Joyland

PNW |

Pinch

by Andrew Mitin

This is the first photograph the city has of Mr. Russell. As is the case with official portraits of first offenders, this one shows a young man in direct profile, somber, not yet guilty but no longer free to imagine he is not. The grainy quality of the image exaggerates both his youth and the coldness of his black eyes, which are not black, but for twenty-one years have been brown, the color of which is deepened by the flash-white breadth of forehead above his left eye, where the black hair is parted and folded neatly in a descending wave to his right mid-ear. These characteristics are acknowledged first because they are not the first ones seen. It is the lips of this accused murderer, spread unnaturally wide across his face and in a thickness more reminiscent of marine life, that is noticed and whose presence dominates thoughts about him. His words are wet, his appetite too large, and it is not surprising to see his face presented publicly in just this way. His black collar appears like a platter in this photograph, but the platter is actually a dark brown flourish of light jacket. After this photograph is taken, Mr. Russell (64, 5’7” and with a full head of thick dark hair) will be photographed for an exposé in the local paper standing beside NorthPoint, his controversial tent city, clutching keys and cell phone, waiting for the city to counter his demand of two million dollars; but before this photograph is taken, Louis Russell (5, 3’7” and nearly in tears), smiled because he was told to smile, though he did not want to smile, and his mother, Joni Campanella, aka “Little Jonny”, a Portland madam, chose to ignore, or else could not hear, the ridicule of his passing classmates as she photographed her son on his first day of school. After this photograph Mr. Russell will be heard saying to Detective Terrance Ray, Portland deserves to have a homeless camp on 4th and Burnside, and neighboring businessmen hurting from Mr. Russell’s neighborliness will say, Mr. Russell is attempting to coerce the city into buying his property, and they will say he’s a desperate man who will make the city blink first; but before this photograph Louis Russell was reprimanded for fighting in the playground, suspended for fighting in the cafeteria and expelled for fighting in the classroom, at which time his teacher, Mrs. Ruby, predicted the boy was not long for incarceration, but whether this is what she actually said or if it was only remembered that she said this, or whether she said something else entirely that was distorted by the bloody rag pressed upon Mrs. Ruby’s nose and then later remembered as saying this, is lost to historical accuracy. After this photograph Mr. Russell will sit inside Dante’s, laying shadows on the walls, shooting Wild Turkey and cursing the city council’s decision to deny him a license to own and operate a food cart pod in his newly vacant lot; but before this photograph Louis Russell’s shadow was seen sprinting past vacant storefronts and reaching down stretches of cracked empty streets, disappearing around corners and behind dumpsters until it finally disappeared within the shadows of grown men. After the photograph Mr. Russell will watch the wrecking ball collide against the charred remains of Cleo’s, the adult bookstore he managed then bought from an uncle, because Commissioner Robert Culp (Captain, USN, retired) levied a squadron of code violations against the business that wrought flames upon the dilapidated retail space; but before the photograph Louis Russell’s step-father took him to a strip club and bought the boy a lap dance, which the entertainer could only adequately perform under the explicit demand that Mr. Evans give her a gram more of cocaine, three shots of whiskey (two now and one for later), a pack of cigarettes and a twenty-dollar bill, discretely placed. After the photograph Mr. Russell’s employees will ring up video and magazine sales near the front door of Cleo’s while Mr. Russell himself will move baggies of cocaine and two girls, sometimes three, out the back door, depending on whether he will be actively dating one of them, but even then the rent may be due, or else he may have lost his Corvette and will need another one, or the idea of owning a boat may strike him; but before this photograph Louis Russell was beaten by Mr. Evans for failing the ninth grade, which did not motivate the adolescent to succeed in academics but instead ditch the whole institution in favor of a less structured daily routine that took its nebulous and profitable form in bars and pool halls around town. After the photograph Mr. Russell will steal into Tome Jewelers and take approximately $144,000 in precious gems for sale to Peruvian drug dealers, who will suggest that the bourgeoning entrepreneur accept payment in the form of cocaine, with which to do whatever pleases him; but before this photograph Louis Russell earned as a box man, cracking out-of-town safes with his crew for Vernon Lowell, a street tuff making inroads into Mr. Evans’ interests. After the photograph Mr. Russell will take over the management of a struggling bookstore that will first frustrate then overwhelm its long time owner Teddy Birch, who said the store’s a run down dirty nothing pain in the ass and a foul-smelling poor earner that attracts all manner of lazy filth and foul loiterers, in which, he said to Mr. Russell, all manner of transactions could be arranged; but before the photograph Louis Russell heard Mr. Evans yelling at his crew in their pool hall, something about Manuel-fucking-Marquez piece of shit whose nose is getting too white for all his laying around, but Louis Russell was intent on the nine ball. After the photograph Mr. Russell will leave Providence Regional Rehab Services, where he participated and successfully completed Project Fordham and made great strides toward improving his idea of self, and where he showed the capacity for empathy, the willingness to admit he was wrong, and the courage to seek help, outside; but before the photograph Louis Russell comforted his sometime-girlfriend Belinda, who had been abducted by Manuel Marquez the night before, and who had burned Belinda’s face with his cigarettes and cut her arms with his knife and who had cut her legs with his knife and had tried to throw her off Burnside Bridge before a huddle of homeless men compelled Mr. Marquez to leave her be. After the photograph Mr. Russell will be recorded attempting to sell 4.2 ounces of cocaine to a friend-turned-snitch and he will feel hard steel embrace his wrists and he will feel the pressure on his head to bow and he will feel the slick nylon of the unmarked car’s backseat; but before the photograph Louis Russell sat alone in the backseat of 1962 Chevy Impala holding a Colt automatic pistol and listening to Vinny Clapman regale the getaway driver with the story of how he threatened his insurance agent for not honoring their contractual agreements by denying his, Vinny’s, claim, made necessary by the windstorm last March in which trees from the property abutting his own were uprooted and whistled first into then through and finally out his abandoned shed. After the photograph Mr. Russell will look askance at David Harr, who will move a bit too stiffly and speak a bit too statically and will hand Mr. Russell a roll of marked bills tied with a rubber band and later, Mr. Russell will count the bills alone in his car until he is told to freeze and he sees multiple pistols drawn and he loses count; but before the photograph Louis Russell slipped out the curbside door and crept around the block to come up behind Manuel Marquez, who had ducked into an alley to piss in a puddle, intending to put two bullets into his head and after this fact Mr. Marquez fell into the puddle and Louis Russell put three more bullets into his head and then one more bullet into his head, and had Louis Russell not lingered to watch the blood bubble to the surface and the urine dribble out from under the man’s slacks he would not have been described with condemning accuracy by a deli owner, who had seen the whole thing. After the photograph Mr. Russell’s sedan, weighed down by two hundred pounds of cocaine meant for the Canadians, will be pulled over outside Redding, California and Mr. Russell will successfully walk the line and touch his nose and expertly recite the alphabet in reverse and he will joke with the state patrolman who will point his Maglite into the backseat and then into Mr. Russell’s face and skeptically write a ticket for traveling twelve over and watch the sedan owned by one of the West Coast’s pre-eminent drug traffickers leave his jurisdiction; but before the photograph Louis Russell was sleeping soundly at a safe house when light and sound shocked him awake, turned him over, stood him up and walked him to a squad car surrounded by more squad cars surrounded by the velvet dark of deserted NE Alberta Street. After the photograph Mr. Russell will deal mostly in cocaine and prostitutes and for such dealings he will be shot, twice in the leg and once in the shoulder, and he will be stabbed, both times in the left bicep, all of which will do nothing to curtail his enthusiasm for life, a life which, he was heard to say to law enforcers and criminals alike, would not last much beyond forty anyway, the rules of the street needing to be enforced both by him and upon him; but before the photograph Louis Russell was told to remain silent, that anything he said could be held against him, and more chilling than this threat was the unspoken threat of Mr. Evans, who, in no uncertain terms, told his stepson what happened to los gilipollas with big mouths. After the photograph Mr. Russell will be released on parole, having earned his GED and throughout which time he maintained his innocence, claiming conspiracy and cover-up, but without naming names of men who could possibly benefit by having Mr. Russell out of the picture; but before the photograph Louis Russell’s shoes were confiscated and his belt was confiscated and his pockets were emptied and their contents catalogued: three toothpicks (two used), four dollar bills, two nickels, three pennies, one phone number (disconnected) and a ticket stub. After the photograph Mr. Russell will stand before a jury of his peers and hear their verdict and there will be none in the courtroom to gasp and there will be none in the courtroom to rejoice; but before the photograph Louis Russell was given a tin of creamed corn and a sleeve of crackers after taking the interrogation room beating so well. After the photograph Mr. Russell will turn to the right; but before the photograph Louis Russell stared through the camera lens. There was something about the flash.