2-Pane Combined
Full Summaries Sorted

[4 of 5] Bodega Dreams, Book II, Rounds 5-8, by Ernesto Quiñonez (2000)

Author: Ernesto Quiñonez

Quiñonez Ernesto. “Book II, Rounds 5-8.” Vintage Contemporaries Original: Bodega Dreams, Vintage Contemporaries, New York, 2000.

The War Was in Full Bloom

AFTER Bodega and Vera left I went back to bed. All I can remember of the rest of the afternoon was waking with Blanca next to me. She had arrived home tired, hadn’t even bothered to take her clothes off, and flopped down on the bed. Blanca is not a light sleeper, so I got up thinking I didn’t have to be very quiet.

“What’s that bottle of champagne doing in the kitchen?” she mumbled.


“The champagne. What’s it doing in the kitchen?” I told her. “When did she arrive?” I told her that, too. “Who’s this Izzy?” With my help she remembered. “Oh, that’s the guy she was going to marry but didn’t.” Her voice conveyed complete exhaustion. She shifted her body into a more comfortable position. I was happy that she didn’t really care and happier still that I had not used Bodega’s name but rather his old one, Izzy, keeping her from making a connection.

I went to the living room, opened the window, and took the ring that Vera had given me out of my pocket. It was as I remembered it when she’d placed it on my palm; just as radiant, golden, and heavy. The inside was engraved For My Wife, Veronica. Not anymore, I whispered to myself. This is my wife’s now.

Then I thought, no woman wants another woman’s ring. But the diamond was huge, so that took care of that. But then Blanca would read the engraving and know whose it was, so that was a problem. What about sending it to an engraver to scrape the inside, get rid of the dedication? But Blanca would still ask me how I’d got it. I found it? Nah. So that left me with the truth. The truth was all I had and Blanca believed in the truth. To her the truth would set me free. I hoped that it would at least let us keep the ring. So I waited for Blanca to really wake up. When she opened her eyes, I showed her the ring.

“We have to give it back!” she said without hesitating.

“She doesn’t want it.”

“They were drunk, Julio. It’s the right thing to do.”

“Look, your aunt never wanted to marry this guy,” I said as Blanca held the ring up to the light.

“She loves this Izzy guy. Always has. You should have seen them, they were like kids.” Blanca stared at the ring. She liked it, but her conscience was a strong judge. I wanted her to have it, so I lobbied as hard as I could.

“No one will know.”

“God will know,” she said, taking her eyes off the ring to glare at me as if I had personally ripped the ring off God’s finger.

“Yes, but He knows everything, so why even bother? No disrespect, but since He knows everything, even the outcome of our lives, why even have Him be an ingredient in this discussion? Look, she gave it to me. It’s like throwing it away and me finding it. Can that be bad?”

“Yes, you’re right, let’s leave God out of this because you know nothing about God. And we didn’t find it,” she said, clamping her lips together firmly. “If my aunt doesn’t want the ring, the right thing to do is to give it back to the man who bought it for her.”


“Because it’s his ring.”

“Not if he gave it to her. If he gave it to her, that makes it her ring and if it’s her ring she has the right to give it to whoever she wants.”

“This is wrong, Julio.” Blanca gave me back the ring. “Return it.”

“NO! I’m keeping it. If you don’t want it then I’m pawning it. We have at least four or five months’ rent here.”

“Give it back. He gave it to her as part of a promise. She broke that promise so she has to give it back!”

“Blanca, come on—”

“I’m not going to be a part of this, Julio. Pastor Miguel Vasquez and Claudia come on Friday …” That did it. That day I said things I shouldn’t have ever said, or at least not the way I did.

“You know, Blanca, you really light me up when you get this way. You constantly knock me about being sexist and whine that all Latin men have some sort of sexism in them and that you feel as if your intelligence is being ignored when I do certain things, even though they are for the good of the family, may I add—”


“No, let me finish. Then you come up with this shit about sin and your church. And see, Blanca, you can’t fully believe in that book”—I pointed to the bookshelf where Blanca kept her Bibles—“because it’s the most sexist book ever written. Yet you get on my ass and say I disrespect you when I sin, when I do things that I shouldn’t do, like when I smoke a joint here and there, when I want to keep a ring that was given to me, but”—I was on a roll—“when you go to church you get disrespected all the time. The women are treated as if they were just there to glorify their husbands, their children, and their pastor.” And with that remark, I saw Negra in Blanca’s eyes. I looked around for things she might throw at me.

“You know nothing!” she erupted. “Let me tell you, Julio, just because I believe in God doesn’t make me a weak woman! My mother was strong. She paid the bills, she made the decisions, she fixed up the house, and she still went to church.”

“Oh please, Blanca, your mother never had your education. Even her sister Veronica only got lucky and married well, in terms of money, that is. But if they’d had your education maybe they’d have done other things with their lives. You are going to be your family’s first college graduate and you know things they don’t. You were influenced by ideas your mother never knew existed. When you complain that you’re gonna feel awkward graduating with a big belly, I know what you really mean. You mean people are gonna think, ‘She may be smart, but she was stupid enough to get herself knocked up.’ But when you go to church it all changes. They like you pregnant and you like them to like you pregnant.” Blanca just smirked, crossed her arms, and looked at me with the confidence of someone who had plenty of ammunition for a counterattack.

Qué bonito, eh. Qué bonito. You are lecturing me about what it is to be a woman balancing her intellect and her faith. When all you really want is to keep some stupid ring for the cash.”

“It’s not just about a ring, Blanca. You get mad at me for, as you put it, leaving you in the dark. But you know I read that entire Bible and rarely did any of the men tell their wives what they were going to do, they just went and did it. That’s the book you live by. Me, I know that’s wrong. I know I should tell you things because I know you can help me. I know that you’re good for me. And I know you’re smarter than me.” She raised an eyebrow. “I mean it, Blanca. You’re smarter. But at times I think that the things I’m going to tell you will clash with that book and so it’s better not to tell you. Either way, I lose.” I wanted to go for broke and tell her other things. Like, I knew who killed that reporter. But I just couldn’t. She would send Sapo to jail and maybe leave anyway.

“Blanca, why does me becoming Pentecostal have any bearing on you getting your privileges back? On you playing the tambourine in front of the congregation? Why do they look at me and my faults and not you and your merits?”

“Because it was my decision to marry you. Therefore I am responsible. It makes sense. Listen, if I’d cared more about playing the tambourine in front of the congregation than for you I would’ve never married you. I would have married a believer. But I didn’t, right? I married you. I know that the pastor can be wrong at times. The pastor makes mistakes. But God doesn’t. And He knows that I care for you, and if it was wrong to have married you then I just hope His mercy is truly bottomless. There is no sin that can’t be forgiven.”

“Never mind, I don’t want to talk to you when you start preaching.” I started getting my books ready for that night’s class. There was a small silence. After I packed my knapsack, Blanca stepped in front of me. She crossed her arms again.

“I saw Negra today.”

“So what? Look, don’t you have class tonight?”

“She was beat up pretty bad.”



I wasn’t surprised. “Hey, Blanca, I got my own marital problems—”

“Stop it! Just listen! She’s in the hospital and she told me to tell you to get in touch with someone named Bodega.” My heart jumped. I stopped what I was doing and looked Blanca in the eyes. I wondered what Negra had told her. “She said that you would know this Bodega. And that this Bodega would take care of Victor, because he owes you. And you owe Negra.”

Have you ever had that feeling, like when you were a kid and had played hooky all last week and thought you had gotten away with it, and then at the most pedestrian of times, let’s say when you are making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or just watching TV, your father comes with a letter from school in one hand and his belt in the other. And your head feels like it’s on fire and your mouth feels as dry as a saltine.

“I know something is wrong, Julio.” Blanca was calm. Blanca was always calm, especially when she had the upper hand. Her eyes would be steady and her face expressionless. Only her lips would move when she needed to talk. “Is there something you want to tell me, Julio?”

“You know those two, Blanca. They’re schizo. One day they’re like Punch and Judy and the next they’re Romeo and—”

“Bodega,” she said. “That was the man Enrique took you to see that night. And don’t you lie to me. I’ve heard his name too many times since then. They say he owns these buildings. They also say other things about him. Some good, some bad.”

“Yeah, I heard them too, so what?” I brushed past Blanca to make believe I was going to get something from the fridge.

She followed me. “What do you have to do with him?”

“Nothing.” I opened the fridge but there was nothing in it I wanted. I closed it and there was Blanca in front of me. “I’ve got nothing to do with him.”

“You sure?” Arms folded, she moved in closer and pinned me against the fridge. Her face was right there and she must have seen my pupils grow small.

“Nothing. Other than we have to pay him rent,” I said, and moved my body away from her. Blanca cocked her head slightly, making a mental note of this.

“Julio, tell me whatever it is that you are doing.”

“Negra is crazy! Victor is crazy too!” I lost it and began to shout at Blanca. “And you’re crazy for even listening to her!”

“This isn’t about Negra, it’s about you,” Blanca said, raising her voice and poking a finger at my chest after every syllable. “It’s about you and what you’re not telling me.”

“Aren’t you pregnant? God, that kid must have a headache.”

Blanca trailed me around the apartment. “This has nothing to do with Negra. I don’t want us to get involved in Negra’s marital affairs. This has nothing to do with them. It has to do with you hiding things from me about this guy, Bodega, whoever he is. This is what it’s all about, you hiding things. It’s not about church or God or sexism or whatever it is you want to bring up in this fight. It’s about you”—she poked my chest again—“hiding things from me.”

“All right, you win! You want to know everything,” I said, holding up the ring. “You win! You win, Blanca. When I give this back to your aunt you just come with me, cuz he’ll be there.”

“Who’ll be there?”

“Bodega. Thass who. He is this Izzy, the same guy your aunt really wanted to marry. And if you want to ask him anything, anything, any damned thing, then you go ahead.” Blanca fell silent.

That was the day I knew Blanca would leave if she found out all that had been happening. So I had no choice but to throw Bodega at her, knowing he wouldn’t tell her everything and it was just as well. Stupidly, I was hoping for the best. As if things left alone can fix themselves. I hoped things would bury themselves, like reverse evolution, creation going backward. I hoped that everything would just take care of itself, that the hurtful things Blanca and I had said would be forgotten when the baby came along. The baby would make us allies again because the baby was more important than either of us and we had to be together to fight all those horrible things the world had in store for our kid.

Afterward, after the yelling, the apartment took on a sinister hue. Blanca did everything in her power not to speak to me and I did the same. When we both needed the bathroom we had to say a few words to each other. Small, polite words that meant no more than when you brushed a stranger in the street and apologized.

I walked out of the apartment fed up with all of them: Blanca, Negra, Victor, Bodega, Vera. All of them.

AFTER CLASS I decided to wander around the neighborhood and look for Sapo’s car. I didn’t see it and asked around. No one seemed to know anything. I had to leave it alone because it was obvious something was being covered up and I didn’t want to look like some idiot who didn’t get the picture. So that night, I kept walking amid sounds of fire engines and the smell of smoke. But the night sky looked calm and the concrete beneath me was no different than before, covered with gum wrappers, tinfoil, plastic bags, and other garbage. It was a good night to walk and think. What worried me was Negra. I needed to talk to her about Bodega. I needed to find out what Negra knew about Salazar. Because if Negra knew everything, I didn’t want her telling Blanca. Unlike Negra, Blanca would go to the police and then they’d be closer to Sapo.

I really didn’t want to ask Negra why Victor had beaten her up; I wasn’t their marriage counselor. And there was no way I was going to ask Bodega to beat Victor up. I had my problems, Negra had hers, Bodega had his.

But it was too late for visiting hours at Metropolitan Hospital, so my talk with Negra would have to wait for another day.

I didn’t want to go home with Blanca still angry at me. I decided that just this once, I would go and meet her at her church. Maybe that would lighten her up, get me back on her good side.

So I ate a slice and killed some time reading until it was time for church.

LA CASE Bethel Pentecostal, Blanca’s church, was filled to capacity that night. Many Pentecostals from neighboring temples had come to see and hear for themselves the seventeen-year-old anointed, Roberto Vega. He who was supposedly anointed by God and would rule with Christ for a thousand years. I couldn’t have picked a better night to show up and make up with Blanca. I arrived a bit late, but when I went inside the temple, anyone that caught my eye smiled knowingly at me, as if they were saving me. They were always looking out for new converts. Knowing I was Blanca’s husband, one brother ushered me to the row where she was sitting. Blanca was really into the sermon, and only when she saw it was me sitting next to her did she smile and squeeze my hand. She quietly introduced me to the stocky, short woman with beautiful black hair sitting on the other side of her. It was Claudia, the girl from Colombia that Blanca was trying to help. After that, Blanca just held my hand and her eyes returned to the figure standing alone behind a lectern on the platform.

“There was once a slave girl,” the tall, handsome, and very young Roberto Vega said calmly in Spanish. “And she was bought at a huge price by a king who transformed her into a princess, me oyen? And she was given laws and riches, me oyen? And out of all the princesses she was the most beautiful because her king blessed her, me oyen? And he treated her with respect, kindness, and love.” Someone yelled “Alleluia!” “He treated her like she was his flesh. Like she was gold, silver, and jewels. Me oyen? Ustedes me oyen?” Yes, we hear you, the congregation murmured in unison. Blanca and Claudia were hanging on this kid’s every word, like he was telling them a love story.

“And he loved her. And she, and she—don’t tell me you don’t know what she did. Don’t tell me you don’t know that she later left to fornicate with other kings. Don’t tell me you don’t know that she left her king and went with others, and don’t tell me you don’t know this princess was called Israel. And she went with other gods and slept with many idols. You still don’t know what she did?” Alleluia! Tell us, tell us, sí dinos, the congregation begged him. Roberto’s speech was picking up speed. He talked faster and faster but he knew exactly when to apply the brakes and give the people time to contemplate what he was saying. “I’ll tell you what she became. You all know what she became, don’t tell me you all don’t know what she became. She became a harlot!”


“A whore!”


“A prostitute!”


“A slave girl to the nations again!” Roberto’s words rushed one after another, like a Catholic reciting the rosary. “And you know who her king was. Don’t tell me you don’t know who her king was. He was the Lord Jehovah who bought her, paid highly for her! She was a slave in Egypt. And He broke her chains, sending her to Moses to free her. And the Lord treated her like a queen. Treated her like gold, silver, jewels.”

Now Roberto Vega was bouncing his head as if jazz were being played somewhere not far away and the congregation was coiling slowly like a snake, waiting for the Holy Spirit to strike. Roberto’s arms waved in the air like windmills and his face was no longer that of a boy but of a prophet baptized by fire.

“But she forgot who saved her! Who took care of her! Who brought her out of bondage. And to punish her, to punish her, to punish her, you know what happened? Don’t tell me you don’t know what happened. I know you know what happened.” Although they know, they beg for the answer. They can feel the Lord in their midst. Their souls are swollen with excitement, just waiting to erupt. They will soon fly with angel wings and He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, nor will mourning or strife or pain. “To punish her He made her walk in sand for forty years. And she returned to her king, the Lord, and He loved her and sent her David!”


“But when David died, she returned to her immoral ways!”

Alleluia! Cristo salva!

“And He sent her Isaiah!”


“Sent her Jeremiah, to make her quit being a whore!”

Gloria a Dios!

“A prostitute!”


“Sent her Ezekiel! And she didn’t repent!”

Cristo salva!

“Sent Daniel! And she didn’t repent!”

Bendito sea el Señor!

“Sent her Zechariah, Malachi, but she didn’t repent!” The congregation was growing angry because Roberto had imbued them with outrage. When was the Holy Spirit going to strike? How could the nation of Israel have done this to their Lord, who treated her so kindly? “And then He sent them the ultimate prophet! Don’t tell me you don’t know who that is. Don’t tell me you forgot who delivered you. Don’t tell me you forgot who took you out of slavery. Who is your savior? Cristo! Cristo is your savior and He carried your sins! And He healed you! And He—! And He—! And He—!”

“He saved me!” someone cried, leaping from her seat. “He saved me, He saved me.”

On the platform Roberto Vega wiped his forehead, pointed at the sister in tears. “Yes, yes, He saved you! And He paid a price for you. He gave His life for you. He was nailed for you. He became a man for you.”

“He delivered me!” another person confessed, joyfully bouncing up and down.

“Yes, for you too! He died for you! For who else, for who else?”

“Gloria a Dios!” someone from the back shouted.

“For who! For who!” It had started. The Holy Spirit had invaded. I was thinking, Please, Blanca, don’t freak on me. Please, I’ve never seen you like this ever, I know you do this but please, not in front of me.

“He saved me!” Claudia shouted. Her thick torso and hips were shaking, her eyes watering, her small hands pounding at her heart.

Roberto pointed at Claudia. “Yes, He saved you. Before, you were a slave. A prostitute! A whore! A harlot to the ways of the world. But now He has delivered you!” Claudia began to wail as if someone close to her had died.

“He saved me! Cristo salva!” some brother cried, poking at his eyes as if he was in torment; as if he was Oedipus about to rip his eyes out. Blanca smiled an enlightened smile as tears poured down her face. Her eyes glowed as if she could see the kingdom of God. It was a strange glow, lighting eyes all over the room. Blanca’s face didn’t look hysterical, just a little transfigured. She had been there, in paradise. Had seen it for herself and it was all true.

“And He carried your sicknesses! Your sins! Forgave your transgressions! Your imperfections!”




It was infecting every corner, spreading in all directions, resonating from wall to wall. A palace of vibrations praising Jehovah.

In a church full of Latinos with tear-stained cheeks, young and old had gathered together to hold hands, rough hands, soft hands, and pray and reach out to the Lord. They had waited for the Holy Spirit to arrive and take over their bodies. And now, that joyous moment was at hand. I felt strange and wished I could believe like they did. But I couldn’t. Blanca’s hand was sweaty and hot in mine. Her heart beat just as fast. The congregation was about to sing, to make a joyful noise to the Lord. Roberto Vega was leading them, making them see the promised land. Even though they lived here, in this concrete desert, tonight they would go home, walking the streets of Spanish Harlem fearing no evil, for the Lord was with them.

Now Roberto was telling them love stories. About God in love with mankind. Of Jehovah being the personification of love. It was a love song he was yelling, although only I could hear him yell, to the rest he was whispering.

“Owing to the fact that I have found you precious in my eyes,” Roberto read quietly from the book of Isaiah, “you have been considered honorable and I myself have grown to love you. And I shall give men in place of you! And nations in place for your soul!” The Holy Spirit was calmed, like an ocean after a storm. Many people had returned to their seats. Roberto had calmed them, calmed the Spirit of God. He now spoke softly; I could feel the young girls start to swoon. The older women shut their eyes and returned to their past; the older men envied Roberto. Blanca for a moment was in love with the figure standing alone on a bare platform with only the American and Puerto Rican flags keeping him company.

It was a humble place, made up of rows of folding chairs and walls of Sheetrock covered by cheap wood paneling. A dirty red carpet, with huge gum-stained circles as big as cherries covered the floor. The ceiling had two fiberboard panels missing, exposing the electrical wires. The room provided no distractions. Perfect for those like Roberto Vega who wished to have all eyes, ears, and hearts tuned to their words.

“My brothers and sisters, never leave the truth,” Roberto pleaded. “Never turn from the light. The darkness will enslave you, like before, before the Lord saved you. Our Lord Christ will never turn His back on us. Even if we leave Him, He will never leave us.”

Then what’s the point, I was thinking. If He would stay with me anyway, why should I pay Him all this attention?

“He suffered for us. He was crucified, nailed for us.”

I agreed. They nailed his left hand to Spanish Harlem, his right to Watts, his feet to Overtown, Miami. The slums were full of his followers. His words were all over the neighborhood, murals screaming at you in the street, that He was your Lord and Savior. His spirit was all over El Barrio, but I didn’t see Him living among us. You wouldn’t catch Christ, in the flesh, living in the projects.

“Please, now,” Roberto said, his voice lifting again, “join me in song.” The congregation rose. Blanca reached for her tambourine. Some brother put a record on an old player and music began booming from the loudspeaker. Four sisters joined Roberto at the head of the platform to clap their hands and pound their tambourines. It was a privilege to praise the Lord on the platform, to lead the congregation in song. Once, before she married me, it was Blanca up there, and it still pained her to have lost such a privilege. But that night I knew she was happy. Like the rest, she was high on Roberto Vega’s words. They had seen the coming of the Lord. He was coming soon, maybe even that very night. Roberto Vega had told them so. The kingdom of God would arrive, and they would all go to heaven, to the penthouse in the sky. Until then, they would go back home to the rats and roaches.

“Arrepiéntete, arrepiéntete, Cristo salva! Arrepiéntete, arrepiéntete, Cristo salva,” they sang. Blanca, her heavy body, baby and all, joined in the song. The sounds of feet stomping, hands clapping, tambourines shaking, and the sobbing of both men and women filled the room. Whole families were worshiping: aisles full of husbands; wives near the broken piano, babies asleep in their arms, as if angels were covering their tiny ears so they wouldn’t wake up as everyone praised the Lord at full volume. “Hoy se ven todas las señates! El fin está cerca, arrepiéntete, arrepiéntete, Cristo salva!”

Afterward, Roberto said a prayer, and when he had finished everyone murmured Amen. The church now had its feet back on the ground. Everyone was back on planet Earth, the Holy Spirit had left the building, and casual conversations started up.

Blanca hugged me. “I’m so happy you came,” she said.

“I’m happy you’re happy,” I replied. From the corner of my eye I saw Roberto Vega join his parents and hug them. Others came up to shake his hand, congratulating him on such a great sermon.

“So you’re Claudia. I’ve heard all these good things about you,” I said in Spanish to Blanca’s sister in faith, but she didn’t acknowledge my presence. Her eyes were still on Roberto Vega.

“She’s in love with him,” Blanca whispered as Claudia left to go to Roberto’s side. He was the Lord’s stud, swarmed by sisters in Christ who all hoped to be his chosen.

“Let’s go meet him.” Blanca took my hand and led me toward him. I was just happy that the fight we’d had earlier seemed to be forgotten.

“That was beautiful. As if Paradise was there in front of me,” a teenager gushed to Roberto.

“All praise be to my Lord, Jesus Christ. We are all but vessels for Him to use,” Roberto said modestly. Sweat streamed down his face and his shirt was drenched. His mother was holding his hand, his father standing tall because his family had been touched by God.

“When he was just nine years old,” his mother told the brothers and sisters that surrounded them, me and Blanca among them, “I remember I was cooking. I was making pasteles and Robertito walked into the kitchen. He had the most beautiful expression you can imagine. His face was always handsome but that day his face was so beautiful that I knew something had happened. So I asked him—”

“Mami, please, not again—” Roberto protested, half joking.

“Just one more time, Robertito.… He walked into my kitchen,” she continued, “and his face was like a fire. And he said, ‘Mami, I want to get baptized.’ I said, ‘You are too young to get baptized. You have to study more about the Bible before you can make a commitment like that.’ But his face was still aflame, and that’s when he told me, ‘Mami, last night, He came and spoke to me, Christ spoke to me.’ And it was his face that made me believe him.”

“So he took his Bible studies,” his father interrupted, to his wife’s annoyance, “and got baptized at nine years old.”

“And later,” his mother jumped back in, “later he told us that the Holy Spirit had told his soul he had been anointed.” No one questioned them. No one doubted for a second. Who would after that speech? I wouldn’t. If that kid was going to heaven to rule with Christ, then I just hoped he wouldn’t forget the little people and would put in a good word for me and Blanca.

Claudia extended a nervous hand toward him and introduced herself. He smiled and asked her where she was from. Blanca butted in and invited Roberto, his family, and Claudia over for dinner. I knew what she was up to. Fortunately, they politely declined her offer. That’s when Pastor Miguel Vasquez joined us.

Pastor Vasquez was in his late fifties. He always wore polyester suits, even during the summer. He was from Ponce but had grown up in the neighborhood, and when he gave his sermons he’d stress how Christ had saved him from a life of petty street crime. I had seen him in action a couple of times, when his church picked a corner and, using the electricity from a lamppost, plugged in a mike and some electric guitars and preached the hell out of the neighborhood. You could hear them blocks away. “Cristo salva! Alleluia! Ven regresa al Señor!” They’d hand out leaflets and later jam their church salsa, with the guitars and tambourines and a drum set. All that church music bounced off project walls, circling its way around the neighborhood. I had seen Blanca join in those sessions, but I had always avoided the chosen corners.

“Julio, qué bueno verte, muchacho!” Pastor Vasquez called out. He always spoke in Spanish, though he understood and could speak English when he needed or wanted to. My parents are the same way.

“Estoy tan ansioso de cenar con ustedes este viemes.” As soon as Roberto’s mother heard that Pastor Vasquez was coming for dinner on Friday, she had a change of heart.

“Of course we’ll have dinner with you, Hermana Mercado,” Roberto’s mother told Blanca. Claudia’s face lit up.

Afterward, Blanca stocked up on the religious cards, booklets, and leaflets she hands out every Saturday morning. Then she kissed half the women in the congregation goodbye, making small talk along the way. I waited patiently because it meant a lot to her. Finally, after more goodbyes and gushing about how great a speaker God’s anointed was, Blanca and I were out the door and walking home.

“So that’s Roberto Vega. Impressive. I thought he was very convincing.”

“You should see, sometimes brothers come from as far away as New Jersey to hear him talk.”

“Blanca,” I said, “if you know Claudia is in love with Roberto, why did you invite him to dinner? He’s only seventeen and Claudia looks at least thirty.”

“She’s twenty-seven.”

“For a Latina that’s not married, twenty-seven is ancient. Nobody is going to want to marry her.” Okay, I could have phrased that better. I waited for Blanca’s wrath. I had just patched things up with her and now here I was, starting something new. But Blanca didn’t get mad, in fact she agreed.

“Yes, isn’t that terrible, Julio?” I was surprised at her reaction. “That’s not one of our finest qualities.” I wasn’t sure if Blanca meant Latinos or her church. “It’s a terrible thing that we feel a single woman at twenty-five is over the hill. You should listen to some of the sisters in the congregation bug her. ‘So when are you getting married, Claudia? So when are you going to have children, Claudia? You’re not that young anymore, Claudia, te vas a quedar jamona.’ So much pressure on that poor girl. Meanwhile all the single brothers, young or old, want nineteen-year-old virgins. It’s amazing.”

I started laughing; I liked it when she trashed them.

“Don’t laugh, Julio. Roberto Vega is different. True, he is still young, but he is as mature as a man in his thirties. And Claudia is the most spiritual girl in the congregation. Once he sees that, he might marry her.”

I laughed even harder. “So you think, Blanca, that Roberto Vega is going to give up his celebrity status in your religion to help this girl from Colombia? Blanca, you can be so dumb.” She knew I was half kidding.

“So? It could happen. It could happen. If it’s God’s will it will happen,” she insisted, laughing in spite of herself.

“Of course it’s God’s will. I know God. We go way back,” I said.

Blanca just rolled her eyes at me, punched me softly in the stomach, and said, “Stupid.”

Then she said, firmly, “Well, if Christ wants it to happen, then it will happen.” She knew that part of Roberto’s appeal was not just that he was young and anointed, but single, too. If he got married at eighteen he’d be ruining all that. But she had hopes.

I gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. I was glad I had gone to church, because it had made her happy. That night, walking home with Blanca near me, the streets seemed cleaner, the neighborhood quieter and gentler. We saw a little kid kicking a garbage can bigger than him, yelling that he was the Master of the Universe. What was he doing out so late? If he had been a little girl, I bet his parents would’ve been more concerned. When he kicked the can over and all the garbage spilled on the street, his mother yelled at him from a window above. Mira, Junito, get your ass up here, o te meto una pela.” We burst out laughing, then began talking about the baby. About names again and about education. We talked in a cute and silly private language of our own. But all that was broken when we reached 109th and Third, three blocks from our home.

“Chino! Chino! Blanca!” A man we knew came running over toward us. It was Georgie Vato. We called him that because his name was George and he was Mexican. When we were kids the play Zoot Suit was very popular, and the characters in it kept calling one another vato. The name stuck. Plus, he was a fat little kid and we would tease him, jeering, “Georgie Vato ate all his tacos and then his gato.” He would protest, “Yo, I ain’t got a cat!” which was the dumbest thing to say because then we could answer, “Thass right, cuz you ate him.”

But that night, his face was serious.

“Chino! Blanca! Your house is on fire!” he called out urgently. “The trucks are still there.”

Blanca and I looked at each other. In El Barrio you always think that the fire engines are headed to someone else’s house. You never think it will be your own home that’s on fire, but when it is, all the toughness, the calloused nonchalance of watching fires and hearing sirens falls away. It takes away your immunity, makes you knock on wood and count your blessings the next time you hear a siren at night.

We ran home. From a block away, it looked as if they were filming a movie. Red lights were flashing. The red-orange blaze engulfing the building looked surreal. The people looked like extras on a set, watching in a tight group from across the street. Every time the fire consumed a new window, the wind creating fireballs that would fly out into the air and dissolve in mid flight, the people who didn’t live in the building would yell, “Olé! Olé!” I saw a woman run down the fire escape with a bucket of water. When she reached the floor where the fire was she threw the contents through the window. Everyone laughed. “Oh, that’ll help.” Someone said the fireman that was escorting her down the fire escape let her do it, because she wouldn’t go with him otherwise. When we reached our side of the street, Blanca drew herself toward me and, shaking, buried her face in my arms. When she pulled away from me a bit, she saw one of our neighbors.

“Are you all right?” Blanca asked.

“I’m fine, everyone got out. And we didn’t have much,” she answered, half in tears as her kids clung to her legs. It might not have been much, I thought, but it was hers. Blanca nervously placed her hand on her stomach. I knew she was thanking the Lord that the fire had happened while she, the baby, and I were at church.

Cristo salva, gracias al Señor. It’s not the end of the world.”

As we watched the fire grow more stubborn, fighting the firemen and their hoses, our faces were blank. I knew Blanca felt what all of us who lived in that building were feeling. Displaced. Disoriented. No insurance, no new place, everything lost.

Then something happened.

Someone appeared. Someone who looked like he came out of the fire itself. Slowly, like a mirage from a desert sandstorm, a figure emerged walking toward the people. A tall, elegant man came into focus with his arms outstretched and a face of pure empathy. It was Nazario. When the people saw him, they rushed him. They all wanted to touch him as if his touch could make the blind see, the deaf hear, and the mute speak. Blanca and I just stayed where we were.

“Who’s that?” Blanca asked.

“I don’t know,” I said automatically, because when our eyes locked, even from a few feet away, Nazario’s eyes told me all I needed to know.

Fischman had done it. The fire was in retaliation for Salazar. The war was in full bloom.

After the Fire

AFTER the fire was put out, we tenants were let back inside to retrieve what remained of our belongings. The building had been completely drenched with water and the stairs had become little waterfalls. Glass, pieces of Sheetrock, broken furniture, cups, nail polish, pans, hair brushes, mirrors, bottles, plates, rugs, clothes—almost everything imaginable floated in streams of water from apartments that looked like flooded basements. The elevator didn’t work and all the windows were broken. The firemen had axed their way through what seemed to be every wall and every door, leaving the place looking like a bomb had gone off. The fire had left the ugly smell of smoke stamped and sealed on every piece of clothing that had survived the flames.

Soon word spread around the building that someone had spilled gasoline down the trash chute. A match had been dropped in and the fire had shot straight up to the roof. Between the fire and the water damage, no apartment was habitable. No one in their right mind could have spent the night in that building.

Blanca and I tried to salvage what we could. We needed Vera’s ring more than ever. And I also needed to find the Apple Jacks box containing Sapo’s stuff.

Meanwhile Nazario played his part beautifully. His face led you to believe his place was among the ruins. Nazario was moving from apartment to apartment, reassuring the tenants that they’d have a place to stay within a month. I believed him; I knew Bodega had three buildings on 119th and Lexington that were almost ready to house people.

I always knock the people in Blanca’s church, but a lot of them were right there that night helping us move our things, everyone splashing around ankle-deep in water. If we hadn’t had Blanca’s spiritual brothers and sisters we would have been moving things out all night.

I had left the ring on top of the bureau, but it wasn’t there. No doubt it had been knocked down like everything else. I bent down low, looking for a reflection of light in the water, and then I saw it glittering like a goldfish. I reached through the water, snatched it up, and put it in my pocket. The Apple Jacks box was a problem, and I started to get a bit scared when at first I couldn’t find it, but then I saw it floating, the paper box dissolving like a wafer. I took Sapo’s stuff out and hid it under my shirt.

A little later, downstairs in the lobby, which looked like some purgatorial setting, Nazario had assembled most of the tenants. He spoke eloquently about Latin pride, about a sense of community and trust. He compared the fire to a tragedy like the ones that occurred in the Mother Island or our other Latin countries, where the most important form of help you got was from your neighbor, not the government.

“You have to tough it out. Help each other. We’re Boricuas, we’re Latinos! Where are you from?” he asked, pointing to one of the residents.

“Mayaguez,” the woman answered.

“I have an aunt in Mayaguez. She raised me,” Nazario continued. “We were pobre, pobre. All I had to play with was a cat named Guayo. A tough cat named Guayo, who would dive into a lake like a bear and emerge with a fish in his mouth.” The people laughed a little. “He hated to go in that lake but he had to eat.” The people understood. “You have to tough it out! We are one people, one island, one Latin continent.” Then he raised his index finger in the air. “One people! One month! Tough it out for one month!” The tenants all began to murmur in agreement. “Remember it was Willie Bodega who sheltered you.”

At this, Blanca glanced my way, with the look of a student who wants to ask a professor a question but knows the class is almost over and her question won’t be appreciated by her peers, who are dying to go home.

Nazario continued, “And it will be Willie Bodega who will shelter you again. Any man or woman who believes in community and pride will be included in his love for this neighborhood. Stay with your mother, your brother, your sister, your friend, your priest, anybody for a month. Give Willie Bodega a month and he will shelter you.” Then Nazario looked at Blanca, telling the tenants in Spanish that this woman was pregnant and couldn’t wait a month. He asked Blanca if I, standing behind her, was her husband. Blanca said yes, almost in a whisper. I played along and held her shoulders. Blanca knew this was a farce. She already knew, I could see, that anything connected with Bodega was trouble. She was still not completely sold on my claims of ignorance about that reporter’s death, and as soon as she heard Nazario mention Bodega I sensed she was sure he was one of Bodega’s pawns. But right now was no time to ask questions. Now there were more important things at hand. The questions would come later, and I knew I would have to have some fucking great answers.

Right then there was the whole tragedy of the fire staring us in the face. Nazario announced that Bodega would take care of pregnant women and one-parent families first, and that Blanca and I would be rehoused the very next day. No one seemed to have a problem with this. The other tenants even said Blanca and I deserved it because we were good kids. But I knew Bodega couldn’t have Vera’s niece homeless, even temporarily.

Nazario then continued to circulate, moving like a panther from one place to another, making sure all the tenants had seen him, while he looked for an opportunity to speak to me alone. The moment came when most of the tenants, Pentecostal, Catholic, or whatever, got together to pray in the lobby. No one noticed me not joining in. Maybe Blanca did, but she knew where I stood on that.

“Fischman?” I asked Nazario as we stood in the flooded apartment of someone who was probably out praying with the rest of the tenants.

“I have something to ask of you,” Nazario said.

“Name it.” I wanted a piece of Fischman myself. This fuck could have killed my wife, who had nothing to do with him or Bodega. He had pushed me to the point where I could either break completely away from the situation or dive in completely. I was in.

“I want you to come with me tomorrow to Queens.”

“What’s in Queens?”

“We have to speak with someone. And should something happen to me, I want this person we are going to see to be familiar with your face for future reference. Understand?” I didn’t, but I nodded anyway.

All I understood was that Bodega was in trouble. Not with the fire department, which would know right away it was arson and dismiss it as another case of pyromania in a neighborhood crawling with firebugs. Nor with the media, who needed sensation and since no deaths had occurred would give it only passing mention, like a footnote in a thousand-page book. The Harry Goldstein Management Agency would receive little attention, making it the only good thing, besides no one dying, that Bodega had on his side. What Bodega had to worry about was this Fish of Loisiada making tidal waves.

“Where’s Bodega?” I asked Nazario.

“Vera” was all he said.

I was about to ask something else when we heard the tenants say Amen in a chorus of hope and then begin to disperse.

“I’ll send for you tomorrow, after you’ve moved,” Nazario said, and left.

That night Blanca and I slept at Blanca’s mother’s. Blanca was too tired to ask questions and went straight to sleep, knowing we would need rest because tomorrow we would be moving again.

Watering His Peach Tree

BLANCA and I missed work so we could move. Bodega sent someone over with a lease. Maybe it was the immediacy of the situation or maybe she was just too tired, but Blanca asked no questions. We signed the lease, then got friends and family to help us pack up and move into a two-bedroom apartment, two buildings down on the same block as the burned-out building. Bodega had had a beautiful row of five newly renovated tenements and now the middle one looked like a missing tooth in a pretty woman’s smile.

As I made a trip to the U-Haul van to remove a rug and take it upstairs, I heard a familiar voice.

“Yo, homeless guy! I hope you ran into the flames and rescued my shit.” It was Sapo in his familiar black BMW, going around and collecting money from Bodega’s crack houses and numbers joints.

“Where you been, bro? With all the peace around here I thought you was dead.” I was happy to see him. No matter what, Sapo had never done anything to hurt me. If anything, Sapo had always been around when I needed someone to watch my back.

“Get in.” He opened the door for me, smiling his Sapo smile.

“Can’t. I’m in the middle of moving, bro.”

“Too bad, Nazario sent fo’ yah.”

“I can’t just leave. I got stuff ta move, bro,” I said. Sapo reached for the car phone. I waited. Sapo dialed, and after a few uh-huhs and yeahs he hung up the phone.

“You have two minutes to give an excuse to your alleluia wife and her alleluia friends cuz you comin’ with me,” he said.

“I can’t go wi’choo, bro. I got things to finish.”

“You’s comin, Chino. Now, I’ve done a lot of things in my days but I ain’t never kidnapped nobody. But I will if I have to cuz that was Nazario on the phone.”

I had to go. So I told one of Blanca’s church friends, Wilfredo Reyes, that I had forgotten something important uptown and had to retrieve it. He just smiled and said not to worry, but I felt really bad because I wasn’t lending a hand when it was my stuff they were breaking their backs carrying. Still, I had to go, so I jumped in with Sapo and we took off.

“Where we going?”

“Pa’ viejo.”

“Yo, that ain’t original. You should never repeat yourself.”

“I hear that. So this’s the deal. You and Nazario are goin’ to talk with some wops in Queens.”

“ ’Bout what?”

“Wha’, I look like Walter Mercado to you? I don’t fucken know ’bout wha’.” We drove.

“Yo, Sapo,” I said in a low tone. “Did you kill Salazar? Did you kill that reporter?”


“Get the fuck. Why you lie to me, bro?”

“All right, I’ll tell you. I ain’t kill the sonofabitch.”

“Yeah, so how come he had a chunk missing from his shoulder?”

“I didn’t say I ain’t bit the nigga. I bite ’em but ain’t kill ’em.”

“Yeah, then who did?”

“You see whiskers on me? You see a tail? You see me likin’ cheese or somethin’?”

“All right. But you were there, bro, that’s guilt by association. They can get you for that.”

“They ain’t gettin’ no one,” he said, slamming the brakes suddenly, and my body jerked forward. I knew Sapo didn’t like me asking him about any of this. He was telling me to back off. I didn’t.

“Yo, I asked Bodega himself. He said you killed Salazar.”

“Bodega wasn’t there, how he’d know?” He shifted really hard and gritted his teeth.

“But he sent you, right?”

“Nazario did. But Bodega okayed it. Still, I didn’t kill the fuck.”

“Then where you been, bro?”

“You know, Chino, I never thought of it but like you sittin’ on a bunch of info. Thass not a good chair to be sittin’ on, know what I’m sayin’, papi? If I was you I’d move my ass and sit somewhere else.” Now I knew he was really serious, and I backed off.

We had reached 116th and First. Sapo double-parked.

“Come with me, bro. This will only take a minute.” Sapo and I got out of the car and entered a city-owned abandoned building. Such buildings made perfect places for crack houses and numbers joints. The electricity was easily siphoned from a lamppost socket or the nearest building (via the roof). The windows facing the street were covered with plywood and only the first floor was renovated so it looked as if the fire that emptied the building hadn’t affected that floor. A phony business was set up, be it a candy store, a comic-book shop, or a florist. By the time the cops busted the place Bodega had made a killing and couldn’t be traced because he never owned the building, the City of New York did. Anybody arrested who worked for Bodega had Nazario and his suits taking care of their backs in court.

This numbers joint fronted as a candy store. It had a few comic books, some lollipops, gum, jars filled with hard candy, and a Pac-Man machine. When Sapo walked in the guy sitting behind the counter quickly rose to attention, like he was in the army or something. Then he relaxed when Sapo slapped him five and they laughed at each other. They went to the back and left me there with two other guys who were playing Pac-Man and talking about some guy from the old days.

One of them hit the machine as if it was its fault he had lost his turn. “That fucken red ghost got me! Frankie, it’s your go.” He made way so Frankie could have a try at the joystick. The music of little dots being eaten up and ghosts following the smiling yellow cartoon was the only sound in the candy store. No children went there to buy candy, they knew better. And the numbers for the day had come out already, so betting time was over. It was an ugly, desolate store, with posters of Marvel superheroes taped to the wall, where all you heard were stories of things that might have happened.

“So, Angel, what happened to the nigga?” Frankie asked as he played.

“Dead,” Angel said.

“How he die?”

“That shit was a shame.”

But before I could learn the details of Angel’s fate, Sapo returned with a paper bag in his hand and we left. Inside his car, he drew out a knapsack he had hidden under the seat. He stuffed the bag inside the knapsack, which was filled with other wrinkled-looking brown bags. We took off.

“I thought you was takin’ me to Nazario, whass this about collectin’?”

“That was the last one, don’t freak on me.” He turned on First Avenue and we headed uptown.

“So like you know I was with this white girl las’ night and they like good in bed but like they say stupid shit. You know, like, Spanish girls, they moan to you, ‘Ayy papi, ayy papi.’ See, I like that. But white girls, white girls say shit like, ‘Oh, God, oh God’ or shit like ‘Oh yes, oh yes.’ I’d rather be called papi in bed than God.”

“Spoken like a true existentialist,” I said.

“All right, nigga, use them big-ass college words on me, call me a fucken extraterrestrial, but I know you understand. I mean, I know you like white girls. You always liked white girls. You hate to admit it, but I always knew you did.”

“Blanca’s Latin, bro.”

“Yeah, thass right, but they call her Blanca. Why? Cuz even though she might be Spanish, she’s a white Spanish—”

“So what you tryin’ to say, Sapo, that I don’t like our girls?”

“Nah, I’m telling you, you don’t like our girls. If the shoe fits, wear it, mothafucka.”

“Why you want to go on and say that to me for, bee? You got somethin’ against my skin preference?”

“All I’m sayin’ is, if Blanca weren’t white you woulda nevah married her.”

“Yo, you been stayin’ up all night figurin’ this out? Or like Bodega, you’ve been watching fucken psychology shows on TV. What the fuck.”

“Face it, Chino, you got plexes. You got plexes with your kind in bed.”

“Please. I ain’t got no complex about Latin girls.”

“Hey, man, I ain’t like tryin’ to get you angry or somethin’. You know whass your problem, Chino, you’re like a Schick razor, you’re ultrasensitive. But you my pana, I mean we go way back.” Sapo stopped talking when we reached 125th. He pulled over opposite a black Mercedes.

“See that car?” Sapo pointed. “Nazario’s in it. I’ll see you when I see you. And I want my shit. You still have my shit, right?”

“Yeah, I got it.” I stepped out of Sapo’s car. “I’m happy to see you, bro.”

“Yeah, yeah, you just better have my shit,” he said, and sped out.

I walked toward the Mercedes and the driver opened the door for me. I climbed inside. The air conditioner was on full blast and the car was freezing. It was only spring and the day was cool. There was no reason for the air-conditioning. Nazario had some notes on his lap and a suit hanging beside him.

“Good to see you.” He shook my hand. His was warm, how I didn’t know. He handed me the suit. “Go inside that building,” he said, pointing. “Knock on 1B. An old woman named Doña Flores will open the door. She will let you take a bath and change into these clothes. And don’t forget to shave. Please, Julio, don’t take too long,” he said nicely.

“Five minutes,” I said, and did as I was told.

CROSSING THE Triborough Bridge to Queens, Nazario kept silent and just studied a ledger, at times making little notes in it. I didn’t speak and didn’t let him know that I was cold. I just looked out of the window.

When we reached Queens I felt taller. Manhattan humbles you. Many times when I walk around Manhattan I feel as if I’m walking among giant sequoia trees in the California Redwoods. Everything is so above you, so intimidating and grand. But in Queens the buildings are small, mostly private homes, and those that aren’t are only a few stories high. In Queens you’re Gulliver among the Lilliputians.

When we arrived in Rego Park, the driver pulled over and parked in front of a two-story house. Nazario put his ledger down and finally spoke to me. “Just be cool and let me do all the talking. There isn’t much for you to do here except make me look more important than I am.” We stepped out. It was good to feel some heat.

A heavyset Italian man opened the door and led us inside. After seating us, he said a Mr. Cavalleri would be with us in a minute, that Mr. Cavalleri was out in the garden. The house was ugly, full of cheap furniture and cheaper paintings of horses and saints. We waited and waited. Nazario said nothing to me and I said nothing back. We waited for one hour and most of another. I didn’t say or ask anything. Nazario just looked straight ahead like he was in the fifth hour of a twelve-hour drive. The house was silent, as if the only ones inside were Nazario and myself. Finally the same man returned and apologized for the wait.

“Sorry, fellas. Has it been long?”

“Not long at all,” Nazario said, calmly.

The man led us through the house and out to the garden. There he sat on a chair in the shade, his eyes on an old man wearing a sweater who was watering a peach tree. Nazario didn’t move until the old man motioned for him, and then he walked the two steps toward him.

“Mr. Cavalleri, it was kind of you, a busy man, to make time on such short notice to see us. I won’t insult you by recapping what you already know. My associate William Irizarry asked us to see you.” Nazario stopped himself as if he had said too much. He waited. The old man kept watering the tree. Then he turned the water off and lifted his hand to caress the wet leaves. He moved his eyes and head slightly toward Nazario, who began to speak again.

“We know that you have worked well with Aaron Fischman in the past. We know that he has made a lot of money for you. For my associate and I to act without consulting you would be foolish.” He stopped. Cavalleri moved his head slightly, this time with a little more energy, a nod of agreement. Nazario then started talking again.

“What has happened between William Irizarry and Aaron Fischman should have no bearing on you or your well-respected name. This is strictly between my associate and Aaron Fischman. I am here to make sure that you, Mr. Cavalleri, and Aaron Fischman have no future ventures planned that would harm you and your name should something happen to Aaron Fischman.” Nazario stopped and waited for the nod before resuming.

“But should you have ventures planned with Aaron Fischman, my associate will compensate you for any loss.” Nazario and I waited for the old Italian.

“Tell this …” Cavalleri finally said, in a low and gravelly voice.

“Mr. William Irizarry,” Nazario answered.

“What does he have in case I have something planned with Aaron Fischman in the near future?”

“Mr. Irizarry knows you are the last of the great old-timers. He knows that you believe in the rules and that you remember fondly your youthful days in the old neighborhood.”

Cavalleri made a slight movement with his fingers, gesturing for Nazario to come closer. I stayed put. Nazario began talking again.

“When you were young, East Harlem belonged to you. In fact, there were two little Italys, one downtown and one in East Harlem. When your bones had plenty of calcium, Mr. Cavalleri, remember that 116th and First was called Lucky Corner because all the politicians would make that street their last stop on the eve of elections. They knew who had the power in the city and who had financed them. The likes of Vito Marcantonio and Fiorello La Guardia all came to pay respect to the men who had placed them in office before the votes had even been counted. Men like you, Mr. Cavalleri.”

The old man looked at the soil that fed his peach tree. He looked at the puddles he had made and contemplated what Nazario was saying.

“And through the years all that has been lost. The only hold you still have is around Pleasant Avenue. What William Irizarry can offer you is his friendship and his promise that nothing will ever happen to that last remnant of Italian East Harlem. It would remain sacred. You have his word that no one will ever hurt it.”

At that Cavalleri turned his face away. Nazario had made a mistake.

“Tell your …”

“William Irizarry.”

“Tell him that we don’t need his protection on Pleasant Avenue. Tell him it was presumptuous of him to think so.”

Nazario waited a few seconds, and just when he was about to apologize the old man lifted his hand to indicate he wasn’t finished yet.

“The old days are gone. That’s fine. We don’t own what we used to own. So many groups out there. It’s like the U.N. now.” He paused, then looked at Nazario once again. “I’ve heard what’s going on in my old neighborhood. I’ve heard only good things about this, this …?”

“William Irizarry.”

“I heard he doesn’t sell it to children and I heard he’s rebuilding the place. I have heard about some crazy idea to pay for people’s schooling. He’s a character. He runs detox programs in the basements of his buildings and at the same time deals in the street.”

“My associate believes anyone who takes it should have a chance to rid himself of it. But anyone is free to decide—” Cavalleri raised his hand again. He’d heard enough. Nazario quieted down.

“I’m an old man, I know what it’s all about. I don’t need speeches.” His face was in a tight knot of irritation. “I personally hate drugs. It’s too much risk, but the more the money the higher the risk. Tell this …?”

“William Irizarry.”

“Tell him I’ve severed all my ties with that Jew. Tell him I’m old and couldn’t care less who comes out on top.” The old man then turned back to his peach tree. Nazario bowed slightly, and just when we were about to turn around and leave, Cavalleri spoke again.

“But tell this …”

“William Irizarry,” Nazario repeated without a note of irritation.

“Tell him should he come out on top, I could work with a spic like him. One that believes in the old days and plays by the rules. It was smart of him to see me before reacting. It shows the man can think. Tell this …” Just as Nazario was about to repeat Bodega’s name, the old man lifted his hand to stop him. “Tell this William Irizarry that should he come out on top, from this day forth I will remember his name.”

As Long As Latino Kills Latino
We’ll Always Be a Little People

WHILE riding back to Manhattan Nazario made a call. “Make sure you get all the logos,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. Just get them and then get back at me. Get the corners too.” He paused and frowned, as if the person he was talking to was in front of him. “Any news on the building? No? All right.” He dialed another number. “Find Nene and get back to me.” Then he told the driver to turn off the air conditioner. I guess after the meeting he didn’t need to be so cool, he could sweat if he wanted to. He dialed again. “He’s coming the day after tomorrow, in the afternoon. Do you have the flight number? Good. I’ll send someone to pick him up.”

It was a victory for Nazario and Bodega that this big Italian guy had told them he was staying out of their way, but to Nazario it was just one of many hurdles he and Bodega had to overcome.

The last number he dialed received no answer. I knew he was calling Bodega. He must’ve been too busy with Vera to answer. But Nazario didn’t mutter a curse under his breath, he just closed his eyes and sighed.

“Good news,” I said cheerfully to Nazario, “can wait.”

“You think this is good news, Julio?” he said, eyes still shut. I stayed quiet. “Did you see how we were fucking humiliated?” I had yet to see Nazario really angry. His emotions were always in check. Seeing him mad now made me realize things were in bad shape. “Did you see how he kept us waiting? Did you see how he controlled everything?”

“You needed a favor from him, right?” I said after a few seconds of silence. Nazario was looking out the window.

“Getting rid of anyone is bad. Especially one of your own.” I guessed he meant Salazar.

“Salazar was dirty, though.”

“Yes, but”—his eyes left the window and looked straight at me—“as long as Latino kills Latino,” he sighed, “we’ll always be a little people.” Silence fell again. Nazario’s eyes returned to the window.

“Nazario, I got a question to ask you,” I said, breaking the silence. “Do you promise not to be a lawyer and tell it to me straight?”

“I don’t promise you anything,” he smiled faintly, “but don’t be afraid to ask.”

“Why am I here? I mean here with you, today. I don’t bring you any advantage over anything or anyone—” He cut me off.

“Who said? That’s the mentality I’m trying to change, Julio. I spotted you a mile away. I know what you can be. What you might bring to us.”

“Us? Who the fuck is us?”

“Us, man,” he said, a little annoyed. “Us, Latinos, the neighborhood, who else? We want you to join the program, quit that job of yours at the supermarket and concentrate on school.” I knew that I could never do that. If I was going to finish school it would be on my own. “We’re trying to do things here.”

“Through crime?”

“Through whatever means are at our disposal.” He straightened himself in his seat. When he spoke, his voice was cold. “Behind every great wealth, Julio, there’s a great crime. You know who said that?”

I didn’t.


“Balzac? The writer?”

“Look around, Julio. Every time someone makes a million dollars, he kills some part of the world. That part has been us for so long, and it will continue to be us unless we fight back. The day will come when, just like the white guy, we will also steal by signing the right papers.”

“And it’ll all be legal?”

“That’s right. But in the beginning, you have to do certain things. What do you think, it comes from nothing? America is a great nation, I have no doubts about that, but in its early days it had to take some shady steps to get there. Manifest Destiny, that was just another word for genocide. But now, when you go out west, Julio …” Nazario looked my way and paused but focused his eyes on nothing. “You ever been out west, Julio?”

“No, I never been out west.” He had to know that.

“It’s beautiful, Julio. The red and orange desert, the hills, all that space, the Rockies, the wildlife. When you see that, then you will understand why the Americans wanted it and called it Manifest Destiny and not what it really was, theft.”

He looked out the window again. What he said was nothing new to me, but I felt like a stagestruck actor who forgets his lines because he’s worried about the audience. That was always my problem; I wanted to be onstage, close to the action, but without having to say any lines. Unlike Bodega and the rest, I never had the balls to hold my own in a big scene, much less an entire show.

But I had started to wonder if Nazario and Bodega were right all along. I mean, on good days, what I was learning in college excited me in ways the street and its erratic and petty rules never could. I wanted to think it was my family that had kept me away from the street scene Sapo had built his life around, but it wasn’t. I had enrolled at school thinking about other ways to come out on top, ways that didn’t hurt anybody and weren’t as dangerous. Graduate, get a good job, save, buy a house—but those ways were slow. And like Nazario’s and Bodega’s ways, they held no guarantees of success just because they were legal. They, too, were gambles, rolls of the dice.

Nazario and Bodega, they were talking something else. How life is born from chaos and explosions. Big Bang. They were talking about starting out as a piece of trash from the gutter and transforming yourself into gold. Nazario and Bodega saw it as all or nothing. You couldn’t have change without evolution and some people would get hurt and become extinct in the process because they couldn’t adapt. Nazario’s and Bodega’s ways made sense to me. But so did mine and Blanca’s, and in tense moments, I didn’t know who made more sense or where my loyalties should be placed.

“Tomorrow.” Nazario swallowed. “Tomorrow it will be all over El Diario that Salazar was a bought reporter.” He took a deep breath and loosened his tie. “Once it’s out about Salazar being dirty, we’re hoping nobody will care.” That had already started—El Diario was about the only newspaper still covering the murder investigation.

Nazario brought out his ledger and started jotting down some numbers. He seemed to be good at adding and subtracting quickly and without a calculator. Only his lips moved, like he was praying. I left him alone. It was getting dark and the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge loomed ahead. Manhattan at night seen from its surrounding bridges is Oz, it’s Camelot or Eldorado, full of color and magic. What those skyscrapers and lights don’t let on is that hidden away lies Spanish Harlem, a slum that has been handed down from immigrant to immigrant, like used clothing worn and reworn, stitched and restitched by different ethnic groups who continue to pass it on. A paradox of crime and kindness. It had evolved spontaneously on the island, accessible to everyone. East Harlem had no business being in this rich city but there it was, filled with broken promises of a better life, dating decades back to the day when many Puerto Ricans and Latinos gathered their bags and carried their dreams on their backs and arrived in America, God’s country. But they would never see God’s face. Like all slumlords, God lived in the suburbs.

As the car sped over the bridge, I looked down on the East River. I pictured explorers in their ships arriving at the shore and making deals with the true native New Yorkers, the Indians. A twenty-four-dollar rip-off, I said to myself. Bodega and Nazario were just reversing the roles. They were buying the island back at the same bargain rate. They were getting it while it was still cheap. El Barrio, run-down and abandoned, was just waiting for them to take it. East Harlem was ugly real estate that no one wanted. No one but Bodega and Nazario, who loved that tired piece of land just off the East River. They would rebuild it, repaint it, and watch as others stepped back, looked at it, and pulled their hair in dismay. “This was always a beautiful place. Why couldn’t we see that before?”

WHEN WE were back home in the neighborhood, Nazario said he would speak with me some other time and to keep the suit, and my eyes, ears, and mind open. I was happy, but I was worried about Blanca. She must be fuming, I thought. Blanca would ask a million questions, and I went upstairs braced for another confrontation.

When I reached our floor and went inside our new place, our second in about a month, it got me down to see it full of boxes. All our things were so out of order, out of place, though the phone was hooked up. I walked toward the bedroom. I could hear laughter and small cries of Gloria a Dios. When I entered Blanca was sitting on the bed. Roberto Vega and Claudia were standing, holding hands. Near them were suitcases and tote bags. When they saw me, the room fell silent. Blanca smiled and carefully stood up, and I hugged her, not knowing why Roberto and Claudia were there. In a way I was glad they were, because I knew Blanca would never argue or grill me in front of them.

“Did you eat, Julio?” she asked.

“No, I’m just tired,” I said.

“Where did you go?” she asked. “We still had a couple of things to move.”

“Like I told Wilfredo Reyes, I had to get something I left behind.”

“Oh,” she said frowning. El Hermano Reyes must have forgotten to tell me.” Blanca then faced Roberto and Claudia. “Can you believe this, Julio, they’ve been seeing each other in secret all this time and now they want to elope!” I congratulated them, shaking their hands and telling them that was great. Roberto and Claudia seemed happy but also a little dazed.

“Thank you,” Roberto said. La Hermana Mercado has always been a good friend to Claudia and we wanted to know if you can lend us some money.”

“Sure.” I had Vera’s diamond ring in mind. They could go far with that.

“Well, I’m happy for them,” Blanca interrupted, “but they shouldn’t just get married.”

“Blanca, let them do what they want,” I said. I looked at Roberto and as casually as possible asked him, “You’ve finished high school, right?”

“Yes, when I was sixteen.” He must have skipped a grade.

“Good, and you have a place to live, right?”

“Yes, I have a brother in Chicago. We’ll get married and stay with him until I can get a job and Claudia can get her papers so she can look for work also.”

“See, Blanca, let’s just give them what money we can”—diamond ring included—“and let them go to Chicago.” I thought Robert was a smart guy. Besides, if he was really anointed by God then God was looking after him, and if he wasn’t, well, his plans were still pretty sound. He wasn’t talking about love conquering all. About love being all you need. Roberto was talking about paying the rent. This let me know he was, as Blanca had told me, an adult. Roberto and Claudia probably had a bit of money saved up and now they were doing the right thing, trying to get more. I had no problem with it.

Blanca was thrilled: The girl least likely to be chosen had been. It was like the story of Esther all over again. What bothered Blanca was the disruption this would bring to the spiritual peace of the congregation. The gossip and turmoil they would create by doing this in secret.

“Claudia,” Blanca said, “you know your sisters will hate you. They will accuse you of corruption. Roberto’s mother will hate you.”

“She hates me already. But I did nothing wrong, Roberto is in love with me and I love him.” Claudia was not in tears. She was worried but happy.

“Claudia did nothing wrong,” Roberto interjected.

“Roberto, you’re supposed to be an example. More than an example, what about your mother?” Blanca said to him. “You eloping will kill her. Just go and tell her you fell in love with Claudia and that you want to marry her. Let everyone know the truth. If they hear it out of someone else’s mouth then you will be ridiculed.” That made me uneasy. Without her knowing it Blanca was talking to me about Bodega. About things that I had yet to tell her. Things that I hoped she would never hear from anyone’s lips, Negra’s or anybody’s. “Roberto, you have to tell your mother. This elope stuff is wrong.”

“My mother won’t understand,” Roberto said. Claudia held his arm now, and nodded in agreement.

“Blanca,” I said, a little annoyed, “let them go. We can lend them at least three hundr—”

“No, Julio, this is a mistake,” she snapped at me. Then she looked at Roberto. “This is a mistake, Roberto, just go to your mother and tell her. Please.”

“Blanca, let them go.” I sighed. I was ready to hit an ATM. I thought it was all great. And I was actually happy that somewhere in this neighborhood young people were still falling in love. Of course they were. People are always falling in love, but at times it was easy for me to forget because even though I still loved Blanca, it wasn’t the same as before we were married, when nothing seemed impossible and even her religion wasn’t an obstacle.

“Thank you, Hermano Mercado.”

“All right, all right,” Blanca said. “Please tell your mother that you’re going to marry Claudia. If she disapproves, then you leave.”

“Blanca, let them go,” I said. “You have a place to stay in Chicago, right Roberto?” I asked him again. Blanca jumped right in.

“Do you know who this older brother in Chicago is, Julio?”

I shrugged. “A brother is a brother, right?”

“Well, that’s what you think. Remember Googie Vega?” Blanca puckered her lips and shook her head from side to side. “Roberto is his younger brother.”

Everyone had known Googie Vega. He had once been a good Pentecostal. He was seen all over the neighborhood preaching and playing handball. Those were his passions, Christ and a pink rubber Spalding. He was a tall, good-looking guy and, like his little brother, he was very popular. Googie was a bit older than us. He had gone to school with Negra, and she was always talking about laying him and all that stuff. Lots of girls liked him. It was common to hear girls say when they saw Googie preaching with his brothers on a street corner, “Thass a waste of a church boy.” And they would accept the leaflets he’d hand out, and agree to go to his Bible studies.

No one knew what had happened to him. Not even Negra. The Pentecostals said that the Devil must have gotten inside him. That demons invaded his thoughts. That he made the mistake of entertaining an evil desire and that desire gave birth to sin. It didn’t just turn into a sin, it destroyed him. When it was obvious what he was doing the church kicked him out and guys from the neighborhood started calling him the Junkie Christ. He would hock anything and his eyes were like ashes. The same women who once harbored crushes would whisper as he passed by, “That guy was a church boy once and now he steals from his mother.”

“Why didn’t you tell me before, Blanca?” I turned toward Roberto. “You know, Roberto, Blanca is right. Go tell your mother.”

“You will kill her, Roberto. First Googie, now you,” Blanca implored.

Roberto stayed silent.

“Claudia.” Blanca held her by the shoulders and looked directly in her eyes. “You have to make Roberto tell his mother.” Then she turned to Roberto and said, “You know you will lose all your privileges.”

“We’ve talked about that,” Roberto said. “I don’t care if they take away my privileges, I can serve Christ as a regular brother. I don’t have to have all this status.” I liked him. His modesty and humility made me want to believe he might be anointed after all.

“Is there something you’re not telling me?” Claudia asked Roberto. “Because I feel Blanca doesn’t want to be the one to tell me. That leaves it to you.”

“My brother in Chicago, Dios lo bendiga, had a really bad drug problem. This was a few years ago. I was a little kid, the Lord hadn’t spoken to me yet. But when He did, my mother sent my brother away to Chicago to live with an aunt of ours, so that he wouldn’t embarrass me.” Silence fell in the bedroom.

Claudia understood everything. Roberto had been sheltered all his life. His mother was determined not to make the same mistake twice. She was going to protect her youngest from everything. Especially since he was one of the chosen, the 144,000 Revelation speaks about. The ones that will rule with Christ for a thousand years. Roberto’s mother had sent the eldest into exile and put all her hopes in the youngest. He was a great orator. That was a fact. But in the religious order to which Blanca and her Church subscribed, Roberto was something much more. He was a heavenly prince Christ himself had handpicked to sit with Him at His table.

“Let’s go tell your mother,” Claudia softly said to Roberto, whose eyes began to water. They said goodbye to Blanca and me and walked out the door.

Blanca and I stayed silent for a moment. She was sad. Her friend had landed the biggest prize of her religion, an anointed one, but somehow she felt as if she was ruining someone’s life.

Blanca smiled faintly and then sighed. “I need to study and this place is a mess. I’ll be at my mother’s.” Blanca was spent. She picked up her schoolwork, kissed me goodbye, and before heading out the door asked me again if I’d eaten. I was happy because I knew that as soon as Blanca finished studying, she would talk with her mother a little, maybe have some coffee, and then return home too tired to talk. That suited me fine. She kissed me goodbye again and said I should study too. Finals were coming. I said I would.

I didn’t study. Even with the apartment empty except for boxes, it felt good to be all by myself. The wooden floors were all shiny. The place seemed huge. I went to the bedroom and got a pillow. I stretched out on the living room floor and it felt like I was swimming. All this space and freedom.

Then the phone rang.

“Got my stuff, bro?”

“Hello to you, too.”

“Fuck that shit, you know it’s me. Listen, I need that stuff. I’ve got work to do.”

“Yeah, I got it.”

“I’m comin’ ovah and, Chino, Bodega wants ta see you like now.”

I waited for Sapo downstairs with his envelope. I saw his car turn the corner and I walked over to the curb. He opened the door for me. He was halfway through an entire large Domino’s pizza. I handed over the envelope and he nodded, placed it in the glove compartment, and resumed eating his slice.

“Yo, Sapo,” I said, “you know that Domino’s gives money to those people who fuck up abortion clinics? You helping that shit.”

“Nah, get the fuck? You lying, Chino.” He seemed amused. He finished the slice, with his right hand reached into the backseat, uncovered the pizza box, and brought out another slice.

“Ho, shit, you still gonna go eating that shit?”

“I don’t care who they finance. Their pizza’s good.”

“Where’s your social conscience?”

“My wha’?”

“Something you stand for.”

“Tell you what, Chino, since you have plexes with the pizza, I promise to throw the box in the ga’bage. And as for what I stand for? I stand for myself. One man. Above God. With liberty and just enough patience with your fucken social conscience shit to kick yo’ ass out of my car. I’m like gettin’ tired of drivin’ you around. Bodega must think my car is yellow with a big fucken checkered flag on tha side.”

That night Sapo dropped me off at one of the new-old buildings Bodega had renovated on 119th and Lexington. Those buildings had been condemned for years. The City of New York takes so much time to either renovate or bulldoze a condemned building it’s like those guys on Death Row who die of old age rather than execution. Bodega had bought the entire row from the city and had slowly renovated three of them. He had improved the block. Improved the neighborhood. Given people a place to live.

After dropping me off, Sapo left in a hurry as if he had a lot of work to do. Nene was waiting for me downstairs.

“Whass up, Chino?”

“Whass up, Nene?” But I didn’t have the energy to meet his eager expression that night.

Going up, the stairs didn’t creak and the walls were freshly painted. The doors were new and the air smelled clean and moist as if it had just rained inside the building. Bodega had chosen a neatly furnished three-bedroom for himself. When I walked in he quickly placed an index finger on his lips.

“Shhh,” he whispered, “Vera’s sleeping.”

“You got problems,” I whispered back.

“It’s all going to be taken care of tomorrow.” He accompanied me to the kitchen, the room farthest from the bedroom where Vera must have been sleeping. Nene was in the living room watching VH1 at low volume, almost mute, as if it was the images that he cared for. I didn’t want to ask Bodega how he was going to take care of things. But he told me anyway.

“I’m meeting her husband tomorrow in the afternoon.”

“What are you talking about, bro?”

“Vera’s husband is coming tomorrow.”

“Wait, wait.” I couldn’t believe it. “Nazario just met this Italian about Fisch—”

“Hey, look, thass my problem. You here for something else?”

“Your problem? So why you had me go with Nazario in the first place?” I was upset. We weren’t on the same page.

“Cuz he handpicked you ta go. It wasn’t my doin’.” I remembered what Sapo had told me, that I was sitting on a lot of information and that wasn’t a good place to be.

“So, Chino, he arrives the day after tamorrow.”

“Who?” I was lost in thought about Nazario handpicking me, dragging me out to Queens. Why me? Why not someone else? He had tons of better-suited candidates, no pun intended. Bodega wanted me around because Vera was family; no matter how far apart they had been, she was still Blanca’s aunt. But what did Nazario need? He was the type who needs very little from anybody and if he ever did need something, he could get it from you without you knowing you had given it to him.

“Vera’s husband. That’s who.”

“Yeah, that’s right, you told me.”

“You all right, Chino?”

“Yeah, I’m cool.” I was still thinking about Nazario, but I had to let it go. I would ask Sapo or maybe Bodega at another time. I could never ask Nazario.

So I tried to shift gears.

“Bodega, you happy about this guy comin’?”

“Yeah, and I want you to be there, with your wife, you know. For support, you know.” His face was that of a kid on Christmas Eve who can’t wait till midnight to open his presents.

“Who the fuck invited him to New York?”

“I did.” He sounded as if that was obvious.

“Why?” I thought it was a stupid idea, but couldn’t tell him that.

“B’cause Vera needs to tell him”—he lit a cigarette—“that she never loved him.”

“Wait, wait, how does Vera feel about this?”

He turned away from me. He looked at the floor and then, taking a drag, looked to his left and right before exhaling. “She’s confused,” he said sadly. “See, Chino, she’s a little shaken cuz she’s spent the last twenty years with that guy. You know she got to feel something for him, but she still loves me and always has.” His eyes looked watery, his face drawn. They must have been discussing this all day long.

“I know what yo’r thinking, Chino. But Vera is not like that. It’s just that she didn’t want to talk about it any longer, she was really tired, thass all.” He seemed to desperately need to hear Vera say that she had never loved her husband. He needed to hear it and wanted others to be there as witnesses. It was as if he had forgotten where he stood in the universe and only those words coming from Vera could reorient him to his place in the cosmos. He needed to hear it and he wanted it to be said in his backyard, in East Harlem and not in Miami or anyplace else.

“Look, Willie, you got Fischman, who wants to kill you. You have cops looking around the neighborhood for leads on who killed Salazar. You have this neighborhood thinking you’re some sort of goodies bag. Man, why make things worse by inviting this guy?”

My question went right past him. “I think having you and your wife maybe, her sister, too, near Veronica would help.” He began pacing and then realized that one of the parquet panels on the floor creaked. He walked over it again to make sure which one was the culprit and told me to avoid it so Vera wouldn’t wake up. Then he continued.

“Vera needs support and the more family there the better.”

“If Vera needs family there to support her, then I’m sorry, bee, but you just have to accept that she can’t say it—”

“She’s been with this guy for years!” he loudly hissed at me. “You think thass easy to forget? Wha’ you want, her to just say the magic—”

“If she really loved you, Willie, she wouldn’t need any help from you or anyone else,” I hissed back.

“Come on people now, smile on your brother.” Nene glided into the kitchen with a huge grin.

“ ’Tá todo bien,” Bodega assured Nene.

“It’s cool, then?” he asked Bodega, not me. “Because I like Chino and I would be like sad if I had to hurt him.”

“Don’t worry about it. No one is hurting no one,” Bodega said, and Nene patted me on the back. “I found out your real name is Julio,” he said as he headed back to the living room and the TV. “Thass a dope name, Julio. Meet me and Julio down by the schoolyard.

“Why don’t you just get out?” I said to Bodega. “You have Vera, you have money. Just go away. Buy some beach property in San Juan and you and Vera can lie on the sand and watch the world go to hell.” I didn’t think he’d heard me. His face was blank. His eyes were focused on the closed bedroom door down the hall.

“Did you see that TV special on the Jewish immigrants?” Bodega’s eyes were still locked on the bedroom door.

“Nah, missed it.” This was hopeless.

“Yeah, well, I was thinkin’ that after this is all over, I should open up a school. You know, like the Jews did cuz their kids were like always bein’ discriminated and so they gave a lot of money to private schools that had no ties with any religious groups or anyone and so their kids went to these schools without bein’ scared. You know what I’m sayin’?”

“I know what you’re sayin’.”

“So, like, you in college and you hate law, so when you graduate you want to be in this?”

“In what?”

“My school, for our kids. Be a teacher since you hate lawyers.”

“Maybe,” I said, but I knew I didn’t mean it.

“Have you seen that old burnt-down school building on 100th and First? That shit has been abandoned for years. But Nazario got it for us from the city. I’m renovating it.”

“Sounds good,” I said. I took the ring out of my pocket.

“Look, if Vera wants this back,” I said, “you’ll know the truth.” His gaze fell on the ring in my palm. He nervously took it from me and read the inscription. He didn’t say anything. I was about to walk away.

“Need anything, Chino, you see me. Ask Sapo and see me.” He put the ring in his pocket. He smiled and then stared back at the bedroom where Vera was sleeping.

As I was heading out, I heard Nene singing, “Mama, I just killed a man.” His voice was strange, tense and tight. I turned toward him, saw the image on the television, saw it had nothing to do with the song. What was on was a shoe commercial. I stared at Nene for a little while, lost. I thought of Sapo. No, Sapo hadn’t killed Salazar. It wasn’t Sapo.

Nene saw me looking at him and smiled. I nodded and left. I took a shortcut through a huge vacant lot. I stopped for a minute and even though it was dark I studied the rubble of a building that once stood there. Scorched bricks with wild grass growing all around the lot. A toilet seat lay on its side, a sink and a bathtub too. Fireflies were flashing, lighting up the lot. Once people lived there, I thought. And some fire displaced them. The city did nothing, as if the problem would go away all by itself. In time the buildings eroded. Later, the city wrecking ball knocked them to the ground.

Bodega, I thought, was at least doing the opposite. He was renovating. And when Alberto Salazar discovered who—and what—was behind all the renovation, Bodega sent Nene to kill Salazar. It was hard to believe Nene was a killer. But Nene could be as imposing as a block of granite. It didn’t matter that he was slow, it doesn’t take much to kill. Nene must have gone with Sapo to do in Salazar together. With Nene and Sapo, you have a lot of brute strength on your side. Bodega did it to protect what was his. He did it to stop the vacant lots from multiplying. Didn’t he? True, Vera was his reason for dreaming all this up, but whatever evil deed had been committed, something good was coming out of it. I looked around the rubble-strewn lot and knew someone had to do something about it. Someone had to step forward and do something. Bodega had, because no one but one of its own residents was going to improve Spanish Harlem. No one.

DMU Timestamp: November 22, 2021 17:11