previous: The Remains of Angelo ch4
“You’ll have to speak to Tommy.” Katie paused to take a sip of her massive Starbucks milkshake. “He can hook you up with whatever you need; money, cops, drugs, all that dark web shit.”
I had brought her the massive overpriced, ‘breakfast’ as a means of apology (or an olive branch.) She was the one with all the power; all the connections, all I had was my word. She sat cross-legged on the bed while flipping through a notebook.
“Is that a check your ass is willing to cash?” The line sounded better in my head.
Katie giggled like a toddler. “Wow, Jeff, you threaten like a white boy.” She closed her book, turning to face me. “Your choices are; put the cafe up as collateral with a bank and risk losing the only thing that Angelo had left to live for, OR put the cafe up as collateral with Tommy, who can and will make things happen.”
“Things?” I asked with my arms crossed. I attempted to maintain my confidence, but I had a feeling my fear was poking through.
“Do you want to meet him or not?”
“What if I say no?”
“Why would you say no?”
“Would you do it yourself?”
“What kind of bullshit question is that?”
“I don’t know, a question for someone who once thought Angelo was a piece of shit?” I knew I had a valid argument. “Even you have to admit the speed of which you went from, ‘Angelo is a dirty old bastard, to ‘Angelo is my savior king,’ is more than little sus.”
“You have no right to use that word.”
“Sus?” It was an internet slang term for ‘suspect’ inspired by a videogame about little spacemen fighting aliens who were very good at blending in.
“You need to check your privilege.” She quickly finished what she was writing, taking a long slurp from her drink.
“Check my privilege?”
“The night I came in here, I’d been running for my life.” She took another sip, finishing the drink before throwing it at my face.
“You’re cleaning that up.”
“I know.” The cup had been mostly empty so there was little to clean other than picking up the cup itself. “I’m used to cleaning up after myself.”
What was that meant to imply? Just because I was born to middle-class white parents meant I was sheltered from all the pain of the world? “You don’t know me.”
“Actually, I do. I was sold to Dragon in a card game, I am her legal property.”
That could not possibly be true. “I don’t think you’re allowed to use the word ‘legal property,’ like ever.”
“Really, white boy?”
“I know what you’re referring to, but I don’t think sex workers are on the same level as…” My head hurt just thinking about it. Was she a victim of sex trafficking? That only happened abroad, right?
Katie shook her head and went downstairs. “You are such a,” she started to mutter profanity in Spanish.
Was it possible she was not an American citizen? She spoke perfect English, but that could have just meant that she’d been taken from her home country at a young age. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“Yes, I would ask Tommy for help.” She threw on an apron and started to open the café, unlocking the door, arranging the drinks, etc. She acted like she was already the new owner. Was that her long-con?
“When? I’m not going without you.”
“I’ll see what I can do. He liked me enough to force Dragon to give me a second chance.” That was how we procured an audience with the man known only as Tommy.
We met up over lunch, at a place that seemed a little out of the way. He had sent what I assumed was an Uber to pick us up from the café.
I was entirely ready to go, when Katie appeared, looking like a pissed-off Barbie doll. “Jeff, what the fuck?”
I was wearing jeans and a very dirty t-shirt, but nothing too revealing or profane. “What? We’re not going anywhere with a dress code, are we?”
Katie groaned as it was far too late to convince me to change. “Crap, the limo is already here.”
“The what now?”
“Just dust yourself off before you take a seat. Try not to embarrass me.” On the drive to the downtown bar, Katie was texting on the phone with someone. Every few seconds she would look up at me and scowl. When we eventually parked, she got out first, taking a moment to stretch her back. “Follow my lead.”
“Yeah, sure.” I stepped out into the crisp clean air of downtown San Francisco. The world was a series of grey buildings; an urban coral reef hiding the secrets within. One door held a daycare, while another held a high-end sandwich shop that specialized in waffle-shaped items. We went up the stairs to a black door with no sign. “Do we need a password?”
Katie paused, turning to me with a look of disbelief. She gave the doors a shove, and suddenly there was a wall of people.
Katie made sure to stand in front of me, navigating the sea of well-dressed businessmen (and women), towards a private bar in the back.
Tommy sat at a table. The older man wore a blue suit jacket, with a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes. “So,” he took a sip of his drink; a dark liquid on the rocks, that smelled of chocolate and cedar. “Katie says you’re in?” the man smiled like a grandfather, or maybe a school counselor. The Kingpin was going out of his way to be approachable.
The bar was crowded, offering us a level of privacy amongst the chaos. I took a seat across from where Katie sat, looking like a high-end prostitute. “In on what?” I briefly asked.
I felt Katie’s leather boot kick me in the leg, followed by a polite smile. I smiled back, nodding in agreement. I figured my friend may have written a check my ass would not be able to cash. And now this was entirely my problem.
Tommy sighed, casually scratching at his facial hair. “My wife’s addiction to sin has caused her to become less the woman I married; something more akin to a rebellious teenager, or dare I say gold-digger. I have goals that will take my organization to the next level, but to even start I need my dear wife out of the picture, while still maintaining her alliances.”
“Are we talking about murder?” I asked with a laugh. There was no way I could be expected to pull off an assassination (especially not against Dragon.)
Tommy nodded, lifting his drink for a toast. “I have nothing but respect for the girl I took off the streets; the mafia princess with an affinity for drugs, but the mind of a genius. I hope you don’t mind I already ordered for you both.” He motioned to two glasses that were already at the table. I let Katie pick first.
I then lifted my drink, a rum and coke with a shot of Jameson. The very smell took my mind to a heavenly place. ‘Ah, yes, he’s talking about murder. Might as well enjoy what little time I have left.’ Suddenly a realization dawned on me. “What about Angelo. Does he have a role in this plan?”
“I have admiration for your friend,” he replied with a genuine smile. “He has how you say, Jesus-like qualities. You know what I mean.”
I looked at Katie for guidance; was this a joke, or was he being serious? Both were likely possibilities. Katie nodded and even held Tommy’s hand. “Tommy actually knew Angelo back when they were kids.”
“You were friends?” I asked curiously, given that I didn’t even know Tommy’s full name.
“We still are.”
“Angelo doesn’t really talk about you.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.
In high school, I always assumed he was an introvert.” Tommy took another sip of his drink, followed by a sip of a much larger, more colorful concoction. “I guess in today’s world he would have been diagnosed as autistic.”
‘Says the guy drinking a 7-11 Slurpee.’ I forced a smile to avoid punching him in the face. “Is that a slushie?”
“Frozen Margarita, actually. I developed a taste for them during my last trip to Las Vegas.”
In that moment I felt a calmness; a connection with this man. He wasn’t calling Angelo crazy or even beneath him. Tommy was just as mental. “Can I get one?”
Tommy nodded. He raised his hat just enough to reveal his face as he looked towards the bar. He lifted one finger, then three, then two. And then he turned back to the table. “I can still remember the first time I invited Angelo to Vegas. We were eighteen, fresh out of high school. This was back when the drinking age was 18, not 21.
“Of course. Someone like you would never break the law.”
“I do believe you have me confused with Angelo. My parents were strict, but they lived by the motto, ‘boys will be boys.’ As the only boy in a family of sisters, I may have used this to my advantage, resulting in my current state of self-image.”
“And Angelo?” I asked, as I scanned the room for any potential food or drinks. In the distance, I saw a cart. It reminded me of something from an airline.
“… just profoundly unhappy.”
“What?” I watched in amazement as the cart presented our order. A geometric platter of meat and cheese, bread, and two frozen margaritas.
“He got in to drugs, to try to fit in with the punk scene; long hair, eye makeup, all that shit. I wasn’t much better.” He took a handful of thin salami, pinching it together like a flower. “So, can I count on you?”
I nodded. (After all what the Hell else was I supposed to do? Intentionally piss him off?)
“Well, I’m certain you wish to be by Angelo’s side,” Tommy said, shaking my hand. “Please finish off our meal, I’ll settle the bill.”
It’s here I’ll tape a copy of the receipt. At first, I wasn’t sure why Tommy felt I needed a copy of the bill that he had already paid for. So, I simply shoved the paper into my pocket before getting into a cab.
On the way to SF General Hospital, I finally took a look at the contents of the document. The first thing I noticed was the total: $345.67.” (Considering how little we ate, that averaged out to over a hundred dollars a person.) This was followed by a signature that no one could copy even if they had a death wish. Below that was a handwritten note. If the double-sided tape holds, you can read it yourself, but just incase you’re having trouble with the handwriting I’m just going to type it out here.
I wanted to tell you this story, but not in front of Katie. It’s not that she doesn’t deserve to know, but this is a story, the details of which I will likely take to my grave.
If you are the partner and friend you appear to be, I implore you to ask Angelo about the last day of our friendship.’
Please don’t be disappointed, I know that was not much of a story. And at first, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to ask about such a topic.
Angelo was still in the hospital. Last I checked, his fever was not stable enough to allow him to be discharged (into the care of myself and Katie.) During that time, he had also suffered a partial stroke, making breathing even more difficult.
His eyes opened, glancing behind the bondage of medical equipment. “Jeff?”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“I want to go home.”
“To die in your own bed?”
Angelo went silent. My words had been admittedly cruel. “Could you stay for a bit?” he asked nervously. “I wrote you a letter.”
“You wrote a letter?” I wasn’t sure why that took me by surprise.
“I’m not as weak as I appear.” His voice quivered as he reached for my hand.
“Yeah, sorry.” What remained of Angelo was strong; his heart, his spirit, everything that I’d fallen in love with.
“Like you said, I still have big dreams of dying in my own bed.” Angelo forced a chuckle. “Anyway, it’s over there.” My partner waved his hand in the direction of a pile of books. The one on the top was a mini-bible, the kind given out for by volunteers looking to do a good deed. I easily located a folded piece of paper that had been placed inside.
I began to read to myself. ‘Dear Jeff,’ the writing was shaky, scratchy, with multiple points of dried blood sweat and tears.
“Please,” Angelo said in a breath, “Read it out loud.” The words he spoke were causing him physical pain.
I want to commit my thoughts to paper in case something happens. Please forgive any grammar issues. For the first few nights I wasn’t sure what I did to piss you off. Part of me actually thought it was the sobriety issue, with Katie being a drug dealer.”
I paused to look at him. I really wanted to believe that was true.
Angelo was gazing up at the ceiling, as if praying for a sign. “I can make her leave, if that’s what you want.”
“No, she’s a good,” my voice quivered unsure of what word came next. ‘Waitress? Chef?’ There was no doubt about her talent and work ethic. “Person. Yeah, she’s a good person. Good for all of us.”
Turning my attention back to the paper, there were several other lines that had been scratched out or partially attempted. The last lines were a struggle, but I could make out the following words, “I will always choose you?”
Angelo had been sobbing but his tears quickly turned to laughter. “I choose you Pikachu. or whatever you call it.”
And now I was laughing. “Don’t act like you’re too good for Pokémon.” It made sense; the plot of Pokémon was a preteen hero traveling with his trusted pet, Pikachu. But each hero was allowed up to six Pokémon. This was because each type had different strengths and weaknesses. Katie could cook, wait tables, was admittedly beautiful. (And of course, there was the access to drugs.) What did I bring to the party?
“I’d be the adult NPC who can’t come home to his family because he lost all his money pimping out his pets to glorified cock fighting matches.”
Some might say those words were the ramblings of a man dying of fever, but he was truly my twin flame. I took a seat on his bed, reaching for his hand. I rested my head on his chest, and in a moment of weakness I asked the question that had burned its way to the front of my mind, “Do you know Dragon’s husband? He says you went to school together.”
Angelo nodded, forcing a grin as his smile visibly faded. “What does he call himself now?”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s a pinball wizard, there has to be a twist. A pinball wizard, got such a supple wrist.” Angelo hummed the rest of the song, the melody taking him back to a time only he could see in his mind’s eye. “I was never a big fan of the movie. Or the musical or the WHO for the matter.”
“Really, now? So, his name isn’t Tommy?”
“His real name has been lost to time.”
I was getting a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Why are you not friends?
“He told you to ask me that?”
He says he still considers you a friend.” Technically Tommy said no such thing, but I had to assume that was why he wanted me to know the truth.
“The trip to Vegas where I blew my savings on a prostitute.”
“That wasn’t my first trip to Sin City.”
“Ok.” Nothing too out of the ordinary.
“I went there with Tommy for his 21st birthday. It was a huge get-together on his daddy’s dime. I wanted so badly to party with a mafia prince, but my parents said no. They were paying for my college tuition, so I had to listen.”
“Is this also the story of why you dropped out of college?” That was another subject I had never had the courage to broach.
It was the first time I tried meth, I got real sick. I think I may have done some shit that I can’t take back. I don’t even know what’s real or what my mind made up in the bowels of my imagination. I know I died. I overdosed, and then I went to prison.”
“Back in Jersey the only real difference was who could post bail.”
“Yeah, well my parents were more than happy to leave my sorry ass in lockup. But ‘Tommy’ he posted my bail and we went on an adventure, that ended with an orgy out in Portland.
“I thought you said you lost your virginity to a prostitute, in your late thirties?” Part of me wanted to get up, to look him in the eyes and ask for clarification.
“That is unfortunately true. Imagine an NPC, but in an orgy.”
The idea caused me to laugh. I had been present at sex parties when one or more individuals simply chose to not participate. I always assumed those people had a voyeurism kink. Now I was stuck with the image of a videogame NPC sitting around waiting for someone to interact with them. I sat up, forcing myself to breathe. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“All I ever did was get wasted. After a year or so I got real sick. What started out as nerve damage turned to a staph infection. I had no money for rehab or to see a doctor. I collapsed on a highway outside of San Diego. My ma flew down to bail my ass out of jail. She said she’d only pay for my release if I committed to rehab.”
“And never left home again,” I assumed. That’s something my mother would have said if it meant she could cure me of my ‘addiction.’
“Yup, and I agreed.”
“How did she know you weren’t lying?”
“I was already so sick; I didn’t have the strength to lie. Plus, Italian mamas have a sixth sense about that kind of shit. Anyway, I dropped out of college, gave up on my dreams.”
“Your dreams?” I suddenly felt incredibly disheartened. “It wasn’t your dream to run your mother’s café?” How did I not know about Angelo’s hopes and dreams?
“I can’t even remember anymore. I think I was an athlete, maybe an artist. I know I used to play guitar. I would write songs during my time in rehab. All I know is after my third attempt at going sober, I just gave up on life. I was the typical man-child living in the basement. Well, the storage room anyway.” Angelo invited me to recline into his loving embrace. “I did menial labor, worked some side jobs.” He held me in his arms, rocking me like a child. “I wanted so badly to move out, maybe live in a trailer park someplace in Arkansas.”
“Low cost of living, easy access to drugs. I figure I could squeak out a living working at a gas station, or maybe Walmart.”
“Do you still want to do that?”
“Do what? Move to Arkansas?”
“We could go on a road trip.”
“A road trip?” Angelo laughed. His voice was deep and strong. “Maybe,” he said in a whisper. you never know.”
“I guess Katie might not like that. Arkansas is pretty close to Missouri.”
“I meant what I said. If she’s in the way, I don’t need her.”
“She’s not in the way.” I leaned in close, moving my lips to his. I could feel the quivering of his breath. Taking the oxygen mask off was a bad idea, but he wanted to kiss me and I needed (so badly) to kiss him.
I could feel his body under the blanket. His muscles were tight, tense. I reached for his hand, as I climbed into bed. “Do you love her?”
“Only if you do.” Angelo bit my lower lip, pulling me closer, for a deep intense kiss.
At first, it was difficult for me to understand what he meant. And then, after a moment of contemplation, I felt tears in my eyes. He loved Katie like a friend, a daughter, but I was the one who he lived for. “I love you.”
Before he could say it back, I felt a pair of arms locking me in handcuffs. “Fucking tweakers,” muttered a very aggressive cop. This was not an ordinary security guard; nope, someone had called the police.
I was kicked out of the room, dragged down the hall to a staff elevator, and before I knew it, I was in the backseat of a police car. “Oh, come on! Are you serious?” I groaned.
We have multiple reports of you violating a trespassing order.”
“I’m banned from General Hospital?”
“As a visitor. If you come in on a stretcher that’s a whole different story, which can’t really be helped.”
“Ok, thanks.” ‘Because that makes all the sense in the world.’ I knew I was screwed. I had no money and my only asset was my car. Unless whoever wanted me kicked out decided to be kind enough to not press charges. ‘No, of course not.’
I was taken in for processing; photo, uniform, all that shit. This wasn’t my first rodeo.
“Prisoner B4256!” shouted the man behind the desk. Clearly, this was fun for him. “Check your damn packets people, who is B4256?”
‘Packets?’ It took me a second to realize that was my new name. “Sorry, sir! B4256, right here.” I got up, and was escorted in the direction of the showers. And then I wasn’t.
I was handed off to a smaller female. She had the face of a grandmother with the smile of a cougar. She led me outside, unlocking my cuffs when we were far enough from the main gate. “You’re lucky, you know that,” the woman stated in her firm but kind accent.
Katie stood there with a taxi waiting. She greeted the officer with a hug. “Valerie, you look so good!” They exchanged kisses like elderly women from southern Italy while I sat in the backseat.
Katie entered the front seat. She placed her hand upon the driver’s hand. that was when I noticed the hat; Tommy’s hat. I had made a powerful new friend.
Katie and I were dropped off at the café. She stayed downstairs while I rushed for the shower. I tore off my clothing, peeling away layers of dirt and sweat. I was already making plans to masturbate in Angelo’s bed, our bed.
I made sure to grab a t-shirt that I knew belonged to him. Since we had no laundry machine, we took our clothes down to a laundromat once a week (when possible.)
“You smell like ass.” I stroked the fabric down my body. Wrapping it around myself. The sweat, the dirt, it felt like his skin. For a moment I shut my eyes. In my mind, Angelo was there. He was grabbing me, touching me; with all the strength of his hands, his mouth, his desire.
I was so hard, my body desperate for release. I couldn’t have moved even if I wanted to.
That was when Katie spoke from the doorway. “Hey, Jeff.”
“I can help you with that.”
“In exchange for what?”
With little choice, I allowed her to get on top of me.