It’s 1978 in New York City, and disco is prominent. As are mobsters, gritty streets, needle parks and graffiti-stained subways.
Jake Barnum lives in Hell’s Kitchen. He’s a petty thief selling hot coats with his buddy Maggs to make ends meet and help his sick kid brother. At a Halloween party downtown, he meets a woman with a Marilyn Monroe mask who works for an organization called The Desire Card-an underground operation promising its exclusive clients “Any Wish Fulfilled for the Right Price.”
As Jake becomes taken with its leader, a pseudo father and sociopath at heart, he starts stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. In other words…himself. But as he dives deeper in with the Card, begins falling love with Marilyn, and sees the money rolling in, clients’ wishes start becoming more and more suspect-some leading to murder.
“Careful what you wish for, especially from a nefarious shadow organization, in this gripping start to Lee Matthew Goldberg’s fast-paced, highly-compelling, buzz-worthy new series. Can’t wait to get my hands on Prey No More to see where this endlessly exciting story takes me next!”
SO CHERYL WAS LYING LIKE THE GYPSIES ON MY BLOCK WHO PROMISED FORTUNES TOLD.
Swore up and down she’d never been with Crazy Eddie and the clap was really a yeast infection. I wasn’t buying it. My girl would twirl a curl every time she fudged the truth. Wrapping her white-blonde hair around a pink nail-polished finger and looking off in the distance like something far away caught her eye.
“I’m not even attracted to Crazy Eddie,” she said, throwing up her arms. “He’s got noodles for legs.”
I could argue that multiple people saw them tonguing at the Two for One bar, but she was already going ballistic.
“Maybe you’re accusing me because you were with Gina Constantine,” she said. Gina, who had a lazy eye and a pronounced limp. I was offended by the association.
“Gina’s been the hospital,” I said, which was true because she was getting her leg realigned.
“And how do you know that?”
I ignored her. I’d went back to Tiffany’s and stolen the tennis bracelet right, then came over that Halloween night to invite her to this party Maggs heard about. Maggs was waiting downstairs so we could take the train. I wanted to be the bigger person, but Cheryl made that hard.
“The point is, Cheryl, you’re the one who cheated and here I, good ol’ me, came to give you a tennis bracelet, but you won’t even admit to what you’ve done.”
“A tennis bracelet?” she asked, rubbing her hands together and pouting her lips. Cheryl had a Cupid’s face with big eyes that always seemed surprised, baby fat cheeks, and Farrah Fawcett hair like every damn girl on the block. She lowered the volume of “How Deep is Your Love” on the record player because she was actually interested in the conversation. She even had the nerve to hold out her wrist.
“I was gonna give it to you if you were honest.”
She huffed. “I am!”
“I can smell Crazy Eddie’s English Leather aftershave on you.”
“That’s ridiculous. You’re ridiculous.”
“And I was gonna invite you to this party–”
“A Disco party?”
She’d been obsessed with Disco since seeing Saturday Night Fever. I had to take her twice. I didn’t see the fuss. With the movie or with Disco. John Travolta may have been a Casanova in Cheryl’s mind but I thought he was a putz.
“It’s a Halloween party.”
“That explains the clothes.”
“I’m Robin Hood.”
“Aren’t you a little old for dress-up?”
I took out the tennis bracelet just to see her get jealous. She nearly knocked me over to get at it.
I opened the box and then closed it as her grubby fingers reached for the shiny object.
“Nuh-uh, you haven’t fessed up.”
She blew her bangs from her eyes. “Fine. Fine, Jake. Ok, I was smashed and ran into Crazy Eddie at the Two and One. Well, two and one led to four and two, which led to–”
“I get your point.” I was already putting away the Tiffany’s box.
“And you weren’t around.”
“Emile got sick again. Like, I’ve been taking care of my kid brother.”
“You weren’t in the drunk tank?”
“Maybe for one night but other than that I’ve been on sick brother duty. And Maggs and I ain’t working at the Nedicks anymore so there’s no money coming in.”
She gestured blah, blah, blah with her hand like she’d heard it all before.
“So you lifted the bracelet?”
“Would you care if it was on your wrist?”
She rose one shoulder, slender and egg-shaped, resting her chin against the bone.
“I think it’s time for you to go, Robin Hood.”
When I got downstairs, Maggs was smoking his John Player’s, pinching the cigarette between his index finger and thumb like a mobster. His mustache flapped as he spat out the smoke and then ran his hand through his shaggy hair. I didn’t have to tell him that Cheryl wasn’t coming, a look said it all. He squeezed my shoulder, gave me a smoke, and we headed toward the 1 train because this party was way downtown.
In the train car, leaning our heads against the graffitied walls where someone tagged faloupoo in big block letters, trying not to listen to a group of teenage girls singing songs from Grease—I couldn’t escape John Travolta—Maggs doing this trick where he puts a penny on the back of his hand and then abracadabra it’s gone. It got me every time.
“But where does it go?”
Like I was a little kid, he reached behind my ear and presto the penny appeared.
“So you and Cheryl are Splittsville?”
“Yup,” I said, chewing on a piece of Freshen-Up, the liquid center bursting and oozing down my throat.
“No girl, no job…” he said, shaking his head.
“Hey, you ain’t such a good cheer up committee.”
“This party may be the turnaround you need.”
“Who’s hosting again?”
“You know Jack, Jack Something-Or-Other. Jack with the nose, you know he’s got that nose.”
I didn’t know.
“Jack, one of Georgie’s guys.”
Georgie. Some might call him a mobster. In Georgie’s mind, he liked to think he was. Mostly he sold hot coats down by the FDR.
“I picked up some odd jobs from Georgie,” Maggs said. “Just opening up the back doors of delivery vans while they’re stopped in traffic and swiping the goods. Most don’t lock ‘em. Then he gives me a cut.”
“Lemme guess, seventy-thirty in his favor.”
Maggs got quiet. Bingo, I was right.
“Okay, okay,” he said. “But it’s money and I ain’t choosey. What gigs do you have?”
“I spent my last twenty on this outfit.”
Maggs eyed me up and down. “Not such a wise investment. If you want, I’ll put a good word in with Georgie.”
It wasn’t that I was against working for a so-called mobster like Georgie. Ethically, I mean. Rather I wanted a cut better than thirty percent. Emile’s medical bills were reaching the five figures.
“We’ll talk to Jack at the party and figure it out from there,” Maggs said, before jumping up and joining the gaggle of girls by singing “You’re the One that I Want” in a high falsetto. The girls flipped their hair and pretended not to care, but I could tell they liked Maggs because everyone did. He flexed a muscle at them, then switched to the other arm, back and forth until they finally giggled. When we were three, our mothers left us in a sandbox and Maggs whacked me with a Tonka Truck. He split my head open and I needed stitches and our moms went apeshit. After the doctor’s visit, Maggs’s ma invited us over where we ate ambrosia salad and watched fucking Howdy Doody because they had the only television on the block. We’d been friends ever since.
He whipped out a penny and the girls ooohhhed and ahhhhed as he made it vanish and then produced a penny from behind each of their tiny ears.
“Hey, you ain’t making enough to be giving those pennies away,” I said. The girls giggled more but the train slowed at Chambers Street and Maggs realized it was our stop so he grabbed me by the collar and pulled me onto the platform. The girls gave peace signs through the window before they disappeared into the tunnel. Maggs opened up his palm revealing a stack of pennies.
“But how did you…?”
“A magician never reveals their trick,” Maggs said, with a smile that only showed his bottom teeth because his mustache was so damn bushy.
Excerpt from Immoral Origins by Lee Matthew Goldberg. Copyright 2022 by Lee Matthew Goldberg. Reproduced with permission from Lee Matthew Goldberg. All rights reserved.