OUT ON JOPPA
So it was like this went down back when I was a kid and Nicky Scarlatti scared the living shit out of everyone who hung around The Lodge because that was the kind of guy he was. Nicky and me ran around with two other Whale- Boy Blake, and we did whatever and whoever we could. Our specialty was house robbing; for a year or two we all lived in a row house down on Calvert Street and it was a short jog right up to Homeland, and Roland Park where we lifted up the ladders and pried our way into stately homes, basically ripping off everything we could carry. We had a really nice little fencing scene going over in Dundalk; Nick owned a warehouse in which he kept paintings, and silverware and the family jewels, TV’s, compact disc players, Moose heads for laughs, all kinds of shit. All this when he was just seventeen. I mean he was a real villain, top of the class. Robbing, strong arming, dope selling…you name it, the kid had it cornered.
Where were the cops? They were around. But what could they do? Nicky’s dad was Jimmy Scarlatti, yeah that one…he ran nine clubs, and fifty hookers and more dope out of the great Port O’ Baltimore than Al Capone did whiskey in Old Chicago.
He also owned politicians by the score…they were like little puppets he kept in his hip pocket, took them out, dusted them off and let them make speeches at City Hall.
What’d they talk about? Reform. What the fuck else? The roads gotta be reformed, concrete is gotta be poured, don’t we need a new dam now that Pretty Boy is old and cracked? Yeah, we do and who is gonna supply the concrete ,none other than Maiden Choice Concrete, owned and operated by Tommy Floria, Jimmy’s running buddy from Little Italy. How about schools, fuck yes we need schools, great big concrete mutherfucking schools, and what about a new stadium, well fuck n A yes we need a new stadium…old Memorial Stadium is a piece of shit, the piss runs in lakes out of the broken urinals…Now stadiums are good things…Jesus, there’s a million ways to make money off a stadium…from the stanchions to the new seats to the fucking crab cake and beer franchises. That’s American enterprise at its fucking best.
Yes, the world was good for the Scarlatti’s, and better than that for young Nicky, king of the teenage bad boys.
Everything was coming up money, right until Jimmy got Nick his new Corvette for his 18th birthday. Well, actually it was an old Corvette, 1956 classic, but all tricked out with duel carbs, super fuel inject, two steel pipes in the back, and original white wall tires. The engine only had about five hundred and eighty horses. What a fucking beauty. I woulda given my own left nuts for it and both of yours.
Oh, did Nicky love that car. He and me and Whale Boy used to blast up to the Lodge get down on some crystal meth in the back bathroom, drink down about half a gallon of Jack Daniels and then go cruising through the city, looking for chicks to fuck, guys to fuck over, houses to rob.
I remember hitting the light at Charles and North Avenue…fucking North Avenue with like four lanes of traffic and Jimmy doesn’t even slow down, just blasts through it going about ninety miles an hour.
I’m screaming: “Hollllly shittttt,”
Cars are slamming their brake and horns are blasting and I see a five car crash-up behind us, and Jimmy is laughing, screaming with his pointed chin and beady eyes, and Whale is doing his Whale Boy flip out…yelling
“Whaaaa Whaaa Whaaaa!”
What a rush!
And Nicky keeps right on going through the city, and out onto the Baltimore Beltway where we start terrorizing four girls in a Toyota, screaming “Baby come sit on my face!” and other subtle shit like that. (Can you believe they didn’t wanna?)
And then it happens…like we knew it would.
There’s a siren and a flashing red light behind us and this state trooper is closing in on us.
And Nicky starts laughing and weaving right and left…and then the guy starts in over the loudspeaker:
“This is the Maryland State Police. Pull over at once, sir!”
And Nicky is laughing so hard he almost rams into the speed limit sign as he pulls over, and the guy stops about ten feet behind us. Nicky starts to get out of the car, and the guy freaks, starts yelling over his speaker:
“Do not leave your car, sir. Get back into your car at once, sir.”
And Nicky is just laughing, doubled over…as he sort of half gets back in, sitting on the back of the seat top…
And the trooper walks toward us, all stiff and formal, a long lean Clint Eastwood looking guy with the reflector shades on even though it’s nighttime. And he goes through the whole “Let me see your license and registration, bit,” and me and Whale are sitting there not knowing what’s going down. But Nicky hands it to him real cool, and then looks at the guy and before he can say anything else, Nick says, “Aren’t you gonna ask me was I drinking?” And the Trooper, whose name I can now read as Stumpfel, looks at him and says,” Are you trying to be funny, son?” And Nicky says, “No sir, I just didn’t want you to be derelict in your duty.” I liked that touch “derelict”. Nicky had a pretty good vocabulary for a gangster…Now the guy looks at him harder and says, “Thank you very much, but I don’t think I’m going to have a problem doing my duty, punk.” And Nicky looks all a flutter at that one, says in this kind of high pitched fag voice, “That is sooo upsetting. My dad is gonna hate that you called me that.” Now the guy looks at him again, taking off the mirrored shades and you know he wants to stick his hand down Nicky’s throat and pull out his heart, but instead something like a revelation comes into his face, and he looks back down at the license…and when he looks back up again, he’s totally changed., I mean the whole Clint thing is stone gone, and the tight little tough guy lips are kind of twitching and his voice, I swear, is like a half-register higher, and he says, “Oh Mr. Scarlatti, well why didn’t you say so? Listen, no problem son. Just take it a little bit easy will you?” And he’s sort of backing away like some old slave, shucking and jiving, and Nicky’s looking after him and laughing, and saying, “Yeah ,no problem Sergeant Dickhead…none at all. We’ll be rolling along now, fuckface.” And he turns and slides back down into the seat and we peeled out of there like we’d been shot out of a cannon, leaving a rubber patch about twenty feet long. And the dickhead trooper, he didn’t see or hear a thing. Man, he couldn’t wait to get away…
That was maybe…no for sure, the greatest night of Nick’s life. As he explained to me later when we got back down the Lodge and were smoking these big spliffs he’d gotten off a boat from Jamaica…
“Here’s the thing, man…The cops, the politicians all of them are nothing. We run the scene Eddie Boy, you and me and Whale man, and anybody else we fucking choose.”
And I was nodding my head and digging the music on the box…some ancient Stones thing…and yet I couldn’t help but add a note of caution, and I said:
“Yeah but Nick, we don’t want to attract too much attention,” And he laughed and said, “Don’t be a pussy. I studied ancient Rome, which is what we got here. We run the show and the thing to do is to make sure the cocksuckers know it. This whole secretive thing…I don’t buy it. You want to spread the fear, the intimidation, so that they are already beaten before you even show up. They’ve shit their pants and they can’t fight back. You saw that cop tonight. He was paralyzed with fear cause he knew the Roman legions had swooped out of the city onto his territory. Man, I loved that…That boy is my bitch. Love it, dig it…We all die Edward so grab the power and squeeze while you got it.”
“I guess so,” I said. The way he said it, the way his eyes shown into mine like headlamps, oh man, I believed it.
And that was how Nick’s new hobby began.
In the red Corvette, screaming out to the belt way, high on every drug we could cop, and scaring the shit out of the local cops.
I dreaded it really…I kept thinking one of them would take us off to jail, kick our asses, but Nicky was right. It never happened. We cruised, we drove on the grass plot in the middle of the fucking highway, we drove over people’s lawns in the middle of the night and then waited for the cops to come.
City cops, state cops, it didn’t make a bit of difference baby. They all freaked when they saw that license…
“Sorry Mr. Scarlatti.”
“Nick Scarlatti, hey how you doing?”
“Oh Nick? I know your dad. Take it easy son.”
There was something about those rides that made Nick, me Whale…all of us felt like we were golden. Like they couldn’t touch us. Soon we got real empowered, as the shrinks say now…empowered to steal more and more. Guilford, Falls Road, Homeland…man we were racking up the robberies. Rolling in ill gotten gains.
One night we climbed into this guy’s house lived on Hollywood Lane. Cruised right in and robbed the fucking guy blind while he was passed out in the bed next to his wife.
The guy wakes up and looks out, all blinky and freaked, and says:
And Nick says:
“House robbers,” Nick says. “Go back to sleep.”
“What the hell?” the guy says. “Who the hell are you?”
“My name’s Nick,” Nicky says. “This is Eddie, and this big guy is Whale Boy. “We’re gonna take all your shit now, okay?”
“Fuck!” the guy says.
“Who is it, Gerald?” the wife says now rolling over with cold cream on her face.
“Geez, how many times I gotta tell you?” Nick asks, picking up a big handful of the guy’s silk ties. “It’s Nick, the house robber. We’re going to take all your shit. You got too much of it anyway.”
“Call the police, Gerald,” the woman says.
“Nah, you don’t want to do that Gerald, Nick says. “Cause if you do I’m gonna have Whale Boy hear stick his Beluga up your wife’s pee-pee. Then I’m gonna come over to you, and make you suck my cock, Gerald.”
“Gerald,” the wife said. “Do something!”
“Shut the fuck up, Lois,” Gerald said.” Take the stuff guys. Just hurry…I think I’m gonna be sick.”
“Goodman Gerald,” Nick said. He put the ties in his bag and started scraping up the money off the dresser.
What a scene that night was. Robbing a guy and telling him your name and knowing that he wasn’t going to do shit. I mean that was colorful. Yet, I got a little worried. Turned out the guy was some kind of bigwig doctor at Larson Payne Hospital and was on boards at a lot of downtown businesses.
But Nick never got scared. Just the opposite. He loved it that we’d jerked the guy off like that.
He took the guy’s ties and started wearing them around. I mean a tie with the guy’s initials on it. Jesus fucking Christ…
I worried about that. But ok I loved it too.
Then he went over the top.
I mean there was this Christmas thing at City Hall and we went and there was the fucking guy, Gerald himself, right across the room, hobnobbing with the head of the city council Joe Narowski, and there’s Nicky wearing his tie. Man, I wanted to book right away, but not Nicky. He grabs me by the arm and pulls me over to the guy with him, smiling and greeting his old man’s friends like he’s the Pope.
“Gerald,” Nick says, “I’ve heard all about your work. Very impressive.”
Gerald looks confused at first like he’s trying to place the voice. I’m feeling embarrassed, looking down at my feet. Man, this was not called for. But Nick isn’t going to stop. He sort of punches Gerald on the arm, and goes right on:
“I’m Nick Scarlatti. This is my friend, Edward Morris. Pleased to meet you, sir.”
But Gerald says nothing at all. He’s just staring at Nick’s tie. .
“Sir?” Nick says. “Are you all right, sir?’
“Oh yes, fine,” Gerald says. But his voice is like a little squeak. And his face is crimson, man…
“You like this tie?” Nick says. “Got it as a Christmas gift. Well, good to meet you Doc. You de man.”
We walked away, Nicky laughing, and grabbing a drink as we staggered out to the Vette.
See,it was like one kind of dare…robbing a guy, fed the other kind of automotive insanity, and there we were one day later driving out the Joppa Road doing about ninety-five as we go by Carney’s Crab House…I forget what the fuck we were doing out there, trolling for Christmas pussy no doubt…and running people off the road, of course…laughing as we see their cars hitting the ditch…ba boom ba boom, and we get to this little stretch of woods over in Parkville somewhere, you know the area where the hairhoppers all live, and Nick really opens up…and sure enough right around the corner comes this fucking trooper’s car…it’s coming after us…and Nicky is laughing and doing power slides around corners and handing me a joint… and I’m so wasted I don’t quite know what’s going down, but the guy does the whole siren thing, then the walky-talky bit, except this cop seems to have a sense of humor, because he doesn’t command us to pull over and stop, instead he says, “I strongly suggest you stop,” and Nicky looks at me and says, “Great! Comedian cops now. This ought to be different.”
So he pulls to a stop, and hops right out of the car, and the guy comes walking toward us…and I’m expecting the usual Clint long tall laconic bit but instead we get this guy who is built like a fireplug, and there’s something else about him too…though I was sort of too wasted to know what it was…but I think it was the color of his uniform. It didn’t look quite right…like an off brown that was more piss yellow. And he acted kinda cool when Nick handed him his license. I mean even after he looked down at it, he seemed …like the name didn’t mean shit to him.
And he smiled at us…oh man, that smile.
And he said:
“Mr. Scarlatti, you were driving at ninety miles an hour and you were responsible for a number of motor accidents a few miles back, and therefore I am going to have to ask you and your friend here to come with me.”
Nick squinted and looked right through him, with his deaths head smile and said:
“Have you read my license you fucking punk?”
The cop nodded and handed it back to him. But as Nicky took it, the guy had unsheathed his pistol. That was when I started feeling all hollow inside.
“Come with me now,” he said. “Both of you.”
“You’re out of your fucking mind,” Nicky said. “My father will…”
But the guy didn’t let him finish. Instead he hit him across the face with the gun butt, breaking Nicky’s nose like you’d snap a kitchen match.
“You come too, sir,” the man said.
He pulled Nicky out of the car and kicked him in the back of his leg, bringing him to his knees.
I thought maybe I could run away out to the road, which now looked so empty and dark. But there was no way.
“You can’t do this,” I said, as he pushed us toward his car.
That’s when I began to really feel sick. The paint job on his car was off. It had obviously been done in a hurry by someone who wasn’t too sure how it should really look.
It was fine until you got up close, but then you could see that the Maryland decal was messed up, and that there was some metallic primer still showing underneath.
Nicky saw it too, and said:
“You asshole, you can’t get away with this. My father will fucking scrape your nuts off with a nail file.”
“Shut up,” the guy said. “You rude little shit.”
He kicked Nicky inside. That’s when I tried to run for it, but he hammered me in the head, and as I fell I thought I heard him giggle. Like this was all some kind of cute little game.
When I came too we weren’t even on the road anymore. Oh no…we were back in some kind of Parkville woods, the kind that are all thick pine, so dark you can’t even see the moon.
Nicky was down on his knees next to me, and the guy was standing over him with his big assed barreled .45 an inch or so in front of Nick’s nose. I was lying next to him…and I heard Nicky start to beg:
“Look man, I don’t know who you are but if you don’t do this, my old man…he’ll set you up for life. For life! You won’t have to do shit, except go down to your mailbox everyday and just take out your money.”
The guy laughed then too…a high pitched clown’s laugh…Oh man…that laugh.
He put the gun next to Nicky’s lips, ran it around them in this gentle way.
“Suck on this, Nicky Boy,” he said.
“No!” Nick said. “Please.”
He was starting to cry now. Nicky! I couldn’t believe it.
“Who the fuck are you?” Nick said.
“Just think of me as a friend of Gerald’s,” the guy said. “He said you could keep the tie.”
Then he fired the .45. The back of Nicky’s head blew backwards and splattered on an oak…I think it was an oak anyway. It’s funny the shit that goes through your mind when you’re about to be killed. Oak, pine, I never could tell them apart. Neither one of them looks good with hair and brains sliding down them though.
I staggered to my feet and watched the guy standing there, the smoke coming out of his gun. He had on his goddamned reflector shades and he stuck his belly out and rubbed his back. Like he was finishing up a good day’s work and getting ready for a friendly beer.
I turned and ran, ran for the tree line, and was sure, dead sure that any second he’d blast me in the back. Then I heard him laughing after me, that high pitched screech of a laugh, and I kept on running, stumbling, falling ,getting back up again, scared shitless… until I came to a place called Jo Jo’s Tire yard, and I fell in there and found the old man. Jo Jo himself, who took me in and gave me a pint of cheap booze…and then about an hour later drove me back into the city. And never asked one damned question the whole time.
I cleared out that night…as fast as I could, and caught a Greyhound headed south.
For over a year, I moved around a lot from motel to motel.
I changed my hair color to red, and then to blonde and I grew a beard.
I read the papers and watched the TV. It came up pretty soon.
SON OF CRIME FIGURE DISAPPEARS. Somewhere farther down in the lead they’d mention me too. Edward Morris, 18, a family friend also gone. Yeah, I liked that. A family friend, like we were old school mates from St Paul Prep or someplace.
It’s been over ten years now, and they never found Nick. Not one hair of him.
They never found me either. I don’t go by Eddie anymore, and I don’t stay in one place all that long. I know I know…if the guy had wanted to kill me he could have and that I should feel safe.
But I don’t.
I’m never going to feel safe again as long as I remember those glasses, and hear that laugh. That’s just how it is, and all because of a Red Corvette. .