Thirty-six hours into watching we are all going insane. We moved into this filthy space above an abandoned pizzeria on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Kevin at two or so, me at six, the others in between, and now it is a rainy Tuesday morning, colder than it should be, nothing is really happening, and the roof is leaking.
"You gonna do anything here?" Mario asks me, "Watch, maybe, or listen to the phone?" "Nah, you guys are all much better at this stuff than me." "Then could run go get more coffee and lunch, none of us fits into this neighborhood like you do." "I could," I say sighing, "You assholes all do look like cops." "Go get coffee and pizza and fuck yourself while you're at it," Kevin suggests smiling. "Ní dhéarna mé coir," I say, repeating the basic phrase we used with the RUC and Paras back in Northern Ireland years ago. They don't get it. I barely do. But as an adolescent lad it suggested both innocence and rebellion in the same short sentence, and I feel like proclaiming that status at this moment. Nik throws two twenties at me, "Get your potato eating ass in motion." I get up literally as slowly as possible. Climb the stairs to the roof, cross to the third building to the west, and head back down.
I emerge into the downpour in a trash filled alley and pull my Mets hat deep over my eyes. When I was small I had this old cap from my Uncle Eamon. It was way too big, and I could barely see when I wore it, but I always kept it on my head. Eamon was in prison in Long Kesh having done nothing wrong, and the cap was a connection to someone special to me and a quiet argument. But the adults in the city just thought I looked stupid.
I walk two blocks to what might be the best pizza place in New York City, which is saying something big. I order three pies and five coffees to go and one for here, carefully describing the required contents. "Two regular, Two no sugar, one black no sugar, and black no sugar for here." And I sit twisted and hidden in a booth by the window, looking out, both hands wrapped around the hot cup.
Minutes pass. Then a scene begins to play out. And even from underneath the hat brim I see it before it occurs. An elderly woman with an umbrella and a grocery bag and a purse on her arm, and a kid who wants quick cash. And suddenly I bolt. I yell, "Call 9-1-1 with a mugging and I'll be right back." I grab the shield out from inside my shirt and pull my gun from an ankle holster as I swing through the door and race down Neptune Avenue, my sneakers slapping the wet pavement. Just as the kid strikes I dive into a tackle and take him down. The woman screams. The kid starts to fight until I punch him in the face with everything I've got. Then he says, "Yo man, I didn't do nothing." Blood runs from his broken nose. I smile. He takes my memory for dangerous insanity and shuts up. A radio car bends around the far corner and rushes over. I let go of the kid with one hand to hold up the shield to I.D. myself before I get taken out.
I get up. My jeans are soaking wet. "Your collar," I say to the smaller of the two cops, "I gotta go." People are watching, and that, in my line of work, is bad. I back away into a gathering cluster of watchers, then turn and slouch back to the pizzeria. "Thanks," I tell Nunzio who waits behind the counter. "Nice work," he says. "You've never seen me," I say, and carry the pies and coffees back to my more observant partners.
copyright 2006 by Ira Socol