Billy Jansen and Artie called Hoboken home, but they bounced into the Tunnel Bar (just outside of the Holland Tunnel in Jersey City) a couple of times a week. Billy Jansen did roofing and maintenance work for his father, a pre-gentrification Hoboken real estate millionaire. Billy drove a beatup Chevy pickup truck. Jansen was a little over six feet tall and had the powerful physique of someone used to carrying heavy objects up and down stairs all day long. With his unruly dirty blond hair and sandy-colored beard, jeans and plaid shirt, Billy Jansen looked more like a lumberjack than a survivor of urban decay.
Artie was much shorter. With a bright red modish mop of hair, his skin had the pasty white of short days and long nights in the bars. Artie’s voice was loud and he waved his hands around as he spoke.
– – –
Sal Jr. was tending bar. Margie, Stash, and Sis were watching some show on TV. Billy Jansen and Artie were there, too. As it seemed to be settling into a quiet night, Sal Jr. wasn’t surprised when Jansen and Artie left to see if things were any livelier in the Hoboken dives.
Just as Billy Jansen was starting up the pickup truck a Spanish kid crossed the street. Artie yelled out to him.
“Hey, comp’, anytin’ for the head?”
“Yeah, yeah. I got dimes of good gold.”
Leaning on the vehicle’s door, the entrepreneur handed Artie a small manila envelope. Billy Jansen immediately floored the truck, leaving the dealer sprawled out on the asphalt. Dazed and bruised, he staggered to his feet. He then ran to the housing projects yelling that he’d been robbed at the bar at the corner of 15th and Henderson. A crowd quickly assembled. Armed with bats, knives and chains, they ran the couple of blocks to the saloon.
Sal Jr. had no idea of Jansen and Artie’s little action and the rubber band snap of a tumultuous building reaction. Expecting only a slow couple of hours until closing, Sal Jr. leaned against the back bar by the cash register, watching TV. Suddenly, a swarm of people filled the tavern, yelling in Spanish and waving all sorts of crude weapons.
Sal Jr. skipped over to the end of the bar. He took a Browning 9mm semi-automatic pistol off of a small shelf hidden back of the paper bags. Holding the weapon close to his chest, Sal Jr. released the safety and pulled back the slide, placing a bullet in the chamber. After the soft, short melody of clicks, the crowd became silent. Sal Jr. put his finger gently on the trigger.
“WHAT THE F*** IS GOING ON HERE!”
Three people started yelling, “My cousin was robbed! My cousin was robbed here!”
“What’cha talkin’ about? Nobody but the regulars been in all night. Ain’t nobody been robbed here!”
A young guy who looked like he’d been in a tussle spoke up, “It was the two in the red pickup truck!”
“You sees that the red pickup truck is gone. They took off and ain’t got nothin’ to do with the joint, nohow. You got a problem wit’ dem? Then you go an’ find ‘em. Don’t be givin’ me no grief over somethin’ I got no business with.”
The somewhat spent and dispirited crowd turned and started to shuffle towards the door. Sal Jr. kept the gun in his hand, but now pointed it towards the floor. He kept his eyes on the people walking out. Suddenly, one spun around and frisbeed an empty pint of Thunderbird wine. The bottle hit Sal Jr. on the head, bouncing off his oft-creased thick skull. The assailant stood there smiling, like he’d just got a ball in a basket.
“OKAY! NOW I’M PISSED!”
Sal Jr. brought up his arm, aiming the gun into the crowd in the doorway. The bottle tosser’s jaw dropped and his eyes went wide. Sal Jr. flicked his wrist, pointing the gun at the ceiling, simultaneously pulling the trigger. With the sound of the shot, the entire crew started to clamber and jump over each other, falling out the door. Scampering up from the sidewalk, they ran off in different directions.