I sneaked downstairs and took the phone into the closet, so as to not wake Dad and Susan. Twenty minutes later, I woke Scott up and recounted the most confusing phone call of my life. Being so stoned only intensified my confusion.
“I’ve gotta go to New York, man.”
“What,” Scott rubbed 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 weeks, he gave me a hug.
As we lay there together, Scott was quickly back to sleep, but I couldn’t stop going over the call. She had become progressively more hysterical. I hadn’t gotten the whole story, but it seems that her brother Tito had started hanging around the gangs. A rival gang picked him off the streets and drove away with him. There was a ransom demand. Her family was afraid of the police, fearing retribution and for Tito’s life if a rescue failed. Scott was right. I was out of my depth. But I had to do something. Finally, I fell asleep. The alarm went off way too soon, Scott dragged me out of bed and we rode to workout. The water felt good, but soon the fatigue from being stoned, sliding down the drain pipe, and losing sleep over Tina took its toll. Coach Earl pulled me out of my lane and dressed me down good. All I could say was there was too much on my mind to focus on swimming. Soon Coach Diaz was grilling me too. The gist was I better straighten out my life soon, or I would lose the chance to be a great swimmer. I felt completely out of it. After the chewing out, I dragged myself through the rest of workout. Scott and Lydia walked up after we got out of the pool.
“What did Coach have to say? You were looking pretty sorry out there,” Lydia offered.
“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 argued.
It felt like a million miles away then. I stopped talking while we walked our bikes through the Gables. Lydia asked if I wanted to go by her house, but I just wanted to be alone and work out what I could do. Scott went with her, but looked after me for a while, as I rode off.
He yelled, “It’ll be okay, Tim. Hang in there.”
When I got home, I called Tina. She answered 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 and 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. It’s 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 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, and 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 got off the phone, my resolve and promise to Tina made me feel better. The focus I had lost was back. The first thing was to get to New York. I had to fly, but where would I get the money for a ticket? Dad would never give or lend it to me; he’d just remind I was supposed to get a job. No swim team parent or coach would assist me in this type of adventure. On a whim I called Aunt Helen and asked her how to get a hold of Joey.
“He’s in LA, Tim. I can give you his number.”
After I had written it down, she asked me how I was dealing with my dad. I so wanted to talk about it, but my focus was on Tina. I promised to stay in touch.
I called the number, but the phone was picked up and hung up instantly. I had forgotten the time difference. It was only seven there. I would call back in three hours. In the meantime, I thought about what to do once in the City. Joey loomed large as a key to solving this problem. He had friends who could help. He was older. Finally, it was time to call. The phone was picked up on the first ring but no one answered. I could hear breathing at the other end.
“Joey, wake up for Christ’s sake.”
“What. Who is this?” It was 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.”
“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 who can 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 went 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 hung up and collapsed against the closet wall. What had I gotten into?
I knew, but my focus was on Tina’s troubles. I had done it. I was going to New York. I waited an hour, still in the closet, before Joey called me back. There was a ticket waiting for me at Eastern Airlines. We’d meet at Kennedy Airport at eight pm. He also asked if I had any pot. I said no. I had less than an hour to catch my plane. I called Lydia, and she got her brother to drive me. They showed up in ten minutes, with Scott in tow.
“Where are you going, Tim?” she asked.
“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 asked.
“It’s okay, Steve. I just need your help to get to the airport.”
We took off like we were in a car chase. My excitement was contagious. In no time I was seated in the plane, climbing to cruising altitude. I looked at my ticket and smiled at the open sections for NYC to LAX and LAX to MIA and softly whistled, ‘She’s got a ticket to ride.’
LENNON, JOHN / MCCARTNEY, PAUL
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
After we landed I waited for Joey’s flight to arrive. When he came out the gate, I couldn’t 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 expense barred.”
“Alright,” but thinking of myself as meat made me shiver.
I called Tina, and then met Joey at the rental car counter.
“She said everything’s still the same. The gangs are only talking to each other. She’s in the dark. She sounded crazed.”
“Gangs? You said gang, like only one gang.”
“Well, her brother Tito was hanging around one gang. Their rivals hijacked 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 just keep your girlfriend calm. We’ll work this out.”
His confidence filled me with renewed respect for my wayward cousin. The sense of dread that Tina had given me began to lift. We drove to the South Bronx, Joey finding his way easily past the empty buildings and burned out cars. This section of the City was even more desolate than the Lower Eastside I remembered from the previous year. Soon we were at Tina’s family apartment. She gave me a big hug, with Pete hugging both of us. The reunion was short-lived as the reality of their fear and frustration cut through our joy of being together. Pete remembered Joey from last fall, but he didn’t say anything about how they’d met. The situation was more desperate. Tito’s gang had called his father, saying the family had to come up with five thousand dollars by noon tomorrow if they wanted to see Tito alive again. He was supposed to drop the money at their hang-out in an abandoned building. He was infuriated at both gangs now; also, there was no way he could raise that much money. He was terrified at what was going to happen with Tito. We started to formulate a plan, passing ideas around. We realized we had to get through one gang to get to the other gang holding Tito.
“We’ve got to divide and conquer ‘em,” Joey concluded.
“But, how?” Tina’s dad asked.
“When do you meet with Tito’s gang?”
“It’s not his gang.”
“Whatever. When you go to meet them at noon, there’s bound to be someone from the other gang watching them. We should try to 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 objected. “What if there’s no lookout?”
“How about this,” I suggested. “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‘ve found the lookout, we can use a code phrase for him to stall until we’ve got 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 objected.
“Leave that to me, Pops. I can get the troops. There’s alotta guys I know who’d love to take on these assholes. Once we gotta plan, they’ll be here.”
I summed 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’ve located Tito, I’ll call Tina who’ll tell Joey to bring the assault troops.”
Joey approved by saying, “Now that that’s settled, where’s an Italian pizzeria? I gotta eat.”
All of us except Tina’s dad went to eat. Pete started asking Joey about the rental car, leaving me alone with Tina. Soon we were in the back of the car, with the top down while Joey let Pete drive to the pizza place. It was the most harrowing part of the whole adventure, as Pete weaved in and out of traffic, which was thankfully light; he hadn’t gotten the concept of braking yet. It was tears of laughter and relief as we filed into the pizza joint. Pete complained we didn’t appreciate his best efforts. A pitcher of beer topped off our revived spirits, with even Tina enjoying a beer. I fell asleep on Tina’s shoulder in the back of the convertible, waking up the next morning in bed with Pete, with Joey snoring on the floor. I had needed a good sleep, but when the prospects of this day hit me, I was sober and serious. We had come a long way to help Tina. I was ready to do my best.
Tina set up the command post. Joey left for Manhattan to meet his friends at noon, ready to bring them to the Bronx on Tina’s word. Pete and I went to scope out the gang’s hangout, finding a place where we could watch both the front and back entrances. We returned so we could follow Tina’s dad when he went to negotiate with Tito’s gang. All we could do now was wait. Joey checked in by phone. Finally it was time to leave. Keeping our distance, Pete and I followed Tina’s dad. As he went into the hangout, we watched as several gangsters grabbed him roughly and shoved him into the building. Pete ran to call Tina, while my apprehension built, knowing I had put her dad in harm’s way. Pete returned with the message that Joey was on his way back with a carload of ‘angry queens.’ My doubts were growing about our plan’s success. There was no movement from the abandoned building. Then we saw her dad with two hoods. They went to the same phone we had just used. He dialed what I knew was their home number. After talking a bit, he hung up and told the hoods there was no money yet. They hit him, knocking him down. I had to restrain Pete, but finally they walked away. He got up, walking slowly toward their apartment. We waited until he was gone before starting to leave our hiding place. Just as we were moving, a kid about eleven came out of the building. We watched him go to the same phone. Trying to figure out what number he dialed proved impossible, but we guessed he was calling the other gang. Instead of returning to the building, he took off for the IRT subway stop. Pete was positive he wasn’t in Tito’s gang and that he was the lookout, concluding that both gangs were in on a ransom shakedown. Without getting too close we followed him to the subway, staying out of sight until the train pulled in. Sitting in the next car from the boy, we kept an eye on him, until he got out after four stops. Hustling after him, we watched as he went into another abandoned building with gang graffiti scrawled on the walls. Pete’s anxiety level went up as he realized we were in foreign ‘turf.’ We found a phone and called Tina. Pete gave her the address. She told us to get out of there. I wanted to scope out the building more, but she insisted we leave that area. We took the IRT back to the neighborhood. When we got back to the apartment, Tina was tending to her dad’s cuts and bruises. I knew she had been crying. I hugged her, and she wouldn’t let me go until her dad said to break it up. We knew he was okay then
Joey showed up with the horn blaring. We looked 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 looked like they had gotten into the wrong car. They were fifteen in all, and Joey was the general in charge, ready for action. We described the building and agreed that Tito was likely there. Pete and I got into the car with the stoners, Mike and Mike, and led Joey with the more flamboyant guys to the building. Our group was to sneak into the building, while Joey’s troops would storm in a frontal assault. One of the queens asked if frontal meant naked which was a problem as he was ‘transitioning.’ We all laughed and assured him his manhood would stay intact. The four of us were to locate Tito and get him out of there, while Joey’s group battled the gang.
Everything was working like clockwork. We slipped into the building, finding a back stairwell. As we walked up, we could hear noises from the gang upstairs. They felt so secure, they hadn’t posted guards. We hid in the stairwell on the floor where they were. We only waited a few minutes before we heard squealing tires and shouts as Joey’s gang showed up.
“You lame mother fucking spics, come out and die.”
“Suck me, assholes, cunt-licking, puke-faces.”
Ten guys ran out of the apartment, grabbing sticks and pipes stacked by the door. Thirty seconds later we burst into the flat. One guy sat by the bed where a skinny kid lay tied and gagged. The gangster reached for a gun on a table, but Mike #1 hit him with his bat. He flew across the room, collapsing against the wall. I grabbed the gun while Pete untied Tito. We made the rescue in under two minutes. From the cries and curses in the street, I knew the two gangs were going at it. The two Mikes said they were going out front to get in some action. Pete and I hustled Tito down the back stairs. We soon were running down an alley, away from the gang fight and toward the IRT stop.
I wanted to go back to the fight after we got Tito to the IRT, “Let’s go back and help Joey”
“No way, dude, this is not our territory,” Pete argued. “We gotta get outta this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do.”
I smiled at his newly acquired pop music skill.
“Com’n we have to help.”
We hadn’t gone 100 feet when a group of older teenagers, dressed like the gang we’d jumped, came out of a building. I pulled the gun out of my waistband, and they moved back up the building’s front stoop. A car’s blaring horn came around the corner. It was Joey with three or four gangsters chasing him on foot. We piled in on top of those already crowded in the convertible. We headed for the New England Expressway, leaving the chasers in the dirt.
“What were you going to do, hold them off at the IRT?” Joey shouted at me.
I pulled out the gun. “No. It’d 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 had a story about their own exploits and how they saved the day. Joey doubled back on the Expressway, and soon we were at Tina’s. Tito was still in shock about his rescue, until his dad grabbed him by the ear and led him into the bathroom. We all laughed as we heard the blows of a hairbrush to his butt.
“That’ll wake him up.”
An extended round of high-fives ensued, with Joey finally looking at me and saying, “We’ve got a night plane to the coast, so while I take my buddies back to Times Square, you take your friends for more pizza.” He flipped 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 my 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,” smiled Mike #2.
They took off, leaving me walking Tina and Pete for pizza, with an arm around each of them. We finished off a large ‘works’ with a pitcher of beer. Feeling no pain, I leaned over and kissed Tina until all her resistance was gone.
“Girl, you be in trouble now,” Pete joked.
“I owe you, Timothy Castle.”
“Not that, you don’t. I owe you, you fox.”
She clung to me even closer. Pete was watching us in a dreamy way, until I pulled him closer and planted a kiss on his lips. He turned a bright red, and then we were all hugging each other. We sat like that until Joey walked in.
“Where’s my pizza,” he ordered and sat down. We all turned to him as one. “There’s something fishy going on here.”
Then I kissed him full-on, too.
“Oh, bello, now you’re so Italiano.”
We laughed and it was four people as one. I knew I loved each of them. The pizza to-go came, and it was 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 remembered all those love songs from the 50s and 60s. I started whistling ‘Up on the Roof.’
Tina lay back, looking at me in wonderment and possessiveness. Mission Accomplished. She as much said she was mine, this Latina beauty of fourteen, with long legs and creamy skin that made me want to lick her like a cat. Our time would come, or so I thought; she had been more than willing to reward me for our heroics. But her love was more than a prize to be won; it had to be an irresistible urge that knew no bounds. Without a word, we said goodbye, and she was gone. Romantically I felt she always had a place in my heart. Jumping in front with Pete and Joey, we drove to his building. He leaned over shyly and kissed me on the cheek, then hugged Joey before jumping out of the car.
“We’re number 1. The gangs are shit,” he shouted to wake up the neighbors. Coming back to the car, “Tim, you’re my blessed person. Can’t I come with you guys?”
“Doug’ll love you,” Joey interjected. “Climb aboard.”
He looked 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 kissed me again, this time on the lips, turning that furious red blush that made him look so young. Joey pulled away, with Pete staring wildly at us.
“You sure know how to pick ‘em,” Joey observed. “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?”
“Ya. 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 grabbed the gun and tossed 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 cared.”
He looked at me sharply, then allowed me to give him a hug.
“Enough, enough, you’re all over everyone tonight. Save it for Doug. He’s paid for it.”
“Good old Joey, all business.”
“Well, obviously you’re all worked up,” as he reached down and grabbed my semi-hard dick.
“It’s been that way all day,” I apologized.
“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 suburbs who’s always had things go your way. You’ll get yours.”
That calmed me down and kept me quiet while Joey got rid of the rental car and we were driven to the airline terminal. It wasn’t until we were seated and taxiing for takeoff that my high spirits returned.
“Well, I’m glad were flying United,” as I grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze.
“You’ll be united alright,” and he squeezed back, then laughed at my weak pun. I reclined my seat and was soon fast asleep on his shoulder.