Public Enemies No. 1 Through No. 1 ½
I havenít written much about Audreyís job this past year. I am probably more paranoid than cautious but I canít help but consider the consequences were this notebook to fall into the wrong hands. My grandfather, Popís dad Nick, he always said that: "The Secret of the Whole Thing when youíre doing something illegal, is to do it alone and then donít tell nobody." He always is saying something or other is the "Secret of the Whole ThingÖ" I have often thought, considering my life, that one about doing illegal stuff was a good one to remember.
Anyway, now that everything has come out and is a matter of public record there is no longer any reason for my continued silence on the subject.
Mama has been working for a bookie named Irving. She doesnít actually take bets; itís more like she runs an answering service for him. Sheís worked in about a dozen different offices that heís set up. Usually there are one or two girls to an office answering phones. And two, three or four phones. The way it works is this: Someone calls and asks for Mr. Deer (Park), Mr. Bay (Meadows), Mr. Belmont, like that. And then they leave their numbers. Irving calls in all the time to pick up the messages. Then he returns each call. When he does, he already knows that this or that one wants to place a bet on a race at this or that track, so he has that book open and all the bettor has to say is: A deuce on 3 in the 4th. Organizing it like this cuts down on extra phone chitchat. No one ever ever discusses bets when leaving that first message.
Every once in a while, one of the girls will get someone calling in trying to place a bet. Anyone who is supposed to be calling in, knows that isnít the way it works. These particular kinds of suspicious messages are known as "funny calls". Too many funny calls signal that the cops are onto the location and a bust is in the works. The girls keep the office open as long as they dare and as soon as the frequency of "funny calls" mounts to a flurry they abandon that office and take off. More than once they left out of the elevator just as vice were swarming into the building to bust the office the girls had just vacated.
As expensive as it is to lose an office, bailing out the girls and seeing them through costly trials is worse. Generally it takes Irving 12-24 hours to open a new office, so added to the expense of a closed office was the loss of business until a new one is opened and the number distributed. So the idea is that you keep the office open and take calls as long as you possibly can and only close one down at the very last possible instant to avoid arrest. As time went on, Audrey became increasingly frightened of having to go to jail. Eventually, her anxiety was such that at the first sign of trouble, she would high-tail it out of the current office. One or two "funny calls" and she was gone and business was over for that day.
Now the one thing you wouldnít ever want to do was work phones outta your own homeóyou canít just close Ďem out and take off.
Thatís why it was incomprehensible to me that, after a record number of office closures, my mother chose to have Irving install three phone lines in our apartment. She didnít work them full time; they were an emergency reserve unit for when an office closed. Then Irving wouldnít lose so many hours while he set up new places.
Itís been a long cold winter and a dreary dark damp spring. Most of the money sheís made has gone straight up her and Jackieís arm. Food is still scarce but at least the rent is getting paid. Audreyís arthritis has been so bad that I had to skip school to work the phones for her. We had to work outta the house. She couldnít hold the phone or write with a pen for weeks at a time. Not that Iím complaining about missing school. I skip school most days anyway, but then I usually do what I please; with this here, Iíve been stuck at home working. As the weather got warmer, I was needed less and less and things got normal again.
Jackie blew off his court appearance on that jewelry heist rap. When they catch up with him, he is going up for some serious time. Meanwhile, his sister had put up her house for his bail, so there goes his family ties. Jackie is looking more and more like a haunted troubled spirit than an every day person. Heís grown even paler and thinner than ever and his dark sad eyes seem barely able to blink back the ever-pooling well of tears.
Since her health has improved mother has been working out at a new office for Irving. Until this week. Now she is back on the home phones. She jumped out of yet another office the minute she got a funny call. She would have fibbed to Irving but she was working with her sidekick, Sakini, who told him the true story. So Irving storms into our apartment ranting and raving. It was a big race day. The Kentucky Derby. Irving lost a lot of money when Audrey lammed and he is furious.
For weeks Jackie and me have been calling her Chicken Little and joking that sheís Public Enemy Number One on the Least Wanted List. So, Irving is yelling and hollering at her, and one of her phones goes off. She runs to answer it. Itís ten oíclock at night and we donít usually get many calls at night so itís unusual. She doesnít take a message and Irving asks how come. Cool as anything Audrey says: No message, dollóit was a "funny call." Some guy wanting to place a bet." Irvingís got his coat and hat on and is down the hallway and out the door, faster than you can say "scared rabbit".
Audrey chases after him and grabs him. "Irving, Irvingówhatís the hurry? We got ages until the cops get here. Nothing to worry about. Címon, weíll have a little coffee, a bisl cake, a nice talkÖ"
Irving tore outta her grasp and fled in terror down the stairs and into the night. We laughed until we cried. I was almost sick from laughing so hard and even now my sides hurt when I think about it.
From that night on, Irving has become Public Enemy #1 1/2.
Today, Motherís Day, started out strangely. Maybe I am only thinking that now that the day is over and I am looking back. No, everything seemed unusual and out of the ordinary right from the beginning. First Mother woke up convinced that we must both dress up in our very nicest clothes and go shopping uptown and immediately, she called her assistant, Sakini, to cover for her. Audrey is running the phones full time here again, so someone has to be here to answer them.
Now, if this were anyone elseís mother it would be the most reasonable every day proposal imaginableóexcept maybe for the part about getting someone to cover the bookmaking phones. But, except to shlep to one of Irvingís bleak little offices, my mother hasnít been out of the house in months and months. She hasnít "dressed up" in over three years. And I canít remember the last time she went north of 14th Street or "shopped" in a real store anywhere. We steal, we donít "shop". I know it is Motherís Day, but we have not paid attention to any holiday since we hit the skids.
From out of the back of her closet she drags out her old wedding suit. This is an antique dress and jacket she had retailored years and years ago, when she wore it to marry Jim Shapiro. Maybe sheís worn it once or twice since. Then sheís piling on frantic layers of makeup and putting on eyelashes. Sheís climbing up on chairs and dragging hats outta hatboxes from the top of the closet. Sheís getting out the matching gloves and handbag. Sheís pouring herself into a girdle, rolling up stockings and fastening them to garters. Itís been so long since she dressed up in this kinda drag itís like watching a primitive go through a ritual from pre-history. Weíve been living in jeans and sneakers for ages now. I didnít even know she had any good clothes left.
As for me, I am dawdling and not getting ready fast enough and I donít want to put on the dress she wants me to wear and so she is nagging me like crazy. The more she nags me, the more I resist doing anything she wants. I am making her nuts; and more and more anxious.
And Sakini is late. Sakini isnít the assistantís real name. Thatís what Mama calls her. Itís from the play "Teahouse of the August Moon". The lead has an Okinawan assistant named Sakini who always wears shorts and kneesocks. Sakiniís kneesocks are always falling down and the boss yells: "SOCKS UP, SAKINI!" Mamaís Sakini is a lesbian. She always wears bermuda shorts and kneesocksóeven in winter. Of course, the kneesocks are always falling down, hence the nickname.
Finally Sakini shows but Iím still not ready. Mother and I are into heavy skirmishes now. The more she bugs me, the bigger brat I am. Just then Jackie, my motherís boyfriend, sashays into the pad saying heís got a connection bringing drugs momentarily that we all need to wait them. Now, Audrey is so frantic to get out she canít even explain to him her hurry.
Then I ask her straight out why she is so manic and mad to get out of there. I couldnít have done anything worse. Sakini suddenly gets suspicious. "Whatís cooking, Audrey?" she wants to know. "Whatsa matter? You get a funny call? Shouldnít you tell me about that? Why are you in such a hustle to get outta here?"
Mama turns on me and yells at me to get out of the apartment, march myself right downstairs and just wait and cool my heels on the stoop until she comes out. I leave in a huff and descend the six flights of stairs to the street to wait. And wait and wait and wait.
On the way down the stairs, about halfway, I pass three burly guys in bad suits climbing up. They looked tough and mean. I figured they must be Jackieís connection.
I am not a patient person, but in spite of that, I realize finally that I have been out there on the street waiting for a very long time. I back out into the street and look up at the sixth floor windows of our apartment as if there might be a message there. The light bounces off the surface of the glass. Opaque, they stare back at me blankly. I hate to climb back up all those stairs again, just to have Audrey shriek at me. So I wait a little more.
Finally, I figure, I gotta go back up. Thinking as I climb flight after flight, I realize they probably all got so high they canít move and all field trips and outings have been cancelled until further notice. Or mother has fallen ill, but then why hasnít someone been sent down to fetch me? As I come up to the 6th floor landing, I see that our apartment door is ajar. I half expect to see my mother suddenly dashing out of it to meet me. Something in the quiet urgency of the voices coming from the apartment draws me in. I walk tentatively down the small hall that opens into the kitchen and livingroom. Sakini handcuffed and hostile sits in a chair by the window scowling. My mother is weeping hysterically into a fine linen hankie. She is barely coherent but is sobbing about how she is just a "poor helpless widow woman all alone in the world with a little child to raise" and that she didnít know she had done anything wrong. "The nice man told me it was just an answering service! What was I supposed to do? Let my baby starve?!"
When she sees me, she holds her arms out for me and lets loose with a terrible lamenting wail. Two cops are ransacking our pad while a third questions Audrey. Me, Iím playing it cool. Very, very cool. Actually, Iím thrilled to death. This is my very first big bust and itís a vice bust too. The really mean guy with the blond crewcut? Thatís Weiss, head of vice downtown. One of the biggest sons of bitches in NYC law enforcement. His meanness is legendary.
People are scared shitless of him just by his reputation. In terms of my position on the street, crime-wise, I am graduating from kindergarten to University in one swell foop. I couldnít be more delighted.
I am probably going to Youth House, and maybe some kind of reform school. I remember a book I read a few months ago. It was about girl juvenile delinquents. One of them gets caught finally and winds up in a Girlís Home where they live in cottages. And the girls all wear different color shirtwaist dresses depending on which cottage they are from. Pastels. Pink, yellow, lilac, blueóI am wondering what color dress I would like the most.
Anyway, the last thing Iím gonna do is cry and make a scene. When you get caught, youíre caught and then itís all about the style you go down with. Iím actually kind of irate that Audrey and her cowering are giving these cocksuckers any satisfaction at all. I mean, frankly, itís embarrassing. Iím showing impeccable form. Bored, indifferent, hard. I take it all in my stride. When it comes to tough, I outclass Ida Lupino.
Still, Audrey is carrying on. I sidle over to her and say, "Oh, momÖ." Kinda condescending and contemptuous like. And the cop nods his head towards me and says to my mother, "You really need to calm down. Like your daughter here. She doesnít seem to be upset or surprised by any of this. Why donít you just do like her?"
Then he goes over to question Sakini. Mother and I are sitting on the couch on the other side of the room. When the cop has his back to us, mama grabs a bunch of my hair from the back of my head and yanks it hard. While she pretends to hug me close she snarls into my ear: "Cry, you fucking brat, god dammit! Cry this fucking minute or I will throw you out that fucking window. Then I will drag you down to the fucking East River and I will drown you. Now cry, godammit!"
Without missing a beat, I throw my head back, open my mouth wide and begin to howl piteously. Tears cascaded down my cheeks. I sobbed: "My mommy! My mommy! What are you bad bad men doing to my poor poor mommy! Donít take my mommy awaaaaaaaaay!"
And then my mother: "Look what you nasty mean men are doing to my poor little baby girl! You are scaring us half to death!" And she starts back to weeping and we are clutching one another and weeping. I canít snuck the snot back fast enough and I begin to choke and hiccup--but all the while wailing. Now the cops come over, acting like pals and try to make me stop crying. They give me gum, a candy bar, a five-dollar bill.
They are going overboard trying to reassure my mother. They tell her that she will probably only be detained for a few hours as a formality. Now we are just waiting for a van to transport everybody. I have to get something to blow my nose with so I go into the toilet.
I get a tissue and I am blowing my nose. I don't know where I am gonna wind up so I figure I better pee while I can. I am sitting on the toilet peeing and suddenly something is bugging me. Something is missing from all this. I can feel it in the back of my mind, but I donít know what it is. Then it comes to me. Jackie. Where the hell is Jackie. Just then I sense I am not alone. I lean over and push back the shower curtain an inch. Jackie is standing fully dressed in a tub of water. The hem of his cashmere overcoat is floating in the water. Heís wearing his new Florsheims. The water must have been left over from Audreyís bath this morning. Sweatís dripping off the end of his nose and he looks like heís about to suffocate from fear. He brings his fingers to his lips and signals me to be quiet. Not to give him up.
Like I ever would. Sometimes I think even the people closest to you, donít even know you at all.
Funny, the situation is so weird, neither of us realizes or is embarrassed that I am on the toilet peeing. I let the curtain go. Then I flush the toilet, wash my hands and exit bawling like a three-year old. My idea is that my carrying on will be so disturbing and annoying to the cops? It will serve as a distraction. And it does exactly that. They are in such a hurry to get rid of us that they hustle us outta the pad to wait for the van on the street.
I still canít believe they didnít nab Jackie.