Payton had just made it back to the brothel, with Stacey in tow. She grabbed the phone before Zara. Zara turned and said, “It’s for you,” and pointed to Frankie.
Frankie grabbed the phone from Payton. Alexandrine began to speak, “Frankie, I need to tell you something bad—your friend Jones is dead, killed with an RPG, just like Eddie. It’s all over the news in the northeast. I don’t know about down there. There’s a real mob war going on here. They say Jones’ murder was retaliation for the murder of John Quarry. That was the first time I’ve heard that man’s name. Was that the man you and Jones killed this summer?”
Frankie almost dropped the phone and began to shake and cry again, for the second time in an hour. Then he punched a wall. “Jones is dead? Jesus!”
Alex listened for a minute and said, “Frankie, they mentioned a third man the other gang was looking for. You’ve got the guys you used to work for, Vinny and those guys. Now you’ve got this other gang. Some say it’s a South American cartel and now the cops are looking for you.”
Frankie said, “I’ll call you in a couple of days. I think I’m headed home. Thank you for telling me this. How’s Grandma?”
Alex said, “She’s a hundred years old and getting weak. She talks about you often. I think she is waiting for you to come home before she dies.”
Frankie shook his head. He said goodbye and said, “I love you too, Alex,” and hung up the phone. Frankie looked at Zara and said, “I’ve got no choice now. I have to get out of here before someone figures out I’ve been hiding out here and hurts all of you.” He went back into the bedroom and started to pack his clothes.
Zara and Payton and now Stacey all just watched him in silence. When he was finished, he asked Zara to meet him on the porch. Payton came, too. He couldn’t keep her out of this.
He said, “I feel really strange and bad about all that conversation earlier. When I get back, a few weeks’ maximum, we’ll work this all out.”
Zara shook her head and said, “I’d love to believe you, Frankie. I hope it’s true. I have my doubts. A lot has been said that cannot be unsaid. I can’t believe this is ending like this, just like it started. We were like an inexplicable flash. Maybe that’s how we were meant to be, a flash that only lasts a while.”
Frankie looked sadder than they had ever seen him. “Please don’t speak of us in the past tense. Payton, please take care of Stacey and get her the help she needs.”
He looked at Zara. Even though they both knew it was over, neither one could find the words to say it, so they didn’t. He hugged her, deeply and passionately. They both cried. Zara knew, somehow, that she would never see him again. To Frankie, this was just a job he needed to do; to Zara, this was the end.
She asked Stacey to go get her camera and take a picture of the three of them. Stacey took the shot and a few more. Then Frankie kissed Payton goodbye, gave Stacey a small hug, too, and walked out of Zara’s Day Spa for Gentleman for the last time.
Frankie, never one for reflection, now had to stop and pause and ponder. He sat on the stairs leading to Zara’s apartment in the still-warm sunshine. He lit a cigarette and let the late November sunrays warm his skin. The thought of being home in the north in just a few days, and back in the cold and snow didn’t appeal to him at all. A customer for Zara, another passenger for one of the girls, quickly passed by him on the narrow concrete staircase. That walk always reminded Frankie of a tunnel, leading to a place all men want to go, not all dare to explore, with its six-foot high walls, painted white at one time, but now bleached gray and white from the blazing Louisiana heat. High walls open to the sky above.
Frankie yelled out to the guy, “When you get there, ask for Zara; she’s pretty hot,” and he started to cry silently. He felt like a gunslinger, shot in the saddle, now slumped over and hanging on for life, praying his horse knows the way back to the barn.
So much had happened so quickly, everything was a blur and seemed to be accelerating. He felt his life—his new clean, clear, sober life—drain from him, like the blood of the dying cowboy. Frankie understood the slow walk, the progression of the pony bringing this dying cowboy home.
For a brief time, he’d lived the illusion, after he stopped the drugs and the drinking, that he was in some kind of control. He realized now, as he watched, teary-eyed, that the dream, the illusion of Zara and the life he wanted, burned before his eyes. There never was and never would be any control. Maybe losing Zara to a handful of words had taught this one painful lesson. It all happened so fast.
He wanted to climb the stairs and throw the guy who just passed him out of the apartment and down the stairs. He wanted to run and tell Zara how much he deeply loved her. He wanted her to know he was happy, possibly for the first time since he was a little boy in Cora’s kitchen. He wanted one last time to sit on the porch and drink the sweet tea of New Orleans and be with that amazing woman and her friends and live in her light. But, again, he had a job to do. Once again, he had a score to settle. He knew before this was over someone else would be dead. The killings were adding up faster than Frankie could keep track of them. An observer would wonder if the weight of the stones were now too much, a scale had been tipped, and the structure that was Frankie, even with his newfound strength and sobriety and clarity, had in fact, begun to crumble.
He walked down St. Peter’s and into the leather bar. He walked behind the bar and hugged David. He told him he had to head home to take care of some business. David said he’d about some mob trouble back in New York City. Was any of that to do with Frankie?
Frankie smiled widely and said, “No frickin’ way,” then he turned and walked up through The Quarter to his truck. He climbed inside and fired up the engine, feeling it come to life again. This time, they had a job to do. It felt different to Frankie. He climbed out of the cab and locked the door. He walked into a nearby bar, ordered a beer, got change for cigarettes, and drank the beer without much thought. He went to the back of the bar and used the pay phone. Typical pay phone—numbers and dirty jokes and poorly drawn pictures of naked women scribbled all over the wall near it.
He pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his wallet and called a broker he knew in Alabama. After about fifteen minutes and a few quarters in change, he had a load headed north into Newark out of Mobile. That was all he wanted. He needed to get back on the road and back on the CB Radio and make sure people all along the south and East Coast would know that the remaining half of the Flying Gonzo Brothers was back in business, and he was pissed.
He climbed back into the cab; he’d be in NY in time for Thanksgiving. He needed to find some whites, but he was pretty well rested. It suddenly dawned on him that he’d downed a beer and it didn’t really seem to impact him one way or another. This, he thought, was strange but probably good.
For the next few days, he was on a roll, a mission. He was going to be on anger and white crosses until he found out who killed Jones and he, in turn, killed that guy. Then he could sit down and party again with the demon.
He slid the transmission into first gear and slowly pulled away from the spot where it had sat since late last summer. He needed to get to a truck stop out in Route 12, get fuel, kick the tires and go. Rolling up Route 10, he looked at New Orleans in the mirrors. Suddenly, he felt really bad about Zara. Everything in that town had happened so fast—meeting her, falling for her, Landry, getting sober, the church, Halloween, Stacey. Everything was a blur. The only thing clear in his mind about his whole time in that city, and clearer now at eighty miles per hour and heading north, was that this thing, whatever it was, with Zara, was not over. He kept thinking of the past week, the last fight with her. He wanted to turn around and go back and tell her how he really felt, but he would have to call tomorrow when he got to NYC. For now, he’d have to live with the bad taste in his mouth from the events of the past few days.
He got fuel, aired up some tires, grabbed a few sandwiches and a cooler full of soda, a thermos of coffee, and a carton of cigarettes and he was back in business.
Strangely, he didn’t buy beer or stop for vodka. He figured he’d deal with that later. Rolling into Mobile about two hours later, he quickly picked up his trailer, filled out the paperwork and rolled north. He was on the radio and talked to anyone who would listen. He wanted to know what the trucking world knew about Jones. He asked specific questions, identifying himself as the guy who used to roll with him, as his best friend and someone who wanted answers and revenge.
Somewhere near Charlotte, North Carolina, he made it plain to a couple of drivers that he was looking to find and kill whoever did this. He accumulated stories as he rode on through the night. His plan was to drop this trailer and head to the Hunt’s Point Market and find his friend, Fat Joe. Fat Joe would know what was going on and who did this.
From what he could gather, there was a huge turf war being fought on the interstates between south Florida and NY City. The cartel wanted to send a clear message to anyone running for the city mob—roll for these boys and you will die. Two dramatic killings in five months had sent a very clear message. Jones got back in soon after Frankie headed south, because Vinny and the boys had doubled his rate. He’d been leading another group of two guys.
After Jones was killed that week, those guys disappeared. The story was they wanted Frankie, period. The CB network was a pretty amazing thing. Thousands of stories from thousands of guys as they all crossed the country. News in the Deep South today would reach up into Maine in a day or so. Lonely guys listening and talking—it was really quite an efficient system.
Frankie, the social engineer, now sober, used the system to his advantage, as his own private broadcast network to tell the world that he intended to find who killed his friend and kill him, and find who that guy worked for and kill them too. He made it very clear he had killed and had no problem killing again. It was dangerous and probably completely stupid, but Frankie had passed the point of caring. He used his network to its fullest capacity.
Frankie always liked the very early morning hours in the truck alone, listening to music—not country music—to the glow of the dim lights of the dozen or so gauges, the constant drone of the massive Cummins engine, the hum of the eighteen tires on the pavement, city lights in the distance and bright stars of the desolate countryside. It made him forget about everything for a few minutes. He was just trucking. Eddie used to call it “Super Trucking,” those quiet moments alone, rolling somewhere. He could look off to the east and see the first hints of daylight. He pulled off Route 85 and onto Route 95 right outside of Richmond. He thought of Eddie. In a short time, he passed the exact spot of the ambush. In daylight, Frankie was sure he’d be able to see where the tarmac had been repaired after the fire. Now Jones was dead, too. He finished his last sandwich and drank a Coke. He’d be in Newark in a few hours. He was pretty satisfied. His presence was widely known now, he was quite sure. That was all he wanted. He wanted these evil bastards to know he was coming for them.
He pulled into the terminal in Newark and dropped the trailer and went inside the small office trailer to take care of the paperwork. Another trucker saw the F and G name on the door, still a tribute to the Flying Gonzo Brothers. The driver asked Frankie if he was the guy people were talking about. Frankie said he was and he was in town to take care of business. It might take him a little while, but he was going to find who killed his friends.
The trucker commented that there were some serious men looking for him too.
Frankie said, “Be sure to tell them you saw me. I’m serious too.”
He got his paperwork and a check for the load. It was about 10:30 a.m., the day before Thanksgiving.
Frankie drove to a diner on the Jersey Turnpike, parked the tractor, and went inside. It was 9:30 a.m. in New Orleans and still a little early to call Zara. He decided to call Alex instead. The diner was half empty and it looked like every other diner in the universe. Frankie was convinced that in other galaxies in other worlds, there were truckers at diners just like this one, made of glass and stainless steel, with a cash register right by the door and racks behind the counter filled with ridiculously huge and overstuffed pies, the obligatory blonde and brunette waitress, both hot as hell and playful, with coffee, eggs, burgers, and a jukebox on every table. The pay phone was always in the back by the bathrooms, so everyone and their mother had to stop by and hear your conversations.
He popped some change in the phone and dialed Alexandrine’s number. She answered on the second ring and said, “Frankie?” They always laughed at how she knew it was him.
He said, “I’m in Jersey, outside of Newark, heading into the Bronx to see Fat Joe. I’ll be home tomorrow. Can I sleep at your place?”
Alexandrine was quiet for a second. Then she said, “Of course you can stay here. We’d love that. Please watch your back, Frankie. The news is full of bad stories about all of this. I spoke to your grandma’s nurse last night. She’s not doing well at all. She has been watching the news and she knows you’re the man everyone is looking for. She told the nurse she thinks she will outlive you. I hope you get home to see her soon.”
Frankie was silent for a few seconds and then said, “I’ll see her tomorrow. Please call and tell the nurse that. I’ll see Fat Joe and come to your house, get cleaned up, and go see her. Guess what? I’m not drunk. I took some speed on the way up, but I’m not drunk. She won’t recognize me,” and they both laughed.
Alex said, “That’s really fantastic. I’m proud of you.”
They said goodbye and Frankie went out to the counter to get some coffee and eggs and head into Hunt’s Point.
He watched the two pretty waitresses as they moved in an almost-synchronized dance, carrying huge plates of food and sliding up to the window behind the counter to place an order or check on an order, grab a coffee pot, fill up some guy’s coffee, then down the counter and on to the next task at hand. He was always amazed by waitresses, just the whole dance. He finished his food and coffee and threw some money on the counter, took one last look at the two Jersey girls, and walked back out to the tractor.
He drove across the George Washington Bridge and into the Bronx. He stopped at a gas station for the best porn he could buy in a pinch. Fat Joe was a porn aficionado. He hoped what he found was of the quality Joe expected, and he drove on down and into the market.
He pulled into an empty spot near the terminal and jumped from the truck. He went to the little chicken-wire office and asked for Joe. They told him he’d not be in until about 4:00 p.m. Frankie went back to the truck to sleep. He woke up, chilly, in the sleeper. It was about 6:00 p.m. He got up, lit a cigarette, and sat behind the wheel. He was a little surprised that the truck hadn’t blown up while he slept. The F and G Produce sign was still clearly visible on both sides. These guys here knew him very well. He started the engine, letting it warm up. He grabbed the stack of porn magazines and hopped out of the cab, walked up to the loading dock, and over to Fat Joe’s chicken-wire office.
Joe looked up at Frankie over his glasses. He looked like he’d just seen a ghost. “Jesus Christ, what the fuck!” He jumped back about ten feet, as if Frankie was about to attack him.
Frankie said, “I come in peace, Joe, bearing fine Euro porn from one of the Bronx’s favorite gas stations.”
Fat Joe started to relax and he took the pile of magazines. Then he caught himself. He got visibly angry and started to scream, “Get the fuck away from me, you asshole!” Then, he whispered, “Diner, midnight,” and started screaming again.
A couple of the guys who worked on the dock rushed him, and Frankie put his hands up and walked away.
Joe yelled from his cage, “That’s right! Get the fuck out of here, asshole. Keep this asshole away from me!”
Frankie thought, “How well played by the fat man.” He went back to the tractor and climbed inside. He set an alarm for 11:00 p.m. and got some more sleep. He’d meet Fat Joe at the diner, and then head up to Alex’s house. Tomorrow would be Thanksgiving Day.
He took a moment as he lay down in the sleeper to ponder the events of the past four days. He’d gone from born again and baptized to murderer, again, to brother trucker back in NY State and on the run, again. He said to himself, I go through more changes in a week than a lot of people do in a lifetime. No wonder I’m fucking tired. Then he fell asleep.
He woke at 11:00 p.m., put on a pair of sunglasses and a cowboy hat, and walked to the diner, only a couple of Bronx city blocks. It was a typical trucker hangout: country music on the jukebox, pretty waitresses, the smell of coffee and cigarettes in the air, mixed with a layer of greasy frying food.
He sat at a booth in the corner. He did not see Fat Joe yet. Then he looked up and saw the fat man coming toward him. He walked up to the booth and sat down. Fat Joe said, “Nice disguise. Who the fuck are you supposed to be, one of the fucking Village People? They had a cowboy, right?”
Frankie laughed and said, “How have you been, Joe?”
Joe replied, “Shit has been crazy here the past few months. The Colombian cartels are worse than your buddy Vinny and all those guys combined. They’re vicious and they want it all. Those are the guys behind John Quarry and Eddie and now Jones. Frankie, they are going to kill you. I was told by the guy who hit Jones, they’ll find you and kill you. If I were you, I’d head to fucking Canada and stay there. Too cold there for those South American fucks. The guy who hit Jones, he’s a pro, not a hired hand like John. He was just a local mechanic. This guy, he’s a killer, hit man for the cartel. I got to tell you this, if he asks me anything about you, I’m going to tell him. I like you Frankie, but I’m not going to die for you.”
Frankie said, “All I need is a name, Joe.” The waitress came by, took their orders, flirted a little with both men, then turned and walked away, wiggling her ass as she did. Frankie shook his head. “Seriously Joe, these guys, me, we’re killers, but that pussy, that’s deadly. What’s this guy’s name, Joe?”
Joe looked around before he talked. It was apparent he was deeply scared. “His name is Juan Carlos Felipe, crazy bastard. He’s everywhere, like a fucking ghost—tall, big guy, with jet black hair. He’s crazy, mustache, black eyes. Don’t fuck with him, Frankie.”
The waitress brought the food. They sat, quietly salting their food, adding ketchup, and stirring coffee in silence.
Frankie said, “This is simple, Joe. I want you to put the word out I’m looking for this asshole and I intend to kill him. I may die in the process, but I will kill him. That’s all I want from you, Joe. Just put the word on the street, and this crazy Irish fuck will kill him. I want to draw him out. I’ll pay him back for Mr. Jones.”
Frankie finished his eggs in silence, then he said, “Joe, have a happy Thanksgiving, you and your family. Don’t eat too much.” They both laughed. He continued, “I’m heading up to Orange County, going to see my Grandma and some old friends. Hey, I’m still not drunk, either. That’s kind of amazing, isn’t it?”
Joe said, “You know, I was going to ask you about that. How did that happen?”
Frankie said, “I’ll tell you next time I see you. It’s a process, a long process.” Frankie got up, threw some cash on the table, and walked out into the Bronx early morning.
Fat Joe sat and finished his breakfast. Two men approached him from the back of the diner. One was Juan Carlos Felipe. He sat down across from Fat Joe and asked, “Where is he going?” Joe said, “Home, Orange County. Why don’t you just go after him now and be done with it?”
Juan Carlos and the other man got up, and Juan said, “We need his death to be spectacular, newsworthy, to send a message to others.” He handed Joe some cash and patted him on the shoulder. They got up and left, too. Fat Joe motioned to the waitress and ordered more coffee.
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