My City by the Bay (Chapter 3, Part 1 of 4)

Salvatore Miguel Castro

…or “that damned street rat” to most people who worked in Old Town. Son of a Hammy Park resident and a Columbian gentleman on a “business trip,” the street was his way of life. It had been a while since Sig thought about the first time he met Sal. How long ago was it? Six years… six years ago last August. Sig was buying lunch from a hot dog vendor during an extortion ring investigation. Old Town reeked during the summer months. Years of garbage and neglect had taken its toll on the ghetto. Sig was sure that didn’t help the level of misery pervasive on the street. They were both about as sour.

Hot dogs weren’t the most nutritious thing out there, but the cart was right around the corner from Ferris Mosley’s pawn shop. This was a couple of years before he was slated to work with Benelli. She would have never touched the stuff. That’s probably why she was able to keep fit all this time, and the MMA training didn’t hurt either. The Thomas brothers were fronting a basic protection money scheme with the local shops. They ended up getting tried and convicted under RICO, because of a few soldiers that couldn’t handle the pressure and took plea bargains. A chain’s only as strong as its weakest link.

On this particular day, Sig was fishing for his wallet and the vendor was placing the mustard back in its holder on the cart. The vendor thought his customer had taken his food, and was about to pay for it. When Sig looked up from his wallet, the bare hand was out for his money.

“So, where is it?” Sig looked blankly at the vendor’s palm.

“I gave it to you, son.” The vendor said flatly.

“Does it look like I have it?”

“It’s not like I’m giving you ‘five,’ pal. There was a dog in my hand a second ago. ”

“I don’t have it!” Sig said getting a little heated. He gestured with open hands to show there was no sketchy beef products being concealed on his person. He even went so far as to hop around on one foot, in a circle, as to prove the beef frank wasn’t artfully wedged in a pocket. Immediately after this spectacle, Sig looked around the street for answers. If it weren’t for a small hood walking away from the scene of the crime bobbing up and down, he would have been stumped.

Sig gave the hot dog jockey a couple of bucks and slowly pursued the hooded bandit. Within no time did the figure disappear into an alley. Sig casually passed the entrance and slid down the next alley over. Doubling back, he peered into the alley to see a worn pair of tennis shoes sticking out from the side of a dumpster. Crouching like a tiger in tall grass, Sig sidestepped to make sure any echoes couldn’t be detected by the little frankenthief.

“You know, kid, I could have sprung for another if you would’ve asked.” Sig’s head was the only thing visible from the dumpster.

Startled, the young urchin tried scurrying away with much rustling of plastic and paper.

“Oh, no you don’t.” Sig’s arm was now a grappling hook. “I’m not going to hurt you, or take you in, or anything like that. I just want to talk.” His eyes looked upon the boy with stern, yet surprisingly earnest quality.

“Don’t matter. They’ll just turn me loose. I ain’t worth their time. Ain’t worth anyone’s time.” The kid’s mustard smear bobbed sprightly up and down on his cheek.

“Well, you’re buying mine right now. What’s your name?”

“What’s it matter to you?” The kid was putting on the tough façade.

“More than that hot dog you just swiped, obviously. I know everyone in this town, but I don’t know you. What’s your name?” Playing it cool and logical was the only way Sig thought it could work.

“Dee Snuts!” Why do children have to be so difficult?

“That’s too bad, because I was going to get a can of Coke and chips for you. Since you seem be uninterested, I guess I’ll be going.” Sig released the kid from his hold and started to walk down the alley. It was kind of a long shot, but there wasn’t much left he could play.

“Sal.”

“Eh?” Sig turned around with an eyebrow cocked. That gamble paid off better than expected. Not only did he get a name, but he also got the kid to drop his defensiveness.

“My name is Sal.” The kid returned.

“OK, Sal, the vendor’s down that way. I hope you like Lay’s, because that’s all they’ve got.”

That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Sal would deliver the word on the street, and in return, Sig would bring a sack lunch. The kid never ate better. Sig was surprised to hear he was 13 years old, but not that he was a denizen of Hamilton Park. His mother was usually strung out and inactive, unless she was looking. She got by with using her womanhood and sticky fingers. He supposed that’s where Sal learned to lift things.

“Yeah, Sal, you sure were something else.” Sig was marveling at an empty shot glass. Ginny the proprietrix of Monk’s Piano Bar and Lounge wiped up the bar top with her rag in anxious circles. He had been in there enough times for her to know when he’s teetering on the edge of mayhem. Shots were never good omens around him, and could herald the coming of things broken. Often times he was fine. He tipped extremely well, was great conversation, and even got her car out of hock when the parking tickets finally caught up with her. Once in a blue moon, though, he was trouble with a capital T.

“Ginny, bring me the ‘Turkey’.” Sig sucked air through puckered lips.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Ginny remember the last time she did that.

“What?!”

“The last time I gave you Wild Turkey, I had a three busted bar stools and a broken jukebox!” Ginny was bound and determined not to let him do anything like that again.

“I can’t help it your patrons like terrible music.” With his face all wrinkled up, he bobbled a bit on the stool.

“No, and that’s final! I have the right to refuse service to anyone, including you.”

With a harrumph, Sig popped off the stool and headed to the piano. Many of the patrons sunk in their seat, as no good could come from a drunken man tickling the ivories. As fortune would have it, they were wrong.  Lightly rubbing his fingers, Sig took himself back to Ms. Monroe’s afterschool piano lessons. She was a spinster, but smart and sharp even at 85. She smarted his knuckles with a ruler, if the notes weren’t supposed to be anything else. Stiff taps on the keys introduced a timeless classic. Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” chimed out of the Steinway and into the audience where a stunned, yet appreciative, crowd sipped their cocktails.

© 2013 by Corvidae in the Fields, all rights reserved

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