In the early 70s the Twin Towers rose over Lower Manhattan, but by 1978 New York City was bankrupt and the desolation of the Battery Park landfill stretched along the Hudson.
The wind off the river blew sand in all directions and whole neighborhoods fled the spreading anarchy.
The rich knew nothing of the poor.
Every morning Concordes flew wealthy passengers from JFK to Paris.
The roar of Rolls-Royce engines traveled twelve miles from the airport to the stricken East Village.
The take-offs were that loud.
Sean lived on East 10th Street with a blonde catalogue model.
Days photographers shot Lisa.
Nights she dated a tennis player.
"It's good for my career."
Usually she returned at dawn.
Sean never asked any questions and wrote poems about the waiting.
Lisa never read his journals.
No one did.
When people wanted things, they called Sean.
Sometimes it was a girl.
Plenty of fun girls roamed New York.
They did things for money, because everything had a price.
Sometimes his work was easy.
Especially if people did what they said they were going to do.
Other times people got cute.
Cute got people hurt.
In the end playing nice was in people's best interest.
Sean came from Boston. New York ran on different rules. He understood some of its games, but no one understood everything, although a Mr. Klaus thought he knew all the answers.
Tony had introduced the German professor at a party.
Lisa had not come home for two days and Sean had not been in his best form..
"I might have some work for you." Mr. Klaus said with a German accent. "But I have one rule. You do what I say."
"I don't have a problem with that. You know my price?"
"Then call me, when you need me as long as it's not tonight."
A day later Mr. Klaus asked Sean to meet a woman named Clover at the New Lost Bar in Times Square.
Tony came over with a wad of twenties.
Sean paid the photographer a finder's fee and asked, "You trust this Klaus?"
"I trust no one."
"Me neither." Distrust was always best in New York.
That afternoon Sean showed up on time.
Clover arrived ten minutes late.
The blonde teenager was young, but not a girl and she explained, "I was a mistress to a Texas oil baron at 13. Does that make me bad?"
"No, but it doesn't make you good. Let's have a drink."
Sean ordered a gin-tonic. Clover had a martini.
The bartenders at the New Lost Bar never checked any girls for ID.
"Do some of this." She handed him a vial. "Mr. Klaus wants you to."
"Do you always do what he says?"
She smiled with a laugh.
"When it comes to Mr. Klaus, yes."
Clover danced on the bar table.
Or at least Sean thought it was Clover.
In truth it didn't matter, because Lisa was erased from his mind.
By the time they left the New Lost Sean felt no pain.
Times Square looked like a pinball machine with Clover as the flippers and Sean as the ball.
Somehow they ended up in the subway.
Sean asked the conductor for help.
"You don't need any help, if you got her."
New Yorkers were experts at minding their own business.
The next stop was Mr. Klaus' penthouse.
"Willkommen, time for some business."
Sean was in no condition to refuse him.
Clover had her way with him.
Afterwards Mr. Klaus asked, "Do you feel different?"
"No." It was a lie.
"Gut, I have a job for you. It might require violence."
"I wouldn't be here, if it didn't."
"An ex-associate has something of mine."
"A ball on a box in a refrigerator."
"And you only want the ball?"
"What does the ball do?"
"Does it really matter?"
"Clover really likes you."
Where is she?"
"She is upstairs. You will see her later."
Mr. Klaus drove him to a luxurious townhouse on the Upper East Side.
The street was quiet. The rich could afford order even in a city of chaos.
"That's Cookie's house. I'll take care of her."
"There's a man with a gun."
"Does he know who to use it."
"Then he is just a man. Kill him."
"That costs more." Sean was many things, but not a killer.
"Maybe, but things will go bad for Clover." Klaus showed a photo. It was Tony's style.
He had others.
Klaus was worse than Clover's Texas oil baron.
"Bring me the ball."
"I will." Sean didn't say how.
The man with the gun was a young boy.
Sean strangled him to unconsciousness.
He was too young to die and too pretty too.
The steel ball seemed like a steel ball.
Sean held it in his hand.
He saw things.
One was that he could break Mr. Klaus' rule.
On the stairs Mr. Klaus had a blonde bound by a rope.
She looked tough.
Sean nodded to her.
Cookie yanked on the rope.
Mr. Klaus tumbled down the stairs.
He didn't stop until the bottom.
Sean left with the ball.
He was his own man again.
He found Clover in a bag.
He wrote on her thigh before freeing her.
"I thought you'd never come back."
"You were wrong."
"What did you write?"
"A poem. You can read it later."
Sean took her to his place.
Lisa was gone.
She had taken everything, but the TV and a set of weights.
Clover picked up a dumbbell.
I want to be strong like you."
It was a good idea.
New York was a tough town for the weak.
Sean turned on the TV.
Clover read the words on her thigh.
"I like your poem."
"I wrote it for you."
Her smile told him that she would be a good roommate.
He had the ball and he had Clover.
And both were good things in 1978, because the windblown sand had no rules.
Not in New York.
Fotos by Anthony Scibelli and Peter Nolan Smith