He’s running up the fare on a priest, De la Rosa told himself. He lowered his head to release a whisper of a laugh. Everyone man must make his living, he mused silently. Sometimes what’s right in the eyes of God isn’t convenient in the face of those with little faith.
Though he could have taken The Bronx River Parkway, the driver chose the White Plains exit from the Cross-Bronx, over which the rusty pillars, which held up the No. 6 train as it rumbled past, stood as an eye sore in light of the summer sunset.
After several lights and stops under the elevated platform for the two and five trains - a dilapidated iron bridge of sorts that that seemed to stretch for years – they arrived at a townhouse with a two-car port on 222nd street four blocks east of White Plains Road.
“That’ll be fifty bucks.”
A normal trip is less than thirty, the quiet contemplations of De la Rosa surmised.
“Here is one hundred,” De la Rosa said with a crooked smile.
The cab driver looked at him suspiciously and smiled, sympathetically shaking his head.
“Aww uh father, I can’t take your mo–”
“No, it’s your tip. Do you have a family.”
“Well, yeah, but…”
“Buy something, anything for their benefit and God and I will be satisfied and you, vindicated.”
“Yeah, uh sure, sure, vindeefication and that sort of stuff yeah, cool. Uh thanks God Ble..do you need some help with those.”
“I’ll be fine if you set them on the curb for me son.”
A small yellow light illuminated the interior of the two-story row house whose doors and windows were behind iron bars that existed to curb intrusion. The brick that comprised the structure was a sable burgundy.
The priest dragged his bags to the front of the door, looked both ways as if crossing the street and rang the doorbell next to the outer door whose bars were designed as black metallic vines.
“Who is it?” a feminine voice queried.
The priest cleared his throat.
“Please tell my host, dear, that Father Tony calls at his request, uh Father Tony is here, I mean.”
“Ok, Reeky!? Mira’ Reeky Padre Tony esta aqui’ Reek, he’s here! Reek, ay nin’come get the fu…I mean, sorry father, come get the friggin door, he’s got mad bags and everything, Sabes Que Hay muchas bolsas aya’ Come one Reeky, damn what you doin, I’m sorry sorry.”
“Yeah ok Gigi, I comin, you need to calm down, be easy, who did you say… Abre’ la puerta. Come on, open the door mami damn!”
After a series of rumblings and low talking, a large black man appeared at the door. He wore a New York Yankees cap tilted to the side revealing one of two slightly yellowing-redish sunset eyes. His large biceps bulged from his white-ribbed tank top “wife beater,” though he really only just through things at Gigi when angry, she meanwhile had a mean jab.
Big man turned the key to open the screen.
“Bienvenido!,” The man bellowed. “Father Tony! Woowwwww, Father De La Rosa, right? Welcome. I am honored by your presence in my home. Can I get your bags,” He continued after a tight embrace.
“That would be good, really good. Why certainly Enriquillo, why certainly.”
The priest entered Enriquillo Ortiz’s home, a place decked out with religious relics and candles juxtaposed with a large Dominican Republic flag on the far wall.
The furniture was simple: black leather wrap around couch with matching recliner in front of a large floor model television under which a small CD player resided.
Boring gray carpet and a tiled circular kitchen with dark brown cabinet doors adjacent to a rectanglular dining room table on the border of the living room rounded out the house.
“I’ll take this bags upstairs to the room and we’ll go down to the basement,” the husky Ortiz said to the priest.
“That’ll be fine my son, this one too. This last duffel bag holds my garments, I’ll keep it on my person.”
“Suit yourself. Yeah why don’t you just go ahead and step down into the basement now. I’ll join you in a minute.”
“I’m terribly famished.”
“Dinner’ll be ready soon father,” said Gigi, Enriquillo’s wife, a timid, petite and mocha-colored woman with dark eyes, and a pear shaped voluptuous body under a dress with large flowers that probably didn’t exist anywhere, she liked vacation gear, considering Reek hardly ever went back to DR and barely even left the BX.
The priest whirled around with a cat-like intuition to see Enriquillo Ortiz’s young son and daughter swarm on him playfully. He smiled and held them at bay.
“Hello, Hello. Precious children,” he remarked grinning and embracing them. “A little boy and a girl.”
From his dark pockets he produced two ten-dollar bills.
“I am Father Tony, no wait don’t jump. Here you go, spend it wisely,” he cautioned, handing the bill to the boy and messing up his hair while following suit with the girl, only patting her and kissing her instead.
“Wow, great,” said the boy.
The girl was younger so she merely mimicked the boy’s gratitude with the same words.
“Hey, oye’ Que Dices?!” Reeky yelled to the kids as he clip-clopped down wooden basement stairs.
“Thanks father Tony,” said the boy.
“Me too,” the girl followed.
“Don’t mention it.”
Enriquillo emerged again from the basement room gently herding the children into the kitchen.
“Ok ya’ll thanked him now leave him alone he’s had a long trip. Come on. Go to the kitchen. Alright, alright go get some food.”
Enriquillo quickly placed a kiss on each child’s head and turned quickly to the Father.
“Alright Papa Tone,” Enriquillo ejaculated loudly, chuckling skeptically and knowingly. “Come on down.”
Down they went into a finished wood-paneled and red-carpeted basement where three men sat talking, sitting on the edge of white fold-up chairs in front of a small television on which the New York Yankees played against the Kansas City Royals.
The TV, however, was merely on to be on, drowning out any conversations that needed drowning.
“Father this is my close friend Caesar Ramos, they call him Hector. This is Eduardo Espinosa and my friend from Philly.. Trevor Davis.”
Ramos, a dark cream colored Puerto Rican, nodded, his slanted eyes studying the priest as he ran his hands through prolific black curls. He sat back, legs agape, back slumped as the light struck his long platinum necklace that sat a top a crisp white “beater,” – he did occasionally playfully smack his live in girl Maricela – likened in design but tighter and more form-fitting than the one Enriquillo sported. Hector finally stood up fixing his baggy jeans and humbly shaking the priest’s hand.
“Hey, uh father, how you doin’? You good?”
“Quite good my son.”
In contrast, the older, polished more refined, fashionista, Eduardo wore a finely tailored black suit with a dark meanly starched business shirt with a gleaming white tapered collar, which looked so stiff and clean that it could cut day old bread. His loafers were of some reptile origin, the priest thought, and his watch, an all black Movado accented by a subtle diamond bezel surrounding its face.
He rose gracefully to greet the priest but failed to remove his dark but transparent glasses that hid melancholy and sleep-deprived eyes.
Trevor, a midnight black man, a west Indian, with McDonald’s-arch- yellow eyes, under a flawless razor-lined short haircut, merely nodded and opened his mouth to reveal white smoke that slithered like a phantom into his nose and then out of his mouth like the rising cloud from spilled powder, which obscured his black gold and yellow Team Jamaica mesh soccer jersey.
Again he slowly nodded, his facial tone revealing that a nod was about as much deference as he would give the priest.
Enriquillo quickly unfolded a chair and tapped its base motioning for the priest to sit down.
“Naw man,” chimed in Hector. “Let the father sit on the couch yo.”
“Aw yeah, my bad. Sorry father uh, sit down over here, move out the way man. “Yo Trevor get up man. Show some respect,” Reeky said in a rushed whisper.
Trevor leaned over so the priest could get by to sit down.
Closer inspection, sure enough, Trevor’s smoke was some pungent dirty black marijuana, quite stereotypical and stupid in someone else’s house in a city you don’t even live in, in the business that he was in.
The priest winced and frowned as he and Trevor stared at each other intensely for a shorter time than either of them realized.
Trevor turned away swiftly.
“So uh, Reeky, the business we were discussing,” demanded Trevor.
“Cool your jets, this is a man of God. And man put that blunt up esta loca huh? Uh, you gonna have to leave if you can’t show no respect. What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m don’t mean any disrespect father, but you mus’ understand that I don’t prescribe to your religion, Jesus is a man and I-and-I a man too” Trevor emphasized softly with no irony or intended offense.
“You’re far from a rasta Trev, don’t take a genius to know that. Put the fuckin’ blunt out. That’s enough,” Enriquillo interjected.
The priest sat back coolly turning his neck to both sides as if trying to loosen his joints.
“Trevor is it? Well, son, everyone at some point is disillusioned but the drugs, if you don’t mind.”
“Yeah. Alright but it’s because I’m in a man dem’ house and he ask it but not because….”
“Man Trevor, just put out the ‘la’ man damn! Oh..umm, I.. I’m sorry father,” said Hector correcting himself after directing Trevor to extinguish the weed.
“And there is no quote un-quote business, not while the father his here man what the hell is wrong with you?” Enriquillo, who liked to say “quote-un-quote” without using fingers — sounded official — pointed a volatile finger at Trevor and resumed.
Reeky tapped Trevor’s knee, “That’s why you don’t prosper man, you don’t know how to sit there, shut up and…on top of that you ain’t got no respect. Respect the man.”
Espinosa, like the priest, sat silent taking it all in. He was a drug dealer’s drug dealer, a gentlemen thug who abhorred being called a drug dealer.
If the Bronx could be had, it would belong to Espinosa. And even the illicit trade that he didn’t take part in still earned him a percentage and an undying loyalty, laced with both adulation and fear among shop merchants, livery drivers, dealers, hookers, bus drivers who wanted to hit the subterranean cock fights and high stakes dice games in the green fly-laden storage rooms and obscured loading bays in back of bodegas or whatever!
TO BE CONTINUED!