It's sundown on a shit day, and a guy is standing right under my window.
"Paulie! Paulie! Hey fuckin' Paulie!" he's shouting for the last half hour. Nobody answers the asshole, but he still keeps shouting for Paulie. I'm in a funny kind of mood, so I open my window and lean out.
"Yeah? Whaddaya want?" I shout down to the guy.
"Paulie, how come you didn't come to the window?"
"I been busy sucking your mother's cunt," I tell him. "Whaddaya want?"
"I want you to come with me in the car," he says to me. "Come down right away. We're gonna be late."
I put on my jacket and go downstairs and get into the unwashed white van parked on the corner with dirty words drawn in the grime. He wants Paulie, I'm gonna give him Paulie. I'm in that kind of mood. I don't give a tin shit what happens. From now on, I am fuckin' Paulie, come what may.
There are two guys inside the van and a lot of guns. Crates of ammunition too.
"Jesus, Paulie," the one who hollered up to me says. This is a guy with long, scraggly hair wearing a dirty tee- shirt underneath an old olive drab surplus jacket and a pair of ratty jeans. "It's been a long time."
"At least ten years, Elmo," I tell the dude.
"Site, you still remember when they called me 'Elmo,'huh Paulie?" he says.
"Not likely to forget it," I tell him.
"I don't think you ever met Street," Elmo goes on. "He joined the Movement after your time."
Street puts out his hand and I shake it.
"You always been an inspiration to me, Paulie," he says to me. "This is a rush, meeting you for real like this."
"Same here, " I tell the kid.
A third guy, who's been under the hood, comes inside and looks me up and down. He gives me a gimlet-eyed stare.
"You've' changed, Paulie," he says. "You're' not the Paulie I knew." He's brandishing a long, wicked commando knife.
"Life,man," I tell him. "It does that to us all."
Then he sticks the knife into one of the ammo crates, lets out a whoop, throws his arms around me and gives me a huge bear hug. Tears are streaming down his face.
"I know,man," he says. "It's so fuckin true. But it's good to have you back in the Movement, Paulie. I know we can make it now."
"Right the fuck on," I say.
"Moon's gotten to be a sentimentalist," Elmo says. "He cries like a baby every time he thinks of the old days. Especially when he gets drunk and starts reciting the revolutionary motto."
"Paulie," Moon says to me. "Say the words. I gotta hear them from your lips. You always inspired us when you did that."
"Later," I tell them. "I'm a little choked up myself right now."
"Come on Paulie," the kid pleads. "I been wanting to hear one of your speeches for ten years."
"Just a few lines. For the kid," Elmo says. "Come on, Paulie."
"Okay," I tell them. "Here goes: 'We will restore Asti to Spumanti and Genoa to Salami. We will stay assholes till the end. More power to me and fuck everybody else.'" I raise my hand in a clenched fist, and slap my biceps, giving them the old fongool.
Elmo and Moon are clutching their sides with laughter. Elmo is doubled over against the floor of the van. The kid looks puzzled. He doesn't know whether to laugh or what.
"Vintage Paulie. Vintage fuckin' Paulie," Elmo says after he's recovered enough to talk. "Always playing head games. Just like the old days. This is a trip. This is a real trip."
"Jesus, it's good you're back, Paulie," Moon agrees. "But it's time to roll. We got a score to settle." Moon climbs behind the wheel and starts the engine. The van pulls away from the curb and rolls down the street.
"I can just imagine how bad you must want to get that scumbag Falcone," says Street. "after what he did."
"I won't rest till I make him pay," I say, trying to put some emotion into it. "I swear it."
"We know," Elmo puts in. "Falcone hid out for a long time, but even he wasn't good enough. Somebody always spots you. That's the thing."
"That's the thing," I agree with a nod.
"What I can't figure," Elmo goes on, "is how you knew how to contact us. I mean, there's been a lot of water under the bridge."
"I have my ways," I answer.
"Yeah, you tricky sonofabitch," Elmo replies. "You always knew how to make the right move. Here, you better take this," he adds, handing me one of the guns from in back. "I picked this Uzi out for you myself."
I take hold of the weapon and balance it across my knee. "So this is an Uzi, huh?" I think out loud.
"As if you never saw one before, right Paulie?" Moon shouts back from the driver's seat. Elmo cracks up and even the kid laughs nervously.
"I never saw one before in my life, dickwad," I tell him with a smile. "I wouldn't know an Uzi from the hole in your ass."
Elmo shakes his head as he's convulsed with laughter at my latest hilarious comeback. Holding his gut, he lights a cigaret.
"But seriously," he says. "We know right where Falcone is. He's got a bar in Hoboken. We been scoping it out for weeks. He always leaves at the same time. Today, we'll be waiting to snatch him. And then it's time for Falcone to pay his dues, right Paulie?"
"The motherfucker will pay, " I growl with a serious look on my face and brandish the Uzi threateningly. "He will pay the ultimate price."
"I know how bad you wanna waste him, Paulie," says Street, "but promise us you won't scrag him until we bring him to the safe house. There are some questions we have to ask him first."
"I'll try," I tell him. "But it won't be easy."
"I know it, man," says Elmo. "Considering what he did to your woman. But just stay cool. Remember the Movement comes first."
"The Movement comes first," I say. "I'll try to remember that. The Movement always comes first."
I take a seat against the wall of the van on one of the ammo crates and smile at Street. The kid pops an ammo clip from the Uzi he's clutching and nervously thumbs the bullets out onto the floor of the vehicle where they start rolling around.
I smile at him and do the same thing with the clip from my gun. We both sit there, thumbing bullets onto the floor. When our clips are empty, the kid goes around picking up the bullets rolling around on the van's floor. He hands half of them to me and starts popping the other half into the Uzi's clip. I do the same thing. When he's finished filling up the magazine with bullets, he starts thumbing them out again. I follow suit.
After doing this for awhile, we're through the Holland Tunnel and into Jersey. Moon pulls the van into the lot of a McDonald's and the kid takes out orders. I want an Egg McMuffin and plenty of ketchup. The rest of them just want burgers. We sit in the van eating the food and making smalltalk, most of it concerning the glory days of the Movement and what a great leader I was and how nothing's the same since I dropped out ten years ago, to all of which I can't help but agree.
Then Moon fires up the engine and the van gets rolling again, pulling out onto the highway. After a stretch we take the turnoff onto Hoboken and Moon navigates through a bunch of local streets. I'm still picking pieces of Egg McMuffin out of the place between my gums and my cheek when he pulls the van over and kills the engine on a deserted side street in a mean corner of town.
"Here's where we get off," Elmo says to me, and cocks his Uzi. I cock mine as Moon climbs back from the front seat.
"Falcone keeps his BMW in a garage over in this alley across the street," Moon says. "He's due in a couple of minutes. When he shows, Elmo and I will grab him and drag him into the van."
"He's mine," I shout with a ferocious glint in my eye.
Elmo looks searchingly at Moon.
"We're kind of afraid you might waste him if you did that, Paulie," he says.
"Don't worry about me," I say. "I'm cool. I can handle it." I stare at them like I mean what I'm saying.
"Okay," Moon says with an od. "It's Paulie and me who pull the snatch on Falcone. Elmo, you and Street stand guard.
"Good to fuckin' go," Elmo says and pulls on a black balaclava mask that covers his face, showing only slits for eyes, nose and mouth. Moon hands me a balaclava of my own and I put it on. Pretty soon we're all wearing the masks.
"There he is," Street says, peering through the cracked-open side door of the van.
"Let's go do it," Moon says to me.
I jump out of the van, cradling the Uzi. Moon is right behind me. Falcone, a fat man with a grey beard and a gold ring in one ear, stops in his tracks and stares at me with a startled expression on his pudgy face. Before I reach him, he pulls a gun, but I smash his hand with the steel buttplate of the Uzi before he can bring it up, then smash him across the side of the head with the Uzi.
"Don't waste him," says Moon as Falcone slumps, and I just deliver a single kick to the fat man's side before we both grab him under each arm and drag him over to the van, heave him inside, and jump in after him. Moon's already behind the wheel, and Elmo is slamming the door shut while Street is covering the street with his weapon as the van screeches from the curb.
Falcone comes to his senses and starts to make a racket, but Elmo is ready with a five inch strip of silver duck tape which he sticks across his mouth to shut him up. A longer strip around his wrists and ankles keeps him from moving around, and a balaclava put on backwards makes a good blindfold.
"How's it feel to know we finally got him?" Elmo asks me.
"Good," I say. "It feels damn good!"
Moon drives the van around Hoboken as part of a circuitous route that takes us through Elizabeth and into Bayonne where the safe house is waiting for Falcone's interrogation. Pulling the van into a blind alley, we drag our captive into the safe house. There, Moon and Street get right to work, filling a big zinc washbasin with cold water while Elmo ties him to a chair. Elmo takes off Falcone's shoes and socks, and when Moon and Street bring over the washbasin, puts his feet into the cold pail of water.
When Falcone starts to come around, Moon is attaching naked coils of de-insulated electrical wire to his legs, the other ends of which are attached to the lugs of a crank telephone, the kind the Army used to use in the field. Falcone's eyes bulge when he sees what's happening, but he doesn't know who we are because we're all still wearing the balaclavas.
"Do the honors," Moon says to me, and I rip the tape from Falcone's mouth so hard some skin comes off with it.
"What the fuck is going on?" Falcone demands, although he knows damn well what's going on.
"We're asking the questions, asshole," I tell him, pulling him by the hair and slapping his face a couple of times. "And if you want to live, you're gonna tell us."
"Where's the plutonium?" asks Moon to my left.
"I don't know anything about any plutonium" Falcone answers.
"Do him," Moon says and Elmo cranks the field telephone delivering a hundred and twenty volts of electricity to Falcone's body, making him howl in pain and shudder all over.
"Now where is it?"
"Fuck you, I don't know nothing about no plutonium," he insists. Elmo gives him another jolt and he faints. Moon tells Street to throw a fire bucket of cold water over his head, and this bring him around again.
We go at it for a couple of hours, but Falcone still won't talk. Finally, I take my Uzi and stick it in his face. "Last chance," I say, and when he still doesn't talk, I pull the trigger. Falcone's head explodes like a squashed melon.
"Now we'll never get the plutonium," Moon says.
"Fuck the plutonium," I shout back at him. "The Movement doesn't need mere plutonium. We have our will, which are stronger than any force of nature. We will persevere, despite all obstacles. Power to the fucking people!"
"Paulie's right," Elmo puts in. "Fuck his plutonium."
"Let's bury him," Moon says.
They've already got the spot picked out, since they were going to kill Falcone no matter what he said. They dump the corpse in the van and drive about twenty blocks to where a service station is having new gas tanks put in. The tanks are already sitting in the excavation cuts, waiting to be filled in the following day. Using an acetylene torch, Street cuts a hunk out of one tank and we put Falcone inside, then weld it shut again.
"Your woman's got to know about this," Moon says to me as we get back into the van and drive off. "Marisol doesn't have much time left."
"Marisol's got to hear about this before she goes," I say. "Let's go right now."
The hospital is out across the river in Brooklyn, and we make it just before the end of visiting hours. Marisol is in the intensive care ward, hooked up to a respirator and an IV stack and vital sign equipment. The doctor tells me she could go any minute. He also tells me she's gone blind this morning.
"Marisol, it's me, Paulie," I say, coming to her bedside and taking her hand. It feels cold and clammy as she runs it across my face.
"Did you get Falcone?" she asks. "Did you pay that cocksucker back for what he did?"
"We got him," I tell her. "Falcone is history."
"Good," Marisol says. "Now I can die in peace. But there's one thing, Paulie," she says, pulling me close so she can whisper in my ear. "The idol of Choc. It's in the special place in Yucatan where we held the ceremony. You must make sacrifice."
All of a sudden the vital signs machine lets out a high- pitched whistle and the oscilloscope traces go completely flat.
"She's gone, Paulie," Moon and Elmo tell me, putting their arms around my shoulders to comfort me in my loss. "But she went happy, now that she knew we got Falcone."
"She's better off now," I say.
We leave the hospital after I sign the necessary papers, and the others ask me what Marisol whispered to me just before she died.
"She told me I had to go to Yucatan and get the Idol of Choc, and hold a ritual in her honor," I answer, making up stuff as I go along. "That's the only way she said her soul would find any peace in the afterlife."
"We'll go with you, man," they all declare.
"I already knew you would," I answer back.
We set off immediately, with Moon driving and Elmo spelling him. Four days later, after stopping at motels along the road, we cross over into Mexico via secondary roads that let us skirt the border checkpoint at El Paso.
From there, it's smooth sailing due south until we reach the Yucatan Peninsula. I don't have any idea about where the Idol of Choc was supposed to be found in whatever special place Marisol knew about, but I still don't give a fuck. This is the best shit that's gone down in my life in years. I'd still be jerking my bird in my shit apartment on a shit day if I hadn't gone downstairs as Paulie.
"Take this left," I tell Elmo, who's now driving the van, and we head down a narrow dirt road that turns into a track in the scrub forest and finally ends altogether. "Okay. From here we walk. Sixty paces." Sixty sounds like a nice round number.
We walk the sixty paces, and come to a felled tree. I declare that under the tree there's a boulder and that under the boulder is a strongbox where the Idol of Choc is hidden. It takes us another fifteen or twenty minutes to clear away the tree and the boulder under it, but as I brush away some dirt, I find a strongbox. Getting my Uzi, I shoot off the lock, and when I pull back the rusty-hinged lid, there's a terra-cotta idol wrapped in decaying velvet cloth inside.
"Hey, that's some heavy shit," Elmo says. "What's it for?"
"For the ritual," I tell him.
"When do we do it?" Street asks.
"Sunrise," I say.
"Guess we better camp out till then," Moon suggests. "Here's as good a place as any."
We get a fire going and break out some military MREs from the van which we heat over the fire. The moon rises and the group gets drowsy. We all go to sleep around the van, but in the middle of the night I awake. The Idol of Choc has come to me in a dream and has told me what I need to do in order to make the sacrifices.
I get up, get my Uzi, and shoot Street, then Elmo and then Moon, in the heads, because I don't want to damage their hearts which I need for the ritual. When they're dead, I cut their hearts out using Moon's commando knife, and drop them into a gunny sack I find in the van.
Dawn is about the break now, and I know it's the right time to perform the ritual. I walk into the jungle and come to some ancient Mayan ruins, backlit by the rising sun. As the sun gets higher in the east, I have climbed to the top of the ruins, where I lay the hearts in a circle around the Idol of Choc.
"Oh great Quetzelcoatl, come now forth!" I chant, as I do a kind of pow-wow dance around the hearts and the idol. Then I face the rising sun, out of the burning center of which Quetzelcoatl, the Plumed Serpent, appears in all his burning majesty.
Quetzelcoatl looks at me and says, "You're not Paulie."
"Does it matter?" I answer him, as if I give a fuck.