Dougie sells loose joints. $10 a piece. No bags. This way he can hide most of his stash behind a brick in Furman’s Alley. This way he can eat the rolled stuff on him in a pinch.
I do not have that kind of business head.
I watch for Dougie. He throws me a couple of dollars every night or sometimes some weed. He is like a big brother to me, even though he is a lot younger than me.
I sit on a hydrant at the corner just across the street. He tells everyone that he has the corner office on B and 6th Street, right near the lamppost. I watch for the uniforms and for other dealers, like Sammy. That’s why Dougie calls me Eyes. My job is to whistle when problems are coming, problems like Sammy.
I been on Avenue B a long time. People know me. I do odd jobs for them, too. I’m big so I can do things. Sometimes a lock needs to be broken, or a window. People ask me to go with them, maybe to the pawn shop or to their cousin who owes them $50. Sometimes I break stuff. Sometimes I have only to stand there and look unhappy to do my job. Sometimes I drive. I drive pretty well even though I do not have a license.
Anyway, I used to work for Sammy, until he got arrested last year. He was out on bail, and before he went away for a while to Rikers, he came back to beat me up, but good. Then I went away for a while. But I come back. I always come back.
One night, Dougie is not on the corner by 11 as usual. I do not know where he is. I do not know where he lives or even his last name. I do know that Dougie wants me to be on the corner by 11 pm, before he gets there. I am always there on time. I have a watch. My mom gave it to me in high school as a graduation present even though I did not graduate.
Dougie always eventually shows up. He never looks at me. He just looks for his customers and the undercover guys. I look for the uniforms. That’s the deal. Like I say, he gives me $25.
When Sammy comes back again, Dougie does not show.
“Hi, Eyes,” he says. He stands real close to me.
“’Sup,” I say. I think I should leave but then Dougie might show.
“Long time no see,” Sammy says.
I do not say nothing and look away. I think maybe Sammy is still mad at me, so I do not look at him.
“What am I a fuckin' dog that you don’t look at me when I talk to you, Eyes? Huh?” he says.
I turn. “Sorry, Sammy. I’m keeping an eye out. You know. … that’s …that’s my job. You know the third shift makes its first run just before midnight.”
“Course I know that, Eyes. Course I fuckin know that. That’s when they got me last year. Remember, Eyes?”
I remember but I do not say nothing.
Right on time, the third shift cops come round and their car slows to a crawl as they turn our corner.
“Hey, look who’s back from the hole,” the cop on the passenger side says. “Sammy. It’s so good to see you back breathing fresh air, you little shit.”
Sammy looks away.
So do I.
“I’ll bet your asshole is wide enough to pass a fucking Dodge Caravan now, eh? No constipation problems for Sammy.” The cops laugh.
Sammy does not say nothing.
“Eyes,” the cop says to me. “You should get the fuck out of here if you know what’s good for you.”
Then the other cop, the one driving, cranes his head towards the passenger side window and says, “Little Sammy has a temper. Don’t you Little Sammy?”
The first cop gets out of the car, which is now stopped in the crosswalk and people are trying to walk around it to get to the other side—all Dougie’s potential customers.
I recognize him, the cop, Sullivan. He even lives in the neighborhood. I see him in the bodega in the afternoon sometimes.
Sammy walks away now, pulling his Bulls cap down, his head hunched forward and his hands in his pockets, close to his ribs. I think maybe Sullivan is going to pinch him but he doesn’t. He stands with his hands on his hips and watches Sammy walk off, with a look on his face like he thinks Sammy is a loose dog.
“Keep walking, Sammy,” the cop, Sullivan says. He turns to me. “Whataya gonna do, Eyes?”
“Whataya mean?” I say.
“Dougie’s not coming back.”
“Ever?” I say.
“Ever,” he says.
“I don’t know,” I say.
“You should take care, Eyes,” Sullivan says as he opens the door and slides back into the car. “Sammy’s not the forgivin type.”
I do not say nothing.
Sullivan’s voice changes a little. It gets softer, not like a cop. “We could take you to a shelter,” he says.
“I’m not goin to no shelter.”
“Suit yourself, Eyes,” he says. “But the way I see it, you’re outta business here. Sammy’s not gonna hire you. But he might throw you a beating. Bad.”
I put my hands in my jacket pockets. “It’s chilly,” I say. “I’m heading out.”
The cops say nothing. I hear voices crackle over their radio as I walk away.
Well, I know where Dougie keeps his stash. Loose brick behind the garbage cans at No. 7 Furman Alley. I go there to grab what I can. Dougie is not coming back. I figure he’d want me to have it. Or I could hold it for him if that cop is lying.
As I bend down to pull out the baggies, someone grabs a nice chunk of my hair and yanks me up like a fucking ragweed. I have grey hair but it’s long and straight and people seem to like it. I was in a band years ago. I like my hair but the trouble is it can be pulled and that really hurts.
“So, you are just as loyal to Dougie as you were to me,” the guy says. It is Sammy. He yanks my hair some more and my hands automatically go up to my head to try to ward him off, but it’s no use. I’m a big guy but he’s a lot younger than me and catches me by surprise. Then I see the steel in his hands.
I drop the baggies.
“What are you talking about, Sammy?”
“You. Grabbing Dougie‘s stash and him not even two hours dead.”
“Dougie’s dead?” I say. I do not believe this.
“Don’t fuck with me. The cops told you.”
“They said he’s not coming back. That’s all.”
“Dougie tried to take my business, Eyes. Nobody does that. Don’t play retard with me, Eyes. I don’t go for it. You’re a fuck-up, pure and simple.”
“Do not call me that,” I say.
“Retard,” he says. “Fuck up,” he says. Then he yanks me some more, so hard that I fall the ground. He lets me go.
“I had to suck a lot of cock in Rikers because of you. Know that, Eyes?”
I do not say nothing. For a second I want to laugh. The idea of him sucking cock is funny. But I say, “Sammy, it was a mistake. I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to get sent up. I didn’t see the cops. There was a big crowd of tourists in a bunch. The cops popped out from behind.”
He snorts at me.
“I didn’t want you to suck cock,” I say. “I mean unless you like it."
“What?” he says. He moves in close again, like before on the corner. “Shut the fuck up.”
I wake up with a big ugly face in my face. Then it pulls back. It’s a guy wearing white and the tag on his shirt says Melvin Dupre, R.A.
“You awake?” he asks.
“You’re a lucky dude, George Kasic.”
“Uh huh,” I say. I’m lying in a bed with clean white sheets, better than I’ve had in a long time. There are three other people in beds in the room. One guy, the one next to me, is looking at me and Melvin. The other two, I don’t know. Sleeping maybe.
Melvin latches some bag of water or something to a metal post attached to my bed. From the bag is a plastic tube that goes to a thing on my hand. I twist my hand and it hurts a lot. I wince.
“Don’t move too much, Lucky,” Melvin says.
“I don’t feel so lucky,” I say. My chest is hurting.
“Four punctures, George Kasic. You can’t drive any more,” he says, laughing.
I blink to get my eyes adjusted.
“You know what the aorta is,” Melvin asks me.
“Is that a disease?” I ask.
“No,” he says. He wraps this grey pouch around my arm and starts pumping it up with air, so much that it hurts.
“Okay. Okay. I’m finished taking your blood pressure,” Melvin says. The air goes out of the pouch. “The aorta is a big blood vessel and yours is still working despite the best efforts of your friend to find it. You’re lucky the cops followed him. Otherwise, you’d have never gotten here in time. You’d be in the morgue, in the basement, waiting for no one to claim you.”
“Bellevue, baby. Where the poor and indigent get dropped off, sometimes dead, sometimes not so dead—like you. Free medical care.”
“Can I leave?” I say.
Melvin laughs out loud. “Sure,” he says.“If you can get up.”
I try. It is true. I can barely raise my arms up from the bed.
Melvin starts moving away. “I have to check on your roommates now. I’ll see you in a couple of hours. Welcome back to planet earth, George Kasic.”
Three months later, I finally get back to Avenue B. It’s just like I left it.
There’s a guy named Bobby selling. I go see him.
“You’re the old dude with the hair… from the newspaper story a few months ago. With Sammy,” he says.
He tilts his head to one side like he is thinking about whether I could do the job. “The guy… that faggot Sammy couldn’t kill you, right? Stabbed you like a Christmas turkey.”
“I need a good luck charm. Can you whistle loud?”
I whistle. It’s something I am good at.
He covers his ears.
Then he smiles. “Go sit on the hydrant and watch for heat, Lucky,” he says.
And I do. I sit. I watch. I think, Lucky? Okay by me.
Photo by Luis Peralta
Vito J. Racanelli is working on a book of short stories and a novel, Ustica: The Gladio Plot, a thriller. He writes for Barron’s, and his work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the San Francisco Examiner, the Atlanta Journal/Constitution and the Newark Star Ledger. From 1994-1997, he was the bureau chief for the Associated Press-Dow Jones news agency in Milan. He lives in New York with his wife.
“Eyes” was written in the Crime Fiction Academy workshop at the Center for Fiction.
This story was published in Issue 9 of The Literarian.