Ask anyone. They call me "The Hammer." Because I negotiate aggressively.
I been in labor management for thirty years. When things get tight financially, the city always talks about laying off workers to meet their budgets. Fuckin' asshole politicians goin' around, promising whatever the fuck to get elected. Since the '80s, it's been tax cuts, right? So they cut the taxes, then just turn it on the city employees who do all the work, and say, "Sorry, we can't afford it no more." But we still gotta provide the same service, right?
Well, they send their proposals, and we send back the counter proposals, and they go to the Post, and we go to the Times, and they send another proposal, same old shit. Well, I'm the third counter proposal. They don't get a fourth.
See, I been in the trenches. I came up through pipe fitters local 118, late seventies, when New York was going under. I got my head busted by the cops, and busted a few in turn. The workers, the guys on the street, they know me. They know I got their back, and they got mine. So I say "Strike," they drop what their doing and take to the streets, loud and strong. We shut down the city in '79, making the city cough up some of that "I Love NY" money they were raking in. We hit the streets again in '85, and even Reagan backed down. That was sweet. Since then, I even think "strike," and they cave. Go all the way back to Proposal # Two, just to keep me happy.
But this zombie shit... I dunno.
That story in the Post turns up, and THAT DAY, the Mayor His Honor the Asshole gets on New York 1 and says that in order to confront this threat, we all gotta do some belt tightening. He announces a bold new plan to funnel money from the public sector to the cops, give them the resources they need to fight this menace. Of course, at that point, none of us knew how to fight the menace, and he was light on details. But we all knew in our guts where they were gonna go for the money. The little guy. The working man.
Sure enough, the next day, Tuesday, I get called in. Already my back is up. I never get called in this early. I'm the Closer, like I said. The Hammer. But I didn't get where I am in the organization by telling upper management to take a walk. I tell Monique to press the suit, and I go in.
Mr. Carpazzo, my boss, takes me over in a limo. I'm arguing the whole way, "Sal, why are we going to City Hall? That's their turf. Give me ten minutes, I can set something up just over the bridge, transportation an' everything." Carpazzo wasn't listening. All he wanted to talk about were the fuckin' zombies or whatever. "They eat brains. You hear that shit?" he asks, fiddling with his Teamster ring. I could smell the blood in the water, and it was ours.
"Listen, Sal," I said, closing the plexiglass divider to the cab, "All due respect. They got your nuts in a ringer or some shit. But I ain't going down without a fight. I gotta break ranks, whatever."
Carpazzo nodded. "That's why I brought you, Lonnie." He patted my knee. Then, "I mean, brains. The fuck. Gotta be the hardest part of the body to get to..."
They sit us in some conference room with a big ass table, offer us coffee, and make us wait.Two hours later, I shit you not, this team of lawyers and number crunchers comes in. Twelve guys against the three of us. Gotta hand it to 'em. These guys know how to negotiate.
"Gentlemen," starts O'Rafferty, Chief Counsel for the Mayor's office and A-1 windbag, "No doubt you've heard the news. This city may be fighting for its life in a very short time, and it's happening on our watch. The Mayor campaigned on leadership, and he is determined to show leadership in this critical--"
"What do you want?" I said, cutting him off. We'd waited long enough.
"The NYPD has asked for an immediate infusion of 60 million dollars to bolster its manpower and upgrade the--"
"And how much are you taking out of our pocket?"
"Go fuck yourself," I said, and grabbed a stale muffin from the platter on the table.
"Gentlemen," O'Rafferty began, but this scientist chick cuts in, white lab coat and everything.
"Mr... I'm sorry, what is your name?"
"Call me Lonnie, sweetheart," I said, spewing crumbs.
"Lonnie. I don't know if you're aware of how dire a threat this disease poses--"
"Why don't you tell me?" Dire. I was gonna destroy this twat.
"Well, there's a lot about it we still don't know--"
"But you know how to stop it? There's a cure?" I was enjoying this.
"We don't know of a cure. But we have to quarantine those infected--"
"What's the rate of infection? What are the signs of infection? What's the incubation period? What's the mortality rate? No answer? 'Course not, it's been two days, you don't know shit. But somehow you know that it's gonna cost 60 million, and somehow you know that the 60 million has to come out of our ass. Explain that to me, Dr. Hottie." She bowed her head, glaring at the edge of the table. I loved shutting down the PhDs, with their own clinical terms. They take one look at me in my off-the-rack suit, and they think they own me.
"We don't have to explain nothing, greaseball." This from a spindly little geek with a blonde combover, short sleeves and glasses that looked like he got 'em at a 3-D showing of Avatar.
"Whoa, whoa," Sal finally chimed in, but I patted his arm.
"It's okay. Let him talk. You got my attention." Nothing pacifies these wanna-be tough guys like a display of begrudging admiration. A little flattery to soften him up, then the take down.
But he wasn't biting. He wouldn't even look at me. "I wipe my ass with your attention. The cops say they need 60 million, and they're getting it. All city employees, you, me, everyone, we're all chipping in. Next week, we may ask for another ten percent, and another after that. The pensions are already gone."
This perked Carpazzo up. "What? Fellas--"
"That's illegal!" I shouted. "It ain't your money!"
"It's gone," he said, his nose stuck in his manilla folder. "The old rules are no longer in play. We pay your salaries out of city funds, and city funds are being diverted elsewhere. You want money, join the police force. That's the only agency that's getting any." He closed his folder, and only then, looked up, his eyes tired and red.
I had never been talked to like that, not since I was twelve. I didn't take it then. I stood up fast, shoving the whole big-ass table right into them. They jumped back, gasping-- except for the pencil-dick I was trying to scare. He just shook his head.
"We'll strike," I said, quietly.
"I wouldn't," he replied.
"We'll bring the city to its knees."
"It's already there," he said softly, and I swear there were tears in his eyes. "Look, Lonnie, talk to your friend here. Things have changed. It's a brave new world, and you're just gonna have to deal with it."
I looked at Sal. He plucked ridges of skin from around his fingernail, stared hard at it like he was sculpting some micro-Pieta. I love the guy-- but to cave like that when his brothers are depending on him?
"Fuck this," I said. "We'll reconvene tomorrow. When you come in, I'll be the one on the picket line with a baseball bat. I wouldn't cross it until you're serious about negotiating."
O'Rafferty found his voice. "We've been in contact with the national office--"
"I don't care!" I shouted. "I come up with the guys in 118, and I'm not gonna let you rape us. Using this news story to strong arm the little guy, stealing his pension, I mean, what do you think? I'm just gonna sit here and take it?!" I threw the remaining muffin against the wall, brushed off my hands on the lapels of my cheap suit. "Keep the car, Sal," I said. "I'm walking home."
I set things in motion on the way home. Called the shop stewards and told 'em the news. I didn't tell 'em about the pension, I didn't have the heart. But the 10 percent was enough. Later that day, we held a strategy session. My blood was up. I wanted a show of force like nothing the city had seen before. I wanted everyone there, all ten thousand plus members, I wanted them at the steps of City Hall at 5 a.m. sharp, or tear up their union card. I told the stewards to bust some heads if they had to, but brook no dissent. Unity all the way.
And they listened to me, all of 'em. It makes me cry to think about it. They were all there. For me.
We'd shut down the whole area by 4:30. The plaza was full, Wall Street was jammed.Traffic was backed up all the way to Columbus Circle, and the trains were pulling in with hundreds more every ten minutes. The noise was deafening, a low grade rumble that shook the windows of the high rises. It was beautiful. The absolute summit of my career-- hell, my life.
Then the gate to the parking garage of the City Admin building rattled up. I stuck myself right in the path of whatever was trying to come out-- I couldn't let anyone else do what I wasn't prepared to do. I figured it was gonna be cops, or those security guys you see popping up since 9-11. I had my baseball bat ready. Truth to tell, I was spoiling for a fight.
I heard this growl echo off the concrete walls of the garage, and this garbage truck lurched out, diesel engines roaring. The truck labored its way up the steep ramp. Maybe the driver was hoping we'd let him pass, a working guy like us. I stood there, me and my guys, beating the ramp with our bats, yelling.
The truck kept coming, until it stopped about two feet from us. The brakes let out a sudden hiss, and the guys cheered, like we'd just won some battle.
I wasn't cheering. I looked at the maw of the garbage truck. Stained red, with shoes and clothes dangling from the compressor. Inside, through the noise, I thought I heard a sound, like clawing.
The engine began whining, and the compressor started to sink. The driver of the truck climbed out of the cab and hauled ass towards the garage. The gate was rattling back down, and the little chicken-shit turncoat just made it, I found out later.
My eyes were trained on the garbage truck, and on the things inside it. Grey, pale, mottled, smeared with blood and shit, they clambered out of the truck and crawled for us. They were missing body parts, some of them had their torsos ripped out, or their necks were half gone and their heads were bobbing on a thin strand of blackened meat and grease. Their eyes were red, and they all shared the same hiss, their lips peeled back from blue gums and brown teeth. They crawled towards us, the ones without legs, and the ones with legs darted forward.
Those bastards. They'd taken their specimens and set 'em lose on us.
I was on the front line, and I swung hard at the closest freak. He looked like he used to be a homeless dude, fat and covered in sores, his clothes hanging off him, his hair and beard long and matted. I caught him square in the temple. I felt his skull give way, watched one of his eyes pop right out of the socket. There was blood and some grey ooze on my bat.
He kept coming.
I hit him again, coming down this time, and drove him to his knees. His arms still clawed for me, not even taking the time to defend himself. I reared back, and swung for the fences, really stepping into it. I got him on the forehead, and his whole face turned to mush. Grey pus flew out against the other ones stumbling forward. His neck was broken, and his head lolled backwards, his crushed face staring up at the sky, his throat exposed.
He kept coming.
I kept swinging.
The guy next to me, Bernie, black guy, used to play for the Jets, I heard him scream. He'd tried to push one of them away, get a little elbow room, and they'd taken a chunk out of his arm. He was swinging wild, yelling "Come on, come on!" over and over, until the adrenalin gave out, and he keeled over. All this time, I kept working on my homeless dude, going to town on the mouth and throat. There was nothing left of this guy's head but a dull arrow shape. He kept coming.
And my bat broke.
We all ran.
Some of them got us as we ran, but most of the deaths that day were union members running over other union members, trying to get away from those animals. Three hundred pipe fitters died that day. The rest of them went back to work the next day, happy to have their ninety percent, and fuck the pensions.
Me, I went home. Monique was still in bed asleep. I stayed in the bathroom. I stayed in there all day. I told Monique to get out, go visit her family in Jersey. When she saw the news on TV, she agreed. I heard her through the door, weeping and cursing as she tried to fit all her shit into her one suitcase. She lugged it out, still wearing her bathrobe. I watched her take off in the Chevy, and breathed a sigh of relief. I couldn't face her.
I figure she was in traffic for four hours or more. The whole strike had been televised, and the panic resulted in a mass exodus to Jersey and Yonkers. To this day, I wonder if that was part of the plan. The fewer people in the city, the easier it is to protect them that stay. So they set me and my brothers up, to give everyone a graphic display of how "dire" the situation was, so that the chickens would leave, and the rest would give all their money to the fuckin' NYPD.
You gotta hand it to 'em. It was pretty brilliant.
Me, I strategized for a counter strike. What we needed were explosives. Another show of strength, some grenades and firepower, and we could cut those bastards to shreds, and get our pensions back. But they boys weren't listening to me anymore. I'd lost my credibility at the strike. The union in New York City was broken. We were through. And as always, the working man takes it up the ass.
But I'm not finished. I got the name of that guy, the pencil dick with the 3-D glasses. Zoltan Groschewski. Assistant city comptroller. He lives in Brooklyn Heights.
I also got a zombie. Ball gag, duct tape on the hands. Chained him up down in the basement. I'm driving him out to Brooklyn tonight, take the gag out and kick in Zoltan's door. Give him a taste of his own medicine.
We shall overcome.