I sneak downstairs and take the phone into the closet, so as to not wake Dad and Susan. Twenty minutes later, I wake Scott up and recount the most confusing phone call of my life. Being stoned only intensifies my confusion.
“I’ve gotta go to New York, man.”
“What,” Scott rubs the sleep from his eyes.
“I’ve got to find some way to Tina’s.”
“That must have been some call.”
“Her brother’s been kidnapped. They’re going crazy.”
“Oh, man. That’s screwed.”
“They think it’s some gang thing.”
“What can you do? Can’t the cops do something?”
“She needs me, man. All she did was cry on the phone.”
“Well, sleep on it. You’ll be able to sort things out in the morning.” Then, for the first time in a week, he gives me a hug.
As we lay there together, Scott is quickly back to sleep. I cannot stop going over the call. She became progressively more hysterical. I have not gotten the whole story, but it seems that her brother Tito started hanging around the gangs. A rival gang picked him off the streets and drove away with him. There is a ransom demand. Her family is afraid of the police, fearing retribution and for Tito’s life if a rescue fails. Scott is right. I am out of my depth. But I have to do something. Finally, I fall asleep. The alarm goes off way too soon, Scott drags me out of bed and we ride to workout. The water feels good. Soon the fatigue from being stoned, sliding down the drain pipe, and losing sleep over Tina takes its toll. Coach Earl pulls me out of my lane and dresses me down good. All I can say is there is too much on my mind to focus on swimming. Soon Coach Diaz is grilling me too. The gist is I better straighten out my life sooner than later, or I will lose the chance to be a great swimmer. I feel completely out of it. After the chewing out, I drag myself through the rest of workout. Scott and Lydia walk up after we get out of the pool.
“What did Coach have to say? You were looking pretty sorry out there,” Lydia offers.
“Just to say I looked pretty sorry.”
“Well, what’s up? Scott says your friend Tina’s in trouble.”
“Not her. Her brother. He was kidnapped by a gang.”
“A gang? I didn’t think she was into that.”
“Don’t even think that. It’s her brother. They don’t know what to do. I’ve got to help her, but I don’t know how.”
“How can you deal with a gang? They’re fifteen hundred miles away,” she argues.
It feels like a million miles away by now. I stop talking while we walk our bikes through the Gables. Lydia asks if I want to go by her house, but I just want to be alone and work out what to do. Scott goes with her, but looks back at me for a while, as I ride off.
He yells, “It’ll be okay, Tim. Hang in there.”
When I get home, I call Tina. She answers before the end of first ring.
“Tina, it’s Tim.”
“Oh, I thought it might be Tito. Thanks for calling again. I was pretty crazy last night.”
“What’s happened with your brother?”
“Oh, it’s still a mess. Some of the guys in the gang he was joining came by and said they were going to waste the guys who have Tito. My dad lost his temper. He chased them away from the front of our building.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Thanks, Tim. That’s so much like you, but what can you do?”
“Yeah, I know, I know. I’m fifteen hundred miles away.”
“Oh Tim, what if they kill him? I’m going crazy.”
“Tina, I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I’m coming up there to help. You need me.”
“I want to see you so badly, Tim. I’m so worried about him. He’s just a baby. What am I going to do?”
“Just hang on, Tina; it tears me up to hear you hurting so badly.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I’m coming up there. Then we’ll work it out.”
“There’s nothing you can do.”
“If for no other reason, I’ll be with you. We’ll get through this thing together.”
After I get off the phone, my resolve and promise to Tina make me feel better. The focus I had lost is back. The first thing is to get to New York. I have to fly, but where can I get the money for a ticket? Dad will never give or lend it to me; he will just remind me I am supposed to get a job. No swim team parent or coach would assist me in this type of adventure. On a whim I call Aunt Helen and ask her how to get hold of Joey.
“He’s in LA, Tim. I can give you his number.”
After I write it down, she asks me how I am dealing with Dad. I so want to talk about it, but my focus is on Tina. I promise to stay in touch.
I call the number, but the phone is picked up and hung up instantly. I forgot about the time difference. It is only seven there. I will call back in three hours. In the meantime, I think about what to do once in the City. Joey looms large as the key to solving this problem. He has friends who can help. He is older. Finally, it is time to call. The phone is picked up on the first ring but no one answers. I can hear breathing at the other end.
“Joey, wake up for Christ’s sake.”
“What? Who is this?” It is his voice, barely awake.
“It’s me, Tim, in Miami.”
“Hey dude, what’s happening? Why you callin’ so early?”
“It’s ten there. Are you going to sleep all day?”
“Don’t give me no shit. Call me when I’m awake.”
“No. Don’t hang up. It’s an emergency.”
“What. You fail your driver’s test?”
“No, really, it’s a matter of life or death.”
“Always the drama queen. Call the cops.”
“They already know. It’s my friend Tina in New York. I told you about her.”
“Yeah, it was her friends that saved my butt from the narcs. What’s up?”
“Her little brother got kidnapped by a gang.”
“No shit. Puerto Rican shit. What can ya do?”
“You gotta help me. I gotta get up there. You’re the only one I know to help me.”
“So you want money. Forget it, I’m broke.”
“You gotta help me. You can figure this out. You’ve lived there. Isn’t there some way you can get me an airline ticket?”
“I can’t. But… Wait. Maybe I know somebody. Hey, Doug, remember my kid brother I told you about, the swimmer, who’s so hot and fifteen.”
“I’m sixteen, now,” I interrupted.
“Yeah, Yeah. Hold on.”
He goes away from the phone for a couple of minutes.
“Timmy, let me call ya back. You willing to come out to Hollywood after your little adventure’s over and go on a date?”
“What do you mean ‘a date.’”
“Don’t play innocent with me, Timmy; make it with the guy who pays for all this.”
“Is it cool?”
“Would I lead you astray?”
“Does a bear shit in the woods?”
“And does the Pope pee?”
“Great. I’ll call you right back.”
“Joey, call me Tim, okay?”
I hang up and collapse against the closet wall. What have I gotten into?
I know, but my focus is on Tina’s troubles. I have done it. I am going to New York. I wait an hour, still in the closet, before Joey calls me back. There’s a ticket waiting for me at Eastern Airlines. We will meet at Kennedy Airport at eight pm. He also asks if I have any pot. I say no. I have less than an hour to catch my plane. I call Lydia; she gets her brother to drive me. They show up in ten minutes, with Scott in tow.
“Where are you going, Tim?” she asks.
“To New York. I told you Tina’s in trouble.”
“You really are going? You’re not going to fight a gang, are you?”
“I don’t know, but I’m going. My cousin Joey will meet me there. I’ll call you guys.”
“Do your folks know about this?” Lydia’s brother Steve ask.
“It’s okay, Steve. I just need your help to get to the airport.”
We take off like we’re in a car chase. My excitement is contagious. In no time I’m seated in the plane, climbing to cruising altitude. I look at my ticket and smile at the open sections for NYC to LAX and LAX to MIA. I softly whistle, ‘She’s got a ticket to ride.’
LENNON, JOHN / MCCARTNEY, PAUL
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
After we land I wait for Joey’s flight to arrive. When he comes out the gate, I cannot help running up to him and giving him a bear hug.
“Hold on, man. I got a rep to maintain in this town.”
“Screw that. You’re my lifesaver. Now we’re gonna kick butt.”
“Now you sound like your old man, the military head.”
“I mean we’re a team. New York better watch out.”
“While I get the rental car, you call your honey and tell her we’re on our way. Find out the latest skinny on her brother.”
“We’re getting a car?”
“Sure, Doug’s got an insatiable taste for young meat, so he gave me his credit card. No expenses barred.”
“Alright,” but thinking of myself as meat makes me shiver.
I call Tina and then meet Joey at the rental car counter.
“She says everything’s still the same. The gangs are only talking to each other. She’s in the dark. She sounds crazed.”
“Gangs? You said gang, like only one gang.”
“Well, her brother Tito was hanging around one gang. Their rivals kidnapped him from the street corner.”
“So, he’s a gangbanger, too. They’ll just cut off his hand or ear and dump him in front of her house.”
“Don’t tell her that.”
“She already knows. You’re the one from the sticks.”
“Any ideas about what we can do?”
“These gangs have no respect for anyone except for other gangs. We gotta have some strength of our own. I’m working on that one.”
“Whadda ya mean?”
‘Just that I made some calls, man. You keep your girlfriend calm. We’ll work this out.”
His confidence fills me with renewed respect for my wayward cousin. The sense of dread that Tina gave me begins to lift. We drive to the South Bronx, Joey finding his way easily past the empty buildings and burned out cars. This section of the City is even more desolate than the Lower Eastside I remember from the previous year. Soon we are in Tina’s family apartment. She gives me a big hug, with Pete hugging both of us. The reunion is short-lived as the reality of their fear and frustration cuts through our joy of being together. Pete remembers Joey from last fall. He does not say anything about why they met. The current situation is more dire. Tito’s gang called his father, saying the family has to come up with five thousand dollars by noon tomorrow if they want to see Tito alive again. He is supposed to drop the money at their hang-out in an abandoned building. He is infuriated at both gangs now; also, there is no way he could raise that much money. He is terrified at what is going to happen with Tito. We start to formulate a plan, passing ideas around. We realize we have to go through one gang to get to the other gang holding Tito.
“We’ve got to divide and conquer ‘em,” Joey concludes.
“But, how?” Tina’s dad asks.
“When do you meet with Tito’s gang?”
“It’s not his gang.”
“Whatever. When you go to meet them, there’s bound to be someone from the other gang watching them. We’ll follow the lookout, to lead us to Tito. Pops here can stall, while we snatch Tito. Then we’ll rescue him too.”
“No, both my dad and brother will be held by the gangs,” Tina objects. “What if there’s no lookout?”
“How about this,” I suggest. “We have a code your dad can use. He tells Tito’s gang he’s waiting for the money and needs to call here. If we find the lookout, we can use a code phrase for him to stall until we get Tito. If not, we can tell him there’s no money and to come home to work on getting it. The worst that can happen is we’ll have to rescue your dad. At least we’ll know where he is,
“The worst that can happen is I lose both my brother and my dad.”
“It’s okay, Miya. At least it’s a plan. But how can we fight either gang? We are only three plus Tina?” her dad objects.
“Leave that to me, Pops. I can get the troops. There’s alotta guys I know itchin’ to take on these assholes. Once we gotta plan, they’ll be here.”
I sum up the plan, “I think this is the best we can do. Tina can stay here to be on the phone, so everyone’s informed. Her dad will have to negotiate with Tito’s gang and stall while Pete and I keep an eye out for the other gang’s lookout. Joey’ll go into the City and get the manpower we need to rescue Tito and maybe his dad. Once we locate Tito, I’ll call Tina who’ll tell Joey to bring the assault troops.”
Joey approves by saying, “Now that that’s settled, where’s an Italian pizzeria? I gotta eat.”
All of us except Tina’s dad leave to eat. Pete starts asking Joey about the rental car, leaving me alone with Tina. Soon we are in the back of the car, with the top down while Joey lets Pete drive to the pizza place. It’s the most harrowing part of the whole adventure, as Pete weaves in and out of traffic, which thankfully is light; he has not gotten the concept of braking yet. There are tears of laughter and relief as we file into the pizza joint. Pete complains we do not appreciate his best efforts. A pitcher of beer tops off our revived spirits, with even Tina enjoying a beer. I fall asleep on Tina’s shoulder in the back of the convertible, waking up the next morning in bed with Pete, while Joey snores on the floor. I needed a good sleep. When the prospects of this day hit me, I’m sober and serious. We came a long way to help Tina. I am determined to do my best.
Tina sets up the command post. Joey leaves for Manhattan to meet his friends at noon, ready to bring them to the Bronx on Tina’s word. Pete and I go scope out the gang’s hangout, finding a place where we can watch both the front and back entrances. We return to follow Tina’s dad when he goes to negotiate with Tito’s gang. All we can do now is wait. Joey checks in by phone. Finally, it is time to leave. Keeping our distance, Pete and I follow Tina’s dad. As he enters the hangout, we watch as several gangsters grab him roughly and shove him into the building. Pete runs to call Tina, while my apprehension builds, knowing I have put her dad in harm’s way. Pete returns with the message that Joey is on his way back with a carload of ‘angry queens.’ My doubts are growing about our plan’s success. There is no movement from the abandoned building. Then we see her dad with two hoods. They go to the same phone we used. He dials what I know is their home number. After talking a bit, he hangs up and tells the hoods there is no money yet. They hit him, knocking him down. I have to restrain Pete, but finally they walk away. He gets up, walking slowly toward their apartment. We wait until he’s gone before starting to leave our hiding place. Just as we move, a kid about eleven comes out of the building. We watch him go to the same phone. Trying to figure out what number he dials proves impossible, but we guess he is calling the other gang. Instead of returning to the building, he takes off for the IRT subway stop. Pete is positive he is not in Tito’s gang, that he must be the lookout. We now understand that both gangs are in on a ransom shakedown. Without getting too close we follow him to the subway, staying out of sight until the train pulls in. Sitting in the next car from the boy, we keep an eye on him, until he gets out after four stops. Hustling after him, we watch him go into another abandoned building with gang graffiti scrawled on all the walls. Pete’s anxiety level goes up knowing we are on foreign ‘turf.’ We find a phone and call Tina. Pete gives her the address. She tells us to get out of there. I want to scope out the building more, but she insists we leave that area. We take the IRT back to the neighborhood. When we get back to the apartment, Tina is tending to her dad’s cuts and bruises. I know she has been crying. I hug her. She will not let me go until her dad says to break it up. We know he is okay then.
Joey shows up with the horn blaring. We look down on to the street. There were several cars filled with the weirdest assortment of gay hustlers, butch guys with baseball bats, queens in capri pants carrying purses filled with rocks, boys in leather with spiked wrist bands, and long-haired stoners who look like they got into the wrong car. They are fifteen in all. Joey is the general in charge, ready for action. We describe the building and agree that Tito is likely there. Pete and I get into the car with the stoners, Mike and Mike, and lead Joey with the more flamboyant guys to the building. Our group is to sneak into the back of the building, while Joey’s troops storm in a frontal assault. One of the queens asks if frontal means naked which is a problem as he is ‘transitioning.’ We all laugh and assure him his manhood can stay protected. The four of us are to locate Tito and get him out of there, while Joey’s group battles the gang.
Everything is working like clockwork. We slip into the building, finding a back stairwell. As we walk up, we can hear noise from the gang upstairs. They feel so secure that they have not posted guards. We hide in the stairwell on the floor where they are. We only wait a few minutes before we hear squealing tires and shouts as Joey’s gang arrives.
“You lame mother fucking spics, come out and die.”
“Suck me, asshole, cunt-licking, puke-faces.”
Ten guys run out of the apartment, grabbing sticks and pipes stacked by the door. Thirty seconds later we burst into the squat. One guy sits by the bed where a skinny kid lies tied and gagged. The gangster reaches for a gun on a table, but Mike #1 hits him with his bat. He flies across the room, collapsing against the wall. I grab the gun while Pete unties Tito. We make the rescue in under two minutes. From the cries and curses in the street, I know the two gangs are going at it. The two Mikes say they are going out front to get in some action. Pete and I hustle Tito down the back stairs. We are soon running down an alley, away from the gang fight and toward the IRT stop.
I want to go back to the fight once we get Tito to the IRT, “Let’s go back and help Joey”
“No way, dude, this is not our territory,” Pete argues. “We gotta get outta this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do.”
I smile at his newly acquired pop music skill.
“Com’n we have to help.”
We don’t go 100 feet when a group of older teenagers, dressed like the gang we had jumped, come out of a building. I pull the gun out of my waistband. They back up the building’s front stoop. A car’s blaring horn comes around the corner. It is Joey with three or four gangsters chasing the rental car on foot. We pile in on top of those already crowded in the convertible. We head for the New England Expressway, leaving the chasers in the dirt.
“What were you going to do, hold them off at the IRT?” Joey shouts at me.
I pull out the gun. “No. It’ll be the shootout at the IRT Corral.”
“Put that thing away, man. Where’d ya get it?”
“Mike knocked out the guy trying to grab it.”
All of a sudden everyone has a story about their own exploits and how their heroics saved the day. Joey doubles back on the Expressway. Soon we are at Tina’s. Tito is still in shock about his rescue, until his dad grabs him by the ear and leads him into the bathroom. We all laugh as we hear the blows of a hairbrush to his butt.
“That’ll wake him up.”
An extended round of high-fives ensues, with Joey finally looking at me and saying, “We’ve got a night flight to the coast, so while I take my buddies back to Times Square, you take your friends for more pizza.” He flips me the credit card.
“And you, young lady, better find a place away from here to hide your brother for a week or so. Those gangsters won’t let up just ‘cause we beat ‘em once.”
“We can go to Queens and stay with mi tia. Thanks you guys. I wouldn’t have thought so before, but you’re a tough bunch.”
“Watch it, babe. We’re tough in a tight corner.”
“Right, you be givin’ it away next,” smiles Mike #2.
They take off, leaving me to walk Tina and Pete for pizza, with an arm around each of them. We finish off a large ‘works’ with a pitcher of beer. Feeling no pain, I lean over and kiss Tina until all her resistance is gone.
“Girl, you be in trouble now,” Pete jokes.
“I owe you, Timothy Castle.”
“Not that, you don’t. I owe you, you fox.”
She clings to me even closer. Pete is watching us in a dreamy way, until I pull him closer and plant a kiss on his lips. He turns a bright red, and then we are all hugging each other. We sit like that until Joey walks in.
“Where’s my pizza,” he orders and sits down. We all turn to him as one. “There’s something fishy going on here.”
Then I kiss him full-on, too.
“Oh, ciao bello, now you’re so Italiano.”
We laugh. It’s four people as one. I know I love each of them. The pizza to-go comes. It’s time for Joey and me to leave. Sitting in the back of the convertible, on a warm New York night, with Tina in my arms, I remember all those love songs from the 50s and 60s. I start whistling ‘Up on the Roof.’
Tina lays back, looking at me in wonderment and possessiveness. Mission Accomplished. She as much says she is mine, this Latina beauty of fourteen, with long legs and creamy skin that makes me want to lick her like a cat. Our time will come, or so I think; she is more than willing to reward me for our heroics. But her love is more than a prize to be won; it has to be an irresistible urge that knows no bounds. Without a word, we say goodbye, and she’s gone. Romantically I know she always has a place in my heart. Jumping in front with Pete and Joey, we drive to his building. He leans over shyly and kisses me on the cheek, then hugs Joey before jumping out of the car.
“We’re number 1. The gangs are shit,” he shouts to wake up the neighbors. Coming back to the car, “Tim, you’re my blessed person. Can I come with you guys?”
“Doug’ll love you,” Joey interjects. “Climb aboard.”
He looks straight into my eyes, asking my permission.
“No, muchacho. This trip’s not for you. In my heart is where we’ll always be together.”
Then he gives me a full-on hug, turning on that furious red blush that makes him look so young. Joey pulls away, with Pete staring wildly at us.
“You sure know how to pick ‘em,” Joey observes. “I meant it about Doug dying for a virgin like that one.”
“Man. You’ve been so cool this trip. Why’d ya have to turn into such a pimp again?”
“Hey, remember who’s paying for your little adventure.”
“Ha. I don’t call it little when you take on the South Bronx gangs. You haven’t said much about the hand-to-hand combat.”
“It was straight out of Bruce Lee. I took out the first two guys on the stoop and watched as the boys mopped up the rest.”
“That was it?”
“Well, once we had ‘em down, nobody went for the kill. That’s why we got out of there so quick. Tommy seen ya goin’ down the alley, so we beat feet. They got their second wind and almost caught us when we stopped for youse at the IRT.”
“Good thing we got their gun,” as I pulled it out of my waistband.
“Sheeit. Ya still got that?”
“Yeah. When we found Tito, the guard went for it. Mike knocked him into the wall with his bat. I used it to scare another group of ‘em when we were runnin’ to the subway.”
”Gimme that!” Joey grabs the gun and tosses it out the window.
“Hey, that was mine.”
“Yeah, your ticket to jail if you try to take it on the plane.”
“Oh, well, c’est la guerre.”
“I’ll French you.”
“I wondered if you still care.”
He looks at me sharply, then allows me to give him a hug.
“Enough, enough, you’re all over everyone tonight. Save it for Doug. He paid for it.”
“Good old Joey, all business.”
“Well, obviously you’re all worked up,” as he reaches down and grabs my semi-hard dick.
“It’s been that way all day,” I apologize.
“Nothing like a little sex to go with the violence. You’ll make a great pervert in LA.”
“Ya really think I’m a perv?”
“Naw. You’re just a spoiled kid from the ‘burbs who’s always gets things to go his way. You’ll get yours.”
That calms me down and keeps me quiet while Joey gets rid of the rental car. We are driven to the airline terminal. It’s not until we’re seated and taxiing for takeoff that my high spirits return.
“Well, I’m glad were flying United,” as I grab his hand and give it a squeeze.
“You’ll be united alright,” he squeezes back, then laughs at my weak pun. I recline my seat. I am soon fast asleep on his shoulder.