LIKE CAVEMEN - TOM PITTS
“It’s a high tech world, so we gotta be like cavemen. You understand?” asked Tony. “That means no phones. No cell phones. No pay phones. No phones period—ever. That means those goddamn pay-as-you-go phones, too. They got ways to track everything nowadays–—and it’s always changin’. It’s hard to be invisible. You gotta be on top of things. You wanna fly below the radar? You gotta know what the fuck radar is. Am I right?”
“Are you listening?”
“Yes, Tony, absolutely,” said Tim.
“Are you? ’Cause it looks to me like you’re watchin’ that bitch’s ass bounce up the street. Should I stop? Do I need to stop so you can go to the fuckin’ bathroom a minute, so you can concentrate?” Tony’s face was starting to turn red. There were tiny beads of sweat on his fat nose.
“No ... no, Tony.”
Tony stood there breathing hard. They waited. All Tim could hear was Tony breathing, wheezing. Slowly, his breathing returned to normal and the red color faded from his face.
“I mean, we’re not kids here. This ain’t penny ante shit, you know. We handle the hard work and we are fuckin’ good at what we do, you understand?” Tony always felt the need to clarify what he was saying. Only thing was, it what hard to tell just what he was saying. He implied, he gestured, he omitted. Tony was old school and believed that there was always someone listening. In his time he had seen the methods and laws change so much that now his paranoia was starting to seem grounded.
The two of them were walking down Mission Street. They turned onto Russia Street and began trudging up the hill. Tony liked the neighborhood, it was his neighborhood. Tony’s lungs began to whistle and he waved for Tim to stop. Tony reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a half crushed pack of Marlboro Reds. They were both silent as Tony stood trying to light his cigarette in the wind.
“You think you know technology?” he continued.
Tim didn’t say anything.
“You don’t know shit. It changes by the goddamned day. By the minute. These assholes are using shit we don’t even know is invented yet. Tapping phones without wiretaps. Who needs a fucking warrant when they’re pulling shit out of the air?”
Tim wondered if this was true. He tried to remember something his lawyer had told him, but couldn’t. He must have taken his eyes off Tony for just a second.
“Hello, you listening to me? Maybe you’re wearing a fuckin’ wire and you just wanna play this back later? Listen to me then?”
“Aw, come on, Tony.”
“Stop makin’ me waste my breath, kid. You think I’m nuts? You think I’m paranoid? These cocksuckers read lips. They teach ’em all how in Quantico. I’m serious.”
Tony spat on the ground to underscore how serious he was.
“Some guys around here like to use technology. Get them before they get you, kinda thing. We ain’t those guys. We are the guys who ain’t fucking worried, because there ain’t shit down anywhere, so there ain’t shit to worry about.”
First day on the new job was always tough. It went on like this for twenty minutes. Tim started to wonder if maybe Tony was crazy. Everybody that Tim dealt with was a little nuts, but maybe Tony was a little extra. The advice went on and on.
“Your money, it goes under the mattress. No banks, no bank accounts, nothing. Safety deposit boxes? Fuck no. Listen to what I’m telling you kid and maybe you’ll last more than a few weeks.”
Tim sat there stone-faced, trying as hard as he could to wear the mask of attention. The aroma of the sausage Tony had eaten for lunch made an appearance, mixing with Tony’s sweaty cologne. Tim was glad that they were out in the open air.
“You got credit cards? Stop using ’em. Keep one, use it for alibis, shit like that. Personal use will fuck you up. Give ’em a fuckin’ road map to your life, why don’t cha.”
Tim was getting tired of Tony’s tirade. It was tough focusing on Tony’s face. When Tim looked at him, his head seemed impossibly huge, too big for his body. The head seemed to pulsate. Tony’s voice drifted off, replaced by a loud hum. Tim wondered if he was going to faint.
“If you need to reach me, don’t fuckin’ call—ever. Do it in person. Take a cab. Don’t call for one, then they got a record, just fuckin’ flag one. Okay? ... okay?”
The silence snapped Tim out of it long enough to manage a response. Then there was a pause and Tim thought he was done. Then Tony fired up again. “And get out at least two bocks away, not on the fuckin’ corner. You got it? Good. You got a car? Yeah? Get rid of it. Sell it.” Tony paused for a moment, like he’d lost his train of thought. He flicked his cigarette on the sidewalk and continued.
“Remember what I said about credit cards, no nothing. I don’t care if they’re not yours, if you know they’re good, whatever, I don’t care. Do not fuckin’ use ’em. You gotta be invisible, a caveman. You can’t just be low key; you gotta be the fuckin’ Unabomber.”
“Didn’t they get the Unabomber?” Tim immediately regretted deviating from his agreeable responses.
“Hey, fuck you. There was a rat. His own fuckin’ brother ratted him out, and that was the only way they got him. Someone should have a talk with his brother just on fuckin’ principle.” Tony looked out of breath. He’d forgotten where he was in his training speech. These little fuckers always had something to say, thought they knew better. Tony hated bringing on new guys to this job.
“You lead a different life now. Fuck how you were doing things before. Fuck your life.You thought you knew what you were doing. You didn’t know shit, not for us, not for how we do shit. We do shit different for a reason. We have fucking discipline, understand? We been doing this shit for fucking centuries—centuries. The reason we’re still doing it is ‘cause we’re doing it the same way for centuries. We are fucking cavemen my friend.”
Tim wasn’t chosen because he was smart; he was chosen because he knew how to do the work. The heavy work. Tim could take apart a body. Not everybody had the stomach for that kind of thing. Those who could didn’t have the discipline. Tim had the ability to compartmentalize. He didn’t have the dreams. He didn’t have any dreams. He didn’t need the blow; some guys needed to numb their brains afterword.
It was the money that Tim loved, but there was only so much you could spend your money on. He didn’t even know why he wanted more. He didn’t care. It just felt like he was beating someone, something. The whores were good. The whiskey was good. The food was good. But it didn’t matter, none of it. He didn’t mind shitty whiskey, and, honestly, he kinda liked ugly whores, too. To him, it was the work. The kind of thing he knew that no one else would do. The kind of thing Tony couldn’t do.
“There is absolutely not one single set of balls in this town,” Tony continued, “You cannot count on one fucking douchebag in this entire city. I guarantee you; they are all lay-down-sally motherfuckers. Do not treat friends like friends, even if you’ve seen ’em hanging down at the club, or if they seem close to me, don’t matter, they ain’t shit.”
Tim knew his life expectancy was limited. That there was no way a lifestyle like his could be maintained. Call it karma, call it the law of averages, call it Murphy’s Law, he knew that sooner or later he wouldn’t be the one calling the shots.
The wind had begun to pick up. They zig-zagged along the residential streets of the Excelsior district, pausing only when Tony was out of breath. They stood together on the sidewalk, far away from the earshot of passers by, the wind cutting right through Tim’s clothes. The wind never stopped in this city, it just got colder, thought Tim. He was a long way from the central valley, where he grew up. Not long enough, thought Tim. He knew that the abuses he’d faced as a child gave him the special skill set he needed in this business, so he didn’t dwell. It was a dark blessing, an evil inheritance.
“First thing you gotta do is see the guy downtown, the guy next to ‘you know who.’ He’ll give you the details. You know who I’m talking ’bout, the little guy. He’ll let you know about this kid. He’s the first one you’re gonna do, that fucking kid. Don’t even get me started on that piece of shit.”
Tim knew that God worked in mysterious ways. That’s why God had taken his conscience, his fear. Tony was different. Tony knew fear. He feared prison, he feared death, he feared losing his power. Tim had seen guys that sounded a lot tougher than Tony break down and weep, weep like children.
Tim knew it was all relative. He could die in prison; he could die on the street. He could sit in prison; he could sit on the beach. Happy, sad, rich, poor, it made no difference to him, really. The experience of life was just that, only an experience. He moved through it, he was not attached to it. Life held no sentimental value. To him, if you had just fucked a thousand dollar whore on silk sheets or just jerked off in a prison bunk, it made no difference. You just rolled over and went to sleep. You still had to piss, shit, eat, yawn, and wait to die.
“The long and the short of it is this, kid, we gotta be like cavemen. The only time I wanna ever hear your voice or see your face is when you’re standing in front of me, okay?”
“Okay, Tony. No problem.”
“And don’t ever use my name. I’m one motherfucker who is not offended by being called ‘hey you.’” Tony smiled for the first time. Tim figured that meant he was wrapping up.
“After this, you go see that guy we talked about and he’ll let you know how to find that asshole. Just follow the rules and you’ll be swimming in cash before the end of the summer.”
“No problem, I’m on the way.” Tim was relieved the conversation was ending. He was looking forward to getting back to work, to doing what he did best. He turned his back on Tony and walked straight down hill toward Mission Street.
As Tim followed instructions and flagged a taxi, Tony was catching his breath on the doorway of his club. Tony waved to Sammy, his closest confidant. In typical fashion, he said nothing, only pointing toward the street so Sammy would follow him outside to talk. When they were far enough away from the club Tony turned and said, “Look, after this new kid deals with that asshole downtown, and after we know he’s done a good job, I want you to put two in his fucking head and leave him in the street. He’s got a shitty attitude.”
The instructions hung there. Sammy was surprised, but not too surprised. He knew Tony, and how Tony operated. He knew better than to say anything.
“Oh, and I don’t wanna hear anything more about it; you know me, I don’t like to get my hands dirty.” With that, Tony began to laugh. The laugh quickly became a cough, the cough became a choke. It was the first laugh Tony had enjoyed in a week. He could barely suck in a breath.
BIO: Tom Pitts was born in Calgary, Canada before relocating in San Francisco in 1984. After the disintegration of his band, Short Dogs Grow, and two critically acclaimed albums on Rough Trade Records, Tom got his education in street life first hand while enduring long and near fatal bout with heroin. He remains in San Francisco with his wife; working, writing, and raising his three children. His work has appeared in Junk (a literary fix), Helix, and the upcoming Sims Review He has also read numerous times for the popular San Francisco series Lip Service West.