Crowd Scenes-Part VII
by Joe CARNEY
two would meet every third Wednesday of the month, at
eleven a.m., in front of the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage,
just off of the Grand Concourse. Marshall would cruise
the side streets by Fordham for spots and then depart
his faded, gold Cadillac for the walk uphill towards the
city park that held the slant roofed monument to a writer's
misery. Even when parking was tight in the busy shopping
district, Marshall was always the first to arrive.
on the sidewalk, by the black iron fence, he would stand
and stare at the cottage in all types of weather. Today,
he unwrapped a small brick of green gum in a warm, white,
late spring haze that made him appreciate the designer
bootleg sunglasses that he had copped down on Canal Street.
chewed and snapped, watching the resident guide lead a
group of a dozen or so grade school students into the
house. As the last student filed into what was once a
sitting room, the door shut behind her red jacket and
Marshall spoke to no one.
was a big Poe fan. Virginia was the doomed Edgar Allan's
wife who had died from tuberculosis at the house in 1847.
Her death sent Poe on an emotional and carbolic bender
that claimed his own life two years later.
sympathized at this lost love, but also resented, somewhat
romantically, the woman whom he felt had sent his favorite
writer into a fatal downward spiral. With that resentment,
he stood and glared at the door with an intensity that
snapped the down turned forehead of the fifth grade teacher
who had suddenly burst back through it and onto the porch
while lighting a cigarette. Marshall's shaded eyes uncomfortably
met the young man's and produced a sheepish smirk and
coughing exhalation. Marshall could look mean in his dark,
leather pea coat, but that nervous, electric twinge that
always shot up his left leg and shoulder in confrontation,
bade him to turn away quickly towards the Kingsbridge
Road intersection. He spit his gum at the curb.
he patted for the nine-millimeter pistol tucked into his
left, inside jacket pocket. Looking up, his gaze resettled
on the man at the next corner in the pin striped blue
suit and tan trench coat, walking towards him, aiming
a rolled up New York Post like a sniper's rifle. It was
Cheever. Twenty minutes late.
it right there, Marshall. You are officially surrounded."
a bitch, Mike. Can't the feds spring for a damn office
we're talking major cutbacks. Do you know how long the
D Train takes just from Columbus Circle?"
I bust my ass driving through parkway traffic from Yonkers,
and the damn government is squeezing penny number one-fifty
out of junior agent's monthly value pass?'
don't you love it? You could have stopped and played the
ponies. Oh wait, you're out of that loop. Don't worry
though, there's still plenty of taxpayer dough left for
maybe you could tell me where my damn refund is then.'
Marshall. Read the pamphlets. E-file and early."
always early, Mike. Always. C'mon let's get a slice.'
headed across the Concourse to the Italy Pizzeria with
the agent whom he still wasn't sure was his equal. He
turned back towards the cottage as the teacher stomped
out his butt on the porch. He looked up at the worn shutters
of Virginia's bedroom window and did not see her forgiving
him. He softly repeated Poe's words from Ulalume while Cheever checked a cell phone voicemail.
skies they were ashen and sober…
they got to the pizza shop, Marshall ordered a Sicilian
and a Manhattan Special.
After five minutes, the two men slid into an orange plastic
booth. Agent Cheever dabbed the grease off of his mushroom
slice with a napkin.
Marshall, the AG really appreciates what you did for us
on that raceway bust. Off the record, of course."
wouldn't expect that prick to speak other wise.' Marshall
twisted open his soda with a loud "pfftth…"
loyalty touches me." Cheever spoke through a full
mouth. "Anyway, I guess it's hard for any guy playing
both ends against the middle to give a fuck about people."
He reached into the pocket of his jacket and threw a yellow
envelope on the table. "Here you go."
pushed aside his plate and grabbed the offering with his
right hand. In one motion, he flipped it onto its back
and broke the seal with his thumb. Without looking down,
he flipped through the stack of hundreds with an index
finger and counted to thirty by touch. Ben Franklin's
face occasionally sprouted unseen devil horns or phone
had done this type of fast counting what seemed like a
million times before - in back room dice games in the
Bronx, Vegas casinos, Reno, even London. He trusted his
hands. They had been with him on both sides of these transactions.
Running games he paid off the cops. Counting house takes
he had snuck some into his own pile. He had shaken down
as well as paid protection. He had bought information
in order to stay on the good side. When the work dried
up, the games broke, the bosses and the connections died
away he had turned to selling out others in order to pay
the bills. Marshall had forgotten a long time ago which
side he was. What he had learned or taken was in his hands.
Their skill steadied him and held the course with their
flattened his palm and slid the envelope off the table
and into his coat. He went back to his pizza.
he nodded. He turned to look at the mango vendor on the
sidewalk who was lopping off the top of a coconut with
like I said, you've done really great for us. We're looking
at three, maybe four major laundering convictions here.
We might even be able to tie this whole thing to Louis."
if you can't …well, I forget, this is a government
not that easy. Louis pulled out of there weeks ago. Marshall,
we think he knows that you're dirty."
swallowed a doughy lump. Cheever launched into an explanation
about how one of his own people had blown cover and mentioned
Marshall to someone who….
heard none of it. The day that comes for every snitch
had come for him with pizza and coffee soda. He felt his
left leg twinge as he stared through the glass. The mango
vendor squeezed cane juice into a tall dixie cup from
a stalk run through a press. Edgar Allan Poe drowned out
the young FBI agent in his head.
are not wrong, who deem
my days have been a dream;
Marshall wasn't sure why he didn't feel more. More scared,
more pissed off, more anything. Somewhere in New Jersey,
or downtown, or maybe even Brooklyn, Louis Vattore had
gotten hip and signed Marshall's death letter. Marshall's
general numbness anesthetized the familiar left side twitch,
kept his hand off of his gun pocket, and emphatically
stamped out any other fight or flight reflex that may
have sprung up.
Marshall had finished his lunch, thanked Agent Cheever
with an appropriate "fuck you" handshake, and
gone outside to drink a cup of that sugar cane juice.
He dove into the unrelenting bustle of Fordham Road shoppers
and rode their river east past countless discount stereos
and plastic wrapped sneakers.
He spent most of the day in Belmont playing speed chess
with the chain smoking eastern bloc regulars at the cramped
Arthur Avenue coffee houses. No one there ever said much
to Marshall. His game was solid, if not overpowering.
His hands reached out in equal frequency to knock over
a bishop or knight for checkmate as they did to offer
a lengthwise folded twenty between index and middle fingers
for a loss. By the time he was through, Marshall was down
exactly forty dollars plus three and a quarter more for
the cheap cigar that he chose to suck and roll rather
Evening began to creep up on Marshall at the Bronx Zoo.
He blended easily with the swarms of tourists and lovers
as he studied the grounds map. However, the numbness presided
as trump over any potential trail or exhibit choice, and
Marshall instead had stood for hours in front of the owl's
cage. The owl, at thirty-five, was almost as old as he
was. It had been rescued years ago after a number four
train hit it. Marshall pictured the collision as sparks
and steel from on high rather than the mundane blood and
feathers of every day accident. The owl twisted its neck
from a half eaten mouse on the ground and then back to
I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
rat. Mouse, rat. Marshall felt nothing and threw his unfolded
map in a trash barrel.
The bottle slid from fingers to wooden planks and splashed
the thin remnants of bourbon and spit along with the explosion
of glass. The mess lay close to the single Phillips head
screwdriver next to Marshall's right boot. The screwdriver
was all that the hands had needed to break into the Edgar
Allan Poe Cottage. It was well past midnight and the milky
sucrose coating of cane juice on Marshall's larynx had
long since been replaced with the spiked burn of doubles
from store bought pints. The numbness now had genuine
stood and stared at Virginia's bed. He couldn't hear Poe
downstairs at the roll top desk scratching out his prayer
for the dying. He reached forward to touch the heavy bed
covers as police sirens roared down the concourse on their
way to mop up another bodega disturbance. Marshall slumped
to his knees to better smell the mildewed blankets now
dancing with whiskey fumes. He shivered in the delayed,
drunken lurch of the entire room spinning, and howled
for the return of the painful twinge in his left side.
He couldn't see Virginia closing her eyes for one last
time. His hands flattened over the wide floorboards and
pushed him to his feet. He didn't say goodbye.
The September Miami sun was dead on in aim for Marshall's
neck as he crossed the Dade County Community College parking
lot. He reached the gold Cadillac in the commuter section
and threw his comparative American literature text and
legal pad notebook in the passenger seat. He cursed the
heat and quickly opened both the windows and air conditioning
to full bore. He revved the engine and ripped out of the
space. After cutting off a young math student in a jeep,
and blasting past two general studies attendees in tube
tops, Marshall suddenly hit the brakes. Blocking the exit
to the street was a Florida state police car.
Maria Carter exited slowly after the screech. Marshall's
left side twinged on the obvious side of throbbing. His
hands tightly gripped the sewn vinyl steering wheel cover.
He thought about the gun in the glove compartment and
looked down at today's class notes on poetry.
a circle that ever returneth in
the same spot,
much of madness, and more of Sin,
Horror the soul of the plot.
news reports the next day said "resisting arrest."
No one was sure how the gun went off. They had to pry
the literature text from the older student's hands. He
was originally from the Bronx.
some Poe. Visit the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage at Grand Concourse
and East Kingsbridge Road, Bronx, NY.
thanks to Fay Lyn.