Lope was right about the gate. Cars and junk were piled on 125th St. in either direction as far as we could see. Right in front of us, in the middle of the junk, was a chain link gate. It was actually a mishmosh of chain link gates that had been chained and wired and roped together to make one giant crap gate across Broadway.
We could see people moving around on the other side of the gate. A few of them walked up and tried to peer at us through the glare of the cab headlights.
“Should we try to drive around this?,” I leaned forward to ask Lope.
“I dunno,” he said. “We can’t go far west. The West Side Highway and Riverside Drive are parking lots. I don’t want to go east and then drive all the way back west. I don’t have that much gas, first of all. Second of all, it’s pretty scary over there when the woild isn’t ending. Let’s see if anybody here will talk to us.”
Lope tooted his horn a few times like he was summoning a carhop. Then, we waited. And we waited. The gate didn’t open. Obviously, tooting our horn wasn’t the secret gate-opening signal.
“Should I go knock?,” Mike asked.
“Yeah, go up there with your gun and see if they want to buy some Avon from us,” Moira said.
“Well, I’m starting to feel like someone should go up there,” I said.
“Here, I’ll toot again,” Lope said. He tapped the horn once, pulled back his thumb to toot again, but his thumb never came down. A sharp rap on the driver’s window interrupted Lope’s toot. Startled, the three of us rattled around the back seat like dice in a cup, bumping haplessly into each other. Jilled yiked out a little scream.
Lope, unperturbed, rolled down his window. “Shitty weather. I didn’t even see yous out there. Hey. So, can yous open the gate? I got a fare up to Washington Heights.”
Three dark and solemn figures stood in the rain. They didn’t say anything. They just stood there, making us feel uncomfortable. They looked like monks, in their hooded long raincoats. Scary monks. Not jolly wine making monks. They kept their heads slightly lowered, so we didn’t have the comfort of being able to make out a few features. Faceless, scary, non-jolly monks.
Lope said, “Look, if there is some kind of toll, we’ll pay it. Within reason, of course. We’d like to be on our way.”
One of the figures stepped forward. “We don’t need more white people seeking sanctuary in our neighborhood.”
“We are going PAST your neighborhood,” Lope said. He gestured ahead of him. “PAST. North. Not stopping or staying. We are going to where the Cubans live.”
“Actually, there are a lot of Dominicans there, now,” I helpfully supplied.
“Cubans, Dominicans, they all look the same to us,” one of the dark figures said, and the other one’s shoulders shook in a snicker. The leader’s head snapped over his shoulder to glare at them. Once his friends quieted down, he turned back to us. “We will work out a trade. Tell us what you have.”
Mike rolled down his window. “Well, we can give you a carton of cigarettes or we can give you a six pack of beer.”
“I said tell us what you have. We will decide what we want. Not you.”
Moira and I cut our eyes at each other. This didn’t sound good to us.
“I think we’ll just take off,” Lope said. “No harm, no foul. We’ll find another way uptown.” He put the car in reverse, threw his arm over the back seat and looked over his right shoulder for safer backing. He’d backed maybe an inch before he hit the brakes and muttered, “Oh, shit.”
I turned around to look out the back window and I saw what Lope saw. There were five new people behind the car, and they had guns.