I know what I am.

I am Big Apple. I bear witness to struggle, to tragedy small and enormous, to daily happiness, madness, and vengeance. I am gas leak, rent hike, and sewer blockage. I am five–alarm fire. I am subway strike, rat infestation, rabid raccoons in the Cloisters. I am ten foot stacks of garbage. I am old lady purse–snatch, I am drunkard and drug–addled, dead beneath river rock bridge in Central Park. I am the Mexican cartel cutting deals with the Russian mafia. I am cold wind and icy stone. I am rumbling subway and crazy serial killer pushers dropping strangers onto the tracks. I am long–forgotten statues and arches.

I am museum, I am priceless art and knowledge. I am East River, Hudson River, Harlem River, Ellis Island, and Mid–Town Tunnel. I am Metropolitan Museum of History and Science. I am MOMA. I am Holland Tunnel, I am Brooklyn Bridge, I am Knickerbocker. I am Liberty Island, I am Verrazzano Narrows, Washington Bridge, both upper and lower decks. I am bank robber dead inside the lobby of Citibank down in East Village.

My soul has gone to where New Yorker souls go.

I am the city now. My name is Guggenheim, Rockerfeller, Trump, Lennon, Dakota, Chelsea, Waldorf Astoria, Plaza, Wickquasgeck Trail, West End Highway, Fifth Avenue, and St. Mark.

I have my satchel filled with about a quarter mill. The intel Zacko and I received was faulty. I suspected it would be. It didn’t cost us much. The juggers we got it from were ex–cons. When an ex–con tells you he’s got all the goods on a heist, punch his fucking teeth down his throat. If they had all the goods they wouldn’t have been to prison. Despite knocking over banks, gas stations, gun shops, and liquor stores, I’d never been to prison. Not until now, surrounded by bedrock, iron, electricity, and water mains.

There were four guards on the lower level of the bank, not three. One was working the safe–deposit boxes and flirting with a customer. She was pretty and I didn’t blame him, not even after he killed me.

According to his name badge, his name is Lou. He called the woman “Joycie.” I pointed my gun but the fucker had been practicing quick–draws since he’d retired from the NYPD. He barely cleared his holster before firing and caught me high in the thigh. Direct tag on my femoral artery. I could calculate the odds because I am also computer, I am accountant, I am ten billion stacks and volumes of library and history. I bled out before Zacko could make it down the steps. I heard him fire his shotgun twice and wanted to tell him to stop.

I am Columbus Circle, Times Square, Broadway, the heart of theater, the spleen of the arts, a hundred million lights and broken hearts, the Great White Way. I am Damn Yankees, The Misanthrope, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, A Doll’s House, Uncle Vanya, Hamlet, True West. I am ambulances blazing by on the streets during quiet periods of drama, I am shrieking police cars to tighten your rectum between acts. I am Playbill, I am poster art, I am standing ovation, I am 58 week runs. I am two–show shutdowns, I am opening night jitters and final wrap–up rehearsal.

I am already fading into the floor.

I am a millisecond dead. There is no point to breathing anymore, lungs straining bellows. Maybe he could get away, but Zacko is very stupid without me. He’ll be caught long before he gets back to the Bronx. He’ll take 9 and go through the toll. They’ll have pictures of him and the car everywhere.

I am now part of the Indians, their foolish jewelry, the graves of a hundred thousand tribesmen and Amsterdam explorers. I am dust and brick and beautifully hand–crafted gurgling gargoyle rain gutters.

The name I had is only a whisper on the wind, calling me. I am a widening pool of blood, already full of flies, much too sticky for an easy cleanup. I am janitorial staff working through the night. I am guilt, I am not a bad guy. I feel sorry for my sins. I float through the walls and see Zacko panicking, screaming for me.

I am Empire State Building, I am ruins of towers, I am rebuilding, I am a billion metric tons of bone meal. I am ten thousand shit–shops selling tourist–trap crap. I am I HEART NY t–shirts, posters, bumper stickers, little King Kong salt and pepper shakers, mouse pads of Liberty. I am South Street Seaport, Thanksgiving Day Parade, Halloween traditions, bars, gentlemen’s clubs, strip clubs, gay gathering spots, echoes of lost public bath houses, Plato’s Retreat, dead disco, 54, skyline, spires of beauty and riches and top line technology. When I was human this made me sick with jealousy and hate. Now, I am what I was driven to want.

Zacko, the moron, is still yelling my name. If I wasn’t already gone I’d be headed for the can. Before we got out of the getaway car I reminded him not to use names. I wore a monkey mask, Zacko was some super–hero I didn’t recognize.

Lou is a pro. He checks my pulse. He doesn’t find anything and sits back and sighs. I appreciate that sigh. It is a very sincere and human sound. It is like the whisper of my name fluttering away. Joycie turns the corner of the small area where she was going through her safety deposit box staring at her jewels, the over–estimates on her insurance papers. She will claim I got to the jewels and stole them. She puts them on now. She is as bad a crook as Zacko. Diamond bracelet, string of pearls, Lady’s Rolex. All the flash blinds my dead eyes.

Lou says, “Twenty–four years on the force and I only fired my gun once on duty. Now I’ve killed a man.”

I want to tell Lou not to feel bad. He’s a lifelong New Yorker, which means he’ll wind up here with me eventually. He will lose his guilt and conscience as it serves no purpose to granite and towers and the King Tut exhibition. After all, this is the greatest city in the world. Of course we all wind up here. Who could ever believe in another kind of heaven or hell?

I am fleets of Persian and Armenian cab drivers, dying squeegee men pushing shopping carts, picking up cans and spritzing windshields at red lights. I am cinema, sea, and graveyard. I am precincts solving heinous horrors. Lou worked out of the 1–6 most of his career, before he slipped back and forth to Bed Stuy, where he helped to perfect the “Brooklyn Bounce.” Evidence would go missing and the cops would sell tons of drugs back to the dealers. A faint remnant of my criminal self gives a mental nod of recognition to Lou.

The first time I drew down on a store owner was a liquor store in East Harlem. My first partner was a Puerto Rican banger named Caesar. He liked to think he was a king, but he thought a lot of stupid things, just like I once did.

I drew on the liquor shop owner, but I didn’t fire. Caesar did. And when he got caught, he ratted and said I’d shot the guy. So when Caesar got back from spilling his guts, I spilled them for real. I was human then. I believed in revenge. I opened a three foot slash in him with four–inch blade.

I watch murder silently. I stare after ambulances racing down my streets toward hospitals. Cars pile upon each other, ram bicyclists out of the wheel, rollerbladers, pedestrians, children playing. Blood runs in my gutters alongside tears and harsh laugher. My own blood seeps between Lou’s fingers and beneath the bank. Joycie will undoubtedly use him in her alibi scheme. She’s got those kind of eyes.

I was a hook and book, a smash and grab. If I was going to be ambitious I should’ve gone to school and become a doctor, not try to take down a bank with a junkie idiot partner and a .45. Like everyone else in New York, I got what I deserved. The city, which is me, is just.

I am the outskirts of paradise, the wells of hell, I am full of bimbos in limbo. I am the story of purgatory. I have rhythm, I am song, I am scream, I am the angel of death and I do death’s work. I am thick with sick. I am homosexual madman murderer stalking the Port Authority Bus Terminal men’s room. I am chickenhawk with short eyes watching girls escaping small towns arrive in big city to achieve their dreams. I am the Circle Line Ferry packed with paranoia, waiting for terrorism jihad to strike. I am stink, I am sex, I am endless weeping, I am empty churches kept alive with the donations of gangsters and pedophiles. I am the breath and moody weight of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Zacko fires again. He can’t hold the hostages by himself and is going crazy. There are police surrounding the place. He’ll be dead soon too. My human heart ceases beating and the spraying blood ceases.

I am whores along the highway, under the 59th Street Bridge, I am homeless shelters, drug rehab clinics, soup kitchens. I am fervid, febrile university students. I am film school, I am college sexual experimentation, and the need to contribute their verses to the great song of the world.

Zacko finally makes it down the stairs. I know he’s going to kill Lou. I mutter my objection and all the bank boxes spring open at once. Zacko is terrified. So are Lou and Joycie. Those pearls would’ve taken care of me for at least five years.

Zacko stomps down the marble steps and straight across my ocean of blood. Why not leave more evidence behind? Red footprints showing his shoe pattern. His super–hero mask is askew. He probably pulled it up to catch his breath and showed his face to everybody. I want to slap the shit out of him, what is left of me to anger. I am pimp, police, pianist, prima donna, priest, and painter. I am clippy–clop hooves of horse–drawn carriages parking in front of Penn Station at Madison Square Garden.

Zacko shouts my name again. Lou looks up. He pulls the exact same move on Zacko as he did me. Quick–draw barely clearing the holster, firing into dumb meat. It takes him higher since Lou is on his knees. Zacko falls face first, his shotgun sliding across the slick floor. Joycie catches it beneath her heel with careful and unexpected agility. She picks it up. She’s got a plan for Lou.

He turns too slowly.

I could drop the entire bank on her, but I am not a purveyor of fairness or man–made law. I never was.

I am Big Apple.

I am what you know to be true, in your bones, the base of your brain, in the pits of your eyes, I am the greatest city on the face of the earth. I am death, and I am life, and I am the haunting power of all deities, and I will eternal remain.

 

“What I Am” originally appeared in Streets of Shadows, Alliteration Ink, 2014.

image014Tom Piccirilli is an American novelist and short story writer. He has sold over 150 stories in the mystery, thriller, horror, erotica, and science fiction fields. Piccirilli is a two–time winner of the International Thriller Writers Award for “Best Paperback Original” (2008, 2010). He is a four–time winner of the Bram Stoker Award. He was also a finalist for the 2009 Edgar Allan Poe Award given by the Mystery Writers of America, a final nominee for the Fantasy Award, and he won the first Bram Stoker Award given in the category of “Best Poetry Collection”.

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