Taxi fr Tamburlaine
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Jul. 29th, 2005 | 09:31 pm
I am a muse without a writer. This has been the situation for forty-eight hours. After calling my usual round of hospitals, police stations, and cheap rents in Queens, I confess I am now somewhat perturbed.
Writers get sick and crawl away to hide under sweaty sheets like wounded felines. They get drunk and fight and do six weeks on remand in Rikers, or six days in St Aloyus’ hospital getting their faces sewn back together. They go to rehab or die in duels or fall lifelessly into the grey and silent Hudson. They never leave me.
Two days ago, I was cheerfully shopping for strawberries in Nita’s grocery. It’s high summer, the little organic ones have just appeared, plump little fists of flesh, not like the hothouse bred ones, pumped full of chemicals and water. I’d picked up a punnet, and some buffalo mozzarella. I sniffed at the fresh bay in pots and felt like a small child rolling in grass cuttings before deciding to add one to my basket. Anything that freshens and deodorises Kit is always useful.
I fuss. I am the eldest in a family of seven, old habits die hard. I learnt pretty quickly to value myself by how well I looked after others, looked after in that nosy, cheeky, claustrophobic way that is always checking whether greens have been eaten and if winter vests are worn. Mother left us when the twins were still babies, I was the only one who really had the benefit of a mother right the way to adulthood, and I felt obliged to replicate what they lacked. I think it was pity. I never feel guilt.
My brothers are gone now, well gone except for one, the first creature I mused for. He was a poet and I was his subject matter. But I lost him in the war, a long time ago now. I’ve heard he’s still alive but I do not know where. I have also heard that he is mad.
So I was replicating motherliness for my replica poet the evening he did not appear at my flat. I had brought strawberries for vitamin C because he is malnourished and deficient. He smokes like a chimney. That is why I do not give him his own key to my apartment. I like my own space and also, my azaleas would never forgive me.
Sometimes, Patch laughs and quotes someone intelligent saying “He’s the sort of person who lives for others. You can tell the others by the hunted expression.” This may be true of me, but what choice do I have. I am the tallest, the strongest and the least destructible out of the whole harried group of them. People disappear easily down here, they forget themselves if not gently reminded. It’s right it’s my job to do that. I’m the eldest, and not the stupidest, either.
He calls me Mephi. Lying on the bed, rubbing my side, Mephi you are beautiful. Mephi I’d give the world for you. Starry-eyed boys talk all of it. Mephi means the noxious vapours that rise from cracks in the earths skin, the heat haze above the molten rock. It’s oddly apt, considering. They used to pray to these vicious fumes, the Roman’s dignifying the breath of Mount Etna with the form of a goddess in an attempt to control what they could not. In time, these ghosts of the fiery chasms became devils. And so I am my poet’s demon.
The last one called me Michael. I was an angel for him. It’s always M something. My original mother-name began with that letter. In our culture those names are supposed to be prophetic. They say in almost all languages the word for mother begins with the “M” sound. Maybe she knew even then how it would turn out.
Incidentally, mother was a sculptor; Father is probably best described as a jack-of-all-trades. They say I take after my mother, but I like to think I followed my Father into the musing game. We both had the odd surety that strangers must find us fascinating.
Kit is a little creature, a lost creature, a much better poet that the last one, but much bolder, much surer of his own genius and less willing to compromise. But not vain, not quite. He has dark eyes, dark hair to his collar and black coffee shadows under his eyes. British, although of Spanish descent he told me, but I think that’s when his eyes were to the distance and he belonged to the world of rumour and dream. He was a frequent visitor there.
It’s not obligatory for a muse to sleep with one’s writer. Muse isn’t the most reputable of positions I know. It’s rather like a Geisha, sexy but exclusive. Except of course the geisha would claim they are the opposite because they are the artists. I had a long relationship with an Oxford professor in the inter-war years that rested on nothing but very masculine adoration. But most poets, well, they’re horny buggers. You don’t hit their neurons unless it’s through their balls. Plus, they want their money’s worth from a muse. Their bohemia is empty without a beauty that will put out.
Kit and I probably had less sex than you would imagine. He was not afraid to go elsewhere, for him I think; lovelessness added something to the act. For me, I had grown rather bored with it. But we had something more; we had affection, maybe even love. Actually our intimacies are none of your business.
Kit smokes too much and he’s always thirsty. Kissing him is like kissing a dried dishrag at times. But he puts effort into it, which makes up in some part. The dry rasping flesh that wants so much to be part of you, that’s the beauty of the way he kisses. I like kissing him, and I was never much for that before. My first lover, the only one perhaps I have any business calling my soul mate, or my partner in the grey vernacular of modern times, was most perfunctory about such things. We got down to business right away once we were alone, because that business was what made us different from other close friendships of the war. It was a statement of identity when one was constantly threatened with annihilation.
They did annihilate him in the end despite all the fucking. Now sex is business, for me at least, for really what other avenues does a crippled red head of extraordinary looks and uncertain identity have? What I have left after that is Kit’s rough tongue pressing against my lips. It makes me happy, and the only real lesson I have drawn from a long life filled with over exposure to the Gods and man is to take what happiness you can.
I did not loose sleep over my missing writer, this is because I do not sleep, not often. I sit on my windowsill and read books, barefoot in the August skyline. The lights are so white against the burnt orange mud of the sky. My braids take on this colour of smoggy midnight; they lie heavy on my shoulders in the heat. The night air smells smoky from the charcoal ovens of the pizza bars, hazy with the traffic fumes.
I usually find this muggy high seat comforting, a place that is both quiet and balancing on a sea of human life. It’s still soothing, but tonight there’s a little irritation in it, a little grit under the eyelid. I turn the pages and realise I have forgotten the chapter I last read. And I have a good memory for incidental detail. Deedee always tells me to wait twenty-four hours whenever one of my boys vanishes so as not to be too much of the maternal neurotic stalker. Twenty-four hours is this cultures accepted period of time to elapse before serious events can be assumed.
But I know at once it’s not like that. For all he looks like he was scraped from off the sidewalk, Kit isn’t a big drinker and he is never late. Perhaps I should rephrase that comment on Kit’s drinking. He drinks like an Englishman. That is, he drinks infrequently, but spectacularly. It’s truly curious the way he drinks, lager with vodka in, wine with brandy, shots after everything. It is as if there is some British craze when imbibing alcohol to fill any drinking vessel with as great an amount of the chemical as the stomach can hold down.
Deedee and I have learnt to drink like Americans. We sip expertly mixed doses of complimentary flavours and gently slide over an afternoon and an evening into cheery incoherence. Although, I’ve smelt alcohol on a tricks breath at eleven in the morning, so I cannot say this country does not produce it’s share of functional drunks. No doubt, these morning tipplers smelt earlier, but I’ve never done a trick before eleven am. I’m not desperate.
Deedee is Dr. Darthadúliel. She has a mobile phone. I refuse. That will be important at some later stage in our story.
I was at my window, and finding it comfortless, did not wait the appropriate twenty-four hours. It’s that time of year when it gets dark, but it never gets cool. The air is as thick as syrup as I walk out into the street below. A light breeze rustles my muslin sleeves. I still keep covered, even in the summer. It’s a cultural thing, neither Deedee nor I flash flesh in the worlds leading city of body consciousness. It’s not a moral thing. Nakedness can be all well and good. It’s just a habit to from the old days, a little mark of respect for the past from whence we came.
I get the 7 train from Grand Central to Main Street. That’s not as simple as it sounds at this time of night. It’s a fair walk up third from where I live, a non-descript flat that manages to be neither east village or lower east and is politely ignored for it. I have heard several other residents of 11th street complain they cannot get their house prices to rise in line with the rest of Manhattan. The street does not capture the imagination. Most of us rentiers are glad of this fact.
So I walk past groups of people in doorways, huddled backs in dark clothes, bending over, buying, and selling, whatever they do. They’re wearing donkey jackets or battered leather coats in this weather. The taxis still drive past, but the brightly dressed girls don’t work this pavement anymore, they’ve been cleaned up to cellars and suburbs. The delis still serve, neon and soda and take home to microwave meals, and the last dive closes and spills the final dregs of the barflies out into the night.
I find it endlessly comforting, the way all strangers develop affection for familiar streets in lieu of friendship. Although I have enough friends, I suppose. The salty, fatty smell of the hot dog stall wraps me in its fug; it’s too hot for smells like those, to greasy and cloying for the heavy air. And too full of wintertime memories.
Kit standing outside Easy Everything in February, stuffing his mouth with fried onions in a roll, laced with poster paint mustard and ketchup. I grimaced my disgust. He said he was a vegetarian. He eats like an Englishman too, stodgy and functional, food that fills without thrilling.
I often wonder that they call us the Puritan nation.
The express train stops on the local tracks at this time. I wait twenty minutes, when the train arrives its brightness still shocks. Our is a very bare bones subway, the machinery is open for all to see, the seats uncomfortable moulded plastic that catch the glare of the carriages strip lights. It works and we need it. It doesn’t need any window dressing.
I watch Queens flash past. The turquoise light of dawn is growing over the New Jersey docks. Flushing Main street is deserted, the air rank from the Chinatown restaurant’s bins left to fester in the humid night. I ring Kit’s buzzer, then not altogether convinced that the rusting, cracked thing is functional, knock and shout until a man with a round face and a fully receded hairline opens the window and tells me to Fuck Off.
“Have you seen Kit?”
He’s bleary and annoyed, but I can see his face change.
“Why you asking?”
“I’m a friend.”
He eyes me up and down as if he expects to sit a test on my appearance at some later date.
“I haven’t seen him. I don’t think he came back last night.” He holds out the information like bait. “But I could tell him you called.”
“If you would.”
“What name should I give?”
His interest almost bounces off his bald pate. I bite back an inquiry - Mr. Arthur has many seven foot, one-handed red-haired callers, has he? – and remember I am asking this man a favour.
“Mephi. Tell him Mephi called. He can call me at the Hacienda.”
His eyes widen. I’m sure it’s not just ordinary nosiness. Still the information I am giving him costs me nothing.
“Thank you,” I continue. “I appreciate it.”
“Not a problem,” says the man. He hesitates as I turn and then adds:
“Say, I’ve always been fascinated by accents. Where’s yours from?”
I select a country from my rotating list of exotic possibles.
It’s when I’m hungry and empty and I can see the early dawn that I feel most hopeful about sex. The motion of the subway car can’t help either. In the pink glow of dawn, the pure light that flashes from the metal stacks of the dockyards and dazzles from Manhattan’s brittle glass it is hard not to feel that everything must be clean and hold no fear. It’s not just the audience I miss. My pale skin reflects the sunrise in a hazy blush. I have to confess, my body misses him too. At this point in my journey, I fall into a reverie that lasts all the way to Grande Central, despite the jostle of morning workers that begins to crowd around me.
When we slept together, it was most often at dawn, or thereabouts. When Kit would come to and claw at the body he had collapsed next too, pushing the blood to his fingers and away from is pounding head. Or when the new dawn had washed me clean of a night’s work, and I was ready to pounce on the exposed skin of a pale thigh escaped from beneath the duvets. Or sometimes, when we had been up all night after Kit had picked me up at closing and we’d walked down to Times Square together, seen the stragglers and the bums still lingering amongst the jewelled Bedouin’s tent of gold beads and red light and sapphire blue like ice, that turned out on closer inspection to be nothing more interesting than a McDonalds and a Disney store.
We rode the subway in the small hours to the student cinema on Bowery that showed indie films at odd hours. It’s amazing how cultured insomnia can make you; I only discovered Bunel and Fellucini because I couldn’t sleep at nights. They always had something obscure on at 3am, black and white, or blurred 8mm, subtitled from Russian or Persian or French.
Then we’d go to a round the clock diner and order cheap food for cheap sluts. I don’t care what they say about oysters and asparagus, for me there will always be something about a boy with dirty fingernails and shadowed eyes, sucking coca-cola through a plastic straw. Call me a poor fool from beyond the great curtain still clinging to the rags of dazzle of the new west, but still. For me cheap food eaten before dawn will always have some allure.
He knows how these nights will go. We’ll talk about anything, or eat in silence, and then I will slide my hand onto his thighs beneath the table. He’ll close his mouth around the morsel of hash brown on his fork and give me a smile that’s cocky and knows the ways of the world, and means yes. Then we shall walk home.
I remember the last time, before this heat rolled over the city like a jellyfish, melting us all into lethargy. It was in the sharp cool of early dawn, and Kit was on my sofa. I don’t think we bothered to turn the lights on when we came in. I wanted to see the blue light on Kit’s body, and Kit just wanted to get off.
He looked so fragile in the dawn, the skinny muscles, taught, defined but small, the ribs visible above is stomach. I covered him with my body, lay him down with my skin over his and kissed and kissed until he could bear it no longer and slipped a hand between us to touch himself.
I drew back and watched him for a moment, just let my mouth fill with the idea of tasting his cock, watching it get harder, pale on the shaft, flushed on the head. I moaned for it a little and he smiled.
“Yes.” I say. We are not the most articulate of lovers. “I want to taste, I want you in my mouth.”
I know, the words sound most trite and pedestrian now. But moaned over the body of a mouth wateringly stiff boy teasing at his erection, they were perfect.
Then Kit took his hand from his member and wiped it across my lips, so I could lick the salty taste of him off his fingers.
I begged for more. I kissed down Kit’s body from the neck, fussed over his navel, dipping my tongue in and out until he squealed. I kissed down the line of little dark curls that ran from his navel to his crotch, the little line all mortals have and I do not.
“No,” said Kit. “I want to see you. I want to see you get hard from sucking my cock.”
So he sat and I knelt naked before him, running my tongue over the springy, tough flesh of his erection. I took the tip in my mouth and let him have what he wanted.
A good blowjob takes time, even with a horny young poet. You learn to control the sensations running through the other, when your slow gulps of flesh will bring exquisite pain, when you go fast to make them feel they’re going to come so hard it blinds them. A good blowjob puts another person totally within your power; it is like a puppet master pulling on the nerves of the body. You have absolute control.
Like meditation, this relaxes me.
I eased Kit forward on the sofa. He took the hint and rolled his hips up so I could stroke his arsehole too, and slid a finger inside to intensify the sensations. He was fucking my mouth now, pushing into it, grasping the sides of the sofa for balance as he desperately arched his back.
I swallowed and licked him clean, like a cat. I kissed his arsehole. Then I held him as he drifted into sleep.
It’s a pleasant enough memory, but now as well a making me feel warm in the crotch, it also makes me feel cold in the chest.
At Grande Central I change for the third avenue line. There’s a rush hour of sorts starting already. Not the official workers, these are still in bed, or in the gym or jogging in Hyde Park. This is the preparatory rush hour. These are the people who slope in yawning, who clean the offices and make the sandwiches and generally make the world a wholesome place for the real New Yorkers. I’m sharing a car with men in royal blue overalls, ill fitting and more humiliating than any monks habit. The women wear candy stripe blouses and too much make up, uniform of the new serving girls who bite their lips for tips and put Revlon over the creases.
Someone, Patch I think, told me Revlon funds nuclear missile testing, or was it Maybeline. Either way, it doesn’t surprise me. What these women paint over the cracks could withstand Armageddon.
One of the overalled workers jostles into an oncoming businessman who was clearly ignoring subway protocol by refusing to let him off the train before boarding. The scuttling cleaner knocks away his headphones and drags at the strap on his Ralph Lauren bag.
“Fucking Immigrants,” he says to the air of the carriage.
I raise my head to look him fully in the face and add in my most accented English:
“Yes, you seem to be the type who would enjoy doing just that.”
He registers me, but makes no response. It was a cheap shot I know, tacky and below the belt. But it was good to see his muscles flex in anger and yet the coward held himself still. I like to know I can still terrify.
I returned to my flat and in lieu of sleep stared at the ceiling for a while. It was the only thing I could think to do.
It was Deedee who woke me by ringing on my doorbell. It took me a good few moments’ deliberation to decide whether or not to answer it. But Deedee is the most persistent caller. That’s how I know after three minutes it’s always her.
“It’s Kit,” she said. “He called me from a police cell.”
I roll my eyes rather resenting the adrenalin I wasted on him.
“What’s he done now?”
“He’s getting deported as a security risk.”
I’m quite impressed at the ingenuity of Kit’s thickheaded ability to make trouble for himself.
“He says he was using a fake ID to get into the Columbia to use the library. They caught him and went to check out his flat, where he says they discovered incriminating documents.”
“How did they manage that? Kit keeps nothing in that apartment. It’s unfit for human habitation.”
“Maybe they thought he was growing biological weapons in his laundry pile.”
Deedee pushed a silver blond plait behind her ear.
“How does one get someone off a deportation?”
“One makes me a cup of coffee. Not as much milk as last time.”
I moved towards the kettle and swilled some mugs in the sink.
“Is there an appeal?”
“Yeah. But Kit’s got a duty solicitor. He’s shit I talked to him. He’s all fresh out of law school and dying for a fight on the high ground of human rights. I told him this is America; they don’t give a rat’s ass about human rights. They like cold hard evidence. He seemed to think on those grounds, Kit was truly screwed.”
“How long have we got to put a case together?”
“Fabulous. And I’m down to do a double shift at the Hacienda today.”
“You could call in sick.”
“Deedee, I have the keys. Besides, everybody knows I don’t get sick.”
It’s like lifting molten concrete moving my body to an upright position, but the day has to be faced. I peel the sticky shirt from last night off my back and look for another one. There’s not much clean at this time of year. I sweat just like everybody else, although I don’t smell due to not being a viable habitat for bacteria. But the damp fabric attracts grime, and the heat holds the petrol fumes down so walking to the seven-eleven is a trawl through noxious miasma, and I dislike looking grubby.
There’s little left except three shirts, white, black and red. Black seems like a bad omen, red too dramatic. Reluctantly, I pick up the white.
It’s pure cotton. Deedee got it for me because she thought it would look fetching, but I don’t like white. With my colouring it makes me look like a Victorian invalid. I feel it makes me look too delicate, and it emphasises my freckles.
But it seems right today. It seems the appropriate thing to wear, maybe because I feel like playing the sickly one with my heart beating hard for my missing poet. It feels correct to look neutral and innocent too, particularly as I am going to have to search hard for my information, and the streets it takes me down may not be seemly.
I trudged to work wondering exactly what happened to Kit. Did they break down his door at dawn in riot shields, pushing him against the walls, hands above his head? He would have appreciated the drama at least. Or did they sidle out from beside the security guard as he made his way into the library, dragged into a side room, interrogated with his head still half filled with Greek Theatre.
I don’t like to think of those cold, humourless men with him. I feel they must be a brutal lot, the immigration Police, hardened to ripping people from their adopted homes and throwing them back out into the loneliness of a world of unbelonging. They’re the underground’s most hated, the bogeymen of the Green Cardless. The cellar dwellers are always full of stories about them, how Jain spent twelve hours in an air vent when they paid the Buffalo Bar a visit. Or how one immigration man bust six clubs in a day and found a Sylvester Rodriguez in all of them, and then deported the real one for aiding and abetting, even though he had both the correct paperwork and three born in America kids. We tell ourselves they’re sick, they’ll beat you in the cells for kicks with the buckle of their police issue belt, take your dollars from your pocket, your wristwatch, even pull out your gold teeth. And don’t even think about bribing them with sex. They’ll fuck you with their assault batons and send you home all the same. They put a bag over your head and shove you through the airport, so you don’t even get one last glimpse of your chosen country. You get jostled onto a cargo plane and turn up where you left five years ago without even fifty cents to show for your trip.
They don’t like to leave you with things see. They think if you go home looking too sleek it will encourage more of your scrabbling country folk to try. So they like to send you home looking bruised and humiliated. It makes them hard. That’s what a sex worker’s got on everyone, the worst insult. You sick fuck it makes you hard. The kinky thrills the immigration take out of their job makes them the lowest of the low. For all we sell sex, we’re not much for pleasure. We’re exempt from this; people get hard over us. It gives us a moral advantage that most people ignore.
I don’t want to think of them hitting Kit, fucking him with their truncheons and then sending him away bound and blindfold, like a man about to hang. They’ve sent men to their death before now, these Immigration cops. They wouldn’t care for Kit’s shivering. And I’d never see him again. Which overall would be a pity.
It’s tougher today twisting the lock. It’s a tricky one to work for the one handed anyway, it’s an awkward metal roll blind, locked into the floor. I have to push the shutter down with my stump to get the lock to turn. This is never pleasant, the skin there is still not settled after all this time. It’s tender and a little sickening as the cold metal jabs. The key would not turn, then turned to fast, I slipped and the edge of the shutter pushed into my arm. It bled.
It felt very curious. I stared dumbly at it for a while. I never actually saw it bleed and now I have I noticed it looks crazy, like that Francis Bacon painting, Scenes from a Crucifixion. I stand up and drag the shutter half open, trying not to get blood on the sleeve of my best jacket. It’s only then I notice the note pinned to the door.
You immigrant thieves from overseas,
Murderous Arabs, pick- pocketing Albanian
Sickly wetbacks or grasping Chinese
Lazy Nigerian lout, or drink sodden Feinian.
You use us for our welfare checks,
Your deal in drugs and guns and slaughter
You prowl the streets selling deadly sex,
You rob our homes and rape our daughters.
There’s no way out except the boat home
To escape what’s coming to you,
Your Kitty cat frets in his cell alone,
We got him and we’ll get you too.
I raised my eyebrows. It was quite the worst poetry I had ever seen. If it hadn’t have made an illusion to Kit, I’d have used it to stem the blood from my scratches. I switched the utility lights on and collapsed into the barman’s chair, having far too much to think about at the moment. The most obvious being that whoever did this obviously has what Deedee would call “Mental Health Difficulties”. Not the least of them being the belief scansion that bad should be seen in public.
“Are you making tea?”
Snowball is standing at the bar blinking his eyes. I must have woken him coming downstairs. Sleep makes his eyes pink and puffy and he looks more albino than ever.
“I thought you might like to give it a try. The exercise might do you good.”
He puts his mug down, points his nose high into the air, and takes a supercilious breath. In the two months I have known him I have noticed he has a pathological fear of doing anything for himself. It is as if he fears he will wither if not constantly being served.
“I’m preoccupied.” I say. “I found this on the door.”
He scans over it lazily.
“I’d say their daughters are safe.”
“I don’t think logic was the writers first priority.”
“Well, it certainly wasn’t art.”
“True. But they’ve got Kit. That’s real. The immigration picked him up yesterday. Something to do with his fake library pass.”
“Do you think they’ll raid today?”
“How the fuck do I know?” I can loose my temper with Snowball’s self-centeredness. “If they do, it was most considerate of them to warn us first.”
Snowball won’t be the only one here to think of that. Nobody will thank Kit for drawing attention to the Hacienda, and they certainly won’t be tripping over themselves to give him a character reference. They’ll close ranks, and Kit who was never truly one of us, because let’s face it Kit never turned a trick in his life, and above all it’s that that binds us, our outlaw status. Kit will slip from being a friend, to being an acquaintance, to being a one-night stand of a friend’s ex-partner. He’ll grow faceless and someone who can be fucked over for leverage.
Kit was once, and for quite a long time, mistaken for a prostitute. I often wonder if that was rather the appeal of me as a muse. I actually was the creature he stole the notoriety from, without ever really paying the price. He told me in one of those conversations we’d occasionally have when we were both damp and sweaty from a hot bath, and Kit would curl into my arms because I was not real therefore he could say what he liked, because whatever he’d been through I’d lived through and fought worse.
He’d been sixteen, in school, thrown out of home and then suddenly with great fanfare moved into a care home. He’d been thrown out for being gay; everybody knew that, Kit’s Dad had faced an ABH charge for battering the work trainee he’d found naked with his son in the workshop’s old garage. It was assumed by every child in Mathew Parker Comprehensive that Kit had spent the intervening months selling sex. He wasn’t bullied for it; it was as if he had achieved a state of freakishness that could not be normalised by the bulling process. Everyone regarded him in stunned silence and he read graffiti about his alleged menu of services and price range with a curiously numb feeling in is stomach, as if he were reading about a distant relation.
But Snowball has spied Patch making his way downstairs and is already blinking at him, trying to get a sugary tea out of him as he heads into the kitchen to change out of his jeans.
Snowball doesn’t work here. He lives in an old wine cellar from when the club was a restaurant. Deedee brought him back after he was rolled. He’s a clipper and has nowhere else to go. I’m not an asshole; I wouldn’t put a battered kid on the streets. Unfortunately, Snowball is an asshole and half of the other workers beg me to do just that. Or just express a wish to batter him.
“So,” smiles Snowball snakishly, “What are you going to do about Kit?”
Snowball decided to celebrate his return to functionality after his beating by having sex loudly with Kit in his dusty dungeon storeroom. That in itself is noting special, Kit has slept with most of New York to my knowledge, and I don’t expect loyalty of that sort. But it means every time Snowball mentions him he gets this little gleam of condescension in his eye.
Snowball must be all of seventeen. I can understand why Kit would go for him, he’s pretty enough in a fragile blossom kind of way. But he’s kidding himself if he thinks he’ll ever be more than a wordless fuck from Kit. From anyone, if he doesn’t sort his rather unfortunate personality out.
“Patch,” I say, “Can you mind the bar?” Patch, at least is legal here. “Hide the rest in the back room and don’t let them out if it’s not a regular unless they pass the test.”
When we get paranoid we ask the customers to show us their cocks first. It’s misconduct for a cop to expose himself to a hooker. So once we see the pink elephant, we know we’re safe.
“And watch for weapons.”
I’m pretty sure I’m justified in having an uneasy feeling about today. There’s an old cash register under the bar, or at least under the ebony painted piece of plywood that separates our space from the club. We don’t use it, it may even be a relic from another incarnation of our basement. It may be too heavy to move, or maybe just no one could be bothered. The johns never see it.
I know there is a gun behind it, a Smith and Wesson that I fancy is rather an antique. Still one only needs one shot often enough and I guess I’m a good aim. I toy with pulling it out while Patch’s back is turned.
It would lower the odds, I think.
I have a rather imperious streak when annoyed, which is why I do not carry weaponry. I have not for a very long time, perhaps it would make my life easier at some junctures if I had, but like all reformed sinners I need the sting of a little difficulty to make me feel truly absolved of my former crimes.
I will never be absolved of my former crimes, of course. The Gods have been quite emphatic on that point. So the only judgement of my actions I have to fear is my own. Why should I mind if someone dies standing between my lover and I?
From somewhere in the backroom, Patch flips off the utility light. The light becomes weaker and softer, red like in a darkroom, or a mock up of hell.
They do not live long anyway, I think. No one would notice, really if one went missing? After all, who notices there are a few more creatures than there should be on this island?
They’ve taken what is yours, I think. There would be a time when you would lay to waste a kingdom for lesser loves than him.
No, I tell myself. I’ve never killed for love. And I am not who I was when I was a killer. Look at me:
Here I am in the mirror of a whorehouse, reflected in the luxurious scarlet light. I am wearing no armour; I am carrying no arms. I am wearing the white tunic of a man of peace. That is the self I am now, that shall be the person who walks out to fight this battle.
I turn to the stairs.
“Where are you going?” Said Patch.
“I’m throwing a sickie.” I say. And with that I throw the keys at Patroklos and head back out into the light.
The heat is already waiting for me when I emerge.
“We’ve got your Kitty-cat.” I presume from that the doggerel writer was not too familiar with young Christopher. He was none to kittenish, although I can see why the temptation to felinise was too much for a man of so little intelligence. It is, I suppose true that he carries with him the wariness of a feline, and he is no pack animal. He stalks his territory, such as it is, alone. He pissed against my doorway once, when too much liquor and too few public restrooms conspired against him in the small hours, which is thoroughly tom-cattish. He slips his eyes from one’s gaze if he likes you and can lick his own nose. He is also warm skinned and pleasing to have on one’s lap to stroke. But I would say all of this was circumstantial evidence as to his kittiness. They are after all, all characteristic of young men with poor prospects and high reaching dreams. He is framed into cattiness by his anachronistic nickname, which is just a little too sweet for this century’s boys.
He is no cat compared to me, with my lion’s mane and my tiger’s colouring. His footprints clatter on the sidewalks; they do not fall soundlessly as if swathed in velvet. His eyes cannot see in the dark and he has never been a killer. Like most mortal youths, he lacks grace. I sometimes think of him as one of the little black fur mice of the subway; their beetle black eyes taking in a city that could squash them at any moment with such wonder, their hands always so busy and curiously human, blessed with opposable thumbs.
I cannot hold a nut or a sandwich crumb in two industrious hands to nibble. The subway mice have that over me.
But I can still hunt, and I can still sense prey on the air. I often think of my musing skills as little different from the skill of a common tabby, whose sleepiness curled in a circle tempts the lonely old lady to give him a character and a name of her own invention, one that ignores his carnivorous, vindictive habits when out of her sight.
Really, we are no more than cat and mouse.
I am not all together sure I have an exact plan of the best way to locate a lost lover. However I feel less useless striding down a street under a sky so blue it bleaches than I do hiding in a cellar. I know my first point of contact, because more than anything I need information, and there is only one place I can think to go to get that.
I do not really wish to go there, for any knowledge my contact can give me will of necessity come at a price. I’m surprised how unwilling I am to walk to the metal and blue glass building that is the 51st Precinct police station. I tell myself I am only going to trade, that after all is what I was going to spend my evening doing anyway. It’s not just sex, he’ll want humiliation too, and that makes me feel sicker than ever.
The cop behind the counter does her best to ignore me. She clearly has strict orders to talk to people one at a time and no one, no matter how unlikely it is that they are reporting a missing wallet or a stray dog should be allowed queue-jumping privileges. The NYPD have a nose for people with a knack of obeying strict orders strictly. So I lean against the glass wall of the reception box until my turn arrives.
“I’m here to see Inspector Pat Collins.”
She looks me up and down.
“Inspector Collins doesn’t see members of the public. How did you get his name?”
“He gave it to me. Tell him Mephi is here.”
She looks at me sceptically.
She picks up a phone and talks into it briskly. Whatever is said on the other end clearly doesn’t put her at ease.
“He’ll send someone down for you immediately.”
I take a plastic seat and I watch her take in surreptitious glances of me while she deals with a German family whose luggage has been stolen.
I hold myself very strait as I walk behind the junior officer to Inspector Collin’s office. I breathe deeply, trying to exude as much calm as I can. It’s the same little impeditive state I go into walking across the few yards of red carpet to meet a trick at the bottom of the stairs. It’s putting one’s body completely in the service of one’s mind. We take the lift, it’s mirrored and carpeted and little red numbers count our progress up to the seventh floor, although the building itself is shabby, like a heavy old school. The paint is dull and utilitarian, the floor tiles dusty and cracked and the panelling is heavy oak, dark and ominous, propriety from another time.
The junior officer lets me through a glass door with peeing letters on it saying Head of Traffic Division. Inspector Collins works for vice. He holds his face remarkably steady as I enter his office. It is clearly not only me who has steeled one’s mind for the visit.
He says nothing until we hear the door click shut behind us.
“How did you know I was based here?”
“I looked you up on Google.”
His grey eyebrows twitch slightly. He’s got an odd face; it looks too small for his head. His features group around his nose leaving too much smooth empty skin all around. He still has a thick hair although it’s flecked grey at the temples and streaked salt and pepper over his whole head. He’s wearing a suit, or at east a shirt undone at the collar, with pink beads of sweat beginning to become visible in the tuft of hair that is exposed against his pink, rather meaty neck.
I slept with him. When I first started at the Hacienda, the management, Sevros, told me that I must do an outside call as a favour to the club. It was a condition of my employ. We’ve all slept with him, everyone who works there. Sevros gave me seventy dollars for it, which was good of him, as I guess it’s a condition of how we stay open.
Inspector Collins gave me a two hundred dollar tip. That was unusual.
I often saw him after that, same hotel always, the Holiday Inn at JFK, out of the city and away from prying eyes. Thursday nights usually, I guess he had a light morning Friday and wanted to spend the weekend with his family. I used to steal the boxed little squares of soap.
He liked me because I was a heathen, an infidel. He liked to vanquish me. He had me parade in rosary beads and feathers, or kohl and velvet, tall and proud and insolent, and then he would conquer me.
He paid exorbitantly, but it was a drag to get out to the airport and usually thirty bucks plus toll were lost in cab fare. Plus he often left bruises. It’s not good for tricks to see you with bruises; it gives them the wrong impression of what you will put up with. I never usually let them leave marks. But he was important. We needed to keep him on side. Sevros started giving me a clean hundred every time I went around on top of letting me keep everything Collins paid me.
“Why are you here?” He sounded hostile. I wonder vaguely if I’ve blown our professional relationship and find I don’t care.
“I need information. A friend has gone missing.”
“Yes. Kit Arthur. Snatched by immigration yesterday.”
“I don’t know him.”
“He wasn’t a worker. He was on a holiday visa. And he did that. He holidayed.”
“Friend of yours then.”
His eyes narrowed as if I had no business having friends without his permission. I try to hold my face perfectly still although I can feel a sigh wanting to burst out of me.
“Where was he from?”
He nods as if some basic clearance has been passed.
“Give me his full name and date of birth and meet me in the Holiday Inn at five thirty. Not the usual, the one on Broadway.”
“I only have three days before he will be deported.”
“You better be there then.”
I leave his office feeling battered and not altogether clean.
In a way, there’s a buzz to it. There’s always a buzz to a sex worker when a line is crossed, even if it makes their skin crawl and their stomach sicken. Beauty is always thrown into relief by ugliness; the clean green of the central park trees is always at it’s most wondrous when it is the only thing that rises clear above a smog of disgust.
It is true that some drug their way through these barriers, addling their senses to blunt the revulsion, or drinking until their faces are ragged to bring them courage. This only lowers their skills, makes them less able to take the control they need to carry them through.
Sex work, as I tell my boys over and over again is the ultimate victory of mind over matter. It is a discipline, not unlike that taught in the temples of Zen Buddhism. Your path will often be blocked by veils of distaste, a loathing in the mind of what the body is being asked to do. One must stay in control, and one must ride through it, and then the city lights will sparkle all the brighter. One transcends ones body slurping below on a fat man’s tiny prick, the whip wheels on one’s arse, watching instead from above the grace with which one holds one’s spine, the sleekness of one’s hair, the toughness of one’s own skin against the client’s flabby pink paunch. From above I critique my technique, compose my shopping lists and watch that the exits are clear. It is as this silent watcher I feel the most safe.
It’s why we find quitting so hard, we miss this rapture.
“Did I mention I was busy?”
Deedee is standing on her rooftop garden watering plants. Spikes of green protrude from between the giant rainbow coloured confectionary attached to the front of the Richeloux Movie Theatre. She briefly disappears behind a ten-foot swirl of pink and white lollipop then emerges tugging at her nylon bed-jacket. Curlers would not look out of place, although her hair is still in its warrior braids despite her frowsy get up. If anyone from the street notices her horticulture or her hollering, they do not let on.
“I’ll walk with you.”
“I’m going working.”
Deedee has two occupations: Doctor, which pays intermittently and appallingly due to her chosen group of patients being those without medical insurance, and shoplifter, which pays extremely well. Often, she can combine the two, and she frequently takes orders for jeans and underwear while inspecting abscesses or listening to murky chests. I’m welcome at neither due to a wonderful blur of the Hippocratic oath, the confidentiality of personal image consultants, and just being too damned distinctive.
“Your not going to teleport there are you?”
The watering can stops being applied to the vervain flowers and starts being applied to me, twenty feet below on the sidewalk.
“That’s not a yes.”
She continues watering me, soaking my shirt.
“Deedee, I’m beginning to look a little obscene.” This is true; the white is rapidly becoming translucent. In the harsh light of July that drowns out even the neon of Forty-Second Street, my scars peer out from behind the sodden cloth. You can see where my left nipple has been sliced, where the right one is missing, the muscles on my chest and the freckles on my shoulders.
She looks down and giggles, has her little victory, then relents.
“Okay, I’m going Upper West. I was going to get the subway, but I’ll walk with you. You need to dry out.”
I wait for her by the gold ropes that are gathered idly outside the picture-house’s doors, with my hands across my chest, trying hard not to look like a Boyz centrefold.
I dry quickly in the heat, but I still look a little rumpled. I doubt I’ll get home to change before today is out. Deedee walks beside me in plastic sunglasses. The heat haze shimmers across the street.
“You look ridiculous.”
“I need to do something.”
Deedee furrows her forehead above the dark plastic.
“You would know how to answer that better than me.”
“I’m not sure where to begin.”
“How about Columbia?”
“Isn’t that rather a way to go for news?”
“The University of Columbia. Where he was arrested. Going back to the beginning might give you some clues.”
Deedee adjusted her shopping bags. She always carried several neat paper and rope carrier bags with her when she went out shoplifting emblazoned with the names of the famous fashion houses. It helped to detract attention from her frayed trousers.
“What was he doing in the University of Columbia?”
“He was a classics student, working towards his Masters.”
“How do you know this?”
“He told me after that fight when you found him on your fire escape.”
“ The one where he broke his arm and chipped his front tooth. I think he has some deal with his tutor at Cambridge.”
“Why’s he going to Columbia if he’s studying at Cambridge.”
“Because Cambridge is in the UK.”
“Oh, that Cambridge.”
I never knew Kit was clever. I mean, I knew he was smart, but I never had him down as an academic. Perhaps a magpie reader of old and assorted second hand paperbacks like my dear Patch, but never a scholar.”
“He knows Latin and Ancient Greek,” she continued.
“How do you know?”
“He recited verses from Aeschylus while I was setting his fractured arm. I’d run out of morphine.”
“Surely the Stoics would have been more apt?”
“The stoics where philosophers not playwrights.”
I sigh. Deedee turns at the junction of 57th street. Bloomingdale’s stripy canopy billows over Fifth Avenue to our left.
“Well, I’m here,” she said.
I nod. I’m glad I’m not going inside just yet, I feel just a little claustrophobic. I’ve only been in Bloomingdale’s once myself and found it a pointless exercise, the clothes were tired and plain and none of them fitted me. The walls were too white and it was just a little to utilitarian.
Clothes shops are where one acquires the costumes for the roles that one must play in life, and Bloomingdale’s, I’m afraid lacks that quality of theatricality.
I’m walking westwards and there is a whisper of a breeze from the sea. I need to go crosstown and there is no point going underground as yet. I walk down Fifty Seventh Street; it’s shining walls framing the thin slice of cobalt blue sky that floats above the torpid, sunlit Hudson. It looks like a metal corridor in a house made for giants.
There is the slightest tang of salt in the air, and also a sour acidic taint from the factories across the water. Perhaps it’s only Quendi that can pick that up.
The city suddenly looks very fragile, like tinder in the heat. It seems to dry and brittle to withstand the glare of the relentless sun, made as it is of strips of wire and shards of glass. The buildings flaunt their delicacy as high art. It’s all a trick of course; they’re built to withstand hurricanes. But it makes me suddenly dizzy.
I remember the first time a tourist asked me –“ Where is ground Zero?” – and the ground shook a little beneath my feet in the way that pain can so smoothly turn to spectacle. We can’t resist staring, perhaps we think it makes us stronger, makes our sufferings easier to bear.
It is also a terrible thing when pain becomes normal, too the realisation the body has adjusted to the amputation.
And I was reminded of the first time I showed a trick my right arm, my own personal ground zero that too has been poked and prodded and sold to the curious and the collectors. We are both remarkable edifices that fascinate by what are, but most of all, by what we have missing.
The floor swoops a little beneath my feet just like that now. Perhaps you must think me most arrogant comparing myself to my home in this way, but really I am older, I have seen it spring from the marshes and watched it grow like my own child. We’re a good team the city and I, even when the faces change we stand together, watching them come and go while we go on forever. Well, I will at any rate.