Wednesday, January 9, 2013


            Raymond Delgado looked at Albert Gibbs, and vice versa. Actually, they looked at each other above the red leather boxing gloves they each wore. “Pug Hall #86” was the gym’s name, set in the East Harlem section of Manhattan, and the two men were of the gym’s seven, blue carpeted rings. All were 20-foot-by-20-foot, elevated over a smooth, concrete floor with orange and yellow stripes. Raymond and Albert moved, avoided and threw punches at each other, their bodies curved through it all.
            Like a rifle, Raymond shot his right fist, direct and fast. It met Albert’s linked gloves; they protected his face. Albert replied with a left uppercut. It didn’t get Raymond, one of the gym’s trainers, who got paid $250 per sparring session. He backed away and held up his hands. Both men breathed heavily and hugged each other. Albert took off his face guard and shook his head, discouraged.
            Raymond smiled, “If you’re gonna make mistakes, make them with balls.”
            Albert nodded, “Thanks, Mr. Del. . .Ray,”
            “See you tomorrow.”
            “Yeah,” Albert crossed between the ring’s ropes behind him and left, leaving Raymond, who bent over and exhaled. He loved to box, not for sport, but for discipline and redemption.  Standing up straight, Raymond looked around. Leather slapped against leather. Human sweat flowed. His fellow trainers were coaching the usual clients. Police officers. Lawyers. Army vets. Hedge fund managers. There were some second-class models too. The usual, and Raymond found it an oasis. He eased his body against the ropes behind him, closed his eyes.
            “Yo, Ray!”
            The trainer opened his eyes, and Ray looked right and down. Marvin Cheswick was quite a character. Old, lean and stiff, Marvin was an amateur pug. He won some Golden Gloves awards and other small, local prizes in his heyday. Marvin could have been in the big leagues, if he didn’t lose his right eye during a bout. The eye patch was awkward at first; some of his friends gave him shit, telling him he was a reject from the Pequod, but Marvin still knew how to fight. He ran with a half-friendly, half-bulldog nature.   
            “What’s up, Marv?” Raymond rubbed his head.
            “Two bulls wanna gab. Locker room,” Marvin went away as Raymond sighed.

            “Guys,” Raymond faked a smile as he came in. NYPD detectives, second class and working vice, Gregory McKenna and Spencer Avary were a sour, “Odd Couple” pair. McKenna was a dapper, GQ type, looking like more like a lawyer while Avary was a squash with unkempt hair and a two o’clock shadow.
            “Keeping clean, Delgado?” he asked with spite in his tone.
            “Should I be otherwise so you two won’t be so bored?” Raymond folded his arms.
            “Funny. Real funny.”
            “I try. What’s the occasion?”
            “What’s the rush?”
            “I have another sparring session in an hour, and I need to shower.”
            “Hope you have a play--”
            “Shut the fuck up, Spence,” McKenna faced Raymond, “Eighteen kilos of heroin was stolen from one of our safe houses in Westchester. Three cops who were guarding it got popped.”
            “Read it in the News, except for the heroin,” Raymond said. 
            “So you’re smart enough to keep your mouth shut,” Avary said.
            “Not like you when you gulp and blow on a dog’s dick, sir.”
            “Real funny, convict.”
            “Ex-convict, and the shitheads who tried to fuck me are still picking metal out of their assholes.”
            Avary moved closer to Raymond, “Is that a threat, Delgado? Because if that’s what you’re saying--”
            McKenna got between the two, “Stand down, Spence. Now.”
            Avary, despite giving Raymond a dirty look, walked away and left the room.
            “Just find out what you know, Raymond. Okay? We don’t want to make things difficult for you.”
            Raymond unfolded his arms, “Deal.”
            “After seven days, you give us the info.”
            “You don’t have to be kind, Greg.”
            “You should be glad I am. How’s Vincent, by the way? Heard he’s the valedictorian of his graduating class.”
            “He’s all right.”
            McKenna nods, “Good for him. And Frank?”
            Raymond scoffed, “I’ll find out.”
            McKenna patted Raymond’s right shoulder and left the locker room.

            Drab, dying gray was the color on the walls. Some “No Smoking” signs decorated them. The smell of pine cleaner liquid barely and pathetically hid the reeks of shit and piss and blood. Raymond hated it here, the visiting room of Ryker’s Island Correction Facility.
            Sitting alone at a table, Raymond looked at his wristwatch on his left arm. 11: 25 p.m., the watch told him. He then looked at the other visitors who were conversing with the inmates they were visiting. Some corrections were watching over them. Pain and happiness were mixed here, and Raymond hated it.
            A loud buzz cut the air, and a door opened from nearby. Two more c.o.’s came into the room, flanking a tough, but graying, paunchy and balding man, who probably was handsome when he was young, but was now aging badly. Handcuffed and dressed a mandatory, bright orange jumpsuit, the prisoner looked like a basset hound, with a “fuck you and everything and everyone else” demeanor.
            The c.o. sat the inmate in the chair across from Raymond, “Twenty minutes,” one of them said, before the two went to a wall and watched Raymond and the inmate, who were silent for a minute.
            The inmate broke the silence, “You look good, Ray.”
            “You’re being nice for once,” Raymond said.
            “Give me more than that. I’m trying to be a good man, hijo.”
            “Don’t call me that, Frank.”
            “It’s the truth.”
            “Yeah. And I fucking hate it. I fucking hate it more than piss and shit. And I really hate--”
            “Same old shit. What do you want me to do? Drop fucking dead? Even if I did, it changes nada. It’s always there, and I don’t give a shit if you fucking hate me.”
            “I’m. . .I’m not surprised. You never gave a shit about me or Vincent.”
            “Bullshit. I gave--”
            “You were a fucking drug dealer, and I was your fucking errand boy.”
            “My mistake.”
            “Right.  Damn right. Yours. And I lost five years of my life. Five fucking years.”
“You should have had more.”
“And you should be lucky you’re still in prison, asshole.”
Silence and stares of hatred were exchanged between the two. Frank broke the moment, “You want something from me or what? This must be some fucking trouble for you.”
Raymond sighed, “You know about the three dead cops in Westchester? They were in a house. It had heroin. Eighteen kilos.”
Frank smirked, “Someone has balls. Reminds me of my glory days.”
“Don’t start. Just ask around and call me in seven days.”
“Why?  The bulls are on your ass?”
Raymond said nothing, but looked anxious to leave.
“Okay. I know where you stand. . . but I need something from you.”
“Tell. . .” Frank got sad all of a sudden, “Tell Vinnie I love him.”
“Excuse me?”
“You heard me. Just tell him, comprendes?”
“If you really ‘loved’ him, you--”
“Tell him. Or you’ll get nothing. Nada. Promise me, Raymond. I don’t know how much I have.”
Raymond scowled. He then saw the c.o.s approach the table, “Fine.”
“Thank you,” Frank stood up, and he and the c.o.s left the table and Raymond.

“Nervous, hermanito?” Raymond asked as he drove SUV on the Manhattan Bridge, Brooklyn-bound.
“A little,” Vincent was seventeen but still baby-faced. Sitting in the back seat of the vehicle, he was clothed in a blue graduation gown and cap. Vincent twiddled his thumbs.
“You should be damn proud, nino,” Xavier Ramos was a salt-and pepper haired man, gruff but good-hearted like a teddy bear. He sat in the passenger seat, next to Raymond. A retired mailman, Ramos was born a happy man. If he wasn’t, he would look for happiness. Taking care of his grandsons, the sons of his daughter, Nicolette, who died of leukemia, was a bittersweet moment, and Xavier looked at the sweetness.
However, Frankie Delgado came along, and Xavier saw him lower than shit. Both brothers were minors at the time, and Frank took custody, but he had Raymond peddle drugs. Xavier tried to get the boys, but Frank had money and lawyers. He almost had Vincent as a drug courier, if Raymond didn’t get caught and spill the beans to the cops. Xavier and his now-late wife, Annabella, did a great job raising Vincent, who became quite the bookworm. Neighborhood knuckleheads gave him trouble, but Raymond, after spending a nickel in the joint (could have been more, if he didn’t testify against Frank), taught him how to fight, and all those knuckleheads went running.
“Abuelito’s right, Vin,” Raymond agreed, “You’re gettin’ your diploma. Top honors. A scholarship. Goin’ to NYU to be a professor.”
Maybe a professor, Ray,” Vincent corrected.
“Okay. Maybe, but I’m jealous of you, man. You’re my hermanito, the first one of our family to go to college, and I’m jealous of you, man. You’re tough.”
“Are you trying to make me cry, Ray?”
“Is it working?”
Xavier’s eyes watered up. The brothers noticed and chuckled.
“Shut the hell up! I’m…I’m just happy!”
The brothers still chuckled.

“The wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the thirty-second president of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt said that the future belongs to those who believe in their dreams,” Vincent said as he stood in front of a dais on a stage in the auditorium of Brooklyn Technical High School. The audience was made up of his fellow graduates, their relatives, Xavier and Raymond.
“When I was younger, I dreamed, read and wrote. I look to the sky and floated on a cloud, despite where I live. Not of people understood me, but the ones who did-the ones who still do-they’re the ones I love and respect because they kept me on the road that leads here.”
As Vincent went on, Raymond pondered over what to do. He pondered more when Vincent finished his speech, the audience applauded and the moment of camaraderie among graduates who exchanged autographs and happy but somber and tearful farewells. This was his brother’s moment; neither Raymond nor Frank had any right to ruin it.

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