“GRINGES” (Tom Grindle saves my ass)

(Here’s the conclusion to last week’s post — if you haven’t read it yet I’d suggest taking a quick look, for background.  It’s The Warning, the post below this one.)

“Where are you?” Gringes asked.

“I’m in Albany!

I had just told him where I was.  I called his home in New York City and told him the whole story.  I told him that I ended up in Albany on my way to Boston.  I explained that I was involved in a conflict with my sister’s boyfriend, an ex-con who hung around with a dirt-bag motorcycle gang and I thought they were planning to kill me.  Hadn’t he listened to a word?

“I’m in Albany,” I said, “I already told you that.”

“I mean where in Albany,” he said, “ . . . Where are you at right now?”

SUNY Albany campus (Albany State; photo from http://images.businessweek.com/)

I looked around.  I was on a pay phone opposite the Albany State campus.  “I’m across from the university . . . Albany State.”

“Stay there,” Gringes told me.  “Don’t go anywhere.  I’ll be there in a couple of hours.”

“ . . . What?”

“It will take me a couple of hours to get there,” Gringes said.  “I’m going to round up a few guys.  We’ll bring guns.  We’ll straighten this out.”

Gringes was a wild man.  As a freshman at Cortland State, he carried a gun.  He showed it to me once, handing it to me after he took the bullets out.  I had barely touched the trigger when the hammer slid back and then snapped down instantly with a seamless, almost silent click.

“Pretty smooth action, isn’t it?” Gringes said; he stood beaming like a proud parent.

It was the first handgun I’d held.  “It’s nice,” I told him, trying to sound as though I knew something about guns.

When I met Gringes in college he wanted to quit school and join the Marine Corps.  He wanted to go fight, but the eye glasses he wore had Coke bottle lens and they wouldn’t take him.

So instead he placed third in The National Shotgun Open, and fourth in a national precision parachute competition.

Gringes was a good friend, but he was a little crazy.  In case someone tried to sneak up on him while he was asleep, he had a machete hanging from the bottom of the bed above him in his frat bunk.  Our Beta Phi Epsilon president, Fred Ciampi, thought this was a riot and began opening Gringes’ door late at night, whispering:  “Gringes . . . Gringes . . . Ooohoooh.”   Finally one night Gringes grabbed the machete and flung it so that it stuck in the door quivering an inch from Ciampi’s nose.  Fred never went into that room again.

Gringes was a Phys. Ed. Major at Cortland State, a college jock, but it wasn’t so much what he could do – but what he would do at the drop of a hat that made him different.  He was fearless.  I once saw him do a triple back-flip off a second story porch into a snow bank, in his underpants.  He did it on a bet.

The flagpole in front of the Old Main Administration Building at Cortland State. (Photo courtesy SUNY Cortland.)

One morning walking to class, we saw a large crowd gathered around the school flag pole.  A group of protestors had somehow used the ropes to run the flag of a foreign country up to the very top so that the United States flag was now hanging beneath it.  The crowd was cheering, preparing to block the fire trucks that were on their way to straighten this out.

Gringes wasn’t going to wait for the fire trucks.  He always backed the President of the United States, right or wrong.

He ran to the flag pole and began to shimmy up with his hands and knees.  The crowd booed and started to go after him, but my fraternity brothers and I quickly formed a circle around the pole.  It had nothing to do with politics.  Even if we disagreed with Gringes, he had as much right to his opinion at they did to theirs, or we to ours.

Gringes hauled himself to the top of the sixty-foot pole and put the Unites States flag back in it’s rightful position.

Gringes had average grades at Cortland State, but he was a street-smart kind of guy.  One day he asked me to invite this particular professor to be a judge at the annual Beta Frolics, a vaudeville show we put on in the winter to raise money for charity.  I was running the Frolics that year, but I couldn’t figure out what he was doing.  Gringes hated that instructor.  She couldn’t stand him.

But I asked her, and she agreed.

Later I learned that Gringes just wanted to know where that professor would be from 7 – 9:30 P.M. on Thursday night.  He didn’t want her to surprise him while he broke into her office.  He needed copies of an upcoming test so he could piss her off by getting a perfect score on the final exam.

While the professor was being a judge, Gringes picked her office door lock and made a copy of the test with all the correct answers.  Gringes could pick a lock as easily as someone could open doors with a key.  The next day she sent a letter thanking us for allowing her to participate.

After Gringes graduated he became a teacher, but at night he had some kind of involvement with the New York City Mafia.  He was also delivering canisters of main frame computer tapes for some top-secret government agency.

I asked him once what it was like playing both sides of the fence.

“You’d be surprised how often they work together,” Gringes said.

(Image from http://www.plaquesandpatches.com.)

“I’m not sure who the people with the computer tapes are,” he told me, ”Maybe NSA.  I just pick up the canisters and drive to where they tell me . . . then I take another car that’s parked there and drive back to whatever building I came from.”

“I think the tapes have something to do with overseas financial data,” he said, “Sometimes I drive, sometimes times I fly.”  Gringes had a pilot’s license.  Apparently from time to time he flew a single engine plane from New York to someplace in Virginia.

Now — after not seeing or speaking with him in over a year — Gringes was ready to bring a bunch of guys with guns to Albany to bail me out.  I think he always wished he had been at the OK Corral.

“What’s the plan?” I asked.

“What do you think I’m going to do?” Gringes said.

“I don’t know, Gringes.”  I imagined a wild shoot-out, with Dan Crowne being gunned down in a hail of bullets.

“I don’t know, Gringes,” I said, “I think he’s out to get me, but I just don’t know.  I don’t know about killing the guy.”

There was a long pause.  I had the feeling Gringes was disappointed in me.

“The police will know I’m behind it,” I said, “Too many people know that he and I have a problem.  I’ll be the first one they question.”

Gringes didn’t say anything for a minute.

“Ok,” he said finally, “Are you still taking Karate?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright,” he said, “This is what you do.”

“You call the police,” Gringes said, “I want you to sound really scared.  Tell them the
whole story.  Tell them you’re convinced the guy is going to kill you.”

“Make sure you sound scared,” Gringes told me.

“OK,” I answered.

“The police won’t do anything,” Gringes continued, “They’ll say that they can’t do anything unless something more happens.”

Gringes’ father had been a New York City cop.  He knew about these things.

“Then wait a week,” Gringes went on, “ . . . And call them again.  They’ll just tell you the same thing, but this way there’s a police record of two complaints.”

I had no idea where he was going with this.

“Then call the guy and apologize,” Gringes said.  “Tell him you’re sorry things got out
of hand.  Tell him you want no more of this, that you’re leaving town, moving somewhere else.”

“Tell him you want to meet and talk . . . to make sure everything is over and done with before you leave.  Meet him someplace where everyone will see the two of you.”

“You have to choose a bar where there’s an alley or a parking lot you have to walk by when you leave.  Someplace deserted, where there’ll be no witnesses.”

“Lure him there after you leave the bar.  Make some excuse.”

“Make sure no one is around,” Gringes said, “And then you kill him.”

My head was spinning.

“After he’s dead,” Gringes went on, “You take his hand and put it around your throat.  Press down really hard on the fingers, try to leave some marks.  Scrap his fingernails across your neck.”

“Make sure you press hard on his fingers,” Gringes said.  “I want some skin under his nails.”

“When you talk with the police,” he continued, “You say that the guy grabbed you by the throat and you panicked.  Tell them you don’t remember what happened after that.  You just remember the guy had you by the throat and you thought you were going to die.”

“Don’t say anything about his fingernails,” Gringes said.  “Maybe you can rub your throat while you talk with them, but that’s it.  You won’t have to tell them anything . . . the first thing they’ll look for is skin under his nails.”

This was crazy.  I didn’t know what to say.  I thought I could kill Dan Crowne if it was his life or mine, . . . but is this what I wanted to do?

An early polygraph test, with the guy under a lot of pressure. (Image from http://www.umw.edu/)

“I don’t know, Gringes,” I said, “Won’t they make me take a polygraph?  I don’t know if I can stand up under questioning.”

“The police might suspect something,” Gringes told me, “But there won’t be any witnesses.  They’ll have your two complaints that the guy threatened your life.  They’ll have your skin under his nails.”

“Even if they are suspicious they probably won’t be able to charge you, and if they do it’ll be tough to get a conviction.”

This was crazy.  Now I would be the one doing the killing.  What if I was wrong?  What if Dan Crowne wasn’t going to go through with this and it was just him shooting off his mouth in a bar?  I’d be the scumbag, killing him for no reason.

“I don’t know, Gringes,” I said.  “I’m worried about the polygraph.”

There was another long silence.  Now I knew Gringes was disappointed in me.  I put a few more quarters into the phone.

“I don’t know, “ I said, “I just don’t know.”

“OK,” he said finally, “Do you have the guy’s phone number?”

Dan Crowne was staying at my sister’s new place.  I gave him the number.

“Ok,” Gringes said, “Just go home.  Don’t worry about it.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“Just go home,” Gringes said.  “Don’t worry about it.  I’ll take care of it.”

I didn’t go home; I went out and got drunk.  I went from bar to bar.

When I finally stumbled home around four o’clock in the morning, there was a note from my sister Kathy slid under my door.  (I didn’t have a phone at my apartment.)

“Call me immediately!!!” the note read.  “I mean immediately . . . right now!  I don’t care when you get this note!”

I called her the next afternoon, still horribly hung-over.  I was at the pay phone at the Laundromat next to The Lark Tavern, where I would soon work.

“What the hell did you do?” Kathy yelled, “What did you do?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Don’t give me that bullshit,” she said, “I want to know what you did.  I want to know
who called Dan!”

To this day, I don’t know what Gringes said to Dan.  When I thanked him later on the phone I was too embarrassed to ask.  I felt like a schoolboy who went to his father for help with the class bully.  Whatever Gringes said, it was enough to make Dan Crowne take off for Florida the same night.

“I don’t know how long he’s going to stay down there,” Kathy said, “I just want you to know that I’m really, really disappointed in you.”

“Dan talks a lot,” she said, “But it’s just talk.  He’d never do anything.”

“He said you were fucking paranoid,” she told me.

Well, Kathy wasn’t always the best judge of people, especially when it came to Dan.  I don’t know for sure if he planned to follow up with his threat, but Kathy wasn’t the one to convince me he wouldn’t try.

“I’m sorry, Kathy,” I said.  I was sorry.  I was so miserably sorry.  I felt awful.  I felt as though I had lost my sister.

“You really disappointed me,” Kathy said, then she slammed the phone down on the receiver.

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15 Responses to “GRINGES” (Tom Grindle saves my ass)

  1. Starbucks8294 says:

    Just got home, checked for the ending of the story. That guy Ginges sounds like a crazy dude! I expected more violence like a street rumble or something but this was funny shit. That thing with the police complaints, the skin under the nails sounds like it might work. Great post, both parts.

  2. Ron says:

    Worth the wait. Good job.

  3. Joshua says:

    I take back some of my comment on the last post, apparently the police wouldn’t be able to help not without further incidents. You were lucky to have “Gringes” as a friend. I still say you should have left town. Who needs that in their life.

  4. Nat says:

    I read the first part wondering what would happen, and I enjoyed hearing about your friend who was a little crazy. (In your own words.) You were very lucky to get out of that situation in one piece. The supsense was fun, and I’ll be back.

  5. LLylak says:

    Glad you were able to weather this storm. I was glad, after waiting a week, that it wasn’t resolved with a wild, Hollywood-style confrontation. You certainly have some interesting friends. I understand what you must have been feeling, but I can understand your sister’s reaction too. It must have been a difficult time for everyone.

  6. Jessie says:

    First time here. You’re a good writer. I’ll be back.

  7. Susan P says:

    Great finish! I love your blog!

  8. Markie says:

    Been following your stories for a while and have to admit I was disappointed not to get the whole thing in one post. It was a good two-parter though. This is the first time I commented but you’ve got a regular reader. Keep it up.

  9. BCalley says:

    I never know what to expect because your subject matter can be all over the place. Despite well written, interesting in a way this was not my cup of tea. Let us see what you come up with next week. .

  10. I love the short heavy saw hidden under the coat and you pushing the store carriage and dealing with the cashier with one hand while holding the saw out of sight. Hilarious idea, great scene. I kept envisioning a movie while reading this two-part post. Screenplay!

    I also love the fact that Gringes became a “teacher” while also doing something for the mob and something else for the RSA (or whatever). What did he teach? Phys Ed in a high school, I imagine.

    Is there a follow-up on the sister? Did you ever reconcile with her? And what happened with Dan? Did he come back from Florida? Did you ever see him again?

    Great stuff, Mike!

  11. MikeQ says:

    Wow, … Ralph Lombreglia made a favorable comment on this two-part post. Hot damn!! Ralph has published short stories in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Esquire and on and on. (You can read his current story in Esquire online here —> http://www.esquire.com/fiction/fiction/turnaround-at-hand-ralph-lombreglia-0907. In this story he wrote what has become one of my favorite lines — describing a man in a conversation that turns uncomfortable for him, he says: “DeCloud’s face changed like a baby with a gas bubble.”) Ralph has another story coming out soon in The American Scholar. He’s leaving his teaching position at MIT to write full time now.

    I’ve know Ralph for years as a great guitar player at Johnny D’s Blues Jam on Sunday afternoons, but I never knew he was a writer until local drumming icon John Taylor told me a month or so ago. Next time Ralph came in I told him about my site. Thanks Ralph and thank you John!

    Starbucks: Thanks my friend, you’re one of my first and most loyal supporters.

    Ron: I had some doubts about a two-part post. Good to see you enjoyed it. I may try this again when the stories are too long for a single read.

    Joshua: I agree … who needs this stuff in their life, but I wasn’t given a choice. Yup, I’ve got some great buddies in Beta Phi.

    Nat: Yup, I was very lucky. I appreciate your comment and am pleased you enjoyed the suspense, although I sure didn’t at the time.

    Llylak: Thanks for continuing to read. I know some of these stories aren’t always high on your list. I’ll keep working at it.

    Jessie: Welcome aboard, Jessie.

    Susan P: Thank you, thank you. Your words are music to my ears.

    Markie: Speak up whenever you feel the urge, Markie. This feedback is very helpful.

    BCalley: There’s a saying in the newspaper business — “You’re only as good as your last headline.” Sorry this one didn’t grab you … but there’s a new one coming this Weds.

    Ralph: Thanks so much for your kind words here, and for your conversation and advice between sets on stage at the club. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you and I’m looking forward to reading more of your writing. I’m learning. Thanks for your suggestion of a follow-up on what happened between my sister and I afterwards, and with her ex-con boyfriend Dan Crowne. When I finished the second part I was wondering about that myself … if I should follow up. I think readers might be a little of tired of this story right now, so I’ll plan the follow-up somewhere down the road. Thanks again, Ralph.

  12. Colleen says:

    Why not finally ask Gringes what he said? I want to know!

  13. Harry Waller says:

    Fooling around on our new computer…googled Beta Phi Epsilon Cortland and came upon the story about 9/11. Story had familar names…Mike Galvin ,Charlie Kerrigan.

    Saw the Mug listed- saw Mike Q was you and freaked.

    Just read story about Gringes-Laughed and cried

    I’m going back to your blog

    Still can’t believe it after all these years.

    I keep in touch with Fieldsy

    Could write a book

    2-1-2

    Harry Waller “MA” Beta ’72

    • MikeQ says:

      Harry, good to hear from you! Reunion coming up in a couple of weeks at Cortland. Send me an email if you want the info (use the “contact us” link on the navigation bar at the top) … I’ll hook you up with Paul “Weez” McCann.
      212
      Dunny

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