Matthew Caruso lived in a world of unwritten rules. Weird ones, too; Don’t run away on Thursdays. Third time is never the charm on 6th and Broadway. Don’t ditch school too much. Under the bed for candy bars, in the shoe for cash. Bad Tony and Gin to not a happy mix make.
The rule he’d forgotten about today was the most important one concerning Thursdays. Don’t. Run. Away. On. Thursday. Ever. Thursday was an important day to walk on eggshells if your name was Matthew Caruso. Go to school, be on time, hide in room. That was his best bet for Thursdays. Thursdays meant Brio was in the gym, and thusly in his prime concerning his punches.
Thursday was happy Friday to Bad Tony. Hopefully his drink of choice wasn’t Gin, (because of the other rule about Gin.) But even if it was Gin, being home on a Thursday, even if he got the ever-living shit beat out of him was better than not being home on a Thursday. Because that meant that in addition to the work-out Brio had been doing all day, and the happy Friday that Bad Tony had been doing a day early, there would be anger. And an angry Thursay Brio and an angry Thursday Bad Tony were a million times worse than the alternative.
But Matthew Caruso had forgotten the unwritten rule of Thursdays. All that had consumed him all day was his imminent need for cash. And an imminent need for cash, even if it’s on a Thursday, meant running away for a while, because it took him a while to procure the cash, then it took him a while to get back to the dinky apartment he shared with Bad Tony and his “associates.” He was convinced that it was better to run away than be late. But he was always caught.
That’s just because I’m stupid, Matt mused, stopping the flow from his bloody nose best he could with his dilapidated hoodie, reaching under his bed for the stash of candy bars Aggie had helped him procure. Aggie was a little old woman who lived in Central Park. She was surprisingly spry, and quite quick-witted despite her aged appearance. Part of the reason for Matt’s stupidity was the fact that he kept seeking her out, when he knew the park wasn’t a safe place for him.
However stupid he was, though, he was also very good at living the life he did. He knew exactly what buttons to push on Brio and his…father…to ensure optimum sleep and minimum permanent damage. His face looked pretty bad now, though. Tomorrow looked to be a day of real hiding, instead of refuge by Aggie’s fire where he knew Brio would find him. A guy could only take so much without time to heal…
But he was still terrified. He lived with this constant fear, nagging at him, making him on-edge; paranoid. His father was a powerful man, and no matter where Matt went, he realized, he’d be found in short order. When he was little it hadn’t been like this. He’d lost his mother, and that’s when he’d lost his protection. His mother had usually taken enough hits for the both of them, it seemed. Her logic had been infallible. How could Tony hit his own son? Tony didn’t want the cops asking questions, did he? A beat-up wife wouldn’t make anyone bat an eye – this was New York – but an abused child…
I wonder what Bad Tony’s definition of ‘child’ is, Matt thought sourly. Because ever since he was ten years old, his life had gone to hell. He heard steps in the hall – it was Bad Tony, out for his nightly rounds; get a snack, have a drink, take a piss, beat his son to within an inch of his life for no reason whatsoever, watch Jeopardy (That Alex was damn smart when you’d had one too many drinks…), belch loudly in random intervals during the show and become the living dead once the double-jeopardy round hit. Such was his routine, and Bad Tony was nothing if not a man with a routine.
Matt hid his candy bar back in its place under the bed, and tried to look like he wasn’t breaking any rules.
Of course, Matt thought sardonically, pressing his fingers to his ribs after his father had left, making sure they hadn’t been broken, when all of his rules are either made up on the spot or unspoken, it’s hard not to break any. The whole thing that bugged him was how scared he got. He knew what was happening now, not like the first time. He’d gotten it down to a routine, even. But his body betrayed him every time; his heart beating wildly in fear, his breath quickening, his limbs shaking – he suspected it was because of his name. He had hated his name ever since that first day when his dad had really beat the tar out of him. Because everyone called him Matt, but his dad called him Matthew. And by extension, being called anything similar to something his father called him caused him to panic.
Waiting for the music cuing double jeopardy, and the snores of Bad Tony that accompanied that music, Matt wrote a note on a partially used notepad and started packing. He needed a day of healing if it killed him Heh. What a laugh, Matt mused, smirking at the irony. He threw some ragged sweaters into a small knapsack then, and left his note on the TV, where someone was sure to find it. He didn’t need a grand plot to escape. No avoiding the stairs with a creaky step, no greasing of the hinges on the door beforehand; he just opened the only door the apartment had and left.
The Bowery sucked. Everyone knew it was a bad-news place. He was surprised there was even a subway stop for it. But there was, and he used it, by means of the last of his coins, and he hoped that he’d be able to get far enough away that he’d have a decent head start.
After stopping a few miles short of Queens, Matt kept an eye out for the old three-card-Monte tourist trap. He just had to make sure it was a dealer he’d not seen before. As he never made it up to this area of the city, Matt was confident he’d soon have some cash.
Play for five bucks, find the elusive queen, win 20 bucks. Easy. Well, for him, anyway. He was good at this game for some reason, even knowing that it was a trick. The dealer always palmed the Queen at the last minute, everyone knew that. But why did Matt always find her?
Luckily, it was a popular con – Matt found a guy within five minutes of idly wandering. He stepped up, trying to look like the innocent kid everyone mistook him for. Little did the poor scammer know that Matt was about to take him for about 80 bucks. That was as much as he usually got away with, before being called a cheat – he’d mastered his game though, and could usually run faster than the swindler – usually – and hopefully keep the money he scored – if not, meh. He’d pick up a five-fingered discount at the local burger place.
After his first two wins, feeling somewhat cheeky, Matt asked the guy if he wanted to go another round. The gaggle of tourists were all claps and smiles, holding up cameras and taking pictures of the bewildered cheat.
“Pretty good, huh?” the dealer said, faking a crooked smile. “What say we call it quits?”
“Just ‘cause he’s winning!” came an indignant shout from the back of the crowd.
The rest of the gathered onlookers shouted their agreement, and Matt smiled his own crooked smile, much less faked. “One more round, how about?” he said casually, laying a five on the table.
The con had no choice but to agree, and he harshly tapped the three cards onto the table, moving them around faster than he had previously. “Must be nice to score on me, huh kid?”
Matt just smiled as the man finally stopped shuffling the cards. He reached for the card on the far right, flipping it over to reveal, once again, the queen of spades.
“Nah. Just luck,” he said, reaching out a hand for the twenty that the man furiously peeled from the wad in his pocket. “But I might just take that name though. Score. Suits me, don’t you think?”
Matt knew he’d pushed it too far, and when the man’s anger finally reached its pinnacle, and he landed a punch to Matt’s jaw, he had sense enough to slip into the crowd and let them do the manhandling. He wasn’t a fighter. Too many years spent with his sonofabitch father made him hesitant to hit anyone. No, his strategy was to run away. After all, wasn’t there an old saying like that? ‘He who fights and runs away, lives to score another day?’
“Something like that anyway,” he mused aloud, tucking his money into his pocket. With that final thought, he discarded his name once and for all. Matthew Caruso had a life that was more hell than life. But Score…Score had possibilities. Score had a chance. Score could con the matchstick men in New York. Score had a reputation from Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, all the way back to the Bowery in his own little slice of Manhattan of being a street-wise, quick-mouthed punk. A nimble-fingered wise-ass that wouldn’t amount to anything good. And if he didn’t now, well he soon would.
Feeling hopeful for the first time in a while, Score decided to treat himself to a pizza. After all. The birth of a new name deserved some kind of celebration, did it not? And he had plans for himself. Big plans. He’d get out from under his father’s thumb (and his fist) and become someone better. Greater than Bad Tony Caruso. And when that happened, he’d be a person worth respecting. But he wouldn’t earn respect Bad Tony’s way. And that would make all the difference.