72: “Shanked over a shank”

Joey had accidentally formed a gang. He hadn’t known that’s what he was doing, hence the accidental part, but it had happened nonetheless and now he was in something of a pickle. The worst part was that he didn’t think his accidental gang was actually all that great. Given the opportunity to willfully form his own gang, he thought he would’ve made some deliberate changes to the roster. He certainly wouldn’t have included Vinny. But it seemed he was saddled with him, which wasn’t good because Vinny wasn’t very much help. Their accidental gang was being targeted by Joey’s competitor Rondheim and his own gang, which was primarily made up of people who only moonlighted as thugs, but spent daylight hours as dock workers, like they were living in a prohibition era gangster film. Alternatively, Joey’s gang was full of random petty criminals he had somehow managed to amass along the way and none of them were quite as large or menacing as any of Rondheim’s gang members, or indeed Rondheim himself.

Joey’s gang consisted of Vinny in all his track-suited glory, Beezy and his orange parka, Dante, who was laughably small in comparison to many of Rondheim’s thugs, and Ocean, the woman Vinny had somehow managed to find to be their getaway driver the last time they had robbed someone. Ocean was by far the scariest member of the gang. She had perfected a dead-eyed stare that made Joey feel more than a little uneasy. Besides, Ocean brought with her the final two members of their gang, Duke and Boris. Boris was a gigantic Russian man who literally never spoke. He was at least six foot eight. He had knuckle tattoos. Joey once asked him what they meant and Boris had just stared at him in silence until Joey walked away. He didn’t know very much about Boris, because he never spoke, but he did look like he could crush someone’s windpipe with one hand. That was useful in a gang fight.

And Duke was Ocean’s cousin. Supposedly her real name was Dorothea, but she had chosen to go by Duke at a young age, mostly, it seemed, to spite her parents. Joey was a little bit in love with Duke and Ocean, if he was being honest. He was in love with them like he was in love with Finch. Finch was all sharp edges and threatening silence, traits that were right up Duke’s alley. Ocean, meanwhile, had the same kind of silent mystery about her that Joey found very intriguing in Finch. She barely spoke and when she did, it was all seemingly very random and nonsensical.

In any case, Joey and his accidental gang had been hitting up a few big houses, mostly clients of Vinny’s from the jewellery store. They were going to have to stop that soon, lest the police pick up on the pattern. He also asked Ocean for her help moving some drugs to the opposite end of the city. He could’ve taken the subway, but there was a street car transfer halfway through and it would’ve taken him ages. So he asked Ocean if she would mind giving him a lift in her hearse. Vinny came along for the ride, because he almost never had anything better to do, and Ocean brought both Duke and Boris with her. They were meeting up with Beezy. The only person missing from their crew was Dante and that was only because he had to go to family dinner for his Abuela’s birthday.

When they reached Beezy at the drop site, they discovered that they’d been followed by Rondheim and some of his thugs. They learned this because they were ambushed the minute they got out of the hearse. It was possible that driving around in a hearse was not as inconspicuous as they’d hoped. Clearly Beezy’s personal motto that the best way to be inconspicuous was to be overly conspicuous was not as effective as he’d hoped.

“We don’t want trouble,” Joey told Rondheim, holding up his hands. Rondheim didn’t look like he believed him at all, which was fair; Joey almost always wanted trouble. Rondheim scoffed at him and then jutted his chin in the direction of Boris.

“No one goes anywhere with someone like that without wanting trouble,” he said. Joey looked over at Boris as well, who typically remained silent. He really was enormous. Joey got it. At the same time, that honestly wasn’t why they’d brought Boris.

“I mean, man, he’s just here to do some heavy lifting,” Joey explained honestly. “And he’s loads of fun to be around.”

That part was a lie. Boris brought nothing fun to the table. He was quiet and uncomfortable. That was about it.

“I don’t believe you,” Rondheim told him. His thugs tightened their circle around Joey and his gang.

“No, no, trust us,” Vinny interjected, cigarette hanging from his lips. Joey didn’t know why he’d bothered. He didn’t even trust Vinny and they were family; there was no chance Rondheim would.

“I think you need to come with us,” Rondheim said threateningly, leading the way into the building beyond the spot they’d arranged to meet Beezy. It was an abattoir. Beezy and Joey had chosen the site based solely on a pun. Beezy liked to text Joey and say “I’ll meat you there at nine” or so on because he thought it was clever and funny. Previously to that moment, Joey had found it amusing as well. As he was being attached to a metal hook hanging from the ceiling between two sides of beef, the comedic value lessened somewhat.

“You don’t have to do this,” Joey told Rondheim. It was a longshot.

“I know that,” Rondheim laughed. The good news was that Joey was nearly one hundred per cent certain that he just meant to leave them there to be discovered by the abattoir workers the following morning. Rondheim and his men would probably rob them, take the drugs and most likely the hearse, and bugger off somewhere else, laughing to themselves about how hilarious and clever they were. All in all, it definitely could’ve been worse. Joey was prepared to shoulder that loss. It would be one long-ass ride back home on various forms of public transit, but they would make it.

But then Duke took a swing at one of Rondheim’s men. Plus she spit in his face. The guy pulled a knife and Joey swung himself to the left to kick him. He ended up getting knifed in the chest by one of the other men. As he was hanging from a hook in an abattoir, bleeding from his chest, Joey reflected on his life. There were some things he could’ve done better. He should’ve called his mother more. He definitely should’ve bought his own car. The guy who had knifed him was moving closer, like he wanted to just finish it off. Joey was just thinking about how he should’ve spent less time with Vinny when Vinny clubbed the man with the knife in the back with a frozen lamb shank. The back of his purple track suit jacket was torn completely in half so he was wearing it like the demented cousin of a Snuggie. Apparently the person who had hung him on his hook had done it by the bottom of his jacket and that had been a mistake.

Vinny fought surprisingly well for someone with such thin arms. Joey was impressed despite himself. Vinny managed to fight off two separate men before he got tackled to the ground, at which he started screaming bloody murder. He sounded like a cat being mauled by a murder of crows. It was incredibly alarming, even to Joey, who was starting to feel his consciousness ebbing away. He didn’t think he was going to bleed out to the point of death any longer, but the pain in his chest was intense and burning and he was for sure going to pass out from it. Rondheim tried to stand on Vinny’s neck to get him to shut up, but it was too late. Ocean and Duke had caught on and were screaming as well. Vinny had taken down too many guys for there to be enough of them to stop them all from screaming. Someone was bound to notice the noise. Rondheim clearly wasn’t prepared to kill them all; it wasn’t worth it. Instead, he and his thugs fled into the night. Vinny managed to unhook Beezy, coughing and wheezing through his steadily bruising throat. Beezy helped unhook the rest of them and then they hobbled out to Ocean’s hearse. The last thing Joey remembered before he passed out for good was Vinny holding his bloody hand in the back of the hearse, alternately telling him that he had been stabbed trying to carve a lamb shank and that he loved him like a little brother.

Joey woke up again in the hospital as they doctors were stitching his chest wound closed. That had been horrifying. He was put under again. When he woke up the second time, he was alone in a hospital room in the dark. He was cold and his chest hurt and his brain felt fuzzy. Bizarrely, he wanted to see Vinny’s stupid face. He fell back into a fitful sleep. A couple hours later, Robin came to see him. He burst into the hospital room, at four o’clock in the morning, wide-eyed and panic-stricken.

“What the fuck  happened?” He demanded wildly.

“I got stabbed,” Joey answered nonchalantly.

“Stabbed?!” Robin repeated incredulously. “You got stabbed?! I don’t think you can casually tell someone you got stabbed.”

“How the fuck else do you want me to say it?” Joey demanded, shifting in bed with a groan. “Fuck, man, I just got stabbed. If they hadn’t just stitched my chest closed, maybe I’d do a little musical number to tell you about it.”

Robin sighed, clearly exasperated with Joey.

“How did you get stabbed?” He asked.

“Tragic cooking accident,” Joey answered very seriously. “Never carve a lamb shank by yourself.”

Robin stared at him for a long moment, appraising him. Joey wiggled his eyebrows back at him.

“How did you actually get stabbed?” Robin asked.

“I formed an accidental gang,” Joey answered dismissively. “But there was a lamb shank involved.”

“Obviously,” Robin sighed, sitting down in the chair beside Joey’s hospital bed. Neither of them said anything for a long while. Joey was trying to see if he could count his stitches just by feeling them in his chest. He had made it up to six by the time Robin spoke again.

“Am I your emergency contact?” He asked.

“Yeah,” Joey answered simply.

“Why?”

“You own a fucking car,” Joey explained. That was only part of it. Vinny hadn’t been able to come into the hospital with him because his throat was quite bruised and it was obvious that someone had tried to strangle him. That combined with Joey’s injury made the whole thing far more suspicious. Boris had been the one to bring Joey into the hospital, or so he’d been told. One of his nurses had explained that his gigantic, quiet friend had dropped him off.

“Great,” Robin sighed again.

“Also, who do you want me to call?” Joey returned. “My mother? To tell her I got stabbed over cocaine?”

“Over a lamb shank,” Robin corrected, rolling his eyes.

“That’s right,” Joey nodded with a sharp grin.

“Shanked over a shank,” Robin mused.

“Funny,” Joey laughed shortly. His chest pulled so he stopped. “I think you only get shanked in prison.”

“Well you’d know,” Robin retorted. It was a fairly good point.

There was another long silence between the two of them.

“You’re a good friend,” Joey told Robin, breaking the calm quiet. “And also a piece of shit.”

Robin laughed.

“Thanks, bud. Same to you.”

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