My cafe and store, Shakespeare’s Sister, had been open a couple of years. It sat on the border of the neighborhoods Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens in what used to be called “South Brooklyn” before the Gowanus Expressway split the area, leaving Red Hook alone and a little isolated by the water. Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens were gentrifying, as Red Hook (which lacks much in the way of public transportation) would begin to do in a couple of years. There was still a little of the old, Italian flavor left, but it was fast fading away.
One morning, I heard on the radio that a man had driven himself–in a Cadillac–to the emergency room at Methodist Hospital in nearby Park Slope. He had six bullets in him. The odd things were that he was wheel-chair bound and that he died on the operating table of a heart attack.
As I was sweeping the sidewalk, preparing to open, I paused to speak with the man who owned the store next door, someone who had grown up in the neighborhood and knew all the old stories.
“Sure,” he said, “I knew that guy. He ran a social club down on Hamilton Avenue under the Gowanus.”
He paused, “I remember how he got paralyzed.”
I leaned my broom against the gate, ready to listen.
“He and his partners were collectors for the mob. One day, here on Court St., they had picked up this guy who was behind on the vig. They had him between them in the Caddy–he always drove Caddys–with guns pointed at his guts from both sides.
“But they weren’t paying attention to the road.” He laughed. “They jumped the curb and hit a light pole. The guy in the middle flew forward but the collectors, both in seat belts, stayed where they were–but both guns went off and they shot each other.
“The lucky stiff took off running and the other two were hauled off to the hospital. The driver, the man who died last night, was paralyzed from the waste down.”
“What happened to the guy who ran? The mob ever catch up with him?”
“He’d borrowed money to open a ceramic-tile store. I remember him pretty well, bad businessman. Anyway, he high-tailed it to Florida where his mother lived and stayed there until the heat died down. When he thought his debt had been forgotten, he came back to Brooklyn, the fool did.”
“They found him, of course. His body ended up floating in the Gowanus.”