Whitestone, Queens, NY
November 7, 2009, 5:45 pm
Alex Nicholas sat in his den admiring his sleek Apple laptop. Although it looked like the same machine that millions of people owned, it wasn’t. Inside the polished aluminum case and underneath the exquisitely designed white keyboard, lay over a million dollars of powerful, state of the art upgrades and enhancements. They had been sourced from diverse specialized companies located all over the world and combined together by an obscure but highly talented computer genius who happened to live across the street.
For a full minute, Alex stared ahead at his image on screen. Using his laptop, he had taken the picture of himself and was thinking of what words he wanted to place at the bottom of the screen shot. Then it came to him, the saying that had stuck in his mind when he read it, days ago. He continued to stare at his mirror image as he began to type, each word appearing below his image as he typed it: “Life is a dream, and death is waking up.”
Alex Nicholas laughed, and thought to himself, that will get their attention . . .someday. Hopefully, not too soon. Anyway, I can’t wait to show this to Michael.
Alex often though about his brother, Michael, the only remaining link to his childhood family. He wished they were closer and often wondered why they weren’t. Alex suspected it was either the business he was in or the women he married. He knew Michael wasn’t comfortable with either. But now that he had completed his secret project, Alex Nicholas was determined to get closer to the brother that he sorely missed. Maybe I’ll call him tonight, but now, I’m hungry, he thought.
Moving quickly now, he signed off and closed the laptop. He took it into his master bedroom, entered his walk-in closet and quietly closed the door behind him. Inside there was a series of custom-made wooden shelves, running from the ceiling down to the floor, each shelf jutting out at an angle, designed to hold and display two pairs of shoes. He removed the shoes sitting on the fourth shelf from the bottom and, gripping the polished teak, pushed it upwards. The specially designed panel easily lifted up, revealing a hidden compartment. Alex Nicholas placed his unique laptop snuggly into the empty cavity and returned the shelf to its original position.
As he headed down his stairway and out the front door he thought about the amazing breakthrough that was contained inside his computer.
Alex Nicholas wasn’t sure how it all worked but he knew now that he would never die.
Whitestone, Queens, NY
November 7, 2009; 6:00 PM
Alex Nicholas had often wondered what the last moments of his life would be like: a shortness of breath, a cold sweat, a stabbing pain near the heart. Or, perhaps a tender piece of Smith & Wollensky’s New York strip lodged in his trachea, refusing to go down. Maybe it was the dangerous business he was in that led to this morbid fascination or, more likely, the result of attending all those gloomy Greek Orthodox funerals as a kid.
But tonight he was feeling good.
Grimaldi’s, an old Queens bar and restaurant was buzzing despite the early dinner hour, an ominous sky, and the first snow falling outside. The jukebox played “Sherry,” the original Frankie Valli version.
Veal parmigiana sizzled on the plate, the cheese and rich red tomato sauce bubbling, a work of old-fashioned Italian-American art. Alex was about to cut into his first slice when Maria, came over to his table.
“Alex, how are you? You’ve been a stranger the last few weeks.”
Maria was the sexiest restaurant owner Alex had ever known—tall, slim, long dark hair, and exotic Mediterranean looks. Her deep, smoky voice only added to her unique appeal. She was forty-eight years old but exuded the confidence of a good-looking woman who knows she doesn’t need to conceal those years.
“I’ve been busy,” Alex groaned. “Everybody owes me money. I’d be rich if people would pay their fuckin’ debts.”
Alex had sold the restaurant to Maria twelve years earlier. She still enjoyed seeing him every time he came in.
“I think you’re still rich. Someone must be paying up,” Maria shot back. “And I don’t think that sport coat is from Walmart.”
Alex looked down at his custom tailored navy sport jacket as though it was the first time he had seen it. “What? It’s from the Korean tailor in Flushing. I don’t think it even fits right.”
Alex Nicholas ran one of the largest sports gambling and loan sharking operations in the city. He had that outer borough, tough guy appeal that women like Maria found irresistible, despite the fact that his body was showing the toll of fify-five years of too many fast women, marriages, double scotches, and early morning evenings. There had been many times Maria and Alex had longed to go to bed together, but somehow, between the business, the scotches, and their spouses at any given time, it just never happened.
Maria sat down with her gin and tonic and joined Alex while he devoured his veal. She wore a tight, clingy black dress that showed just enough cleavage for him to enjoy the view. “Alex, you know if you’d stop complaining all the time, you might find your life’s not so bad.”
“Oh yeah, you think so? I’m supporting everyone I fuckin’ know or ever met, including three wives—and I’m only married to one and she goes to bed at nine o’clock,” Alex replied with his mouth full.
“You love it and you know it, Alex,” Maria said with a laugh and a sly smile. “People need you and I think you like it that way.”
“Hmm,” was all Alex could muster while he continued to methodically work through his meal. Two Chivas Regals had begun to soothe his edgy nerves, and the veal parmigiana was having the same effect on his stomach. Maybe Maria wasn’t too far off and maybe life wasn’t so bad.
“You know, your brother told me once that he thought you never really recovered from losing that girl Molly when you went away to college.”
“Who knows? It might not have worked that well either. I was crazy and she might have been too.” Alex’s face and expression turned reflective, almost sad. ”I’m not sure I was ever cut out to be married. I’m never getting fuckin’ married again, that’s for sure.”
“I was also surprised when he told me the story, I didn’t even know you went to college, Alex.”
“In my business, the dumber people think I am the better. I don’t exactly brag about it. I was only there three years. I played baseball and fooled around. After high school I had an offer to sign a minor league contract with the Pirates but, you know, my parents were Greek immigrants. My father was a furrier, had a shop on Fifth Avenue, but wanted his kids to go to college and become bankers or whatever corporate shit. Anyway, it wasn’t for me.”
“So what happened?”
“I went to Oklahoma and played ball until I blew out my knees. Then I came home, got my insurance broker’s license, took bets on the side and finally found the closest thing I could do to playing ball – I became a bookie. That’s how it all began.”
“Jesus, Alex, that’s a great story. I can’t believe you never told me this before.”
“Yeah, well, it is for me. Not everyone thinks so.”
“But your brother went corporate, working for a big company.. You two are pretty different.”
“I guess so. He heads up some company in the city. I’m proud of him. My parents never lived to see him like this. They died when he was in his thirties or so. He’s always traveling, all over the world. I couldn’t do what he does.”
“Well, Alex, he couldn’t do what you do, either. Plus, despite your son-of-a-bitch persona, everyone—or almost everyone—likes you”
“I don’t really give a shit whether people like me or not. I don’t think about stuff like that. I got other things to worry about.”
“Look around, Alex. Half the guys in this place tonight are your friends, even the cops. How many people in your line of work get along well with cops?”
Alex looked around the restaurant silently counting the number of police officers. “They’re all big shots now – detectives, narcs, captains. I knew them when they were on the beat, in their uniforms. I treat people well. I play by certain rules. No drugs, no dealing. And, I’ve never hurt anyone. Not seriously anyway. ”
“You just scare the shit of them.” Maria giggled.
“Sometimes that’s the only way I can get paid, you know?”
“What I know, Alex, is that underneath this tough guy is a softie.” Maria reached over the table and caressed Alex’s cheek. He turned away, with a combination of a smile and smirk.
“You know what? Maybe I’m feeling pretty good tonight.”
Alex turned back to his dinner and Maria signaled the server for another round of drinks, neither noticing as the front door swung open and a cold draft swept through the restaurant.