As the question was loaded in that if I agreed with him he’d assume I had given up on the fight for his license and if I disagreed I’d be deemed unsympathetic, I let it alone and raised my glass. And they met it.

We talked a little about my fight, without naming names, and a little about Robert Ramos, who Caro said was missing, but I didn’t contribute much or confide anything that wasn’t public knowledge, because information is a two-way street.

Then Caro excused himself, a little more hurriedly than felt natural, and I rested my back on the bar anticipating the worst and hoping for a bit better than that, as wild ba-ba-ba horns introduced ‘Santa Bárbara’ AKA  ‘Que Viva Changó,’  Celia Cruz’s, Johnny Pacheco produced  homage to Shangó, a drama told over a ragged salsa beat made of  bata drums, hand-slaps, cow bells, and Shekere rattles.

A few moment later, Jose Diaz[vi] a filthy cop from the 3-4 Precinct who would do almost anything for the piece of your pie and a crate of Johnny Walker Blue Label arrived, flanked by Lady-cop Michelle Dowd and Man-cop Denny Tyrell, puffing on a 7-inch Montecristo Churchill cigar, breathing fire.

Once upon a time Edwin Rivera and Jose Diaz were patrol partners at the 5-0 and friends, but Jose had ripped Edwin off in a deal, effectively ending the relationship and ensuring his transfer to the 3-4.  I knew the pig through his extortion of Caro.  Jay-B knew Diaz worst of all as Diaz was the superior officer he’d paid to look the other away and yet betrayed him having decided to take Jay-B’s franchise himself.

Diaz tossed the cigar away and brilliant red sparks flared for a moment as it skidded across the floor, took his nightstick from his belt, rubbed his testicles with it, and then swaggered along the bar, batting bottles, glasses and Elvis off it with an instinctive wristy flick.

At the end of the room he checked his scowl in a peeling mirror, asked the pool players to leave, ordered Tyrell to “shut up shop”, raised the service hatch, and walked slowly back along the inside of the bar beating his nightstick against the back wall to brutalize the liquor bottles.

He stopped facing us, burrowed his butt into the barmaid’s lap, and farted loudly. She winced, but she already knew enough about monsters to know to grin and bear it — this one wasn’t just playing animal.

“Bueno, esta es una gran puta reunión,” he snarled. “An ex-partner I fucked every which way but loose before I screwed his bitch up orifices I’d previously just read about and a triple parenthesis attorney who’s been running all over my town hassling my associates. And the best part of it is that I’ve got them all chillaxing with their hands in the air like they really don’t care that their ribs are unprotected.”

He leaned across the bar, put one stub fingered paw on the wood for balance, and without changing his expression, slammed his nightstick into Jay-B’s chest. The jab traveled a few inches very fast, and with three hundred pounds behind it Jay-B’s ribs cracked loudly, like dry twigs. He doubled up, coughed some blood, but he wouldn’t go down. He had too much pride for that.

Once a pussy with a big stick, always a pussy with a Gran palo,” Jay-B spat back through the pain.

Diaz leaned right into Jay-B’s face, his left hand still on the desk, his right hand tapping the nightstick on the bar top restlessly, like it had places to go, people to meet.

He spread a wide smile over his plaquey nicotine stained teeth. “I used to like fair fights but I’m getting too slow to block the counter punches; so now I like my brutality nice and neat and defenseless.”

He snorted, dragging phlegm deep from his chest to his mouth and chewed on it thoughtfully. Then he spat it out over Jay-B’s face.

Jay-B leapt forward but Diaz stick stopped him cold and he flopped to the floor.

Then he turned to me.

“Stay out of our business.”

“Which business is that Diaz? The Presidency business?  The inheritance business?  The extortion business? Or do we have business I’m not aware of, yet?” I said through a smile, to provoke him away from brutalizing Jay-B further.

“You’re laughing now fool.”

“Bueno, soy un tío con suerte.. I like to look on the bright side — you already used your stick, your spite and your flatulence, maybe you don’t have anything left.”

Diaz shrugged and walked around the bar to face me with his Glock 17 Gen4 9mm automatic pistol in one gloved hand and a crack vial in the other.

He was grinning.

He’d met reckless men before. If there was an advantage to be gained in killing them, he’d make arrangements, otherwise he preferred to let them live and suffer.

He pushed the crack-vial against my right paw then he dropped it in my coat pocket and then ordered Dowd to order me to put my hands up and empty my coat pockets.

Dowd did as she was told, giggling.

Diaz shrugged as if to say, ‘look no hands,’ rocked back on his heels, and barked at Tyrell: “Cuff him nice and tight and book him.”

Tyrell spread his lips into something wide, which could have been a smile, or just about anything malicious, and clamped the cuffs around my wrists, tightly.

He started to push me roughly towards the door, but stopped, looking lost.

“What are you waiting for, Tyrell?”

“What’s the charge?” he said doubtfully, like he knew he was supposed to know the answer to those types of questions.

“I don’t give a fuck. Narcotics possession sounds good. Resisting arrest has a nice ring to it. Assault sounds best of all. But, if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, pull his pants down around his ankles and charge him with indecent exposure. You’re a goddamn cop; I was told you were a good one. Good cops use their imagination. Just get him out of here, charge him with something, tenderize him, and deliver him to the criminal court a changed man with a brand-new disposition.”

“I guess you don’t read Miranda warnings anymore,” I said for the hell of it, as Tyrell resumed my arrest.

“Rights are hard to come by, and in the hell, we’re taking you to, you’re not going to need them.” Diaz smiled nicely with that, like he was certain.


The trouble with cops is they make a career out of an occupation which doesn’t have much of an upside if you play it straight.  They may start off enforcing the law and order, but eventually they start improvising to make it work better for their children and their children’s children.  And sooner or later they end up with a rule book of their own.My best idea is that we should all take turns being coppers for a couple of years, to see how we look from the outside, to give us more knowledge of the laws we do have, should have, and shouldn’t have. But, I didn’t see any point in telling Diaz my big idea, because I thought he liked the law business just the way it was.So, I gave him a little piece of the rest of my mind.


“You’ve done me a favor Diaz. It was getting so that I couldn’t see the good wood from the bad trees. But then you burst in here, smacked my friend around while he had his hands above his head, slipped a vial of crack into my pocket, and gave me a whole new reason for living and getting what’s mine. I still don’t know if my client’s any good or where this case is going to take me, but I do know there’s a rich vein of evil that leads from Kunt to Cohn to Shangó to the GPU to you and a lot of Bad Seeds and that I’m the Bastard that’s going to bring you all down.”

It was a lot to say in cuffs and Tyrell put a stop to it with a rabbit punch to my solar plexus.

Tyrell’s reward was a smile so grotesquely corpulent that it enveloped Diaz face all the way to his trim, slim brows.

He tucked his pistol back in its holster.

Swapped it for another cigar.

Bit off the end.

Spat it at me.

He was getting ready to slap me around when we saw a ghost and a ghost’s companion — Monica commanding the doorway in a full length collarless white cashmere coat wearing a hollow-point snarl, next to a bombshell in a red ball-gown that looked every bit the $130,000 she was rumored to have been paid by Kunt for her silence.

“Jose,” Monica said with disarming familiarity, “Uncuff Degas. Go back to the precinct. Turn in your badge.  Take your goons with you.  If anyone asks you why you quit?  Tell them that you tripped over God on your hustle. If Shango tries to persuade you to stay in his game, tell him you retired. If he won’t take no for an answer, tell him you put your finger up my pussy before it had the opportunity to acclimatize itself to dick.  If he causes you harm?  Who gives a fuck because there are certain people I’ve marked for death for having abused me, and you are number one with a bullet.”

Dowd looked at Tyrell, who looked to Diaz, who shrugged, nodded his acquiescence and they left like lambs.

“Degas” Monica said brightly, without a care in the world.  “Meet Stormy.  She needs a good attorney, and I chose you.”

“Pleased to meet you Mister Degas,” she whispered breathily like she’d just left the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. “Technically, it is my job to get dicks to grow — which I have a pretty good record of doing judging by my long career in the porn industry.  Although, it seems that on this occasion that we scared them away.”[vii]

I smiled.

Stormy smiled.

Monica smiled, but her heart wasn’t in it.

Jay-B spat, dragged himself up, and sat himself down at a table at the back of the bar.

I followed him, and they followed me.

The barmaid followed us.

Nobody said anything for a while, so I walked over to the juke box and played ‘Santa Bárbara’ again, so that Celia could make a point for me — that Shangó lives.

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