The November sun flashed off a West Village window and the wavering reflection stalked the Christopher Street pier to a lone youth tuning a battered guitar. His skin pallor rivaled the paleness of the rising moon and no suburban mall stocked his ripped black leather jacket, torn T-shirt, or battered engineer boots, but the blonde leather boy broke into a sly smile, as the sapphire shimmer transformed the twenty year-old into a fallen angel regaining his halo. Nearly every mother and father in America would have ordered their children to avoid this aberration of the nation’s Bicentennial Spirit. Most teenagers were born to obey their parents’ command, but a few were destined to answer the divine temptation, especially once the guitarist slashed the steel strings of his Les Paul.
Picking out chords Johnny Darling repeated the song in his head, then shut his eyes to envision a small stage. The overhead lighting enveloped a drummer, bassist, and keyboard player. A teenage Lolita rasped words of love and no tomorrows in imitation of the Velvet Underground’s Nico. The imagined feedback of Marshall Amps buzzed in his ears and the audience almost materialized within his eyelids.
A young boy’s voice shattered Johnny’s trance.
This time of night only gay bashers and leather freaks frequented the derelict docks. None of them were dangerous, but the guitarist waited for the last chords to fade before slipping his hand inside his jacket for his knife before turning to address the intruder.
It was Frankie.
The Puerto Rican teenager in a distressed leather jacket was two inches shorter than Johnny and his slanted eyes hinted the taint of Chinese blood and Times Square johns found Frankie Domingo pretty, despite the scars crisscrossing his seventeen year-old body.
“Thanks for letting me finish?”
“I been waiting thirty minutes.” A gust of wind blew a shank of greased hair across Frankie’s face.
“That a new song?”
“Just three chords strung together.” Johnny thumbed his calloused fingertips.
“Doesn’t get more basic than that.” Frankie rattled off a drum roll with frayed sticks. “Snagged these from Jerry Nolan at Max’s Kansas City last night.”
“How were the Heartbreakers?” Johnny had skipped last night’s show to entertain a customer.
“Great and the crowd loved them.” Frankie hunched his shoulders with a shiver.
“They were paid a $100 each. When we gonna have a band?”
“Now I have my guitar back, we can audition for the other members.”
“Great.” Frankie stepped from side to side. A cold damp seeped through his sneakers’ paper-thin soles and he stammered, “Johnny, you have ten dollars?”
“I gave the pawnshop my last fifty.” Johnny slapped his guitar.
“Damn, I wish we could get out of here.” Frankie moaned like a runaway in need of a dime to phone home.
“To go where?”
“What about Florida?” Frankie glanced south, as if the Sunshine State lay beyond the New Jersey docks. “How far away is it? Five hours?”
“More like twenty–four by car.”
“What about by plane?” The young Puerto Rican’s teeth chattered at a 10/10 beat.
“Where we getting the money for two plane tickets?”
“We could hijack a plane. Tell them to give us a million dollars like in DOG DAY AFTERNOON?” Frankie had seen that movie five times on 42nd Street and pumped his fist in the air.
“Aren’t you forgetting how the cops shot Pacino’s friend in the head?”
“Movies aren’t real.”
“DOG DAY AFTERNOON was based on a real bank robbery.”
“Yeah, and it didn’t have a happy ending.”
“Your parents live in Florida. That sounds like a ‘happy ever’ after to me. If you called them, they might wire you money to come home?”
“Yes, and tomorrow night we’d be eating my Mom’s homemade apple pie.”
“I love apple pie.” Frankie licked his lips.
“Only one problem.” Johnny gestured toward Manhattan.
“Don’t say what I think you’re going to say.”
“I’m not leaving this behind.”
“Fuck this city?” Frankie chucked the battered drumsticks into the river. “All I have here are hustles, an empty stomach and the smell of old man’s hands on my skin, and you don’t have it much better.”
Johnny stuck the guitar into its case and walked toward the elevated highway.
Frankie trailed behind him.
“I ran away from Florida for the same reason you want to run away from New York.” Johnny stopped on the curb of West Street and turned to Frankie. “Me and you will make it here as rock stars.”
“But not tonight.” Frankie kicked an empty beer can into the gutter.
“No, not tonight.” Johnny couldn’t lie to Frankie. “Tomorrow Max’s will serve a turkey feast for us orphans.”
“So what about tonight?” Frankie could handle anything as long as he was with Johnny.
“Tonight we go to work.” The uptown light on West Street was changing to green and suburb-bound cars accelerated to catch up with the synchronized signals.
“53rd and 3rd?” Frankie had had his fill of the sissies at those piano bars.
“No, we’re not competing with midnight cowboys tonight.”
Across the street men prowled the sidewalks in search of nameless sex. A few lurked between the trucks parked underneath the elevated highway. How they were celebrating the night before Thanksgiving was no mystery.
“So it’s Times Square?” Frankie sighed with resignation.
“The Strip is all about luck.”
“With luck being heads I win, tails you lose and never give a sucker a break.”
“That’s the game there and everywhere. How I look?” Johnny slung the case’s strap over his shoulder and pulled up the collar of his torn leather jacket.
“Like a prince.” Frankie blew on his numb hands.
“Where anyone from Jerome Avenue meet a prince?”
“My grandmother read me fairy tales. They really have princes and princesses?”
“Real as you and me, except they were born in a palace.” The chilled air scrapped over Johnny’s right lung like a boat striking a reef.
“You meet one?” Frankie was oblivious to his friend’s discomfort.
“Not this side of the silver screen.” Johnny fought off the shakes, figuring his ‘jones’ was knocking on the door. “Princes and princesses are like any suckers. We meet one and what we do?”
“We take them for everything.” Frankie snapped his fingers.
“And leave them begging for more.” The ache faded from Johnny’s chest and he draped his arm over the younger boy. “Just one more thing.”
“I know what you’re going to say.”
“For me not to trust anyone.”
“That’s survival rule # 1 in New York.” Times Square killed people who broke that rule and he turned to Frankie. “That means me too.”
“I’m a big boy.” Frankie’s childhood had revealed the worst of what the New York had to offer the young.
“Then let’s head uptown.” Johnny dashed onto West Street. “Watch out, Johnny.”
Two taxis swerved to avoid hitting the guitarist.
“For what? I’ll live forever,” Johnny shouted from the other side of the street, because believing in anything other than his immortality would have been a sacrilege, at least until he reached twenty-one and that birthday was more than a year away and a year was an eternity when you were only twenty.
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