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Saturday Crowd Scenes-Part VII

Goodbye, Virginia.


The 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.

Alone, 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.

 Marshall 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.

 "Goodbye, Virginia."

Marshall 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.

Marshall 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.

"Jesus," Marshall sighed.

Unconsciously, 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.

"Hold it right there, Marshall. You are officially surrounded." Cheever laughed.

'Son of a bitch, Mike. Can't the feds spring for a damn office clock?'  

"Hey, we're talking major cutbacks. Do you know how long the D Train takes just from Columbus Circle?"

'Great, 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?'

"Yeah, 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 old Marshall."

'Well, maybe you could tell me where my damn refund is then.'

"Shit, Marshall. Read the pamphlets. E-file and early."

'I'm always early, Mike. Always. C'mon let's get a slice.'

Marshall 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.

The skies they were ashen and sober…

When 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.

"Listen Marshall, the AG really appreciates what you did for us on that raceway bust. Off the record, of course."  

'I wouldn't expect that prick to speak other wise.' Marshall twisted open his soda with a loud "pfftth…"  

"Your 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."

Marshall 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 number tattoos.

Marshall 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 unspoken history.

Marshall flattened his palm and slid the envelope off the table and into his coat. He went back to his pizza.

'Good,' he nodded. He turned to look at the mango vendor on the sidewalk who was lopping off the top of a coconut with a machete.

"Marshall, 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."

'Shit, if you can't …well, I forget, this is a government job…'

"It's not that easy. Louis pulled out of there weeks ago. Marshall, we think he knows that you're dirty."

Marshall 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….

Marshall 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.

You are not wrong, who deem

That 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.

Instead, 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 than light.


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 Marshall.

 This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;

Mouse, 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 chemical momentum.

Marshall 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.

Trooper 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.

Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the same spot,
And much of madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.

The 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.


Read some Poe. Visit the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage at Grand Concourse and East Kingsbridge Road, Bronx, NY. 
Special thanks to Fay Lyn.

This issue dedicated to such distinguished author Karen ARMSTRONG &
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