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Aug. 16th, 2005 | 09:08 pm
I have never been to Columbia University. I think were I to study, and the urge has come upon me once or twice, I would go to NYU, Ivy League be damned. I like the grit of the city college, it’s close enough to the lower east side for it’s lessons to feel relevant, the kids that spill out over Union Square after classes seem like they have come from this world.
Not so of iced cake Columbia, white walled and impressive. We have no dreaming spires in this new land, but we have solid buildings in the classical style to screen our higher class of students from what we call life.
Snobbish? Why, I am a terrible snob. It hurts to see these little Pekinese performing children lauded above me for being able to regurgitate misguided formulas and revere dead mediocre poets. At the last, I know everything because I have lived through everything; I am a primary source and as such am justified in feeling a little superiority to the well-meaning theoreticians.
So I walk in haughtily with my nose held high, and if the uniformed guards at the door were supposed to ask for identification, they did not. People tend not to question the distinctive, except occasionally old ladies waiting in taxi queues who ask if I am a film star. I walk as if I know where I am going, striding forward purposefully, trying to take in any signs out the corner of my eyes.
“Excuse me, where is the Classics department?”
The blonde man looks me up and down. I picked him to ask because he looks a little older than the average student, therefore more likely to take being questioned by an auburn haired giant without hysteria. He was also the best looking man I’d met all morning, from a purely aesthetic point of view. I don’t go looking for sex these days, even Kit felt more like a well timed accident. Kit is pretty enough, but I do feel it was more his dirty fingernails and need of a muse that made him an enjoyable proposition to go to bed with.
I’d say my sex drive was quite low. Certainly, low in terms of individuals. But here we are, and I am with a boy with honey coloured hair and smooth cheeks and shoulders impressively powerful beneath his suit jacket.
I cannot help myself; I surreptitiously look down at his thighs. I’m not being dirty; really, I’m recreating a memory.
Big Fin, with his shoulders like a leopard and his thighs like battering rams, the great-lost dead love. Perhaps all muses have one, to give depth to our beauty, to stop us being watercolour portraits on a chocolate box. I like seeing things that remind me of him, dredge up the last dying reflexes of a love that was cut short before the last ice age.
I am older than our current president believes the world to be. Kit finds that extremely funny, such paradoxes tickle him deeply.
The man seems to be following my braids to my hips. I forget mortal hair doesn’t often get below waist length. He looks briefly at me as if he recognised me from a nightmare, then his face pulled together almost to its previous look of slightly distracted equanimity.
“Are you visiting?” His accent sounds like Snowball’s. Something tells me I asked the wrong person, that this man already knows me, and I scan through who it might be.
Then it dawns on me, he must have been a trick. I have a good memory for faces, but the johns who march up and down the Hacienda’s stairs day in day out remain a blur. Patch once opined that we hardly remember any of them, but he’s pretty sure they all remember us.
It is strange the realisation one is known by a multitude one has forgotten, known in a way so intimate it is almost embarrassing.
“I was wondering if anyone knew anything about the arrest here?”
“Are you Police?”
I look at him sternly. Once again he takes in my long red braids.
“No, I am not police.” I smile. “I don’t think they would have me.”
“No, probably not.” He returns my smile, but not as easily as he would have me believe. “Well if you’re not someone official I’m afraid I can’t really comment,”
I lift my right sleeve to my chest, just so he notices, so he is aware I know him.
“I knew the boy who was arrested.”
But the man is staring at me once more as if he has been dazed. Then he says softly:
I blink, I haven’t been called that in five years, but he can tell the name is familiar to me.
He seems to pink a little around the cheekbones while the very British terror of making a scene in the streets takes over him. Sounding like a hundred stilted Cambridge dons before him he adds:
“I think perhaps you should come to my office.”
“Why are you here?” He says quietly when the door clicks shut. I take it I am not to be offered tea.
“I’m looking for Kit,” I say. “The boy who was arrested.”
“That’s rather a matter between myself and him.”
The man looks up at me and his eyes are hard. I had a cousin once who claimed the thoughts of mortals were as easy to read as the direction of the wind on the surface of a lake. It was not something I had much personal evidence of being true. With this man, however I am reasonably confident in my guesses. I am watching, I think, a mild nature be torn apart by a sudden, inexplicable urge to do damage.
“You know Danny?” I add.
“Don’t call him that.” He has positioned himself behind his desk, I guess so there is a barrier between him and his need to lash out. His right hand clenches and he forces it to relax; his left eye gives an almost imperceptible twitch.
“It’s his name.”
“It’s too familiar, too familiar for you.” There’s a slight tremor now in his voice. I am beginning to be sick of this. I am rather weary of being perpetually in the wrong and have grown bored with the lectures. Mephistopheles, the lap cat of Satan; not a good person, deal with it.
“Well I always was hired help.” I shouldn’t have said that, but righteous indignation brings out the worst in me.
“He loved you.” He spits out the words very deliberately as if they are a grievous accusation. Or maybe just in an effort to keep his voice steady.
“You nearly killed him.”
“What should I have done?”
He blinks at me.
“What do you mean?”
“Danny was obsessed with me and I did not love him. It was better for him, I think that I left.”
“That’s very altruistic of you.”
“I’m not altruistic, not remotely. But it does seem to have worked out well.” I raise an eyebrow. He looks away and I know my assumptions have made their mark.
“Stay away from him.”
“I intend to.”
He looks for a moment, wildly panicked as if the neatly plastered ceiling has started to fall down around his ears. I am guessing from the leather bound volumes of the Classics Review that this man is no stranger to the rules of tragedy. That they begin with a young man of great talent who has been lifted up by fortune and end with his total destruction.
“Is this blackmail?”
And that there is always a scene early on where the means of his degradation is revealed, a moment’s flippancy with a God, or fling with another mans wife. It is always something small that mushrooms behind the action of the play, growing in the dark behind the theatre curtains. Like dry rot it eats away unseen, until it is finally revealed once more as huge and hideous, with its teeth in everything and everyone on the stage.
I’m certainly familiar with the phenomenon.
“You want something to stay away from us – money or such like.”
No, kid I do not. I have been the subject of one tragedy, which has taught me enough to never wish to be the puppet master of another. You are the one who must decide to destroy your cosy world tonight and hope it can be repaired, or to tuck the knowledge of my existence away and hope it does not flourish in the dark.
“I want to know where Kit is, but if you do not tell me I am sure I can find out another way.”
“Screw it out of someone else?”
“What?” He suddenly barks like an old man gone deaf, his voice sounding too old to come from his body.
“If you don’t tell me, I probably can screw it out of somebody.”
“Do you have no shame?”
I flash him a rather rueful smile. I can tell he wishes I wasn’t so good looking. It makes it terribly hard to completely hate me.
“Not much, no.”
He stares at me once again for a long moment. I can tell we have reached an impasse. He is caught between wanting to give me nothing, wanting to chase me from his room and set his hounds on me, and needing some kind of reassurance from me that I am not sure I can give. After all, I can agree to stay away from Danny, I might for the right price agree to leave New York. But I cannot erase the knowledge of my existence from his brain, and really whatever I say and whatever tokens he takes from me, that is the only think that will restore his day to anything like bearable.
“I’ll just go then, shall I?”
“No,” he says. There is a long pause. “Wait.” He swallows as if decency itself has bubbled up in his throat. “I will tell you what happened to Kit.”
“I think you should sit down,” he almost laughs dryly. “We need to be civilised about this.”
And then he does indeed offer me tea.
I stir in a spoonful of sugar while he tells me about Kit. A warm sunbeam had fallen across his desk on a bitter day in March; he had felt light, charitable, in one of those omnipotent moods that comfort and confidence and regular good sex bring. He’d stumbled across Kit at shelf V12 of the periodicals, reaching for The New Hampshire Review of Classical Criticism. His curiosity was piqued as to why a young man not signed up to a classics course should be wading through such heavy articles for pleasure. Being only human, the fact the young man in question was dark eyed and high cheek boned probably added to his interest.
‘You have a personal interest in the Classics?’
‘I’m studying them.’
‘No your not.’
‘What makes you so sure?’ Kit would have curled his lip. I can see that now.
‘Because I teach in the Classics department.’
And then, maybe because the first splash of spring light had softened Kit, or maybe for the chance to capture the rather Adonis like blond in conversation, or perhaps just weariness that he had had no one to have a decent talk about Sophocles with for three months, my usually wary little sneak of a poet spilt his secret.
‘I study Classics, but not here.’
They talked, and in the professor’s shining cloud of lazy kindness he offered Kit unofficial tuition. Kit impressed him, he said he was one of the most able students he had ever taught, although judging by the man’s age, he can’t have taught that many.
“Did you fuck him?”
He looks shocked. He seems momentarily lost for words. I could see this golden haired child of the rolling shires of middle England being just the sort of thing that would get Kit going.
It’s a most harmonious bi-product of the English class system that the upper classes all desperately want a good flogging and the working classes have the hate to make sure they get just that. I wonder if some kinky Earls have in the past subjugated the peasants on purpose, the better to reap the masochistic rewards.
“No, I did not.”
He hasn’t touched his tea. I’m not sure if I believe him.
“It’s alright, Kit will fuck anything.”
“That’s not a compliment.”
“This bothers you?”
“Did it not occur to you that he could just have found someone better and disappeared into the blue?”
“Such things happen.”
“But in this case, they didn’t.” I continue. “I’m not a great believer in natural justice.”
“I would like to believe there is some order to things.”
“I don’t think there is you know. I’m a complete believer in chaos theory.”
He raises his eyebrow.
“So we are free to act how we will without fear of judgement?”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps I have just been judged so often I have grown immune to it.”
He looked at me then with utter contempt.
“You are very fond of this routine of disaffection aren’t you?”
“So, you gave Kit private tuition and then he vanished. Is that all?”
It’s not, I can tell by his face. He seems to be a most inept liar.
“No, the Police spoke to me after they had arrested him. I think perhaps he mentioned my name.”
“What did they say?”
“If I knew he had a faked library pass.”
“What did you say?”
“And if you’d have said yes?”
“You are a lecturer here, you could have authorised him to use the library.”
“I’m not sure I could have.”
I raise an eyebrow and he looks rather stung.
“Besides, he never asked me too.”
“But you could have said you did.”
He looks at me.
“Have you ever had the pleasure of being interrogated by five armed immigration police?”
I try not to flick my eyes downward to the stump of my right arm resting in my lap.
“I’ve had - similar experiences.”
“They seemed very confident that they had a case against him.”
“They impressed you with their intelligence did they?”
He cannot lie and he cannot hide the fact he was deeply annoyed by the cops stupidity. I would guess idiocy might be the one thing he finds harder to forgive than betraying Danny.
“They kept showing me the print out of the books he had taken out on his fake card and kept asking if any were written by communists, or had anti-American themes.”
“I’m not aware of the political leanings of the editors of “Re-reading tragedy: performances of Euripides in the twenty first century,” and I’m fairly sure the author of “The Iliad as a heroic text” is a staunch Republican, albeit in deep denial.”
“Did you tell them that?”
“Yes, very firmly. Although, they didn’t seem to want to listen. They got quite nasty.”
I furrow my brow.
“Oh of course,” I say. “Your own status here is questionable. And then you’d have to leave Danny.”
“I told them the truth.”
“Couldn’t you have exaggerated a little?”
“I didn’t think to.”
“You gave him special tuition.”
“You rather make it sound like an obscene act.”
I stare at him trying to read what happened between him and Kit. I stare too hard and he takes my disconcerting gaze as a threat.
“I think you better go,” he adds in a low voice.
I nod. I cannot see any good coming out of our continued sparring in this airless room.
As I turn towards the door, he says:
“There was one thing. They showed me a list of accusations, things that he’d said. To be honest, it sounded like the things most of my undergraduates say after they’ve got a few pints inside them. “It says In God we trust on the money here and that’s about right considering the one hundred and fifty two other idiots this country has put it’s faith in.” But at the bottom, someone had handwritten “Baines”.”
“Yes. I thought it might mean something to you.”
“It doesn’t,” I say and leave.
I must pause the story here because I pause. I sit on the manicured lawn of Columbia University and watch the sloppy young mortals idle gracelessly around the square. I’ve bought some water and several of them stare at me pushing the plastic bottle between my knees and twisting off the lid with my left hand. A little water spills down my thighs. I feel briefly resentful at looking foolish before the gaping young slobs.
The water feels almost medicinal. It lightens the chill of hopelessness that had come over me since leaving the office. I shut my eyes and try to think where Kit is now, but it keeps segueing into a vivid picture of Kit bent over the desk I had just been served tea on, looking out the white framed window onto the lawn where I am now sitting as the young professor let him feel the strength in those thick thighs as he thrust into him. It is a painfully clear picture, right down to the white shirttails of the professor poking out from the sides of Kit’s arse.
I’ve watched Kit fuck another boy before and found it rather enjoyable. I’m not sure I enjoy the idea of his private lessons here so much. Of course, I am no one to stand in the way of a poet’s journey of self discovery, or whatever other grand title he gives to his rangy prowls for anonymous loving. I just do not like the idea of someone else having a claim on him, someone else who perhaps has been granted a look inside his head and a kiss and cuddle afterward.
Kit’s own identity is a hazy as the thin streaks of cloud that run in lamb’s tails across this July afternoon. He talks of his own life as if a stranger lived most of it. He has more knowledge the identities that he dreams for himself than of his own. His character’s pasts have moved him to tears on occasion, and yet he relates the story of his own ordeals with a flippant, dismissive humour. He has perfected a façade that is little more than borrowed charm from his heroes, and he likes to try it out on the strangers. He likes to fuck as Faustus and Tamburlaine. I liked to believe I was the only person he fucked as himself.
It is mid afternoon already by the time I stir from the lawn. I got to feeling comfortable on the grass, and I begin to get a sense of unease about this evening’s assignation. I sink into that restful pause that cannot bear to think on what has happened moments before or will happen moments later, but can only dwell on the comfort of now. I cheat myself that if I do not move the arrangement will be taken from me by some unseen hand.
As a clock somewhere within the university chimes three I return to my senses. I realise I should probably return to the Hacienda to check no one has been murdered in my absence and to pick up a few things I might need for tonight’s meeting. Reluctantly, I push myself upright and dust the stray blades of grass from my trousers.
It already feels as though I am walking into the sunset, as I head west for the Lexington Avenue line.
One block away from the club I am nearly knocked over by a streak of blond hair that flies past me and disappears down the club stairs. I can hear the thud of his feet bashing their way down the wooden staircase from where I stand. Then I am knocked again as a large, be-suited man runs after him but stops at the club’s mouth and stares in blind rage.
He stands outside the club for almost five minutes, his fat neck growing pinker as he stares, looking at the blank hole of the doorway in disbelief, neatly blocking the way for any tricks. Just as it looks as though I am going to have to approach him, his trance breaks and he walks away slowly, quickly sinking into the anonymity of the street.
I walk slowly down the stairs. Patch is sitting in my seat watching the monitor. The others are all in the back room.
“Quiet day?” I ask.
“Yeah,” said Patch. “Carlos had a Korean tourist who came in for a handjob, and one of my regulars. That’s been it.”
“Any sign of Snowball?” I ask softly.
“He just returned,” said Patch.
“I noticed. In rather a hurry.”
Patch looks at me as if he does not see my concern.
“He had a trick running after him,” I add. “He’s been clipping on our doorstep.”
“Oh,” said Patch in a manner that is pretending to know what the big deal is.
“Do you fancy taking a punch from some guy Snowball’s just ripped off?”
“No,” said Patch. I can see he feels he his failed in his duties as stand in bar keeper. “Shall I have a word with him?”
“It’s alright. I’ll do it.”
I was half tempted to let Patch have the honour of delivering the dressing down. I have had more than enough confrontation for one day. I knock on Snowball’s door.
It’s a while before there is any reply.
“Can you come out please?”
“What is it?”
“I want you outside, now.”
“Get out Snowball or I will break the door down.” I state matter-of-factly.
He stands in the doorway, his thin face pulled tight against accusations. He’s still wearing a silver mesh top and poly-vinyl trousers.
“Come into the club, snowball.”
He opens his mouth to object and then reconsiders. We stand beneath the gazes of the cock-sucking centrefolds in the heavy red light of the club foyer. Patch ducks a little behind the bar.
“Why were you working outside the club?”
He hunches his shoulders and looks wearily back in the direction of his cavern. He looks all of fourteen.
“Then why was a fat guy in a purple tie and a grey suit chasing you into the club?”
“I wasn’t working. He came up to me.”
I look him up and down.
There is silence until he looks at the floor.
“I should throw you out now.”
“Do it then.”
“What if he comes back with the cops and we all get slung in the van?”
“You guys can look after yourselves.”
“What if he remembers where you live and follows you tomorrow. What you do is fucking dangerous Snowball.”
“I know. I’ve been battered, I’ve been raped.”
“You’re worth more than that.”
“I need to go and get changed.”
“Why did you clip a trick on the club doorstep?”
“Told you, he came up to me.”
I drop my voice.
“Why did you run back?”
“He got hold of me, I couldn’t get away, he was too close.”
“Come upstairs for a moment.”
He looked again like he might moodily object.
“I want a look at you in daylight.”
“You want to check my arms.”
“You know how bruises don’t show in the red light.”
“That must have come in useful in the past.”
“I’m clean. I told you. I don’t do that.”
“I want to know if you’re bleeding again.”
“Then you won’t mind coming upstairs.”
“You’ll tell Deedee.”
“You still have an arm because I told Deedee.”
“You manage without one,”
“I don’t understand why you dislike her.”
“I don’t.” He says. Then he adds, “Her injections steal my magic.”
The white light of the back room hurt my eyes after the club. It was formerly a kitchen, a metal range still sits rusting in the corner and the walls are covered with clinical white tiles that have turned yellow in the haze of cigarette smoke. Alex is sucking on a McDonalds cola, rolling a spliff on the safe. A grey pipe from nowhere empties into a metal drain on the floor that smells rotten and stale. Carlos is sitting on a wooden chair snoozing with his head on the cooker.
“What happened there?”
“Put him out man, Red.”
“He’ll be alright. Where else would he go to?”
“That’s his problem. Maybe if you put him out, he learns not to be such a big asshole.”
“Maybe if I put him out he’ll become a worse one.”
He licks the rizla paper and rolls the end into a twist then sparks up.
“Like that’s possible.”
I sniff the discarded rucksacks that have been squashed down the side of the metal range to find the one that smells least of sweaty gym kit and trainers, then take it out into the cupboard at the back of room two that has become our store room since Snowball moved in. I pull out some of the accessories I might need, the slim whip with gold braids on the handle, a crucifix, some rosary beads then head out once more.
“He stays.” I say. “He’s fucked up and he’s got nowhere else.”
The Holiday Inn on Broadway is older and frowsier than it’s cousin at the airport. In fact, a similar dustiness clings to it as does to the police offices I visited earlier this morning. A rubbery aspidistra dies slowly in a chipped urn. The gold braids are hanging from the bellboy’s uniform; he looks like a failed jester. There is a tarnished silver bell at reception, and a burly man in a bowtie behind the counter with the faint outline of a former stain on his shirtfront. The brown leather sofa in reception sags. It was a chic hotel once, filled with wasp waisted ladies with set curls and cigarette holders and men in hats and trench coats. Then the location fell from fashion and the management went bust and a chain that keeps the fustiness for authenticity bought it out. It’s only tourists who come here now, I suppose.
It’s the place for your middle draw hooker, the sort that is hired for the night not the hour and comes with a change of clothes and styles themselves an escort. One that the john can kid the receptionist is a date and himself that it is having fun.
I walk up to reception.
“I’m here to see Mr. Goldman.”
It’s the name he always uses. He even has a credit card in that name which he uses to book his little indulgences. The receptionist stares at me. I don’t believe he doubts my morals, I think he is just using my immediate proximity to indulge his curiosity. He looks at the bright grey eyes behind the auburn braids, slightly hard looking, with faint purple shadows beneath them. He looks at the quirk of my thin, coppery lips and the faint scar on my cheekbone.
One of my own soldiers did that, ripping back his knife too quickly from the flesh he had just skewered. He went white with shock, but at the time I barely noticed. Battles are like that.
“He said he was expecting a visitor. Mephi are you?”
“Shall I wait in the lounge?”
“No, he said to go strait up and wait. Room 407,” he says, handing me the keys. “Turn right when you get to the fourth floor and follow the signs.”
I pass the dilapidated bellhop on the way to the lift. He’s a tiny man with dreadlocks, his face wizened into a thousand wrinkles. If I were feeling imaginative, and I’m trying not to, I would imagine him as a guardian of some circle of hell.
Inspector Collins always makes me wait. I think it is a power game of his. The longest he has kept me is six hours, just I suppose to prove he can. I sit on the bed, creasing the brown floral counterpane that looks as though it is patiently waiting to return to fashion. The chocolate brown sheets will show a myriad of stains, but that is not my concern. I doubt he will leave me too long here, it’s too close to the centre of town to be drawing attention.
He’ll make me look like a business call; two hours after work then send me on my way. I wait staring at the magnolia walls trying to muster the questions I need to ask.
After half an hour, I order some more mineral water on room service. I have to restrain myself from the lure of two double brandies. I need a little numbing. I could have done without my afternoon in Columbia it made me feel to cheap to comfortably turn a trick like Collins. I tell myself I need my wits.
I wander into the bathroom, immediately greeted by the howl of the extractor fan. I splash my face with cold water, and catching my reflection in the mirror whisper to it:
As if it were the code word that could guide me through tonight.
I open my rucksack and do what I have to do. I change into my rubber t-shirt and hold the iced mineral water against my nipples so they show through hard. I sit on the edge of the bath and lube myself, rip into a condom packet so it’s ready to open in my pocket, and rub vaseline onto my lips to make them look full and wet. I pull my trousers back up, pat myself down to check nothing is rumpled and take the small pile of white towels over to the bed.
I lie on the bed dead centre, in the valley between the two pillows sipping my water. The sun is slanting outside, the are is blue and the shadows neat and precise in the diamond hard light. It could almost be romantic perhaps, the time of day when all is what it seems and the dark corners have not yet gathered their clouding mist of fear.
Inspector Collins opens the door and shuts the blinds.
He neatly removes his shoes and coat then lies down beside me on the bed.
“Shall I order us drinks?”
“That won’t be necessary.”
I smile and lower my lashes and roll towards him on the bed, so I’m on my front, staring over him. I work at loosening his tie with the hand I have. I do not recognise my fingers, they suddenly seem to long and brittle to belong to something that lives.
“So, do you have any news for me?” His shirt is now open, revealing the pot scourer grey clumps of wiry hair on his chest.
He smiles and takes my hand in his crushing my fingers and find my hand being pulled down to his groin. That seems to serve as an answer. His breath has a sour, sweetish taint to it. I try ignore what I am breathing in as I tease his cock through the beige fabric of his suit. I begin to hum as if the hardening there satisfies me.
It’s night a long way away and I’m lying here on my side in a room with thick stone walls pulling at someone’s cock. If I look out the window I can see faint stars sometimes, over the smoke and the fumes that coil and reform like a hypnotist’s trick. The bed is heavy dark wood with thick red blankets, my bed, the bed where I’m kept anyway, and I have two hands. The air is full of a deep incense of burning and blood and iron that fills my head and makes it sleepy. I’m still lying over someone, parting my lips juicily and touching them in the hope they bring me news.
“Baines,” I say, leering at him as though he does something for me.
“You’re incorrigible,” he says thickly before biting a little too hard at my collar bone.
I strip his chest bare slowly, tantalisingly, with strokes and kisses and half lidded looks into his face to check if he’s ready to speak. Finally, I get what I’m after:
“Baines is a half-nuts private detective that lives out in Flushing,”
I choke on a nipple.
“Yes, right next to Kit, in fact downstairs from him. As far as I remember he first came on our books after threatening to poison the sociology block at NYU as a hotbed of Communists. He did three years for that, but we kept an interest in him.”
“Do you need many Communists poisoned?”
“That was in the eighties. You’d probably be to young to know.”
I undo his belt. I’ve been hit with this belt before, I think dully, then, he’s not going to do that tonight. Whatever I need to know he’ll tell me without that.
“You see,” He’s half hard and important now, warming to his theme. “It’s sometimes important to keep an interest in fanatics. They’re very useful, they see all sorts of things that the sane miss. That’s the job of intelligence really, to be a filter.”
I hum. I’m working around his crotch with my mouth now I’ve got his trousers down. He grunts.
“Baby, did anyone tell you you were good at that?”
It’s been mentioned, I think. I’m running my tongue over the wrinkled, hairy flesh of his balls. They smell slightly sour too. To give myself a little respite I look up cockily:
“So what did Baines give you?”
“Oh nothing much, just a letter. He knew Kit you see and knew of his opinions. Not the most reliable document in the world, of course, but it helps give flavour to the extradition proceedings. It gives a good background picture of the sot of man we’re dealing with.”
“But why did you want him extradited in the first place.”
Inspector Collins rolls on top of me as if that is quite enough information for now.
The sky is still light when I emerge. That feels like a terrible trick of the summer. You’d think surfacing from what I’ve just done, licking the gritty toothpaste on my newly freshened teeth, I’d walk out into a clammy subterranean twilight. Instead, the heat is still there looming in the street and the day is as bright as ever.
It’s a funny way to tell a whore, I think. They’ve got minty fresh breath at odd hours of the day. Say what you like about girls with damp hair or anklets or red hair ribbons, I always know I’m speaking to another worker when I smell Colgate on their lips at three thirty in the afternoon.
I stopped into Starbucks near 57th street for that hot sweet tar they call Coffee. Deedee and me nicknamed it Angband Juice, although perhaps I find it funnier than she does. The boys of the Hacienda like a good espresso and would turn their little snouts up at this something shocking. Still, I need to sit down and gather my thoughts and here for the moment feels like the friendliest place.
Baines it seemed had not been a lead at all, instead he had been some crazy former Commie hater who was branching out his crazy after the thaw in the Cold War. He was merely colour on the case, a little bit of gloss. I guessed Inspector Collins had just glanced at a file, looked at some orders being obeyed without knowing himself what the orders were.
I’m feeling slightly sick from my syrupy latte. I know it’s time to return to Kit’s flat again.
I doubt you need me to tell you that I’m pretty sure who that bleary face at the ground floor window was now. I’m still not sure if I’m going to learn anything useful from him as I retreat to Flushing, the sky at last bleeding into sunset. It feels a very long time ago that I sat on this train heading back to the city, thinking of my mouth on Kit’s, and Kit’s little hisses of pleasure. I wonder where he is now, cold, frightened, wrapped in on himself in a grey cell with an orange blanket. They’ll give him no news and maybe he’ll be passed caring by now, just wanting to shut his eyes and escape into the darkness where there are no goodbyes.
I have no idea how I will persuade Mr. Baines, Richard Baines it transpires to talk to me. I shouldn’t have worried. Baines is a lunatic, and like all lunatics will talk to anyone.
“They call me tricky dicky.” He says with a flourish. He hasn’t shaved since this morning and he pours wild turkey into the sweet black coffee he offers me. There is no milk. I take mine un-medicated.
Maybe it’s my evening for being around unpleasant smelling people, but Baines too smells lousy. The flat is very musty, and damp has congregated in dollops at the corners of the walls, stinking and looking like a hundred years of chewing gum. There’s also a faint after note of decay, over flowing trashcans I would guess, somewhere hidden in a back room. Baines seems to have absorbed the odour of the room into his paunchy, pouchy skin. Close up his saggy cheeks and tiny red eyes make him look like a satanic rodent. He might have a beard, one of those thin ones that frames his pear drop face with a dark black line, but it’s clearly been a while since he shaved so it’s hard to know.
“Kit,” I say, returning to my theme.
“Say, you ain’t here to mess with me are you, cos I warn you,” he broke off sternly as if he wished his threat to be taken seriously, even if he was not altogether sure what he was threatening me with.
“I’m not here to mess with you.”
Then it occurs to me what I need to do.
“I’m here for information if you name your price.”
There is a short, pathetic battle over the wide expanse of his face, where joy at un upcoming offer of rent money is tampered by the old snoops trick of dragging out the highest price.
“Some of it’s classified.”
“I wont press you for what it’s against your conscience to tell.”
“Conscience don’t come into it my friend. Rules of court do, Two year stretches for perjury and contempt, not worth a few bucks.”
“How do I know you don’t work for his lawyer?”
“As I said, you are free to decline any information I ask.”
“What’s your interest?”
“Friend of a friend.”
“Now you can’t pay a player.”
“Tell you the truth, he owes me money. Rather a lot of money. I’m not altogether keen on his leaving the country so unannounced.”
He sizes me up with his watery red eyes as if he is trying his hardest to see whether I’m telling the truth.
“You came round this morning.”
“I hoped to catch him.”
“You came very early.”
I lower my eyes as if I would rather not go in to the finer points of debt reclamation.
Finally he nods. I hand him a hundred dollars. His mouth quivers, and he knows I’m serious.
“Not to tell you your business, but he wouldn’t be the sort I’d make a loan too, although,” he savoured his fuming coffee gratefully, “he seemed like the sort who’d get in to debt.”
“I am already aware of that Mr. Baines.”
“He was one of those,” Baines said letting his wrist droop theatrically.
I arch an eyebrow.
“Caught him one time on the stairwell with a man must be twice his age.”
“Oh no, greying. I called him a filthy little bastard and he shouted back a few choice things at me. Very dirty mouth he had, and always using it. Drunk or sober it made no difference to him.”
“What did he used to say?”
“Well, give him his due, he was a cut above the average ‘cusser. It was as if your regular obscenities were beneath him. Then again, I think he was a college boy gone wrong, and him cussin’ in that funny accent of his just didn’t sound right.”
“Well, to tell you the truth in my mind, there’s some folks that if they can’t be civil about the country they live in, would have done better to have stayed at home. No offence to you. Kit was one of those.”
“I’ve done service for my country before now.”
“Intelligence.” He nodded sagely as if he could say no more then poured more cheap whiskey into his empty mug.
Poisoning Communists, I thought.
“That’s highly commendable.”
“Indeed. You have the bearing of an army man, I might say.”
“I was in the war back home.”
“Uzbekistan you say. So who were you up against, the Commies or the Muslims?”
I toy briefly with announcing to him I am an Islamic Socialist. I could see why Kit, younger, crueller, less sure of his place in the world, found Baines a irresistible target.
“The forces of Darkness.” I say strait facedly. He nods into his wild turkey as if he knew them well.
“Though I must say,” I continue, “Kit struck me as a foolish young man rather than an enemy of the state. What is it he used to say to me – `It says in God we trust on the dollar bill and that’s about’ -
“Right given the hundred and fifty two other idiots this gullible country has put it’s faith in.”
Typical Kit, to be so very fond of what he fancied as one of his good lines.
“You’ve heard it before?”
“Many times,” he said with mock weariness flooding his voice.
“But does it not sound to you like the simple bragging of an obnoxious school boy in love with his own brains?”
He hovers the whiskey bottle over my coffee cup with a conspiratorial air. I wonder briefly if accepting a cup would put him at his ease, but my hand has covered the rim of my cup as a reflex. He pours another glass for himself then I realise he is well on the way to taking me into his full confidence without any brotherly gestures from me.
Also, I identify the whisky smell as part of the stench of the apartment, and the idea of putting it into my stomach makes me feel vaguely queasy. I want nothing from this stinking hole to sully my person; it feels bad enough I have to bear the greasy air on my skin.
And my writer Kit, used to live upstairs. Baines wakes me from my musings.
“You’re not a Muslim are you?”
“No.” His face looks hard. He took the spurning of the communion of whiskey hard. “I find your brown spirits hard to get used to.”
“Of course, it would be all vodka where your from?”
“So, you were telling me about Kit’s heresies.”
“Now, don’t think I didn’t try and make excuses for him being young and all. I mean, what they teach at college today would send any kid bad, you know all this sixties rubbish about how their too smart to earn a living and settle down with one member of the opposite gender.”
Poor Kit. Spitting and hissing at this man would have come as second nature to him. With his wide girth and narrow mind he would have been an irresistible target, and Kit was bad at resisting temptation at the best of times.
“You know, I think that kid was just born bad. People say it can’t happen, which is bullshit in my book. I grew up in Brooklyn and there was a kid there, by the time he was six he strangled his baby sister. And they were a good family, wouldn’t even raise a hand to their kids, so you couldn’t go saying it was abuse. There’s just some people born with a little bit of the devil in them.”
He paused and refreshed his mug.
“Not that I believe in the devil as a manifest being or such. But some people, it’s hard to explain, like they do have something in their hearts that’s black as coal.”
“That’s a rather fancy way of disagreeing with someone.”
“Kit was like that. It wasn’t just when he’d been drinking. He’d stand on the landing and say just the most offensive things he could just to see people hurt. A sadistic streak, you could say, although he never raised his fists to me. No with him it was all mouth. Lashings with his tongue.”
He caught his breath and then said slowly as if excusing himself.
“He was altogether too fond of hurting other people that one. His eyes would slit up as he was saying it, like it was giving him kicks and sometimes he’d be so angry he was spitting. Kit’s the right name for him. He was like one of those Mexican cats with rabies.”
“Obviously made quite an impression on you.”
“I think he was Catholic.”
I’m not quite sure why this is such a grievous offence but I assume I’m shortly to be enlightened.
“He knew an awful lot about religion, obscure stuff, like saints and obscure rites and conjuring. Things that have no right belonging to Christianity, pagan stuff.”
I nod my head and signal him to continue.
“You see the thing is, every catholic is a potential defector, because before everything they swear loyalty to the Pope. So before their country, or their friends or family, they’ll always take the word of some old guy in Rome. And if he says kill your wife, or attack your country you have to do it. They believe no laws really apply to them that aren’t sanctified by their church. They make natural traitors.
“That’s a very wide reaching statement.”
“That’s what Poley told me, and she was born one.”
“Never mind. She’s a good girl. Keeps me in business. And there’s no doubts where her loyalties lie.”
“Yes, well she took my notes on Kit and seemed very pleased with them. It took her a while of course to realise anything was going on, but when she saw what I saw, she said my information was very useful. And now he’s disappeared, so I can only assume it was.”
“Wait, you didn’t give the statement to the Police?”
“No, I find it easier not to deal direct, more professional like. I give my information to Poley and she makes sure it goes where it’s needed.”
“Where can I find this Poley?”
“Now what do you want to go finding her for? I’m the first hand witness. I’m not going to let you ruin a perfectly good contact by her thinking I’m indiscrete.”
“Of course not.”
His eyes narrow. He’s virtually dragging me into focus, but I can tell something has changed. The slippery veil of whiskey friendship has fallen away and he suspects. I almost expect his whiskery rodents nose to sniff the air.
“Poley won’t help you find Kit,” He hisses.
No, I think. Neither can you, you know that. The only story you sat down tonight to tell me was how you betrayed him. What was it, were you too pissed, proud or just plain lonely not to realise the only person who’d listen to tales of your misdeeds would be your prosecutor?
I’m sensing moral high ground beneath my feet, it’s an unfamiliar sensation and I don’t like it. I should just go now, slam the table into his side and make him squeal, perhaps kick him to the floor and ask him how much he got for sending little Kit into exile.
I loose track of myself in my fantasies of rage. He’s dripping bloody beneath my boots before I’ve even moved towards him. Then I realise my foolish mistake; my anger has so blurred my vision it has given the drunken man the advantage.
Baines is standing across the room pointing a gun at my head. He pulls the trigger.