“Isn’t it cold in Moscow?”
“No colder than New York in February buddy.”
“I dunno man, I heard it was cold. Isn’t that like, a famous stereotype of the Russians?”
“Yeah but that’s based on the old days – it’s been changed by, uh, global warming, y’know – cos it’s so far north.”
“Oh right, that makes sense, I guess.”
Two men wordlessly drove through the city with cigarettes hanging out the window. They were listening to Tears for Fears on the car stereo, the latest cassette, it was OK. 6 hours was a long time to spend in a confined space together with just the other for company, so both were making a conscious effort not to blow their conversation topics early.
Smells of roast nuts, hot dogs, cigarettes, coffee, marijuana, urine, exhaust fumes, oil, gas, perfumes and sweat mixed in the air to create that famous New York summer scent. They drove past a man on the corner; he was wearing tight leather jeans and a baggy white t shirt and had slicked back shoulder length brown hair, finished with a pair of chunky-framed Ray Bans. He gyrated his body to some imaginary beat, gliding each Doc Marten boot across the sidewalk, careful not to kick away either his cardboard sign that read “DANCER 4 HIRE” or his upturned baseball cap. He was not an ‘A-grade’ street performer so rather than carefully place their change in the hat his onlookers had merely tossed it in his general direction, and the coins on the pavement were of greater value than those in the hat. From a bench across the road a toothless old man, skin bronzed and withered by a life spent sleeping rough, ran a coarse, bristly tongue across his dry, cracked lips; it was unclear whether he was eyeing the money or the lithe body of the dancer. The light changed so they drove off, leaving the fate of the dancer and the intentions of his audience up to you to decide.
“So what did the boss tell you about this one?”
“Why, did he tell you something?”
“No, nothing. I thought he might have told you something.”
“Nobody tells me anything. I prefer it that way, as soon as you know something there’s someone that wants to know what you know, y’know?”
Another few minutes of silence. They were passing the NW corner of central park now, heading into Harlem, and the condition of the streets deteriorated with every block. This was 1980s Harlem, not gentrified 2010s Harlem. Two white men wearing thick overcoats in a maroon Chevrolet with the windows rolled down in a Harlem summer was attracting prolonged stares from the groups of youths clustered on the steps of apartment buildings or hanging out on the street corners. They stopped at an intersection on 167th Street and a thin black woman wearing a skin-tight leaopard print crop top approached them. Her skin was pockmarked with pale freckles and her hair was wild, unbrushed and grey. She sauntered right up to the passenger window and leant in so her arm was touching the interior of the car door. She leered at the two men and prepared the words she was so rehearsed at saying when the passenger withdrew a gun and shot her in the head.