In 1970 two hippies drive a load of marijuana cross country. GEORGE: THE LOST YEAR, tells the story of a mob boss in training.
George took the last puffs off the last joint, and wondered when, or if, Uncle Nick would arrive. He didn’t know how long he’d been waiting or even what day it was. He did remember that he had started with four big fat bombers. A third of the way through the first, realizing that most of the precious smoke was wasted billowing into the air, he’d re-rolled it into two thinner doobies. Eventually he’d re-rolled them all, and re-rolled them again into progressively skinnier joints. If four had turned into eight, and eight into sixteen, and he had smoked five a day, then three days had passed.
Very Biblical. And way too long. Nick should have made the drive in two. Why hadn’t he called? He picked up the motel phone to make sure it was working and, hearing the dial tone, set it back on its cradle and tiptoed to the peephole in the door. No one was on the breezeway. Someone would come, though. Either Nick—or Lazarus and his assassins. If it was to be Lazarus, George wanted to bathe so the coroner would not remark on his Mediterranean oiliness.
He took one last puff. The roach glowed a bright red. Little more than a glob of molten resin, it stuck to his thumb. He stood perfectly still, in perfect Zen-master mode despite the searing pain, and took careful aim with his middle finger and flicked it loose. It sailed in a perfect spiral like a football, or considering his proclivity for mixed metaphors, a comet, its bright red glow fading as it disappeared into the center of the mound of half-eaten carryout meals overflowing from the trash can.
It being Colorado the water in the shower came out Rocky Mountain cold, but heated up fast. Moisture collected on the mirror and walls, and soapy-smelling steam enveloped him. He drifted in a cloud until he heard footsteps through the thin walls. He turned off the water. Two sets of feet were marching down the breezeway. Heavy, clunky, men’s feet, full of purpose, with military synchronicity, the concrete vibrating under them.
They stopped at his door. Knuckles rapped on the wood.
Slipping on his jeans, he got the gun, Original Sin, out from between the mattress and box springs and tiptoed to the peephole. A swarthy man in khakis and a white t-shirt stood outside. Had to be a Greek, but that didn’t mean anything. There was a stain on the t-shirt. Like tomato paste. That didn’t mean anything either. Lazarus could have sent an assassin who worked at a restaurant when he wasn’t killing people. Life was an ongoing existential crisis. An enemy would look exactly like a friend. You never knew the truth until later, and then it didn’t matter.
“Who are you?” George asked through the door.
“I’m with your uncle.”
“What’s the password?”
The man looked perplexed. “Password?”
There was no password. Would an assassin have looked confused or merely busted down the door and started shooting? Probably busted down the door. The odds were 80-20 in George’s favor.
“Gadamn, George, it’s me,” Nick’s voice boomed from the breezeway, a distinctive voice with a drawl on top of the Greek accent, the result of a lifetime of grilling steaks for cowboys and oil men.
George slid the gun back under the mattress and unlocked the door. In an uncertain universe there was one constant: family. They would never betray him. They were bonded by blood, both the common blood that flowed through their veins, and the blood of the men they had killed together, although in George’s mind, he had never killed anyone. He had only had the unfortunate luck to attract trouble, and had acted in self-defense, so technically that wasn’t murder.
Nick marched in. Nick never walked. He marched. He trooped. He stormed. He strutted. Always with arms swaying in time like a metronome, and his stomach leading the way forward. Some men were flabby. Some men were thin. Nick had a bulging stomach that came to a point at his belt, making him look like a bowling pin, but there was no flab. It was all firm, nothing ever moving or shaking in all that fury of motion.
Like a soldier reconnoitering on a dangerous mission, he surveyed the disarray, the Marlboro in his mouth bobbing up and down as he talked. He motioned to the cook. “You remember Manoli, don’t you? He works at The Golden Flame in Denver. It’s owned by my cousin from Chicago. Haralambo. You’ve met him at weddings. He was at that one when we met Maria’s family. No one could ever forget that night.” He stopped and sniffed. “What’s that smell? Like something’s on fire.”
George smelled it too, not the sweetness of marijuana, but something acrid.
A plume of smoke rose from the carryout boxes. The roach had set the leftovers on fire!
Nick and the cook stomped on the garbage like they were dancing the Kalamatiano, scattering it across the floor. George slipped on a boot and helped, stomping with the one foot. Finally, a glowing grease-soaked paper sack emerged from the mass. It split open revealing a wad of burning napkins and wax paper. They kept stomping until the fire was out. In the room below someone banged on the ceiling. “What’s going on up there?” a voice yelled up to them.
Nick’s characteristic aplomb slipped away. “We got to get the hell back to Texas,” he said, as he and the cook threw the clothes into the two suitcases, randomly mingling Kelly’s clothes with his. “The money? Did she take the money?”
George, feeling woozy, settled onto the bed, and pulled on his other boot. “In the bottom of my suitcase. It’s all there. Fourteen thousand. Kelly didn’t take even a dollar. Not one dollar. She left with only the clothes on her back and—our baby.”
Nick stopped and looked at George, not quite believing what he had heard.
“She is pregnant. Kelly is pregnant. She is with child. She is pregnant with my child, and she left because she doesn’t want to be married to a mobster.”
Nick’s mouth dropped open in shock so far that the Marlboro fell out. He picked it up, and they redoubled their efforts. The cook stuffed all the garbage into a plastic laundry bag, moving frantically, sweeping up every last crust of bread and piece of lettuce, even wiping the carpet clean with some napkins. Nick found the manila envelope with the cash, and shut the suitcase, catching a pair of George’s white underwear in the lid. The white fabric stuck out.
“Stand up,” Nick told him. George wobbled to his feet, and Nick took a gaudy Orthodox cross out of his pants pocket. It was beautiful with fluted gold ends. “From now on you will wear this. We’ve got some tough times ahead. This will protect you.”
He put it around George’s neck, like he was knighting him. The cross, still warm and a little damp from being in Nick’s pocket, nestled into his chest hairs. George did feel better, more secure. He put on a t-shirt and crossed himself.
Nick hefted the bag over his back like Santa Claus, and led the way out. The sun blinded George. It was an Allegory-of-the-Cave moment. The enlightenment was too much. When he reached the end of the breezeway, he grabbed the railing to keep from falling, and looked down the steps to the ground a million miles away.
Pic watched Nick the Greek start down the steps with a garbage sack slung over his shoulder. For sure it was Nick. Pic hadn’t gotten a good look at his face when he had walked up to the room, but there no longer any doubt.
Terrified that Nick would recognize him, even though he wore dark sunglasses, he slumped down in his seat. Then, curiosity got him. What was in the garbage sack? Drugs? He peeked over the dashboard of his rented Chevy.
A scrawny kid with uncombed curly black hair was right behind Nick. Had to be the kid Lazarus wanted killed. He was young, really young. Probably not even twenty. Didn’t look like a badass at all, not at all what he had expected. Why was Lazarus so worked up over such a scrawny kid?
The kid wobbled as he walked, like he was really stoned. He stopped at the top of the steps, grabbed hold of the railing and looked down at the ground like he wasn’t sure he could make it. Nick looked back up at him.
If Pic had made his move earlier, when the kid had been alone in his room, then it might have been easy to kill him. But he had expected a badass barricaded in the room with guns. Pic, after all, was not an assassin. He was a singer in a rock-and-roll band, a good-looking, Mick-Jagger-lookalike with a shag haircut that made the girls scream when he took the stage at Pandora’s in Austin. Demo records of his song “Chick in Slacks” were out everywhere. So far no record producers had shown any interest, and Pic couldn’t understand why, but sooner or later someone would recognize his greatness. Sure he’d had that setback when his enemies stole all his band’s equipment because he couldn’t pay his coke debts. They should have been more understanding. No equipment meant no gigs. No gigs meant no money. No money meant no coke. That desperation had led him to Lazarus and that dark alley, the whole thing happening so fast he hardly realized how serious it was when Lazarus gave him the gun, and he blew the guy’s brains out. He hadn’t minded killing the guy, messy as it was, but he hadn’t understood until later that Lazarus kind of owned him after that.
The other guy followed the kid. He carried two suitcases. Since Nick and the guy had their hands full, and the kid was stoned, none of them could react real fast. What if he ran up and shot all three? Would that make Lazarus happy? He never could tell how Lazarus was going to react.
What was in the suitcases? Drugs? Why else would Lazarus want the kid killed? The kid had stolen drugs from Lazarus. What kind of drugs? The sack Nick carried might hold pot, but it wouldn’t hold enough to be worth killing someone over. The suitcases might hold powders, though. Maybe coke. Two suitcases full of coke would be worth killing someone over.
Something white stuck out of one of the suitcases. A piece of cloth. Or wrapping paper. He’d seen a shipment of coke once with all the plastic bags wrapped in white butcher paper. That was it. Those suitcases were filled with coke, and the paper around one of the bags had come loose and gotten stuck in the suitcase lid. He imagined the plastic bags. It had been almost two days since he’d had any coke, and he stared lovingly at his snorting kit on the seat next to him. He picked it up and looked at himself in its mirror. How handsome he was. Whenever he felt low, he looked at himself in that mirror, and he felt better.
The gun lay under the seat. For coke he would run a risk. He put up the kit and gripped the gun.