Black Mask

Come Back Paddy Reilly

by Con Lehane

Paddy Reilly was undercover, working narcotics in the 20th Precinct, on the street as he had been when he first joined the force, setting up a score that would bring down a dealer named Larry Porter. Drugs were rampant again on the streets, and the task-force honchos thought Paddy would fit into the new drug scene, as he had in the old days. Little did they know.

It should have gone down easily, but everything fell apart in Larry Porter’s apartment in the early afternoon a couple of days before the bust. That afternoon, after setting up the sale, Paddy followed Porter along a narrow hallway into a living room, and there, curled up on a couch in the corner like a Persian cat, was a young woman, dressed in white, with reddish brown hair, a halo in front of her eyes, and a bashful smile.

Paddy Reilly froze, thinking memory had tricked him. She’d never grown older; her face was childlike. It couldn’t be, so he looked again.

“Aha!” said Larry. “Gorgeous, ain’t she? C’mon and meet Nancy.” So it was her.

He introduced himself as Pat Grace, putting together a story in his mind in case she recognized him. Even if she did, she wouldn’t know he was a cop. He hadn’t seen Nancy in over twenty years.

He was pushing his luck. Larry Porter, a thick-necked, light-skinned black man, whose massive chest and shoulder strength was beginning to round somewhat into middle-age portliness, was a guy you walked lightly around. He made no effort to hide the .32 in the holster strapped to his leg just above his ankle. Paddy was unarmed. Staying longer in the apartment than he had to was insane. He should clear out, but he was so thrilled at finding Nancy he couldn’t. So if they make me, I’m dead, he said to himself. He shook her hand then stood back and absorbed her smile.

“You’re new,” Nancy said.

“New to you,” said Paddy. “Larry keeps you a secret.”

White shirt, white slacks, her feet tucked under her, her hair the reddish brown color it had been the first time he saw her, the same shocking red lipstick. She’d hardly changed at all, except for telltale pinpoint pupils in her coal black eyes. Instinctively, he looked at her arms, for the crook of the arm inside the elbow. But the sleeves of her blouse reached to her wrists.

“A toot?” Larry Porter suggested.

Paddy hesitated. He’d developed a thousand excuses over the years, so it wasn’t that.

“Oh c’mon,” said Nancy.

“Why not?” said Paddy.

From a leather pouch sitting on the large wooden coffee table in front of Nancy, Porter took a quart Ziploc freezer bag half filled with cocaine.

Worth a couple of grand, Paddy calculated while Porter spooned a generous amount into a black plastic grinder the size and shape of a lady’s compact, and turned the top.

“Ever base it?” Larry asked. “This stuff’s the best. Better than you’ve ever tasted.”

“I like to snort.”

“You’ll ruin your nose,” said Nancy.

“I already have.”

“Neo-Synephrine,” Larry said. He scooped some of the finely ground white powder out of the box with a small silver spoon and handed it to Paddy. Paddy shoveled it into one nostril, handed the spoon back to Larry, who refilled it for the other nostril. It was good coke—a rush like a locomotive. He watched Nancy burst into bloom. In a couple of seconds, he was flying, not scared of anything, in love with everyone, especially her.

“A speedball?” Nancy asked, after the numbness set in and they’d listened to loud jazz for some time. Perky and flirtatious, she was a charming hostess.

“Great!” said Paddy, floating in the twilight zone, warning bells clanging dully in the distance.

Nancy mixed coke and a couple of pinches of a brownish powder from a foil wrapper and spread it onto a small mirror, chopping and forming the concoction into lines with a single-edged razor blade.

“Uptown . . . downtown, pretty cool, huh?” Her dark eyes danced. She watched Paddy snort the mixture, then excused herself and headed for the bathroom, where she’d cook and shoot her own concoction.

Before long, she was back, pin-eyed, moving languidly, her expression dreamy. They listened to Miles Davis from three-foot-high stereo speakers in the softly carpeted room and talked about jazz clubs and the musicians they’d seen at the Vanguard, Sweet Basil’s, or another of the downtown jazz clubs.

“Larry never takes me to hear rock and roll,” Nancy complained. “Just jazz and disco, disco this and disco that.” She laughed, a sweet, musical sound.

“C’mon, baby. You know that ain’t true.” Larry turned a long-suffering look toward Paddy. “We go hear jazz all the time, man, good jazz. This woman don’t know nothin’ ’bout music. All she know is rock and roll.”

“We were raised on it,” Paddy said, realizing with a shudder, before the words left his mouth, he shouldn’t have. He’d been joking with Larry and Nancy, good-naturedly flirting with her. But something clicked when he said this. Her eyes came into focus for a second, her brow furrowed, she tilted her head and looked at him like a confused pup. Good thing she was high. She drifted away.

He had to get out of there. He was going to really screw up if he didn’t. Just for the way he couldn’t take his eyes off of Nancy, he could get himself killed, let alone if he blew his cover.

When Nancy began nodding, he and Larry watched over her like Mom and Pop seeing the baby off to sleep. Languidly, she opened her eyes every few seconds, smiled at them, until, heavy-lidded, her eyes closed once more. She’d gone back to the bathroom and the second time must have done straight heroin.

Before he left, when Larry Porter was seeing him off at the door, he slipped Paddy an inch-long waxed-paper packet. “Here, man. This’ll help you party. I’ll see you tomorrow night if the dude comes through.”

Paddy laughed. “He’ll come through, man. Thirty grand is bus fare for this guy.”

Larry Porter laughed too.

*   *   *

He’d fallen in love with her on the Sheehans’ stoop, when they were thirteen. She wore black denim pants and a motorcycle jacket, lavender eye shadow, and very red lipstick. Shy as she was bold, she leaned against the wall in the entryway of Mrs. Sheehan’s apartment.

“So you’re Paddy Reilly,” she said, and he stopped. “Hmm.” Her eyelashes fluttered, a lopsided smile on her face. “What’s so special about you?”

He turned red and cursed boy-crazy Mary Sheehan and, to cover his embarrassment, pulled a crumpled pack of Lucky Strikes from his pants pocket.

“Nothin’s special about me.” He snapped open the foil top of the pack and took out a bent and flattened cigaret.

Nancy sauntered over to him. Standing very close, she touched his hand on the pack. “Can I have one?”

He pulled out another twisted cigaret.

She hesitated. “Is that your last one?”

“It’s okay.” Eyeing the card players, he moved back a couple of steps. “Maybe we should go out on the stoop.”

Nancy shrugged but followed him out the door. “Your old man don’t let you smoke, huh?” She sat down on the top step of the stoop. Leaning forward, she wriggled out of her leather jacket. Her bra pushed against her T-shirt and the shirt slipped out of her pants as she stretched.

“You have permission to smoke?” he asked when she was settled.

“My ma don’t care.”

They stayed on the stoop listening to the radio through the window, the Diamonds singing “Little Darlin’,” the Coasters with “Searchin’,” Alan Freed calling the shots. Below them, beyond the stone wall at the end of the street where Naples Terrace dead-ended and the hill dropped like a cliff to Broadway, buses, cars, and trucks nosed in among the el pillars, and the neon lights of the bars and stores blinked and glittered. The sounds of Broadway, the screech and clatter of the el train, the throaty wheezing of the buses, an occasional car horn, the sound of traffic like a mechanized wind, seemed to Paddy Reilly, in his memory now, peaceful, like forest sounds in the night might seem to a camper. It was the Irish Bronx of his youth, a peaceful, idyllic time, except for what happened with Nancy.

She was different from the Irish-American kids like him in the neighborhood. For one thing, she didn’t have a father at home. Her mother was different too, younger than Paddy’s mother and Mrs. Sheehan. And she was American. The distinguishing thing about Nancy’s mother, though, was that she went out with men, quite a few men, and was therefore not spoken to or of by the Irish women, at least not in front of the children.

Later, he and Nancy walked down to Broadway, in the company of Mary Sheehan. They walked down the 231st Street hill past young men wearing light summer slacks and short-sleeved, open-collared shirts, standing in clusters, leaning against parked cars. Paddy felt self-conscious, noticing the eerie way the men quieted to watch Nancy walk by, pretending not to. Nancy, without looking at Paddy, by some change in her stance or carriage, by the nonchalant hunch of her shoulders, gave Paddy to know that she too was conscious of the stares.

They bought cigarets at the candy store next to Arthur’s Diner, where the gnarled, slow-moving man who stood not much taller than his display cases didn’t care about age. They drank egg creams and read Archie comics, with Paddy gerrymandering the seating to sit next to Nancy, reading Archie over her shoulder and smelling her hair. On the way home, they smoked cigarets and laughed about the old man in the store. Nancy had stolen two comic books and Paddy had grabbed a Spaldeen.

“He hates kids anyway,” said Nancy, “the old bastard.”

Back at the Sheehans’, they read comics and watched TV, The Late Show, then The Late Late Show, on into the night until Nancy fell asleep on the floor with the sound of the card players behind them. Late in the night, in the small hours of the morning, Nancy rolled onto her back and opened her eyes, then sat up, her lips compressed, her brow wrinkled, her expression startled. For a second, Paddy thought she was mad at him. But she smiled dreamily, and when she lay back down, she put her head in his lap.

For a week, he thought about her, reliving every moment of that night. When Friday night came again, the pinochle game was at the Reillys’ apartment. And there in the doorway, cheerful and awkward as a Christmas pup, the last one in the door, ready to turn and run at the first loud noise, her eyes sweeping the room and brightening when they settled on Paddy, there in the doorway was Nancy.

Her face was bright and she bowed her head timidly when Mrs. Sheehan introduced her to Paddy’s mother, but the brightness faded and the expression in her eyes hardened when Mrs. Reilly looked chillingly down at her and back at Paddy.

Like a warden, Mrs. Reilly watched over them. They waited until she was busy making tea for the card players to sneak away from her and Mary Sheehan down to the basement of the building, where they smoked cigarettes in the narrow, low-ceilinged room Paddy’s father had coaxed away from the super to be Paddy’s gym, roped off now into a boxing ring, with a speed bag in the corner.

“Your ma don’t like me,” Nancy said.

She placed her hand on top of Paddy’s again as he lit her cigarette, and he could feel his heart pounding.

“She’s like that with most of my friends,” he said.

“She shouldn’t not like me. She don’t even know me.”

“Who was that girl?” his mother asked when everyone had gone.

“Her name is Nancy.”

“How old is she?” His mother sounded almost disinterested as she washed the small plates and teacups left from the card players’ tea.

Paddy heard the undertones. Nancy barely spoke to him after they’d come up from the cellar, and he’d not known what to say to her. Now she was gone and he knew he wouldn’t see her again. He didn’t answer.

“What were you doing in the cellar?”

“I was looking for something.”

“With her? . . . What’s a girl that young doing with that lipstick on? She looks ridiculous.”

Paddy got up from the kitchen table.

“I hope you’re not spending your time with the likes of her,” his mother said in the tone she used to put an end to things.

“You don’t even know her.”

“I know enough of her.”


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Copyright © 2017. Come Back Paddy Reilly by Con Lehane

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