(Gabriele’s journal – November 22, 1990)
(Nick’s narrative – June 9, 2022)
I stood a body’s length away from the tree stump stool. I raised the hatchet deliberately over my right shoulder, holding it there for a moment before uttering the four syllables under my breath and throwing it. “Ta-ma-hee-kan.” The sharpened blade of my war axe stuck into the side of the stump.
“That is badass, man. Can I try?”
I pulled the hatchet out of the stump, handing it to him. “You’ll see. It’s not easy. Took me hundreds of throws before I discovered the technique”
His throw bounced off the stump. I picked up the hatchet and tied the crow feathers back on the handle.
“Wow. I see. That’s a skill. You should be on TV or something. They call you Chief, are you part Indian?”
I gave a short laugh, “No, I’m Italian.”
He looked away momentarily. He was suddenly frightened. “You’re connected then.”
“What do you mean, connected?”
“You’re part of the crew. You put Coco up here.”
“Coco? I barely know Coco. She moved here last week. What crew?”
“Okay. I didn’t know. Never mind. Of course you’re not part of that.” He took a step toward the door. “I should take off now.”
In an impulse move, I threw the hatchet at the stump. Temahikan stuck perfectly on the edge of the seat. I was also stuck. I threw myself into a role I hadn’t planned on playing, but now I was there. I cast myself as the Wolf to his Lamb, so now I needed to play out the game to its end.
I stepped over to Temahikan and the stump stool. I smiled, except that the Wolf smile is not a real smile, I was just showing my teeth. And the voice was not my own, but the firm and authoritative growl of a superior predator. If it scared him half as much as it scared me, he would obey the command.
“No, no, you’re not going anywhere. I need to hear about Coco and this crew.” I pulled Temahikan from the stump stool. “Here. Have a seat.”
He was nervous, looking back and forth at the door and me a couple times, but then sat down. I went over to the medicine bag and pulled out the Eagle tobacco, offering it to him. “Relax, let’s have a smoke before you tell me the story.”
I lit his cigarette, walked over to the bedding, sat down and lit my cigarette. “Look, no worries, man. I’m not out to jam you up or hurt you. I just want to hear what you know about my neighbor here.” I set Temahikan on the bedding next to me.
I was thinking about the story exchange I had with Blade in jail. I was trying to evoke something similar with this stranger. In a role reversal, I was Blade in this scenario. I was the Wolf sharing a tobacco smoke with the Lamb. The stranger was obviously frightened of me. Despite what I said, he probably still believed I was “connected” to the Italians, and my war axe throws likely classified me as a crazy fuck gangster in his mind.
“So you’re a friend of Red’s?”
“I haven’t seen him in years. He had got himself clean last I saw him. But yeah, we’re old friends.”
“Red and the others call me Chief, but I’m no kind of chief, I have little or no say on what happens here. For instance, neither Red nor me, nor everybody else living here, wanted drugs being sold on the Hill, but nobody knew what to do about it. My wife and I are artists. When we put the tipi up we didn’t think the cops would let us stay but now we’re living here. I’m not a violent person unless forced into it by some situation. From what I just heard Coco say to you, just you being up here is going to bring on such a situation.”
“I won’t be coming back. I did come here to cop, but mostly just to see if Coco was really here. I hadn’t seen her for months.”
“My name’s Nick, what’s yours?
“Miguel, I’d just like to know why Coco is worried about you being here. Who’s the ‘they’ she’s talking about?”
“She shouldn’t be doing me like this. I’ve known Coco forever. We grew up together on Rivington Street. We were even a couple, running partners, for a while. Not that long ago.”
Miguel was relaxed with me now, ready to tell his story. “What happened?”
“She tied herself up with a crew, the ones who did this to me.” He ran his finger along the scar on his neck. “She got scared after they did that and started working for them. I don’t know why they moved her up here. She’d been working on Ludlow, beneath our old apartment.”
“Who are they?”
“Nobody knows. That’s why I thought you were part of them. Everybody thinks they’re connected to the Italians. They’re called the White Boy gang.”
“So they’re the ones who gave you that scar?”
Miguel nodded his head yes. “Okay, give me a minute.” He took a couple slow drags on his cigarette. He seemed apprehensive to speak. Only after he told me the story did I understand why.