it was a nice day, so hank was only wearing two hats and three jackets. he found ernestine in her usual spot at the edge of the park, sitting on the grass just out of the shade of a tree. he went over and flopped down beside her with a grunt.
"don't sit so close to me," ernestine told him without looking at him.
"sure. i'd rather be in the shade anyway."
he moved about three feet over and four feet behind her. this put him in the shade but off the grass and sitting in dirt.
they sat without speaking for about five minutes. ernestine would occasionally squint her eyes down the street as if expecting somebody. hank just stared at the ground.
"did you get the paper yet?" ernestine asked finally.
"do i look like i have the paper?"
"it could be in your pocket. sometimes you have it in your pocket."
"not on a hot day! not on a hot day like today! on a cold day i put it in my shirt. not on a hot day like today!"
"yeah, well i didn't know that."
"i told you plenty of times before."
"i guess i forgot."
"you can't be too bright, forgetting something i told you a million times."
they were silent again.
ernestine finally spoke. she was usually the first to speak. hank hardly ever spoke unless spoken to although he could be very voluble once he got started.
"why don't you go get the paper?" she asked him.
"i'll get it." hank didn't get up. he kept staring at the ground.
"what do you care?" hank looked up, perplexed. "i'm the one who reads the paper."
this was true. hank was one of the last great newspaper readers. usually the first thing he did in the morning was panhandle the price of a newspaper. then he would read the whole paper from front to back, every word, except the legal notices but only because the print was so small. he would finish by doing the crossword and any other puzzles with a pencil he kept in his pocket along with a little pencil sharpener. one of his fellow derelicts, tony, used to harass him by telling him that pencils were going to become obsolete, but he hadn't seen tony for a while and had forgotten him and his prediction.
"so what's the big deal with the paper this morning?"
"i just want to see something."
hank still didn't get up from his seat under the tree.
"are you all right?" ernestine finally asked.
"yeah, i feel great. peachy. thanks for asking."
"then get up and go get the fucking newspaper. the one morning i want to read the paper is the one morning you just sit there like you're dead."
"don't talk that way."
"i'll talk any way i goddamn please."
a couple of teenage girls walked by and laughed at them.
"i like your hat," one of them said to hank.
"zz" added the other one. they passed on, making exaggerated suppressed laughter sounds and holding their stomachs.
ernestine and hank both pretended to ignore them.
"come on,' said hank. "why so hot to read the paper this morning?"
ernestine stared at him. "promise you won't tell."
"i never tell."
"what! you're the biggest blabbermouth in the park. you're worse than any woman."
"don't tell me then. and i'll get the paper when i feel like it."
"if you don't get the paper they might run out."
"they never run out. this is the city that never sleeps."
"ok, i'll tell you." ernestine leaned toward as if she was going to move closer to him although she didn't actually do so. "i saw something last night."
ernestine lowered her voice. "i saw a girl get kidnapped. just like in the papers. a couple of guys grabbed her and threw her in a van. just like in the papers."
hank didn't seem too impressed. "did you tell the cops?"
"no! that's the whole point, knucklehead! i ain't telling the cops nothing."
"you should report it. you should be a good citizen."
"it's probably in the paper. they probably know about it already."
"it doesn't matter, you might have seen something, something you didn't even know you saw, that might break the case."
"i don't talk to the cops. it's a matter of principle with me."
"if you don't tell them i will."
ernestine stood up. "you said you wouldn't! you promised!"
"this is different. this is america. it's why me and patton drove to berlin."
"you fucking moron! what have the cops ever done for you except beat your brains out? even you might have half a brain cell left if the cops hadn't been pounding on you for the last thirty years!"
"they get a little rough sometimes but they're just doing their jobs."
"jesus h christ! you mongoloid cocksucking motherfucker!" ernestine screamed "what kind of dickheaded shit for brains moron am i dealing with here!"
a couple of financial district types in short sleeved shirts were passing by and cracked up.
"nice talk!" one of them yelled.
"pottymouth with the stars!" shouted the other.
ernestine didn't hear them. she started kicking hank. the two guys in shirts pulled little cameras out of their pockets and ran up with them. they could hardly hold them straight they were laughing so hard. one of them came up and stuck his camera in ernestine's face. she turned and started kicking them and they backed away laughing.
"assholes!" she screamed.
one of them wagged a finger at her. "violence never solved anything."
"your mother choked on a dildo she stuck up an elephant's ass!"
they ran off as best they could, doubling over with laughter.
grover was on duty when the call came in about the new report of a possible abduction, and directing him to pick up the witness.
it sounded halfway plausible. he thought one of the reporting officers should have stayed with the witness, but he'd let henderson worry about that.
he called henderson - she wanted to be called immediately on anything connected with the abductions - and was only mildly surprised when she picked up herself - did she ever sleep? she said she would be at headquarters immediately and told him to get going and pick up the witness.
she made it sound like he was dragging his ass - she wanted to be called, didn't she? grover's hatred of henderson was pretty mild - she could have been a lot worse - and it was hard to hate someone so boring - although he saw her almost every day it was hard to remember what she looked like when she wasn't around.
grover wasn't that far away and was the first person to reach frankie. he found frankie right where he was supposed to be. that was something anyway. this good first impression was quickly dissipated when he saw he was dealing with a flaming fruit.
for a moment he was pissed at the reporting officers for not warning him but quickly considered that any description over the air might have caused problems - he would have done the same. faggots were number one on grover's long list of hatreds. not that anything showed on his face. nothing, absolutely nothing ever showed on grover's face.
frankie started venting as soon as grover got out of the car. he didn't ask him to show his i d, but grover took it out and held it up as frankie went through his citizenly paces.
"i was terrified! i still am! i could have had a heart attack!" etc etc. no fear or respect at all. he sounded like he was on some citizens review board.
"i'm sorry, sir," said grover when he could get a word in. "the officers were chasing an almost certainly dangerous suspect or suspects and must have made the decision that maximum force might be needed to apprehend them" maximum force? that sounded kind of dumb even to himself.
"you did tell them that you saw two men, didn't you?" and they were both young and filled with adrenalin and wanted in on the possible kill, but you wouldn't know about that, would you, faggy?
"yes," frankie told him. "two that i saw. there could have more in the van. there could have been a whole gang! they could have split up and sent someone back after me!"
"sir, if you think this situation has been badly handled, you can contact the police review board at this number." grover put his wallet and i d in his jacket pocket and took out a pencil and little notebook and wrote the number down. frankie looked a little mollified when he tore the page out and handed it to him.
"thank you." frankie took the paper and put it in his pocket. at least, thought grover, he didn't say he already knew the number.
"and sir, for the record, you did see my i d, didn't you?"
"i didn't really get a good look at it."
without batting an eye, grover took his i d back out of his pocket and showed it to frankie.
"thank you," said frankie. this cop didn't really seem like such a bad guy.
"now," said grover. "you told the officers you might have known the victim?"
"well, i wasn't that close, but it looked like a woman from the meeting i just attended. i mean, who else would it have been? we just got out of the meeting and there aren't that many people out at this time of night."
"and this woman's name?
"i just know her first name - brenda."
at this point another squad car pulled up.
"excuse me," said grover and went over to talk to the occupants. they muttered a little bit and then grover came back to frankie with his notebook.
"all right, this meeting was what exactly?"
"apprehension anonymous." grover wrote it down.
"a twelve step organization or something like that?"
"it's a twelve step organization."
"those are fine people in the twelve steps," grover said with a straight face. a little too straight a face for frankie. maybe he wasn't such a good guy after all.
"do you have a phone number?"
frankie had it memorized and gave it to him.
"thank you. now can you show me exactly where the incident took place?"
"right by that alley up there."
they walked up to it. a couple of other police cars arrived.
most of the participants in apprehension anonymous took the subway, and a few walked, because the only parking was so far away from the site and so expensive. but not frankie. frankie was a good american in this regard at least, that he was terrified of the subway, which he had hardly ever taken in his life, and he never walked anywhere. if he had to walk a mile and a half to a parking lot or garage, that was still driving and not walking.
he had stopped at a convenience store to buy a bottle of water and some candy bars, so he was still wheezing up the street when he saw the two fat men pull the young woman - brenda? - into the van.
he was flabbergasted and terrified. the van was pointed right in his direction, only a little more than a block away. where could he go? he would have to try to squeeze into a doorway! then it was over before he had a chance to grasp what was happening and be really frightened. the van accelerated into a screeching hard left down the street in front of him and to his right and was gone. he collapsed against the wall of an office building, his heart pounding.
when he caught his breath his hand reached automatically for his cell phone, then stopped. he had already recovered enough from his fright to start to be pissed off about the whole affair. didn't he have enough problems, without having to deal with a lot of questions from the stupid police? if they caught the guys - he now sincerely hoped they didn't - he would be a witness. the trial might take years! and what idiots those guys were! it was late at night and not "broad daylight" but it might as well have been for all the precautions they seemed too be taking. maybe they were being pulled over right now - he hoped so, then they wouldn't need him to testify.
on the other hand, if he didn't call, he would be consumed by guilt. frankie hated guilt more than anything, and attended his guilt anonymous sessions most assiduously of all his meetings. he punched 911 and put the phone to his face. it didn't work! it must be the tall buildings. ha, ha! he could just go on his way with no guilt. he had tried hadn't he - that was all anybody could ask!
but maybe he should look for a pay phone. didn't he see something in the sunday paper that they were making a comeback? and he would have to call anyway when he got home or even before, if he could make a connection. frustration washed over him. he finally started walking again toward the parking garage.
wait. why hadn't he thought of it before? maybe those guys were just making a movie. of course! the "director" - the "auteur" - was probably in the back of the van with a camcorder making his piece of doodoo that he would put on youtube and become the new scorsese or luis bunuel. the woman looked like brenda but there a million women with those kinds of looks in the city. that was it! he'd call the police just in case but they would agree with him. no trial! he started to feel much better.
but his thoughts were interrupted by a police car coming down the street toward him. automatically, like the good citizen he was, he waved it down.
the two cops in the car were young, mean looking, and male - how frankie would have preferred at least one female! the driver was black, the other asian (vietnamese?) the asian one looked at him, politely enough.
frankie told them his story, emphasizing that his cell phone didn't work. so far from giving him any kind of hard time, they were both so excited by his account they could hardly sit still in the car.
"you say he went down that way, just a couple of minutes ago?" the black cop asked frankie.
"did you get a license number?"
frankie felt like an idiot. "no."
" just stay right there, sir, someone will come by to pick you up."
they took a left and roared off in the direction the van had taken. frankie was left alone on the empty street.
he started to feel afraid. just stay there? for the first time it occurred to him, what if the van came back? maybe they had seen him and had been arguing this whole time about whether to go back after him - and now they were circling back to get him!
ernestine hated the police, and had vowed long ago never to help them in any way shape or form under any circumstances whatever. so when she saw, from the vantage point of her alley, the good looking young dark haired woman being grabbed by two men and shoved into a van, she felt sorry for her, but continued sitting in her alley. if the police ever questioned her - an unlikely prospect - she would deny seeing anything.
ernestine's motives in avoiding the police were not completely based on principle. on being released from prison in a western state five years earlier she had reported immediately to her parole officer and then used the scrap of money she had earned in prison to buy a bus ticket to take her as far away as she could go, and had been a bag lady ever since. so, she was a parole violator, but refused to believe anyone could actually be looking for her. she had no i d. she had never held a job outside prison for even one day.
"ernestine" was a name she remembered from a book a babysitter had read to her as a child. it was not the name given to her at birth, and had gone to school, been married, and been sentenced to prison with.
ernestine had looked forward all day to spending the night in the homeless shelter run by the albigensian church, the only one she knew of that didn't require i d. but wouldn't you know it, her enemy loudmouth inez had been there, so ernestine had turned right around and gone back to "her" alley.
so there she was, sitting on her box - which she had for eight days now, a record - when the young woman went by the alley the first time, with her nose in the air and her check me out i'm god's gift to his own self look about her. the van had pulled up on the side of the street on the other side of the young woman from ernestine. the driver must have said something to her - ernestine couldn't actually hear him - because the young woman, with a loud piercing voice, let loose with a rush of words too fast to make out clearly - a lot of fuck yous , assholes and morons. nothing very exciting so far. but then the fat slob of a driver got out and starting chasing her, away from the direction the van was pointing.
ernestine got off her box and went up to the mouth of the alley to watch. just as she expected, the young woman, who was not wearing heels, easily outdistanced the fat driver. she stood on the corner of the next block and shouted back at him.
"hey, go home and fuck your goldfish - and be gentle with her, fat boy!"
the driver got back in the van, backed up a little, and then turned left and accelerated down the alley! ernestine was able to jump aside but if she hadn't been at the mouth of the alley she would have been smushed! the van hit her box and knocked it all the way down the other end of the alley. then it hit it again and knocked it who knows where. the van turned left at the end of the alley, back in the general direction of the young woman. ernestine followed, to look for her box.
she found it on the other side of the street, a little splintered but still ok to sit on.
she knew how to pick a box! she was carrying it back into the alley when she heard shouting and
screeching tires. she looked up and saw the young woman running back towards her with arms pumping, and the van, which had completed its reversal, racing after her. she wasn't screaming, concentrating her energy on running.
the van just stopped just past the alley. the back doors opened and another, even bigger fat guy jumped out. the young woman stopped but tripped and fell when she tried to reverse direction. she started to scream but the two of them were all over her now and, as ernestine retreated quietly back down the alley, they got her into the van and drove off.
well, that was halfway exciting. not exactly the worst thing ernestine had ever seen, but it would have made a good story if she had anyone to tell it to. maybe she'd tell it to hank, if he was around and he behaved himself.
the meeting was over. dave was left alone with his lonely miserable thoughts.
he had thought before the meeting of offering to walk some of the women back to the subway because of the abduction scare but after annabelle's and brenda's declarations of empowerment he lost his nerve. linda, who sometimes hung around to talk, had left in a hurry. at least frankie had also left quickly.
his thoughts returned to the abductions. he had read everything he could about them in the newspapers although he was careful never to read about such things online.
how we wished he could offer his services to the police as an expert!
dave had a secret, one he wasn't about to "share" at any anonymous or twelve step meeting. about fifteen years ago when he had a job as a sociology instructor at a junior college in michigan, he had murdered five young women over a period of eleven months. he thought of himself as a "former" serial killer but realized the concept would be lost on the police. after his fifth victim had turned out not to be a prostitute but a girl from a moderately wealthy home, he had become terrified but not so panicked as to leave the area immediately or otherwise call attention to himself.
although he was tempted, he knew from his reading that the absolute worst thing he could do would be to show any interest or try to be "helpful" to the police. over the years he had remained super careful , never looking up anything related to the case, or any similar case, on line. he didn't buy or read books about serial killers, not even the serial killer novels that half the people on the subway read. his appearance had changed. his insatiable lust for pepperoni pizzas and meatball subs had added over a hundred pounds to his medium size frame. he lost a lot of hair. and he grew his big beard, which he was fully aware most people, especially women, found ridiculous.
so after fifteen years who would look at fat, balding, bushy bearded dave and shout: "that's him! the guy outside morty's cafe that night!"
he thought about it all the time and realized he always would. he would probably start babbling about it in a nursing home (not that he had anybody to put him in one) and the attendants would just ignore him. most of the time he wished it had never happened so that he wouldn't have to think about it all the time. at other times he felt proud, like a soldier back from a war. he'd been to the mountain and seen and done things too terrible to tell. these morons going to the office every morning with their laptops, what did they know about anything?
and these stupid bitches and faggots at the meetings ... most of the time dave sincerely wanted the people at the meetings to like him. and at other times... well, he had his moods. he had to admit linda was nice. if only she was twenty-five years younger and sixty pounds lighter - but then she probably wouldn't be so nice, would she?
suddenly bitchy, foxy, totally superhot brenda jumped back into his thoughts like a wolf jumping off a rock on to a passing cowboy. oh, brenda, brenda, couldn't you look at me just once with real ... something, just for one millisecond out of all the trillions of seconds in the universe ...
he needed a pill. and the pills were home in his medicine cabinet. a cleaning woman came into the classroom. she was short and had big boobs and what dave thought of as the "easy, natural" sexiness of latin women.
he got up to leave. he would pick up a couple of meatball subs at an all night place, go home, take a pill and a shower, fantasize about brenda and pull his pumpkin.
it was after midnight but corinne had already decided to call in sick in the morning.
life wasn't half bad. she was lying back on her waterbed reading "passion in the wind" by jennifer broughton. a tape of an american idol show was playing softly on the tube and she had her remote ready to turn it up when someone cute started to sing. and her roommate brenda wasn't back yet from her meeting so corinne had the apartment to herself.
then the phone rang. a glance at the caller id confirmed her worst fears. she picked up anyway.
"corinne, it's georgette."
"i know, they invented caller id a hundred years ago."
"corinne, how are you?"
"great until you came along."
"i was thinking about us."
"why are talking like that? is brenda there?"
"brenda isn't here even when she's here."
"but is she there right now?"
"no. listen, do you have anything new to add to your usual pitiful snivelling? because i'm busy." corinne turned a page of "passion in the wind."
"how can you stay with someone like brenda? she's the most awful person i ever met."
"how many times do i have to tell you i am not "staying with" brenda. brenda is not my girl friend. she just lets me have sex with her when i get bored. she doesn't even like it."
"that's not love!"
"who said it was? i'm getting all the love i need from jennifer broughton."
"jennifer! who's jennifer?"
"jennifer broughton is the author of this excellent romance novel i was enjoying immensely when i was so rudely interrupted."
"can't we get together again?'"
"no." corinne lay back flat on the waterbed and closed her eyes.
"why?because you're a fat possessive dyke who sweats like a rhinoceros and doesn't know how to dress or act in public."
"you used to like me."
"if you don't stop calling me i'm going to report you for harassment. this is your last warning. it's after midnight! i could have been asleep."
georgette sounded like she was starting to cry. "oh right , you're going to report me. you forget i know a few things about you!"
"what! what! you moron, how many times do i have to explain it was legal in nevada and still is, l-e-g-a-l, legal. as legal as being a waitress or working at walmart."
"prostitution is a great evil."
"great, go testify at the u n. and leave me alone."
georgette was definitely crying. "corinne, you know you don't care about being seen in public with me. you don't care about stuff like that, that's why i fell in love with you. you're a force of nature, you're the wind and the stars - "
corinne hung up. she rolled off the bed and stood up. bummer! could she actually call the police about georgette? talk about a hassle with a thousand capital h's. why couldn't people just leave her alone?
to calm herself she thought about her dream man. although she had hardly ever had sex with men except for money, corinne didn't think of herself as a dyke because she had her dream man. her dream man was about eighteen, really cute, with at least a billion dollars and loved only her, but left her by herself when she wanted to be alone which was almost always. guys like that might not grow between the cracks in the sidewalk but you never know.