It started in a pool hall. Juan Colon had a girl friend, and so did the cop, Jimmy O’Donnelly. The problem was it was the same girl. Usually a policeman is issued whatever number comes up, but special requests can be made. His father arranged for Jimmy O’Donnelly to get his namesake’s shield, from grandfather to grandson. His wife had their third kid in four years. They were high school sweethearts. Neither of them had been with anyone else.
Juan Colon on the other hand was a mac daddy. And this girl Clemente had it bad for him. She was trying to get Juan’s attention somehow and she met O’Donnelly.
That day after the protest we all met at the pool hall. Not O’Donnelly’s wife of course, she was home with the kids, but the other three and the men got into it.
The sister was playing with the cop and she bent over the table and Juan Colon whistled. It wasn’t just any whistle either. It was like I’ve had that shit and I can get it again any time I want.
Jimmy O’Donnelly didn’t like that. He didn’t like where he was. He didn’t like the fact that he was here cheating on his wife while she was home with the three bawling children.
Juan Colon was the kind of man to pick up on something like that. Juan had that easy confidence and that really strong sense of himself in his own skin.
Jimmy O’Donnelly was the exact opposite. He was that white boy shutdown angry energy, all uptight and not in touch with his physicality at all. They say that white boys can’t dance. Juan Colon could dance. He moved like a woman, and he fought like a wild cat.
O’Donnelly got in over his head, and he had to back off. He had gone in there alone with the Clemente girl. Something in him did not feel too comfortable with what he was doing and who he was. He never had a choice in love. He and his wife knew each other from way back, from dads in short sleeves off work from the job at cookouts cracking open beers in the backyard, little girl, little boy chasing each other around, all cute and cuddly from the beginning of time as they knew it.
He had to be a cop. Yet he was a natural; he was good at it and if he had ever the chance to grow into that role he would have been very good at it, but he never got that chance. Not after Juan Colon.
In the poolhall O’Donnelly was surrounded and humiliated. He popped Colon real good a couple of times, but there were no other cops and a lot of Juan Colons.
Miss Clemente was tall and curvy and pistol smart. Her father took her out of school and put her to work in that clothing store on the Hub. She and Jimmy O had in common that they were under the great big thumb of their fathers. Officer Jimmy O’Donnelly went back to his wife and his family. What else was he going to do? He told himself it was forever with Lucy Clemente every time they were together, but it was only forever in the moment. She fell into the discos. She was well known in the Bronx and even in Manhattan.
When next she was seen, it was in one of those heroin and crack sweatshops with one Manny Colon. She was not one of the naked girls who handle the product, she was the one with the whip, the overseer of the slaves. While Manny ran the streets, she oversaw the operation on the home front.
She got into it a little herself at the time, a little too much blow, the pretty girl’s cold, back and forth with dope to balance each other out, then she dropped out suddenly. Even Manny could not find her. She had met a man on the train; they had gone on a few dates. She had one of those irresistible faces and like Juan, a graceful leonine athleticism. After five or six dates they became serious and this man proposed to her.
She lives in Greenwich now and has a horse and a stable and three beautiful children. He does not ask her about her past and she does not tell him.
That afternoon Jimmy O’Donnelly took her by the hand and out of the pool hall, but in a matter of seconds by the way she looked back, it was clear even to him, blinded by rage and pride as he was, that she would never be able to leave behind Juan Colon.
Jimmy O’Donnelly released her and she ran back inside, and for the most part, out of his life. They saw each other a few more times, but that moment had made itself clear.
Juan had yelled out to O’Donnelly, something tough and cocky like,
Don’t ever let me see you again.
O’Donnelly said at most two words of his own, something like,
So next they met on Melrose Avenue in the middle of the night, on the occasion already described by two different witnesses. Clearly through no fault of their own they experienced mere fragmentary aspects of our complete story. Let me humbly add to the confusion.
First and foremost Juan Colon did not die on Melrose Avenue that night. He certainly must have appeared as good as dead to the adjunct professor. And maybe he was confused about the timing of it all. Which is understandable under the circumstances. One of Juan Colon’s back ribs was ruptured and sticking through his skin, puncturing his lung. His face was a bloody mess, his skull cracked.
O’Donnelly did not run him down with the car as wantonly as the adjunct professor describes.
Juan saw the car and tried to jump out of the way.
O’Donnelly swerved and at the last instant in a jump of balletic grace Colon leaped atop the car as it screeched to a stop, then bounded against the windshield, since the Dodge was not going that fast, even if he had gunned it as described it was up hill and he was barely moving as they pulled away from the curb after making the pickup of the bag of money from one, Frank Ellis, itinerant piano jazz genius, paramour and escort of blue blooded young ladies by evening, little league coach by weekend, capable of paying off teenagers to induce them to commit casual arson and at the same time convince an heiress to trust and marry: Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name.
In fact old Frankie did a Latin jazz Willie Bobo accompanied Stones medley of that song with “Gimme Shelter” and “Midnight Rambler” that was funny, freaky and chilling all at the same time, my brother.
Follow this: Frank Ellis witnessed the beating Jimmy O’Donnelly administered to Juan Colon on the Melrose Avenue sidewalk. I got this from the lucky devil himself.
The thing was that O’Donnelly got it just as bad.
A cop is taught to shoot for center force. A cop is not supposed to be marksman; this does him no good. He is not taught to shoot to kill. A marksman is someone who can bring down a target with one shot. This is well and good for a sniper, but we are not talking about a sniper situation. We are talking about a squad of vice cops going into a known narcotics operations spot with their weapons drawn and flushing out between fifteen and twenty perpetrators. The facts are known that O’Donnlelly shot Colon in the chest twice and if the first shot, which pierced an already damaged lung, was not enough to kill him, the second, which essentially exploded his heart, was.
Colon was dead in a few moments and O’Donnelly and the bust went on. Colon was holding a hammer and clutched it in his death convulsions. Whether the circumstances of this decision or instinctual shot haunted O’Donnelly is a good question, he never talked about it. He never talked about much besides his family, the Yankees and the job.
What’s interesting to think about for any student or inquirer into the nature of manhood is whether or not their prior relationship had anything to do with the way that either man reacted to the moment of the situation. They saw each other. They shouted in recognition. They were barely inches away, in a darkened hallway that both had stepped into in a virtually simultaneous instant of movement. Colon raised the hammer and O’Donnelly pulled the trigger.
Another sidebar worth mentioning is the amphetamine habit that O’Donnelly had at the time. It was going around. It was the age of greenies for baseball players and a lot of heads, even college students were into pink hearts, white crosses and the like. It was the peak year for No-Doz nationwide in terms of sales, which is interesting to note. Whether this all got replaced by cocaine when it got easier and cheaper to get is, while pretty much obvious to any dopefiend, not something that anyone has the means to prove.
At this point, O’Donnelly, like the crowd he ran with in the department, was popping pills to get up in the morning, pills for the job, pills for sex and pills to drink more and then drinking more to be able to pass out and then having to pop another pill or two in the morning to make up for that. He was always a speed freak. His brother talks of him going into crazy Evel Knieval-type tricks, even as a kid with his bicycle, jumping over trash cans, a gushing fire hydrant, even once the family dogs: a collie and a lab.
That three of the other dealers involved were shot in this raid had some bearing on how the whole thing played out. There were witnesses among the underground who saw what happened between Juan Colon and Jimmy O’Donnelly and one of them was a brother by the name of Manny Colon a/k/a “The Mule.”
He witnessed his brother’s death from less than twenty paces. He saw the fatal confrontation from a stairway. He stopped dead right there and was taken under arrest by one of O’Donnelly’s partners.
He was walked by the body of his heaving, dying brother.
O’Donnelly had caught a glimpse of Manny without of course knowing who he was. O’Donnelly saw him being subdued in the next frame of instant and moved on. They had a house to clear, an operation to eliminate, a job to do and the fact that he had just shot a man did not allow him even an instant to pause for that might get him shot.
They ended up in the backyard with 12 men and boys including Manny Colon on their faces in the scraggly dirt in grass of a late afternoon. The paddywagon arrived, the prisoners were marched single file around to the front and taken to the 3rd Avenue courthouse and jail for eventual arraignment. The arresting officers went to the bar.
Since Manny Colon was only seventeen, he was released to his father hours after the Walton Ave stash house bust. Two days later they held poor Juan’s funeral. From which Juan Colon, a popular kid, became a Tremont legend. The wake filled the three blocks surrounding the funeral parlor up by Poe’s Park, with fire hydrants open in Juan’s honor, and 4 two-man squads of police on patrol.
For the Mule, it became the thing in his life, at first a motivator and later quite something else. He never got the look of the guy who shot his brother out of his head, point-blank range, twice in the chest and so when he saw him again he knew what to do.
It was like a picture that was already painted. It was just a matter of filling in the colors.
Two things were set into the inextricable destiny of the world in that dusty hallway on Walton Ave by the college: that Manny Colon would become a kingpin and that one day he would avenge the killing of his brother at the hands of one Jimmy O’Donnelly.
He finished his schoolboy football career all state topping the league in tackles and concussions. He had a way of leading with his head. He became the Mule. What once had hurt him, he started to enjoy, to relish, to explore. He shook his head a couple times and got back in the game.
He went through money like it was water. He treated women with respect and grace, but cheated on them at will and whim. He had a place on the upstairs porch of one of the stash houses on Bush Ave where he sat and took time for himself. Otherwise he never stopped in his single mission. He fought, killed, and fathered. He was a man of his word. Who didn’t know his name paid for it.
Somehow when he sat on the porch, he got that it was already written somewhere and it was his job to take it as painless as possible, to turn water into wine, to fill others lives with grace, no matter the circumstances and that was what everyone would say about Manny that he was a man nonetheless. You might shake your head, but you would respect him. He never even cheated the low-level corporal or dealer.
He always treated the police with respect. He spoke reverently of his childhood dream to be a pilot as if he had somehow achieved it, as if it were a real thing. He was a true psychopath in the strictest sense of the term. He had the ability, the innate talent, to perform whatever task he had before him while having his mind exist in a wholly other realm. He told his recruits tales of King Arthur and got them to believe. He believed his own bullshit.
Until that day on Anthony Ave when shots rang out and everyone on the street ran up the hill, just a block and a half from the droning din of the Cross Bronx Expressway. A crowd of hundreds gathered in moments.
The Cassidy Mansion was the first house in the Bronx.
If you’d ever had the opportunity to be invited there to a birthday party back in the day, you still spoke of it. Everyone was welcome. Even Frank Ellis, when he was the prince of the place for his short reign, invited some into the yard during the neighborhood block parties.
Because that’s what they were, the Royal family of Tremont, and the way that subjects identify with the kings and queens was the way that we felt about our Cassidy Mansion, so on that day when the shots rang out and Townes Walker lay on the driveway, we all went up there to see what happened.
Maggie’s mother was bleeding and someone had given her a handkerchief. The police and ambulances were there.
The fallen man was put in the rescue squad truck and the crowd parted. The Mule was watching with everyone else until the instant when he saw O’Donnelly. Then it was like one of those parts in the movie when a laser point comes on the screen and zeroes in one face like a sniper sight on a high powered rifle.
He recognized O’Donnelly though it was almost four years since the killing of his brother Juan on Walton Ave. Manny Colon had become the youngest kingpin in our knowledge of the world; he was a legend. He had been checking his crew of four or five dealers in the area, four who manned the corners opposite the points of the circle where Tremont meets Webster and one that roamed, getting customers wherever he could.
There was a constant stream of traffic and business in those days. It is hard to describe except to note that a dealer, from the moment he showed up on the street with product, was busy until he left. Guys were accosted until they became weary of the sight of their brood, until they became hooked to the power they held over their own minions.
They kept their stashes in their pockets and a larger one in a paper bag they would discard nearby, in a trash can by a curb or whatever, and if anyone touched it, or even looked at it, there would be a very big problem.
This was Manny’s biggest rule. It is not a matter of shit, it’s a matter of pride. If someone takes you off they don’t respect you and this must be taken care of. There is no other way.
O’Donnelly had put on a little weight. He wore a military regulations mustache out to the corners of his mouth. He had a crew cut because it was dead summer. He had taken his hat off to scratch his brow. The Mule saw a certain look in his eye and said something like,
Uh, can I get you something?
O’Donnelly wasn’t stupid. He saw who and what Manny was. He was a man who could get him as much crack as he wanted for as long as he wanted, for a nice two- or three-day run until he discarded him because you know he was a cop. He was vice squad, and Manny Colon, he didn’t recognize him in the front part of his awareness of the situation though he knew who he was as a local dealer.
Drugs are like that; they allow the taker to layer the things in his mind so that there are different levels of reality. He knew who Manny was, point-blank, but if anyone asked him he needed to have a level of plausible deniability, why, don’t ask that kind of question. It is enough to say that it had come up in passing a couple times in precinct business that this wannabe kingpin kid was the little brother of the man he had killed with his service revolver. Most cops, contrary to television and popular conceptions, never kill anyone in the line of duty. Most seldom even fire their guns, so if you do, you remember.
There was another emotional dimension that had to be respected.
He could not admit at first that he still dreamed of Juan Colon and that hallway. He dreamed of what could have happened had it gone down differently at either stage, at the pool hall, on Melrose Ave or in the hallway.
He and Juan matched up perfectly as opponents, and just as a man, if he is lucky enough, gets to meet his or her perfect lover, or certainly the closest thing that will come to it in their lifetime before death, and always dreams of this person as a fallback sort of thing, whenever unhappy, if he ends up with someone else or not, even if he may dream of the younger more agreeable version of his own wife, as Jimmy O’Donnelly also did; but Manny Colon and O’Donnelly didn’t bullshit each other, they were too smart for that, and for the next four days they danced, each teasing himself with the delicious idea of killing the other at the right moment, like a delicious tango that neither one of them could deny, like the couple who see each other across a crowded dance floor and simply must end up having a drink at the bar.
Then it’s your place or mine.
This is what happened that moment with Jimmy O’Donnelly and Manny Colon. But let’s forget, if we can forget all that three- and four-dimensional crap and get to the bare bones of the what took place in the next ninety-six hours.
O’Donnelly had made detective.
He wore his shield on his shirt now. He looked good, he looked like Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity, with white shirt and chinos, in the sun, but if you looked closer you realized he was much more like Monty Clift because there was something haunted about his handsome face. He was looking for his own death and, just as something clicked in Manny in that moment, something also clicked in Detective Jimmy O’Donnelly because he had found his destiny.
You got something for me, you say.
They played it out like it was a tip. This was plausible enough. Dealers, especially ones as high up as the Mule, often talked to the cops, to tease them, to get them drugs or women if they were so inclined or to lay a seed for later if they were not. They reinitiated contact and proceeded to have a conversation at a pizza place that had a window where they served slices and sodas to the people of the sidewalk.
This was back down Tremont Avenue. Even here they were still on the fringe of the crowd that had gathered around the scene of the murder. There would be people soaking up the remnants of dispersed energy and madness there for the rest of the day because murder scenes are like that. This is what the ghetto gets off on, the street dramas that everyone is so addicted to it’s like sports.
They stood talking even though anyone watching would not have been able to tell Manny gave him the small paper bag of crack and heroin he just happened to have as a drop off to one of his lieutenants. As in look what I found officer you better take care of this.
Jimmy went on a legendary run, and went on to suffer the worst death of any of the rogue crack cops of his era. He was found in a room on Webster Ave with his head stove in and the carpenter’s hammer that had done the deed still stuck in his skull four days later.
Manny kept an eye on him whether it was his or not until O’Donnelly was depleted and delirious and then he took his life, as O’Donnelly had taken his brother’s.
Manny was able to stay on the street for some time and then he himself was arrested and there was no one to testify to the murder and no evidence that could be pinned to him. What Manny had done was put Jimmy O’Donnelly in the able hands of his lieutenants both male and female, so he knew where he was and what he was doing the whole time. He checked on him once or twice. He knew he cried to a whore, that he bragged to a barroom full of Yankee fans that he went home to tearfully kiss each of his children as if he knew what train he had gotten on and where it would crash.
It is said that O’Donnelly spent the last hours of his life looking out a corner window of the Tremont Plaza Hotel south and east toward the Tremont Oval, where in those days at night the gatherers there at the head of the drug bazaar the circle had become wandered to and fro like the penitent congregants of some long forsaken and outlandish pagan pageantry, where its denizens sat on the benches jabbering in unintelligible tongues, lighting up in full view of passersby or passed out on the same grass in various states of ecstasy and ruin. In his mind at the end it was a source of both envy and disdain for the born cop that he could not join them, that his own bloody transcendence awaited him, and would be met in the dark hovel, his final refuge.
Officer Bobby O’Donnelly was found in the Webster Hotel with the carpenter’s hammer embedded in the frontal bone of his skull, it was only a matter of time for Manny Colon. Granted it would take a little while. These things always do. The police force was in shambles, overworked, underpaid and undernourished in terms of appreciation from the public. The shine had worn off the badge. Also he was only one asshole and there were a lot of them out there, but if he was not public enemy #1, for what he had done to O’Donnelly, he was running a close second, rogue cop or not.
Note one: the frontal bone is the one at protects the brain and as such is the strongest bone in the body. The officer’s skull had been penetrated not once but not less than four times. The bone was effectively broken in half and the point of the back-end of the hammer damaged the officer’s inner ear.
Even the most seasoned officers upon entering the room and looking around for a moment soon rushed out when it dawned on them what had happened here and were sick in the hallway bathroom, a few only made it as far as the trashcan by the cot.
Officer O’Donnelly was given a full honor guard funeral. For those of you who don’t know, Tremont Ave goes all the way east to the end of the great North American continent in the Throggs Neck section of the Bronx. A few blocks south of our avenue, on Lafayette, there’s a graveyard, St. Raymond’s, and that’s where Bobby ended up, next to his grandfather, on their graves was carved the very same shield number. The wails of the widow reached such a pitch that they were imitated by a flock of birds that alighted in the upper branches of nearby trees, achieving at one point a relatively perfect pitch of high C.
After he left the room in the Webster Hotel, Manny Colon took a shower down the hall, shaved, shit, changed his clothes, applied cologne and went on a hot date with a freaking fly sister by the name of Delilah Gomez. It had taken him six months of preparation for this. She was an undergraduate nursing student at Hostos. She was 19. That was by day. By night she graced the club sport spots of our neighborhood with her long legs, leonine grace and bubble packed booty.
If the bus stop and the bump were not invented to show off her God-given gifts, after a few minutes watching this fine young thing in their employment any witness would agree it was academic anyway. Nothing mattered after seeing her shake that thing and more babies were born just because of what watching her did to the boyfriends and husbands of those girls present in Delilah’s sphere of influence. For all that it was her teeth, her smile and the well… intelligence with which she danced, that she brought to the dance floor that distinguished her. Manny was with her when they saw the police report on the O’Donnelly cop killing. Jimmy came on and spoke briefly about his brother and it was in that instant that Manny realized he had killed the wrong one.
He dropped a water glass and it shattered on the tile floor. He put on his pants and walked out the door.the young lady yelled after him, to no avail. This was the first year of the Serrano Scholars program at Hostos, and she would be one of the first students chosen to continue her education begun at Hostos, at Columbia University. After graduation she next landed in Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia before decamping to a 3-bedroom condo in Bethesda where she worked in the state department. At each stop of the way, accommodations had to be made for the son she had conceived with Manny Colon the very night of the morning that began with Officer Bobby O’Donnelly’s head stove in.
Manny the Mule lasted on the streets for exactly 337 days and nights, which put him exactly that many steps behind his mentor Frank Ellis on the staircase down to hell that officials call the New York State Penal system. Manny Colon had enough uncut cocaine to keep him up all but maybe three hours a night. He only slept well after sex and when he awoke like a bolt he did a little of the white horse to ease himself into the next thing that happened. The one or two nights that he slept through were spent in the wreckage of the train station where our grandfather still stood sentinel. The transit company had installed automated ticket machines and the building was condemned so only our grandfather went inside and for his old ward Manny Colon it was the perfect place to hide and the only time he knew any rest.
There was an All Points Bulletin put out in all five boroughs for the arrest of Manuel Colon thirty two minutes after Officer O’Donnelly’s body was discovered, which happened not incidentally a full 83 hours after he expired. It was on a tip from a desk clerk who became disgusted upon discovering that some local rounders were bringing gawkers by for looks; and the smell, which was awful, even with the window open. Manny Colon’s wandering sojourn often ended for some minutes respite on the park bench at the end of Mt Eden Ave where he liked the view of the passing cars especially at night on Webster Ave. Other times it ended on one of the benches of Echo Park across Tremont Ave from our church.
I saw him myself after he had been on the run for the better part of a year. Sure he had lost a little weight, but I can swear in the words of the bard that he did look great. In the Cassidy mansion in the drawing room was a Steinway piano. I was walking by the big empty house one night and decided to pay a visit. I was playing for hours before Manny came down the stairs, wiping sleep out of his eyes.
What are you doing here?
We both laughed at the same time. He was arrested a few weeks later, it was the last time I saw him for a long time.