Vinnie’s Head

CHAPTER 1

 

I snagged Vinnie’s head while I was out fishing for flounder off the end of the town dock in Comapogue, down there on the South Shore of Long Island between Lindenhurst and Copiague. At first I thought I had hung up on an old tire or an outboard, maybe a refrigerator.

“Oh, fuck.” No matter how I pulled and yanked on it, the fishing line didn’t move an inch.

“Fuck me,” I said, for variety. I only had the one flounder rig--two hooks with little orange balls on them, a brass spreader and a yellow sinker. The pole wasn’t even mine; I took it from the shed in the backyard. The old guy that owned it would never know it was gone: this is what I told myself.

I gave the line another tug. The rod bent double, but whatever it was I hung up on didn’t budge. So I backed up, holding the rod out straight to break the line without fucking up the borrowed pole. Then, with a little give, an uudge like a tooth sliding out of a novocained gum, the line came loose. As I reeled in I could feel there was something still on it, dragging the rod tip down. It felt like I had a concrete block on. I kept reeling.

The head coming up looked like a head. That is, it came up crown first, hair streaming out around it, just like the head of a living person coming up from a dive. But this was a lonely head, without a body to keep it company.

The second worst thing about the head was that it didn’t surprise me. Seeing it dangling from Mr. Colucci’s flounder rig with the little orange plastic balls above the hooks, I realized I had been expecting something like this to happen. Not sunken heads, exactly. But I had been asking myself what would happen next, and how could things get any worse, any more fucked up than they were already.

Never ask yourself that.

I lifted the head onto the dock, quick as if it was a flounder and might get away, worrying that the line would snap. The head bounced over the rails and onto the splintery wooden boards, and rolled to a stop against a creosote-smeared piling.

The head had been cut off clean, right under the chin. One of the flounder hooks had snagged under an ear, the other dug into the scalp. Crabs had been at it; the eyes were gone, parts missing to the bone here and there. The cheeks were all sucked in and hollow-looking. It was a mess. But the very worst thing about the head was that I recognized it.

It was Vinnie’s head.

Water was running off his black hair, all mashed down on his skull and hanging every which way. Vinnie would have hated that; he spent a lot of time on his hair, getting it just right. The parts of his face the crabs had left showed three or four days of stubble. I remembered reading something about hair and fingernails keep growing after you die, and wondered if that’s what was happening.

I stared at the head. It was hard to look at, but it was Vinnie all right. Some kind of sea creature crawled out his left eye socket and hung there, waving back and forth.

Vinnie looked a lot worse than he did just a few days ago when I saw him and his girlfriend off to the airport.

I panicked. I heaved up on the rod, thinking to yank the head back in the water so I wouldn’t have to look at it any more. But I must have moved too quick; the hook pulled out of the left ear, a piece of the scalp peeled loose, and the head fell on the dock, rolling up to my foot.

So I would have to touch it after all. Just pick it up like a fish and drop it over the side, I told myself. I bent over and reached out my hand, but I couldn’t bring myself to grab the wet hair, like seaweed now more than hair.

This is where you puke, I thought. I was breathing heavy, sweat rolling down the back of my neck.

I checked back behind me down the dock to see if anybody was looking. There was no one there. At the street end of the dock there were a couple parked cars, but the way the sun was setting, I couldn’t see through the windows for the glare. I tried to remember whether the cars had been there when I came, and whether there was anybody in them, but my mind was blank.

My foot nudged the head and it moved a little. That freaked me out. Leave it, I thought, just leave it on the dock and walk away. But suppose someone was watching, suppose someone saw me, and told the cops. They would certainly want to talk to me about the head. And I was anxious not to talk to cops at the time, about anything. And I knew they would come looking for me if I came to their attention. Something like Vinnie’s head would probably bring me to their attention.

Leave it, call the cops from a pay phone, no one will see you, just get out of here, my mind was telling me. I looked around again, and saw some old buster walking his dog, heading toward the end of the dock. That’s when I made my next bad judgment call.

Along with the borrowed fishing rod I had brought a black plastic trash bag with me, to hold all the flounder I was going to catch. Now I took it out of my jacket pocket, unrolled it, and held the mouth of it open as I nudged the head into it with my foot. That was hard. Even with boot leather, I hated to touch the thing. It rolled into the trash bag like a bowling ball, with just a little wobble. I twisted the mouth of the bag on itself, tied it off. Just in time; the old guy and his dog were walking up to me.

“Catch anything?” the old guy said. His dog, an old beagle, was sniffing the bag and grunting; the old guy tugged him away from it.

“Just one,” I said.

The old guy nodded wisely. “Yeah, they used to be a lot of ‘em around here. Now you can’t catch a damn thing. Nothin’ but trash.”

“You got that right,” I said, and smiled as nice as I could.

“You do catch anything,” the old guy continued, “you can’t even eat it. It’s all poisoned from pollution.”

“It’s not the way it used to be,” I said. I began to hop from leg to leg, as if I needed to take a leak.

“That’s right, that’s right, too many laws now, you can’t eat this, you can’t catch that,” the old guy said, as if agreeing with something I brought up. “An’ there’s no fish left anyway.”

“Well, I better get home and clean this guy.” I hefted the trash bag; that was a bad idea. You could see the shape in it was not a fish.

The old guy didn’t seem to notice. The beagle’s eyes, though, followed the bag intently.

“Well, take care of yourself, young man,” the old guy said. “And good luck.”

The beagle tilted its head up and began to howl; the old guy turned around and started whacking on it with the end of the leash. “Stop that, Henry, you stop that! What is wrong with you?”

I left the two of them there and started back to Vinnie’s house.

When I was halfway down the first block from the dock, one of the parked cars behind me suddenly started up and turned on its lights. I nearly shat with paranoia. My neck muscles tensed up as I tried to keep myself from looking around. Then the car drove by me, not slow, not fast, heading toward Montauk Highway.

I let my held breath out in a big rush, and used all my willpower to keep from breaking into a jog. There was no one around, no one to see me. It was dinnertime, getting dark, lights on in all the houses, people sitting down to eat, not looking out the window for guys carrying severed heads in plastic trash bags down the street.

Carrying the head was a problem, though. If I held the bag loosely, by the neck, the head would bounce against my legs as I walked. If I gripped it higher up the bag stopped swinging, but I could feel the head against my hand. That was nasty. There was no comfortable way to carry it.

It was just as well I didn’t have far to go.

* * *

Now a couple of questions will probably occur to most people here. One, why didn’t I call the cops to come and get the head? Well, as I said earlier, I was not eager to talk to the police. I thought that no matter how the conversation started out, sooner or later it would come round to the fact that I had missed my court date, jumped bail, and was a fugitive from justice. Carrying Vinnie’s head around in a garbage bag might not impress them much either.

Then, too, it was Vinnie’s head. Vinnie had been a good friend to me. My best friend, I guess. I couldn’t bring myself to just drop his head in a Dumpster, even if that had been a good idea.

“You are so fucking stupid,” I said to myself out loud as I walked up the street. Talking to myself again; a bad habit. “Just so fucking dumb. Can’t you do anything right?”

And then of course there were the people who had shot all the window glass out of Vinnie’s McMansion on the North Shore. Whoever the fuck they were. I would have minded this less if I hadn’t been sleeping on Vinnie’s couch at the time.

So I had every incentive to stay out of the news for a while.

I was carrying the trash bag over my shoulder like Santa Claus; at every step the head bounced against my back. Vinnie’s house--his parents’ house, really-- was just a couple blocks from the dock. I had been staying in his garage ever since I had to leave his North Shore house after I missed my court date. And it was shot to pieces. Did I mention that? Needless to say, Vinnie wasn’t there. He had told me he was going to South America on business.

The whole thing about missing my court date had nothing to do with Vinnie at all. It was just bad luck, that’s all. Here’s the way it started:

I had just got out of county in Riverhead, where I was doing two weeks for no visible means of support. (This was bullshit, by the way--I was living in my car, which may not look like much but is definitely visible.) I stopped in Vinnie’s cousin’s tavern, the Hilite, to wash the taste of jail out of my mouth. I could run a tab there, they knew me. But when I went out to my car, my lights were still on, burning pretty dim though. Not enough juice left to start.

Now what I should’ve done, I should have gone back in the tavern and asked if anybody had cables, could jump me. That’s what I should have done. But I was in a hurry, and pretty drunk and fucked up I guess. Not thinking clearly.

So instead of asking for help, I helped myself to the battery from the car next to me. I was just borrowing it; I meant to bring it back. But before I could get it installed the guy whose car it was from came out of the bar. He and his friends beat the crap out of me. We all went back to county for disturbing the peace, and disorderly, and some other stuff. Another thirty days. A hard thirty, too; every time those guys saw me, they would hit me again, and after a while other guys in the jail began to take a poke at me too, just for fun. It became a kind of fad. Another week and I would have been unable to walk out when my time was up.

That’s not the reason I skipped out on my court date, either. Maybe being punchdrunk had something to do with it. But the bad stuff, the really bad stuff, went down after I got out of county the second time.

(It occurred to me more than once I should just move to Riverhead, so I wouldn’t have so far to go when I got out of jail. Believe me, I know guys who have done this.)

* * *

I got a ride back to Comapogue from somebody I met in the joint. My car was still in back of the Hilite, the battery still dead, and I didn’t have a fucking nickel. I had the guy drop me off by the nail salon where my old girlfriend worked. I hoped she wouldn’t be too upset to see me, but at this point I had nowhere else to go.

The nail salon was a tiny little hole in the wall--I suppose you don’t need a lot of room to do nails--without a shadow in it, bright light shining everywhere. The nail girls all looked up quick and startled when I walked in, like browsing okapi on the Nature Channel when the lion walks into the picture. Then they went back to whatever they were doing. Except for Linda Scopolomini, my old girlfriend; she looked up, down, and then up again. She didn’t seem real pleased to see me.

I waved, casual, to reassure her. She looked at me and shook her head, shooting her eyes toward the babe whose nails she was working on. I understood; I sat down in a chair and picked up a magazine, ready to wait as long as it took.

After a few minutes Linda came over and sat next to me.

“Johnnie, what are you doin’ here?” she said in a strange, strangled voice. It was as if she was trying to shout at me, but so no one else would hear. “I axed you not to bother me at work. And where have you been, anyway? You haven’t called me in six months.”

Linda is a beautiful girl, and I had been in love with her since high school. She still wears her hair up, though, in a big bouffant do, like it was 1962. Her mother has the same hairstyle. It is really terrifying to eat dinner with the two of them. Their hairdos loom over you like a pair of floats from the Macy’s parade.

Linda’s hair hung over me now, and disturbed my thought process. I found it hard to speak. Also her smell--after awhile without a woman, her smell of soaps and makeup and girl went right to my brain.

Finally, I managed to pull my scattered head together and explain my situation.

“Linda, I just got out of jail. And Linda, I really need a place to crash, at least for tonight. I’ll get out in the morning, I promise, but right now I have nowhere else to go. I need you.”

She stared back at me, frowning and fooling with stray curls of hair escaping from under her bouffant. After awhile she said in a quieter voice, “Okay, Johnnie, okay. You can stay on the couch. But just for tonight, all right? And don’t think you can come back after six months, you never call me once, and then just everything will be the same as it was. Because it’s not.”

“I understand.”

“Okay, good. Now get outta here. I get off work at five-thirty, come back then and meet me.... no, wait.... Why don’t you meet me at the Coma-Linden Diner? At around six o’clock?”

“Sure. Uh, Linda, I don’t have any money for, like, a cup of coffee. If you could . . .”

“Jesus Christ,” she said, “you never change.” But she gave me five bucks.

* * *

It was hours until Linda got off. Now I had five bucks, but that wouldn’t buy much, not even a pack of smokes. Better save it for the diner, I thought.

I mooched up side streets toward Sunrise Highway, in the direction of the diner, wasting time, thinking about Linda, wishing I had a cigarette. Then, as if angels had suddenly answered my prayers, I saw a pack of Marlboro Lights lying on the sidewalk in front of me, still wrapped in cellophane.

I bent down and picked up the pack with extreme caution, expecting some kind of joke--a fishing line attached, cigarettes jerking down the sidewalk as I followed--but nothing happened. The cellophane was intact. I zipped the pack open; everything seemed to be in order.

Of course, I had no fucking matches.

Now, I said to myself, if angels are really looking out for my bad habits, there would be a book of matches on the ground. I looked around: no matchbooks.

But there was a box lying in a parking-lot entrance about six feet ahead of me that looked familiar somehow. I went over and picked it up: a box of matchbooks, the kind store owners put next to the register for their customers to take.

Yes, it was spooky. Too fucking spooky. Cue the Twilight Zone theme.

A few feet beyond the matches lay another pack of cigarettes, Kools this time. I began to get suspicious again--Candid Camera, reality TV, some elaborate practical joke? Not angels, probably. But I picked up the Kools without incident, and scanned the parking lot. There was a trail of trash leading across it. Following it, I picked up two more packs of smokes, and saw a strange assortment of things: slices of pastrami and smoked turkey breast--one of my favorites--swiss cheese, American cheese, globs of potato salad, a bag of chips, chewing gum, kaiser rolls. It looked like a lunch wagon had sprung a leak.

The trail of delicatessen seemed to lead toward a Mercury Montego parked in the back corner of the lot. I walked toward it, keeping my head down, looking for more cigarettes. When I was about ten feet away the driver’s window rolled down.

“Yo, douchebag! The fuck you doin’here?”

And I recognized the voice of my lawyer.

I walked over to the car--a big mistake. Bug Rankin, the public defender for my ugliest conviction, the display of obscene materials one, was at the wheel. I hadn’t seen or heard from him in a year, since he lost my case after the bookstore bust.

Rankin popped open the passenger-side door. “Get in, douchebag! How you been?”

I peered into the Montego. There were two guys in the back seat holding bags of groceries.

“My partners,” Rankin said, “Hector and Alfredo.”

“How you doin’, man?” the Spanish guy leaned forward and shook my hand. The other guy just sat and stared at me around the cartons of cigarettes sticking up out of his shopping bag.

“Hector, Alfredo, hey,” I said, sliding into the front seat next to Rankin. I had a feeling of doom over me like a wet raincoat, but it was like I was helpless. It’s always that way.

“Want somethin’ to eat?” Hector offered. “Make yourself a san’wich, man.” He handed me a large uncut roll of turkey breast and an open loaf of white bread.

The other guy, Alfredo, leaned forward now.

“He calls you ‘douchebag’?” he said, tilting his head toward Rankin. “That’s your name?

“My name’s LoDuco, Johnnie LoDuco. He just calls me that,” I said.

Rankin grinned. “Low Douchebag.”

Alfredo still seemed bothered. “And you let him? You let him call you that?”

I shrugged. “It’s just a joke. We’re friends.”

“We go way back,” Rankin put in.

Alfredo sat back and thought about this. It seemed hard for him to swallow, but he didn’t say anything else.

“So, what have you been up to?” Rankin asked me. He shoved a whole Drake’s Devil Dog into his mouth with a long prehensile finger, smiling as he chewed.

“This and that,” I shrugged. “What about you, looks like you just robbed the grocery store.”

They all laughed insanely at that. Rankin sprayed a slurry of Devil Dog over the windshield. Even grim-faced Alfredo was grinning now.

“Not the grocery store, man!” Hector said. “A deli!”

I was appalled. “What, you held up a delicatessen? And you’re just sitting here?”

“Calm down, we didn’t hold up anything,” Rankin said through his Devil Dog. “The guy that owns it was away today, had to go to his father’s funeral. His son’s a client of mine, how I knew. So we opened the back door.”

“You broke in.”

Rankin nodded happily. “It was easy. We loaded up on smokes.”

“Cartons of cigarettes,” Hector explained.

“That’s right. The trunk’s full of ‘em,” Rankin said.

“Where is this place?” I asked, hoping to sweet Christ it was in Jersey.

“Right over there,” Rankin said, pointing with the remaining Devil Dog.

Diagonally across the parking lot there was an opening onto a side street, and across the street you could see another shopping-strip parking lot and the backs of an L-shaped line of one-story brick buildings. A metal door to one of the storefronts was hanging open.

Holy mother. What were these guys on?

“Do you know you dropped food all over the place?” I asked them. “It’s all across the parking lot, like Hansel and Gretel.”

They thought this was even funnier than my line about the grocery store.

“Hansel and fucking who? What are you talkin’ about?” Rankin whooped. When he calmed down a little he explained. After loading the cigarettes into the trunk, they were hungry, so Hector and Alfredo went back for some eats.

“I guess we dropped some,” Hector said. “Hey, too bad! Maybe we better go back for more!”

They laughed for a while at this.

“Don’t be so worried,” Rankin reassured me. “The guy is really gone. He won’t be back today.”

“Suppose he had an alarm?” I suggested. “Suppose he had one of those silent alarms that gets called in to the cops?”

This made them thoughtful and quiet for a few seconds. Rankin shook it off first.

“Nah, man, we been sitting here for an hour. They would of come by now.”

“Look,” I said, my hand on the door handle, “I want you to tell me what you’ve been taking. Because I want to make sure I never take any, ever, under any circumstances.”

They thought this was funny, too. I think they were about to offer me some of whatever it was, but I shoved the door open and got halfway out of the Montego.

“I’ll see you guys later, okay?” I said. “I don’t want anything to do with this.”

That was when two cop cars pulled into the parking lot across the street. One cop got out, walked over to the open door, went inside. He was back in seconds. The other cop got out of the car; they talked, looked at the asphalt with its trail of cold cuts and cigarette packs, talked some more. Then one cop got back in the squad car. The other started following the line of dropped food over to us.

. . .

“But I wasn’t part of it!” I complained to the lawyer assigned to me. “I only stopped to talk to Rankin! I had nothing to do with stealing the cigarettes!”

The public defender looked up at me; he looked tired, very very tired.

“I believe you, Johnnie,” he said. “I really do. Because it seems like the kind of pointless, fucked-up thing that would happen to someone like you. But you have to understand that no one else--no one else--will ever believe it.”

“Rankin will back me up,” I said. “Ask him! He’ll tell you, I just walked up to shoot the shit, five minutes before it all went down.”

The PD held up his pen like a chinning bar and rested his chin on it, looking at me.

“I did ask Rankin.”

“And?”

“He says it was all your idea, that they just wanted something to eat, it was you who suggested going back for the cigarettes.”

I was nearly speechless.

“Fuck. Shit.”

“I think if this case goes to trial,” the PD said, “there is a risk all four of you will get the max. But I’ll talk to the DA, see if I can make a deal.”

He told me that would probably be one year on a plea bargain, out in eight months if I behaved myself, and that I would be lucky if it wasn’t more.

“Your record’s not bad,” he told me, speed-reading through the contents of a manila folder.“No priors.” No serious felonies, he meant. He glanced up. “But it’s not good, either. It doesn’t inspire confidence.”

“Of course, these charges--B and E, criminal trespass, possession of stolen property--are felonies. We are not talking two weeks in county for this.”

By “we” of course he meant “me.”

My sheet was small stuff aside from the one conviction for display of obscene materials. Okay, that: I sold an underage kid a stroke book at the time when our local assemblyman was pushing a hot political campaign against porn. I got crucified. The owner of the adult store I worked at knew somebody or paid somebody or both. He got off. I got time in county, and my picture in the papers as a smut peddler.

The PD gathered up his papers, shot a look at his watch, and was out the door. He paused, one hand on the door frame.

“I should be able to cut a deal,” he said. “The DA wants Rankin bad, since he is like an officer of the court, and they want to make an example. Maybe, who knows, they won’t go after you so hard.”

“Let’s hope not,” I said. He nodded briskly and disappeared.

* * *

“Five years! Five fucking years!”

“It was the best I could do,” the PD said. “I don’t know what’s with them; they really have a bug up their ass for this Rankin. You got the overflow. It just wasn’t your lucky day.” He looked down at his notebook, paused, and scribbled something, something almost certainly about his next case. I was history as far as he was concerned. He looked up, like he was surprised to still see me sitting there.

“Okay, we don’t take the deal, we let it go to trial,” he said. “Look, you never know, with juries. Maybe they’ll feel sorry for you. Maybe you’ll get off. And even if they do convict, it’s all up to the judge. He might reject their recommendations, give you less time.”

“Or more,” I said. I was not optimistic.

The PD shrugged. He glanced wistfully at the door. “Johnnie, what’s the difference? If you don’t go down for this, it’ll be something else, right? Time is your destiny.”

* * *

My arraignment sucked too. I was tired of sitting around in jail, waiting for someone to hit me in the face. But the DA convinced the judge I was a flight risk--I could have told him my car wouldn’t get me very far--and my bail was set at $100,000.

This was a little more than I had on me at the time.

“Trial’s scheduled for next month,” the PD informed me. “Look, three, four weeks in county, you’re used to it, right? You’ve been there before.”

“I’ve been there before,” I said, “and I don’t like it.”

The PD shrugged. “What can I say, Johnnie? Maybe someone will bail you out.”

* * *

“No, Johnnie, I can’t, I just can’t! I want to, but I can’t,” Linda Scopolomini said. “I want to help you, Johnnie. But where would I get that kind of money?”

I knew she would say that.

“You don’t need to. Just go to a bail guy, a bondsman. He’ll lend the money. All you got to do is put something up to secure it,” I told her. “Linda, look, I can’t just sit around here waiting for my trial. I have to be out in the world, organizing my defense.” Whatever that would be.

“Besides, I think my life is in danger.”

“Oh Johnnie!” She started to sob. “I want to help you, really.”

“What if you use the house as collateral?”

“The house? I can’t do that. It isn’t mine! Besides, my mom took a second mortgage out on it already, and took a lot of cash out of it.”

Sunlight broke through the clouds.

“Your mom! Could she lend me the money?”

There was a long silence.

“Johnnie, I don’t think so,” Linda said after a while. She had stopped sobbing. “Mom and her new boyfriend went to Atlantic City after she took out the second mortgage. She’s been really weird since they got back. She won’t tell me, but Johnnie, I don’t think there is any money. I think they lost it all.”

Fuck.

“Johnnie, I’m sorry, I really am.” There was another long pause filled with Linda’s wet breathing. I was out of ideas.

“Johnnie, be careful, okay? Take care of yourself,” Linda said. “I’ll come visit you in jail. Okay?”

“Sure. Okay.”

She hung up.

* * *

So after this, it was very depressing to meet Rankin and his compadres as they were heading out the door.

“Hey, too bad, Johnnie, too bad,” Bug Rankin said, patting me on the back. “I’ll make some calls, I get outside, see if I can help you.”

I knew he wouldn’t.

“How did you assholes make bail, anyway?” I asked.

Bug Rankin shrugged.

“DA only asked for five thousand. I thought we’d get out on personal recog, because I am like an officer of the court, but no such luck. Still, not so bad, huh? Depends on who you know.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t know anybody.

“It was easy, man,” Hector put it. “No problem. I spend more money on clothes, you know?”

So after all this I was surprised when a deputy came over to my bunk and told me to get my things.

I didn’t have any things, so that part was easy.

“What’s up?” I asked, expecting something fucked. But I was wrong for once.

“You’re out, LoDuco. Somebody went your bail.” He turned around and walked away before I could ask any more questions. I scurried after him.

The clerk who signed me out didn’t know much more.

“You don’t even know who bailed you out?” This fact seemed to reach him through his boredom and disgust. He shook his head and almost smiled. “That’s amazing.”

“But you know, right?” I asked him. He shrugged.

“The bond came from Canetti’s. Ask him.”

* * *

Donnie Canetti the bail bondsman had a chest that stretched his T-shirt to capacity, a bald head, and a Fu Manchu moustache. He looked more like a pizza chef than like anyone connected to the court system. He was looking at me with real disgust.

“I told him he was a fucking idiot,” Canetti said. “But he didn’t listen to me.”

“Who was it?” I asked for about the third time, but Canetti wasn’t ready to tell me yet.

“But it’s not just the money. It’s more than that,” Canetti said, for probably the first time in his life. He shook his head as if it were surrounded by biting gnats. “I know the guy, I trust him. I know he’s good for it. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s you I have a problem with.”

He stared at me some more, his eyes glistening. I think for fifty cents he would have belted me across the mouth.

The problem was, I knew Canetti from way back. He was friends with my father. He had known me for a long time, and had already formed his opinion.

“It’s that, I look at you, and I think, a guy like this, he won’t come back. You won’t come back. Even if you want to, you won’t show. A guy like you. Even if you want to, you mean to, it doesn’t make any difference. You’ll find some way to fuck it up. You’ll forget or get lost or something. I know this. I told him this. And then I am out a hundred thousand dollars. And your friend loses his house. What do I want with a fucking house?”

Canetti stared at me with deep unhappiness.

“My dad always spoke well of you,” I said.

This did nothing to cheer him up.

“Your father. Your father, Christ, if he could see you, he’d be turning in his grave.”

What could I say to that? I shrugged.

“Spinning like a fucking crankshaft. You piece of shit.” Canetti was getting worked up, carried away by his own eloquence. Tiny foam bubbles flecked the corners of his mouth. “You worthless piece of shit. You know that?”

I shrugged again.

“Who was it, Canetti? Who paid for my bail? That’s all I want to know. Can’t you just tell me?”

Canetti glared at me, looked away, sighed.

“He asked me not to tell you. I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t want you coming around to where I live, fucking my life up. I wouldn’t want you to know where I live.”

“I don’t know where you live,” I pointed out.

“I know your parents since we were kids,” he said, pointing a fat sausage-like finger at my chest. His eyes popped out and started glistening again. “Remember, scumbag, I know where you live! I know where you drink, I know where you park. When you scratch your balls I know how many times. I can find you in a minute. So you will show up. You will.”

“Of course,” I said.

Of course,” he repeated. The two words seemed to make him sick.

Just then, the door burst open and a large guy came into the room. He was tall, about six three or four; each shoulder looked capable of filling Canetti’s t-shirt by itself. The big guy had a strange haircut, shaved up on sides and back, a wad of hair left on top. It looked like a divot on top of a flesh-colored bowling ball. He had a skimpy little soul patch that started in the middle of his chin and didn’t quite get to the bottom.

Canetti’s eyes glinted happily. “Stosh!” he said.

The large guy nodded. “Canetti. Got something for you.”

“Sure, sure, in a minute” Canetti said. “I want you to meet someone. Stosh, meet Johnnie LoDuco. Johnnie, Stosh Budjynski.” He waved his hands between us, graceful as a party host welcoming someone onto his yacht.

Stosh turned his eyes on me. I could see him take me in, analyze me, categorize me, and dismiss me, all in seconds. It was scary to see that much beef apparently connected to a brain.

“Pleasure,” Stosh said in a quiet, furry voice. He held out an enormous fucking hand.

“Johnnie, I hope, I really hope this is the last time you ever have to meet Stosh,” Canetti said.

“Same here,” I said. “No offense. Really, nice to meet you, Stosh. You work for Mr. Canetti?”

“Sometimes.” Stosh shook hands very carefully. I appreciated that.

“Stosh is a bounty hunter, Johnnie,” Canetti explained. He seemed to be enjoying life again. “But you will never meet him in his professional capacity, right?”

“Of course not.”

* * *

Real jail time: I couldn’t handle it. “I can do the time,” I muttered to myself, trying it on like a con in the movies. But there was no point in pretending that I wasn’t bummed. I could not do five years. I didn’t think I could do five days anymore, after that whackfest in county.

In some ways of course, jail was a natural for me. Sitting around on a bed or couch, doing nothing for days on end pretty much described my lifestyle anyway. But the reality is that you are not left alone in jail. To be left alone you have to work pretty hard and full-time at it. And I doubted that I had what it took to achieve jail solitude.

And while there is truth to the idea that we are all in prison anyway, that jail just shows you how much this is true, this point of view made me want to kill myself, not go to jail.

So I was pretty sure I would not show up in court. It was too bad about Donnie Canetti, an old friend of my dad. And my mystery benefactor, whoever he was. And really too bad about Stosh. But I felt I had no real choice. I wasn’t living at my parents’ house anymore anyway, though I put down that address, and it was still on my driver’s license. My brothers had sold the place six months ago. I had no fixed address. I was nowhere--in so many ways.

I'll just take my chances with Stosh or whatever thug Canetti sends after me, I thought. Anything would be easier than more time inside. And if I ever found out who went my bail, I would pay him back. How, I wasn’t clear on. But it’s the thought that counts, right?

I mooched along the street between the bail-bond place and the courthouse, heading toward downtown Riverhead, not really going anywhere, just moving these hard possibilities through my head, getting used to them. Then someone spoke up right behind me.

"Hey, Johnnie!"

I knew that voice. I straightened up and turned around. Vinnie McCloskey-Schmidt was standing there grinning at me like a demented car salesman.

"Johnnie boy, hey, how you doin’?" Vinnie didn’t quite hug me, but he grabbed each shoulder at arm’s length and shook me back and forth.

"Vinnie, hey, how you been?" I said, my voice wobbly from the shoulder shaking. I hadn’t seen Vinnie for a while; it seemed like we kept running across each other at about two-year intervals. Of course, Long Island’s not that big a place, especially if you confine your activities to the same five or six bars, supermarkets, and video stores.

We had been good friends, really good, close friends, in high school. I spent a lot of quality time sitting stoned on the couch in his parents’ den, watching TV with the sound turned off as Vinnie supplied the dialogue and narration. They were always better than the original movie. That, and stealing cars.

Vinnie and I liked to steal cars back then. Most of them we just drove around in and left somewhere. Occasionally, we would be moved by high spirits to drive one off a dock, or tear-ass across sand dunes until the car became completely bogged down, then bury it.

We were little assholes, that’s for sure. But we never got caught.

Things had changed.

"What’re you doin' in Riverhead?" I asked him. "You’re not in the court system, are you?"

Vinnie looked away, up toward the county jail complex.

"Nah, I’m looking after something for a cousin of mine," Vinnie said. He had thousands of cousins, I remembered, all versions of one another. "What about you?"

"Ah, Vinnie, you know," I said. I suddenly felt embarrassed. "I got fucked. Fucked again. You know?"

Vinnie put his hand on my shoulder. "Sure, I understand. Look, you’re done here, let’s go get something to eat. My treat. Okay?"

Since I hadn’t eaten anything but candy bars since I got out of jail, I wasn’t about to turn him down.

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About Vinnie's Head

In paperback March 2008 from St. Martin’s Minotaur

Vinnie's Head, by Marc Lecard

Paperback: 352 pages
ISBN-10: 031237867X
ISBN-13: 978-0312378677
List Price: $13.95

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Small-time criminal Johnnie LoDuco carries his best friend's head around Long Island in a plastic garbage bag, trying to stay alive. Mysterious figures want to hurt him—and the people trying to help him are just as lethal.

- - -

Also by Marc Lecard

Tiny Little Troubles

Tiny Little Troubles, by Marc Lecard

Hard Cover: 352 pages
ISBN-10: 0312360223
ISBN-13: 978-0312360221
List Price: $24.95

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The fast-paced crime story of an eccentric thug chasing after a piece of nano-technology and the scientist that created it.