George Tango sat on the L train, on the gray, hard seat. He spotted a Liz Smith gossip column headline in an open News, spread wide by a middle-aged man in a slightly weird, off-green Hamburg hat.
George got off the train dulled by the headline of Liz Smith, dulled by the weather, dulled by life. He walked one-half block on Graham Avenue, then followed two Italian-looking, 16 year old girls, with long, jet black hair, pierced, diamond stud ears, and tight jeans into the Internet Café at Graham and Devoe. He had walked two blocks south, exiting at Graham Avenue, the 17th stop from his Rock Park station. He followed them three steps down for no reason, although he vaguely thought he might sit at a table
George moved towards his real destination. George taught a class of English speakers two days a week, Monday and Wednesday. The class ran 4 to 6 p.m. His assignment was at Leonard and Grand, six blocks from the L at Graham. In there, he fooled them always with his civilized manner.
‘Let’s go! Tell me what you had for breakfast.’
‘Today I had pancakes.’
‘Today I had toast.’
Twenty-three people of different nationalities and cultures spoke in a nicely-decorated room. Pakistani, Polish, Dominican…everybody told what they ate. They went around the room, round-robin. They did the same routine for the lunch meal; then stated the names of children, pets.
They did this same routine with variation, two days a week, two hours. Everybody practiced talking English. That’s how you learned it. That’s how you taught it. Today was Wednesday.
George decided he was going to kill someone. The thought was as clear as ice. Taking the L train back to Canarsie, George Tango felt calm. The thought arose as George descended the thick, fat, gray stairs. It floated into his brain at first. Just floated…
The thought of death and blood, at the same time, aroused his sensibilities. He was the lead character of a large, Dostoyovskian novel; he was thinking he was in a play, too, and he was, anyway. He was a character in his own life. George felt alert for the first time in a long time.
George arrived at 7:10 at Rock Park. George stood up from the long, hard, gray train bench.
He exited the rear car, slowly. People moved along with him carrying newspapers, briefcases, with their backpacks, holding children. George Tango walked the length of the cement platform, made a mental note that the ex-cons and hardcore welfare cases wore the green maintenance workers’ vests, while the permanent working crews wore the orange vests. It was a minor thought that gently occupied his mind.
George Tango crossed at the traffic light that led to the pizza parlor, moved north to his right. He passed a furniture store, called Sarelli Brothers, which sold things at top discount prices: furniture, trinkets, and wax candles. Next a large Dunkin Donuts place stood, then a hardware store and some odds-and-ends places, and then after a 5-story yellow brick tenement with a black, zig-zag front fire escape—authentic New York, George thought. Then George turned left into a dim alley. On the other side of the alley, on Rockaway Parkway, was an Italian restaurant called Guido’s, in lime green lights against a black, shiny marble background. The lights glowed against the night sky.
The alley moved along between the side of the tenement and Guido’s restaurant. Following the buildings were vacant lots on both sides, then the backyards of the houses on the parallel street, East 96th.
George Tango walked left into the dim alley. At the same time, a man with a large, round head, the shape and size of a pumpkin entered from the other side at 96th Street. The man wore a brown and white mackinaw. They met in the middle of the alley. The alley was lumpy macadam. Debris were scattered about, white Styrofoam coffee cups, candy bar wrappers, Popsicle sticks.
George reached into the upper part of his trench coat and removed a hard Parliament cigarette pack from his right shirt pocket. As they were about to pass each other, George asked, ‘Pardon me sir. Have you got a light?’ The man lowered his head, reached into his left mackinaw jacket pocket. George removed a black, pearl handled switchblade with a small, gold dragon design from his right pants pocket.
The man fell fast in a rapidly-building pool of blood as George calmly sliced the throat from the left side, all the way across. Pumpkin head farted right before he fell, and then lay quietly in the pool of blood in the moonlight. George stomped on his gut. He completed his walk to East 96th. His car was parked there, a fat, maroon, Plymouth Voyager wagon, on the right side. George lit his own smoke.
George Tango decided not to go home yet. He decided to stroll lazily instead in this downtown Canarsie neighborhood. He moved one block to a crowded street called Glenwood Road. He worked his way into a dark bar called the Lucky Knight, on Glenwood and 93rd Street. Outside it began to rain hard. George sat at the end of the bar by a small window with an air conditioner, and listened to the drops splatter.