Gary Ives ~ Finger Food

Slide . . . clang . . . click . . . The barred gate shut; the skinny old bull from Classification unlocked my cuffs and walked me into the issue room. “Oh my, it’s the return of the prodigal bum. Nice to see you back home, dumbshit. How was the vacation?” He couldn’t have put it much clearer. I had been a dumbshit and damned if I wasn’t back in slam. In my cell, my head on a mattress that smelled of moth balls I recalled my eight months of freedom. I should’ve listened, I should’ve fuckin’ listened. Aw shit.

My second day outta stir had gone down so smooth, like greased tracks smooth. The Social Services lady, Mrs. Nixon, had liked me. I could sense it. Twenty-two years at Attica was equivalent to a PhD in reading emotions. Yeah twenty-two years served on a life sentence. Me, I’d gone down hard for offing a shitbag Puerto Rican who’d burned me for two kilos. I played up to the near-sighted old hen.

“Yes ma’am, whatever it takes, ma’am. All I want, really . . . what I need . . . is employment. I understand that’s the key, Mrs. Nixon. You get me a jay . . . oh . . . bee, job, and I swear by the Holy Bible ain’t no way Tony Spallano is ever gonna go back to them bad old ways. No ma’am.”

“Well, our office has a good record in placing ex-convicts. Mind you, Anthony, one leaving prison seldom finds anything above minimum wage. I’m sure you understand. Now I see you’ve worked for the past eleven years in Attica’s infirmary. You were a nurse’s assistant? That right?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“That’s fortunate. I’m setting up an interview at Belleview Hospital. I’ll send a memo to your probation officer. I’ll call in the morning, Anthony. I hope you have a white shirt and dress slacks, do you? Your black shoes will do just fine, just be sure to polish them.”

I realized how important the interview would be so I immediately caught the bus for Flatbush and hit The Men’s Warehouse. So easy. It was prom week; the place was crazy with pimply-faced teenagers renting tuxes. Spotty jerk offs were all over the store yakking with their buddies, gawking in mirrors, driving the clerks crazy. I took me a nondescript, white bread, cheap khaki suit into a changing room and slipped it on right over the scrub civvy prison industry threads issued to parolees. When the Jew at the till was called over to help one of the clerks, I walked outta there as easy as kiss my hand. Next door, Levenson’s Shirt City donated two button-down oxfords, a necktie and a plain black leather belt. Look-a-me, look-a-me, hey man look-a-me. New suit and I still got the $50 get outta jail money. Freedom Street, I was back on Freedom Street playin’ the suckahs. I remember thinkin’ “Ain’t life sweet.”

In the morning Mrs. Nixon phoned to tell me of my interview with Belleview Hospital’s Human Resource Office. Right off I was feein’ lucky. The interviewer was this very tall woman who looked like she could whip my ass. On the wall was a framed print of Jesus looking upward, His hands in prayer, so I tried my best to look like some pansy, saved-in-jail, Christian dipshit. She looked at the papers Mrs. Nixon had sent along and looked me over real hard then smiled.

“You’ve paid your debt, Anthony. I’ll skip the speech ‘cause you know that returning to a normal life is no easy thing. But Belleview can offer you a very good first step. We are huge – seven separate hospitals really, all combined into one giant care facility. We’re like, well, our own city. What we want here at Belleview is an honest day’s work. We have 153 men and women employed here who, like you, are ex-felons. So, how do you feel about working here?”

“I especially would like to work here, in the hospital ma’am. Working in Attica’s infirmary was the best thing ever happen to me, ma’am. Helping people is . . . is . . . well it’s satisfying, isn’t it? And I want more than anything to get my life together.” And set me up some sweet, fat racket, bitch.

“Well Anthony we have a position in transplant surgery. It’s mainly as a messenger: you would bring up and return medical records, X-rays, and the likes. You’d be on your feet the entire shift. How do you feel about that? Would that be a problem?”

“I’d be pleased to work there, I would, ma’am, and grateful too for the chance.” And you can bet your holy rollin’ ass I’ll have me an up and runnin’ money-makin’ scam prontissimo, baby, prontissimo.

It was that easy. So was the job. Second week I cobbed one of the TVs from an OR waiting room. Pushed it out of the emergency exit in a wheel chair and stashed it behind a dumpster. Hospital scrubs gave me license to roam any damn place I cared. Oh Freedom Street was so fuckin’ fly. I was put on night shift which I liked and which paid a fifty cents bonus, and night work was slack. They must have liked me because beginning my second month I moved up to surgery runner. Check it out. Whenever donor organs were flown in, it was me who picked up the Styrofoam containers from the helicopter: kidneys, livers, whatever. I would run the box down to Pathology’s Tissue Lab where they’d have me wait while they checked out the donor organ. Once the organ passed inspection, they’d pack it back in ice and give it to me to run it fast like a bunny up to surgery. First heart I delivered I lifted the lid in the elevator for a peek. I wondered if it still thumped, like in the movies. It didn’t.

The ex-cons at Belleview were just like any gang in stir, except the boss was this gangsta bitch working in the hospital laundry, Mama Sateen. Mama Sateen settled beefs, and made sure we were all tight. No one gave the bitch any shit either. She collected a tax – every payday we each paid $5.00. I had to pony up a $10 “gift tax” when I boosted my TV. She skimmed off each and every game any con ran. She ran a slush fund. Run low before payday? Go see Mama Sateen; she’ll loan fifty for 75. Somebody needed bail? Mama Sateen had his back. Just like the joint there was a code. First rule: no ratting, no matter what. Second rule: never hurt a patient. And while stealing shit was fine, no drugs were to be lifted. Ever. Not even an aspirin. Okay to use drugs, to buy drugs, to sell drugs but don’t ever steal medicine from Belleview Hospital. There was a clear understanding that drug thefts were the exclusive domain of junkie nurses and doctors. Besides, drug cabinets were closely watched and under camera surveillance, and who would be accused? The junkie nurse or some ex-con orderly? Go figure. Shortly before I was hired, Benny Spooner, an ex-con cook, had ripped off a stash of oxy from an out-patient leaving the pharmacy. Mama Sateen found out. The next day the cook met with a serious industrial accident at the deep fat fryer. The message was clear. Don’t fuck with the rules, nigga. With thousands of people in hospital – patients, doctors, nurses plus hundreds of orderlies and custodial folk, volunteers, pink ladies, gray ladies, and sweet little candy stripe dollies, visitors – there were all kinds scams going down all the time.

A smart cat who knew the street and who knew how to observe . . . all he had to do was sit back a wait. Hey, like Mama Sateen says, “there’s plenty for everybody, just don’t get greedy.”

One night as I was clocking in, Mama Sateen, finishing her shift told me to call this number. Next morning I call and the man asked to meet me in the coffee shop across the street. I called him Mr. Wizard on accounta this dude worked for some scientific supply house that served colleges and med schools. Frogs in a jar . . . fetal pigs in a jar . . . dead critters in formaldehyde. He’d pay $100 for a human liver, $75 apiece for kidneys, and $150 for heart. He knew that organs not passing their pathology tests in the Tissue Lab were handed back to me to take down to the incinerator in the hospital basement. I told him I’d need $125 for liver since livers are big and harder to get passed security. We shook hands and I was in business. All I had to do was boost rejected organs and pay Mama Sateen ten percent. I figured to stash ‘em in my locker then move ‘em out in colostomy bags and piss bags strapped to my legs since Security did random pat downs at shift changes. “Hey dude, you want I should open my shit bag for you?”

Mister Wizard called me the next day to tell me all I had to do was call his number the instant I scored any organs; he’d meet me on my break at the coffee shop with an ice chest and cash. The next week I scored two hearts. First month I knocked down a cool $450. By September I’d netted just under two grand. Something that every con has heard and said over and over and over again is, “Don’t get greedy.” Well there it is. Every swingin’ dick knows this, but the prisons are filled with us dumbasses who ignore the simple truth of those three golden words.

So let me ‘splain, Lucy. Besides rejected internal organs, I carried plenty of feet and an occasional hand from surgery down to the incinerator and in October during the sale of a pair of kidneys I asked Mr. Wizard if he had a market for hands and feet.

“Oh, yes, especially hands. Even fingers. For a hand we pay $25 or five bucks apiece for fingers, five for toes. Nice, huh? And you can keep the rings. Ha! Feet only pay $20. You keep shoes, Ha!” I tried to squeeze Mr. Wizard for another $10 per organ.

“No dice, Charley. I can get ‘em from funeral directors for half of what you’re getting’. Yours are just fresher. Don’t get greedy, eh?”

Thanks to diabetes, Surgery sometimes lopped off a dozen feet and beaucoup fingers and toes each week. However while leaving with kidneys or a heart in my colostomy bag had become routine, the bags wouldn’t carry a foot. No way. But even at twenty bucks a foot, the number of diabetic amputations could really boost my income. Pretty soon I could have enough for some decent digs. I needed a way to deliver the bulky merchandise past security from the hospital to Mr. Wizard. It was Mr. Wizard who came up with the idea.

“All you have do is get the bulky stuff into a certain dumpster, I can handle it from there. Think you can do that, Tony Boy. Think you can figure that one out? Heh. Shouldn’t be too tough for Mister Street Smart Tony.”

A homeless, mentally disturbed vet lived in a small recess between the dumpsters and the hospital’s power plant. Skinny but lithe he hardly ever sat still. He could scale the chain link fence behind the hospital like a monkey. Maybe he was a little crazy, I dunno, but everybody called him Ronnie Rambo. A regular fixture was Ronnie Rambo; nobody bothered him and kitchen staff even made sure chow for Rambo made it out to the dumpster. So Mr. Wizard hires Ronnie Rambo to dumpster dive for him, payin’ him in cigarettes and Mad Dog 20-20 or muscatel.

Remember Spooner the cook who had the argument with the deep fat fryer? He’d hired a lawyer, sued the hospital, and ended up with a small settlement, but the court also ordered Belleview to re-employ him. Hospital did not want the shitbag but they had to take him, so they stuck him in the worst place they could, recycling trash into seven big green dumpsters. I saw this as providential and offered to cut him in on the hands and feet part of my racket. He’d see that parcels wrapped in purple plastic made it to the top of the end dumpster, easy for Ronnie Rambo, Mr. Wizard’s whacko dumpster diver, to spot. While I still paid Mama Sateen her cut on internal organs, the hands and feet I kept hush, hush. I used what would have been her cut to pay Spooner. Big fuckin’ mistake.

Of course Spooner wanted to know what was in the purple packages. I told him I had a contact in the cafeteria passing me time-expired roasts, sausages, and pork butts.

“They throw ‘em out anyway, so it ain’t exactly stealing. But you keep your trap shit, hombre or we’ll be in deep kimchee, you dig?” You simple dumbshit.

When NYPD recovered three amputated feet, didn’t the shit hit the fan? They figured Ronnie Rambo for some kind of ghoul, but it turned out later that the ghoul was someone else. Investigation revealed that Mr. Wizard had nothing to do with scientific supply houses. Nooo. Get this. Turns out Mr. Wizard’s sending all the product to an upscale Georgetown catering service down in Washington, D.C. used by several of the big law firms and lobbyists on K Street. Capitol Catering it was called, and the chef and half owner was Jerry Malfado, none other than Mr. Wizard’s gay lover. Can you dig?

The Post called Jerry Malfado “The K Street Cannibal.” Senators and congressmen had for years been wolfing down trays upon trays of Mr. Malfado’s hors d’oeuvres stacked with those delicious pâtés of liver and kidney, lady fingers blackened in garlic butter, crispy meat medallions he called truffle toes, and Kebobs de Coeur, all so delicately and fancifully prepared by the loving hands of Capitol Catering’s own Mr. Malfado.

We were busted the last week in December. The video tape showed that asshole Spooner carefully pitching the purple packs to the top of the dumpster. Then along comes Ronnie Rambo lobbing the purple backs down into his shopping trolley. Me and Spooner were toast. It didn’t even take an hour in interrogation for that prick Spooner to give me up. So on Christmas Eve there I was cuffed standing before a night court judge. My VOP Hearing took less than five minutes.

But Mr. Malfado wasn’t the cannibal, was he? Up here at Attica his trial was hot shit on cable television. Cons love a sensational trial, and always pull for defendants. The trial lasted for two weeks and was the prime topic of conversation. A U.S. Marshall escorted me down to D.C. for Mr. Wizard’s and Malfado’s trial. Nice break for me – McDonald’s Quarter Pounders and KFC all the way down and back. And didn’t this win me points here at Attica too, since on the witness stand the prosecution lawyer yelled at me and called me a “hostile witness.” The cons up at Attica cheered me when he called me” a sleaze bag convict”. Did that dipshit lawyer think I was gonna rat on Mr. Wizard or Malfado? It’s hard to believe some of these jerks actually went to college.

The trial attracted much attention and revealed Mr. Malfado’s rocky history. As a cook serving with the Marine Corps Third Division in Viet Nam, he’d been wounded at Phu Bai. A sniper’s 7.60 mm round lodged an inch from his spine, landed him in series of military hospitals: Saigon, the Philippines, Hawaii and finally San Diego where he was discharged with a Bronze Star, a his Purple Heart, and a vial of pain killers. In constant pain he had applied to the Veteran’s Administration for assistance which was denied because they “failed to find substantive documentation of the applicant’s claims for benefits.” Turns out the fire at the Veteran’s Administration facility in St. Louis had destroyed thousands of records, including poor Jerry Malfado’s. His appeal denied, he hitchhiked to Washington D. C., secured an office appointment with his representative, Congresswoman Nadine Turner, a brassy, loud-mouthed woman who was probably the fiercest opponent of the war in all of Congress, and a man-hating bitch to boot. She told the ex-Marine that he might just as well get on the bus and go home because she had no time for” baby killing war mongers.” Malfado called her a “fucking Pinko Commie bitch,” was then immediately arrested by the Capitol Police and spent thirty days in prison at Lorton. Later after he and Mr. Wizard hooked up, Wizard financed the Capitol Catering company which was a big success. The idea of serving body parts came to him at a catering event at which he spotted Congresswoman Nadine Turner power grazing the buffet he’d prepared. When he told jury “They’re pretty good at sucking our blood, might just has well have our meat too,” they laughed. Despite the guilty verdict, the jury recommended leniency and the judge, a former Marine, went easy on Malfado awarding one year sentences to both Mr. Malfado and his lover, Mr. Wizard.

His short stretch is at the federal pen in Atlanta where the former chef works in the staff kitchen. The grapevine has it that there’s a big book and movie deal waiting.


Gary Ives lives with his wife and two big dogs in the Ozarks where he grows apples and writes. Peruse his published works at



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