8: “Well this is something fun and new for me”

Joey’s uncle Tony needed help with a job and he asked Joey and Vinny to do it. Joey assumed it wasn’t going to be strictly legal. If it had been, Uncle Tony would’ve asked their cousin Michael. He was a well-respected real estate agent, who had a lot of pull in the community. His face was on bus ads. Joey and Vinny, on the other hand, were dodgy as hell. Uncle Sal, Cousin Michael’s father and Sabrina’s former pickleball partner, was the respected brother of the family. He ran a successful family restaurant. To be fair, he called it successful, but Joey wasn’t actually so sure that four very narrow misses at closure by the Bureau of Health and Safety really fell under the umbrella of success. More likely it fell under the umbrella of salmonella.

Uncle Tony, on the other hand, was a money lender. He was a money lender in many capacities, both legally and not so legally. He ran a loan office in the seediest part of downtown where he charged truly horrific interest rates to people struggling to make ends meet. In his free time, Uncle Tony lent money to even more dubious characters, who usually had to be reminded, with force, to pay him back at even higher interest rates.

Uncle Tony told Joey he needed help with a small knock-over job. All he needed was for them to steal some stuff from a buddy’s pawnshop after it had closed for the day. Joey assumed he wasn’t telling him the whole truth because Uncle Tony never told anybody the whole truth. He liked to keep part of any story to himself to lord over people, partially because he liked to feel important, but largely because he liked having what he called insurance. The shop was two shops down from Uncle Tony’s loan shop. He said he wanted some stuff taken to scare his buddy just a bit; just enough, it seemed, to start taking Uncle Tony seriously. Joey questioned what kind of person his “buddy” was to not find Uncle Tony scary enough already. Uncle Tony was an immense human being with a permanent scowl and a very imposing presence. He didn’t really think too much about it, though, which was probably where the problems began. And there were many problems. Firstly, he and Vinny didn’t have access to a car. Vinny told him several times that they could ask Damien, the idiot with the yellow Camaro and the vanity licence plates, but Joey wouldn’t allow it.

“Is the car still fucking yellow?” He asked when Vinny suggested.

“It’ll be fine, trust me,” Vinny replied, which translated roughly to “yes”. Joey ignored him.

They considered borrowing Nona’s car again, like they had to go to Sabrina’s pickleball tournament, but Nona was reluctant after it had been returned to her with a cracked windshield. As she said, she needed that car to drive to the hair salon and church. It left them on foot until Vinny turned up on the night of the job with two bikes that he had very clearly stolen from someone, likely on his way over to Joey’s apartment. Joey was waiting for him on the sidewalk out front, smoking and sniffling. He had a cold. It wasn’t anything serious, but he had a bit of a shiver and a dry cough. He’d chugged cough syrup earlier so that he wouldn’t be coughing his way through a break and enter. He was, however, a little worried that the medication had begun messing with his head and not only because he thought he could see Vinny’s shadow moving independently of him. It was nighttime.

“What the fuck are those?” Joey asked, waving the hand holding his cigarette at the bikes. One of them had a basket attached. It was wicker with pink ribbon woven through. The bike was also quite small. Joey got the impression it was meant for a young girl.

“Bikes,” Vinny answered, like Joey was an idiot.

“I know they’re fucking bikes, shithead, but where the hell did you get them?” Joey retorted.

“I had them lying around,” Vinny answered evasively. Vinny always said he had things “lying around”, as if he lived in a junkyard. What it really meant was that he stole it from somewhere, likely a place where it was just lying around.

“How are we supposed to carry stolen shit home on bikes?” Joey asked.

“There’s a basket,” Vinny answered like it was obvious. By this point, Joey had begun to lose finger dexterity in the cold night air and his vision was swimming so he let it go and got on the bike Vinny was holding out for him. It was the small one with the basket. Joey’s knees kept hitting the underside of the handlebars as he pedalled. More than one cabbie yelled at them out their window, but Joey ignored them, zipping along behind Vinny, who looked perfectly at ease on his stolen bicycle, as if he was out for a leisurely ride. It probably didn’t hurt that he was wearing track pants. He wasn’t even holding onto the handlebars. He had his hands shoved in the pockets of his half-zipped Adidas tracksuit jacket, a vision of relaxation.

By the time they made it to Uncle Tony’s buddy’s store, Joey was sweating profusely, which he didn’t think was solely a by-product of his cycling, and he was having difficult sorting out his depth perception. He got off his bike only to walk into a fire hydrant. He didn’t have high hopes for the success of this burglary.

Vinny picked the lock on the front door of the shop, which was conspicuous as hell, but there wasn’t much they could do about it. The shop was in a row of other stores so the back door was only accessible by coming up from behind several blocks, which Joey wasn’t prepared to do. He had begun swaying on his feet. When Vinny pushed the door open to let him in, Joey walked directly into the doorframe.

Uncle Tony had told them to take very specific items. He wanted a turquoise lamp, an ivory elephant figurine, a crystal vase, and an accordion. It had seemed like a reasonable list until they were in the store and Joey realized there was an entire section dedicated to crystal vases. If he had to make an estimation, he would say there were about forty, and that was even without him seeing doubles. Uncle Tony had requested a very specific one. He said it looked like the one their Nona had had in her living room when she used to live on Roseville Road with their Nonno. She used to keep it on the credenza in the living room. There was several complications with that particular description, the biggest of which being the fact that Joey hadn’t even been alive when Nona lived in that house on Roseville Road.

“How many fucking crystal vases are there in this motherfucking place?” Joey demanded after about ten minutes of examining crystal vases, trying to rack his memory for photos he’d seen of his Nona’s old living room. “Does this piece of shit have every goddamn crystal vase in this city?”

Vinny was by the register, sifting through watches. Joey was absolutely certain that more than a couple had found their way into the pockets of his tracksuit jacket.

“Just choose one,” he shrugged, not even bothering to look over at Joey. Joey considered arguing. On the one hand, Uncle Tony would be pissed as hell if they gave him the wrong vase. He was meticulous. On the other hand, Joey had broken out into a cold sweat and he didn’t want to be there much longer. The pawnshop smelled like old people and rat shit. He grabbed the vase closest to him and continued on his way.

The two of them left about twenty minutes later. Vinny loaded the ivory elephant and vase into the backpack he’d brought with him before unceremoniously dumping the accordion and the lamp into the basket at the front of Joey’s stolen bicycle. Joey was pretty pleased with how it had turned out. Being out in the cold night air was alleviating some of his sweating and his vision had sorted itself a bit. Now he only saw doubles when he moved his head too quickly. He pushed away from the curb with a wobble and started on the way back to his apartment.

Approximately twenty minutes later, he and Vinny got arrested. As it turned out, Vinny had not in fact had the bikes just “lying around” as he’d claimed. He had stolen them from someone’s front yard and that someone had called the police because they’d seen him walk off with them. Joey supposed that was the risk you took when you stole shit in broad daylight as Vinny had apparently taken them at three o’clock in the afternoon. Joey had to call Robin from the police station at five o’clock in the morning for a ride home. The man they had stolen the bikes from had chosen not to press charges so long as Vinny and Joey returned the bikes. He was a minister and believed strongly in forgiveness. Joey was coming down from his cough syrup high and felt more than a little objectified by the mostly toothily gentleman sitting in the holding cell next to him.

“Well this is something fun and new for me,” Robin announced when he arrived at the police station. He had brought Finch with him. Joey understood that. Robin was a very reedy man, but Finch was very good at scowling.

“Wish I could say the same,” Joey replied, following Robin out to the car.

“Do you think Uncle Tony’ll be pissed when he finds out we lost the shit he wanted?” Vinny asked, falling into step beside Joey.

“He’s going to tear your scrotum clear off,” Joey answered nonchalantly. “But it’s cool because I’m going to tell him it was all your fault.”

Vinny only shrugged and lit up a cigarette that he smoked out of Robin’s car window, head hanging outside like an oversized and even dumber golden retriever.

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