God's Pocket - Pete Dexter

BOOK: God's Pocket - Pete Dexter
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God's Pocket

Pete Dexter
1983

For T C Tollefson
(1917-1978

Now there was a teacher. . .

1
Common
Labor

Leon Hubbard died ten minutes into lunch break on the
first Monday in May, on the construction site of the new one-story
trauma wing at Holy Redeemer Hospital in South Philadelphia. One way
or the other, he was going to lose the job.

The foreman was a 270-pound ex-Georgia Baptist named
Coleman Peets, who'd had to fight men twelve or fourteen times in
twenty years of bossing crews, who'd had to kill a man once on a
shopping-center job in Florida, but had never actually had to fire
anybody before. Before, they'd always known when to leave. Peets had
a policy about bossing, and that was you never gave anything away
that they could use against you.

The best man he had was an old shine who talked to
himself named Lucien Edwards, Jr. Everybody called him Old Lucy, and
as a rule he didn't answer. He had the same work policy as Coleman
Peets, and after eleven years together, on and off, either one of
them would have been surprised to find out the other one was married.
And that suited them both.

Old Lucy came to work on time. He shaved every day of
his life and carried the same lunch box he'd had the first day Peets
saw him. You could leave him alone a week, he'd do a week's work. And
now Peets had to watch this $17.40-an-hour brick-layer they'd sent
over from the union office, who couldn't lay a straight line of piss,
going after Old Lucy too.

Leon Hubbard had worried most everybody on the crew
at one time or another, he'd even touched something in Peets. It
wasn't the razor—Peets had taken razors away from people, that was
as simple as understanding you were going to get cut—it was
something in the kid you didn't want to listen to. The truth was, he
didn't believe the kid's stepfather was connected. That was more
bullshit, the same way the razor was. He kept it in his back pocket
and brought it out twenty, thirty times a day. He used it to cut
lunch meat and tell stories and shape his fingernails. There was a
neatness connected to it. Once they'd found a bat inside a cinder
block and he'd used the razor to Cut its head off. Then he'd wrung
everything out of the body and said, "I seen that happen to a
nun once."

There was another boy Leon's age on the crew. Gary
Sample. Leon's age or he could of been a couple years younger. He'd
said, "I got a nun I'd like to do like that. Sister Mary Theresa
at St. Anthony's." Only he'd said it slower than that, because
he stuttered. "P . . . p . . . p . . . pull-ed my ears e . . . e
. . . ev-ry day."

And that did not sit well with Coleman Peets. The
others smiled, and they were worried.

The next time Leon Hubbard pulled his razor out Peets
had said, "Boy, you 'bout to figure out a way to wipe your ass
with that thing, ain't you?" And they'd smiled at that too, and
then Leon Hubbard had stepped in front of him, holding the razor
behind his leg, and they'd looked at each other until Peets had given
way.

He couldn't of weighed 130 pounds, and he took the
afternoon off to polish the blade.

Peets never told his wife about that, he never told
her the kid was supposed to be connected either. "You ever
climbed out on a roof," he asked her that morning, "and
looked down, and for just a breath somethin' inside you said,
'Jump'?"

She was in the bathroom, brushing her teeth for work.
She opened the door to look at him, the toothbrush was still in her
mouth. He said, “Leon Hubbard is what the voice looks like."
She turned back to the sink and rinsed out her mouth. "You're
scared to fire him, Peets," she said.

He said, "I do wisht he'd leave.” He looked at
himself in the bedroom mirror, muscle and belly and scars—there
were places he'd of forgot he'd been except for the scars—and
wondered how much he'd have to say to get rid of him.

His wife came back out of the bathroom and he watched
her dress in the mirror.

"Old Lucy, he won't talk to the boy," he
said. "Got half the damn crew standin' around now, watchin' him,
looks like we work for the fuckin' city, and then he gets a bug up
his ass for Old Lucy, 'cause he's the only one wants to do his work."

She said, "He got a bug up his ass for you
too'?" Peets shrugged. She stood next to him and pulled her
white panty hose up, bunching the uniform around her waist. She was
thirty-seven years old, supervising nurse in the emergency room at
Hahnemann Hospital, where Saturday nights they brought in bodies like
the moving company. "Where do you want this?"—and as far
as Peets knew, the idea that he could be hurt too had never occurred
to her. He thought she loved him for that, so he never messed with
it.

"It's simple," she said. "You go up to
him and stand there pissed off, pretend you found me asleep on your
side of the bed, and pretty soon he'll move.”

Peets said, "Leon's immune. The more you don't
like him, the more he likes bein' around. I never run into a case
like it."

She said, "I've seen potatoes move because you
thought they were on the wrong side of the plate, Peets." She
pulled her skirt down, smoothed it in front and back. Watching her
dress always worked on him the way watching her undress was supposed
to. He reached out and helped smooth her behind, and they looked at
each other in the mirror. She pushed back into his hand, just a
shade.

"I used to believe you didn't know what you was
up to," he said.

She ignored that and sat down on the bed to tie her
shoes.

"If standing there looking doesn't do it,"
she said, "then talk to him. Tell him, 'You're fired, and I'm
not going to pay you anymore.' " Peets made a face. "It'll
work," she said. "It's a whole new generation out there
that won't come to work if you don't pay them. It must of been the
rock-'n'-roll." Peets had been brought up strict. He'd gotten
over being a Baptist—he had to, to end up with Sarah—but the idea
you had to work went deeper. Firing somebody was more of a judgment
than he felt comfortable to make on a human being.

"If he'd just leave the rest of them alone, I
wouldn't care," he said. "But I see him over there jackin'
up Old Lucy, and it ain't going to end. I know that much, it ain't
going to end by itself."

His wife put on a raincoat and bent over to kiss him
goodbye. She stuck her tongue square in his mouth, so it was showing
how worried he was. "It'll work itself out," she said. "It
always does."

He watched her from the
window until she got to the car, then sat back down on the bed to
think. He couldn't do that with her in the house. Five minutes later
he stood up and went into the bathroom to shave, and he knew what it
was bothering him. He and the old shine had an understanding. And it
tortured Peets to think of Old Lucy having to ask him for help.

* * *

"Oh, Mickey," she said, "your balls,
your cock, oh, Mickey . . ."

Mickey was her husband, and he liked her to name the
parts of his body while they made love. She didn't mind. Jeanie
Hubbard Scarpato was Leon Hubbard's mother, and her life had more
sorry chapters than the Old Testament. She had buried one husband in
the ground, a couple of possible replacements had gotten lost in her
reflections of that event. Neither of her sisters had lost a husband,
so they cou1dn't understand. She was in the habit of reminding them
of that. They would say thank God for her police widow's benefits,
which had kept her more comfortable than some people they could think
of.

Jeanie had been born prettier and more talented than
either of her sisters. When she was young, she had gone to dance
school in New York and been badly treated there by a man the same age
as her father. He was a patron of the arts, but he made her promises
he never intended to keep, and in the end he had punched her in the
eye in the gentlemen's room on the balcony level of the Lunt—Fontanne
Theatre. His name was Rex.

She could still get moody over that night. He was her
first real happiness, her first real tragedy. It was a long time
since those were separate things. Rex had manners, especially when he
wasn't drinking, and he understood the arts. He had taken her to the
Met, to restaurants other people couldn't get into and, of course, to
the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. He respected her and asked her opinions.
"What do you think of that wonderful contralto?" He had
opened the gentlemen's room door for her that evening. "I don't
go down on anybody," she had said. He hadn't respected her for
that as much as she'd thought he
would.

Mickey was getting close. In a minute he would grab
her neck in his mouth and breathe hard through his nose, close up to
her ear, where she could hear every little thing in there that didn't
belong. She settled her chin against her shoulder to wait it out.

There was a hedge of black hair on his shoulders. It
grew from there down his back in two wide stripes. On his back, at
least, it all grew in the same direction. It looked combed.

It was funny. In the beginning, she'd thought he was
an animal. He'd sat in the corner at a party, not talking to anybody.
On the street they said he was a man who had made his bones, and when
she found him staring at her later, she saw he probably was. He had
eyes like he was, anyway. Little ones. And he was the best friend of
Arthur "Bird" Capezio, who had the hot meat business for
all of South Philadelphia, right out of his warehouse in God's
Pocket. Arthur worked for Vinnie the Italian, who had Angelo Bruno's
ear. This was before somebody put a shotgun in his ear one night, of
course, and changed the way things worked.

She'd sat next to him in the corner. The house
belonged to a traffic court judge, on the way to Holmesburg Prison to
do one-to-three for bribery, theft, embezzlement. It was sort of a
going-away party, and everybody was happy. The rumor was that even if
he did ten months, it still came to $10,000 a week. There wasn't a
kid over five years old in God's Pocket who didn't know he'd beat the
city for $400,000.

Mickey said, "You married?"

"Widowed," she said, and waited. Nothing.
"How about you?" He shook his head, and didn't say anything
else until Jeanie asked him what he did for a living.

"The meat business," he said. The way he
said that ran a chill straight through to her ass. "I work for
Bird.” She'd noticed his hands then. They were thick hands, hair
clear down into the knuckles. She pictured them gripping herself and
other victims. When she'd looked up he was smiling at her. She took
him home, got him a Schmidt's, and sat next to him on the couch. This
is good beer," he said.

An hour later she gave up hope of being abused and
led him by the hand up the stairs to her bedroom. He wasn't quite
rough and he wasn't quite tender, and then in the end he took her
neck in his mouth and breathed hard through his nose until he'd
finished.

Jeanie liked the way the neighborhood women looked at
her in the morning, though. She was not the kind to feed gossip, but
this much did slip out once or twice during the day: "A
jackhammer," she'd said.

He put his mouth on her neck now and came at her
faster. It wasn't a jackhammer, it was more like, well, a dick.
Something real hungry with a little-bitty mouth. Like a guppy . . . "

And that is how she would
remember it. On the day her only child would die, Jeanie Scarpato
satisfied her husband at seven-fifteen in the morning, thinking of
tropical fish. It was the kind of life she had been given to lead.

* * *

Mickey Scarpato was forty-five years old and did not
understand women. It wasn't the way bartenders or comedians didn't
understand women, it was the way poor people didn't understand the
economy. You could stand outside the Girard Bank Building every day
of your life and never guess anything about what went on in there.
That's why, in their hearts, they'd always rather stick up a
7-Eleven.

And why Mickey, married three years, would still
rather be with Bird or McKenna than with Jeanie. It was the strain.
Being in the meat business, Mickey spent his share of time with
bartenders. The one who complained the most about women was probably
McKenna, at the Hollywood. He delivered there Mondays—it was right
across the street from his house—and once in a while if he finished
early and Leon wasn't sitting in there buying drinks and flashing his
bricklayer money, he'd stay for a couple of beers. Mickey didn't like
his stepson to buy him a beer.

McKenna always had a story about his old lady, and
when Mickey came in McKenna would bring him into it. Like, "Last
Saturday night, I was out all night fuckin' around, you know how you
do sometimes. Mickey'll understand this—see, I'm out till eight
o'clock in the morning, and when I come toolin' in, the old lady's
pissed six ways they ain't invented yet.

"So I know I got to make up a lie, and she knows
I got to make up a lie. I been doin' pretty good lately, so I come
into the bedroom and says, 'Hey, baby, I been in a game. I won five
bills.' I take all the money out of my pocket and show her. I says,
'Here is a couple hundret for you.' She puts her robe on and walks
past me into the bathroom. She says, 'I'm very happy for you?' Just
like that. Cold.

BOOK: God's Pocket - Pete Dexter
6.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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