The summer Josey took the train to Hicksville gas prices hit $5 on Long Island. There was one station offering fuel at a discount of about 3 cents and the line reached around the block. The station was in Nassau County below the Long Island Railroad line. Billy Joel was supposed to be from around here. But asking around it sounded to Josey like Billy Joel was from every town on the Island.
Josey sat in his car waiting for the pump. He looked at the placard with the price on it with disgust even though he wasn’t the one paying the bill. The line moved an inch and the driver behind him immediately honked.
Josey arrived in Hicksville the week before and was already sick of it. The whole county was a strange place like a borough but some sort of weird twilight zone one without any tall buildings. The highest structures were from the soviet era looking towers for Hofstra and Nassau Community.
The water bothered him. After getting off the train in Mineola his cousin Alfonso drove him out to Long Beach. Growing up in the Bronx he didn’t mind being at sea level but hoping across the dinky land masses headed out to the beach made him uneasy. He wished there was something holding it together.
The line moved another inch and the car behind him honked again. Josey pulled forward and then spent the rest of the time in line imagining beating the man to death. It made a lot of sense that the most impatient man would pick the longest line and end up right behind him. It was the rule of New York, a communal place without any fellowship.
It was finally his turn and he pulled up as soon as he could preempting the honk from the man in the corolla behind him. He was driving Anthony’s car. It was a ten year old Toyota Land Cruiser. It devoured gas. Anthony had given him his credit card so it didn’t matter. He loaded up the pump and swiped the card looking out over the street.
Josey came to Long Island at the request of his cousin. Alfonso’s boss had a job and they needed a driver. Alfonso assured Josey they didn’t need a getaway driver, just a regular driver. This was more of an errands sort of thing, he was promised. Looking at the Land cruiser he was hoping they were at least being honest about that. The truck was a hulking tank with a V8 built for towing boats not for speed. Given the size and the formidability it would make for a nice vehicle for a last stand but not an escape.
The pump clicked and the car behind him started laying on its horn. He stood outside the truck and looked at the man. He was in forties and overweight. The man stared right at Josey and put his palm down on the horn. The man looked like he worked in an office, some place soft. Josey thought about lifting his shirt and showing his gun but decided against it. It wasn’t ideal to give someone a reason to call the cops right before committing a crime.
Josey drove down to Old Country Road and stopped near the IHOP at the house Anthony owned where Alfonso was staying. Anthony offered Josey a room but he opted to stay with his grandma. Anthony didn’t strike Josey as the type of guy he wanted to owe anything to. It seemed best to Josey to keep their business to the job.
Anthony was in his thirties and important looking. He had a calmness to him that was unnerving and made Josey never want to play poker with him. Anthony didn’t look like he was related to anyone. He seemed like the fixer type but smarter than that. Anthony looked to Josey to be the type of guy bosses like to have in their corner but worry about across the ring.
Anthony didn’t have the standard blow out haircut. His hair was shorter and parted to the side more like a banker than a guido. He had the standard Sicilian features with his olive skin and sharp cut eyebrows. He didn’t cut his beard in a line along his chin. He let it all grow in with stubble and groomed it with a beard trimmer. He looked handsome and smart like a cool high school teacher. Which was how he dressed too. It was amazing to Josey how the outfits made him disappear even from his mind as a threat.
Josey looked at him and wondered why no other wise guys had ever bothered putting on a tweed jacket. It was amazing camouflage.
Nice looking guys in tweed jackets don’t rob nursing homes.
The job had been in the air for the entire week. Josey arrived thinking he’d be back in the Bronx within a few days. But the project kept getting pushed. Anthony was in and out of the county every day. He’d come in and chat with Alfonso and then Alfonso would call Josey, any hour now man, we’re almost ready!
They needed Josey because they needed someone to drive up and go in the front door. Alfonso and Anthony had been seen around the place before and if they were recognized it was over before it started.
The mark, Josey was told, was a family member of Anthony’s who was sitting on some paperwork he wanted. When he told Josey, Anthony seemed to have more of a story ready if it was needed but it wasn’t. As long as they don’t start shooting up the place, he thought.
The plan was to walk in the front door and sign in under a fake name and then head to the back and open the side door. After that all he had to do was head out and start the car. Easy peezy lemon squeezy.
It wasn’t entirely obvious to Josey where Alfonso would be during all this. Anthony and him were supposed to come in together even though it seemed foolish to have another person there if he wasn’t needed. That is, if they really were only going after paperwork.
Josey knew he was exposing himself to a lot of risk. He was the face of the entire operation. And even if Anthony was certain the cameras didn’t actually record it was still his face the staff was going to be looking at.
The pay was okay though. Five hundred for hardly anything. Josey didn’t have anything else going on anyway. The five hundred wasn’t for his company; the five hundred was for his face. It wouldn’t matter provided he could get off of Long Island fast enough.
The air conditioner in the Cruiser didn’t work well and he kept leaning forward to peel his back off the seat. It was easy driving around out here. He’d never spent much time out of the city. Going to the different burroughs was travel enough for Josey. Though he’d made it upstate to Buffalo for a court hearing once and down the New Jersey for a girlfriend twice he’d never really been out to Long Island. He’d been on Long Island in Brooklyn and as far out in Queens as Jamaica but never in Long Island where the towns start after Brooklyn and Queens end.
Josey pulled up to Anthony’s house, or the house that Anthony had Alfonso living in. It wasn’t much to look at it but the area was nice. It was striking how different the Island looked even a couple of streets away. A couple of minutes from the dregs on Hempstead Turnpike and it looked like Connecticut. The house was older and looked like on of the ones from Levittown.
The house was a little out of place in the surrounding but it looked and nice enough to not arouse suspicion, like Anthony. The inside was a different story. Most of the furniture around the place was still wrapped in plastic. The floor was covered in matted shag carpet that had a sterile tone about it. It was the way places look when they’re owned by people who want them to look nice without ever putting any money into them.
Josey and Alfonso sat in the house looking at their phones. Growing up they’d been close and even now the closeness lingered. They’d run out of things to say years ago but they could still call each other when they needed something. Alfonso hadn’t made things easy for himself out of high school. By the time he was 18 he was selling soft stuff like weed and by 19 he was using heroin. He was clean now but obviously back in somewhere else and in deep. Alfonso you slippery slope motherfucker, thought Josey.
Alfonso was messed up for years and then got clean when he moved out to Long Island for work. Anthony had payed for his rehab. And now Anthony had him in his pocket for life. Josey couldn’t tell how bad a thing that was. Some people always need someone to tell them what to do.
Anthony pulled up in a Ford Focus. Everytime Josey saw him he was driving a different car. Once, incredibly for guys of the type and for Long Island, he’d arrived on a bike. Bike shorts and all like he’d just rolled off the Tour de France. Getting out of the focus he looked completely academic. Anthony had on corduroys, a plaid red button down with a blue cloth tie and a light brown tweed jacket. He was wearing glasses too and his hair was messy but clean looking. He looked like someone’s dad. If he was trying to not look like the type of guy who robs nursing homes he succeeded.
Anthony walked over to Josey and shook his hand the way salesmen do to associates before moving on to the pitch. Josey handed Anthony’s credit card back and told him he’d gassed up the Cruiser and checked the tires and the oil. Anthony nodded and gave him a genuine sounding, “Nice work.”
They loaded into the Cruiser and headed out. Anthony sat in the back and spent the entire ride on the phone. Alfonso and Josey talked a little about the neighborhood back in the Bronx. But the car fell silent save for Anthony constantly popping onto different calls.
They arrived at the old folks home. It was Josey’s first time seeing it. The building wasn’t very big. It was two stories and looked like it’d been built in the seventies. It looked like an old government building. Josey let Anthony and Alfonso out around the back before pulling into the visitor parking.
There weren’t any cars in the visitor lot and there wasn’t anyone around the back entrance. Josey wondered if they might have been able to simply walk in and take whatever they wanted. The place seemed more like a storage container for old people who couldn’t think anymore. It was too small to be meaningful, like a one floor office for some government call center.
He walked up to the door and turned the handle but it was locked. A woman inside saw him and buzzed him in. She looked up from her magazine for a minute and asked his name and who he was there to see. She spoke in a robotic voice. Josey said the fake name and asked the room of the person Anthony told him to ask about. She signed him and pointed down the hall before going back to her magazine. Josey walked down the hall towards the back door and glanced around at the desk. The woman still had her face in the magazine so he reached out and opened it.
Without ceremony Anthony and Alfonso walked passed him and into the building and were off into the stairwell up to the second floor.
The plan was for Josey to bide his time in the room by the back door and keep a look out. He stuck his head in the room and saw an old man staring at him, watching everything that was going on. Josey hadn’t noticed the man before. He walked in and closed the door slightly.
“Hey man. Did you see any of that?”
The man continued to stare but said nothing. He didn’t look afraid but Josey couldn’t tell if he was all there. He was in his eighties.
“Can you talk? Cause I’m pretty sure you can hear me.”
The man breathed deeply and blinked. His eyes made him seem intelligent, or at least aware.
“Am I going to have to worry about you saying something?” Josey sat down in a chair next to the bed. The man didn’t say or do anything but blink. Josey sighed and looked back at the door. He felt calm enough in situations like this but this place was making him uneasy. The paint on the walls was old and yellowed and everyone in here seemed completely gone. One of the rooms he passed had five people in what was obviously made for two. But all of them looked gone. Walking vegetables. I won’t end up like this.
He heard footsteps in the stairwell and went to get up. When he got to his feet he felt his shirt snag on something. When Josey looked back he saw that the old man had grabbed him by his shirt and was gripping him hard.
“Let go of me man.” But the man wouldn’t let go. “Get your hands off me.” He tried to keep his voice down. The man just stared at him the same way. Alfonso made it out of the stairwell and saw him in the room.
“Come on man, we’re good.” Alfonso was looking at him and holding a bag full of something.
“This guy grabbed me and he won’t let me go,” Josey said hiding the desperation as best he could.
“What? We gotta go,” Alfonso was sweating.
“Get off me man.” Josey grabbed the man’s hand and tried to pry it loose but his grip was good. Josey was sweating now too.
Anthony made it out of the stairwell and noticed the two standing there. He walked up and Alfonso whispered something in his ear. Without further comment Anthony walked over to the old man and hit him hard in the solar plexus. The old man gasped and let go of Josey.
“Let’s go. Go out the front and don’t forget to sign out. Make it easy for them to forget you,” said Anthony as he exited the room and went out the door. Alfonso followed him.
Josey lingered watching him struggle to breathe. The man in the bed was staring at the ceiling with his mouth open. Josey looked at the ground before heading out of the room. He walked straight to the desk and signed out and left.
The ride back to the house was done in silence. The bag that Anthony had taken appeared to be nothing all that special. Though it could have contained a million in cash and it wouldn’t have mattered. The plan had gone off mostly without a hitch and they were home free.
Josey dropped Anthony and Alfonso off at the IHOP. Anthony handed Josey five crisp one hundred dollar bills before getting out. He looked Josey in the eyes and shook his hand, I’ll let you know if I get some more work for you. Alfonso got out after and the two walked off around the building.
Josey drove the car to the lot Anthony told him about. He parked it and walked the mile back to the Hicksville train stop and bought a ticket back to the city.
The day cooled down a little and it started to look like it would rain. With any luck he’d be back in the Bronx before it really started to come down.
He thought about the man gasping and looking at the ceiling. Josey rubbed his eyes like the memory was stuck to his retinas. He ran his fingers through the money in his pocket.
Josey thought about calling his grandmother when the train started to pull up. It wasn’t the right one but he could transfer in Jamaica.
Billy Joel country, Josey thought. He stepped onto the train.