The Book I Wrote: Manifest Destiny Chapter 8
Driving up to Rikers Island, my thoughts leapfrogged from one thought to another. My dialogue with Dupont needed to be witty, sharp, confident, but relaxed. I needed Alvin Dupont to trust me. I had acted in plays back in high school. Trust me, I played a mean Augustus Gloop. Although, the stakes were much higher now.
I drove over the bridge to Rikers, beginning what I’m sure inmates viewed as a descent into hell. I couldn’t help but be intimidated by the place. It was massive, and with a facility that housed thousands of criminals, I was a bit nervous for my safety. Walking into the visitor facility was fairly unpleasant. The place was, dark, uninviting, and decrepit. Rust painted the piping running along the ceiling and the absence of any color besides white, grey, or black painted a bleak picture. Given the place wasn’t the most welcoming prison, did nothing to settle my anxiety. I made it through security without issue. The zombie like mechanics of the staff, along with the visible disdain for their job, only assured me that if someone wanted to get something through, they could.
I checked in at the visitors counter and seated myself on one of the many luxurious plastic chairs. It was bolted to the ground, probably in case someone wanted to use it as a weapon.
I waited ….. and waited… long past my appointment time. There were quite a few others in the waiting area and many who sat down after me, but were called up before. Either Alvin wasn’t in the mood to talk, or there was no timeliness associated with the place. I continued to glance at the receptionist every few minutes with the hope she would suddenly realize how long I'd been waiting. She had her head buried in a magazine.
Finally, the lady behind the counter yelled “Nick” and my head quickly shot up. I approached, stretching from the plastic chair. A guard ushered me into a section for visitation. It was open with many other inmates conversing with relatives/friends. I presumed it was low risk prisoners since no one appeared to be in shackles. I was ushered to an empty table and waited patiently as the guard brought in Alvin Dupont. He was dwarfed by the guard. No taller than 5’7, he wore orange overalls, scruffy beard, presenting an exhausted look. I couldn’t tell if he wanted to see me or if it was more of a burden. Considering the way he shuffled towards me, I wasn’t feeling too optimistic. He took a seat across from me, his face communicated unfriendliness, but I wouldn't let that deter me.
“Hi, Alvin my name is Nick,” I came off as peppy. “I work as an amateur journalist for New Jersey weekly. Lately I’ve been fixated on writing stories about career criminals.” Unfazed disinterest met my greeting.
“So far I’ve only tackled murderers. The pieces have been received so well I decided to delve into other crimes.” He looked at me expressionless. I hated not being able to read his face. I continued “Anyway I had a friend of mine run some background on thefts in the area I lived in, and your name popped up. I dug further and was impressed and intrigued by your work.” Once I threw out a couple compliments I had his attention. His face perked up. He may not have meant to, it was subtle, but I could see some anticipation looming in his eyes. There was a rough look to him. Healed scars of prior bad acne marked his face. He looked aged beyond his years.
“If you had the time I would really appreciate hearing anything you’d like to share about theft, the thrills, the lows, advice. I’m really trying to put together a comprehensive piece.” He shrugged and attempted to look disinterested, almost bothered. “I understand that you don’t know….” He put his hand up to stop my rambling, then waved it in a nonverbal scold.
“Ahh you're asking a lot from me...mister…..Nick was it?” His habitual pauses and slow speech; I couldn’t decipher as deliberate or his natural pace.
“I could be working in the shop right now making some money, so unless I’m getting compensated I can’t provide you much information.” He sat back with a smirk and let me formulate a response. He was crafty I’ll give him that.
“Listen Alvin, I can give you $30. There are plenty of other inmates to interview and I’m sure your not getting more then pennies working here.” It was the best I could do. It’s all I had in my wallet. I hadn't even thought about bringing money for a bribe. In all honesty I would’ve paid the guy $300 if that's what it took. He pondered the deal, then threw back a counteroffer.
“Say, there are a few books I’ve been dying to read. You promise to bring me those, and I’ll give you any detail your heart desires.”
“Deal,” Reaching over to cement the agreement in a handshake. He rattled off 5 books he had interest in. They were rather advanced reads and I was impressed.
“So that’s how they barter in prison?” I chide. I was enthralled with our little back and forth and let the dorky naïve comment slip.
“Stick to the burbs man.” A slight smirk on his face. At least I hadn’t upset him. I began to pepper him with a few generic questions so he could relax and just to get him talking. I was anxious to get my real questions asked. Even as he responded to the first couple my mind kept floating. I decided why dance around? He didn’t skirt around the edges. It was early in the interview and a bit gutsy, but I had to get it answered. It was gnawing as me like a starved pup with marrow bone.
“So… would you say theft is a gateway crime? I mean, have you found it to lead you to more serious crimes? I saw you were investigated for murder awhile back?” The question was a reach.
“No,” he shot back. “I never killed that guy.” His tone was frustrated and assured.
“They thought I did back then, but they had it wrong. Plus they had no proof. I had robbed one of the neighbors, but that was just a coincidence. They knew I was never even in the house. They searched my place for this watch that was stolen during the whole thing, but never found it.” I had him rolling, he continued, “The police were so oblivious in that investigation. I, being a seasoned thief knew it wasn’t a robbery.” My weight shifted forward. “The person took his watch and some money, when I know there were way more valuable things in the house. They didn’t even bother to steal jewelry. I told the police that, but they weren’t about to listen to me.” Irritation was evident in his voice.
I rocked back in my chair there as his statement sank in. Was it not a robbery, but just a cover up for cold blooded murder…..? My eyes wandered to the refracted sun casting onto floor. This could be huge, but I couldn’t read too much into it. This Alvin guy wasn’t the most trustworthy character, but his argument was compelling. I couldn’t look too shocked; I needed to recoup in my questioning. I continued with the interview, but in the back of my mind kept going back to Duponts thoughts on my father’s murder.
During the interview I developed a little fondness of the guy. He was a bit older than I, enjoyed baseball. He had quite an array of stories. And didn’t seem all too bad guy either, fairly educated and reasonable, just had trouble finding his footing legally. We shared a few laughs, and before long it felt like we had known each other for years. His father had fled the family when he was 10 and his mother did the best she could for him and his sister. Often times though he needed to steal to provide for himself and his family. Given a while, stealing became essential to his life. It was more realistic than spending money to attend college and fall into debt. Even when he had money he felt the urge. Sometimes it could be staved off for a while, but he knew he could never shake it. He said he wished he didn’t have resort to thievery, but he couldn’t let go of the past, and now it was running his life.
I felt for the man. He was obviously bright, driven, just had the crux of stealing that held him back. I began to lose focus of my main objective while learning more and more about this Alvin’s life. While we wrapped up he asked when it was getting published. To which I told him I would try to run it in next month's issue. He smiled and thanked me for giving him a visit, a changeup in his daily routine. He seemed genuinely grateful, and it surprised me considering how closed and uninterested he appeared at first. As the interview came to a close, I thanked him, promising to bring him the books he bargained for. I was so satisfied in talking with the guy, I almost had forgotten that the whole conversation was a farce, a front. All I needed was his saliva. The Nick charm was ready.
“One more thing. Listen Alvin, one of my friends does research for the University of Pittsburg and he’s trying to find a link between DNA and crimes people commit. Since you’re a career criminal, I was wondering if you would like to participate in the study?” I held my breath waiting. Alvin looked at me puzzled?
“What’s DNA?” he asked.
Duh, DNA was new and I’m sure someone in prison had little clue it existed. I began explaining what DNA was, and how it was used. I told him it was sort of like fingerprints, except for bodily fluids. He listened to me and seemed intrigued, saying he would volunteer for the study,
“Well, I mean I guess I have nothing to lose, and if it benefits someone then I might as well, sure.”
I thanked him profusely, but he shrugged the praise off. When I presented the cotton swab to him he held it at a distance. The white cotton apparently not harmless enough to be trusted.
“It doesn’t bite.” I encouraged.
It was amusing watching him be so wary. To his credit, anyone at Rikers could probably turn that into a weapon. I made sure to keep that thought to myself this time. After building up the courage and returning the swab to a plastic bag, we parted ways. One last goodbye and a prison guard swooped in escorting Alvin back to his cell, as I casually walked out the front doors. I was ecstatic the meeting was a sucess. Alvin Dupont was little what I had imagined, and I started to form doubts that he was the killer. He certainly didn’t seem like he could escalated to such a crime, but then again people are rather deceitful. At least this DNA test would prove it.
The drive toward Chris’s house to drop off the DNA samples gave me more time to ponder scenarios. What would happen if Alvin Dupont did kill him? Could he be charged with the murder or does the case have an expiration date? Would I even want a trial, or take measures into my own hands? There would be a lot of scenarios I could choose from if Alvin’s DNA came back as a match, but based on my conversation with the guy, I hope it didn’t.
I pulled into Chris’s neighborhood about 7:30 P.M. East Village was a great area of New York City and his duplex was a gem inside it. It wasn’t an exceptionally wealthy neighborhood, but wasn’t shabby either, very middle class. The house presented a cozy historic feel. I parked on the side of the street and made my way to the door. Through the dark and up the step, I met the brass door knocker.
Before I could even rap the metal, it swung open.
“Nick, my man how’s it goin!?” Chris bellowed as he greeted me. I barely got through the door before I was bombarded. “So, how did it go!? By that smile I’m guessing well! You probably turned on the “charm.” His laughter was eruptive.
“Phaa of course I did man, and don’t mock the charm….it works!” A firm punch to the shoulder wouldn’t deter the jokes, but he got one anyway. As I moved into the foyer, I was greeted by his wife Sandra and his two kids, both boys. The six-year olds name was Damion, and the four-year-old was Ben. Both were “little rascals” as Chris described them. My impression however, was that they were pretty cute well-behaved kids. Then again, I didn’t live with them. We exchanged small talk as migrated to the kitchen; their house had a long foyer leading to an open layout kitchen, dining, and living room area. It was quite inviting, and the smell of dinner cooking was heavenly.
“Smells lovely in here,” I said, the scent infusing my senses. “What’s that cooking”? I took a deep inhale. “I sense something barbeque?”
“Nice nose Nick,” Sandra retorted. “It’s cheese stuffed meatloaf coated in a barbeque bacon glaze.” My eyes lit up like a child. The last time I had something edible that was home cooked, had been eons ago. I sometimes tried to cook, but it always resorted to a take-out menu after whatever I tried to make didn’t turn out. I made burgers sometimes, but even I can only eat so many of those. “We expect you to stay for dinner Nick,” Sandra said.
“Oh no I couldn’t intrude,” I started, “I was going to head back, sauté up some-”
“Haha Nick stop!” You and I both know that calling for takeout doesn’t count as home cooking. You're staying for dinner, and that's final. We have plenty.” Chris flashed a big smile my way, then all three of shared a laugh.
“So mixing my sesame chicken with rice doesn’t count as home cooking”? I smirked.
“Well see all that could be solved if you found yourself a girl. How’s it going in that department? When we get to meet a potential Mrs.”? Chris asked. He knew I didn’t like him bringing it up, I mean I was 33 with no potential prospects.
“I have one that has some potential, you two can meet her eventually if things pan out.” I told them, “it’s early.” A complete lie, but it would at least drop the subject. I wasn’t particularly searching for anyone, but I was available. If I was really serious about it I would exert more effort into the search, but even if I found someone, would they accept me, and could I share all aspects of myself? I had some flaws.
We waited for the meatloaf to finish as we shared glasses of red wine and some cheese. We had quite a few laughs talking about old stories of Chris and I, as well as his two kids. One story that we died laughing about was one when Chris turned 23. For his birthday we traveled to Vegas to celebrate it in style. We were young, stupid, and wanted a big bang before we turned focus on our careers. It was a reckless trip that we didn’t have money for, but when did that stop anyone.
We booked a large suite for two nights at the Mirage for me, Chris and three college friends. The five of us were like children hopped up on sugar. We couldn’t imagine what was destined for us in the city of sin. We landed ready to conquer the city and before even checking into the hotel, hit the first casino we saw. Dazzling lights blinded our vision, cigar smoke chocked our lungs, and the sound of chips deafened our ears. We wide eyed rookies, eager to get into the mix.
Vegas chewed us up and spat us back out those first few hours. After losing $400 before midafternoon we cut our losses, moping to the hotel. We had spent a third of our money in just that stint. We unpacked and grabbed a buffet dinner from the hotel. Man they fed you for cheap there, but took it back on the gambling floor. After nursing our food comas in the room, we were predictably a little deflated and there was a melancholy atmosphere. That had to change. My roommate Rick gathered our group up, pouring a small glass of whisky for each. Chris gave a great impression of what followed.
“Listen men….” He stoically had one leg on a chair. “I know we lost earlier, but trust fund Ron over here, just has to milk his dad’s nutsack one more time, and we’re back in business.” He grinned holding up a finger; the man pulled no punches. “This a place where your luck can change ‘snap’ just like that. Now I didn’t come here with you rift raft not too take chances, not to get crazy. Were in fucking Vegas, and it all goes. We will party like brothers tonight.” He paused, “except for 2 beer queer over here,” he nodded at Chris. “I can tuck you in at eleven.” We shared a laugh at Chris’s expense as Rick moved toward the bottle.
“I’m known as the wild guy, the risk taker, but you know why”? He paused like we had been begging for the answer all our lives. “Because you don’t make memories with boring, you don’t live with boring, you only survive with boring. I don’t want to survive, I want to live. This trip is a bust if we leave Vegas and tell people “oh there was this crazy dude we saw…no, I want us to be those crazy dudes, and have other people spreading our story to the far reaches of this world”. He was looking up into the distance like he saw some glorious truth.
“Get off the stage!” Ron was yelling from the back of the room”. After a chuckle, Rick pulled himself out of the stratosphere.
“Now here’s what’s going to happen”. He looked everyone in the eye. “We're going to get hammered as fuck, gamble our asses off, hit the club, then our night begins…. Now who’s with me”!? He raised his glass, a smirk as his eyes scanned the room. We looked at him intently in silence. Then nonchalantly, “And then it ends with you getting whisky dick again?” Mike pierced any of the confident façade Rick had left. You could tell we got to him.
“You limp-” I put a hand on his shoulder as everyone else lost it. In the middle of it all, I managed a “To Vegas!” and we let out a war cry; raising our glasses in compliance.
After the rally, we hit the ground running. We started the night off like any crazy one should, with tequila shots, then hit the gaming floor at about 8:00. It wasn’t too bustling yet and we spent a couple hours at the poker and blackjack tables. We weren’t losing as bad as earlier, but none of us were up except Mike, Chris’s friend. Around 10 we regrouped at the craps tables. Each of us had consumed a few more drinks, and were getting buzzed. When we shamefully shared how much money was lost, Rick became agitated.
“Fuck, I’m putting an end to this”! Rick yelled as he stormed to a table. His impulsive nature combined with being the most intoxicated at the time was a dangerous combo. He barked at the dealer to fork over $500 worth of chips while placing Benjamins on the table.
The dealer barely raised an eyebrow. This was chump champ to him. He exchanged Rick’s cash for chips with a smile and continued managing the table. Rick entered the middle spot at a two dealer craps table. He slid right in ,cool as a cucumber. The rest of us were a little unnerved.
He started off slow, winning a little money playing the pass line and won $50 putting money down on 6. After 20 minutes of smaller betting, it was Rick's chance to throw. He looked back at us then threw all his chips into the hard ways.
Not being well versed in craps I didn't understand the idiocy of the bet at first. Noticing how appalled the rest of our group was, clued me in. Mike started filling me in on what the hard ways meant and what Rick needed to roll.
“Snake eyes” Rick's confidence was little assurance with the absurdity of his bet. A frenzy ensued, we stated screaming at him like he was crazy, but he was unfazed. Only anxiously tapping the rim of the table waiting to be slid the dice. It was 35 to 1 odds, the payout 30 to 1. But he had a look in his eyes, there was no convincing him otherwise.
I held my breath as the Rick tossed the green cubes of death. They tumbled in slow motion, each number flashing and every time a one showed I wished I could freeze it there. The future of our night lay in the outcome of the roll. Noise was cancelled out as the dice settled. Our group eyed the two cubed devils, just daring them to turn up as aces.
They settled on the green felt....two three's.
A wave of relief overcame us. Live to die another day. The dealer made the appropriate payouts and took a few more bets. I paid little attention. My focus still lay on the marble twins. If I stared hard enough maybe they would be what I wanted. Two more nerve-racking rolls went by without a 7. The edge was taken off a little by the fourth throw. I started to build a false sense of confidence. Like Rick couldn't throw a 7. Everyone was winning on the table also, they loved him.
"Take the bet down.” Rick affirmed to the dealer, and he promptly received hi
chips back. His unshakable confidence must have been rattled as he second guessed his play. I couldn't help feeling a sense of disappointment. The bet was so outrageous and daring, it was thrilling to be a part of it.
The guy next to us was betting large and had won handsomely off Rick's rolls, he protested the move.
"Cold feet isn't for Vegas pal.”
He may have been trying to joke, but Rick took it as a challenge. Too late to throw it out there again for his next roll, he let them fly again. Three, and a four popped up. A halleluiah was shared between our group and we patted Rick on the shoulder, like he just won a huge pot, but he was still. Rick put all the chips right back in.
No's and more pleadings to stop came from Chris and Mike. I just silently watched the small pile moved into the death square on the board. The casual comment from the neighbor reignited the unflinching, no holds barred attitude in Rick.
He turned his head slowly, like a menacing horror trope, towards his left; Locking eyes with his new rival.
"Now roll...pal.” The bet was about more than just the money now. Rick was in a pissing contest he couldn't win, and he invited our neighbor to open season. The menacing tone wasn't intimidating seeing as we were about to lose all our money.
"Nice to see you brought your balls to the table pal but doesn't matter much when you put them on the chopping block.” He sneered back. The condescending and casual demeanor made him easy to hate.
"Why don't you put your mouth where my balls are and put up some money on the table you walking douche.” Rick was savage.
We started going wild like a middle school roasting competition. It didn't matter that the insult didn't entirely make sense or that it was childish. The delivery and speed it was retorted at, was a social knockout. Flustered and shaking his head trying to diminish the impact of Rick's comment, the d-bag was ready to end this.
"I know how to shut you all up.” He started reaching for the dice that were just pushed his way. He shook our prayers in his hand for a couple seconds. With each shake, the laughter got quieter. The adrenaline surged stronger, the table became more in focus. The two dimpled prisoners jumbled and clinked in their cage. The jail door opened, and they ricocheted to the end of the table. Scrambled numbers popping up in my line of sight.
Then.....In one of the biggest rushes I had ever experienced.... both dice settled on 1. Immediately screams erupted from the table. I didn’t realize others had taken notice of our bet and little altercation. Even the tables around us stopped to eye the commotion for a second. Hugs cheers and high fives were exchanged between the group and other players. The guy next to us a stunned statue. It was unbelievable the energy generated from the. Rick just stood their stone faced, as the dealer pushed him $16,500. Before we had digested what had just happened, he did something that sucked the air out of the table.
“10.”.The dealers head shot up and the rivals shot left, but Rick didn’t even flinch. The rest of us watched in disbelief. Our euphoria turned to terror as he bet everything again.
"I'm going to make this hurt.” He starred forward, but it was directed to the gentlemen next to us.
"Listen man, don't be stupid. I mean that was incredible, I was just giving you a hard time.” He was pleading.
“Ahh let me check on that bet.” The dealer stuttered then called over the floor manager. He whispered in his ear and the manager nodded, then strolled over to the table. Looming over it, eyeing Rick with suspicion. During this time we begged and pleaded with Rick to reconsider, to take the money and run. He bet the house and won, now he was about to risk it again. But Rick stood there expressionless. I wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol, pride or what, but I motioned Chris to do something about it, he was his roommate after all. Chris made a feeble attempt, but there was no negotiation, Rick’s mind was set. The floor manager eyed us with amusement.
“We’ll Sir, good luck” the manager sneered.
By this time a larger group had gathered at the spectacle. I was nervous. And scared enough to piss myself, but at the same time felt like an utter badass for being part of this bet. The intensity turned the space under my shirt into a sauna. All eyes were on us, and our eyes were on the dice. The odds 2 to 5 the payout 5 to 9, and we needed a four and six or two fives from the dice. The rival who had spurred Rick on before, had now become an ally, engaging with our small entourage like he was one of the group. Even he was pulling for the roll. He tentatively reached for the die.
As our new friend readied I was losing my mind, the entire table was. My heart pumped violently, about to pop out of my chest. The roll rebounded off the end.
A four and two lay face up. Sighs were heard from around the table, with everyone relaxing for a minute while the dealers shuffled around the chips. The gauntlet came around a second time with even more anticipation then before. I was grasping for every breath. A brief pause, then the roll.
My breathing cased. Fellow well-wishers huddled over and behind the table feeding off the action. We stared at the dice hard enough to bend matter as they tumbled down the table. Everyone was silent, hoping our numbers popped up. The red cubes rebounded off the felt end and laid to rest near the opposite side. We couldn’t see the results from where we stood. For a moment nothing, then cheers erupted from the end and surged immediately to us. A six and four appeared on the dice.
We went crazy. Arms flailed widely in the air accompanied by screams. I was pinballed around our circle of sweaty yellers, high fiving any hand in my vicinity.
"I can't believe this.” Was all I could audible while shaking my head and making eye contact with Mike. Hordes of people screamed with us and congratulated us on our payout. Pure pandemonium from everyone but Rick, who stood arms extended against the table and head down.
Our ex rival hugged and jumped his way right into our poesy. Rick finally spun around, the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on one mans’ face.
“Well boys what did I say, your luck can change just like that”! he bellowed something fierce as we let our war cry and smothered him.
“You crazy bastard Rick.” Chris yelled. The dealer slid over almost $30,000 worth of chips and Rick paused.
“No” we screamed, Rick wheeled back around,
“Gotcha hahaha!” He let out a long string of laughter. The scare I had for a moment.
“Relax I’m not quite that crazy.” He laughed excessively, as I could only guess it was a spillover of emotion that finally came to him.
We started took turns pounding on him for his almost losing it all. Our complimentary drinks soon arrived, and we polished them off while parading around the casino with our newfound wealth. We were drunk with power and felt like we ran the place. Intoxicated and overconfident, we lost $3,000 over the next hour. Finally stopping the bleeding around midnight. We celebrated our historic night with a bottle of champagne while getting rowdy in the lobby.
There were a couple times random patrons congratulated us on our win, like we gained a casino fame for the evening. Drinks were comped, tips were plentiful, laughs were nonstop. We could hardly have dreamed something so lucky; We were going to make the most of it.
Eventually we overstayed our welcome in the bar. The staff suggested we move our entourage to the nightclubs. By then we had picked up a few ladies eager to mooch off our small fortune, but we didn’t mind. We could do anything we wanted, we owned Vegas.
Hogging the sidewalk, we moved to a nightclub down the strip where we were stopped by a bouncer. He pointed to a line of partygoers stretching down a ways. It wasn't the college bar bouncer that we were used to that maybe lifted a dumbbell occasionally. This guy was a hulk. Muscles bulging out of his shirt sleeves; neck stiffer the a college mixer; his calves nearly the diameter of my torso. Our loud bunch silenced by his towering presence. Slick Rick went into action.
"Listen I'm going to make this easy.” He slurred the s.
“Rick, don't try to befriend him, this isn't amateur hour. I was cringing.
"We have a few newbies here and I'm trying to show em a good time. How bout a table and couple midgrade bottles to start"? His appeal was sweetened by the pile of chips he placed after grabbing the behemoths hand.
The bouncer looked down at the chips. His gaze moved to girls, then me. Like a deer in headlights, like a college freshmen trying to get into a party, he stared into my soul. Was I going to get us rejected with my uncool? His stone face settled finally on Rick. If I thought he saw my soul; he was having a conversation with Rick's.
"Right this way.” A smile broke way to a gesture inside.
We rushed in, another wave of excitement overtook me. The peasants waiting in line must have been jealous. The bouncer, his name was Gus, barked at what must have been another worker. He wore a nice suit.
"Put these newbies on the main floor.” He barked at someone inside.
Chris tried to set the scene for Sandra.
"This gentlemen escorted us in. The lights were overwhelming, the music overpowering. I twirled around, dazed and mesmerized by the scene. I followed in slow motion. Everyone around me danced and moved at a crazy pace. I was thinking, these cats on meth".
"Anyway, we were brought to a large table where we took a second to allow the atmosphere to sink in. But once the first bottle arrived it was time to party like none of us ever had before. It was like a movie, Women, booze, money flew around in a blur.” Chris was really getting into it.
"Ya know, one minute, I look over, Rick has two dancers on him, the next minute I look over he's ripping a line of cocaine. Needless to say we may have indulged in a little ourselves.”
“Chris,” Sandra was agitated as she slapped him across the arm. “You told me you never did drugs!”
“It was a long time ago honey, I wasn’t even a cop back then.” Defensively his voice jumped an octave.
Chris and I exchanged a cheeky smile as we held back a laugh, but Sandra met Chris with a cold stare. She wasn’t done with the subject.
It was funny how details from a story that were long forgotten or omitted come to the surface eventually. Now was a good time for a beer break before settling back in.
Still, the energy was invigorating, and easily was the craziest hours of my life. I understood how stars got wrapped up in the lifestyle, it was addictive. The energy, the love, the laughing. The ceiling had no limit. Money really could get you most things. We continued partying hard until the club wound down and we decided to hit the road. Stumbling out at 4:00 a.m. onto the streets, we were lit off our asses. Chris and Jeff had already puked, and I probably wasn’t far behind.
We were having a hoot wandering around the main Vegas drag, which was still semi lively, until out of nowhere a guy grabbed Rick’s chip bag and bolted. Now luckily, the bouncer suggested we keep the high value chips safe, and only keep the tipping chips in the bag because theft was common. It was only a couple hundred in there, but it didn’t matter to me I was drunk, and I was irate. Almost instinctually I took off after guy.
Unfortunately for him I finished 3rd in the 400m at state in high school and, was under the illusion I still had the speed of my youth. Adrenaline masked my intoxication as I sprinted down a main Vegas strip in pursuit. The streets were sparse enough at that that time, so as I could keep my eyes on the thief. He was stocky, but ran pretty fast. I bobbed and weaved through the remaining partiers. The occasional shove was needed.
As I caught up to him I felt my heart pulsing, racing, it felt really good. I felt like I could've chased him forever. It was the weekend of the September 21st, so as I gained, I decided this would be my revenge.
Within grasp, I started to tackle him as he began to turn to avoid a fountain. Unfortunately, he was slightly bigger than me and took a bit of effort to take him down. He scuffled in a jog for a few feet, fighting hard to gain balance and leverage. Suddenly, we slammed into and flipped over the fountain. The last thing I remembered from the night was splashing into the water.
I woke up to white lights that scalded my retina and blurry vision that took minutes to adjust. Panicked, but quickly realizing I was in jail, I rushed to my door and frantically called for a guard. Finally, one grudgingly showed up.
"Yes.” His impertinence was evident.
"Where am I? And why am I here"!?
The guard looked at me with disinterest
"Las Vegas detention center. Detox room 6.” He glanced at a chart hanging outside the cell.
"Tarzan.” Instantly a smile emerged from his face. "Oh yah," he chuckled. "I heard about you.”
"Tarzan? I asked.
He flipped the next page of the chart, squinting to read the print.
"I don't really know the whole story, but your friends I'm sure will fill you in. They've been waiting for the past couple hours. We wanted to make sure you were awake and oriented..... Wait here.” He hustled off down the hall and I watched him disappear behind the corner.
I wracked my brain for what Tarzan could've meant. Luckily the guard wasn't gone too long and I was free to go after some processing. Rick had paid my fines. I was greeted like a hero.
"Nick"! The guys jumped out of their chairs and swarmed me.
"How were the accommodations"? Was the first question
"Well...if you want to sleep like they did in the stone age...then I couldn't recommend anywhere better.”
On the taxi ride back to the hotel they filled me in on the details of what happened and we shared quite a laugh. Chris said after I tackled the thief, he left the spilled chips and fled. Once people realized what happened, there were some claps and cheers.
"You took it as an invitation for an encore and climbed halfway up the fountain taking your shirt off and letting out the war cry.”
Chris said him and the guys were too intoxicated to get me down, and instead laughed their asses off along with the small crowd. I then got agitated when police tried to remove me from the fountain and eventually I was taken into custody. As I was being taken my insensible screaming, including chest thumping (like Tarzan) topped off the charade. Chris still claims to have never laughed harder in his life.
All in all I think Rick achieved his goal. Of the $30,000 Rick won, he left Vegas with $12,000. The nightclub gouged out the majority, but it was well spent. I always wanted to go back, but I knew nothing could come close to that night. It exceeded any of our wildest imaginations, and we all took home some epic stories. Another time...
“Ding” The timer went off indicating the meatloaf was ready. Both kids came rushing in like race cars.
“Finally! Food, Food, Food were hungry mom!” They shouted. Damn they were cute. So genuine and innocent. Their dimples concaved against their little cheeks.
“Boys, show some manners toward our guest, calm down.” Sandra said politely but sternly. We settled into our seats and the feast was laid out before us. I began to feel like one of the rascals. “Just let me eat!” my mind was screaming.
Finally, after a short prayer I was invited to dish up, and oh did I. Half my plate was occupied with meatloaf, the other was mashed potatoes topped with a generous amount of gravy. I saved a sliver of my plate for deep broiled asparagus as to be a good role model for the kids. That was about the only example I set. I wasted little time eyeing my meal before I gorged myself like a mongrel, Attila would have been proud.
The meatloaf melted in my mouth. Every chew brought out the sharp cheddar infused inside the juicy meat. My mouth dripped with greasy happiness. The kicker was the bbq bacon glaze which was just unique enough to distinguish itself from the rest. It was a smoky bbq which was unexpected, but complimented the sharp cheddar surprisingly well. A credit to Sandra’s talent, the sauce wasn’t too heavy as to pull too much flavor toward it. The bacon was peppered throughout the sauce and every third bite or so I was able to enjoy a piece. The bacons sparing use allowed it to remain fresh and succulent. I ate myself into a food stupor; nothing but the greens remained on my plate. My satisfied look and belly pat communicated well enough that I enjoyed the meal but thanked Sandra profusely anyway.
“Well that’s why I married her”! Chris joked.
Another death stare came from Sandra. He wasn’t getting many brownie points tonight. I asked for the recipe to change subjects. Though I was sure I wouldn’t be able to replicate the taste. We wrapped up the rest of the meal talking about the kids’ day. Damion the older one, had taken a field trip to see Romeo & Juliet in theater. He complained it was boring and I couldn’t blame him. I was never one to enjoy theater. It wasn’t usually so much the actors’ abilities, as I just couldn’t get myself into the atmosphere of plays. Damion never stopped talking, but he was entertaining to listen to. He pinballed from one subject to another without even finishing his last thought. Interruptions from other family members were ignored or cut off as it only opened a new avenue for Damion to talk down. Finally Sandra cut him off and excused the two from the table. They rushed from their seats to whatever action figure or race car they were playing with before. I began helping put away dishes, but Sandra quickly shooed me away. Chris and I moved from the table to the living room, he fetched us a couple more cold ones and we relaxed into the cushions of the couch. It was fairly dark except for light on a lamp illuminating Chris’s face.
“Hey Nick,” His tone appeared relaxed. “Glad you got a sample from that guy, anything that can get you some closure I’m sure will feel...well….good? I mean I know it’s still pain for you and I’ll get this sample done as soon as possible. With that said, it might be awhile before you get the results back. This DNA thing is pretty new and the backup is huge. It could take 6-10 months for me to get the samples run. I had barely noticed he was leaning in close.
“Oh no problem, hey at least it will get done.” The words hung and I felt like I needed to add more.
“I don’t want to get too sentimental here, but I really appreciate it. You're the closest friend I have, and for that matter, person I have, and knowing you got me, really….well I owe you.” I felt a hint of embarrassment being emotional. My voice shook with adolescent awkwardness. I took a sip of beer.
“You asked about my father and your right it still hurts, I guess I’ve never deal with it, just continue to bury it.” I confessed. “Sometimes...” A lump had started to form in my throat, it was tough to talk. “I deal with in in unhealthy ways.” Chris inched closer from his side of the couch. He had a commanding domain and it loomed over me; his presence a wise man and me a commoner. The weight of my sins was suddenly overpowering. I wanted to unload, I wanted to share the burden of the truth.
“Sometimes I just want to hurt people that deserve it. The people that the law never got too, it feels so good, like a temporary release. That’s alright right? They deserve it.” I hung my confessional out there in camouflage. I turned my tortuous eyes to Chris, hoping he could figure out what I was trying to tell him.
“I know Nick, I know, I’ve watched it eating at you for years. I’ve never forgotten the pain I experienced from my father dying, it’s something none of us can forget, but you gotta develop a way to move past it.” No, no, you missed it Chris. "I've told you this before, but I'm not going to dance any longer.” I was about to tell him in outright, what kind of a vortex I put myself into each year.
Now he paused to drink. "We’ll.... HOW are you going to move past it Nick”!? Chris’s voice startled me. I couldn’t remember the last time I heard such aggression. “You walk around like this world owes you something and it does, but it owes everyone. Being angry so long as to forget what it’s like to be happy is embarrassing Nick. Your better than that. It happened 16 years ago. You have to find a way to create happiness for yourself now because he’s no longer here to create it for you.” His words balanced in the air; Ringing through my ears was the blunt object that was Chris’s words. It gave me just enough time to come to my senses. I may be about to give too much if I share my transgressions.
He exhaled, taking deep breaths. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. His hand on my leg had become a squeeze crushing my kneecap, which he released quickly once he looked down. I realized how stern and loud he was talking to me; the kids stared at us from the other room. Chris merely had to look at them before they scrambled over each other to reach sanctuary at the top of the stairs. I wanted to follow.
I stuttered something inaudible as I grasped for my thoughts. I felt frozen as they raced. Never had he been this stern with me. I really have a problem, maybe Chris missed the bullseye, but he hit the target. I looked into his eyes looking for some escape, some hint of uncertainty in what he just said, but all that refracted was my own reflection. His face was stern, he had chosen his words carefully, and he had meant every one.
“Yo-u’re... r-right,” I finally muttered.
Instantly Chris’s stern look broke, and formed into a smile of a proud father. “I gotta change something,” I fumbled out. Chris gave me pat on the back. His momentary smile turned somber and his voice a comfort.
“Listen, I’m here for you man, through anything. You know that as well as I. I don’t want to beat you up, but you have to hear it. I’ve bit my tongue and danced around it too long. It’s time for you to beat it, beat the beast. Whenever you need an ear to listen, or better yet a beautiful voice to listen too, don’t hesitate.” Chris’s smile returned in full force. Even I managed one for a moment. It made the message all the more heartfelt that he tacked a shameless joke onto the end of it.
“Thanks Chris, means a lot.” My mind was still recovering from the shock, and it was racing for the right emotions to feel. “I have some thinking to do.”
With that, I excused myself, thanked the two for the wonderful evening, and promised to call Chris later in the week. “I couldn’t ask for anyone better,” I said to Chris as I walked out the front door. Shuffling to my car, I sat down and stared ahead into the distance, into the steering wheel. What just happened? I asked myself. I feel good, but incomplete. I knew that was as close as I could get to sharing with Chris the whole truth. I started the trek back down to Jersey.
Once home, I opened up a bottle of Rum and poured myself something strong. After a few sips of warmth, the alcohol turned sour. I left for the roof of the apartment complex with a chair. Plopping down. I gazed into the sky. I need to change, I need something different. I thought I was managing before the talk with Chris, but deep down I knew I was lying to myself. I’ve lied to myself for a long time.
The stars were beautiful this time of night. The city lights blurred out many, but the darkest corners of the galaxy still shined bright in the cloudless sky. The stars are natures sketch board, and I experimented with them, forming my own constellations.
As I laid on the roof one of my father's favorite sayings echoed in my mind, “The cheapest vacation is to close your eyes.” I needed one, so I took a trip. Took a trip back to the days before his death. When I was that energetic kid full of life. I was carefree and the biggest choice I had during those days was whether to take a hot lunch or a cold lunch. I would joke and laugh spontaneously, never worrying about a thing. Shifting through memories of birthdays, holidays, sports; I had never been as happy as those early days. Why couldn’t I be as happy now? There was no one to stop me, but me.
I let the vivid images flow, eventually rising from my chair and drawing in a deep breath. Looking around the city I let out a war cry, like the one in Vegas. Shouting with all the air I had, I shattered the silence that shrouded me. I shattered myself. As the last whispers of my shout trailed off, I felt liberated, alive.
I began a long chuckle. That felt…..fresh, but it was only the tip of the iceberg, there was plenty more in there. I grabbed my chair and walked to bed.