It was said that if cocoa bread, some arroz con pollo or a slice of pizza was sold anywhere from 149th and 3rd to E. 180th, you either were paying Espinosa to eat it or sell it, even if it was a penny on the dollar.
His only weakness though was his conspicuous wound that he wore like an ugly scar - the violent death of his “hermanito,” Tino at the hands of a rival faction, he though or maybe an enterpriser, earning stripes, shakin’ the trees, not giving a fuck about living anymore maybe.
Trevor studied the room and seemed to pout. He was an amateur middleweight boxer and storefront restaurant owner down in North Philly who supplemented his income with stolen cars and low-weight drugs. His eyes were indented with what seemed to be a permanent malice.
During the silence, Enriquillo, a man about six-foot-three, 290, had stolen to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a glass of rum, beginning to sip it but stopping short, looking gingerly at the priest for approval.
De la Rosa surveyed the room of ruffians and shrugged.
Enriquillo downed a shot and made a painful face as the hot rum went down the chute. Then he poured another one walking back toward the circle of chairs.
Hector, a ratty, rotten-salt smelling bodega owner in East Harlem and guns-slinging enforcer, sometimes freelance sometimes with a crew, shifted in his seat as his twin plastic Glock-26 sub compact pistols were beginning to stick to his back under the tank-top.
He then slumped in his seat and glanced at Enriquillo as if to say, “Yo, Enriquillo you fuckin’ genius why is a priest in your house?”
Espinosa simply stroked his chin and examined the priest from head to toe continually, the priest’s face was warm and disarming. Enriquillo broke the silence, slapping the priest on the knee gently.
He liked to touch peoples knee to let them know he was a lovable teddy bear who could still whoop that ass if need be.
“So..Father how was the trip?”
“Oh it was a long and tiresome trip, I spread God’s message in the small villages of China, taught the heavy laden in the mountains of Switzerland. And my favorite part of the trip was Africa, the last leg, Nigeria, lots of suffering. Souls yearning to transcend suffering.”
“Sounds deep father,” Hector interjected, marveling at the dedication of De la Rosa.
“Yes, deeper than the hollow souls of man. Some times I wonder is it all worth it.”
“Father,” said Espinosa silently, clearly reserving great grief. “Keep at it. You’re doing something most people are afraid to do. You’re standing up for what you believe in and sharing what you have learned with others. Some of us are, well beyond redemption, centered in the lives we’ve chosen!”
Expressway Eddie, as he was known, was a reader of Kant, Martin Luther, all the Greek classic mythologies. Took a whole bunch of Economics courses and computer classes at the learning annex, did a free internship with Banco Popular, a front for moving his bread but he learned a lot, already being a genius with numbers. Bought his way into an executive MBA workshop at Brown. On the streets eyes come out the side of his head, a dilettante as a poet, a suave salsa man light on his expensive feet and a God-given penchant for licking pussy among the young stable girls he kept every night, that was the business on the wire up in Mott Haven. Encouraged the young strippers and promiscuous hood things not to shower before a visit, especially in the summer. Didn’t fuck all that much, just love to see the young fresh and green nubiles writhe on sweat and stinky lemon-tinged sublimity, wash it down with some rum, sit on the sofa, listen to the click of the money counter in the next room, speed to the bathroom to jack-off into the toilet with the smell of snatch on his lips and the notion that he was a God among mere mortals — steeped in the concrete reality of hard choices that most people won’t, wouldn’t and can’t make. He nodded his approval to the man of God, why not?
“Thank you, most encouraging words. God bless you.”
For show, for theatrics or driven by something unknown to anybody in the room, Espinosa, a terribly proud man, broke all barriers, shunned all inhibitions and fell to one knee.
“ I’m glad to hear that,” Espinosa exclaimed with a heavy voice. “Listen I haven’t been to a confession in a long ti..”
“Man I’m steppin’ outside for a smoke,” Trevor growled indifferently.
Hector rose and smacked Trevor playfully upside the back of his head.
“No respect…. the man’s brother…. Come on man I’ll go with you.”
“Yeah, uh, Hector take him outta here,” Enriquillo seconded. “Father I’m going up stairs to see if wifey needs help settin’ the table. I’ll leave you and Eddie here for whatever is, well, you know…alright, alright?”
Espinosa slowly removed his shades and pressed hard against the corner of his eyes and sobbing, the kind of weeping that only betrays itself through one’s breathing, followed by the sniffle of the nose, seeming now to be concealing head throbbing but subdued fury as he stuttered.
“I want blood. I’ve mourned for a long time. You see, God took my brother home three years ago and it hurts bad man. I mean I know I deserve it. I’ve done evil things in this carcass that I got, bad things man and I know I’m paying for it and probably my own blood at some point, I don’t care, now but…”
He’s madder now. Espinosa’s grief became exacerbated by his own conjuring up of memories of the funeral, the closed casket, and their mother fainting. He buried his face in the cloak, while De la Rosa looked toward the ceiling and patted Espinosa on the back.
“Tino was it?”
The crying subsided and Espinosa looked up, bewildered.
“You knew him?”
“I knew of him, much like I know of you.”
Espinosa’s eyes narrowed with mild suspicion, he wasn’t one to be ‘known.’ Just recognized, worshipped, paid, waited on hand and foot. That’s how he stayed in business, he believed.
The priest stared back, as if surveying Espinosa’s doubtful intimations and without breaking verbal stride he continued.
“Martin, I hear, was a feisty little one, full of energy, scrappy but kind at heart, loved his family.”
The doubt disintegrated from Espinosa’s countenance.
“Father, it sounds like you really knew him,” Espinosa said backing away and sitting back on the chair. He took a deep breath and switched personalities. It was as if Espinosa wanted to convince himself and the priest that he hadn’t cried like a child.
He replaced his shades and rubbed his hands together.
“That boy was my heart, he got slaughtered like an animal. That guy that was just here, Hector, he was there with a dude named Ronaldo Dominguez, Joven they call him, when the… shot Ti-Ti down. They didn’t find out exactly who did it, I got my suspicions, I didn’t act rashly, a man of my ilk, really can’t. The bastar…excuse me, the killer – he had a fuc.. he had a mask on. The murderer shot Hector twice and then he faced off with Joven, uh that’s Ronaldo, they call him Joven, know him too?”
“Can’t say I do, but… Umm-hmm go on,” the priest mumbled intently.
“But little Joven stared ‘em down and I guess the robber, well, his cowardly ass didn’t want to shoot.”
Hector and Trevor entered again, stoned and snickering. Then the smiles rubbed off when they saw the priest.
“Gentleman,” the priest proclaimed as if initiating a sermon. “Evil is always present but put your trust in the almighty. It is he that knows your pain. He knows our sorrow. Do not worry my young friend about these killers, thieves, and these treacherous men. Vengeance belongs to God. Pray that justice will be done.”
“I do every day and every night,” Eddie said softly as Trevor cautiously took his seat, looking around cautiously - and Hector took his.
“Do you mind,” said Espinosa producing a cigarette.
The priest nodded approval.
“Check this out man, me got a wife and kid down Illy, they be expecting me you now man,” Trevor said nervously, impatiently, malevolently.
“How poor are they that have no patience,” Enriquillo remarked. “I think Shakespeare said that. So Trevor, I’m only going to tell you one more time. Shut the F.., be quiet man. Damn!”
Hector laughed softly, “Nigga what you know about Shakespeare?”
“I do read Boricua, just because you don’t, don’t mean I don’t.”
Trevor sat silently, bummed a cigarette from Espinosa and smoked on it with great haste before lunging forward to the priest.
“Look I’m sorry but my wife an…..”
“No offense taken, young soldier. Who wouldn’t want to return to a loving wife and innocent children? Family is the only solace in an unkind world?”
“You got that right,” concurred Enriquillo, rising up and opening a humidor. “Say father would you like a cherry cigar from the Dominican Republic?”
“Why yes I would.”
“Wait a minute, what kind of preacher smokes cigars,” Trevor asked skeptically.
“Son, you about to get on my motha fu.. You’re startin’ to irk me kid,” Hector said leaning toward the Jamaican.
“No, let me respond, it’s quite alright. My friend, one man’s vice is another’s pleasure. One man’s right, another’s wrong. One man’s sorrow, another man’s glee and so forth. I’m a human being. We’ve all sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
The priest said that as if he had heard it said or said it about a million times.
Enriquillo emitted a single-syllabaled laugh. “Oh I’m sorry father go on.”
“No man is perfect, I’ve had a long trip and I’m sure the almighty won’t mind if I have a little token from a friend.”
“Ok whatever. Yo Reek can we please handle this business. I really have to go,” Trevor, almost pleading now.
“Father,” Enriquillo looked at the priest as if to get his approval once again. “I’m walking him upstairs to give him what he came for.”
“God go with you my son.”
Trevor really didn’t give a shit anymore, “Yeah alright.”
Enriquillo, crooked smile at his PR compadre, “Hector, you want to come with me and Trev, handle this real quick.”
“So it’s ready,” Trevor asked.
“Yeah ready as a virgin on the wedding night, oops Sorry father,” Enriquillo joked.
“Never mind son, handle your affairs I’ll rest my old bones.”
“Father,” said the since quiet Espinosa. “I’ve got to get going too.”
Espinosa kissed the priest on the hand as a parishioner would kiss the Pope’s ring.
“You have given my heart rest today father. I got a good feeling right now. For that I thank you. I still mourn but I feel a lot better. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for those comforting words.”
“I appreciate your gratitude but thank God, not I.”
“You have a church around here?”
“Uh yes.. but I’m am off on another mission soon. There’s much work to be done.”
Espinosa shook his head with skeptical but familiar approval and bounded up the stairs, thinking to himself there are a lot of phonies, however you sleep at night. Maybe he’s a real man of God, whoever that is.
The priest, meanwhile, could hear Enriquillo on the floor above. “Yo father, I’ll be down directly dinner is comin’ out the oven right now.”
“Wonderful,” said De la Rosa blowing the smoke out and loosening his cassock. His face was sweating profusely. He shifted his hat, which he had still not taken off, for better comfort. He then reached over and snuck a nip of rum from Enriquillo’s unfinished glass not realizing 20 minutes had passed.
Hearing the rumbling upstairs he sat back down quickly.
“That’s that,” Enriquillo said coming back down. “Everything went real smooth huh Caesar?,”
“Like butter kid,” replied Hector, following Enriquillo down and swinging playfully on the banister as his feet dropped to the basement floor.
“Now then father,” Enriquillo continued. “What’s your pleasure?”
“My pleasure, Enriquillo, is to remove these exceedingly hot clothes,” the priest said, his gruff old voice breaking with the beginnings of mild discomfort.
Hector, with a concerned and alarming look on his face, sat down quietly.
“Are you alright Father?”
“Oooh Father you’re sweatin’ something awful,” Enriquillo, said with a shrieking laughter. “If I didn’t know any better. I’d say it looks like you’re burning in fucking hell!”
Enriquillo couldn’t control is laughter anymore.
The priest looked bewildered, unbuttoning another button on his shirt and beginning to remove his cloak. He could feel the perspiration trickling, teasing the small hairs on his back. His mouth was dry. He looked at the two men irritated but kept disrobing.
Hector’s mouth sat open in utter dismay and horror.
“Enriquillo, that’s a priest man. How you gonna…”
Suddenly De la Rosa’s voice broke, he cougned and wiped his brow, the gravel receded, almost as if a ball of phlegm had been removed, giving way to a smoother, more fluid, younger.
The priest looked up, eyes narrow, removing what were now revealed and false teeth and rubbing his jaw as if he had just been hit.
He cleared his throat, extending his hands hurriedly, “Hey Hector shut the fuck up, Nigga, and help me get thisshit off. These clothes are hotter than a mothafucka!”
The priest peeled the fake beard off to reveal a youthful and sweaty face. Then, he removed the plastic wrinkles from his cheeks and eyes and ripped the wig from about his head!
TO BE CONTINUED!