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"Don’t Mention His Name, And His Name Will Pass On
- Part 7"
Title: Don’t Mention His Name, and His Name Will Pass On—Part 7 of 8
Author: Virginia Plain
Genre/Pairing: Mike/Peter (TV, but I did cheat and slip in one real-life guy)
Rating: overall NC-17 (this part R for some sleaze… and an ethnic slur)
Warnings: slash, language (includes an ethnic slur), angst, sleaze
Disclaimer: This story is purely the result of my imagination (which should probably worry me), and not at all any claim to ownership of these TV characters or their real-life counterparts.
Summary: This chapter—trying to go it alone… and failing miserably.
Author's Note: Probably old news, but just in case: the Beatles’ early US albums had different tracks and sometimes different titles and covers from their UK ones.
~ FEBRUARY 1964 ~
Mike did not venture out to 42nd Street or Times Square for the rest of the week. When he eventually woke up from his stupor, he accepted that he had to get some money or eat one of his shoes for dinner.
Yet he did not take his usual path to Midtown. Instead he turned northeast and trekked up to Spanish Harlem. The change in venue had its drawbacks. The place gave West 84th Street stiff competition in the going-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket civic sweepstakes. And many folks there didn’t exactly have cash to burn on luxuries like paid fucks, a reality reflected in his paltry takings.
On the other hand, the language barrier wasn’t too bad. Plenty spoke English, or a hybrid of sorts. He already knew a few popular insults within the Puerto Rican community. “Son of a milkman” was a great favorite around here, for some reason.
He was also a good distance from his old patch. Far enough not to bump into anyone he didn’t want to.
Far enough that none of his former customers or fellow tradesmen would have a chance to guess that ol’ Wool Hat had proved as much a fool for love as the next fool, and was therefore past his shelf life.
~ MARCH 1964 ~
Mike started wondering if he should move his residence as well as his business. Not to the same place, of course; it was another unwritten rule that you never let johns know where you lived. Didn’t want them forming weird fixations on you or showing up on your doorstep at inconvenient moments.
Peter said he wouldn’t come back here. God, I hope he meant it.
But the longer hours were getting to be a real drag. With pickings so slim, and facing understandable suspicion as a white guy who wasn’t a cop, he had to do even more pounding of the pavement in Spanish Harlem than in his old haunts. Sometimes he went for days without seeing his flat; it wasn’t worth it heading back only to turn right around again. At least each time he did make it back, the building was still standing and waiting for him.
Yeah, he meant it—but only because he wanted me to go with him. To stay with him and be with him.
And each time he thought about moving, that was what stopped him: he’d held onto this place too damn long and in defiance of even longer odds to give it up. Or, if he were going to give it up, then he needed a far better reason than just fleeing some dumb kid’s deluded puppy love…
It wasn’t just puppy love. He’s not a kid. He’s a man who really saw me, saw everything I hate in myself, everything that would let him down, and he still loved me.
Nobody could be with him. Not him, the lone ranger who fought all his own battles and would make it on his own, the stubborn cuss who looked out for number one and answered to nobody. There was no room in Mike’s life for other people and their demands on his time and attention, their whining and weakness, expecting him to solve their problems and clean up their messes.
Peter, Peter… Why couldn’t you have just hated me and saved yourself a world of trouble?
No room for a person who would forever trust him to be a better man than he was.
And that’s why I had to walk. Not for me. For him. And that’s why, this time, it’s gonna be so much easier to stay away.
~ APRIL 1964 ~
A new LP appeared in shop windows: the Beatles’ second album, creatively titled… The Beatles’ Second Album. Some of the dozen or so photos on the front sleeve were a bit weird—why did they keep cutting off half the Beatles’ faces? Of course, the halves they retained prominently featured the notorious hair. And the tagline was modest enough: “the world’s most popular foursome.” Mike tried hard to work up all the scorn he could find for such overblown hype, yet he still found himself going into a record store and attempting to give the album a spin in its free listening booth, hoping to hear some funny chords.
He was chased out of the store after getting into a loud argument with the manager, who insisted that the booth was meant only for listening to singles, not full LPs.
Sometimes, though, he passed open windows with radios inside that carried tunes on a spring breeze. He heard snatches of songs helpfully identified by the DJs as being from the new album. One of them he recognized from the Ed Sullivan shows: “She Loves You.” Others he recognized because they were by the early giants like Chuck Berry. One he didn’t recognize at all and hoped he never heard again:
“I call your name, but you’re not there…”
He tried to shut his ears against the neutral pronouns and his eyes against the memory of Peter standing by the subway stairs, calling after him. He saw himself as one of those owners who, for whatever reason, decides it’s best to give old Spot his freedom and drive the dog out to empty country. You tell the dog to sit by the side of the road and wait for you to come back, and you drive away… knowing you’ll never come back. And because dogs are stupid enough to offer unconditional devotion, you know the mutt will just sit there and wait for you, till the end of days.
“Was I to blame, for being unfair…”
What he felt was sure as hell not guilt. Why feel guilty? He’d done the right thing: set Peter free to forget about this strange, regrettable little interlude and settle back into the path of a normal life with normal things like friends and chicks. Maybe Mike could do the same himself, eventually. Someday, perhaps, he’d finally establish himself as a musician—some kind of musician, somehow—and he’d give up the life and marry a nice gal and raise a brood of brats like all good Texas boys should.
“I can't sleep at night, but just the same…”
Peter would be fine. Sooner or later, he’d figure out that he was free. He’d understand that he was better off than he ever would have been with Mike dragging him down. The old saying warned: get carried away by puppy love and you’ll be doomed to lead a dog’s life. Mike had spared Peter all that.
“…I never weep at night, I call your name.”
But through it all he at last began to get some glimmer of insight into why people craved punishment from strangers: it was easier than telling the one you hurt that you were sorry. Nothing else explained the voices in his fitful sleep that sometimes tormented him with the unanswerable question:
Would it have been kinder to shoot the dog?
Aw, screw it. And screw the Beatles. Just a bunch of hair and hype. They don’t know anything. They aren’t… anything. And I, for one, don’t need ‘em.
~ MAY 1964 ~
By now Mike had a new name, bestowed by his new colleagues: El Hueso. “The Bone.” It wasn’t just a reference to his unhealthy pallor or concave stomach, or even to his above-average equipment. Bones were breakable, and word was slowly getting around the street network of Spanish Harlem that the tall, glowering white guy was a hard one who could break you—figuratively—if that was your scene.
His earnings still rarely rose above subsistence level, but any earnings at all were a kind of triumph. He felt vindicated for making the move to new turf: Wool Hat and his weakness were unknown here, but El Hueso represented the exotic lure of something darkly different and retained the edge to back it up.
If anything, he’d acquired even more of an edge. He knew now that anyone who paid him to insult and humiliate them must have hurt someone who loved them. They deserved whatever punishment he doled out, and if he exhausted the power of invective like huelebicho and maricon then he’d switch to English. If the john didn’t understand a word, it only drove him to greater heights of outrageousness.
By the time he had to get down to the actual chore of sticking it to them, his mind was often in a different place… as if he were stepping outside of himself and watching some other unsmiling, too-skinny storm cloud of retribution go through the motions. He seldom remembered the physical contact. But the words, every poison syllable, stayed with him. They echoed in his sleep.
As El Hueso built up his brand, the inevitable day came to retire the old one. Mike took off his hat, no longer needing it to help him stand out on these streets, no longer wanting its reminders of the vulnerable human being it had once marked, shielded, and betrayed.
He stood by a dumpster, arm extended over its stinking maw, the green hank of wool dangling by its pom-pom pinched between his index finger and thumb. The top bits of his hair started falling into his eyes, stirred by a spring breeze. Another voice, warm and deep, called to him in the faintest of echoes.
“Keep it on… It’s kind of cute… I like it... I probably shouldn’t, but I can’t help it…”
He rolled up the hat into a ball and stuffed it deep into one of his pockets. Maybe the next time he put himself through the ordeal of going to the laundromat, he’d just happen to forget to take it out first… and after a bath of hydrochloric acid-grade detergent, and a spin through a dryer set at volcano-level heat, it would be torn apart, thread by thread, through no provable fault of his own.
~ JUNE 1964 ~
The World’s Fair had opened in Queens a couple months ago, and Mike had greeted it with a yawn. Just more hype, not worth his time and definitely not worth his money. The promoters called it ridiculous stuff like “the Olympics of Progress” and claimed the extravaganza would demonstrate how technology (American technology, of course) would improve everyone’s lives and solve all the world’s problems.
Yeah, right. Between the Upper West Side and Spanish Harlem, Mike had seen more than enough of how the ones with power “solved” a problem. They simply put a fence around it, taped an ‘X’ across it, cut off services and support from the people stranded inside then blamed them for not standing on their own, and either sat back and watched them turn against each other or else forcibly uprooted them, leaving behind gutted neighborhoods to pave over and sell off to the highest bidder. To Mike, that was what the World’s Fair was really about: a celebration of denying the most defenseless people a voice in their own lives or a place in the promise of the future. He’d wanted nothing to do with it.
But now rumors were surfacing that all was not well with the big event: embarrassing whispers of backroom deals, cooked books, “creative” attendance figures trumpeted to mask underwhelming revenues, some of the exhibits already in danger of closing down. That the whole thing was turning out to be a giant boondoggle made it much more of an attraction to Mike. He decided he could part with the two bucks’ worth of admission, if it offered him the pleasure of watching somebody else fail.
Surveying the fair’s less than packed square mile of courtyards, fountains, and a giant sculpture of the globe, the last thing Mike expected to find lurking in every corner was the presence of… Walt Disney.
Taking a break from traumatizing kids of all ages, Uncle Walt had whored himself out to Ford, Pepsi, General Electric, and the state of Illinois by lavishly staging their exhibits. None of this Disney stuff was especially sadistic—no cute furry animals died, and no lost children had to kill them. The shows just mouthed the party line of great expectations courtesy of the American knack for know-how and can-do, backed up with magic boats and flying cars and shit. But the song that accompanied the Pepsi show was so sappy and stupid and deluded and starry-eyed that it ought to be declared a crime against humanity:
“It’s a small world after all…”
And because Mike hated the song, and because it reminded him of things he was still trying to forget, then of course the sparse crowds loved it, and so the PA system obligingly blasted it at regular intervals, permeating everywhere, a miasma of innocent feel-goodness that made him want to hit something.
The damn song followed him everywhere, from the RCA exhibit to Westinghouse’s, from the Montana to Hong Kong pavilions. He briefly found escape in the General Motors hall, where he learned that in twenty years’ time everyone would be living in underwater cities or on the moon. Of far greater interest to him was the display of Pontiac’s newest model, christened the “GTO.” He was enthralled by this automotive beauty perched on its dais like a queen, with its snazzy split grille and lovely flared fenders, a beast of an engine housed in its sleek body… Not that he could ever afford it, or that he’d have any practical use for it around here, but… Oh, but this was a paragon of vehicular voluptuousness—
“It’s a small, small world…”
That was it; he couldn’t take any more. Time to hop on the subway and get back to the grubby reality of life, before the goddamn song turned him into a diabetic or sent him off screaming to the funny farm.
Searching the fairground’s map for the train station, Mike noticed a label that forced him to pause despite all his instincts to flee the place: Texas Pavilion & Music Hall.
Texas. Texas was here. It was here with music—that could only mean one thing: country music! Here, in New York! I knew it would happen, could happen, some day. So he hadn’t been out of his mind coming to New York; his instincts were right all along! He’d just been ahead of his time, a pioneer who did the hard work of clearing the way for others to follow. The future was now, and no way was he going to miss it—
—that is, if the Texas Pavilion weren’t harder to locate than hen’s teeth. He had no trouble spotting the exhibits for places he couldn’t care less about, like New Jersey and Sierra Leone, but he just couldn’t find the pot of gold. Finally he gave up and flagged down an attendant near the Eastman Kodak show.
“It’s out on the lake,” the guy said, cheerfully pointing in all directions at once, “far edge of the grounds. Go down Africa, turn at Asia, onto Harry Truman, the foot bridge over the Expressway, turn left onto—”
“Hold it, hold it.” Mike’s head was spinning. “I feel like I should be taking notes. Why’d you stick Texas way out in the middle of nowhere? Gotta admit that’s a problem for me, native son here and all.”
“Oh, yeah?” The summer air chilled by a dozen degrees as the formerly smiling attendant turned a ferocious scowl on him. “Tell me, wise guy, why should we roll out prime real estate for you? You killed Kennedy. When the Russkies drop an H-bomb on us, the rest of the country hopes it lands on Texas. If the worst we’ve done is park your show on the back lot of Flushing’s asshole, you’re getting off easy.”
And Mike, who could dispense vitriol like a soda fountain, was stunned at such hatred aimed at the people of a whole state whose only offense was to live where a bad guy chose to do a bad thing.
“It’s a small world after all…”
“Funny, I don’t remember pulling the trigger,” Mike spat. He had to get away from this hate, had to stop his ears from that sweetly corny innocent song reminding him of…
At last, more by luck than deliberation, he succeeded in finding… something. Something that did indeed boast a tall, three-sided blue sign on its roof proclaiming itself to be “Music Hall—Texas.” Yet the place looked like nothing so much as a roadside department store, and the jaunty blue script above the main entrance conveyed neither country music nor the slightest flavor of home: “To Broadway With Love.”
Fuckin’ Broadway?! Why did they bother coming all the way to New York only to do what New York already did? Why not show these hating bastards just what Texas was made of, just what music—
“‘Scuse me,” he attempted to speak civilly to an idle ticket collector slouched by the empty turnstile. “This is the Texas pavilion, right?”
“Sure is. Howdy!” The poor guy looked pathetically grateful to have another living soul to talk to. So grateful that he didn’t even point to the blue sign on the roof stating the obvious: yes, you idiot.
The pit in his stomach turning blacker and emptier, Mike edged closer to one of the windows where the show’s poster featured the back of a very not-Texas chorus girl. The tagline proved even worse: “The most spectacular musical production of the century saluting 100 years of Broadway musical comedy, featuring the music of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Cole Porter…” Furiously he scanned further down the list, but all he saw were very not-Texas musical names like George M. Cohan and Irving Berlin.
No country music. Not a lick of home pride. No… nothing.
“If you’re lookin’ to see the show, next one’s at the top of the hour,” the ticket collector said, desperate hope in his voice. “Just two dollars, that’s all. It’s a good show, straight up.”
“Uh… ‘fraid not, I was just… happening to walk by.” And because he was who he was, he couldn’t leave without standing on principle. “Anyone thought to mention that trying to act like New York maybe ain’t the smartest way for Texas to put itself out here?”
“Yep.” The guy cast a rueful glance at the poster. “Seemed like a good idea at the time. Like a valentine to the Big Apple, ya know? The show was supposed to run into next season, but… well, honest? You’re the first person I seen here all day. I think we’ll be lucky to last another month at most.”
Mike felt another stab in his gut. Damn it, he’d come here to watch the ones who held all the power fail. He had not come here to watch Texas fail.
“Cryin’ shame, really,” the ticket collector sighed. “We meant well. I mean, we knew they all hated us for Kennedy, so we didn’t come bustin’ up here to throw our stuff in their faces. Just a nice Broadway revue, give ‘em back their own stuff. But they still hate us. Don’t know where we went wrong.”
“That’s where,” Mike said, all the fight gone out of him. “Should’ve stuck with our own stuff.”
“It’s a small, small world…”
Mike turned his back on the gaudy poster, the wistful ticket collector, the failure of Texas, the innocent Disney song, the onrush of unwanted memories…
“That’s what we should’ve done,” he repeated. “Sometimes they do love us, if we let ‘em see who we really are.” He let out a cold, dead laugh. “Folks can be dumb like that.”
And before anyone could start looking at him as if he were one of those nuts who talked to themselves on the bus, he strode off to the train station. The subway took him out of the World’s Fair, out of Flushing’s asshole, out of Queens, out of Texas, and out of his last remaining claim or wish to be human.
~ JULY 1964 ~
Three weeks later, Mike could tally liquid assets of eighteen whole dollars—net, after expenses. It was a remarkable sum, given the reduced rates dictated by the poverty of Spanish Harlem. Not since the Kennedy guilt-fueled bonanza last Christmas had he been as flush. But this time no outside event could take credit. El Hueso had earned it all himself, driven by having a clear goal to shoot for:
He was going to leave New York.
There was nothing here for him now. When even Texas had come here and failed to deliver, there was nothing. Forget his guitar, forget his old cowboy stage clothes. Couldn’t waste no more time uselessly pining after that stuff. That was all it was, just… stuff. Nope, all he had in mind now was a ticket for a Greyhound bus. It was a straightforward, modest, achievable goal. Practical, like he was meant to be.
And where to go? Not Texas, that was for sure. Nashville, now that was a possibility. He could do country music in Nashville without being looked down on. There would be like minds in that city who might lend him a guitar. In fact, the more he thought about it, he wondered why he hadn’t gone there in the first place instead of bothering with New York. Because New York was the center of the world…
But the world sucked and so did everyone in it. People in Nashville must suck, too; he didn’t have any illusions about that. At least if they sucked the same way he did, he could live with it.
He’d made some inquiries at the Port Authority terminal and learned that a one-way Greyhound ticket to Nashville cost thirty-five dollars. So, figure another month or so and he’d have it all.
He would get the money. He’d get it no matter how many hours or days at a stretch he had to spend on the streets. He’d do it even if he had to break some rules of the trade—actively approaching curb crawlers instead of waiting for them to make the first move, telling them what he could do to them instead of letting them paint their own fantasies. Worst that could happen would be getting busted by an undercover vice cop. But that was still in the cards even if he followed the rules, so what the hell.
If he had to be a cold, armor-plated machine to get the job done—well, he already was. He knew how to step outside of himself, go through the motions, discount it and forget it all. Just plow through it. He knew how to not care. He didn’t care.
Yeah. If El Hueso had to fuck everything with two legs in all five boroughs… then so be it. He’d get the damn money.
And all of it be damned.
~ AUGUST 1964 ~
Mike had not been home in two days. Scoring a trick was getting even harder, for some reason, but by sheer will and determination he had now scraped together fifty bucks. Bus money and a little extra, so that he wouldn’t have to sleep on a park bench in Nashville or eat dinner from cans labeled “Alpo.” The bills scratched at the skin of his ankle where he had tucked them away for safety in his left sock. They were a constant reminder of just how far gone he was, but they were also his salvation.
Today he would go home to West 84th Street for the last time, and tomorrow… he would leave. He felt no relief or exhilaration. Just resignation. Leave New York… it was time, that was all.
“I like it here. You can do your own thing. There’s so much stuff going on…”
He closed his eyes and pressed his face against the cool glass of the store window he’d been slouching against. So much stuff in this city… so much to forget.
“Everybody looks out for you, shares their stuff and helps you out…”
With a groan Mike pushed himself away from the window—and caught his own reflection. Hell, no wonder johns were starting to keep their distance: two days’ growth of dark beard, sweat stains on his shirt, the top bits of his unfettered hair a frizzed-out monstrosity in the sticky summer air. But most of all, they must have been scared off by the dead mask that was his face, the pinwheels of fire and ice in his eyes. However much they might want to be punished, it was still only meant to be a fantasy. They weren’t really looking for a guy who appeared as if he might truly be capable of killing them.
He shook his head to dispel the image of himself, but something flashed in his line of sight. Something blue and sparkly. He glanced around until he found it, and literally saw stars.
Blue stars. On the other side of the window was a ring of blue stars, circling the jaunty wide brim of a white hat like heroes in the movies wore.
Mike stepped back, partly out of disbelief and partly to check the store’s name over its door: Shut Up & Deal Pawn & Purchase/Casa de Empeños. He went up to the window again, raising his hands flat against the glass as if he could reach through it to touch the prize.
Damn, baby. It’s really you. How’d you get up here? What a trip you must’ve had...
The bills in his sock rubbed at his skin again. He squinted at the price tag on his old cowboy hat: ten dollars. He could spare that and still have enough left for the Nashville bus. He just wouldn’t be able to pay for a room… although, with an attention-grabber like his beautiful, beautiful hat he might well land a gig at the Opry as soon as he walked in the door—
No, that was stupid. He was just fooling himself again. This hat wouldn’t make him look like a hero or a country singer. It would only make him look like a mascot for the Dallas Cowboys—one of the worst teams in football, even worse than the Jets. He would just look like one more way Texas had failed.
Mike was about to turn away and trudge home when he caught another flash of something in the reflection of the window. Something… light. Sandy. He whirled around, scanning the street.
What—there! The back of a thin, sandy-haired guy of medium height was disappearing into the crowd.
The shout escaped him before he even realized it. And as soon as he realized it, he slumped against the pawn shop wall. No. Leave him alone. He’s got his own nice, normal life now. Don’t mess it up for him.
My hat… how did you get here?
Peter… what are you doing here?
He twisted his head to the window to see his hat again. It’s only ten bucks. You could…
He turned back to the street. Peter was now half a block away. Peter, I’m leaving…
Back up, get close. Push away, let in. Don’t talk, talk. Talk, don’t talk... He didn’t know what to do, saw no practical choice before him, nothing—aw, fuck it!
“Peter! Hold it, man!”
Peter had reached the end of the block and was waiting for the light to change. It looked like he meant to turn right and cross to the other side of the street. Mike took off at a run.
“Hey! Hey, Peter! It’s me! It’s—”
Green light, go. Peter, nearly engulfed by at least a dozen other pedestrians, left the corner and made his way along the crosswalk to the other side. Mike tried to keep that short, sandy hair in view.
“Slow down, will ya!”
Peter reached the opposite corner and stopped again. Now it appeared he was going to turn left as soon as he had the right of way. Mike was almost at the first corner, but he could see that the light was going to change back to red before he got there. Which meant that Peter would get a green light, and Mike would never catch him. There was only one thing to do.
Ignoring the honking horns and a distant whistle, Mike launched himself into the traffic. He barreled past the cars, zigging over and zagging up to the other side of the street. With one more burst of adrenalin, and sending God a silent thank you for giving him long legs and a stride to match, he made it to the opposite corner. Out of breath and unable to speak, he simply shoved his way through passers-by and grabbed Peter’s upper left arm, spinning him around.
“Hey…” he panted. “Stop… let me… wanna… see… talk...”
Suspicious dark eyes glared up at him.
Round face. Tan skin. No freckles. No dimples. Mike jumped away as if he’d been burned.
“Uh… ‘scuse me, man,” he stumbled, “I, uh… I thought…”
The not-Peter clenched his fists, but any impending threat evaporated as his round face flooded with alarm. “¡Mierda!” he exclaimed, pointing at something behind Mike then racing over the crosswalk to the other side of the street. Mike had just lost sight of him when he finally noticed that the distant whistle he’d heard before was now very close. Not a warm human whistle, but shrill and metallic.
“Okay, buddy,” a heavy hand dropped on his shoulder, “where’s the fire?”
Of all the stupid clichés… Mike took several deep breaths, forcing himself to be calm. That was another rule: don’t argue with cops. He turned to face his questioner and was confronted with a fleshy, florid, middle-aged representative of New York’s Finest, stuffed into a sweat-drenched summer uniform. The safest response was another cliché: “What seems to be the trouble, officer?” He noted the cop’s nametag. “Officer Smith?” he added as politely as possible.
Officer Smith jerked a thumb at the first corner not-Peter had crossed from. “Point A.” He turned his thumb down to the concrete of the corner they stood on. “Point B. Cross at the green, not in between.”
You have got to be kidding me! All the ways he broke the law every day, and he was getting busted for jaywalking?! It wasn’t even illegal in New York, everyone knew that. “Oh, I can explain that,” he still attempted to speak calmly. “I was, uh, given to understand that you can cross outside the lines in this here town.” He managed to contort his lips into an innocuous grin. “I ain’t from ‘round here, ya see.”
“You can cross outside at what we call a straight line, sure. Now, it looks to me like you got a bit fancy and crossed at what we call not a straight line. And that is when we have ourselves a problem.”
“That…” Mike took more deep breaths. “Uh… what’s wrong with crossing diagonal?”
“Title 7, article 27, section 1152, part C: ‘No pedestrian shall cross a roadway intersection diagonally—’”
“Okay, so it’s some law no one ever heard of,” Mike felt his calm slipping, “but that don’t tell me why.”
“You have to know why before you decide to obey a law?” Officer Smith snorted. “Aren’t you special.”
“I wanna know why,” Mike’s voice rose, “you only collar me when at least three other people done the same thing the whole time we been standin’ here.”
“You’re the one I happened to see.” Officer Smith parked his hands on his hips, bulging belly protruding with menace. “And if you don’t want to stand out so much in a crowd, then maybe you should think about leaving this garbage dump to the spics and stick to neighborhoods with your own kind.”
Mike simply stared. Even he, who made a career of insulting people, could not imagine stooping so low. “Ones I consider my own kind don’t call people ‘spics,’” he said, low and deadly, “officer.”
“Whatever, pal.” Officer Smith pulled out a ticket book and pen. “Let’s just get this over with. Name?”
What’s my name? He didn’t know how to answer. He wasn’t about to give his real name; he needed to keep an officially clean record. But El Hueso and “Wool Hat” weren’t likely to go over well with this asshole, and “Tex”… no, he couldn’t share Tex with anyone else.
“My name is… legion,” he finally replied with a quick, bitter laugh.
“Everyone’s a comedian these days. Okay, joker, let’s see some ID.”
Again, Mike was caught off guard. “Don’t have none,” he said after another moment’s thought. He didn’t bother to keep the note of simmering defiance out of his voice.
“Driver’s license? Draft card? Well, this isn’t looking too good. I might have to add a vagrancy charge. Or loitering. And no draft card, eh? You too chickenshit to serve your country when duty calls?”
“What can I say? It ain’t called yet.”
“Keep talking, buddy, and just dig yourself in deeper.”
Mike threw up his hands. “How much deeper can I get!”
“How about I add cowardice, desertion, and high treason? You were better off before: a jaywalking citation is nothing. You just show up at court and pay the fine.”
“Well, I won’t pay it! It’s random harassment, a trumped-up charge, an injustice—”
“Then I book you, and you spend the night in the lockup followed by a hearing and a luxury cruise to Rikers Island. Unless, of course, you make bail.”
“How much is that?” The fifty dollars tucked away in his sock scraped at him again. Not my bus money!
The florid face turned shrewd, the next words low and loaded: “How much do you have?”
And the last tiny, fragile filament of Mike’s restraint snapped when he realized what Officer Smith was really asking. “You bent son of a bitch! I’m supposed to bribe you to stay out of jail, when you don’t even uphold the law equal for everyone in the first place? Who’s running the NYPD, Al Capone? If we can’t trust the cops, who the hell are we supposed to trust?”
“Listen, Mister Mouth, you’re getting real close to a charge of resisting arrest as well. We can do this the easy way or the hard way—”
“I’m gonna tell everyone who walks by here that Officer Shits is on the take!”
“Fine, make that another charge of attempting to incite a riot.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s a real sore point after what happened last month!” What happened last month was totally predictable: Off-duty cop shoots a kid, half of Harlem goes up in flames of outrage. Deny people a voice too long, and you shouldn’t be surprised when they start screaming. “If you don’t want that happening again, officer, then maybe one of the two of us needs to watch his step and start respecting people’s rights. And here’s a newsflash for ya—that one ain’t me.”
Officer Smith scratched out whatever he’d been writing and snapped his ticket book shut.
“Son,” he said, pulling out his handcuffs with a war-weary sigh, “you are in big trouble.”