Come and Crash My Party
Pinter stuffed what tangible evidence remained of the last five years into a brown army satchel, and then strapped Pharaoh, the caramel and white Basenji, into the passenger seat of June's hatchback. With $43 worth of quarters in a plastic baggie, he made haste for the ferry. His type, in those days, traveled with a melancholy lightness, for there wasn't any such thing as a premeditated destination, but only a vague notion of the pursuit. While women gave birth and men clashed, Pinter stole his girlfriend's car and her dog, leaving for no place in particular.
Pharaoh represented his last connection with June, who, at a second's notice, Pinter could imagine rushing down Lafayette Street in the wind; that garish teal hat and scarf set flopping around behind her as some faux hipster eased his gaze upon her body, opening up mysteries. Abducting the dog was a sudden, if not impulsive, strategy; a mostly pathetic eleventh hour effort to bridge a widening gap.
The decision to steal her car, which she never used, was much more thought out. He was heading north, perhaps for Boston or Vermont or Montreal. With half of his stingy budget earmarked for fuel, his objective–to sever ties with the Island while inciting jealousy in June--was on the surface satisfied, but he could get only about 175 miles away from it, or as far as New Rochelle, where he suffered the empty crush of time under the ornate canopy of Russo's Italian restaurant. There was only darkness around him, cold and soundless. But the beat of his heart was peaceful. The blood still surged.
He was alone, with a baggie full of change and Pharaoh, whose canine magnanimity shone brightly against Pinter's feeble attempt to flee.
It was mid-February, the freeze was on, and the townies walked up and down Main Street with every imaginable piece of weather-breaking gear Patagonia and Land's End could produce wrapped snug around their thawed bodies. The cold had been unbearable for nearly two months, and it was testing the Island's collective tolerance. Even Bottman, the editor and publisher of The Long Bridge Express, was threatening to pull the plug on the remainder of winter. However rhetorical, the underlying spirit of his remark resonated: The Long Bridge Express had been published every Thursday for over 150 years, and Kerry Bottman--bearded like a Montauk fisherman, chrome-dome shining, struggling to peer through squinting eyelids--was playing God with The Bridge's Only Newspaper.
Bottman, like most everyone else in Long Bridge, was a sham; a grifter in newspaper guise who preyed on frail, fresh-faced reporters already riddled with anxiety who crammed to file their lousy copy like some well-intentioned but hung over college kid. Even with the beard, he was a booze-filled, second-rate newsman for a slumping weekly in the Hamptons.
Pinter had enough.
"You'll be out of a job. What are you going to do?" Pinter's father said. "C'mon, Joe, what is all this? Your mother says your going to Montreal? What's going on, huh? Montreal? What about your job?"
Just minutes after he used June's emergency key to procure Pharaoh from her apartment–he being co-owner of the dog anyway, paying half of Pharaoh's $800 price tag–the lightning struck hard. Big Gary was on the line. Pinter could smell the garlic on his breath.
"I'm going to hang out for a few months, honestly Dad, I'm serious. I'm just going to write and go out with a lot of pretty girls and maybe even wait on tables. Is there something wrong with me waiting tables."
"Son, listen to me, you do this all the time," Gary said, invoking the past, lobbing word bombs. "I'm your father. It's a mistake. Listen to me."
The line was silent for a few seconds until Pinter cleared his throat.
"It's alright, Dad," Pinter said softly. "But I guess I've already decided that I'm going."
"But you don't even have a car. Where are you going?"
A wave of reality forced itself through Pinter's delusions, and he was suddenly aware of his updated existence: a bereft, malnourished looking fellow, unshaved, huddled in the entrance to Russo's Italian restaurant, far from the subjective allure of Long Bridge, and even farther from anything that could be remotely helpful. He noticed the cars in the parking lot, how they were colorless in the black setting. Pharaoh was sitting quietly by June's car, perhaps with grim intentions, plotting his future, the dog being trained in the cryptic ways of the ancient Egyptians. He sat stoically, paws retracted in thought, much like a porcelain incarnation. It was amazing grit. And Pinter was feeling decidedly feline.
In the still of the evening, the dog jumped to attention. Pharaoh sensed movement, its ears piqued in anticipation. One by one, the windows of Russo's were illuminated, and Pinter was turned on to hundreds of people milling around inside the restaurant. Russo's, by all accounts, was a pretty ritzy place, and the crowd seemed strangely formal for a Sunday night. Pinter peered over the marble sill, longing for gas and food.
But a group of bouncers caught sight of poor Pinter's snout, and began to hustle through the crowd, walking toward the entrance with a purpose.
"What's your problem, dude?" said a mountainous, bald-headed man, peeking through a glass door. "What are you doing out here? This a private party."
Pinter dropped to his knees, feigning a search: " I dropped my wallet around here somewhere. Sorry, man. I mean, I need money to get home. Could we make a deal or something. If you give me some bus fare, I'll give you that luxurious 1996 Honda Civic that's parked right over there."
Pinter pointing now in the direction of the vehicle, where Pharaoh sat, undaunted.
"Pretty desperate, huh? How much you need?"
"How about $50 and we'll call it even. Or, no . . . wait a minute, wait a second. How about $250. Plus some food because I know you've got food in there, and it's all yours. To me at least, that sounds like a real bargain. My name is Joe Pinter. I'm a newspaper reporter, but I needed to get away from my town. I left that forsaken place for a bunch of reasons. The paper and of course there's the problem of June. Anyway, what do we say? Deal?"
The large man stuck out a paw and invited Pinter inside. Pharaoh followed.
"Come on, brother. You're OK. Welcome, man. Come and crash my party. We know about you kind of brothers. We got love," he said, as if Pinter had been skeptical. "We all got love."
The others in the room ignored the man's avuncular charm as he whisked Pinter through the crowd. He was egregiously drunk, perhaps high on something, but to Pinter he seemed rather affable.
"We got love here, boy. Enough for everyone. See that really fat guy in the corner? Over near those flowers?"
"Well, that guy, he's got enough love for anyone, the type of love that can overwhelm you. Ever felt that kind of love?"
Pinter could see more clearly the faces in the crowd and he sensed that they were unsettled. Pharaoh, on the other hand, was quickly making friends.
"Can't say that I have. But it's certainly in the air, isn't it? That dog's a big hit, eh? By the way, I didn't catch your name?"
The man said something that sounded like "George."
"Alright then," Pinter said. "George it is."
Just as Pinter raised his hand in salute, his body was thrust from the ground, picked up with ease by another of the monster-heads in George's clique. Pinter could feel something cold and sharp pierce his flesh, though he could not detect exactly where. The lights dimmed.
"Where's the party-crasher?" Pinter heard a woman's voice ask. Then the lights went out.
When he awoke, he was lying outdoors on a patch of dirt, and the sun was square on his face. Pinter recalled the opening line of Samuel Beckett's "Murphy": "The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new." Pharaoh, composed with a frigid haughtiness, was sitting inches away from his head. Pharaoh, he sensed, had the whole story. What did he see? Rising from the winter-hardened ground at the base of a flower garden lining the entrance to Russo's, he could feel a tumescence growing quite painfully within his jeans. There was an envelope taped to his arm, and he opened it casually as he tried to suppress a bad case of morning wood.
"Reach into your right pocket. Take the money and go home." It was signed with crude penmanship: "George!"
The $500 was hardly payment enough for the car, the absence of which he would have to explain to June, but he was satisfied. Oddly satisfied.
Back on the Island, Bottman was wearing his turtle neck, as usual, and Pinter, forever aware, was zeroing in on a new source for his Wainscott hit-and-run/murder story, which was coming along nicely given that he had been drugged and held hostage, then released with half a thousand dollars in his pocket, all within the last 24 hours. Bottman was silent for much of the day, hardly even uttering a syllable to the advertising staff, which he usually engaged in daily briefings and beseeched to "Keep on 'em no matter what they say. We've got the space, don't worry."
His father called a day later and Pinter painstakingly admitted his foolishness to the one person who didn't need to be told that he was right all along, who didn't need his ego stroked. Gary laughed it off. Pinter was used to the bitter taste of crow. In fact, Pinter almost laughed at himself, but killed the urge almost as soon as it surfaced.
His publisher had taken him back, which was not such a great surprise, and Pinter sprung back into the race seamlessly.
When June would make one of her infrequent returns to Long Bridge to visit her wide array of "friends," of whom there were many--too many, almost, to share even a modicum of "friendship" with all of them--she would drive past Pinter's house and honk the horn on the resilient little Honda. It was a noise that could be translated into: "I know you're in there, you fucking degenerate. Nice try stealing my car. How's that novel coming along, fuck-o?" And she'd whiz away, the glory of the road stretched out before her like a perpetually unfurling receipt, the steam from spent vindication billowing from her ears.
About the author:
Joseph Mollica is a cub reporter for the New York Post. He lives in Astoria, Queens, but spends a lot of time on Shelter Island, where he can practice being an addlepated misanthrope (those are some big words, eh?) in relative peace. This is his first published work of fiction. He is thinking about starting life anew in Palermo.