Jan 01, 2024, 06:27AM

The Yorkville Regals


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"Hey! Bela Lugosi!"

The old man began to smile as he turned slowly to face his accuser. He meant to say, "I am not Bela Lugosi! But point of fact, we are from the same town in Hungary, and my mother knew his mother when they were schoolgirls..."

But he never got the chance to say a word before a fist smashed his nose, sent him stumbling backwards, falling like a sack of wet cement onto the cold concrete sidewalk. Then they were on him, dungaree delinquents, fists pounding an old man in his worn topcoat. Kicks to his ribs, one to his jaw, punches to his head, before he passed out. As he went under he heard, "Merry Christmas, old man!"

A minute or so prior, the Yorkville Regals had been lurking in an alley, waiting for a victim. It was Christmas week. In the spirit of the season, the gang leader, Henry, cautioned his young savages, "No knives, no brass knuckles. Just punches and kicks."

A lady screamed, "Police!" The punks stopped mid-punch, mid-kick. "Cheese it," ordered Henry, and they scattered in all directions and met up a few minutes later in their lair, the basement of a dilapidated tenement at the end of a rundown block. Looming nearby was the Fink Bread factory, casting its pall over the scenario. Like a castle of yore, the Fink factory peered down on the serfs, its motto emblazoned for all to see, to memorize, a credo to live by: FINK MEANS GOOD BREAD.

"Hey, mister! Mister! You okay?" A cabbie had screeched to a halt, zipped over to Miroslav Potrik. Miroslav groaned, "I... I'm... I'm okay..."

"No, no you ain't pally! Lemme call an ambulance. You need to see a doctor! Your eyes is swoll shut and you're bloody mess..."

Miroslav tried to stand, but the best he could manage was get up on one knee. He fought back the urge to vomit: even now, holding onto a shred of dignity was a premium.

He had no money for a hospital stay, even an emergency room visit. And if this were reported, those kids would single him out for worse. They owned these streets. After a few minutes, breathing hoarsely, he struggled to his feet, steadied himself against a lamppost. "Please... Please leave me be..." He felt an object in his mouth and spit out a molar. In a daze, he considered that tooth, how it had been a part of him since the previous century, a loyal friend he'd taken for granted, traveling without complaint from the old country to this new land, and now it was just a bit of gutter garbage.

"Well, if'n you say so, Mac. But I think youse oughta see a doc, y'know. I'm just tryin' to help, y'know," the cabbie said before retreating to his taxi, his shoulders hunched.

Miroslav nodded, patiently. A small crowd of curiosity seekers had gathered. Weakly, Miroslav tried to wave them away with one hand while still hugging the lamppost. In his mind he heard a violin playing, an old violin played by old hands, like in the old country, a sweet melody came into focus, Saint-Saen's “The Swan.” He nodded now to the lilting music. Bored, the people wandered away.

In the clubhouse, the Yorkville Regals laughed and popped open bottles of Moxie, lit cigs. One Regal fired up a marijuana cigarette, inhaled deeply and passed it along. Someone clicked on a radio, rock 'n' roll blared. "Didja see the look on that old bastid's face? Haw! He di'n't know what hit him!"

A newly initiated Regal said, "W-what if he squeals to the coppers? What if we get pinched?"

Henry puffed his chest and stated flat out, "He ain't gonna go to no coppers, not if he knows what’s good for him. And even if he does, so what? Worse can happen is reform school. That's a good place to land! Look at Broadway Jerry! When he was 14 they sent him to reform school for attacking that lady. While he was there, he made swell friends, solid senders, good connections. When he sprung, he knew where to go for work. Look at him today! No motorcycle jacket, like us slobs! He's in silk suits! And he drives a Cadillac! And he's spending the loot at Birdland like Diamond Jim Brady! A new piece of ass every damn time ya see him! Blondes, redheads, brunettes, all of 'em 36-24-36! One of 'em was even in Gent! Keep in mind, in the eyes of the law, we're just innocent little street urchins. We ain't done nothin' bad. It's all the fault of society."

Bronx Joey piped up, "Boydland is for de boyds. I can't take dat bebop jazz! It's too, I dunno, a-toonal, or somethin', like Chinese music. Or Martian music. Gimme some good music!" He turned up the radio's volume, a lewd sax solo that'd escaped a Las Vegas striptease gin joint underscoring his point. The gang nodded.

Hot under the collar, Henry fired back, "Okay, okay, so ya don't like Birdland! Butcha cannot tell me you wouldn't wanna drive a brand spankin' new Caddy, like Broadway Jerry! Or sink into one of those gorgeous whores of his! Anyhoo, the point I was trying to make is that reform school ain't so bad. And ya gotta admit we had fun with that old bastid. I hate those old bastids, always walkin' around, nose in the air, like their you-know-what don't stink, always doin' nothin'. They ain't no good for nothin', just taking up space. All of 'em oughta croak!"

Professor, the resident egghead, sat in a far corner reading a horror comic book. He looked up, adjusted his spectacles, and intoned, "Henrietta, Doctor Freud might proffer that your pathological detestation of elderly males of the human genus stems from an anxiety complex, a feeling of abandonment, as it were, if you will, so to speak, due to the ipso facto deducto of your father having a light-in-loafers wanderlust leading him, ultimately, to the doorstep of that esteemed skid row district known in our lexicon as the Bowery, whereupon he commenced a reincarnation, earning a formidable income, all things being relative, by performing fellatio like a virtuoso on various and sundry and such..." He hadn't quite finished the sentence before Henry was on him, sticking his switchblade into Professor's chest, sunk to the hilt.

"Henry! Ya kilt him! Ya kilt Professor!"

"Shaddap! I knows it! We gotta do something!"

"What you mean we, paleface? I ain't goin' to th' chair on account of you," said one. The rest followed him, with great haste, up the stairs, into the alleyway, hightailing it to points north, east, west, and south. Henry was left with the cooling corpse.

They both sat there, in the gathering gloom, staring at each other, one pair of eyes dead, the other pair alive, very alive with panic, for a half-hour while Henry tried to formulate a plan. How to get rid of the corpse? What to do? He decided to hijack a Fink truck, put the body in the back and drive across town to the West Side piers, a desolate area, and shove Professor into the Hudson River. No, no they'd find it, and trace everything back here, and one of these losers would crack and fink. How about driving the truck upstate, to some mountain, and send it reeling down a lonely hillside, going up in flames, destroying all evidence? Yeah, that's the plan. I can hide out for a few days, then hitch back to the City. Hey, while I'm on the lam, maybe I can swipe a pie cooling on a window sill? That'd be keen! A nice fresh home-baked apple pie! And if the hausfrau is lonely, hop into her pants! Give the hick broad some good New York City lovin'!

Then Henry's miserable brain went into overdrive, drawing blueprints of staying upstate, getting a job. "Who needs the Yorkville Regals? Or Yorkville! I could go to Confession, put this evil life of mine behind me, start afresh!" Henry remembered the nuns explaining Confession to the class, about how it were as if one had spackled a hole in the wall, sanded it smooth, and painted over it, making it as good as new. "I'll marry a nice girl, buy a house. Down the road we'll have a bunch of kids. Respectable! Legit! I'll join the Knights of Columbus, the Rotarians, whatever th' hell them yokels got, I'll be a pillar of our community!" His mind wandered to how he could make up everything to Professor. Maybe have a statue erected in his honor? Or a scholarship to some fancy-pants college?

Out on the street, Henry spied a Fink truck pulling to the curb. He hopped in. The driver said, "Wha'?" before Henry slugged the side of his head, knocking him cold. In fact, the punch killed the driver. "Holy crap! He ain't breathing! Two murders in one day! I shoulda stayed in bed!"

Henry looked up to see a dozen Fink workers, appearing from seemingly nowhere: tall ones, squat ones, burly and surly ones, each holding a weapon: a hammer, a tire iron. A guy built like Charles Atlas stepped forward, gripping a large wrench, a wrench heavy enough to crush a young punk's noggin like an overripe melon. Cool as a cuke he said, "Hey, kid. Whatcha doin'?"


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