An Apartment Building Being Demolished.
Jimmy Martinis’ Dream
It had rained incessantly for a week. The city was awash across all five Boroughs. Street drainage was overwhelmed, unable to handle the deluge, causing roadways to spill onto sidewalks. Passing traffic sent waves of dirty water over helpless pedestrians, scurrying to find shelter. Public transport was severely impacted, bus timetables were in chaos, and several subways closed due to flooding.
He pushed himself further back into the doorway of the boarded-up coffee shop, a victim of Covid19, closely observing the building opposite on East 13th Street. The hoarding across the facia of the vacant apartment block read, luxury apartments. The NYPD yellow Do Not Cross tape covered the exterior. A blue and white patrol car sad idling, its exhaust wafting into the dark wet Manhattan night.
He was suddenly filled with dread.
Three Months Previous.
He was drowning his sorrows in Butterfield 8, a bar on East 38th Street in the Garment District. The bar was almost deserted, it was 3pm.
Another unsuccessful interview. Sure, they said they’d be in touch, bullshit, he knew the brushoff when he heard it. He was angry. He’d applied for eight positions in the last 18 months, to date, two no’s and six none responses. ‘Terrific’, he said no one. He ordered another beer, ‘what the hell,’ he muttered to himself, stubbing out a cigarette and lighting another.
James Martini was late 20s, short and nuggety. His Mediterranean heritage showed in his complexion and jet-black hair. He’d been raised in the Bronx by a single mother. He never knew his father and his mother refused to say who he was, saying only, ‘you’re better off not knowing,’ easy for her, he thought, she knew, he didn’t.
He was in his second year of college when she became ill. within two months she was dead. The College awarded him a scholarship enabling him to finish his education. Since then, it had been a series of unrewarding jobs. He was currently employed as a clerk for a mining company based in Manhattan. He felt the work was beneath him, he was looking.
The barman put the beer down in front of him, James looked up, offering a half smile. It was then he saw her. The unique curved bar and backing mirror gave a clear view around the space. She was siting a dozen stools away, smoking a cigarette and nursing something green in a highball glass. She looked short, with long dark curly hair falling on her shoulders. She had the whitest skin, highlighted by soft red lipstick. She was the most beautiful women he’d ever seen.
James Martin’s experience with women had been less than successful. Most relationships ending before they began, always for the same reason. They, wanting more, he, not willing to commit.
She looked up into the mirror and caught him staring at her. He sheepishly looked away, feeling like he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t. Climbing down from the stool, she slung her trench coat across one shoulder, scooped up her cigarettes and drink, walked towards him. He fidgeted on his seat. ‘Seems like you and me, are it? She observed, looking around the deserted bar, as she climbed onto the stool next to him. Spreading her trench coat across a vacant seat, produced a cigarette and waited. He got the message, offering her a light. ‘Maria,’ she said.
‘James,’ he replied, ‘people call me Jimmy.’
‘So, Jimmy, what brings you to this neck of the woods in the middle of the day? Her voice was amazing. Her blue green eyes captivated him.
‘I’ve been for a job interview two blocks away,’ he said. ‘And you?
‘I live nearby.’
Two hours later they were still talking. Jimmy was mesmerised by her. She seemed genuinely interested in him, he liked the feeling.
‘Look, I know we’ve just met, well, fact is I haven’t eaten since this morning, I need something. I know an Italian place a block and a half from here, what’s say we get something to eat, no strings? she asked. ‘We go Dutch, what do you say? How could he resist, more to the point why would he?
The Sicilian was a small non-descript trattoria squashed between a hairdressing saloon and a pawn shop. The owner greeted her like a long-lost daughter, jabbering away in Italian, most of which Jimmy got. He shook Jimmy’s hand and showed them to a table in the back of the noisy restaurant. ‘You like? She inquired. ‘I’ve been coming here since my college days. I used to wait tables here to help pay for my education.’
‘What’s not to like? He replied, more enamoured with her than the place. Bread and oil arrived with water and a carafe of red wine. She poured the wine and beckoned a waiter, they ordered two pasta dishes, a Caprese salad and olives.
They talked till closing time. He, telling her about his life, his mother, his dissatisfaction with his current employment status and secret passion of moving to to Florida, ‘Off course it all depends on the money,’ he told her. ‘Then, doesn’t everything? He added, somewhat dishearteningly.
She was 32, originally from the mid-west, moving to New York two years ago looking for a fresh start. She told him of her work in a local drug store. Her tiny apartment above a coffee shop and her two cats, who she adored. ‘I must have been naïve, believing I could live in a city like this on my wages.’
Later, after walking her home, he caught a cross town bus to the East Side. Riding the bus, he pondered on the evening. He liked her, and, he believed she liked him. Who’d have thought? Two people meeting in a bar mid-afternoon in a city of 1.7 million soles.
They were not unlike. Both seeking and not finding. Perhaps it was Kismit, who knew?
They arranged to meet the following Sunday in Central Park.
In the ensuing weeks they met several times. She now allowed him into her apartment. The first time they made love, it was unsettled, at first, neither partner sure of the others feelings. They would look back and laugh, ‘like a couple of teenagers, we were,’ she would observe.
There was a common thread that ran through all their meetings, although never spoken it was there. To leave, not just the space, the city, to leave their lives behind and start somewhere else. The more they met the more Maria warmed to Jimmy’s dream of moving to Florida. ‘You know Maria,’ he would tell her. ‘The sun shines 365 days of the year. Fresh oranges all year round, can you imagine that? ‘I tell you, it’s the place for us. If only we could afford to moved.’
They were sharing a pizza in her bedsit one evening, when she told him she had something to tell him. His first reaction was bad news, ‘you’re’ telling me it’s over, right? you don’t want to see me? He asked.
‘No, no, nothing like that, in fact the complete opposite.’ She began, then hesitated.
‘Maria, whatever it is, it’s okay. You can tell me.’ She smiled, touching his face.
‘Well, there’s this elderly woman who comes into the drugstore every Wednesday, like clockwork, at the same time. I don’t know her as she deals with the pharmacist direct as she needs diabetic medication. When I say I don’t know her, I know of her, she has an account with us and lives on Mulberry Street, two blocks from the drugstore. What is of interest, is her attire. She dresses, kinda weird, like, in the 50‘s and 60’s, right down to the jewellery. Each time I see her she’s wearing different jewellery. Amazing, she must have dozens of rings, bracelets, brooches, earrings and necklaces. I swear Jimmy, they’re real. Also, she has a routine. After visiting us, she tells the pharmacist, she returns to her apartment and does her washing, claims, Wednesday afternoon she has the laundry in the basement to herself.’ Maria pauses, pouring more wine glancing quickly in Jimmy’s direction, he says nothing.
‘So, you see Jimmy, if I’m right, and I believe I am, then this jewellery would be more than enough for us to start our live over, in Florida.’ She sits back into the chair and waits.
‘Let me get this right,’ he begins, ‘you’re suggesting we rob this woman? ‘Somehow, take her jewellery and leave New York? What do we do with the jewellery?
Maria nodded, acknowledging his questions. ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting. The how’s and when’s I haven’t figured out. Jimmy, between us we can do this, I truly believe we can. This is our chance, our chance to be together. We won’t get another.’
They talked long into the night. They barely slept. The sun was rising on another day. Jimmy’s mind was full of possibilities, and questions,
They agreed to meet at Marias that evening and continue their discussion.
That was two weeks ago. Who could have possibly foreseen the outcome?
The plan was to take the women’s keys while she waited for the 60-minute drying cycle to run its course. Enter her apartment, take the jewellery, leaving the keys in the lock and exit the building via the side door.
He watched from the doorway to the basement laundry. It was Wednesday, 4.30 in the afternoon. She piled the wet clothes into the dryer, her back was to the door. He approached the chair where her purse lay and picked it up. Suddenly, she turned, ‘who are you? She demanded in an authoritative voice, ‘give me my purse.’
He turned; his massive shoulders collided with her tiny frame. She toppled and fell, striking her head on the edge of the dryer. He looked at her, his face was full of disbelief. He knelt and felt for a pulse. Nothing. She was dead.
What could he do? He was suddenly gripped with fear. Maria was upstairs waiting for him by the elevators. He looked around. There was a utility storeroom behind a pile of collapsed cardboard boxes. He moved them and opened the door. It was a junk room, fortunately it was large, and mostly empty. He dragged the lifeless body into the space. Emptying the purse of money and keys, tossed it into the storeroom, along with the dryer’s contents.
Maria was waiting for him on the ground floor, he held the up the keys, ‘got them,’ he said, saying nothing else.
They entered the elevator, pressed six and waited. The women’s apartment was 6D. The first sensation after entering was of staleness, the hallway was dark, they moved into the lounge, dining room. The walls were covered with paintings and mirrors. Victorian and Georgian furniture filled the floor space. A huge Victorian Mahogany dining table dominated the dining room, complete with two enormous Carvers.
They found the bedroom and began looking. The jewellery was in a drawer in an ornate dressing table complete with a huge swivel mirror. Several felt lined boxes produced a number of rings, bracelets earrings and necklaces. ‘You were right,’ Jimmy commented.
Another draw held bundles of notes. They put them all in Jimmy’s back pack and left. Leaving the keys in the closed door.
They excited the building unseen, into an alley way and walked a block before hailing a cab and returning to Maria’s apartment.
They laid out their findings, neither having any idea as to values. The cash amounted to $4,500, ‘an added bonus,’ Maria commented, smiling, as she opened a bottle of wine.
Jimmy picked up several of the items, adding, ‘I can show some of these pieces to a pawnbroker I know.’
Three weeks later.
He took a cab home after watching the building and police at the development site. He was gripped by apprehension.
The next morning, drinking coffee, the CNN TV news playing in the background caught his attention. Turning, he saw a view of a building. The reporter was commenting,.…’police have released a statement, saying, that the body of an elderly women was discovered by workmen in the basement of this building.’ The reporter turns, pointing to an apartment block planned for demolition on East 13th Street.
Jimmy Martini is lost for words. Suddenly, Florida is a distant dream.
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