My name is Frank, and my life has been a series of lies. Let me tell you the worst of these, when I escaped from Greystone Psychiatric Hospital, thirty miles west of New York City.
The institution didn’t brand me as a dangerous man, so they let me go on limited, lightly supervised walks outside for fresh air. They said it was good for me; my mental health was supposedly improving. Truth be said, Greystone was an overcrowded abomination, so one evening I simply ran away, I escaped away, away.
There were never enough staff, and apparently, an emergency in the male wing prompted the orderlies to forget about me, to ignore me, forget me. But not for long.
It was getting dark, being somewhere around seven o’clock. The air was dry, and the wind went right through my clothes and chilled my body. All I had was my white cotton top and bottom, and my proximity to Greystone was a problem. Anyone who saw me would think I was a lunatic, some psycho, a crazy that escaped the asylum, which was not the case. My cousin, “Jo Jo” Corozzo, is the consigliere of the Gambino family, the most powerful mafia of New York. All I needed to do was get to him, and I could put an end to a miserable chapter in my life.
Old Dover road near Greystone carved through a forest, the trees hugging both sides of the road in a tight embrace. Truth be told, all I knew about the road was its name. Jumping into the forest and making my escape there was tempting, but I’ve never been an outdoorsman, and I simply wouldn’t survive long, wouldn’t survive, survive. So I slowed my stride, and walked casually along a road without any idea where it would lead me.
Behind me, I could hear the faint wail of police sirens. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d make it. If they had dogs—and of course they would—it was only a matter of minutes before they’d be on my scent. I panicked. It would take a day or two on foot to reach Jo Jo in New York, so I ran. If they caught me, then my hopes of freedom, sweet freedom, overdue freedom, would be destroyed.
I had spent too much time at Greystone, and my legs weren’t built for running anymore. My calves burned, and my shins felt as though they were split with an axe. It hurt so bad I cried, but I kept running, running somewhere, running away.
I stopped to regain my breath.. I started to shiver as the evening wind brushed over my body. Slowly, I kept walking and calmed down, and I saw a young woman also walking along the road. At first, I expected her to scream and yell, seeing this man dressed in white, drenched in sweat, and running away from the general direction of a psychiatric hospital. But then I looked at her face, and saw that her expression was pitiful, perhaps even inviting. God knows why, but she wanted to help me. I approached her, slowly.
“Hello, ma’am, you wouldn’t know where I could get some better clothes?” I said, then realized how stupid I was for saying that.
She looked me up and down, and sighed. “Ye runnin’ from Greystone?” She must have been raised in the South.
I nodded. “Not everyone there is crazy. Sometimes, political enemies, criminals, and the unlucky get sent there, never to taste freedom again.”
She frowned. “So, which one are ye-ou?”
“A little bit of all three, I guess,” I smiled. “If it makes you feel any better, they classified me as ‘non-dangerous’. I just want my freedom back. Could you at least tell me which direction New York City is?”
She looked behind me. Police sirens became louder and were probably only a few hundred yards away. She signaled to me with her head and we sneaked down a narrow forest path.
“My name’s Frank Amico. What’s your name?” I asked.
“Susan. Susan Dwight.”
Perhaps we were destined to meet each other, because with Susan, I started a new life. She invited me over into her home, gave me spare cash to buy cheap new clothes, and we grew closer. I never managed to meet up with Jo Jo. After a year, Susan and I talked about starting a family, my family, our family, but she always did her best to avoid answering the question. Still, I was happy simply being with her. But it didn’t last.
After living together for two years, she told me she couldn’t handle me anymore. I was too much for her. I left and got drunk the night she told me, and wandered the streets alone. Someone else was drinking that night too, except they were driving, and I was inconveniently in their way. A small sedan smashed into me, sending me flying into the windshield, then over the roof where I flew for a brief second, like marionette with its strings cut. I hit the road hard.
How many bones had I broken? Why couldn’t I feel anything? Perhaps I was dying, and my awareness was the last blip of consciousness before the curtains were finally drawn.
But I found myself on the road, no car in sight, in the evening with the sun setting behind me. I didn’t have a scratch on me. There was a young lady in front of me, wondering why I was lying on the road—I recognized her. It was Susan. I immediately called out.
“Susan! I’m so sorry. I want to tell you how much you mean to me. I will do my best to make things right for us. Please, just give me a chance,” I said. Honestly, I was surprised I could talk at all.
I was consumed by the strangest feeling in the next few moments. Susan’s face seemed to be a bit off the more I looked at it. Something wasn’t right. I didn’t recognize the curve of the young lady’s jawline, or the shape of her nose, and her hair seemed to be a different color than Susan’s. She shook her head, and ran away as police sirens grew louder. Why did she have to run away, always away, away from me?
In a few seconds, red-blue light reflected off the road, and I picked myself up, still thoroughly confused, completely confused, utterly confused as to what just happened. Then I remembered—Old Dover road, just by Greystone. I looked around and my surroundings looked incredibly familiar.
Two police cars stopped beside me. The officers that stepped out to greet me had disarming smiles on their faces.
“Frank? What are you doing out here?” one said, feigning ignorance.
There was nothing I could do. Running would have only made things worse. Perhaps I could try to escape again in the future if I said the right words. If I didn’t, I could imagine being surrounded by four padded walls and no windows for the rest of my days.
“Good evening, officers. Am I still on Greystone grounds?” I gave just enough curiosity and innocence in the tone of my voice.
“Not at all, Frank. You really don’t recognize that you’re a few hundred meters away from—” then the officer paused. A tinge of shame crept into his expression. “Let’s help you get back, how about that?”
I agreed. In my mind, I was screaming, like a wild animal sent back to a cage, a prison, my prison. But I kept a calm demeanor. One wrong move, and it all could have gone far worse, greatly worse, so much worse.
I took a seat in the back of the police cruiser, and in the midst of turning around, three black, expensive-looking cars came speeding up the road. The three cars made an audible and abrupt stop. I could see a man getting out of one of the cars, and once he turned around to face the police, I recognized him instantly. Jet black hair, baggy eyes, clean shaven, and a large build that suggested a high-caloric diet. It was Jo Jo. He didn’t look happy.
“We have some pigs in our way, boys!” he yelled. He leaned back into the vehicle and grabbed hold of something. All the doors on all of the three black cars swung open, and men jumped out with shotguns and machine guns pointed at the cruisers. There wasn’t enough time to fully register what was happening, what happened, it all happened.
First, a rolling thunder of gunfire, then the cruiser side windows shattered, sending a fine storm of glass flying inside and cutting up my face, arms and fingers. The strangest part of the ordeal was that I kept my eyes open through the whole thing, like some surreal dream I couldn’t wake up from. The radial cracks in the windshield looked like a giant spider web. The thin metal doors didn’t stop a thing, and the entire cruiser was perforated with holes.. A pause. They were probably reloading. The officers in the front seats were utterly mangled. I looked down. Blood oozed out of dozens of bullet holes in my body. I felt incredibly dizzy, lightheaded. Everything went black.
I opened my eyes, briefly, and I saw Susan. My eyes opened fully. She was running away from me. My heart pounded and I inhaled deeply, as if I had just been saved from drowning. I took a moment to get a grasp of what was going on.. A forest flanked each side, and I myself was lying down on a road, and I could taste the gritty and salty asphalt on the tip of my tongue and lips. Police sirens were faint, and a black car slowly approached and halted beside me.
Jo Jo was in the driver seat, alone. He signaled me with a calm nod of his head, but his eyes were tense. I got up, shook my head a bit to clear my thoughts, and took a seat in the front. Just as I did, red-blue lights reflected off the trees, and the police were just at the end of the road. Jo Jo turned around and headed the other way, away from Greystone, away from it, far away.
“Sorry I couldn’t come sooner, Frank,” he said.
I nodded. “I’m just glad I wasn’t forgotten.”
“It was vicious, what they did. Getting you put in that wacko house.”
Before Greystone, I worked in a construction union under the influence of the Bonanno family. They’re the next powerful crime family in New York. Whatever information I could get, and there was plenty, I gave to the Gambino family.
“I don’t know how I managed to screw up,” I said.
“Talk to Don Gotti, he said he got plans for you. Yous’ a smart man, cousin, and we’re gonna to need your help.”
I felt such relief to hear those words. We stopped by a 24/7 diner and ate before heading to Gambino family headquarters. Jo Jo told me what had changed since the years I spent at Greystone. He kept poking fun at me, trying to deduce if I “caught the crazy” by being near so many mentally ill. I assured him I was fine. Gambling was apparently exploding in popularity, and underground gambling rings proliferated throughout New York. The Gambino family needed to know where the other families had staked their territory, and they wanted me to be their bloodhound. In effect, I got my old job back.
We arrived at the Gambino house, a large mansion that looked like a toned up White House. It had columns, balconies, and statues of naked women that lined the driveway. Jo Jo led me up the twin stairs inside to see Don Gotti, capo of the Gambino family. I was ready to return to the family, to come back to the family, to see my family.
He opened the rich oak door, and shoved me inside. I was in shock. The room had cement walls, barred windows and a shabby metal bed that reminded me of Greystone. Behind me, the door slammed shut, and it was colored pale white and not oaken at all. The room looked remarkably like my room in Greystone. Was it a sick joke? Was Don Gotti testing me? Are they trying to figure out if I’m crazy?
I sat on the bed, my hands trembling, my thoughts cloudy. Sitting didn’t help. I looked out the window and saw Old Dover road leading up to Greystone grounds. My heart pounded away, and a slow realization spread inside me, like a delayed neurotoxin that killed the old me. It was Greystone. Had I ever even escaped? I lay on the floor instead of the bed, and tried to reassemble the shattered pieces of my mind, broken pieces, damaged pieces. Everything was so familiar, and yet so strange.