Firework Season


A few days later, Tony B found out something that made him angry, like a bull with his butt caught in a barbed wire fence.
It seemed that some jerk who worked at Tony’s Drugstore on Mulberry and Canal, thought it was a funny thing to put pinholes in the store’s condoms that neighborhood people bought at the counter in the back.
So now Tony B knew exactly why Ann had gotten pregnant and why Tony B’s life would undergo a drastic change, for about the next fifty freaking years, if Tony B was lucky to live that long.
The jerk’s name was Lenny the Lunkhead. Lenny was so dumb, he never got past the 4th grade at PS 130, a school so low in academic standards, a rock could graduate on time, with honors.
Lenny the Lunkhead (nobody knew his last name and nobody cared), spent his wretched life in a series of one insignificant job after another. The Lunkhead made the bulk of his yearly cash in the two month period before the 4th of July, when the streets of the 6th ward, all the way to the Holland Tunnel on west Canal Street, were one gigantic firework sale.
People from all over the tristate area rushed into the 6th Ward to buy fireworks for their 4th of July celebrations. Every block in the 6th Ward was manned by at least one runner, ages 10 up to social security age and older. Their job was to holler loud to every passing car, “Fireworks! Fireworks! Get your fireworks here!”
When the runner found a willing customer, he told them to pull over and park by the nearest hydrant. He would take their order and also take their money in advance, to make sure they stuck around. Then the runner would dash to the nearest drop area, usually a cellar, or a first floor apartment, or maybe even the trunk of a parked car, and give the fireworks order to the block boss, the man actually responsible for divvying out the fireworks. The block boss would fill the order, by placing the fireworks in a large paper shopping bag, which he handed to the runner.
The runner would dash back to the customer’s parked car and hand them the bag with the fireworks saying, “Quick get out of here fast. There’s cops all over the place.” Which indeed they were.
The truth about the cops was that they could care less about who was selling what, as long as they got their weekly cut, which they always did.
Every once in a blue moon, the police brass from uptown would order a firework crackdown in the 6th Ward. When this happened, the local 5th Precinct cops would round up the designated pinchees and load them into a Paddy Wagon for transport to the city prison called the Tombs. Every year, the people who took the pinch, were well taken care of by their associates, so in some ways it was a good thing for them. They got to stay off the streets and out the scorching heat for a few days, get three squares a day on the arm and still get paid as if they were in the street running the works.
The lucky runners were selected by the mob in advance to take the pinch.
It went down like this. The cops would send word to the mob, “Tomorrow one pm, have the guys you want pinched standing in front of 96 Mulberry.” And like clockwork, the next day at one pm, half a dozen cops, in riot gear, would descend upon the building with drawn handguns, like they were after Public Enemy Number 1. They were followed by an empty Paddy Wagon, which would not be empty for long.
Hoods with long criminal records, like Charlie Chickens, Waldo the Walrus and Pigeonhead, would be at the appointed area, all spruced up and ready to go. They were like kids going on a vacation upstate with the Fresh Air Fund.
The cops would go through the public act of cuffing them, but as soon as they were in the Paddy Wagon, the cops would take off the cuffs and give them ham and cheese sandwiches to eat later, while they were being processed at the Tombs, which was conveniently located around the corner on Baxter Street, smack in the middle of the 6th Ward firework sales extravaganza.
The trust between the fireworks runners and the customers, who paid for their stash in advance, was indeed a sacred thing. The block boss made sure all his runners understood that shorting a customer was not a great idea, because it could be very bad for business. If the word got around customers were getting screwed, the firework businesses, and it was a very profitable business for the mob indeed, would be in danger of extinction. And if a runner was caught shorting his customer, the runner would be in danger of extinction too.
None of this made any impression on Lenny the Lunkhead. Whenever he felt the urge, which usually meant after he had a bad night at Yonkers Raceway, after receiving the fireworks from his street boss, the Lunkhead would go to his own hidden drop area, usually the first floor apartment he shared with his grandmother on Hester St. There the Lunkhead would remove half the fireworks, fill the bottom of the bag with crumpled newspaper, then throw the other half of the fireworks on top of the newspaper .
The Lunkhead would then run to the customer’s car, hand them the shopping bag and yell, “Put this on the floor in the back seat, then scram. Don’t stop until you get to where you’re going. The streets are flooded with cops.”
After he had accumulated enough stash to carry in two huge shopping bags, The Lunkhead would take the subway to South Brooklyn and drop off the works with a cousin, who would would then sell them on the street, splitting the profits with Lenny the Lunkhead.
This went on for a few fireworks seasons, until The Lunkhead’s scheme just went blotto. One of the customers who he had shorted, just happened to be the cousin of one of the 5th Precinct cops on the take. The customer reported the shortage to his cop cousin and soon the Lunkhead was out of a job and minus a few front teeth to boot.
With The Lunkhead’s academic limitations, and the fact he was banned from doing anything even remotely connected to the mob, the Lunkhead got a job at Tony’s Drugstore at the corner of Mulberry and Canal. It was a combination luncheonette, soda fountain, with a full drug store in the back.
Lunkhead’s job at Tony’s was refilling the shelves with whatever and making a few chocolate, or vanilla eggs creams at the soda fountain up front. But the Lunkhead was soon relieved of his fountain duties and with good reason.
One day, mob captain Boots Latoure sauntered into Tony’s Drug Store. His gumada, a bleach blond named Cuddles, sat in his Caddy Convertible double-parked outside, with the top down. The thing was, Boots didn’t like to use rubbers when he performed the horizontal mambo, so Cuddles told him there was a new foam spermicide contraceptive called Emco, that would kill the little buggers before they got a chance to do any damage.
Boots never heard of Emco and Cuddles was too embarrassed to go inside Tony’s Drug store to ask for anything that would indicate she was engaging in sexual relations with half the neighborhood, which she certainly was.
So Boots Latoure moseyed up to the soda fountain where Lenny the Lunkhead was ostensibly reading Sports Illustrated, except Playboy Magazine, stuffed in side the sports magazine, was really the object of his attention.
Boots didn’t want anyone to know why he was there and wasn’t sure the drugstore sold Emco anyway, so he motioned for the Lenny the Lunkhead to come over.
He whispered into the Lunkhead’s ear, “You got any Emco in the back?”
Now what Boots and any normal human being would expect, was for the Lunkhead to go quietly into the back drug store section and ask his boss about the Emco.
Instead, the Lunkhead cupped both hands to his mouth and yelled towards the back of the store, “HEY TONY, YOU GOT ANY EMCO?”
With the Lunkhead yelling so loud, Boots ears felt like they were bleeding, and the entire neighborhood, including Cuddles sitting in the Caddy outside, knew Boots and Cuddles were planning to do some sexual experimentation in the near, or even immediate future.
As Boots was strangling Lenny the Lunkhead, so bad the Lunkhead’s eyes were hyper-extending from his skull, Tony the Druggist ran from the back of the store and used every ounce of his strength to extricate the Lunkhead’s throat from Boots’ death grip.
From that day on, the Lunkhead was banned to the back of the store, to refill the shelves, wash, the floors, dust the cabinets and do anything that didn’t include him being anywhere near the soda fountain up front.
This Lunkhead did not like this too much and he was hell bent on revenge. Only at first, he did not know exactly how to extract that revenge.
Tony’s Drugstore also did a brisk neighborhood business in condoms, which were not on the shelves, but in the back, behind the drug counter, under the cash register.
If someone wanted a pack of condoms, they had to pass the soda fountain, go the the back of the store and ask Tony the Druggist, in a nice soft voice, to give them a pack of Trojans, ribbed, lubricated, or maybe just plain. Tony the Druggist was the model of discretion and no one, but the customer and Tony the Druggist ever knew about the rubber transaction.
After a few weeks of being banished to the back of Tony’s Drug Store, the Lunkhead, now angry at the entire world, but especially at the people of the 6th ward, decided to get even in his own evil way. The condoms not behind the drug counter were kept in the secluded stock room in the back of the store. During breaks Larry would got back there, usually with a screw book of some sort, and play choke the chicken, with a lubricated rubber on his member, which made the task all the more pleasurable.
One day, the Lunkhead thought it would be a great idea, to remove the condoms from the boxes and put pin holes in them, with a safely pin he had secreted in his pocket. He did not stab every condom, but maybe one of every three boxes stacked on the shelf. Lunkhead was a gambler at heart and he wanted to give everyone at least a sporting chance.
The Lunkhead pin-holed the condoms for a few months, waiting patiently to hear the news about any surprise pregnancies in the neighborhood. Sure enough, the word began circulating that a few girls did get pregnant. Some were married. Some were not. But one thing for sure, in Little Italy no unmarried girl could ever be seen walking the streets with a belly as big as a balloon. Marriages were hastily planned and carried out, at Most Precious Blood Church on Baxter, at Transfiguration Church on Mott and as far north as old St. Patricks on Mulberry, near Houston.
The Lunkhead was also pleased to hear that the epidemic had spread into the 4th Ward, as St. Joseph’s and St James Churches also had a deluge of hastily arranged weddings. And not to be outdone by the Catholics, Protestant Mariners Temple on Oliver Street also did a brisk wedding business. And the Lunkhead was pleasantly surprised when he heard they were a spate of Jewish weddings at the old Chasam Sopher Synagogue down on Clinton Street.
The only thing that pissed off the Lunkhead a little, was that because of Lunkhead’s deeds, all these houses of worship were making a mint off the weddings and he could not avail himself of even a little taste of the cash.
Nobody was the wiser about Lunkhead’s shenanigans, until another co-worker at Tony’s Drugstore, Sammy Splash, caught the Lunkhead doing the dirty deed with his nasty old safety pin.
Sammy Splash was not rat, but he instantly recognized the ramifications of what Larry the Lunkhead was doing. Neighborhood girls were getting pregnant and even girls outside the neighborhood might get pot bellies too, if they were screwed by the Beau Brummells who had purchased their rubbers at Tony’s Drug Store.
So Sammy Splash did the right thing and reported Lunkhead’s heinous crime to the proper authorities, meaning the mob guys in the neighborhood, once of whom was Tony B.
When Tony B found out about Lunkhead and the safely pin, he put two and two together and came up with Ann O’Reilly’s pregnancy. This did not please Tony B not one bit.
One evening near dark, and in the pouring rain, Tony B and Skinny Benny waited in a stolen Buick outside Tony’s Drugstore near closing time. Finally the Lunkhead departed and he was apprehended by the two, then thrown in the back seat of the Buick. Tony B sat beside the Lunkhead in the back seat, a Colt 38 with a silencer in place, snuggly pressed against the Lunkhead’s ribs.
Skinny Benny did the driving and before long, they were on South Street, under the FDR Drive, near Market Slip. Skinny Benny parked the Buick with the engine running, sideways, up against the curb of the East River, which was flowing rapidly ten feet below street level.
Without saying a word, Tony B shot the Lunkhead in the side, but before he could put one in the Lunkhead’s half-a-brain, the Lunkhead flung open the back door and jumped into the East River.
Tony B and Skinny Benny sped out of the car and looked down into the dark waters below. All the could see was blood and bubbles, but no Lenny the Lunkhead. Thinking the drink had swallowed up the Lunkhead, Tony B and Skinny Benny absconded to Moochies Bar, on the corner of South and Market Slip, to celebrate their accomplishment.
To their surprise, about an hour later, as Tony B and Skinny Benny were about half sloshed themselves, Lenny the Lunkhead staggered through the front door of Moochies, soaking wet and holding his bloody side with both hands.
The Lunkhead screamed at the owner Moochie, who was tending bar. “Quick, call an ambulance. I’ve been shot.”
Moochie, a dour man, did not suffer fools too well. He looked up at Lunkhead and said, “There’s a pay phone in the back. Call them yourself.”
“I’m busted. Can I borrow a dime?” the Lunkhead said.
Just as Moochie was reaching into the register to get a dime, the Lunkhead spotted Tony B and Skinny Benny seated at the far end of the bar. Moochie turned around with the dime extended, but by then Lunkhead had already dashed from the bar, never to be seen again in the lower east side of Manhattan.

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