In Boccaccio’s Decameron, there were seven women and three men, self-quarantined in the time of plague, Florence, 1348. The women were Pampinea, elected queen by her peers because she was so decisive, insightful, and cheerful; Fiammetta (Boccaccio’s nickname for his lover in real life); Filomena; Emilia; Lauretta; Neifile; and Elisa. The men, all dashing and handsome per Boccaccio’s specifications, were Pamfilo, Filostrato, and Dioneo (the last a stand-in, according to Rigg’s translation, for Giovanni himself). Book/Novel 1 commences when Pampinea commands the bashful Pamfilo to start the stories that will become The Decameron. He rises to the occasion and tells us, with surprising eloquence and detail, of a man, Ser Chiappelletto (the Cheater) who lived a life of crime and died a saint. This is my retelling for our plague time.
Now that I’m locked up with you, ladies and gentlemen, I withhold the compliment when it comes to these two punkass motherfuckers, men who still carry their weapons as if they might protect their impoverished souls against the pestilence that waits outside the doors of this church, now closed against a disease that would waste the world, yes, now I will, as commanded, tell the story of a man whose transgressions made him a saint, a man whose sins became virtues, a man so steeped in the foul sewage of iniquity that he could say shit you wouldn’t believe.
His name was Jimmy, he was a collector. He was known as the kind that would break your knees, destroy them left and right with a nail gun if he had to. I saw him do it once. No scruples, just commission, you see what I mean, he’d break your heart if he knew how. Now Donny G up in the Bronx, he was practically bankrupt, about to lose everything unless somebody recovers the money he’d loaned out to precarious ventures as far away as Brooklyn, and to untrustworthy individuals all across the five boroughs. But then who could have predicted the virus, this kind of bankruptcy, what, everybody goes broke?
So he called Jimmy, because this was the time of plague, when the virus was all around, keeping everybody home. He knew Jimmy didn’t care about the germs, he was indestructible this one, unnatural, something outside of explanation. Jimmy was so wrong in every way that he seemed a righteous man, on a mission almost, you know what I mean? Yeah, he was a bad man, nobody doubted that.
Jimmy went where he had to, he looked up the sharks, and he said “Gimme the money or I break your legs.” They were already sick, pallid, feverish, they thought the end was nigh so they said, “Jimmy, sit down, have a drink, Jesus, give us a break. Donny G is a dead man, you know it, we know it. Get used to it.” They trembled as they spoke, but not for fear of death. They gestured toward the bottles that covered every surface. They weren’t drinking.
“I’m a beat you to death,” Jimmy said, “And then I’m a burn you alive. You ever hear a that dude who burned the books, Savanasomething, that’s what you are to me, you’re just pieces of paper, so don’t beg.”
And then he paused, he coughed, he covered his mouth with his gun. He fainted. He was among the afflicted, and he knew it as he fell.
When he woke up the sharks were gone, but the cops were there, four of them, two in uniform, and a priest was standing over by the door, looking serious, crossing himself, waiting for some confession. “Look,” the big one said, “I’m just trying to understand this situation. This your gun?”
Jimmy wondered, he thought, where are those motherfuckers, I’m here to kill them, and I can do it with this Glock, but he’s holding it, what now, and he knew he was hungry, ravenous, even, remembering starvation on the long way to this place, when he couldn’t get out of the ditch where his own dead mother had been dumped on top of him, just another body.
“Yes, it is, officer, I shot it enough to know it.”
“All right, well, at what?
“Bad guys. Just them. Gangsters, rappers, the scum of the earth.”
“You ever shoot at bankers?”
“Nah, they’re too fucking boring, how would I identify them, anyway?”
“Any adulterers in your sights?”
“Too little of them lately, how you gonna hook up when you’re locked down?”
“And the welfare queens, these so-called homeless people?”
“Yeah, I want to kill ‘em, but what then, an indictment, legal worries, not for me.”
“Well I must say, Jimmy, I don’t see a crime. In fact, it’s been a pleasure. Carry on.”
And so the policeman and Jimmy parted on what we must call good terms. He rose from his bed, and now freed of accusation and rearmed with the weapon he’d come with, he walked down the narrow hallway, looking again to kill his assigned prey. They were dead of the plague, tongues bulging and eyeballs still expanding, expectations intact, but Jimmy shot them, anyway, in the forehead.
He lived another twenty years, beyond the plague, well past Donny G, and the survivors called him holy, treating him with the kind of respect that ends in reverence. But he never changed. Jimmy always carried that bag with the nail gun and the Glock. They buried him in Carroll Gardens.