“I need ten thousand dollars.”
“How are you, Sonny?”
“In a week you will have $30,000, I swear on my mother’s tits”, said Sonny Burns. This was meant to express sincerity.
“Where are you, Sonny?” Bob asked. The phone answered. Crackle. Hiss. Bob shouted down it.
“I’m out of town,” said Sonny Burns, which meant he was out of touch: in Los Angeles, London, New York, Mexico, on Mars or around the corner. He was a ghost. He could be dead. You never knew where he was or when he would, suddenly, come back to life. It was always when he wanted something: in this case, investors.
As usual he was high on of his latest discovery.
“Forget Panama Red, Acapulco Gold—this stuff is better. It’s unbelievable, man. With your first toke you’ll be You’ll be three feet off the ground. I can get POUNDS. I’ve got a buyer for every oz I can get. It’s a no brainer. But I have to move fast or it’s gone. I need the money yesterday.”
Two weeks and several empty bank accounts later we sat watching the silent phone. And sat. Could our pal have forgotten? Was he having a party without us? Or was he really dead this time? Had someone found his sincerity insincere?
The days passed. We felt aggrieved, then worried and, finally, murderous. If by any chance Mr Burns was living up to his name, old friend or not we wanted to kill him. Or at least frighten him into picking up the phone.
Bob was from a small town in Massachusettes. He was a tough boy but sounded like the Stage Manger from Our Town. I’m from the Bronx. I sound like it. It had to be me.
I practiced my De Niro, John Garfield and Paul Muni, I tried a little Broderick Crawford from Highway Patrol. I even tried Brando, the Brando from One-Eyed Jacks, but nobody can really do Brando without sounding like a parody of Brando except Marlon.
In the end I went for Muni. Muni was a short guy but had big intensity.
Muni’s voice could be a sneer: low and threatening, with a nicely foreign mittel-european edge to it. His whispers were like paper cuts. You didn’t know you were bleeding to death until you saw the blood. None of the histrionics of Pacino, no volume, but a more latent insanity. Or so I hoped.
And dialed the number.
I talked slowly, formally, deliberately, almost solicitously, with pauses to give him time to worry. “Is this Mr Sonny Burns?”
“Mr Burns (PAUSE) a mutual friend has asked me to call you and suggest (PAUSE) suggest you get in touch with him soon. Very soon. (PAUSE) You understand what I am saying? You know to whom I refer? Of course you do. You are a very smart man, Mr Burns, and will undoubtedly do the (PAUSE) smart thing, won’t you? Then you won’t hear from me again. And that will be good. (PAUSE) You have a nice life, Mr Burns.”
A few hours later the silent phone rang. Sonny’s voice wasn’t on edge, it was over it.
“What the fuck is going on? I was just about to call you. I got the money, just like I said. Everything was fine. Just a little hold up. Everything’s cool. You’ll have the cash tomorrow. There’s no problem. There is no problem, right?”
“How are you, Sonny? No, Sonny, there is no problem, now.”