would have to make sure everything was just right, all the pieces in place.
Whatever a man could do for Joe, he did; nothing would ever be too much
for Joe, whatever it might be, however large or small. He did, he wanted
to go to the funeral; Horse-Face’s grandson even called, making sure Princess
knew there was a place for him, but Princess had to say no. Little Peter
said he understood and hung up. He called back two days later and gave him
an IP address and a series of passwords so he could watch from home. Princess
wrote everything down, though his memory was better than it had been even
in his twenties, at the height of his much acclaimed photographic memory—and
he didn’t tell anyone, he didn’t tell them it wasn’t photographic, he just
made sure to not keep too much in his head, didn’t keep anything unnecessary
so he always had room for the important things, like IP addresses and endless
series of passwords. You want to make sure you have a recent browser,”
Peter said, “5 or better.” Princess said O.K., he said No problem, and he
said Thank you Peter. They said their goodbyes, running through the respective
litanies of regards to be given and thoughts to be conveyed to whomever
was wherever they were, and they hung up.
He would need a suit, didn’t matter that no
one would see him to know if he wasn’t dressed appropriately, but Joe would
know, he always knew—and that wasn’t even the point anyway, you did
what you were supposed to do, and no, that wasn’t the point either. Not
a supposed to do thing, not a requirement, it was more, deeper. Princess’
heart beat, he breathed. He would wear a suit. A nice suit. His last suit
was at least ten years too small, he kept it in a little closet shrine with
all the other suits from all the years, all the men he’d been from decade
to decade. And you can see them, and they are worth saving. Woolen or linen
or silk works of art, each one. You, bound with a coarse rope that only
hurts if you struggle, the knots expert and intricate but not fussy or excessive.
Princess tied them slowly, he let you watch and explained the origins and
typical uses of each as he pulled them, and you with them, tight and locked.
You are his last job.
The thing nobody knows is that the world ended
in 1968. A slow grinding, some skipping, fits and hiccups, everything wore
down. It took about a year and by the time it flipped to 1969 everything
was done, the world was over. Funny how it didn’t change anything, the world
ending and all that. And nobody knew. Princess knew, but no one else. He
never told. Probably Joe knew it too, and that’s why he left when he did,
in ’68, but Princess never talked to him about it, and Joe never let on
like he knew and so it didn’t matter anyway.
The thing that everybody knows was it was
Joe that caused him to be Princess, Joe the reason his mother, God rest
her sainted stupid soul, named him Princess. She was deaf in one ear, and
no one, not one person ever ever asked Joe to repeat himself. Joe wouldn’t
have minded if someone had, but you know how it is. Your heart beats, you
put on the suit, you breathe, you get it the first time Joe says it… She
was 9 months, fit to burst, ready to drop any minute. Joe, his hands on
her belly, smack out to here, he turns to watch this little slip on ten-foot
heels with a rack enough for him to stretch out full upon, and he says,
on the poor half-deaf lady’s deaf side: “If the child should be a girl,”
and here he paused to watch the slip, honey hair and eyes so blue Joe thought
he was looking right through her head into the sky, a sky that heaven meant
for him to see, and the slip smiled, and Joe smiled at the girl. Northern,
Joe was thinking, did he know her family? He would find her out, he would
bring her home, he would introduce her and her family to his own and they
would share in the kingdom, this girl of honey and heaven with her mouth
all smile and her hand coming up now to pull her hair out of her face… “If
she should be a girl,” he said again, so softly, then turned full to
the pregnant woman, “I desire that the child be named Princess.”
And that was that. Three days later, after thirty-eight hours of near impossible
labor and a last minute caesarian to get the baby out, a boy was hauled
blue and twisted and near-dead from the depths of his rapidly deteriorating
mother—multiple hemorrhages—and he was made to breathe, made to cry, and
they put him to her breast, to emphasize to her that she should make it,
that she should live and care for this new boy. And she said, this dying
woman said, “This is Princess. I name my son Princess.” She looked
to her own mother, there by her side, in this room too dark and too brown
now; it had seemed yesterday so homey and warm, but now the walls more like
clotted blood than chocolate or soil, the sheets torn and roped like intestines
around her legs, and the woman’s own entrails poking from behind her uterus
still on her stomach, the knobs of them shining like teeth in death’s mouth,
the hole just south of her bellybutton, Princess’ umbilicus still trailing
into the uterus, and his left foot kicking the incision, dipping his toes
as if into an inkwell and signing his name on the bed, on her ribs… “Tell
Joe,” she said, so low she wouldn’t have heard herself, “Mama,
you tell Joe I have given him his Princess.”
Not one person in all of Princess’ sixty five
years has ever once said a thing about his name. Not even you. You didn’t
say a word.
Princess opens the closet and crouches down
next to you. His eyes small and tender, his hands gentle and calloused.
“Do you need anything right now? I have to go see the tailor about
a suit. Do you need maybe to go to the bathroom, since it has been a while,
shall I take you to the bathroom before I go?” He lifts you from the
cushion he has provided for you, and he leads you by the knots between your
wrists toward the bathroom. You expected to be bound with your hands behind
your back, but Princess is kind, and besides, you can’t get the knots undone,
so it doesn’t matter that you can see them, or that you can reach the ones
by your feet. He tied you so you can shuffle down the hall, shuffle around
the kitchen when it’s time for meals, but not so you can do anything else.
If you’re quiet, he doesn’t bother to gag you. It hurts him to have to go
to what he terms ’unnecessary lengths’ and so he would rather to not have
to gag you, if you don’t mind cooperating on this little bit. You are given
the courtesy of some perfunctory sort of privacy, in that he doesn’t stare
at you while you do what you have to do, but he is in the room, but you
understand: “You understand this is necessary, right?” and you
Princess pushes the plunger on the soap for
you, squirts it into your palms. “Don’t get the ropes wet, that’ll
make them get too tight, and I’m going to be out for a while so I won’t
know if you’re uncomfortable.” You are careful. Princess takes you
back to the closet, asks do you need anything else, since he is going to
be gone for a while, he wants you to understand that it could be several
hours. You decline, you thank him and he brings you a book and then another
book. You were expecting Puzo, but that’s because you’re insensitive, you’re
ignorant, and you’re a racist. He gave you Flaubert and Cormac McCarthy,
turned on the little light near the corner, and closed the door. Locked
it. Sealed it. Locked it on the other side, by the hinges. Princess takes
his job seriously.
Princess checked the stove, made sure all
the faucets were off, then turned the lock on the knob of the front door
on his way out of his apartment. His apartment is by the Park, has a really
nice view of it from the fifth floor, and he liked to sit and watch young
couples walk slowly along the trails and over the bridge right there. Less
interesting were the joggers, the rollerbladers, the people on bicycles
or the homeless working their way past, though the homeless knew enough
not to set up camp or shop in this area. It was understood that you did
not sully the view from this building. Princess took a deep breath of the
park, then waited for the trucks to pass and then took another breath, this
one tinged a little with exhaust, but still good air. His tailor was a few
blocks down, a few blocks over, and normally he’d walk, but he’s getting
older and the heat’s up with the humidity today and he’s got Joe on his
mind, so he hails a cab. He gets the first one. He always does.
It’s Jimmy Falcon that picks him up. “Shame
about Joe,” Jimmy Falcon says, “it’s like the world’s ending,
you know, Joe gone now…”
“No, not like that at all,” Princess
says, “but I am sad.” He wants to tell Jimmy the world’s been
over for almost 34 years, but he doesn’t say anything. He just looks out
the window, wondering again why it all stayed the same even though it was
done. He doesn’t care, not really, he just thought there would be something,
some kind of signal or marker, something to let people know, and that there
wasn’t made him sad for everyone. Maybe it should have made him doubt that
it was over, but it never did. He knew it, and that was all he needed to
know. And it didn’t matter anyway.
“So you’ll be going to the funeral, huh
Princess?” Jimmy’s looking in the mirror.
“I can’t go,” Princess says, folding
his hands in his lap, “but I talked to Little Peter.”
“Yeah, the same one. He’s going to hook
me up so I can be there, so I don’t have to miss it.”
“Joe would want you there, but I know
he’d understand, you were always special to him.”
Princess says nothing.
“Hey, I’m driving you around but I don’t
know where I’m driving you. Where you going?”
Princess tells him to go to Fante’s. Jimmy
makes an immediate right. Drops him a few minutes later at Fante’s and Princess
gives him a hundred. Jimmy hadn’t even started the meter. No one ever did.
The air’s thick here, so Princess breathes
shallow until he gets inside, then breathes deep the scent of woolens and
silks, all the best from all over the world. Princess apprenticed for Fante’s
father, just a twelve-year old boy carrying the bolts and needles for old
Fante, learning everything he could about all the things that made a suit
not just right, not just great, but perfect. How to dart invisibly, how
to tuck without trace. Learning so he would always be perfect himself. Fante’s
still carried hats, but Princess stopped wearing them when the world ended,
his small nod to change, baring his head to a sun that didn’t shine anymore,
for a God that just wasn’t around, not now. Not since ’68. He thought, back
in 1960, that it was ending, the world, but that was just a little cough,
a hint. Right after Camus crashed he felt it. It got Princess’ attention,
he watched and waited. He knew it was coming. And then, of course, it did.
If he could have asked for anything from it, he would have requested that
it give him a date, a time that it finished, since he really liked that
sort of thing, but there wasn’t a spot he could point at and say: That is
when it happened, that is when it all stopped happening. He let it go. It
Fante says he misses his father. Joe dying
makes him miss him. For Fante there wasn’t really a Joe except in how he
related to his father and the suits he would help him make for Joe. “I
hear they’re going to bury him in one of mine,” he says, and he starts
to cry. “I’m honored you know, it’s a great honor that he will wear
the clothes I made for him, but I wish it was one of Pop’s. They understood
each other, you know. Pop knew Joe and would always dress him right, better
than my best ever was. But still, I am honored. I want to be proud, but
all I am really is sad.”
“I’m sad too, Fante.” Princess puts
a hand on the man’s shoulder. Fante is younger than Princess by ten years,
but looks much older. Only fifty five but walks like he’s seventy, though
his hands are younger than that, much younger than Fante himself, still
strong and stable, sure of themselves no matter how Fante might feel. Princess
actually taught him about making suits, passing the older Fante’s teachings
on to the younger. Despite the difference in their age, they had always
been good friends, brothers, Princess always protected him, and Fante loved
him for that. That and so much else. Fante wanted to die before Princess,
he said he wasn’t strong.
Princess told him that he needed a suit, and
that he, Fante, needed to make it quickly. Fante understood, “Yes,
for the funeral. I will have it ready and it will be the finest I’ve ever
made. If I cannot do it for Joe, I can at least do it for you, you who are
so special to him, even now, even though he’s gone.” Fante’s arms up,
his measuring tape trailing like an impasto ribbon or banner between the
Raphaelite palms, a leftover message from God, God telling Fante exactly
where to put the little soap marks. God used to tell him, Princess, God
used to show his hands where to go, where to cut, where to hide the little
knots so they’d never be felt or seen; angels and saints hiding the seams
and matching the grains and, and… but then in ’68… and what was the point
anymore of dressing people? He was conscientious: he finished the suit in
progress, but every other order was cancelled, or transferred if Fante thought
he could handle it. Princess told the Fantes that day, in ’68, that he was
going to get a new job. He didn’t explain why, but the older Fante didn’t
question him—no one ever did, and Princess pretty much always knew what
he was doing, so even if someone didn’t know to keep their trap shut, they
wouldn’t have any reason anyway to say anything—he said the younger Fante
would just have to step up and do his teachers proud; wouldn’t want to dishonor
Princess by tailoring badly. Fante the younger, always too tender, bit right
through his tongue trying to keep his jaw from trembling, cracked a molar
and blew all the effort with a braying sob when he tried to thank Princess
for both his efforts over the years and his faith in him now. Princess wanted
to tell him that it just didn’t matter anymore, but there really wasn’t
a reason to say anything about it.
Dominic P. set it up for him later that day,
his new job. First job was the next day and Princess found it easier than
he thought it would be. In light of the world having ground down, it seemed
more productive. Made more sense to subtract now, now that things had gone
into negative numbers.
Everything’s getting a little too heavy for
Princess, everyone so melancholy. But at least they’re clear about what
it is they mourn. Not Joe, he was old, lived more lives than anyone had
a right to. Everyone clearly and openly mourned themselves, what their life
meant now, since Joe wasn’t there to define it any longer. But still, Princess
wanted a break, needed a break. He closed his eyes and watched the light
pink through the fleshy folds of his eyelids, listened to the whisper and
rasp of the tape on his shoulders, around his chest, Fante all business
now, Fante forgotten about Joe for the moment, lost in the suit. “All
night,” Fante said.
“I don’t need it until Friday,”
“You will have it tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Fante.” And Princess
left. Johnny Falcon still at the curb. Princess waves him on. He’s going
He turns in to the Starbucks
on the corner, tells the pretty girl he’d like an iced americano. She smiles,
she flushes, caught up in the thing. She knows what Princess is, even though
she doesn’t know him, or even about him. A person grows up in this area,
that person recognizes it when it walks into the shop. An eager boy from
L.A. asks Princess does he maybe want a frosty blended something or other,
and the corner of Princess’ mouth dips, just a little. This followed by
the boy hitting the floor, near unconscious. The pretty girl, pushing her
hair out of her eyes, putting the dented thermos bottle on the counter,
turns back to Princess, “I’m so sorry about him. He’s new. I’ll make your
drink now, sir.” Princess wants to marry this girl… or adopt her. He’s not
“You’re special to him too,” you are told. Princess lights
some candles, as he always does, for dinner. Tonight he’s made a light
chilled cucumber soup with a little mint and lemon zest. Then it’s some
broiled salmon crusted with crushed almonds and pepper served on angel
hair with crisp vegetables. You don’t like fish—well, not salmon, but
this is pretty damn good. And you’re not in a position to complain anyway.
You did like the soup, and you tell Princess. You might be his job, but
that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be polite.
“I’m glad you like it. I wasn’t sure
about the almonds with the salmon, but I think it worked out pretty well.”
He grabs a magazine from the counter, hands it to you, open. “She
suggested the soup.” It’s Martha Stewart. Suddenly you’re crying.
Princess hands you a clean napkin. He says
you shouldn’t get yourself worked up. He says not to worry, and that it
won’t be long now. A few days, no more. You aren’t reassured. You thought
since they were all on HBO now, you thought everyone was safe. Thought
no one would dare embody the cliché, but it doesn’t seem quite
the anachronism you expected it to be. You lamented at first that he wasn’t
more like that French guy in that movie, but now you’re glad. The French
guy didn’t look like he could cook, and, well, Princess can.
But this isn’t about you.
Fante calls in the morning, he says the suit is ready, and that his son
will be at the shop all day if Princess wants to pick it up. Princess
says thanks, pulls on his shoes. It’s not so hot yet that he needs to
take a cab, so he thinks he’ll walk to the Starbucks and see if maybe
his girl is there. She made a nice americano. Princess won’t let anyone
tell him that the corporatization of coffee makes for consistent quality
that not even the dirtiest coffee-hating nazi bastard could screw up,
he knows that even if the machines do most of the work, still it takes
a pure soul and a strong heart—not to mention family—to be the sort of
person that can give a good americano. This girl, not only was she sensitive
to the structure of her world, this little world of just a few several
blocks that had cradled Princess his entire life, but her eyes they were
deep espresso, almost black, and her teeth weren’t straightened, but instead
she let them gap just a little and cross just so; she doesn’t even know
they needed work. Not that Princess is saying they did.
He asks you do you need anything, and takes
you to the bathroom. He’s rushing just a little, he’s a little distracted.
He forgets to turn on the light in the closet when he leaves, but then
he comes back, apologizes and lights the little lamp, locks you in, then
leaves again. You hear the three solid clicks of the locks on the closet,
and then a second or two later the softer grinding turn of the simpler
lock on the knob on the door, and you’re alone again.
Princess doesn’t notice Johnny Falcon pull
up next to him and pace him for half a block. Johnny finally calls out,
asking does Princess need a ride, in such a hurry as he is, apparently,
this morning? Princess waves him on. “Hey Princess, you got you a date
or something?” Johnny asks, laughing. And Princess realizes how inappropriate
it might appear, him so giddy on the way to pick up the funeral clothes,
and he slows his pace some, takes the spring a little out of his step.
He pulls down the smile and lowers his eyes. He waves Johnny on again
and Johnny shrugs and pulls out into traffic. When the cab is out of sight,
Princess feels light again, and turns his head to the sky, scanning the
tops of the trees in the Park for young birds.
He knows someday he’ll look up and there
won’t be anything any more. This is all just the little shudders and clicks
of a car cooling down; it’s been off, abandoned on some cosmic back road,
and one day or another it’ll all stop. But he doesn’t care today. And
he doesn’t care that he doesn’t care. He’s got a new suit, and there’s
a girl just around the corner with thick black hair too heavy to hold
a ponytail, whose shine makes it fall like olive oil over itself, each
strand a slippery molecule sliding under its own weight to rest perfectly
next to the others… he doesn’t want to think of her in terms of food.
It’s strange. He tries thinking of it less organically, then just gives
up, smiling about his suit and his coffee. It doesn’t matter the reason
for the suit. It is always a good thing, a new one.
And she is there, at
Starbucks, and she smiles the second he walks in. Princess smiles back,
nods, and this girl, this wonderful girl who understands this small world,
she moves immediately to the machine and begins to pull her perfect miracle
for him. Princess looks around, behind the counter, at the tables. The
girl says, “Oh, the boy? From yesterday?” Princess nods. “He’s fired.
He’s going back to L.A.” She hands him his americano, iced, glorious.
Princess wonders does maybe she have a name,
but not aloud, and then decides that maybe it’s best that she remain as
is. She didn’t ask his. He left it alone. Princess puts ten dollars in
the tip glass. He wanted to put a hundred, since that’s how things are
done, but he thought it might be misinterpreted here, while the ten would
convey the same meaning without drawing attention. The hundreds that get
passed around, they don’t get spent, only exchanged now and then for newer
bills. They’re like tokens. This girl, she needs the money, and were Princess
to give her the hundred she’d have to spend it. He doesn’t want to put
her in that position. He says, Thank you. He nods and she smiles and he
Salvador, Fante’s son, is skating outside
the shop when Princess arrives.
“What’s up, P?” he says, flipping his board
and falling on his ass.
Princess takes Salvador’s board. He walks
into the shop.
Salvador rushes in behind him, “I’ll get
your suit. You got a minute, to try it on?” Princess says he does. Salvador
ducks into the back, returns eight seconds later with the suit, black.
No such thing as double-breasted for Princess,
he never liked the boxy, big look, though he did understand the utility
it offered when one had to carry certain tools with them. Before ’68 that
wasn’t an issue, so Princess was always single-breasting himself, alternating
between two and three buttons on the jacket, depending on his mood, no
break on the cuff of the pants, pleats making their appearance as the
years went by. The lines were always simple, though he could have dandied
himself, he’d been handsome enough to pull it off without looking like
a puff. He kept everything straight, thinking himself like a tower, a
slender tree, always reaching up; Princess never needed to look solid,
never wanted to project the imposing appearance the other guys sought.
Fante had graduated Princess to four buttons with this suit—they’d played
with five, six, even eight buttons back in the day, for the boys who were
too thin to pull off the double, who were more concerned with style than
tradition, though they invariably dropped the number of buttons as they
matured, every last one of them bulking up on pasta and sidearms until
they had to go for boxy. This one, Fante’s created an architectural masterpiece
worthy of the runways, but understated enough for a sixty five-year old
man to wear without looking ridiculous. A single vent in the back of the
jacket, a single pleat on the pants, a straight line from the chest to
the waist and the lining of the pants working with hidden seams to provide
the intrinsic structure necessary to carry the line all the way to the
cuff; Princess stepped into the fitting room and changed. Fante had forgotten
to take into account the slight irregularity in Princess’ shoulders, how
the right dipped just a centimeter lower than the left, which caused the
right lapel to push out just a little. Princess understood, it wasn’t
a big deal. He’d move the buttons later, maybe half a centimeter. It would
make the bottom a bit uneven, but not so much that anyone except Fante
would notice. The bulge in the lapel would make him look like he was carrying,
and he didn’t want that. He didn’t carry his gun like that. Princess had
always favored a special holster that placed his gun, a gift from Dominic
P. after his first job, in the small of his back. It made him stand straighter
and that always made the suits hang the way they were meant to, and though
he wasn’t a man with many pretensions, he did like the antiquated idealized
look of the man of industry, head up, eyes to the future. It did not matter
to the suit that there wasn’t anything to look toward anymore.
“All cool, P?” Salvador asked through the
door. Princess stepped into his shoes, stepped out of the room, holding
his shoulders even to make the suit hang straight. “Shit man, that’s tight.
Turn around now… yeah, that’s the shit.”
“Thank you, Salvador,” Princess said. “And
thank your father for me.”
“Dad plies him a mean trade. Get you all
the girls in that rig.”
Princess stepped back into the fitting room
and changed. Salvador called through the door, “Next one you let me make
it, O.K.?” Princess said he would. He didn’t know when he would need another,
but a new one is always a good thing. Wouldn’t hurt to have more.
“I’ll come in next week,” Princess said.
He asked Salvador to wrap the suit for him.
Peter called the night before the funeral. Princess was making dinner
while you sat at the table, trying to do a crossword in the paper. The
ropes made it difficult to see what you were doing, and Princess was sympathetic
to your trouble, but you didn’t ask him for anything. He’d come by and
give you answers every few minutes, lifting your hands by the rope between
your wrists, say, “38 down is malign,” then, “55 across
is never on a Sunday—one word,” and then drop your hands back on
the table. Princess looks at you once while he’s talking to Peter, and
you know this has something to do with you. You haven’t bothered to try
to figure out what your significance is here, what exactly any of this
has to do with you. You just know that it does. Now you know that it has
something to do with Peter, with Chicago maybe, though that doesn’t help
any, you still don’t know anything.
“12 down is agrarian,” Princess
isn’t on the phone anymore. He goes back to the kitchen and finishes preparing
the salads. You’re having big Caesar salads tonight, and Princess picked
up some Gelato on the way home, and a movie. You read The Stranger today,
Princess gave it to you before he went out, and you thought maybe he was
saying something with it. You’d read it in high school and you liked it.
You didn’t expect to, but you liked it again today.
After dinner Princess washes the dishes.
You offer to help, just kidding of course, but Princess thanks you and
hands you a towel, reminding you to be careful to not get the ropes wet.
You eat gelato on the couch and watch “The
African Queen.” There’s no symbolism here, this is not a metaphor
for anything, no one’s trying to tell you anything. Princess just wants
to see it, and you’re watching it with him.
Princess lets you sleep in the next morning. You don’t have any sense
of time in the closet, so you don’t know how long you slept until Princess
opens the door and you can tell by the light in the apartment that it’s
late morning. You have only a few hours before the funeral, so you figure
this is all going to be over soon. Confusion has resigned you, Camus has
confirmed you; there’s something about certainty and unavoidability that
makes you placid. You tell Princess you don’t need breakfast, you’d just
like to finish this, if he doesn’t mind. You’re tired, you’re bored, and
though Princess has been more than kind, the most genial of hosts, even
if you did spend the last week bound in a closet, you’re ready to have
this done with.
“You are coming with me to the funeral,”
Princess says, making a small adjustment on something on the table.
And suddenly, it’s all clear. Sort of. Princess’
job is to bring you to the funeral. You don’t know why it’s important,
why you have to be there—someone could have just called and you would
have been on a plane within an hour, they didn’t have to go this route.
You don’t pretend to understand the way things work, but still, they could
have just called you. You say you don’t have anything to wear, and Princess
tells you that’s not a problem, he has suits enough. One of them will
fit you. You like this idea. Those suits are nice.
Princess pulls one of them out, a simple,
charcoal gray three-button affair that looks about your size. You ask
how you’re supposed to get dressed with the ropes and all, but even as
you’re asking Princess starts to untie you. He indicates the bathroom,
tells you there are fresh towels and you go happily in, steaming a week’s
worth of your own odors off your body. You shave, you find some pomade,
you make yourself good enough for the suit.
You walk into the living room, wearing the
boxers and tee shirt Princess left by the sink. Princess approaches you,
holding some kind of belt with a small black box in the middle, the thing
he’d been messing with on the table. “A simple precaution,” he explains,
“not something I want to do, but necessary, you understand.” He shows
you how it works, how the box is a tazer with electrodes that will rest
on either side of your spine, and he holds out a small remote, presses
the button and demonstrates for you that it is more than sufficient to
immobilize you—should that be required. You assure him that you’ll be
good—you’re almost giddy, but you do a good job of suppressing it—and
strap the thing on yourself with a smile and small flourish, turning around
to show him how well it fits. Princess smiles and makes some small adjustments
to make sure it’s placed right and then hands you the suit. The shirt’s
white, the tie a predominantly blue pattern. You look good. Probably not
as good as Princess did when he wore this, but it’s better than anything
you own. Your shoes will do. They need a shine; Princess gives you the
means and spreads some newspaper on the floor, asking you to be careful
of the suit.
Princess hails a cab out in front of the apartment. It’s not Johnny that
stops. He’s at the funeral. Everyone’s at the funeral. Johnny couldn’t
afford the time off or the plane fare, but arrangements were made, as
they were for everyone, and so he’s there instead of in the front seat
of the cab that you and Princess climb into, looking nothing at all like
what you are, and only a little like a couple of guys on their way to
a funeral, on their way to view a funeral anyway, if not to make a physical
“Intended destination?” the driver inquires,
not turning around, just looking a little in the mirror.
“52nd and Madison,” Princess says. This
tells you nothing. The driver launches himself into traffic, a little
heavy right now, honking and swerving. “We have time to spare,” Princess
tells the driver. And part of you knows that normally this would have
no effect on your average cabbie, but you’ve just spent the last week
in this man’s closet, and so you’re not surprised when the driver immediately
slows down and begins to drive sensibly. You try to pinpoint the why of
it, the what of the communication between Princess and this man who does
not know him. You don’t know, you’re so used to the idea of Princess as
what he is, you don’t know how anyone else might see him.
It’s a good day. Bright, clear, not hot.
Birds and happy people. Unhappy people too, sure, but they’re not in the
way, and so their unhappiness doesn’t matter. Some of them might be dying
even, on the way to see their oncologists or surgeons, but nobody’s dying
right now. No one is going to die today. That much you know. That whole
death thing is on hold at the moment, out of deference to Joe.
Princess pays the driver, tips him well,
and you get out of the cab. Princess steers you toward a Kinko’s, and
you’re about to ask questions, you’re about to say at least five stupid
things, but you hold back and wait for the answers, since they’re coming.
You don’t need to ask anything, everything’s taken care of already. Princess
holds the door to Kinko’s open, and you almost do it, you almost ask questions,
but again you have the good sense to keep your mouth shut. You are left
by a register while Princess talks to a boy over by the computers. The
boy nods, says something about the last one finishing up a simple print
job right now, but yes it’ll be clear in under five minutes. Princess
thanks him and comes back to retrieve you. You had a full minute there,
you suddenly realize. You could have left. Princess wasn’t watching you
at all, and the range on your belt thing probably didn’t even reach to
the door, you could have gone. It’s the suit that held you. Princess might
not care about you, but he would have hunted you down to get the suit
back, you’re certain of that. But the moment’s gone, the chance past,
and really, it would have negated the last week in the closet. Your curiosity
unsated and you would have never known for sure what this was all about.
It might be enough to know that for some unknown reason someone had arranged
for your presence at a copy shop to sit with this old hit man and watch
them lay Joe to rest, but you’re not too sure about that.
Princess motions you to follow, using a
small gesture, his hands clear of the pocket holding the trigger. No coercion,
no threat, just a simple request. You comply and follow Princess to the
computers. They’ve cleared it out for you. It’s just you and Princess,
and you realize they’re emptying out the whole shop. The doors are locked
and the clerks disappear into the back. You can see a security camera.
You wonder if they’re watching. You wonder what there will be to see.
On top of the monitor of one of the Macs
is a little orb-shaped camera. Princess goes to that computer, and you
follow him, waiting for an invitation to sit or speak or play dead or
something. You stop waiting, pull up a chair and watch Princess open up
a browser, type in an IP address, then mess with some settings on the
site that comes up. After a brief lapse where the computer looks to have
locked up, a small scene emerges. Strange textured gray, some kind of
jiggly abstractionist painting, you’re not sure. It shifts and you see
a lever, a handle of some kind, and then it pans up and you’re seeing
the back of a car seat. A ding from the computer’s speakers and then someone’s
voice says, “Hey, he’s on. It’s Princess…” and then the view swings crazy
and someone’s nose and mouth fill the screen. “Hey Princess! Howareya?”
Princess laughs, a little, the first laugh
you think you’ve heard. “You’re too close.” A pause while the camera swings
again. “You need your teeth cleaned.” He didn’t even laugh during the
movie last night, he was so serious about it.
The screen shows the back seat of a car.
A Lincoln, you think. Maybe a BMW. Not that they’re similar, but it really
could be either. You see a couple of people, one with a laptop, the other
with his arm in some kind of exploded perspective: he must be holding
the camera. You try to figure out what kind of hookup they’ve got here,
satellite phone? Would a cell phone be able to handle this kind of transmission?
They answer it for you: “Wireless T1, baby, you like it?”
Princess smiles, asks how their families
are, how everyone’s holding up. The men in the car turn serious, somber,
suit themselves to the occasion. “We’ll be at Peter and Paul in a minute,
most everyone’s there already. Shame you couldn’t be here, but you got
“I’m there enough,” Princess says, “you
just keep the connection open. You got full batteries?”
One of the men in the car snorts and says
something about batteries, the other looks at the screen of the laptop.
“Says we’ve got 98 percent here. Should be good for the duration, but
we got an extra in case we got to switch. In such case, we’ll do it on
the way to the cemetery, O.K.?”
Princess tells them it doesn’t matter too
much to him. He says car rides aren’t all that interesting to him anyway,
and as long as they do the switch then, it doesn’t make any difference.
You hear the car stop, doors open, and then the perspective swings crazy
again and the screen bounces for a few seconds. You can make out brick
and other masonry, some desert-looking plants, and then it slows down
and the guy with the camera pans it right then left, then up and down,
slowly showing you the façade of the church, some people milling
out front. “We’re going in now,” one of them says. Then dark for a second,
and then you can make out the interior of the church. The men move to
the front and you get a panoramic shot of the back of a pew and then the
altar as they move the camera into place.
“We’ve still got some time,” Princess tells
you. You settle in for the wait. You want to say surreal, but that sounds
stupid. You want to turn to someone, nudge them, share their popcorn or
something. You don’t know what to think of this, this unprecedented thing,
but it doesn’t really matter what you think, since this isn’t about you
anyway. But still, you want to commentate, you want to editorialize, you
want to have something to say and someone to say it to… you’ll tell your
mother, you’ll tell your friends, they’ve all got to be wondering where
you’ve been these last several days, and even though no one will believe
you, they’re going to love the story nonetheless. They’ll say you should
write it down, and maybe you will. Maybe you’ll submit it to Esquire or
GQ. They’d so go for this kind of thing. You’ll have to play up the locked
in a closet in the apartment of an old hit man part, make it more… something.
The reality there wouldn’t translate well, you’ll have to find some peripheral
tale there, some long dark closet of the soul angle to play upon it.
People are moving past the camera, everyone
stopping and saying hello, everyone wishing he could be there, it’s been
so long, but everyone understanding. You wonder do they see you. You wonder
if it matters to them. Probably not. They probably don’t know anything
about you, and that’s probably best. Definitely best if none of these
people see you. One story for Esquire or GQ is quite enough, thank you.
The ceremony starts, the camera is pointed
toward the back of the church, and follows the progress of the casket
and its entourage up the aisle to the front of the church. There are only
five pallbearers. You wonder what this means. You look at Princess and
you think you understand. Princess was supposed to be there. Princess
was the sixth, but he’s here with you, doing this stupid job.
It’s a good Catholic ceremony. You’ve always
kind of liked how every ceremony is just a mass with other stuff going
on. Follows the same progression, the same steps taken every time, and
you’re not surprised one bit when Princess stands at the beginning—you
stand with him, you know when to do everything too—and waits for the opening
bit to finish before he sits. An Alleluia, some this, some that, and then
you’re on your knees just like Princess, just like everyone at the church.
Profession of Faith, Mysteries of Faith, Homily, Offertory… it’s all there.
You don’t recognize the scripture, but you’re sure you’ve heard it before.
Then the funereal bits are pieced in, and the Cardinal says something
and then Bishop says something, then a whole bunch of other people in
beautiful suits, though none as beautiful as yours; Princess’ outshines
your own and you wish for him that he could have been there, the Mafioso
fashion event of the decade. Shame to waste such a suit on Kinko’s. Communion
comes after the Offertory, and you are surprised when Princess pulls from
his pocket a small gold container, opens it to reveal that he’s brought
the Host with him. He turns to you: “The body of Christ.”
“Amen,” you say, accepting the Lord into
Princess takes his own, and then you’re
both on your knees again. For like twenty minutes this time, they’re silent
so long. And then Princess touches your shoulder, you zoned out a little,
and you stand with him while the ceremony is concluded. The camera follows
the casket back down the aisle and out the shining mouth of the church,
brilliant the way you imagine the gates of Heaven must be, and you know
that you and Princess are the only ones to have this perspective, to see
the Ascension of Joe.
And then everyone files out, then the camera
crew moves back to the car.
“Beautiful ceremony,” you say.
Princess agrees, then asks you to be quiet
for a while, until this is done.
The guys in the car come back on screen,
“Hey, we’re going to shut down and switch, all right? We’re going to go
into standby, so we don’t have to reboot. I don’t know if that’ll work,
but it’s worth a shot.”
Princess says he’ll be there, he’ll see
them in a minute.
You think that standby only works if there’s
a battery in, but who knows? You try to figure out how that all works,
if the state of the computer is saved onto the drive, or if it just remains
in RAM, but it doesn’t matter, since they’re back almost immediately,
congratulating themselves. “Bobby got a damn fine piece of machinery here,”
you are informed. And you agree.
The majority of the ride is spent watching
the knee and the edge of the screen of the laptop. Despite their momentary
joviality with the laptop thing, they’re still pretty serious, still a
little beat up by the day. You wonder how much a wireless T1 runs these
days, where you get one anyway, what the limitations and capabilities
are… is it in the trunk, is there a truck following the car and they’ve
got a wireless router and wireless network card and…
The car arrives at the cemetery. Must not
have been too far. You’re used to endless processions from one side of
town to the other, taking hours sometimes. But then, nobody’s ever been
Joe in the lead car before. And they’re not here, so it may very well
be a short ride… but considering everything else you’ve seen in the last
week, they probably just bulldozed a straight line from the church to
the cemetery. In your little sense of what absurd really means anymore,
that doesn’t really fall within the definition. That’ll sound good in
the article, the metaphor, whatever it might be, the straight and narrow
line of destruction created to take this man to paradise. You’re thinking
that kind of thing is more Esquire’s style.
The colors on the screen are washed out
by the bright sunlight. God himself made an appearance at the interment,
you write on a little powerbook in your head. Nobody talks, except the
priest, and he’s brief. Then they let fly the doves, a nice touch, you
think, however cliché. And then it’s done. One of the guys with
the laptop, his voice hoarse, whispers that they’re going to shut down
now, and they’ll see Princess in a couple of days. Princess says thank
you to them, says goodbye and closes the browser.
“Thank you for attending this with me,”
he says to you, and stands.
You stand and follow Princess out of the
shop. He hails a cab and gives an address not his. He explains that he’d
like to walk the last couple of blocks.
It’s a nice walk through the park back to
his apartment. No homeless people, just happy people, happy and alive
and free. You’re betting that the infinitely considerate Princess has
somehow arranged to have your clothes laundered, ironed, perfumed, folded…
that they’ll be ready for you when you get back upstairs. You’ll step
out a hundred times better than you stepped in, cleaner and smelling better,
a whole new man ready for a night on the town.
You enter the building and take the stairs.
Princess behind you, you’re taking the steps two, three at a time. You’re
giddy and you can’t wait to start writing. Should you see some people
first, test the story on a couple of audiences, get some style and flow
going before you try to type it out? That seems the best bet.
Princess is attaching a silencer to his gun. You don’t know this.
There are two men waiting in Princess’ apartment.
You do not know this either.
You reach the door and Princess puts a bullet
in your head. The door opens and the men step out and take care of you.
See, this wasn’t about you. This was never about you.
“He can keep the suit, Princess tells
them. Fante made it for him. It’s his.”
“Nice suit,” one of the men says.
“Fante does good work,” the other agrees,
“That’s his on you, too, isn’t it?”
Princess says it is. “I’ll leave you gentlemen
to it, then,” he says and goes back downstairs. He wants some espresso.
Looking at the park, something catches Princess’
eye. Above the trees, off to his right, the paper of the sky looks to
be peeling, its old adhesive gummy and stringy, not the sort of stuff
one would use for something meant to last forever. It held long enough,
longer than it was needed. Princess turns away and walks, not hiding the
spring in his step this time, to Starbucks. He smiles, he even whistles
“Well, hello Mister President!” the girl
says when he walks in. Princess bows and asks her would she like to dance.