At somewhere just after noon, I took Jay-B’s finger out of my pocket, put it in a Zip-lock bag, and placed it next to a jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise that was celebrating its third birthday with a crust and specks of green mold and an opened Campbell’s soup can with a spoon leaning out of it, in the freezer of an ancient icebox I keep around to store leftovers and the occasional organic clue
I munched on the chicken straight out the microwave and swilled it down with the whiskey in a few rapid-fire gulps standing up.
The tap-shuffle of a pair of stilettos approaching caught my attention and then there was a slim shadow of a long-haired woman through the frosted glass of the office door.
The dress was diaphanous enough to suggest paradise found and slit to the top of her left thigh and from her sweat glazed neck to her navel. The slits were offset so that the twain would never meet but hinted at burlesque.
She smelled like Brugal with a splash of Joy by Jean Patou, which is, with a hint of nicotine, my favorite taste, and it festered all the way to the chair on the north side of my desk. She festered more when I excused myself to splash some cold water on the grill, floss stringy chicken from my molars, flush the whiskey with Listerine, and assume a brave face.
By the time I returned she was well and truly festered.
She hid her crumbling calm behind a barrage of frenetic blinks, dropped her hands in her lap at the top of the lower slit and pulled a manila envelope from her tote like Dorothy fucking Dietrich. She had a speech ready to go, so I let it rage, hoping the storm would eventually pass.
“I got a special delivery this morning. And a few minutes later a call from a thug with a Russian accent he’s loaned from the movie Snatch, offering to trade an ojo por ojo, y diente por diente, but what I think he really wanted was that I piss my panties.”
She threw the manila envelope down on my desk angrily, like she wasn’t at all thrilled with its contents and stared into me like it was my fault. Then, she took half a dozen photos from the envelope and dealt them one by one to amplify her state of mind.
“’cept I don’t wear panties, ‘cept when it’s my time of the month”
“Hijo de puta, yo confiaba enti. Did you really think they was gonna let you diss them and get away with’ it?”
I wondered who they and them were a beat or two longer than necessary, given I never ask questions that I know won’t get answered and jabbed: “I didn’t think that hard. I just went with the flow to see where your little sister would take me.”
I liked how wrong that sounded and then it was too late to take it back.
“Degas, while you’re out banging buttons like a clown who hasn’t bothered to find out how his remote works, bastards who’ve learned the instruction manual by heart rolled tape of you and Monica fucking. And you’ve really fucked her good --- ¿Por qué te la singaste, Degas? Why couldn’t chu leave her alone?”
It took a lot out of her to say that much and it took a lot out of me to listen. I looked up at her. She was turning over the last card like it made a royal flush, through a weep.
The photo was hard to read and even harder to stomach. In it, Edwin was masturbating over the ass of a very young girl. I could not see the girl’s face, but I assumed it was Monica.
“How old was she when Edwin hurt her?” I asked leaning into her across the desk.
She leaned right back and in that instant her festering disappeared.
“MY MAMI AND MONICA’S MAMI ARE THE SAME MAMI, but Monica lived with Edwin and his puta de mierda at 2399 Grand Concourse, by the Paradise Theater, at 187th street. “She spat, scorching my eyebrows with a flame-thrower gaze.
“Yeah, I know the place,” I said absently, looking beyond her though the window at a perfect rainbow and a flock of blackbirds flapping through its arch. “It’s a crazy, 16th century fucking Italian Baroque garden, bathed in Mediterranean moonlight, with stars twinkling in the ceiling as clouds pass by. I saw Scarface there in 1983 and Tony Montana spun my life around in a couple of sentences: In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women. Now it’s a prosperity fucking mega-church where tickets to heaven are traded with its billionaire, billion bullshit pastor, Creflo Dollar for cash and tithes.”[i]
Joy, leaned back on her chair, shrugged and stared at me with Monica eyes, her face clenched around a bad memory and then a parade of them.
“I’d go and sleep over with Monica every Friday and stay the weekend — I DIDN’T LIKE TO GO, ‘COZ EDWIN WOULD ALWAYS TEASE ME THAT I DIDN’T HAVE BOOBS.”
I was thinking that times had changed and then how depraved I was in my titillation.And then of my great loves and why they were so often broken by their fathers. And then why they never get their story straight enough to tell it with authority. AND ABOUT ONE GREAT LOVE IN PARTICULAR; A BEAUTY WHO WOULD NEVER FEEL BEAUTIFUL OR SPECIAL OR EVEN DESIRABLE NO-MATTER HOW MANY TIMES SHE APPEARED ON THE COVER OF VOGUE, who fawned over her father in life and eulogized him in death even though he raped her through her adolescence. And how I had cried then and why I was crying now --- not because the motherfucker had died but because the motherfucker had lived, when Joy finished the thought for me.
“YEAH, I WAS A LATE BLOOMER — Then this one hotter than hell Friday night in July, Edwin’s whore left him for a cop whose greed put Edwin to shame and he drunk Brugal until he passed out to numb his pain. LATER THAT NIGHT I WOKE UP SUDDENLY, JOLTED BY ONE SCREAM AND THEN ANOTHER FROM MONICA, WHO WAS LAYING IN THE BED NEXT TO MINE WITH HER ASS IN THE AIR LIKE A PUPPY, AND HER NIGHTIE UP AROUND HER WAIST. I watched silently as he licked her asshole and slipped his finger inside.
But when he brought out his dick and parked it on her ass and steadied himself to fuck her, I rushed him, and he fell back to the rug unconscious.”
“Our screams brought his sister rushing in from her hovel down the hall. She scolded us Nos golpeó, a Mónica y a mí, por ir poniendo caliente a Edwin.And then she called Mami, who slapped her, and took us home and called the cops! THEY FOUND THIS PHOTOGRAPH AND OTHERS IN A SAFE IN THE FLOOR ALONG WITH SEVEN KILOS OF BLOW BUT DECIDED THAT THERE WAS NOT ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO PROSECUTE --- probably because the weight of evidence was carefully stacked in Edwin’s favor in safe-deposit boxes across the city. Mami died a few months later of a broken heart. TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION, MONICA WAS FOURTEEN AT THE TIME.”
The truth has always had a wicked way of being totally unacceptable to me without tinkering. So, I turned from it and watched a silver subway train rattle into a vast blue hanger to get a make-over. A gust was billowing a newspaper out over the rails and then the train thundered over it and put a stop to its flight forever. When I turned back to Joy she was searching my soul for empathy I held back through a light-lidded squint.
“I’m not sure if Monica has a grand plan or if the plan is to make herself enough of a nuisance to get killed. But I do know that she hasn’t given me enough to win which makes me suspect she doesn’t want victory at all. And that in the end, any triumph will feel as lonely and as hollow as a defeat, and that I’m not up for more disappointment.”
“Puedes soñar cuanto quieras, pero estás metido hasta el cuello. Yeah, you ain’t going anywhere,” she replied, ruffling her feathers and preparing to leave.
“No, I’m out. You’re the one stuck with who Monica is and who she isn’t, as you are related by blood and the bad company you keep.”
I’ve always gotten a lot of utility from nastiness. It’s the weapon I use to attack under the cover of self-defense, and the pain I inflict distracts me from my own miseries. But the problem with nastiness is that eventually it becomes a sickness, and I gotta do something radical to make myself feel better.
Joy didn’t stay around for my convalescence, but the sweet rose, jasmine scent of Joy lingered long after the door shut. A reminder that trouble doesn’t leave just because you will it away. She left me looking through my rain-streaked window on the world taking stock of my nastiness – the inventory was piled high and the shelves were buckling from its weight.
The office phone rang. And then it rang again. By the time I’d picked it up, Inspector Diaz had a frog in his throat. His point was that he had Jay-B at the station. He was missing a finger, but other than that he was as good as new. Did I want to pick him up?
I wrapped myself in an old camel colored Burberry, Westminster Trench Coat, popped Jay-B’s finger in my pocket wrapped in dry ice, and ventured outside. It smelled like the rain had just left but looked certain that it would return.
The 44th Precinct station house was as I had left it, littered with patrol cars and lack of human interest.
The desk sergeant on the night-shift was fat, black, bald-headed, and hollow. He was on the far side of middle-age, and a few pounds heavier than ideal fighting weight – which really didn’t matter as he had no fight left.
He visibly relaxed when I told him trouble was not my business and assured him it was none of his. And he twisted his lips into a smile, when I scratched my balls to be like Diaz. Then, he asked me to wait a “sec,” lifted the flap in the desk, and waded through the gap like Moses.
When I told him that his laces were untied, he shrugged — he didn’t give a fuck what I did, he didn’t bring his feelings to the office.
An adolescent P.O., with hungry eyes and cauliflower ears, watched over me in his absence. I thought about proposing that he feed his ears to his eyes, but the sergeant returned, wearing a dry menace like a musky after-shave before I had the chance.
“Diaz will see you upstairs,” he growled, with a tough tone, he hadn’t affected.
“Lucky me,” I said, in a sardonic tone that I had.
That would normally have been that, but misery does have its way with company and commotion and suddenly there was both as "Realm" star Jessie Smile staggered up to the desk with a bruised swollen peach of a face and noose around his neck, claiming that he’s been attacked outside the Feeding Tree Jamaican restaurant a few hundred yard southeast of the precinct by two red-capped, black-shirted skinheads yelling “welcome to MAGA country.”[ii]
The Station Sergeant rolled his eyes and then scrambled them again: “Your guy’s doing better than the fag”, and then he rolled his eyes again to top off a smirk that had a few dark premonitions attached. As I was already seeing what he was seeing through my mind’s eyes, I turned away and climbed the stairway to heaven on a shtick.
Diaz was waiting for me at the top of the stairs, under a flickering fluorescent, wearing a brownish poly-something suit. His chocolate brown brogues had dried blood on the caps, as did the fists in his pockets. He was breathing heavily, like he’d labored hard.
He snorted, spat congealed phlegm past me down the staircase, turned on tipped heels, and led me to the interrogation room to show me an exhibit.
Jay-B was slumped over the table, in a red puddle. On his cheeks, cuts led to bruises and bruises decorated breaks, and beads of blood tracked his misery like rain running off a windowpane. I couldn’t tell whether or not he was conscious, but I hoped not, as pain feels best when you don’t feel it at all.
Diaz fat grin connected his ears. The same grin on John Candy and I may have laughed. On Diaz, I couldn’t see past it’s bite. His voice; when it finally came, was bitter, cold, and sarcastic. “I caught him taking justice into his own hands.”
“It looks like you stopped him,” I said.
“Yupppppp, but we let him mess with Shango first,” he said, like a man in the habit of killing more than one bird with each and every stone.
“Cause he saved us the trouble, Shango was off the reservation” he said, congratulating himself and all that sail with him. Then he gave his testicles an affectionate squeeze, his fingers a sniff, placed his paws on the table, and bounced off them a while. It was an elaborate ritual, and when he was done, he leaned into me, and asked. “Get it?”
I probably could have worked it out, as dog-eat-dog is a popular game in my neck-of-the-woods, with an established set of rules, but I couldn’t be bothered. I knew that if I waited and went with his flow, he’d end up telling me everything anyway, as the Diaz’s of this world can’t resist telling you how smart they are, because it’s all they have after they’ve sold their souls to the highest bidder.
“Nahhhh. To tell you the truth I’m surprised. The way I had it figured, you and Shango were on the same team.”
He laughed. It was offensive, with rancor attached, but it did frame his gum-shy, nicotine-stained fangs, and so served its purpose. “We trade players when they don’t produce.”
Then his eyebrows curled around a squint like a pair of slugs scaling a rock and his neck muscles bulged like those of a weightlifter midway through a snatch and he curled the thumb and forefinger of his left hand around Jay-B’s neck.
“You know something, Degas? They’re all tough when I bring them here --- tough niggahs, tough spicks, and avenging Jews looking to rebalance the ledger, because of all the shit we’ve dropped on them. But they’re all Belmikis to me -- and they all leave here busted. You do know about the Belmikis, Degas?”
I must have betrayed my ignorance, because he felt the need to provide me with historical foundation. “The Belmikis are an Indian sub caste, untouchables that go from hut to hut collecting shit from dry holes. And they’re killed at will.”
He unfurled a lazy smile that advertised the destruction gingivitis had wrought on an incomplete set of orange teeth, and dragged Jay-B up by the armpits, and pushed him at me.
“Yeah, that’s right — An’ I’ve decided to spare the cunt this time, because I know that the three of us will meet again — sometimes I ain’t in a fucking forgiving, Christian frame of mind. In any case, the truth is that he ain’t a player, he’s just a poor fuck playing piggy-in-the-middle without the fucking stomach for all the depravity involved. Es solamente un pobre jodido sin agallas ni estómago, atrapado en un juego depravado!”
Jay-B attempted a lunge at Diaz, but I cut him off at the pass.
“You should bottle the vitriol and sell it by the ounce, Diaz. It’s what the world needs to keep on keeping on.” I said mining sarcasm for much more than it’s worth.
He shrugged, which wobbled his titties, and farted, the rankness of which told me he was rotten through and through.
“I packaged it every way I can and sell it to the highest bidder. It’s what I’ve got to offer my customers.”
The statement might have been sweet if its consequences weren’t so sour, and then he sauntered out of the room slowly. At the doorway he spun around, rocked on his heels, and fiddled with his testicles convulsively, as he prepared the last word.
“Nunca le puse la mano encima” he said sardonically, as if talking to himself. His eyes were dead and gone — he still had a lid to fit. What he meant of course was “Mira, sin manos,” “look no hands.”
I started to carry Jay-B down the stairs, but he found his motor after a couple of steps and made do with a hard-shoulder to lean on the rest of the way down. Perhaps, he looked worse than he felt. Certainly, he didn’t want Diaz to see him beaten.
“El orgullo aparece tras un buen putaso.” I warned him as I felt his legs gave way, once, twice, thrice. “Pride comes before a fall, if it comes at all.”
But, Jay-B wasn’t in a listening mood or a forgiving frame of mind.
He had something to say and it wasn’t to me;
“Del polvo vienes y al polvo volverás.”Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.