Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyChapter IV

  • Sun, 22 Feb 2015 03:19:00    Permalink
    Jerry is making a Manhattan on the rocks for Mister Windle. He pours the frothing liquid from the shaker into the glass where it settles to amber with hints of yellow, scarlet, and blue from the reflection of the Christmas lights strung above the bar. No cherry. Mister Windle is a Brit and has an accent, but he's turned out to be a good guy despite the way he sounds - which, afterall, isn't his fault - genuinely interested in Americans and things American. He’d introduced himself three years ago as, “Windle, John Windle” and Jerry, just to see what he was made of, began calling him “Mister Windle.” After a few sincere urgings to just call him John, Mister Windle tumbled to the fact that he was being put on, and soon was as comfortable in the name as he was in his camel hair overcoat. Began calling the bartender “Mister Jerry” much to Jerry’s satisfaction. Good guys were few and far between.It’s February and the year-round Christmas lights outside the River House reflect on the ice chunks heaped in the little cove under the western sweep of the Tappan Zee Bridge, giving the scene a muted carnival glow. Manhattan, in its insane hurry to get somewhere, has roared over the bridge and missed this quiet place, the town of Talman, noted once for its shoe factories, long since abandoned. Jerry is telling Mister Windle, “No, they can’t just run all the time, even though, as you say, that’s what they seem to do best, because then the other team, the defense, would stack everyone closer to the line of scrimmage, discouraging the run.”“Hence the forward pass.”Jerry pours someone a draft. “Exactly. Loosen them up. Plus which, think about at the end of a game when you’re behind and you need to score but you’re running out of time. The passing play gets you bigger gains. And, if the pass is incomplete, the clock stops.”“However, the incomplete pass results in a loss of the down, correct?”“There’s hope for you yet, Mister Windle.”It is the consensus of the regulars that Jerry is a solid citizen with a good thing going. He’s got a long standing gig as an adjunct English professor at Thomas Aquinas College on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons, and he manages the bar at the River House Tuesday through Saturday nights. But what he really is, is an information manager. He gets his news from both sides of the tracks and deploys it judiciously. Somebody’s fucking somebody’s wife, and the husband is a creep, Jerry doesn’t have a thing to say. But if the guy's OK and wife is a slut, an ingrate or a nut job, well...Jerry’s credibility derives from the fact that his own wife, Denise, proved to be a slut, an ingrate, and something of a nut job herself. Jerry had just returned to Talman from the Korean War, trying to finish his masters on the GI Bill and put his life back together. He and Denise met at this very River House, and they got pregnant and married, in that order. A few years after that, Denise freaked, walked out on Jerry and the baby without a word. Turned out later she’d joined Sri Chinmoy in Manhattan where, it was rumored, she’d found spiritual peace through meditation and weightlifting. She’d always been a profound physical specimen, so the weightlifting was understandable. But Jerry refused all gestures of reconciliation no matter how much meditation had “improved her as a person.” He dated women after Denise, but never married again. Fool him once.Somehow, he’d managed not to drown in the soupy mess of heartbreak, single parenting, and undiagnosed post traumatic stress. The longer he survived the more resilient he became, but tenderer, too. That squinched up face, all mustache and nose and scarred chin, those big, sad eyes. Tough as nails and soft as a grape. Finished his masters and got his kid into private school. A standup guy. At least in the opinion of the Solons who line the bar at the River House. The sleigh bells on the big oak door give their muted jingle, and in comes Jerry’s half brother Skippy. Uncle Skippy, babysitter-in-chief. Skippy, with the thick dark hair, shining eyes, and square chin. Skippy of the many girlfriends. Skippy the insouciant prankster. Skippy the punk. Skippy the smalltime crook. Skippy the junky, with a tall, nervous companion in tow, and a smile for everyone at the bar. Buddy Buddy, a wet brain at one of the tables in the front of the room, gets excited.“Hey, buddy buddy!”Skippy delivers a mock punch to the man’s shoulder. “How’s things, Buddy Buddy?”Buddy Buddy gobbles the attention. “Hey, buddy buddy,” he says. “Hey…”Skippy and his friend unzip their jackets, find seats at the bar, receive and return nods from Jerry and Mister Windle, to whom Skippy introduces the gaunt stranger as, “my man, Al.” He orders two Rheingolds, lays a bill on the bar, and continues with Mister Windle’s football education, citing the mediocre seasons put up by Allie Sherman and his New York Giants as the reason for the otherwise inexplicable “Goodbye, Allie!” chant. Jerry walks over to receive the bill and sees Benjamin Franklin staring up at him. Gives Skippy the fish eye.“For last month’s tab,” Skippy says. “And next month’s.”Jerry returns to the register and puts it with the others beneath the coin tray. He wonders, not for the first time, if it is actually possible to be a joyous junky. A harmless or, no, a Robin Hood junky. Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. The poor strung out creeps his kid brother runs with. Like this new friend Al. Some sap who blew into town looking for a connection and landed in Skippy's generous embrace. Sooner or later he'll be at the end of his dough and then it will be “Good bye, Al!”Jerry watching Skippy, he of the restless intelligence, chatting up Mister Windle, trying to work out what, exactly, the limey's deal is. Over the past few years Windle has so integrated himself into the ambiance of this place that he seems as much a part of it as Jerry, for whom he’s become number one straight man. Which, now that Jerry thinks of it, is something of an accomplishment - in an unobtrusive Windle way. Skippy, who had never thought of this before, thinks of it now and finds it intriguing, because there's something about the guy that doesn't add up. Windle’s shoes, for example, must’ve cost more than Jerry’s entire wardrobe. And he’s a lawyer for the Talman Housing Authority? Skippy the mouser.“Errand boy, actually,” Mister Windle corrects him. “They call me a consultant, but I specialize in running errands.” He pronounces it, “spessialize.”“You’re, like, a Housing Authority authority?”“Hardly. I picked that part of it up on the fly. To be honest, it’s the way I sound. And the way I dress, I suppose.” He peers down the length of his woven silk repp bar tie, striped in charcoal and pink (with matching pink display hankie that somehow looks manly and suave against the pinstriped jacket), then up at Skippy, with an apologetic smile. “These are my work clothes.”“I don’t get it.”“I sound to American ears like a man who knows what he's talking about. And I look like a man who's done well knowing what he knows. When in fact...”Skippy smiles encouragement. “I know that hustle.”“Yes, young Skipper, I believe you do. So when the Talman bosses need another dole, they send me to Albany with the proposal.”“For what?”“We're talking about Urban Renewal, Skippy. Our 'blighted Negro ghetto.' The eighty acres of desperately substandard housing and crumbling infrastructure we fondly think of as 'downtown.' In five years you won't recognize it. Federal grant money dripping down from Kennedy and HUD to Rockefeller and his cronies to hungry entities like the Talman Housing Authority."“So you're a lobbyist.” Skippy hasn't read anything other than the sports page in years, but this talk of Albany and cronies makes his ears perk up.“No, a go-between.” Skippy nods, thinking, You're a fucking bag man, Mister Windle.He smells money of a sort that does not have the nervous, sour stink of breaking and entering or small time drug deals. Windle's “hungry entity” has already taken over several blocks of Skippy's old stomping grounds, in preparation, it is rumored, for office towers. Whatever the fuck office towers are, there have to be millions of dollars involved, with some presumed amount of collateral leakage. And it sounds like there will be a lot more to come. Leakage. What else would explain the clothes, the fancy car? And isn’t it interesting that Mister Windle never talks about his past except in the most general terms, other than to say that he was “in finance” in Hong Kong and then Manhattan, and that it “got complicated”? It's all theoretical to Skippy. As removed from the daily round of his activities as bird watching. But it is exactly that daily round, populated by pigeons like Al, that is beginning to pale. Skippy wants to get off the streets. And he's thinking maybe...He buys Mister Windle another Manhattan, then turns his attention to Al. They drink more, sidle off to play shuffleboard. Mister Windle watches the late news, then departs, two Manhattans under his belt. It’s a weeknight and by 10:30 the River House is deserted. Al disappears. Down to the Chelsea drug store, Jerry imagines, to get his prescription filled.He begins cleaning up. Last load of glasses and a final wipe down. Skippy, headed for the door, stops, as if his stopping were an afterthought, and says to Jerry, “So what’s really up with Mister Windle? What’s his deal?”“What do you mean?”“C’mon, Jerry. Finance in Hong Kong? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? You ever ask him?”Jerry puts the towel down and moves to his brother's end of the bar. Skippy is in his face once again, looking for trouble, or excitement, or simply diversion, and Jerry responds with an older brother's moral authority. This is a game they’ve played all their lives. Jerry measures off a yard of jokey warning, with a promise of worse to come if necessary. And Skippy knows that old Jerr, with the scrunched up soulful puss, is capable of delivering it. Jerry is bedrock, sincere. He will inadvertently provide a useful read on Mister Windle. “Skipper, if you’re even thinking what I think you’re thinking, don’t. Don’t fuck with Mister Windle, and don’t get any ideas about working him in any way, shape, or form. I don’t know fuck-all about his clothes or his car or his money or Hong Kong any more than he tells me. He’s a decent guy, is all, and I don’t care to know what he doesn’t care to say. But I’ll tell you this: I’ve got a feeling about him that he might be a tougher customer than he seems to be. That he might see you coming before you even think of whatever it is you’d better not be thinking of, and that he might give you cause to regret it. Very efficiently and very abruptly.”Skippy grins his irrepressible charmer grin. “Bond,” he says in a phony English accent. “James Bond.”


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