(Chapter One of a new novella, Softgoods.)
It was early morning. No hint of the pretty June day the weatherman had promised. When they say gritty streets, they meant this one. It was a midtown side street in New York City’s garment district. Truck drivers maneuvered to connect with gates and loading docks to disgorge finished garments. The drivers were grubby and cranky.
A rack of Marc Jacobs Crayola yellow silk jersey tank tops with matching lace and taffeta skirts rolled down to a showroom floater piercing the dull surroundings with a tsunami of color. A rack of white organza Armani trench coats followed. A rack of lime classic Chanel suits with the skirts shorter than the previous season also followed. A trucker jockeyed a twenty-four foot truck into the last empty gate. The guard waved him away.
“This gate’s spoken for,” said the guard.
“Where am I supposed to dump?” asked the trucker. Dump is a harsh word for the wool and silk Karl Lagerfeld jackets.
“Not here. Move it.” There was a shotgun by his side and he made it visible.
“This for you,” said the trucker. He gave him the finger and then turned the finger sideways. “And this for your horse.” The trucker continued backing up to the gate but didn’t unload.
Fulgencio Coto, a driver for Witter Trucking had arrived ten minutes late. The spot he paid the guard to save was gone. He’d have to unload with hand-trucks. Shit! Fulgencio got out and went to chew out the guard. He was late because his pregnant wife was in labor and screaming that her water broke. Ay Dios mio, el agua, el agua! He had to take his kids to his mother’s house and put his wife in the hospital. He needed to finish up and get home.
It was after eight and the street was getting crowded. Elevator starters and janitors had arrived. Street people skulked toward Penn Station to sleep a few hours in the waiting room before the cops made them move along. In the seconds Fulgencio’s truck was out of view a well-dressed dandy, Zander, slid into the passenger seat. He had on a full rubber mask of Humphrey Bogart topped by a wide brimmed Panama hat. It was Casablanca on Thirty-first Street.
Fulgencio re-entered his cab. Distracted, he went to put it in gear. He saw his bizarre guest and the 45 nudging his right kidney and reacted with surprise and fear.
“Drive out through the Lincoln Tunnel. Look straight ahead,” said Zander.
Fulgencio turned to his passenger and got a smart crack to his head. “Okay, man, I don’t look.”
They drove through narrow cross-town streets, through the Tunnel, along the Jersey Palisades onto the New Jersey Turnpike. At an isolated spot along the marshlands, Zander put a hand on Fulgencio’s arm. “Pull over, hand me your wallet and get out.”
Fulgencio complied and stood frozen in place by the side of the road.
“You don’t move for six hours,” said Zander. He looked at his watch and then down at Fulgencio. “My mother told me the morning belongs to the angels. I don’t kill anybody before twelve o’clock.” He waved the wallet. “But I know where you live.”
After a mile of driving, Zander took off his hat and pulled off the mask to reveal an olive skinned man in his early thirties. He continued driving the Ryder 24 footer until he reached a stretch of the Washington Beltway. A sign said: WELCOME TO THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. It was barely afternoon and he had already easily accomplished the day’s work. He had a truckload of high-end goodies and his willing accomplice would unload them to the eager soccer moms of the nation’s capital.