by Monk Eastman, NYC, NY, USA
I've drank everything from Gayo Sumatra to Ethiopian Horse Harar, and the black pudding swirling at the bottom of this tin cup is as likely coffee as it is drain cleaner or shaving cream. Nonetheless, at Cecilio Goncz's urging, I drink. One doesn't wisely turn down the man who bit the Vice-President of the United State's nose off and politely mailed it back to him.
The stuff tastes like someone boiled hot dogs in it, mixed with rancid anise and cardamom. My tongue tries to escape down the back of my throat. I immediately know what I'm drinking. From that time in Postville, following a White Supremist insurgency, and again in Jamaica when I covered the Maypen riots. This is not coffee. This is technology I'm drinking. Soluble communication safeguard, some call it. A friend at Interpol used to call the stuff 'baffle-aid'. It's basically a counter-jamming agent. With so many ways to record and transmit a conversation in the modern age, people have come up with jamming techniques that range from light-bending umbrellas that block satellite imaging, to personal radiation generators that create a EMP field, crashing most sophisticated technology (while incidentally giving cancer, as I understand it). What I just drank reinforces any kind of personal transmissions from the human body. In my case, that qualifies as the tracking culture I took before I left Chicago. That tells me we may be leaving this Oakland market soon. And that Cecilio Goncz wants people to know where we are.
"It's good, yeah?" Goncz says. "Best coffee in Northern California."
I choke out something like an affirmative. My gag reflex is dancing.
Montoya Dred gnaws his ragged, bleeding pinky nail. "Stuff tastes like something you'd season a rotting whale with."
"Subtle as a machete, Monty."
"Told you not be fucking calling me Monty," Dred says, spitting out a shred of fingernail. "I don't be calling you 'CeCe', do I? And shit, you know I could. Me and Kelz called you that all the time, back in the day. Cute little thing like you, back then. Shit, 'CeCe' was the least we called you, remember?"
"Ha," Goncz says, showing off his sharpened teeth. "Monty, my man, let's you and me be straight with each other for once, yeah? Because that mouth of yours is testing new fuckin' waters, homes, and that ain't exactly someplace you wanna swim. We ain't in L.A. and you ain't got the chops here that you had there. And even when you had 'em, you ain't had the chops to do much by me. Not once I was grown. And that's a long time, Monty. Long time. Maybe ten years back, you coulda got away with that mouth. Now? Shit, homes. You can't go ten minutes without throwing a fit. Man like you can't even shave without it turning into a suicide attempt. So keep that wiggly little prick of yours in your pants, yeah? You don't want a pissing match with me in front of the kid."
Dred barks something in Los Angeles pidgin. Goncz tenses, says something back. What I can pick out of the exchange amounts to mutual threats and something involving Mr Goncz's mother. And a Tijuana mule.
It's the same question I keep coming back to, listening to conversations like these. When The Little Big One hit, Los Angeles became this tiny island, run by over a dozen belligerent, dangerous pricks just like Goncz and Dred. How did anyone survive as long as they did out there? How do you keep any kind of balance of power in that kind of environment? Like a madhouse out there, everyone juggling chainsaws. And here they are in NoCal, the madhouse brought with them.
"Any time you wanna go, fuckface," Dred sneers in English, "I'm right here."
My father just smiles, those expensive shark grafts showing off every edge and barb. He waves at the coffee cart, and the scabrous old Okie limps over to refresh his cup with genuine coffee. Goncz passes it to me, lets me cleanse my palate. Second cup shows up in his hand. Nothing for Montoya Dred née Baruch Melman, who glares at us sidelong. His Pilkner's Condition appears to be flaring, left shoulder ticking as his eyes start blinking asynchronously. Keeps biting his nails.
"Get anything at the market?" Goncz asks me.
I tell him of the army surplus dealer down the way. How his salvage from Sacramento included American materiel.
"That's crazy," Goncz says. "You really think Los Nortes sent soldiers into Sac-town? That's just crazy. That'd be like declaring war or something, yeah? Illegal, if the Montreal Accords are right. And Hell, Los Nortes helped write Montreal, so why would they break it? Nah, that guy must be selling bootlegs. Couldn't be right."
He doesn't exactly sound convincing. I say as much.
Even Montoya Dred chuckles, like I've just said the obvious. Maybe I have. Goncz laughs too.
"Where's your boy?" Dred asks, chuckle dying.
"Why you call him my boy? You made the introduction, esé. I just made the link with Whitehead."
"He's your boy because he's late," Dred says. "And these ain't exactly things we should be talking about around..." He thumbs at me.
"The kid's here to interview me. Same thing he did with you, Monty. He knows what's what." Goncz turns to me. "Some things is News, some things is Shut-The-Fuck-Up. You know the difference, I figure, don't you?"
Dred sneers. It is not comforting knowing that a man like this has anything but the best intentions.
"Don't sweat it, Monty."
"I told you not to be fucking calling me 'Monty', mother-raper."
"I'll stop calling you 'Monty' when you stop calling him my boy."
"Does that mean I'm not?" a new voice asks.
I turn to face a squat, tanned man in a single-piece suit, swirling blue and green pattern gliding across its surface. I know the face from my mobile journalists' collective. A few months back, I edited a retrospective one of our members did on the Alaskan Secession. Videos of this exact man pepper the story. Seven years ago, this was the premier arms dealer in North America, the man who put guns in the hands of the Great Kodiak Party.
Yonge Street Ali.
And me. Sitting between him and two of the western hemisphere's biggest celebrity war criminals. All the while, decompiler bombs drop in East Oakland. Sacramento takes on the wartime characteristics of 20th Century Mogadishu. Northern California's Prime Minister holds his country together with string and resin. And this.
I can actually feel history about to take a terrible left turn.
With me in the passenger seat.