How Could She Refuse? -2.5- Interlude in Green

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"Same-same, but not the same ..."

  How Could She Refuse?  
Part 2.5: Interlude in Green

by Lainie Lee

An Expanded Drabble


Part 2.5: Interlude in Green

Larry led the way most of a block to a small parking garage under an office building. A vintage stretch Cadillac occupied a space marked 'owner' in the garage. The big car had a metallic turquoise paint job, six doors, and the sort of boomerang-shaped antenna that indicated a television inside. It didn't look like a mobster's car, more like that of some lowrider who got wealthy.

It was in fact, the same model Frankie's dad had purchased when Frankie was in high school. Not the same car, but the same model Sedan DeVille stretched into a limo and repainted the identical retro-aqua. Frankie had loved his dad's car and had expected to inherit it when he graduated from college but by that time, his father had traded it in and bought Frankie one of the new smaller Cadillacs which wasn't the same thing at all.

Frankie never told his dad how disappointed he was. The sleek Caddie he'd planned to drive to pick up his best girl got sold to someone who ended up wrapping it around a tree in Montreal, of all places. Frankie had actually tracked the car to a wrecking yard in Quebec but he hadn't had the nerve to visit before the Green Machine got pounded into scrap metal and fluff -- which Frankie found out was what wrecking yards called the upholstery and liners in wrecked cars, after the hammer machines had reduced all the metal to fist-sized pieces.

Later, after Frankie's father died, Frankie had Larry find a 1970 Sedan DeVille and restore it as a six-door limo. One of the benefits of using such an old dinosaur of a car was that Packy had plenty of head and leg room. The big man loved the car perhaps even more than Frankie did and had secretly named it Kate for reasons he never told anyone.

While Larry held one of the rear doors open for Davey, Packy walked around the clone of Frankie's Green Machine, looking for dings or dustspecks. He wet a finger as big as a bratwurst in his mouth and scrubbed at one spot on the roof near the driver's door. He did this everytime he came back to the car after an hour or so; a speculum distortion in the paint made a white spot that appeared and disappeared depending on lighting and angle of view. Packy was generally the only person tall enough to see the illusion and he dutifully rubbed at it nearly every day. When he put his head close to see if he had got it, the non-existent white spot disappeared.

Satisfied, Packy handed the backpack he'd still been carrying to Larry, then opened the wide door and slid across the cordovan leather seat beneath the padded over-sized steering wheel. He checked his face in the mirrored sunvisor to be sure he didn't have any sticky stuff from the cinnamon roll hiding in the wrinkles around his mouth.

Davey balked before getting in the car. "Where are we going?" he asked, holding onto the suicide door with both hands. He looked like a child next to Packy but even Larry made him feel small.

"To a beauty shop, the owner owes the boss a favor," said Larry. He tossed the backpack into the back seat, knowing the kid would have to follow it. Trying to be less threatening, he stood back and smoothed his mustache with a finger tip. He knew he'd got sour cream icing in it, he always did. He smiled, his wife called his facial foliage a cookie duster and it had become a private joke with a meaning they didn't share with anyone else.

Larry's smile might have worked at being reassuring but Davey frowned at him anyway. "A beauty shop? What? I mean, I told you that I'm not a g-girl? Didn't I?"

Larry kept smiling. "You mentioned that, yeah. Just go ahead and get in. You don't have anywhere else you have to be, do you?"

"Uh, n-no," said Davey, automatically telling the truth. After it was out, he realized he should have claimed a doctor's appointment or a meeting with his mom or something. Anything to have an excuse not to get into the car.

Packy spoke. "You want I should come back there and put her in the car?" His city accent made him sound like a thug to Davey, who had no accent at all, as far as he knew.

Alarmed at the idea of the big man stuffing him into the limo, willy nilly, Davey immediately climbed in and slid all the way across the seat and pulled the backpack into his lap. Larry got in behind him. "It's going to be fine," he said, closing the heavy door with a decided and luxurious-sounding thunk.

Davey complained again, "I'm not really a girl. I mean, I'm really not a girl." Having the giant refer to him as 'her' was especially disturbing. If a guy that big got the wrong idea about him, well, Davey didn't want to think about it.

Larry said only, "We're in," apparently talking to Packy who started the engine and locked all the doors electrically. The purr of the six liter, twelve cylinder, German-built engine could barely be heard.

Packy liked that and his wrinkled face rearranged itself in a smile. He knew exactly what to do and he liked that, too. Packy liked things to be certain. He knew he would drive south on Wooster, east on Grand to Broadway and then south. He wouldn't take the right at Leonnard because of the construction and the obscene five-way corner at Varrick, even though that would be shorter. And he wouldn't turn on Worth because traffic went both ways on Worth and it was hell making the left onto West Broadway with a big long car. If several people were trying to turn, it could take a long time, too, maybe cycling through several lights.

No, he'd go all the way down to Thomas, follow it over to Hudson, back up Hudson to Worth, which was called Harlan at that corner for some reason and come back East on Harlan/Worth to make the right-hand turn on West Broadway, which he thought of as just West to avoid confusing it with the other Broadway two blocks east. But that circuit would put him going the right direction, the only direction, on West Broadway, on the right side of the street to go into the parking garage under Hotel Del Amo.

He could, of course, take White from Broradway to West, but that would put him making a left hand turn into the insane confusion as Franklin, Varick, West and Leonard tried to sort themselves out in three consecutive corners in what should be only one block. And there always seemed to be construction going on at one corner or the other. Going his way, there was only one left hand turn, and that from a one-way street to another one-way street; it hardly counted.

Packy backed the car out of the space and turned the wheel sharply to go down the ramp onto Wooster, completely prepared to enjoy the little odyssey he had planned. He took a moment to reflect on something he'd noticed before; north of the Holland Tunnel, West went only north while south of the Holland Tunnel, West went only south. Either way, you couldn't get to the Holland Tunnel driving on West Broadway, you would always be going away.

It was something to remember and Packy always remembered it anytime his driving would take him through the area where it was possible to get confused between Broadway, northbound West Broadway, and southbound West Broadway. Come to think of it, Broadway itself was one way south in the same area, another thing to remember. As always, Packy made a mental note of that, too.

In the passenger compartment behind him, Larry spoke to Davey. "What you said -- does it matter?"

"Huh?" said Davey, distracted. He' d just realized that the cabinet between the jump seats facing the rear bench held not only a widescreen television but also a wet bar, complete with miniature refrigerator and postage stamp sink, and a safe with a big combination lock. Who put a safe inside a limousine? Where did the sink drain? he wondered. He'd forgotten completely what he'd told Larry only a moment before. Feeling insecure, he wrapped his arms around his backpack. "I don't know," he said.

Larry put a hand over Davey's hand. "What you said," he repeated. "I don't think it matters."

* * *

Izaak Cohen looked up when Frank La Nez came into his shop. He'd known Frankie for more than forty years, they'd both been born within a mile of the corner of Lafayette and Canal back in the post-WWII era. About the same time as the Diamond District had completed its move from the Lower West Side near the Bowery thirty blocks up to Midtown. Izaak's grandfather's shop had been a satellite of the great concentration of Jewish, Dutch and English jewelry merchants in Lower Manhattan since the 1920s; Izaak's own Pop-pop had been born in the back of the old jewelry store near the Manhattan end of the Holland Tunnel.

"Frankie," said Izaak. He couldn't keep some of the old grade school antagonism out of his voice. He'd been an undersized, studious Jew growing up in Little Italy in the fifties and Frankie the Beak had been one of his tormentors. But he grinned. They were almost relatives these last thirty-five years. Izaak's wife, Helen, was Frankie's dead wife's cousin, their grandparents from the same village on the rocky coast of Sicily.

Besides, in high school, Frank and Izaak had become friends. Not close friends but they had taken business classes and shop together. And Izaak had finally put on some height and mass, enough to be a darn good running back, following Frankie the guard through the opposing line more times than he could remember.

"Izaak," said Frankie. They shook hands across the glass-topped counter, two guys in their mid-fifties who had a New York history together.

"You know I'm not in the importing business anymore," said Izaak, remembering the last time he'd seen Frankie, nearly ten years before -- before nine-eleven, at any rate, before Pop-pop had started going blind and Izaak had taken over the jewelry business full-time. "Look at what's been going on lately. Those Arabs in Lebanon are crazy and my people aren't much better. Except, most of them got the hell out when they could, so I guess they're smarter." He smiled.

"I know," said Frankie. He'd gotten out of dealing in Lebanese products himself about the same time. "I ain't here for the import business. You've got a green stone, set in a ring with diamonds around it. I need to buy it for a girl I just met."

"A girl at your age, Frankie?" Izaak grinned. Frankie had always had an eye for the ladies and he'd always been able to be kidded about it.

Frankie laughed. "At our age, you mean. How's Helen?"

"She's fine, the kids are fine, the grandkids are fine and Pop-pop is," he waggled his hand, "okay, down in the rest home in Florida. He says he has a new girl, too, so maybe it's okay if you have one, I guess."

They both laughed. They looked enough alike to be cousins themselves. Dark men with symmetrical if heavy features, wide mouths, deep-set brown eyes, large noses. Izaak's thinning hair was covered with a yarmulke while Frankie still had a full head of black curls shot with silver. Neither had stopped growing in high school and Izaak now topped Frankie by maybe half an inch, a leaner man with a hint of middle-aged paunch compared with Frankie's square shoulders and flat stomach.

Izaak didn't ask about Frankie's family. Sylvia La Nez and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Cicely, had been killed by a wrong way driver in Boston fifteen years before while scouting out colleges for the girl. Frankie had never remarried.

Izaak pulled his glasses off his forehead and settled them in front of his eyes. "Where's this ring you're talking about, when did you see it? When the heck did you come in here last?" asked Izaak looking through his cases twinkling with showy merchandise. "Some time when I wasn't here?"

Frankie didn't look. "It's not here, it's in the back."

Izaak's eyes widened. "You don't mean the Donna Cahill piece I just bought at the estate sale, do you?"

Frankie shrugged. "An emerald set in a lady's gold ring with maybe a dozen smaller diamonds around it," he said. "That it?"

"It's not an emerald," said Izaak automatically. "A green beryl but not an emerald, the green is different. But it's a nice stone." Personally, Izaak considered a beryl every bit as good a gemstone as true emerald. He understood the chemical difference, green beryls had iron impurities while emeralds had chromium or vanadium depending on if they came from Africa or South America. Some green beryls had a brownish tint or were so dark as to be almost black, or so light as to look like a peridot. Not this particular green beryl which had a deep clear green with a golden tint. Izaak waggled his hand in a very New York gesture. "Same-same, but not the same," he said.

Disappointment flashed on Frankie's face but he said, "Let me see it. Maybe it's not the one."

"You heard about it?" asked Izaak turning to go in back. "Big Broadway star and all, Miss Cahill had a lot of nice pieces. A ruby pendant as big as your thumb. Diamond choker. Pearls. The ring is nice but it's ...." He didn't finish, looking in back behind the curtain for the case in which he'd put the newly bought jewelry.

Frankie glanced around. If this Cahill piece wasn't the ring, Izaak would have one or know of one like the ring Frankie saw in his mind. He wanted that particular ring for his girl.

"Ah ha!" said Izaak from behind the curtain. "She's a natural blonde, this girl?" he asked before reappearing.

"Yes," said Frankie, smiling. "Yes, she's a tall blonde with hazel green eyes."

Izaak smiled, holding out a small box. "Just like Miss Cahill, this is going to look great on her."

Frankie took the box and opened it to see the very ring he had come to Izaak's to find. "She's beautiful," he said. The diamonds caught fire and made the beryl glow as emeralds seldom do. A finer, purer stone than a true emerald the same size was ever likely to be, Miss Cahill's original jeweler had known just what he was doing when he set the big green beryl in gold surrounded with white fire.

"Beautiful," he repeated. "How much you want for it, you swindler?"

Izaak laughed. "I'll be honest with you, Frankie, I don't even know yet. I bought the whole lot for a package price and I haven't broken it down to set prices for the pieces, yet. You trust me, you wopster?" An old bit of private slang from grade school long ago, Italian gangster, wopster; Izaak had gotten in trouble for his mouth more than once back then.

"I trust you about as far as I could throw the Staten Island Ferry, you Jewish prick," said Frankie. "'Course I trust you. How much you think it's gonna be?"

Izaak made the wobbly hand gesture again. "Low end, fifteen, twenty. High end, a hundred grand." Izzak pushed his glasses up on his forehead again and his deepset eyes twinkled.

Frankie swore without heat in Sicilian. "Testa di minchia, uccione me."

Izaak hadn't grown up in Little Italy wearing earplugs. "Che cozzo, vaffunculo," he replied. He made the gesture, too.

They grinned at each other. Frankie closed the little case on the ring and put it in his pocket. "So bill me, momzer," he said, turning to leave.

"With pleasure, and mazel tov to you, too, meshuggener," said Izaak. His people were Sephardic Jews but living in New York, he'd learned a few Yiddish expressions, too, everybody does. "What's her name?"

Frankie almost paused but pushed his way out the door instead, not wanting to admit that he didn't know her name. Yet.

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