February 8, 2000
The Second Millennium was over and with it, the Twentieth Century. The 1990s were gone but the styles of that decade lingered. I was thirteen years old and my options were to either don a lumberjack’s flannel shirt, grow my hair long and sway back and forth in a trance while blaring the clinically depressed tones of alternative rock, or turn my ball cap to the side, pop on some clean, white sneakers, a hoodie sweatshirt and a pair of breakaway pants that were one size too big, leaving them to always sag down way too far past my ass.
I chose the latter option. It’s not like either style was great, but the rappers at least seemed like they were having fun. Give me tunes about bitches and beer over sadness and heartache any day of the week and twice on Tuesday.
In my family’s run down home, I sat at the top of the stairs and fumbled around inside my backpack until I found a CD case. It featured artwork for my favorite group, the Irate Nigga Posse, “INP” for short. Mac Daddy Smooth, Infamous Russell, MC Westside and Big Fatty Stax – they invented gangsta rap in the early 1990s and were still going strong, despite an occasional internal beef here and there.
Hmm. Do you people know anything about rap? Alt rock? CDs? Racial slurs? Is this all gibberish to you? Oh well. I’ll talk. You listen. We’ll figure it out together. You’re better off not knowing about that last one anyway.
I’d been ordered to go to my room, but I was too nosey not to listen in. I could footsteps of FBI stooges clonking all over downstairs. They were pulling out drawers, turning over furniture, ripping the whole place apart.
I could only hear two voices. One belonged to that smarmy prick, Special Agent Roy Stratford. The other one was my father’s.
“You know the drill, Wylder?” Stratford asked.
“Yeah,” my old man replied.
“You know you got a right to a lawyer, you can shut the fuck up and you should because anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law?”
Dad had balls. I’ll give him that. “Let’s do this, Barney Fife.”
That line would have been funnier if you’d heard of Barney Fife. I’d barely heard of him. He was a fictional character from before my time. Not important.
“You’re going down for twenty years minimum,” Stratford said. “The U.S. Attorney practically came when I laid out all the shit we’ve got on you.”
“Then what’s this about?” Dad asked. “You here to gloat?”
“We want the cash,” Stratford said.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dad said.
“Bullshit,” Stratford said. “You’ll never be able to use it. Turn it over and maybe I can talk the Feds into shaving a year or two off your sentence.”
“I’m just a humble mechanic,” Dad said. “Flattered you all think I’m worth so much trouble. Really, I am.”
I could hear Stratford pace about the kitchen floor. “You’d better start worrying about your kid, Marvin.”
“Leave Frank out of this,” Dad said.
“What kind of life is that going to be for your boy?” Stratford said. “Visiting his father in the joint, talking to him on a phone between a piece of plexiglass.”
“Yawn,” Dad said. He was such a baller. He actually said the word, “Yawn.”
“Why don’t you save yourself?” Stratford asked.
“From what?” Dad asked. “I haven’t done anything.”
“Start talking,” Stratford said.
“About what?” Dad asked.
“Not about what,” Stratford said. “About who?”
“And who’s that?” Dad asked.
“You know Goddamn well who,” Stratford said. “Fat ass, pug faced dago, about 900 pounds, looks like that fuckin’ space lizard that gets choked the fuck out by the space princess.”
Dad laughed. “Like I’d ever associate with such a character.”
“You give that son of a bitch up and you’ll wash your hands of this tonight,” Stratford said. “The next two decades of your life or the next two hours in my office, answering some questions and filling out some paperwork. Seems like a no brainer.”
Dad was quiet for bit. Then he responded. “I’m no rat.”
“No?” Stratford asked.
“No,” Dad answered. “Not that I have anything to rat about.”
“Funny,” Stratford said. “That’s not what Guzman said.”
Another pause from Dad. “Who?”
“Guzman,” Stratford said. “Dipshit was snatched up on an unrelated matter. Las Vegas PD found him all coked up in a hotel room with a bag of blow and a dead hooker. He was looking at life until he sang about you and boy did he sing.”
“Never met the guy,” Dad said.
“Oh yeah?” Stratford said. “Funny, he told us all about the Verazano job. You, Guzman, two sawed-offs, two masks, a big payday.”
“Shit,” Dad said. “I live paycheck to paycheck like the rest of America.”
“You think that fat fuck wouldn’t be telling me all about you if he were in your position?” Stratford said.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Dad said. “I don’t know any overweight people.”
“Guzman volunteered you, asshole,” Stratford said. “We didn’t even know dick about you. He pissed his pants and shouted your name. That’s wise guy loyalty for you, Wylder. Be smart.”
The footsteps grew louder. There were some loud mumblings. A stooge cried out. “Sir! You need to see this!”
Things went quiet for a few minutes before Stratford spoke. “Jesus. At least twenty grand here. Where’s the rest of it, Marv?”
“That’s not mine,” Dad said. “You planted it.”
“Yeah,” Stratford said. “Something tells me the U.S. Attorney will be happy to take a look at the serial numbers on these bills. You sure you got nothing to say about your boss?”
“Lawyer, please,” Dad said.
“You sure?” Stratford asked.
“Yup,” Dad said.
“Alright,” Stratford said. “Things will get harder for you from here on out then, but if that’s your choice. Come on, let’s go.”
Seconds later, Stratford walked passed the staircase, his hand on my Dad’s arm. Dad’s hands were cuffed behind his back.
“Hold up,” Dad said as he looked up at me.
“Sure,” Stratford said. “Say your goodbyes…quickly.”
Dad was in his early forties. He was starting to lose his hair and his handlebar mustache was graying. He wore a pair of dirty coveralls.
“Don’t sweat it, kid,” Dad said.
“OK,” I said. I felt like I wanted to cry, but I knew the old man would have been disappointed, so I fought back the tears.
“Oh Special Agent Stratford,” Dad said.
“What?” Stratford asked.
“Would you be a special darling and reach into my pocket?” Dad asked.
“The fuck you just ask me, felon?” Stratford asked.
“Please,” Dad said.
“This better not be a trick,” Stratford said.
“Never,” Dad said.
Stratford was a typical G-man. Neatly pressed suit, shined shoes, standard buzz cut. He reached into Dad’s front pocket and pulled out a set of keys attached to a poker chip keychain.
The agent looked around at his stooges. “Which one of you assholes failed to find this during the pat down?”
Dad smiled. None of the assholes stepped forward.
“Toss those to my boy, will you?”
Stratford did as obliged. I caught them.
“Veronica’s all yours,” Dad said. “Take good care of her, and she’ll take good care of you.”
“Touching,” Stratford said as he lead my father out the front door. “Something tells me I’ll be walking your kid out in cuffs one day too, Wylder.”
“Fuck you, Stratford.”
“Fuck you back.”
I opened my hand. There they were in my palm – a red, white and green poker chip attached to two shiny keys, one for the ignition and one for the trunk. I had no idea how to feel. My father was gone, but I was now the owner of the sweetest ride I’d ever seen. Mixed feelings, I suppose.
I took the INP CD out of its case, placed it into my CD player and pressed play. I put the attached headphones on. The boys were belting out an oldie but a goodie:
“Fuck da man…Fuck da man….”