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Author's note: the events in this story are fiction in the sense that they did not all happen in the same place or on the same day. The people are fictitious too but I'm not sure any of them knew it.

 

I think I mentioned in the last installment that I used to travel around a bit in the Winter and arrive back in New York in the Spring. This often necessitated some hasty scratching around for work as my funds were usually low, and looking back from the perspective of today it seems incredible that I survived arriving in the City with only a couple hundred dollars in my jeans. Today I'd probably be locked up for vagrancy the minute I stepped off the plane, but those were different times in the Big Apple. They must have been because every time I mention some of the neighborhoods I lived in to present day New Yorkers I get this superior sort of laugh and ' Oh, you couldn't possibly afford to live there now, it's all condos!' (or luxury apartments/high rises/or whatever.)

 

Sometimes I feel like I'm sidling up to some Society Dame dripping with diamonds and pearls, and whispering, 'Come off it Kiddo, I knew you when.' I mean really! Condos in Green Point? (That's a neighborhood in Brooklyn, near the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge over the East River to Manhattan. ) How I happened to wind up there, I saw an ad for 'Helpers Wanted' at one of the big national Moving Firms and the apartment was nearby in a building just being renovated for occupancy. I say 'renovated' which sounds grand but actually it was a Mexican guy named Hector doing all the work himself, and I was the first tenant. None of the apartments had locks or even door knobs yet, but he solved that problem by giving me IA on the ground floor where he had been keeping his tools. It had a big chain running through the opening for the latch and a hole punched through the wall alongside. To lock the door there was a big padlock connecting the two ends of the chain and I got the key in return for a month's rent in advance.

 

That left me with very little cash so I was glad to discover that this company paid by the week, which was fairly unusual for steady employees as opposed to Day Labor. (ie, guys hired for one job and paid at the end of it.)

 

'Two hundred a week,' the boss said, 'regardless of the number of hours. Sometimes it might be three days, sometimes six, it evens out, OK? Take a seat over there. ' He indicated a row of chairs against the wall where the usual selection of hopefuls were waiting for the drivers to pick their crews after receiving the bookings for the day.

 

After a few minutes a guy-let's call him Kenny- about twenty five in a sleeveless shirt walked in with a clip board. I found out later he was the boss's son-in-law-to-be. He stood there a few minutes sizing us all up as if he was at at a dime-a-dance joint then pointed to me and the kid next to me. 'You, and you,' he snapped, 'I hope you like to work.'

 

He led us through a side door into the lot where the trucks were parked, brand new models with back seats so a whole crew could ride in comfort, something I'd never seen before. I soon found out he wasn't kidding about the work, though. The first job was a run-down bungalow in Queens. I wondered how the people who lived there could afford such a high end outfit to do their moving but it turned out they weren't around to ask, having been evicted, Kenny said, the previous day. I was accustomed to jobs where the customers hung about wincing every time a piece touched a door frame so it took me a little while to get used to piling up the stuff any old way, dumping drawers into boxes, wrapping breakables in the bedding and packing the lot into the nose of the truck with a cargo net draped over it. We did I think six such jobs that day, until the truck was full. Sometimes the customers were there, sometimes we just had a key from the rental office or whatever, but it was the same story every time, pack and pick, boxes folded without taping so you had to hold the bottoms together, furniture pads used very sparingly and only on things like console TV's.

 

At the end of the day we pulled into a huge Warehouse and there I began to see the logic of the whole operation. As we pulled out each lot of stuff we were directed to a section marked off by lines and a number stenciled on the floor. There were a half a dozen warehouse staff helping and the careless way they handled things was slightly shocking. I said to Kenny, 'Don't you get a lot of complaints about damage?'

'Naw,' he said, ' These people ain't gonna see their stuff again.' I must have looked taken aback at this because he gestured with his clip board at me. 'Look,' he explained patiently. 'They can't pay their rent or mortgage or whatever, right? So how they gonna pay storage charges? They gotta pay for the move, that's the deal,  otherwise the Baliffs get it all.'

 

'So what happens to all this?' I asked, which seemed a reasonable question.

 

Kenny grinned. ' Law says we gotta hold it for them for two months. Then if they don't pay the storage it all gets sold up front.' I had seen a large used furniture emporium attached to the front of the warehouse and the light dawned. Kenny clapped me on the shoulder. 'You done good today,' he said expansively. He waved a hand at the assembled possessions. 'See anything you like?'

 

I passed it off as a joke but soon found that he had been absolutely serious. The next day Kenny hailed me as soon as I entered the yard. ' C'mon, Mike,' he said 'We got a big job today. ' This time there were three other men in the crew, and they all wore company shirts with the logo stenciled over the pocket. We hit the Interstate over to Long Island and Kenny came in for a session of ribbing about marrying the boss's daughter and did she know what he used to do for a living?

 

Kenny looked uncomfortable. 'She knows, she knows,' he protested.

 

'You tell her about that job you and Jake did down by the docks?' said the the chief kidder, an older man with a knowing smirk. ' Real class, that was. Make the Old Man proud. '

 

' You shut your face about that,' Kenny more or less said, going kind of red.

 

The other three laughed and the older man said, 'How much was it you made on that little caper, I forget. '

 

Kenny swerved the truck around an inoffensive VW and added a blast on the air horn for good measure. The guy sitting next to me nudged me with his elbow, and explained, 'See, Kenny here was the lightest one, so Jake and the boys lower him down on a rope, see, to get the stuff together. Then right in the middle of all that some rentacop comes running up waving a flashlight yelling stop or I'll shoot.'

 

'He had a piece out, ' muttered Kenny through his teeth.

 

'You're sure it wasn't just a flashlight? ' the guy said in mock surprise, ' Anyway, Batboy here goes up the rope like a monkey with a stick up his keister...'

 

'Jake and them run off and left me, the ________'s' Kenny protested hotly but he was beginning to grin.

 

'And the alarm was ringin', and the cops was comin'...' continued the story teller with relish as we pulled up at a stop light.

 

' Nobody done time . ' Kenny said in a level voice, no longer smiling. The air brakes hissed and Kenny hit the steering wheel with the flat of his hand by way of emphasis. 'Remember that. Nobody.'

 

I was bending every effort to keep a noncommittal expression on my face, like I heard this kind of story all the time and wasn't it funny to picture Kenny shinnying up that rope? – but inwardly I was getting worried. What kind of operation had I gotten mixed up with? Was I just being naive ? I mean, you picture criminals acting like, well, criminals, right? Skulking in their hideout dividing up the loot, not sitting around discussing a burglary gone wrong like it was a Saturday baseball game. I started to sweat. What was this 'big job' we were about to do?

 

I needn't have worried on that score. After a while we stopped the Van in a fancy suburban neighborhood, the kind where every other house has a two floor plate glass cathedral extension in the front with an art-deco chandelier hanging down inside.

The older guy whose name was 'Mack' seemed to be the one in charge today, and he took the aluminum clipboard and went up to the big white and gold front door. I saw him push the bell and wait. A few minutes passed and he pushed it again. Still nothing. I saw him glance at his watch and just then the door opened a crack and I could see a lot of tousled blond hair and part of a some kind of shiny robe. There seemed to be a lot of conversation going on and I could hear the woman's voice rising toward a scream and Mack was pointing to the papers on the clipboard and trying to get his foot in the door, when out of nowhere, seemingly, a low slung sports car came barreling around the corner and screetched to a stop in the driveway.

 

Out jumped a thickset man in a suit. He was tanned and expensively groomed and just at the moment murderously angry. He stormed up the walk and snapped something that shorn of expletives ordered someone named Gladys to open the door. I could hear Gladys high voice protesting and the man in the suit hit the door with his fist and repeated his original request a few decibels louder. The door opened and Mack walked gingerly back down the walk hugging the clipboard, and in a low voice told us to unload the boxes. The back of the Truck was loaded with bound stacks of flattened cardboard cartons , and we began to get these out and carry them to the house. There was a terrific argument going on somewhere inside, Gladys was screaming that nobody ever told her what was going on, and the man in the suit was yelling why should anyone tell a dumb broad like her anything and why didn't she get some clothes on and fix her hair, he had no time for this crap and he had to be back at a meeting at eleven.

 

Moving house is a stressful time and lots of couples had arguments during the Move, but I'd never heard before of anyone not telling his wife they were moving until the truck was at the door. We passed a little boy cowering by the stairwell, and I stopped to smile reassuringly at him. ' It's going to be OK, you'll see.' I said, and received a scornful look in return, like, 'a fat lot you know, Mister,'

 

Mack stood in the foyer with his clipboard. 'Hey you, what's your name, Mike? ' I nodded. 'Pack the master bedroom, OK? You know how to pack?' I nodded again. 'Super. Kenny, do the kids'. Me and the boys'll do the kitchen and lounge.Ok? Let's do it fast so Mr.Lantini can get to his meeting.' He spoke without a trace of sarcasm and I could see a film of sweat at his hairline, although the house was air-conditioned and we hadn't started work yet.

 

For all of its imposing appearance there wasn't really much in the way of possessions in the house. I put the bedding in the bottom of the wardrobe boxes and hung Gladys' clothes inside on the rack- that used up four wardrobes and I went through the kitchen to get some more. On the way I noticed a large photo of Marlin Brando playing Don Corleone in 'the Godfather' hung next to the fridge. Max and the others were packing glassware under the supervision of Gladys, who now had an expensive looking house dress on and red eyes like she'd been crying. 'Be very careful of those, ' she was saying in a nasal drone, 'I think they're Italian or somethin'.'

 

On my way back I passed the little boy's bedroom, where Kenny was putting what looked like a hundred or so action figures into a linen carton along with a pillow to keep them from rattling. The boy was clutching one large helmeted figure for dear life and Kenny had his big hand out for it and the boy was saying, 'I'm keeping this one. It's Captain America.' Just then Mr. Lantini walked in and with one open handed blow knocked the little boy into a corner and threw the plastic champion of justice into the box with the others.

 

'Everything gets packed, I told ya.' he said coldly. 'I don't know what you see in those _______ things anyway, it's like playin' with ______ dolls for crissake.' Then he walked out without a backward glance.

 

Kenny glanced up at me and grimaced. 'I swear, if he belts that kid one more time...' he muttered in a low voice. He didn't finish the sentence. I thought the sentiment did him credit but we both knew there was nothing he could do. In those days what a man did in his own house was his business, a principle enshrined by custom if not by law. Fortunately I hear now things are a little different.

 

I went back to the Master Bedroom to pack Mr. Lantini's suits. Down in the corner of the closet was a canvas bag that clinked when I picked it up. It was heavy and I couldn't imagine what it could contain, and then someone moved in the doorway. I looked up and there was Mr. Lantini so I held up the bag and said, 'Do you want this packed with the bedding in the wardrobe?' I swear there was a smirk on his face as he said, 'Oh, I'll take that. Those are my guns. '

 

I lasted a week with that firm after which I collected my pay and split. It was just too weird.

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