I liked his real name better.
James Michael Stucci.
That’s what’s on his headstone anyway. And whatever is on your headstone, that’s your name, if you ask me. Whether people called you that when you were breathing or not.
We met in ’76 in Brooklyn at this real hot spot called the ‘Lavender Room’, you boys are intimate with it. So anyways, he was at the bar with some girl, Brenda or Barbara and they were throwing them down just one right after the other.
Hence the name.
You boys and civilians thought (and so did I at the time) that he got that name from being this cold maniac killer, but really he’d gotten it because he was such a fucking lush.
But yeah, he was a fucking maniac, as I’d find out later.
I’d been baby-sitting the same beer for almost an hour waiting to talk to this fucking guy and he was just over there living it up and not paying me any mind. But John (that’s John Bulger) had told me: “You don’t approach Jimmy, Jimmy approaches you.”
So that’s what I did for almost two fucking hours. Waited for the guy to approach me.
By the time he’d made his way to me I was pretty pissed but what could I do? The answer to that is nothing. He stuck his hand out and I shook it. He waved the bartender over and got us each a drink. Couple whiskies. When the drinks got there we threw them down and he immediately put up two fingers for the next
He had these real brown eyes, so brown they were black. Like soulless. And maybe they were. The drinks came but he didn’t take his that time and so I didn’t either. He spoke to me. He said: “I want to test you out.”
I didn’t say anything, I just looked him right in those black eyes and nodded my head, trying my best to look tough. I had an idea of what he meant.
I had an idea.
We threw down our drinks and left the club.
It had rained earlier before and the city was in the streets, you know, reflective. The neon and the lights, it was like looking down into another city. I remember wondering if there was another me and another him in that city in the street about to kill somebody. I remember thinking that. I still think about it. Like if that were the case, if things happen the same in different universes, then maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Maybe it isn’t our fault. I don’t think that’d stand up in court though, what do you think?
He was parked in front of a hydrant across the street, a real nice white Camaro with a black stripe up its middle. He called that stripe his “mean streak.” He told me that later. But if you ask me, the whole damn car should have been black if that were the case.
CCR was on the radio. I’ll tell you, I’ll never listen to that song the same way again. ‘Bad Moon Rising.’ He didn’t say anything the whole way and I was actually impressed by how well he was driving considering how much he’d sopped up at the club. When the song was over he’d flip the tape and play it again.
He’d flipped it a bunch of times by the time we’d made it to China Town.
So, you know, we pulled into Henry Su’s. Well, down the block. There were a couple cones set up off the curb and it was the one empty spot.
No one ever questions those orange cones.
We parked and we just sat there in silence. James was looking straight ahead, not moving, no sound, just our breathing and the city outside. I don’t know how long we sat there. It seemed a long time but I guess it wasn’t.
Finally he said, “Get in the glove box.”
He didn’t look at me, he kept looking down the street. I opened the box and there was the knife. The Army type. He told me later he’d kept it from ‘Nam. We’d both gone, I was a medic. Lasted three months before I got hit trying to help this kid who died anyway. Both his legs and an arm were gone. His eyes were so wide, staring into nothing, staring into everything.
I took the knife and held it in my lap.
“You’re going to kill Su.”
That was it. That was all he said. Not the how or the why. Just that I was going to do it. This was my “test” and he wanted me to use the knife. I didn’t say anything. If I’d raised any flap about it I’d be the one at the business end of that knife. I just sat there. I mean, I thought this was what it was going to be, not Su specifically, but just any poor bastard who James pointed out.
I’ve thought about that night a million times, and even though what happened happened, and it was a fucking bloody mess, I don’t think that was the worst of it. I think the worst of it was us, James and me down the street. I think the worst of it was that old man closing up his place for the night not knowing the universe was about to punch his fucking clock.
Well, and the girl, that…that was bad too.
I looked over at James and it was still just his profile because he was still just staring down the street. He had that thick black mustache and black curly hair that was almost like an afro. I mean, he was Sicilian. So yeah, he just stared straight ahead, didn’t look at me.
I got out of the car, there wasn’t anybody on the street.
I put the knife in my waistband and pulled my shirt over it and stood there. I stood there next to that white Camaro with its “mean streak” and looked down the road to hell.
I got to walking and my mind was in this other place. It was surreal. It was like I was in a dream. I was walking on top of that other city. My other me walking with me. We were both headed to the same place to do the same thing. Or maybe that other me in that other city just kept walking. Just kept walking.
When I got to Su’s place I could see him through the glass wiping down the bar. All the chairs had been upended and placed on the tables. The door was still open and I walked in.
“We’re closed, sir.”
I just stood there, I couldn’t move. Just stood there in the doorway with my brain feeling like it was going to pour out through my nose and splosh all over my shoes.
“Sir, we are closed.”
He didn’t have much of an accent, I don’t know why that sticks out in my mind. Not much of an accent at all.
“I’d like some water, please. Could I have some water?”
It was all I could think of to say, and as it turned out, the perfect thing to say. Nothing exposes the heart to the point of a blade like kindness.
And so I bellied up to the bar and he brought me a water. I remember sitting there just going crazy inside. He was kind to me and now I had to kill him. If I didn’t, I’d be the one getting it. I looked outside and there wasn’t anyone on the street. It was like it was meant to be.
This was my test. This was how I’d get in with James Stucci’s crew.
He was down the bar wiping glasses and I asked him for another water. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, I mean, it was really late. But then that kind heart of his got the better of him. He walked over with a little grin on his face. He was small. You saw him. Small with that silver hair combed real neat. Sixty-seven. He’d lived sixty-seven years through war and whatever else just to get it from a guy like me.
He came over with the pitcher of water. I had my hand under the bar on the handle of that knife. When he was pouring the water I did it. I grabbed the back of his head and stuck the knife right into the middle of that chinaman’s throat. All the way to the hilt. His eyes got big, real big. He couldn’t scream. Not with six inches of steel in his windpipe. Man, when I think of what if someone had happened strolling by.
Blood poured all over and he was kicking his legs behind him. I held onto him tight until he stopped kicking and then I let him go and he fell behind the bar.
My heart felt like it had relocated to my skull, it was so loud. I stood there, blood all over the bar, all over the front of my shirt and jacket. I was shaking. I mean, I was shaking like a leaf, man. I’d never done nobody before. His eyes were so big.
Staring into nothing.
Staring into everything.
I was about to go. I was, I was about to go and then she was there. She was just fucking there, man. Just standing there, not more than ten feet down the bar from the whole scene. I found out later through the papers that she’d been the dish washer. And his granddaughter. She’d come in while I was doing him. She’d seen that. Seen him kick. Seen him fall.
I didn’t have time to think, man. I rushed her. I rushed her and she didn’t fucking move. Like she was on railroad tracks. She didn’t even scream. I got an arm around her neck and drug her into the back into the kitchen. She didn’t make a sound.
I got over top of her and started stabbing her. I stabbed her a lot. I was angry. I was angry at her for not stopping me killing the old man. I think I must have stabbed her maybe twenty times and then I tore ass out of there.
There was still no one on the street. It was desolate. New York City was desolate because the universe had decided two people had to go without anyone noticing. I saw myself in that other city and to this day I wonder if he was running from what I was running from or something else. Or maybe he was running towards something. Maybe someone loved him.
Anyway, the car was running when I jumped in and James and I got out of there.
I was covered in fucking blood and that was when he finally looked at me. And when he did he grinned this real big leering grin those black eyes seemed to dance on top of.
So, mystery solved. Merry Fucking Christmas, gents. For the next ten years me and James were like brothers. That night gave me that. Sometimes I ask myself would I do it all over again and it’s yes every time. It’s yes because it was supposed to happen. It was supposed to happen because it did. We have no control over the universe.
We can’t change who we are.
We can’t change what is. What is is what was always going to be.