In the beginning there is always blood … and then there are bodies.
Rain pelted the streets outside my Upper Darby home, one block south of Linden Avenue in a working-class neighborhood once commandeered by the Pagan Motorcycle Club. The media trumpeted the group’s close association with La Cosa Nostra and described the Pagans as the “fiercest of the outlaw biker gangs with 900 members in 44 chapters between New York and Florida.” Founded in 1959, the Pagans, with all the other “outlaw clubs,” according to the American Motorcycle Association (AMA), supposedly comprised the 1 percent of American motorcyclists who purportedly committed 99 percent of all bikers’ crimes. But true outlaws were not criminals at all. They were conformists, a club of misfits who followed their own code of ethics, dress, and rules.
It was the summer of 1985. I was eight years old and carried my few possessions in a plastic grocery bag—my collection of stolen baseball caps, a dented brass Liberty Bell from a school field trip, and a newspaper clipping of my mom on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The headline warned, “The New Pagans: The Power of Fear.” In the photo, my mom straddled the back of the club’s newest president, Egyptian. I kept the clipping not because it made me proud, but because it shamed me. The day before the photo was snapped, I had pointed a cap gun at my mom’s face and pulled the trigger. Her eye swelled purple. The image seemed a fitting tribute.
I had just been evicted. I shifted uncomfortably on the sidewalk and caught the titters of my neighbor, a Philadelphia cop, who warned his young son to “stay away from that Pagan child.” My father, Maingy, the former Pagan Club president, was incarcerated on drug charges. Money dwindled and what little the club offered my mom as support turned out to be counterfeit. My mom sold everything we owned, motorcycle parts, furniture, furs, drugs. But we still had nothing. I stared at my mom. She stood in a puddle in the street looking like a wet doll and my stomach lurched. She was all I had and I wasn’t sure she would be enough.
Water washed over my own bare feet. Wooden planks boarded the windows of my home. An eviction notice flapped in the wind. The sour taste of fear filled my mouth. Rain smacked me full force in the face. A train whistled in the distance. I wished I were on that train.
The 1980s was the era of Pagan kidnappings and fish wraps and victims dumped naked in alley Dumpsters. Philadelphia mob boss Nicky Scarfo, who succeeded Angelo Bruno, my father’s business associate, left behind a blood trail with every tax collection. He had a judge killed once for double-crossing him. Violence hummed in the streets like the purr of an engine. Egyptian, my father’s protégé and temporary successor in power, became the youngest Pagan Club president at just twenty-one. Because he fully expected to be dead in four years, Egyptian occupied a crazy bold present. He was brash and irreverent and the mob disliked him. They considered him foul, and any business relationship Maingy had established with the mob quickly soured.
But more than that, the mob vowed to teach Egyptian some manners. One quiet night, mobsters, cruising in their black Lincoln Continental, rammed Egyptian from behind as he idled at a traffic light on his motorcycle. Egyptian flew to the pavement, bloodied and injured. But he informed police it was “an accident” and declined to press charges. He did, however, request the address of the driver who hit him for “insurance purposes.” The police, convinced of Egyptian’s purpose, provided him with the address listed on the offender’s driver’s license. The house belonged to the mobster’s mother. The next day someone unloaded a volley of bullets through her front windows. As luck would have it, the mother survived and the Pagans remarked to reporters later that the incident was “unfortunate” and “probably just a coincidence.” And so the games began between the mob and the Pagans.
Every game of cat and mouse revealed a rat. All it took was one. One who testified against another, who bargained with the police for a better deal, who agreed to snitch off a fellow Pagan and his drug exploits because the rat wanted an easy exit. I considered it survival, choice with payback. The rats I knew were hanged with wires, doused with gasoline, torched, or simply executed. Without consequences the cycle simply repeated.
Jimmy D for instance was once a righteous Pagan and a close associate of my old man’s. Rumors swirled that Jimmy D, despite his strong denial, murdered a young couple on his birthday to keep them from testifying against a fellow Pagan in an assault case. According to notes of FBI interviews with Pagans, Jimmy D was ordered “to get rid of them.” Criminal justice sources disclosed that Jimmy D drove the couple to Hunters Mill, a deserted, pitted dirt road surrounded by tall pine trees. He tricked the couple into believing they were driving to purchase drugs. Jimmy D shot the first victim execution style, put a .357 Magnum to her temple and pulled the trigger. He fired a second bullet into her eye. No witnesses. Jimmy D fired a third shot into the husband’s head and later burned the husband’s blood-soaked clothing in a fifty-five-gallon drum and tossed the evidence over the bridge between Longport and Somers Point.
After his arrest, Jimmy D brokered a deal with the police. He was an opportunist, like my father. He was a rat. But before the details of his contract could be solidified, Jimmy D was caught with methamphetamine in jail. He needed a better deal. First, he bribed the Black Muslim prison gang to keep him alive and thwart contract hits by the Pagans. Next, he agreed to conspire with the DEA and FBI, wear a wire for thirty days, and rat out his own. His efforts resulted in the indictments of twenty-two Pagans on RICO* violations, my old man among them. As far as I was concerned, Jimmy D was responsible for my eviction. Payback would be a bitch.
Copyright © 2011 by Anthony “LT” Menginie and Kerrie Droban