The Street Brothers weren’t really brothers. They always worked together, and their names happened to be Woody and Vince. Their east coast colleagues referred to them, for reasons known only to gangsters with 9th grade educations, as the Street Brothers. In the summer of 1967 they spent a long afternoon on the New Jersey piers producing documentation, dealing with brokers, paying fees and filling out customs forms in order to take possession of a custom-built Porsche, “straight from the factory,” via Marseilles.
Woody passed the time by thinking about cars he had owned in the thirty-five years he’d been alive. His father had worked for the phone company and, what with the war, it wasn’t like his family got a new car every year. He had childhood memories of a black ’39 Packard—the way the trunk humped up in back—combined, somehow, with ice cream cones and gas rationing coupon books. Then the ’52 Chevy Fleetline—used but cherry, with full trim and Powerglide—his first car.
The ’55 Mercury Monterey, back to a Chevy in 57, Mercs again in ’61 and ’65, then his current ’67 Lincoln with the tinted glass. It took a while to sort through the succession of models, with their accessories and combinations of tans, canaries, burgundies, slates, and leather, chrome or wood-grain finishes—interior and exterior. Woody had a habit of thinking in lists.
Vince, on the other hand, was adept at not thinking at all. Sometimes after a long silence Woody would say, “Vince, what are you thinking?” and Vince would reply, “Nothing.” Woody liked that.
What Vince did was whistle, a thin, curling, barely audible stream of air. He’d hear a song on the radio and it would stick in his head, so he’d blow the first few bars over and over, for days on end, until another song replaced it. Right now he was on the Stones’ Ruby Tuesday. He’d get as far as “still I’m gonna miss you” and start over. Invariably, Woody would be relieved when Vince picked up a new song, then annoyed for a few minutes at the prospect of hearing its beginning notes over and over. Soon he wouldn’t hear it at all. They were made for each other.
The Street Brothers were in the compliance industry. They’d come east from Los Angeles fifteen years earlier and spent their entire careers in the employ of Mr. Angelo DiNoto of New Jersey, enforcing discipline among the loan sharks, bookies, whores, crooked cops, and compromised government officials who comprised DiNoto’s empire. There’d always been drugs, of course, but things had been changing throughout the Sixties. Now Mr. D’s operation was more” refined.
Under pressure from the American government, Italian officials were cracking down on Corsican and Sicilian entrepreneurs. In Turkey, facing similar pressures, growers slowed poppy production to a trickle. Through the malign inadvertence of the CIA, the centers of opium production shifted to Southeast Asia. Yet the Turkish trickle—stuff that used to be referred to as “druggist’s Opium”—was prime shit, the raw product yielding up to 20% morphine, nearly twice what was expected from Golden Triangle exports.
Accordingly, each season, on a remote Anatolian plateau at the farthest reach of Mr. D’s influence, an old farmer set out a field of high-octane poppies—a million rapture factories. At harvest time he and his people would move through the field, collecting the latex the plants gave up, licking the metal tool’s edge to lubricate it, working in patient bliss, sunrise to sunset, day after day. The sticky brown goo would be carried by mule back to Izmir, by ship to Marseille. There it was boiled, limed, filtered, seared by acid, pressure-cooked in nasty pickle-smelling chemicals, chloroformed, carbonated, and squeezed till the god-stuff was tricked out, whored up. The old Turk’s crop would be smack by then. Horse. Junk. Ten kilos of blindingly pure heroin.
They’d installed the 1967 load in the body of a customized Porsche specially ordered by an American businessman, and shipped it as a private consignment via United Marine Transport to Newark, New Jersey, USA.
It was nearly six p.m. by the time Woody got the keys and backed his baby carefully out from among the dozens of vehicles parked on the dock. Then he spent an eternity going over every inch of the car, inspecting it for scratches and nicks. In Vince’s considered opinion, the guy had balls of steel.
When Woody finally gave the okay they left the piers and drove slowly up Doremus, through the strange harsh odors of the industrial wasteland fronting Newark Bay. It was a long straight road, and there was more than enough daylight for them to take careful note of anyone behind them. They stayed on Doremus over Passaic to Market Street where they stopped for a leisurely dinner in a Mr. D-owned joint with a window seat that gave them a view of their shiny new car. Then, when the evening was sufficiently advanced for downtown traffic to have abated, the Street Brothers headed west on Springfield Avenue, planning to take Route 124 straight up to the factory in Morristown where the goods would be cut and packaged. It was a milk run, but it merited every precaution because it had a significant potential downside. Their cargo, by the time it hit the retail trade, would yield $5 million.
Springfield Avenue runs uphill as it approaches the center of Newark from the east. The two men were cruising sedately up this hill when they encountered a crowd of people running full tilt down toward them.
There was only one car in front of theirs. Vince saw its taillights go on and said, “Now what?”
Then the crowd swallowed them. A trash can cracked the rear window. People began rocking the car. Woody drew his gun but the car rolled and in the chaos of being upset there was nothing to shoot at. Black arms hauled them onto the street. Angry eyes saw the suits and the gun, mistook the men for undercover cops. They were lucky to escape with concussions and bruises.
Earlier that evening, while the Street Brothers had been eating their dinners, the pigs had been making a rough and very visible bust on a cab driver named John Smith. He was hauled into the 4th Precinct station house where, as the rumor ran, further beatings led to his death.
In Newark, against a backdrop of poverty, unemployment, decayed housing, and discrimination, racial tensions had been ramping up all summer, and the locals were seething with frustration. The cops, while aware of this, were not sensitive to it. In fact, they didn’t give a fuck what the niggers thought.
As it happened, the 4th Precinct was just across the street from Hayes Homes, a large and particularly dysfunctional welfare housing development. When the residents at Hayes got wind of what was happening with their brother John Smith, they went into the streets. The cops responded by pouring out of the station like angry bees, maybe a dozen of them in riot gear, laying around them with batons, aiming to put people down.
However, to their considerable surprise, this time the people did not go down. After the first few heads got busted, bricks began to fly. More brothers and sisters came out and the infuriated crowd swelled—the papers said four hundred, but it was more like a thousand—pushing the pig back into his pen, then spilling down the scabrous blight that was Springfield Avenue, a single rage-drunk organism out to avenge three centuries of rotten history. That shiny bauble, the Porsche, with its two nattily attired honkies, was irresistible.