Man, I was high! Not on anything the cops would get excited about. I don't go that way and I do my best to make those around me steer clear of that shit too! No, my drug of choice was rage. Has been since I was a kid, beating the shit out of the playground bully for fucking with my older, geekier brother in Middle School. Keith was a thirteen-year-old, eighty-pound, four-foot-six-inch weakling with thick glasses and a penchant for getting 100% on every test, fucking over the curve for everyone. Frankie Rizzo decided the ass-beating he took from his pop for getting a call home concerning his grades was Keith's fault. They were both eighth graders but Frankie was already fifteen and would be sixteen before school ended. So on a hot end of summer afternoon, Frankie followed Keith off the school grounds.
Now, I was just a ten-year-old fifth grader just starting at Hackensack Middle School. I got mid-C grades from kindergarten on (despite good standardized test scores) and this was no different. I had trouble paying attention for more than five minutes (unless you were talking about wars and killing, then you could have me for hours) and more than a little trouble with authority. Probably because Mom was a kind, lovely little lady, after whom Keith took, and had the spine of a jelly fish. She probably would have gotten pressured into marrying some tough guy from the neighborhood and wound up unhappy and abused. That didn't happen because of who Dad was. Nobody was sure where he was, but nobody was ever gonna mess with Mom until they were sure he was dead or in prison for the rest of his and their life. Dad was an Irish tough who ran with Whitey Bulger back in the day up in Boston. The only thing Mom or I knew was that he wasn't in Boston because the FBI made sure everyone from the meter maids to the Chief of Police up there knew what dad looked like. Only Whitey was a bigger target. Dad was one of his top enforcers and was even loaned out to the Italians farther south on occasion, or so rumor had it.
And that was why Frankie made a mistake that summer afternoon. I was new to the school, a school where Frankie ruled over the place like an alpha wolf over his pack. He kept the other alpha dogs in line with fear and bouts of tormenting the lesser sheep of the school. Keith was a sheep. Always had been and would be up to the day he got killed in Iraq. I told the stupid fucker to wait until I got out of high school, but the one time he doesn't listen to me, he comes home in a steel box with a flag over it not even a month into his tour.
The same thing would have happened that day after school, except I saw Frankie following him with three of his cronies with big grins on their faces as they darted looks at the murderous rage on Frankie's face.
"Hey shit for brains!" the moron yelled at my brother when Keith sped up upon noticing his tail. "Where the fuck do you think you're going?"
The four of them trotted down the side walk running past some closed shops, the perfect ambush site. There was nobody but school kids around for blocks. Which is why Frankie had an immediate audience. They were four deep around Frankie by the time I was pushing my way through.
"Do you know what your smart fuckin' ass landed me with that last test? Not only did my Dad beat the shit out of me, but he took the keys to my car away. So I think you need to share in some of my pain, shit for brains," he roared over the jubilant shouting of "Fight, Fight, Fight!" coming from the other kids.
I was almost to the front of the crowd when I heard the first blow. Frankie's cronies were keeping everyone back even as they looked on with glee. My first glimpse of my brother was him on the ground, his nose bleeding, eyes dazed, and his books all over the sidewalk. I don't remember much after that. That is how my high worked when I was younger; I got better at remembering as I got older. Back then, I just felt euphoric and had flashes of blood and punches and kicks. I know my first punch broke Willie Giancomo's jaw because I was suspended and the cops came to our apartment after he was taken to the hospital. I was told I mauled Frankie next. He joined Willie at the hospital after his Mom finally got him to show her his ribs later that night. The other two took one look at Willie and Frankie and split. Everyone else followed when I sprang up from Frankie's moaning body with my bloody hands up and my eyes looking for the next target. Lizzie MacDonald later told my Mom that Keith jumped on me and shouted in my ears to calm down until I did.
I carry-supported Keith home after that, with Lizzie hauling Keith's books in her bag. I got Keith iced down and stopped the bleeding before Mom got home, but she seemed to know something happened as soon as she saw me. I was still wired and looking happier than a hippy at a Grateful Dead concert. Since Keith's nose was still swollen, she wheedled the story out of him and then sent me to my room. I got to come out again when the cops showed up. Since Lizzie MacDonald lived right across the hall from us, I didn't get sent to juvie. Apparently Willie's version of the truth was only vaguely in touch with reality. I told the cops, a lanky Italian that looked young enough to have just gotten his gun and an older Irish guy who looked like he was probably around when they invented guns, my story and Keith and Lizzie added theirs. Since Lizzie was pretty and convincing and Willie had a record for shoplifting, they believed us. Mom was warned to find something to contain my "energy" and they left.
Of course, when I got to school the next day I was called down to the Principal's Office and sent home for a week. Willie and Frankie were also suspended. And as soon as Lizzie told Ms. Grant who the other two kids were, they were suspended too. But I had no more trouble the entire four years I was there, and the entire four years I was in high school. Mom took the Irish cop's suggestion and found me a free, afterschool boxing program run by an old Brazilian guy. He refused to let me in the ring with anyone my age, but he taught me everything he knew, including a little Brazilian jujitsu and enough capoeira to keep the muscle mass I put on in high school limber.
Mom also took me to a doctor to find out why I got so blissed when I fight. Turns out I had some kind of gland issue or something that caused my body to make too much happy juice when it should be producing enough adrenaline to trigger the fight-or-flight response. Oh, I get the adrenaline, too. I just get the same chemical that gets released during sex, too. So I kinda became a violence junkie. I see a chick on the street getting slapped around by her boyfriend/pimp and I am on them faster than she can decide whether she actually needs my help. Someone tried to rob a store while I was in there and BAM! I'm on the five o'clock news as a hero.
Which is why when my idiot genius brother goes all patriotic and wants to join the Marines I was all for Mom's pleading look for me to protect the little shit. Only he refused to wait the five months it would have taken me to finish high school. That was my Mom's only request of me throughout my teen years. "Do whatever you want after you graduate, but please get your diploma!" she would beg when I talked about dropping out. A C- average was not going to get me into any colleges worth going to and I had plenty of job offers from friends of friends who knew my reputation around the neighborhood. Even some of dad's old acquaintances in New York were sniffing around. But Keith had to try to play big brother once and told me to join him in Iraq when I was done with school.
So, of course, we get to go to a splendid funeral put on by the Marines. Seven badass-looking dudes get to fire off their rifles. A bugler plays that sad, sad dirge that has signaled a dead warrior for a couple of centuries. And a guy dressed to the nines hands Mom a flag and thanks her for her son's service to his country.
The funeral changed my military plans. Besides, I had that problem with authority I mentioned near the beginning of this trip down memory lane. I doubt I would take direction any better from some dude screaming in my face that I was a maggot than I could a football coach or an English teacher.
So, there I was. Walking down the street in a shitty part of town, blissed out of my mind on a violence high. I work at a strip club as a bouncer. I guess I might as well call it a whorehouse, since most of the chicks in that place sell the wares they show off in the club. Sal, the owner, is sorta their pimp. He knows what they do and provides a safe place to advertize and a steady stream of customers willing to pay well for some hot ass. Sal is hooked in with a few lower-level mob types, some of the same guys who were trying to recruit me to do enforcement and collections work in high school. The girls need someone to make sure the house rules are obeyed and that is what I do.
I also play chauffeur/bodyguard when they take jobs that require them to go any farther than the cheap motel down the street. I drive them to where they are going and they call me every half hour to let me know they are all right. They don't say the code word of the night and I am banging down the door and smashing faces. They are late calling and I am banging down the door. They come out with marks they didn't have when they went in and I am banging down the door. Hell, they come out and complain about the customer's manners and I am banging down the door. Sal doesn't send me out with the girls who like it rough anymore. I'm not quite sure why.
That night there was a confluence of shit storms that led to a general mêlée at Exposé, the club I work at. The first little gust of bad wind was when two of the local wise guy hangers-on show up drunker than shit. So drunk I was amazed they managed to get to Exposé alive. As soon as they entered they started throwing around money like a professional athlete and monopolizing the girls. That was fine, since it was a Tuesday and fairly slow. The girls were happy with the money these two wanna-be badasses were throwing around and the wanna-bes were happy with the hotties that work the club hanging all over them telling them how manly they were.
I knew we were in for a bad night when the bachelor's party wandered in an hour later. How the hell they found us, I don't know. Sal tries to keep Exposé's profile on the low side. No neon sign with naked chicks on them in silhouette, no advertising in porn mags, no listed number in the phone book. Sal makes most of his money on word of mouth in the IBM (Italian Business Man for those who missed Whoopie Goldberg's '80's movies) community and from the share he gets from the girls' side business. He also gets a small cut from the owner of the motel, but that is a different story. So either one of the drunken idiots knew someone who knew someone, or there really are Goddesses in charge of Fate and they are sadistic bitches. You either know what a bachelor's party is because you've been to one or you've seen one in a movie or six. Well, these idiots could've fit into any Hollywood director's vision of a bachelor party bouncing from strip club to strip club.
The vision goes off the rails when the six bridge-and-tunnel wimps stagger into Exposé just before midnight on a Tuesday. All but one girl was crowded around the wanna-bes trying to get as much cash from those assholes as they could and those idiots were doing their best to oblige. Watching them for an hour, I figure by the time the bachelor's party bungled onto the scene they had spent enough money to make retirement for several of the girls about five years closer. We're talking upwards of five figures, easy. Well, the drunken idiots from New Jersey must have been from Morristown or something because the first thing they do when they arrive is start trying to lure the girls over to them while throwing twenties to Candy, the only chick not over by the wanna-bes because it was her turn on stage. The best man, a fairly tall and muscular guy (the only one in the bunch) was waving a wad of twenties in the girls' direction to the beat of ZZ Top (Candy was weird like that).
Sal, showing how he got to be as rich as he was by running an unknown strip joint in the middle of mob territory, waved to the girls about to abandon the wanna-bes to stay put. He then pointed to four of the girls and waved them over to the bachelor's party and the other three got to stay and finish draining the IBMs.
What we didn't know was about to bite all of us in the ass, though. We didn't know, for instance, that the two wanna-be mobsters had just knocked over a Family counting house and the money they were throwing around so freely was earmarked to one of the capos' lieutenants. We also didn't know that the soon-to-be married schmuck at the center of attention at the bachelor's party was a nephew of another capo and that the two fondly hated each other's guts to the point of almost being at war. And we also didn't know that one of the neighborhood kids had heard about the counting house smash-and-grab and called his uncle who worked for the lieutenant.
I found all of that out later. What was important to me were the eight guys who walked in forty minutes after the bachelor and his buddies, just as Candy was starting another set to the beat of Lynard Skynard up on the main stage. They stood by the door like gunfighters in a spaghetti Western, scanning the room with ill intent rising off of them like a palpable miasma. Sal took one look at them and ran for his office phone to call some help. Just from his reaction, I knew he knew them and he knew a phone would work better than trying to get them to take it outside.
I glanced over at the bachelor's party and saw the groom staring at one of the guys standing by the door. The groom paled when one of the guys nudged the biggest of the eight bulky Italians in two-thousand dollar suits with noticeable bulges under their armpits. The leader, a six-foot tall bully-boy who was probably near two-fifty and all of it bulky muscle and bone, was one of those guys that seemed to get more distinguished as he aged. When I was younger, I remember seeing him a time or two on the news whenever the feds made big busts on the mob in the City. He was an enforcer who worked his way up the ranks to be a chief lieutenant. The very same lieutenant whose money was now lining the G-strings of Sal's girls.
The best man turned out to be the groom's uncle's muscle. As four of the guys at the door peeled off at a gesture from the lieutenant and the rest followed him over towards the bachelor's party. Around that time the two wanna-bes caught a glimpse of what was coming towards them. The girls screamed and ran for cover when they saw the guns their patrons pulled. The rest of the girls fled when everyone else packing pulled their pieces. The best man put two in the lieutenant's chest before the guy could clear his own gun and then grabbed the groom and ducked behind the cover of the stage. Candy froze, looking down in terror as guns sprouted like mushrooms after a rain all around her. The rest of the groom's party hit the deck and crawled after him and his protector.
I took a quick glance around to make sure the other girls were covered and then ran through shouts and shots to tackle Candy seconds before bullets whizzed through that space to explode the window of the DJ's booth and two of the speakers framing the main stage. I roared at Candy to crawl backstage. I watched her use skills she learned in two years in the Marines, belly crawling away from me, then I rolled off the stage and leveled the best man with a fist to the side of his head as he traded shots with the dead man's crew. He collapsed in a heap; I picked his gun up and tossed it backstage.
"Don't fuckin' move! Don't even fuckin' think about it!" I growled at the groom and his white-faced, panic-stricken buddies. He nodded jerkily at me and his friends merely ate carpet. I darted a look at the rest of the club.
The door was on the far side of the club from the main stage so you could see the headliners as soon as you stepped through the front door. The bar was on the left wall as soon as you walked in and the DJ's booth was to the right of the stage. Jimmy, the DJ, was smart enough to duck down as soon as the shit hit the fan. Also on the right side of the main room were smaller table stages that some of the girls used between sets on the main stage. Tables and booths were scattered throughout the space between the front door and the stage. Other than the three parties to this clusterfuck, the joint was now empty, the handful of other patrons having skittered out the back door which was down the same hall as Sal's office.
The wanna-bes had ducked behind the booth they had been sprawled in after the girls scurried at the first sign of trouble. That was one of the first things anyone who worked here was told by me. If you see trouble, run! Four of the new guys were ducked behind another booth just in front of the bar where the bartender Jack was hiding; probably waiting for the sign to pop up with the Mossberg he hid back there. The other three were behind another booth on the right side, my left, which they dove behind when the best man shot their boss. The new guys had a decent crossfire going on the wanna-bes.