The diner was crowded and noisy and hot, and smelled like burgers and bacon and coffee and spaghetti. Maybe some fish. The customers looked excited and the waitresses looked bored. Big glass windows framed heavy traffic on 2nd Ave., compressing and stretching like a worm.
New York in August was a lot like Mexico in August, but without all the sandy beaches and sexy tourists and frosty drinks, and more humidity and sewage and traffic.
But it was Thursday evening, so things weren’t all bad. That golden hour between clocking out from work and before the Yankees started playing, and that meant time to eat with friends before eating with Mom at home.
Anthony, still in his brown UPS uniform, slid into the diner booth next to St John and said “Hey.”
“Hey,” said St John.
“‘sup,” said Johnny Lawrence, opposite.
Nuckles, next to Johnny Lawrence, said nothing, but he never does, so that was as good as hello.
None of them looked up from their phones at Anthony. Status quo, which was good – it meant they hadn’t yet heard the news.
Anthony hunched over and leaned in. The diner was loud, nearly drowning out his loud whispers. “Did you hear about Fingers?”
Two of them stopped tapping and looked up. Nuckles, who didn’t look up, said, “Fingers Ronzini?”
“Yeah, Ronzini. Him.”
“He dropped outta 10th grade. That was..what..four years ago? Five?”
St John asked, “Didn’t he try to scrape together money a few years ago for an internet thing? The next Facebook or some shit?”
Anthony nodded. “Yeah, just like that, but totally not. More like Instagram, but for porn. ‘Instagasm.’ Remember?”
Nuckles finally looked up, laughing. “Yeah, Instagasm. I remember that. That was either the dopest name for a web site or the lamest. I’m gonna go with lame, since it never happened.”
“Well, THAT never happened, but you won’t believe what did. Apparently, he raised A FUCK TON of money for it last year, borrowed from some Russian guys, and made all kinds of promises, then, less than a year later, he dips. Completely off the grid. Gone.”
Johnny Lawrence says, “What happened? They finally realized he was never gonna deliver and they cut their losses? Along with this throat?”
St John says, “He was the biggest, dumbest dreamer. Too dumb for school, too dumb to know when to quit, his fucking head always in the clouds. I can’t believe he was able to raise any money at all. He probably realized he was never gonna be able to deliver and he cut his own throat.”
Anthony shook his head. “He was smart enough to realize he couldn’t do it, but he’s way too dumb to realize he’s like the walking dead. So he skips. Takes all the cash he had left, like 70 or 80 grand, and goes south. Like…WAY south.”
Nuckles says, “First off, how far south are we talkin’? Like, Tottenville in Staten Island? Or like Trenton in Jersey?” His eyes went wide. “Further south? Than Jersey, even?”
Anthony closes his eyes. “How you passed the sanitation test.. South of America. South of Texas, even. Like way the fuck south.”
“How do you even know? He sent you a postcard?”
“Not exactly.” A waitress came over, heavy and older and wearing a lot of perfume and fatigue, and took four orders for the same thing – cheeseburger deluxe platters and Cokes.
St John looked at Johnny Lawrence. “Cheeseburger? You always get the chicken parm.”
Johhny Lawrence shrugged, broad shoulders hefting a large barrel chest. “I’m on a diet.”
Anthony says, “Shut up. My ma heard from her sister who heard from Fingers’ cousin who got an email from Fingers. He said he’s ok, don’t worry about him, he’s takin some time off ‘south of Texas.’”
“‘South of Texas’? What the fuck is south of Texas? There’s nothin down there but Mexico.”
Anthony said nothing and nodded. “Exactly.”
“Maybe. Technically all of South America is south of Texas. And 60 grand goes a LONG way down there.”
Johnny Lawrence says, “Whoa..that’s a lotta Corona.”
“But eventually,” says Nuckles, “the money is gonna run out. What then?”
The waitress came over with a plate full of cups of cole slaw and sliced pickles. There were five of each. Nuckles says, “Va bene. Could we have an extra place setting?” The waitress shrugged and took out a rolled napkin stiffened by the fork, spoon, and knife it wrapped, from her apron and dropped it on the table next to the plate of cole slaw and pickles.
Anthony said, “You’re expecting someone else?”
“We’ll make a plate for Fingers, in his memory. The poor bastard’s days are numbered but at least he’s on a beach.”