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“Maybe you’ll get a replacement…” (1991)

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Please God, don’t hold a grudge…

Dimitri was making his One Phone Call. The dank cell walls authored their own miserable chill, even though it was August. When he’d been caught with one of Gianni’s girls in an epic scene “under the boardwalk,” there was a hurricane moving up the coast, but the warm breezes of the Atlantic City night had made the culmination of their romantic night out inevitable.  The “girl” was 24, same as Dimitri, with a naturally sexy body and lonely eyes. Maybe she wasn’t the best choice as a kept woman, working in a sinecure for one of Gianni’s businesses. Maybe it took the attention of Dimitri, a reasonably attractive, talented man with a cocky sense of humor and a talent for making you feel like you were the most important girl in the world, for her to figure it out. Or maybe she just wanted to steal a night of fantasy that she would remember into her dotage before returning to her comfortable position as one of “Gianni’s girls.” Their romance had been blissful. So blissful that both Dimitri and the girl neglected the cardinal rule of sex on the beach:
THOU SHALT NOT FALL ASLEEP.
The subtle changes in the ocean breeze when the sun began to rise should have alerted the lovers that they had overstayed their welcome. Instead, it was the unpleasant grasp of a police officer that did the job. It seems that the morality squad that started its shift on the beach at daybreak was equipped to gather photographic evidence. Who knows how much evidence was on that camera? And who knows in whose hands it would wind up? Dimitri’s mind jumped from the most pleasant somnolence to the shock of the policeman’s grip to the still-perfect connection between the flesh of his thigh and hers, to recognition that he was BUSTED, to his nakedness, to the camera, to Gianni’s trademark black suit with the oversized pinstripes. He had known that he was messing with a girl that sort of belonged to his patron at the casino lounge. But he was young, he was horny, she was the very breath of beauty, and he knew that she WANTED him. She waited until closing time, and practically dragged him out for a walk on the Boardwalk at 3am. Her tube top was really a floral scarf wrapped loosely around her breasts, her skirt was the same translucent filigree, and she was carrying her flip-flops. They talked about everything and nothing. He remembered something about some of Gianni’s other businesses, the fact the Gianni pays her way too much for her job so that he gets to keep a key to her apartment at the casino, how she has dreams, too, and then he remembers her scarf falling gently around his arms and her waist, and how her bare skin glistened in the light of a crescent moon. Now he was trying to grab for his tuxedo pants. The girl, untouched by the officer, woke up with a start, apprised the situation, and touched Dimitri on the soft hairs at the bottom of his stomach, that she had blown and stroked and kissed just a few hours earlier.
“Don’t say anything. I will try to get us out of this. You just show up to work tonight like nothing happened.”
The girl, left unhindered by the policewoman, groped for her peach bikini bottom and slid it on. She wrapped her skirt and tube scarf, and in thirty seconds, all that remained of the storybook encounter was the sand in her hair and on her skin. In the meantime, the policewoman had stood Dimitri up and handcuffed him, naked. She shot him an icy stare when he tried to pick up his tux pants, as if to shout, “EVIDENCE!” Even so, the girl dressed Dimitri the best she could, considering the handcuffs, and the cop didn’t interfere.
Dimitri’s brain turned into a tzimmes, a virtual stew of speculations, worry, reasons, and panic all at once. Somebody once gave him this line, maybe one of the internationals on the kibbutz:Man hat verschissen in deine Gehirn und hat vergessen umzuruhren,”  which roughly translates as, “Somebody used your brain as a toilet and forgot to flush.”  In the commode that sat between his ears, glowing red with embarrassment, anger, and fear, the following witch’s brew was boiling:
They really bust you for this? Haven’t they done it too?
Maybe not this cop. Jealous bitch. Maybe yes this cop. Mind your own business, pervert!
Shit. The woman knows Kelli somehow. She let her go like that? Damn, Kelli is every bit as beautiful as I thought. How can she put up with that fifty-five-year-old pig?
Can Kelli bail me out, and maybe we..
Shit! Gianni! He pays my salary, and he’s been my connection down here. She’ll never tell, but what about the cop?
Fuck! What about the police blotter?
Do I show up tonight, like nothing happened, just like Kelli says? If I don’t show up, it’ll look like I did something. If I do, maybe I just go back to work, save up, and maybe in a few months me and Kelli…  But she’d have no references, and if Gianni ever knew, where would she work? Maybe I could go back to Sam?
Konyechno, certainly, I just bailed out on her for a better offer. She can’t have wanted me like a boyfriend long-term, she’s almost thirty.
But if I went with Kelli on my arm…
Hell, no! Gianni will find out for sure that way. He recruited me there at a Second Tuesday.
What happens if I show up tonight and he knows? Does he care? If he does, will I just “disappear” like the crooked croupier did in July?
Fuck. I’m so alone.
It must have been a blink of an eye during which these thoughts swirled in Dimitri’s head. Kelli was still there, moving to kiss him once more, when…
            “Beat it! If you know what’s good for you,” snapped the lady cop.
Kelli stole a furtive glance in Dimitri’s eyes, turned, picked up her flip-flops, and ran away through the sand to the next stairway. The stairway was two hundred yards past the point at which Dimitri and she had dropped down from the boardwalk like lust-driven spiders.
“You’re under arrest for public lewdness. We’re taking you to the precinct.”
“Can I get my shoes on, please?”
“I’ll return them to you at booking. If she weren’t who she is, you’d be in the truck naked until you got to your holding cell.”
Dimitri wanted to probe. In fact, he believed that his continued existence on the planet depended on it. But he knew that the cop knew, and if he pissed her off even a little bit, Gianni would know. So he silently pushed off, barefoot and with his tux shirt and jacket draped over his shackled hands, in the direction of the officer’s Land Rover.
At booking, he was given the choice to provide local references. He twisted in his seat, his wrists chafing against the handcuffs. Again the cyclone started up in his brain. My employer is the casino, not Gianni, but everyone knows that they are one and the same. But I have to give them a place of employment, or they’ll add vagrancy to my charges and I’ll never get out in time for work tonight. But they want a personal reference. Do I give them Kelli? I sure as hell don’t give them Gianni, sovershenno nyet. Hell no. Do I give them my parents? Yes, that’s what I’ll do. No, what would I tell them when they get called to pick me up? I can feel Dad’s red-hot anger already. And his fists of a rabochii, a real proletarian. I don’t have the strength in my whole body that he has in one of those fists. Oh, shit, right, my sister and her husband. They don’t hate me, and they live in Voorhees.  Maybe they’d even take me in. That’d be awful. But it’s better than cement overshoes courtesy of Gianni’s boys.
Dimitri gave the sister and brother-in-law, and magically remembered their address on Lantern Drive. And the phone number. OK, I think I got it. (609) 442-XXXX.
“Due to the nature of your crime, and the fact that you have so few connections to the community,  I will have to ask the judge for ROR. In the meantime, we’ll call your contacts to ask them…
“Pardon me, what’s ROR?”
“Released on Own Recognizance. The judge might allow it, given the circumstances. Otherwise, we can ask your sister to post bail.”
Now Dimitri felt safe enough to probe just a little bit.
“The circumstances, ma’am?”
While the officer told Dimitri what he suspected already, he started speculating again. Why would the judge give me ROR? Does he want me as a source in building something against Gianni? I live in Gianni’s hotel. What the hell? I guess I could be a plant, but I see myself getting planted at the bottom of the harbor. Maybe he’s jealous for what I did and who I did it with (damn! why couldn’t I just grab Kelli and run against the wind until we find our own place outside Gianni’s shadow? Kak-tak?[roughly translated: WTF?] I barely MET this girl!) and he wants to let me go to get back at that pig? Him and Kelli? Gross. Uzhas – disaster. Poor girl. I wonder if she’s pregnant? Maybe the judge knows I’m toast, and wants me to get out of town while I still can! Maybe I could find my way up to New York and hook on with a bar or a casino up there. I can’t give references, but I can play anything from the last half-century, and back-up a band, to boot. Then I could come back on my court date, pay a fine, and…
Damn! What do I do about my stuff? It’s all up in the suite. If the cop knows, there’s a chance Gianni knows. Or do I play dumb, get ROR, go to work, and just act like nothing happened?
The police officer led Dimitri to the holding cell, unlocked the handcuffs, and returned his shoes, socks, and bowtie. “Get dressed, stud-boy.”
Time passed; God only knows how much. Dimitri tried lying down on the stainless steel bench.  Sleep? He hadn’t had any for more than a day, but fuggedaboudit, as they say in Jersey. The tzimmes started cooking again. How perfect that evening had been! How many men would give how much to have had that in their lives! How beautiful and how perfect was sex when you fall in and forget anything but HER! Was it that he, and she, could not bear to disturb the perfection that they fell asleep, embracing, naked as Adam and Eve under the stars with just enough moon to take their breath away? Or were they assholes? They had so much to lose, maybe everything! Certainly, they had to have the assignation, but by acting like Adam and Eve, they spat in the face of the reality that hulked over their barely shared lives. Kelli! Good Lord, what would have happened if Gianni popped into her room while they were making love? Is she alive? Is she safe? Does she have an alibi? Will someone cover for her? She had to be OK, right? She started it all. She was a vision of love in that translucent, floral two piece sari without a stitch or a button to resist the passion underneath! She had to have turned away a hundred guys who saw an angel in front of them. but she was determined to be HIS angel. Where was that gangster, anyway? Would he really hurt his business by doing away with his new star pianist?
Suddenly, Elton John’s voice flushed the commode.
Maybe you’ll get a replacement,
There’s many like me to be found,
Mongrels who ain’t got a penny,
Sniffin’ for tidbits like you…
In counterpoint, Sir Elton’s voice sang against itself:
So goodbye, Yellow Brick Road,
Where the dogs of society howl,
you can’t plant me in your penthouse…
I’ve finally decided my future lies
Beyond the Yellow Brick Road.
Just then, the prison guard clicked the keychain against Dimitri’s cage.
“Kats?”
“That’s me.”
“Who did you say your contact was?”
“My sister. Didn’t the judge release me?”
“Yeah, ROR, pending my resolving this little problem.”
“What problem?”
“That’s not your sister. Says her name is Samantha Frankel. She knows you, but she’s not your sister. You have one call today; if you want to get out of here, it’d better be to this Samantha Frankel.”
“OK.” The die is cast.
“Hello, Samantha speaking.”
“Sam? It’s Dimitri.”
“What did you do to yourself now, you knucklehead?”
“I love you too. Sam, how fast can you make A.C.?”
“In the Beamer, about 35 minutes, no cops. But considering where you’re at, I don’t think that’s
such a great idea.”
“Sam, I owe you. Big time.”
“Damn right, you little shit! You run off just as you get me falling in love with a kid and now
you call me back from jail?”
“If I didn’t know you like I do, I never would have thought to call you.” Sometimes even my
mistakes work out. I hope Kelli’s OK. Shit, I hope Sam’s OK. I had no idea I even mattered to
her. “Sam?”
“Dim?”
“Bring a suitcase. Empty.”
An hour later, Samantha picked up Dimitri’s key, wearing gloves. She packed up his stuff,  resisting the temptation to check for condoms, and took the suitcase out to the car. She returned, asked for Enrique, a clerk who Dimitri had gotten close to, and they carried Dimitri’s keyboard and sound system out the back door.
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About Ronald FIschman

I am a public school teacher who had a prior career as a cantor, opera singer, and composer. My greatest notoriety comes from my settings of Dylan Thomas's "Vision and Prayer" and Percy Byssshe Shelley's "Ozymandias" for singers and large instrumental ensemble. My first poetry collection, "Generations," honors the roles of son, husband, and father, and is available at Amazon.com.

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