by Andrew Cotto
Tiffany Pak Valenzuela killed her third martini, secured her shoplifted Burberry sunglasses and sauntered into the spangled sunlight on her way to a local A.A. meeting. Her cheetah-patterned ankle-boots clacked a south Brooklyn Avenue, a thin overcoat swishing at her sturdy hips, clinging to her narrow torso, the Verrazzano Bridge in the smoky distance behind, and the Statue of Liberty clear as day down each cross street. She pivoted up a low-slung block on a steep slope.
In an idling Range Rover aside a corner apartment building, adjacent to a lofted and august cemetery, Jesse Green accepted an envelope of $100 bills from his older brother.
“Why does your wife insist on paying me to go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings when I’m not an alcoholic?”
“She thinks you are.”
“Look, Ted,” Jesse said with a coy smile. “I’m sorry about Thanksgiving. I truly am.”
“It’s getting old, brother. And I can’t keep covering for you.”
“Covering for me? You’re the one invited me up to New York. Offered me the garden apartment of your brownstone house. Said I could come and go as I please.”
Ted turned his head and looked out the window as a stunning woman of color in oversized sunglasses and cheetah-patterned ankle boots eased up the block and entered the building where the A.A. meeting was being held.
“Get a load of her,” he said to himself and clucked his tongue.
“Ted!” Jesse called to get his brother’s attention. “I’m a musician. Right? And a bartender. I play music and I hang out in bars. That’s what I do.”
“Doesn’t mean you have to get drunk every damn night.”
“So fucking what if I do? Jesus Christ. When did you become such a puritan?”
Ted nodded, looking at his baby brother in torn jeans and duck-taped boots, his shoulder length hair and angular face that conjured so much mercy from women, starting with their mother.
“Marcie believes that you drink in order to cope with your insecurities.”
“And what insecurities are those?”
“The fact that you grew up poor, in the American south, no less. That you can’t make a living as a musician…”
“No one can make a living as a musician!”
“I know that, little brother, but Marcie doesn’t understand, and she’s trying to inspire you to get your shit together.”
“You know a better motivation than money?”
Jesse huffed and shook his head in disbelief. “She might be on to something.”
“Worked for me,” Ted said and rubbed the walnut console of his luxury SUV.
Jesse smacked the envelope and tucked it inside the lapel of his worn leather jacket. “Thanks, brother,” he said and shook Ted’s hand.
“See you next week,” Ted called before the door closed.
Jesse bound up the stairs and entered the vestibule heavy with cigarette smoke. The last door down the dark hall was open, leaking light and voices. Jesse sat in the back, in a metal folding chair, next to a stylish, young woman with almond eyes, tawny skin and crow black hair pulled into a pony tail. They looked at each other but didn’t speak until Jesse lowered his eyes and leaned askance in Tiffany’s direction.
“I got a thousand dollars in my pocket,” he whispered. “Wanna spend it with me?”
Tiffany put on her sunglasses, took Jesse by the hand and walked him out the door.
After two days of combustible sex in Tiffany’s apartment, Jesse went for provisions. When he returned with a case of booze, two packs of cigarettes, and a bag of food, Tiffany was in the kitchen in a silk, unfastened black robe, standing over a stocky, black man face down on the linoleum. A sap hung from her right hand.
“He’s not dead, is he?” Jesse asked.
“Who is he?”
“Emenike. He’s Nigerian.”
“OK,” Jesse said, thinking how much he loved New York City. He put the provisions on the small counter and came closer.
“He’s my parole officer,” Tiffany said, leaning down to strip Emenike’s pockets.
“Better than your boyfriend,” Jessie said with a shrug. “I guess.”
“Well,” she said. “He was, at one point.”
Jesse took a step back.
Tiffany stood up with the fallen man’s wallet and fob.
“You know how to drive?” she asked him.
She threw him the fob and went into the bedroom to pack.
“Anyplace in particular you’d like to go?” Jesse called.
“I hear New Orleans is nice.”
“That it is,” Jesse said. “That it is.”