Hi all! It's Annabelle, back with a full length story this time! It's definitely a departure from my usual stuff, but I was trying to expand my horizons. I hope you guys like it!
The cops have come to arrest me.
I know it’s them the second I hear that knock on the door. Cops have a knock I’d know in my sleep. That solid firm knock that you can hear anywhere in the apartment—they don’t bother with the doorbell. I heard that knock many times before. I heard it when they took my father away. I heard it more times than I can count on my hands each time my brother Tony got busted.
But I never thought it would ever be me.
There’s two of them standing at the door—a man and a woman. The man’s got a pair of cuffs on his belt and it makes me sick.
“Nicolas Moretti?” the male cop asks me.
“That’s me,” I say. I’m playing it cool—acting like I’m not scared as shit. This is actually happening. These cops are taking me to jail. It’s not a summons, which I got a bunch of times before—I’m going to jail. Jail.
“Mr. Moretti, we have a warrant for your arrest,” the male cop says.
This is the part where they’re supposed to cuff me and take me away in front of all my neighbors. Except the two of them just stare at me dumbly like they’re not sure what they’re supposed to do. You’d think when they came to arrest Nick Moretti, they’d have come better prepared. It’s not like they don’t know who I am—I’d bet every cop in the city knows my name.
The male cop—his badge I can now see reads O’Neil—pulls the cuffs off his belt. And that’s when I really start shitting my pants. They’re going to cuff me. They’re really doing this.
But O’Neil hesitates. He looks at the female cop, Conti, and she looks equally baffled. They should be reading me my rights now, although come to think of it, they didn’t read Pop his rights when they busted him either. They got to do it before they question you though. I know that much. But the confusion of how to arrest me has thrown them off.
“You don’t gotta cuff me,” I tell them. My Brooklyn accent is slipping out because I’m nervous. I lost it during all those years in college and when I went to Harvard Business School. I worked hard not to sound like some two-bit street gangster. But when I’m stressed or anxious, it comes back like it was never gone in the first place. I hate it. I don’t want to sound like a thug—I want to sound like what I am, which is one of the most successful businessmen in the city. A guy who they’d allow the dignity of not being forced out of his home in shackles.
“We do,” Conti tells me, although she sounds apologetic. She’s young, maybe early twenties, and she’d be pretty if her hair weren’t pulled back in the most severe bun I ever seen. Not as pretty as Jessie though. Nobody is.
I swallow a lump in my throat as I realize I can’t talk them out of this. They got their orders. Still, I give one last appeal: “But if you do, I won’t be able to…”
They look down at me, acknowledging the situation—the fact that I’m sitting in a wheelchair. I can’t walk, and if they cuff my wrists, that’s it. I won’t be able to move. The thought of it makes me sick.
“We gotta,” O’Neil tells me.
I take deep breaths, trying not to panic. I pull off the tie that’s hanging loose around my neck and suddenly feels like it’s choking me—they won’t let me keep a tie in a jail cell anyway. It doesn’t help me now that I’m wearing an expensive shirt and pants, and shoes that cost more than the shirt and the pants put together. It doesn’t matter when they’re busting me for Murder One.
“I need stuff if you’re going to take me,” I tell them. “Medical stuff. Okay?”
O’Neil nods and Conti looks embarrassed. I can see they’re trying to figure out if they should trust me to get the stuff on my own or if they should go with me. Do they think I’m going to grab some gun I got hidden away and start shooting at them? Yeah, I got a gun hidden away—two, actually. But I’m not dumb enough to start shooting at some cops. I’m Nick Moretti, not some loser on the street selling crack.
Or maybe they think I’m going to make a getaway. I’m in an apartment on the thirty-second story. Do they think I’m going to jump out the window and fly away to a Caribbean island? I’m in a goddamn wheelchair—even getting out the window if I were on the first floor would be an impossible challenge. All I want is to get my pills and shit out of the bathroom in privacy, but it’s getting obvious I won’t even get that.
O’Neil follows me to the bathroom down the hallway. It isn’t going to take long because I already got a month’s worth of extra supplies stuffed into a duffel bag under the bathroom sink. Sometimes I gotta go fast, so I’ve got it all packed. It wouldn’t work to be rushing on some trip and discover that I forgot one of my medications.
O’Neil eyes the bag with suspicion. “I got to check that out.”
I don’t want him to, but not because I got a gun or drugs in there. I don’t want him rifling through my bottles of pills. Maybe I’m in a wheelchair, but I try to project to the world that I’m a tough guy. A tough guy doesn’t take five medications. He doesn’t need a bunch of catheters whenever he goes on a trip.
But I can’t say no to a cop, so I thrust the bag in his direction. “Be my guest, Officer.”
He gives it a cursory look while I stare down at my hands. I don’t want to be cuffed. Christ, it’s bad enough they’re doing this to me. Soon as I get to the cell, I’m going to ask to call my lawyer. I’ll be back home in an hour—not even long enough to use the contents of this bag. I’ll make these assholes sorry they did this to me.
“It’s fine,” O’Neil says, handing me back my bag.
And then we’re back in the living room and it’s the moment of truth. O’Neil gets out the cuffs and my heart is slamming so hard in my chest, I think I could drop dead of a heart attack. No. Fuck no.
“Hold out your hands, Mr. Moretti,” O’Neil says.
“Don’t do this,” I appeal to them one last time.
O’Neil shakes his head. “I’m sorry.”
I do as they say. I hold out my hands, and O’Neil snaps the cuffs into place. He makes them loose, but they still bite into my wrists. My brother Tony says he’s still got a place on the back of his left hand that he can’t feel on account of his handcuffs being too tight once. But Tony was a thug and pissed off the cops. I’m no thug. I’m one of the most important men in the whole goddamn city. And now the cops wheeling me out of my apartment building with cuffs on my hands will be all over the front page of The New York Post tomorrow morning.
I rest my hands in my lap, on top of the duffel bag. A sweat breaks out on my forehead, and I try to calm myself down. But it’s hard. The cops will have to push me down to their car, and they’re going to have to lift me inside. And the media sharks downstairs will get it all on tape.
“How do we push the chair?” Conti asks me.
“The handles are folded down,” I tell her.
I didn’t want handles on my chair, but there are rare times when they’re necessary. Like now. When my hands are cuffed and the cops need to push me to their car.
I feel myself moving—Conti is pushing me. This is really happening. I’m really going to be booked on a Murder One charge. I’m going to sit in a jail cell just like my brother did and my father did. I got the best lawyer in the city, but I’m not sure if even he can get me out of this one. The evidence is damning.
And the worst part?
Chapter 1: 1994
Today is one of those days that started out ordinary. First my older brother Tony got into a fight with Pop because Tony won’t stop hanging around what Pop calls “the low lives.” Then Ma started yelling at Tony to eat his breakfast of sausage and scrambled eggs. Finally, Pop told Tony he needed to get a haircut and that’s when my brother stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him.
And I just sat there, eating my own eggs and sausage and thinking about what an idiot my brother is. Pop don’t ask much of us—why can’t he just do it?
“At least Nico’s a good kid,” Pop said to my mother.
I am a good kid, as far as Pop is concerned. I get good grades, I don’t get into trouble, and I keep my hair cut short. Anyway, nobody messes with me. In this neighborhood, everyone knows you don’t want to mess with Angelo Moretti’s son.
That’s a normal morning for me—Tony storms out, I eat breakfast, then I ride my bike to the middle school where I’m in ninth grade, in time for homeroom at a quarter to nine. But today is different. Because today Mrs. Leary tells us that there’s a new kid in the class. Some girl who just moved here from Milwaukee. I don’t even know where the hell Milwaukee is, but when Jessica Schultz stands up in front of the room to introduce myself, I suddenly get very interested in Milwaukee and everything there is to know about this girl.
“Tell the class about yourself!” Mrs. Leary barks at the girl in her crackly voice. Mrs. Leary’s ancient and deaf, so she yells all the freakin’ time. But you can get away with a lot in her class because she can’t hear anything going on in the room.
Jessica Schultz squeezes her fists together and looks up at us with the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. Bensonhurst has got a lot of Italians, so most of them have dark hair and eyes like I do. We got a couple of kids in the class with blue eyes—nothing like Jessica’s though. And her hair—shit. I’ve never seen hair so blond before. It’s like somebody spun gold out of her scalp. I can’t quit staring at that hair.
I can’t quit staring at Jessica.
“I come from Milwaukee,” Jessica tells us in a voice that’s barely a squeak. “I lived there all my life. But my dad got a new job here, so… now we live here.”
A few kids snicker. Jessica tugs on her green sweater, which is too small on her. All her clothes are bordered on too tight, but the sweater is the worst. Or the best, considering how you’re looking at it. I don’t think it’s on purpose though. I think she grew out of it and hasn’t had a chance to get one that fits better. Or maybe can’t afford it. Lotsa kids in this class are wearing clothes that are too tight because they can’t afford something bigger yet.
I don’t got that problem. At all. Pop buys me all new clothes because he says I should have better than Tony’s shitty hand-me-downs.
Jessica’s bluer than blue eyes meet mine from across the room, and for a second, it’s like I can barely breathe. I never looked at a girl and felt this way before. I kissed a couple of girls before, like Mary Castellano in the bushes behind the basketball court last month. That was fine—I liked kissing Mary. Since I grew four inches over the summer, girls seem a lot more willing to go behind some bushes with me. But I never wanted to kiss a girl in the bushes as much as I want to kiss Jessica right this minute.
And while I’m staring at the blue eyes, the gold hair, and the tits nearly splitting the seam of her old sweater, I get the craziest thought in my head:
This is the girl I’m going to marry.
I wouldn’t say it to anyone. If you’re fourteen years old and you go around telling your friends you want to marry some chick you just saw for the first time five minutes ago, they think you’re nuts or a pussy or something bad. But I’ve never wanted anything as bad as I want this. Aside from wanting to take over my father’s business someday.
“You can take a seat, Jessica,” Mrs. Leary tells her.
Jessica scurries to a desk two seats in front of me. Good thing it’s just homeroom because no way I’d be able to concentrate with her straight in the middle of my field of vision.
I glance over at Kevin Price, my best buddy here at school. He’s looking at Jessica too, and when our eyes meet, he winks at me. Kevin loves new girls. I don’t try too hard to imagine what he’s thinking about.
The bell rings and Jessica stands up, looking uncertainly down at her schedule for the day, her pale hands shaking. I should offer her help finding her first class. I should, but for some reason I can’t. I’m glued to my seat.
“Nice tits, new girl!” Kevin leers at her.
Jessica looks up at him, her blue eyes widening like she’s never heard that kind of language before. Maybe kids are nicer in Milwaukee than they are in Bensonhurst. Welcome to Brooklyn, New Girl.
Kevin might have a smart mouth, but I don’t talk to girls that way. Ever. One of Pop’s words of wisdom that he tells me all the time:
Always treat women with respect, Nico.
So I do. Always. I treat ladies the way they deserve to be treated, whether it’s some chick on the street or hundred-year-old Mrs. Leary. I don’t yell dirty things at them when they walk by the way other guys in my class do. Maybe Jessica don’t count as a woman yet, but I figure close enough.
I smack Kevin in the arm and hiss at him, “Shut up, you idiot. What the hell is wrong with you?”
“What?” Kevin looks at me, wide-eyed. “She does have nice tits.”
Well, he’s right.
“Just don’t talk to her that way,” I say.
Kevin smirks at me. “So, what? You into her? Because it’s fine if you are. She’s too chubby for me anyway.”
“Shut the fuck up, Kevin,” I mutter.
I look at Jessica’s seat and see that she’s gone. She probably hurried off after Kevin shouted at her. I can’t blame her.
But even though she’s gone, I know I’m not going to be able to stop thinking about her.
I have been walking for twenty minutes now and I’m lost.
I thought I knew how to get home. I practiced it once with Mom, and I thought I had it down. She asked me if I wanted a ride home today, but I insisted that I could do it myself. It’s only a ten-minute walk. I’m fourteen years old—I could handle a ten-minute walk on my own!
Except I must have gone straight when I was supposed to go left, or right when I was supposed to straight, or maybe I went in the wrong direction altogether. And now I have absolutely no idea where I am aside from lost.
This wouldn’t have happened in Milwaukee. I know every inch of that city. There’s nowhere I can’t get to on my bike. I wish I had my bike now. My parents said they didn’t feel comfortable with me riding it around here. Too many cars. Except every other kid in the school hopped on their bikes at the end of school and rode home.
At least it’s not very cold out and my stupid itchy sweater is keeping me warm. The French braid that Chrissy did during lunch has been coming apart all afternoon, and my hair is now mostly loose around my face. The wind intermittently lifts it in the air, which feels nice.
I could enjoy the walk if I wasn’t so frustrated about being lost. And also a little scared—this neighborhood is really seedy. I passed a filthy homeless guy lying on the sidewalk who smelled like urine. He asked me for money, and when I said I didn’t have any, he asked me if he could touch my hair. I started walking faster after that. But I think I’m just making myself get more lost faster.
I need to find a payphone. I can call my mom and ask her to come rescue me. I didn’t want to do it, but I don’t have much of a choice.
I see a payphone at the corner and dig a quarter out of my pocket. I’ve got one quarter, two dimes, and one penny—that’s all the change in my pocket. On top of that, I’ve got four dollar bills.
I stick my quarter in the payphone. I’ve only used a payphone a few times in my life, and I don’t exactly know what I’m doing, but I figure it can’t be that hard. Except when I dial my home number, all I hear in the receiver is silence. It’s not ringing. I think this stupid payphone is broken.
I slam down the receiver and keep walking. The neighborhood I’m in is looking increasingly sketchy, but I’m not sure what to do. I see three teenage boys up ahead. Maybe I should ask them for directions home. It’s clear at this point that I’m not going to manage to wander home without help.
“Hey, honey,” the tallest of the boys says to me as I approach them.
Another boy snickers, “Nice ass.”
Now I think maybe I shouldn’t ask them for directions.
“I never seen you around here, baby,” the other boy says to me. “You new in town?”
I get this sick feeling in my stomach. Something in my brain is telling me to run, but my legs are frozen.
The tall boy saunters over to me, grinning. “You got pretty hair.” He reaches out to touch my hair and I jerk away, horrified. My reaction makes the other boys laugh. “What are you so scared of, baby? We’re just looking to have a little fun.” He looks me in the eyes for a split second before I look away. “Don’t you like fun?”
“I have to go,” I croak, backing away from them.
I turn to leave, but there’s another boy behind me. They’ve surrounded me. Oh my God, I can’t get away from them. Even one of them is stronger than I am, but I have no chance against all three. There’s nothing I can do—I can fight but I’ll certainly lose.
The tallest boy creeps closer to me, a terrifying glint in his eye.
To be continued…