Staten Island was formed by the melt-off of the Ice Age. The fifth borough doesn't exist to most New Yorkers, but my doctor lived next to the Tibetan Museum on Lighthouse Hill. Nick and I attended the same college and every year he invited me out to his house for my annual mdedical examination.
Last weekend I rode the subway from Fort Greene to South Ferry. Saturday was a sunny day and the starboard side of the Samuel I. Newhouse was packed with tourist snapping thousands of shots of the Statue of Liberty. I sat on the port-side to survey Red Hook NYCHA projects.
Back in the 90s those forlorn houses had been named the city's worst neighborhood and my friend Rocco had worked under cover for the NYPD narcotics. He had been off the force for years, but his brother was working as liaison between the Mafia, FBI, and NYPD on Staten Island and I tried the retired detective's cell on the off chance that he might be on there.
"Where are you?" Rocco was a big fan of my writing. I had almost ruined his career as a movie producer with his seeking support for NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD, my screenplay about pornography in the 90s.
"Where do you think I am?" We were used to answering questions with questions. No one could know our answers.
"You're not upstate." Rocco never picked up the phone at home, almost as if he was in the witness protection program. "I'm guessing you're on Staten Island."
It was a long shot and I wished that I had bet $100, because Rocco said, "You motherfucker, you have someone tailing me."
"Nope, just playing the odds." I believed in planned coincidences. "I'm seeing my doctor at Rose Avenue. Maybe we could meet up later. Are you with your brother?"
"Nah, Johnny's done thirty. He's down in Florida collecting his pension. I'm with my old partner, Frankie, you remember him?"
"Sure." Frankie was the scary half of a duo playing bad cop/bad cop. His partner looked like Dean Martin and got all the girls at the Milk Bar. "Wasn't he related to someone in____"
"Yes, he was, which was he couldn't get nowhere in the job, because everyone knew his connections, so after I busted out of the job, he became a union delegate."
"A dead end for a good cop."
"You got it." Rocco and Frankie were basically straight in a time when being crooked was easy.
"We're at Great Kill Yacht Club. You should come by. I'd like you to talk to him." Rocco was producing a indie film about crooked cops in Red Hook. FIRST MAN IN wasn't even close to being semi-autobiographical.
"Is he still on the force?" There was no one near me.
"No, he did his twenty and out, but then opened a couple of bars with ties to his family. They went under and he ate the debt, then he tried a deli and pizza shop. Each one was a failure."
"I know the feeling." My jewelry store in the Plaza went bust in 2009. I noticed that the ferry was approaching St. George and the tourists were flooding to the bow. I got up and lingered at the rear of the crowd. "What you want to speak about?"
"I'll tell you when you get here." I hated secrets almost as much as Rocco hated talking on the phone.
"I'll call you after my check-up." I got off the ferry and proceeded through the terminal to the trains. Nine stops later I exited from the train and walked over to Nick's office. He was waiting in his BMW SUV. It was good to see him. The doctor and I had been friends ever since European History pre-1500 at college.
"Get in." He popped the locks.
"What about my check-up?" I sat in the car. It smelled brand-new. Nick took care of his things.
"You look great." He peered over the top of his glasses and pulled away from the curb.
"That was my check-up?" My legs hurt from too much basketball and I had a little hangover.
"I see enough sick people every day to recognize a healthy one." Nick had been practicing medicine almost thirty years. His name symbolized health care on Staten Island. "You lost ten pounds in Thailand. You stopped drinking hard liquor. My eyes are clear and my skin is in good condition. You look great for a man twice your age."
"Thanks." His bill of health backed up what I had heard from the Thai doctors during my summer vacation in Sri Racha. "You mind if we stop by Great Kills Yacht Club."
"I have to meet a friend."
"He connected?" Nick shrugged to say that was the only kind of people who hung out there.
"He's an ex-cop making a film. He wants to help me with my screenplay BET ON CRAZY." I had a name actor for the lead. Bill was going to play 'me' in the drama about a goy selling diamonds on 47th Street. "Do you mind?"
"Not at all, Rose is cooking dinner. We have an hour." Nick drove past Hylan Boulevard past the various clusters of strip malls selling nails, sun tans, and pizza. He turned left on Hillside Terrace. "You know where his boat is."
"I think they'll be easy to find." Rocco liked to see any approaching danger. I figured that it ran in the family. We pulled into the parking lot and I scanned the boats in the slip, then spotted Rocco and his brother supervising the storage of a SeaBreeze 25. The white hull was gleamed in the late summer sun.
"I thought as much." Nick parked his car and we strolled over to the two ex-cops.
"Love to see yah." Rocco shook my hand and I turned to Frankie. He was as handsome as ever, although the lines in his face aged him a little more than his years. At least he wasn't balding like his partner. I introduced them both to Nick.
"I know you. In fact I knew your father. He was my doctor as a kid."
"His father was a good man." He always had a good word for me as did late Nick's mother. I loved her bacon and eggs.
Frankie reached into a cooler and pulled out four Tecates. We spoke about Staten Island, their years working the Red Hook houses, and our connections to each other. We went back decades. Nick and Rocco wandered off to look at the boats and I stood with Frankie. He had something to say and started with a confession.
"You know me, I'm not a bad man." He was posing a question.
"None of us are, but we do what we have to do to get by." I had never killed anyone and Rocco had never spoken about any shootings resulting in a death.
"Yeah, well, I got into financial trouble a couple a years ago. I have three kids and an ex-wife. I needed to get straight and one night I met a guy I knew from the job. He was retired too. I had heard something about him, but couldn't remember what. For some reason I thought that he was a little like me, but he starts talking about cocaine. I don't know nothing for it. Maybe a few lines once and awhile."
"It isn't a sin." I stopped, because coke wasn't cocaine anymore.
"Anyway he tells me that he has a connection from Florida with pure stuff. He'll front me a couple of ounces and I can sell it to my friends. I knew he was talking about my family. Shit, I wasn't going to sell the shit to strangers. So I ask around and make a contact. We sell ounces and then a kilo. I get back on my feet and I'm almost ready to pull out of the deal, when this fucking scumbag turns out to be undercover for the DEA. They want me to rat on my family."
"But you can't."
"No, I can't, so they take me into custody until I make bail for a million dollars."
"Who'd you shoot?"
"No one. Fucking G-man prosecutor thought he was Rudy fucking Giuliani and I was his case to ride into politics. They have me every which way; wires, tapes, every fucking thing. I felt like John DeLorean. I would have never gotten involved unless they suckered me into it."
"I understand." The good are good only because they are too weak to be bad.
"I'm looking at major time and I was wondering what you thought about doing a runner somewhere."
"And Rocco told you about Thailand." My old home Pattaya had been a refuge for fugitives. "You have any money?"
He mentioned a number. It almost had enough zeroes.
"If you live quiet that's good for five years, but most farangs live fast in Thailand."
"I'm looking to disappear." A million dollars was a good incentive against flight, but time for cops was hard time in prison.
"You have a passport?" The Feds normally confiscate it on arrest.
"I got one," he said it in a way that I knew it wasn't his.
"And you can leave and never come back."
"All I got waiting is a cell." His kids were grown. People were going to be looking for him, but he was good-looking and Thais like good-looking people.
"At my age that's going to be my retirement plan."
"This isn't funny." Frankie wasn't in the mood for jokes.
"Okay, I'll tell you what to do." I laid out a plan for him. The route was direct. I knew a village in the western forests. The headman was a friend. He had a nice sister. Vee had one eye, but spoke English. No one else in the village did. Frankie might last there a couple of months before the peasant food and the quiet of the rice paddies drove him into Bangkok. I wrote down the information with my left hand. My script was almost as unreadable as NIck's handwriting on his prescription.
"And these people will take care of me?" We exchanged phone numbers.
"For a price." I lived there some of the year. The tranquility was brutal, but I had my children and second wife. She loved me. I had no idea why. It had only been a month since I left her and I missed Mam.
"No one does nothing for free." Frankie eyed Nick and Rocco coming back to us.
"I'm doing this for you." I was waiting for him to ask me to be his guide. We had no history.
"Thanks." It was a simple thing to say, when you were trying to disappear as a wanted man.
"It's just a couple of phone calls. You have to do the rest." He had been a fool, but all that bullshit about not doing the crime, if you can't do the time is exactly bullshit.
We shook hands and I told Rocco that I'd see him soon. If Frank took my advice, i would see him in the western forests come the new year.
Back in the car Nick asked, "What was that about?"
"You really want to know?" I was getting hungry and his wife was a good cook.
"No." Nick had his own troubles.
"Good." And I had mine.
We were good friends. We knew that we didn't need to know everything anymore and that was a good thing on Staten Island.