Why, why, why.
That was but the question…
Making love to Amy on the waterbed was almost funny. It worked all right, better in some ways when he let her get on top and work her own magic. She giggled at the look on his face as he peered over her shoulder and saw that white little bum, everything naked, all that smooth, creamy skin, and not a stitch of clothing between here and there. His neck ached from bending his head to get at her nipples, and there was a good long session where they did the sixty-nine, with Amy on top. How many long and lonely nights he’d spent since puberty.
She took great delight, indulging her power as a woman, in making him come while she stared deeply into his eyes.
The internal waves of the bed, water sloshing back and forth had their own logic. After a time, she fell off to one side, collapsing beside him. They stared into each other’s eyes.
Mark wanted to talk, not his favourite thing but it was better than letting her get away.
“Do you believe in free love?”
She laughed at the solemn look on his face.
“Have I ever sent you a bill?” Putting a finger across his lips, she shushed him. “Come on, Baby. It’s my turn.”
His face went all wooden.
“Come on, Amy. I’m trying to be serious here.”
“Poor Mark, so full of questions—” Such sad, beautiful eyes.
He shook his head. If she really worked at it, she could almost make him angry.
“All right. Shit. Here goes. An actual statement. Rather than a question—”
Her face went still and soft, listening. Really listening, just this once, and making a point of being seen to be listening.
“I’m in love. With you. How did this happen—how did we happen?”
“So.” She stroked his face, just looking, feeling, and wondering. “Well. I don’t know—”
“I love you.” It was true.
It had happened.
That was all that really mattered.
The trouble was that it hurt so much to say it, and all of a sudden the darkness swept over him and the tears came out of nowhere. Mark Jones cried like a baby, for probably the second time in years. Suddenly it all became clear to Amy. This was not a child, this was not about a toy or a candy or a blanket. This was about a grown man who’d had enough. This was about keeping it inside for far too long. This was about injustice, and people not caring, and this was about hunger and loneliness and despair and good people dying and bad people thriving and all the shit that happens in life.
It was about the two of them and no others. A man and a woman and all that that implied.
It was about truth, and trust, and being vulnerable no matter how strong you were. He probably did love her. Nothing else could have wrung this moment out of such a man.
Any man, really. Any life-long bachelor…none of the men she’d interviewed had been stupid, exactly, far from it in most cases.
“Aw.” She stroked his brow, rising up and looking down into that squished-up raisin of a face.
It was about finding somebody.
Almost anybody, when it came right down to it—
He had reverted or something—he was like a three year-old kid, all crushed and bruised inside.
“It’s okay, Mark.”
She held him to her breast as his strong body heaved and spasmed and she marveled anew at all the pain people held inside.
Especially the artists, the drummers and the painters and the poets and guys who played the horn.
But maybe not for much longer.
Not until death do us part.
This one was a keeper.
Mark, in all the excitement of getting work, and having Amy there, plus all the comings and goings of Duke, Maude and other party animals, had completely forgotten.
He had a phone call to make. Amy was in the bathtub. It was with some small measure of pride that he took out his pen and note-pad and left her a note. Opening the file folder Keeler had given him, he took the phone number down by writing it on the back of his hand. It was pissing down rain, and he left the papers at home, all together in one place. He left a quick note for Amy—they were short of tea bags. She wasn’t a big coffee drinker, and there were one or two other things he could think of. Now that he knew he’d be working, he almost had a surplus, an abundance. That one came out of nowhere.
He’d be back in half an hour, but she would most likely come out of the bathroom and find him gone. He was a bit shy about sticking his head in there and giving her some bogus explanation of where he was going. The odds of getting out of there again anytime soon were slim.
As for the phone call, she didn’t need to know about that just yet.
Locking the door on account of people like O’Hara, not to mention thieves, it was a rough neighbourhood. Amy was alone in the bath. Then there was Duke, who had a way of presuming his welcome, and then there was Maude, showing up with a plate of something half the time, and doing it at all times of the night and day.
The night before, Maude had shown up at his door, and when Amy answered it, Maude was wearing nothing but a housecoat. With a friendly smile, she handed in to a stunned Amy a dozen eggs and what must have been three pounds of pea-meal bacon which she said was on sale but she couldn’t really use after all.
That one was a bit hard to explain to Amy, without knowing a little more about Maude.
According to Duke, half the people in the building were suffering from some sort of un-diagnosed, untreated but nevertheless serious mental illness. The other half were at least getting treatment, this also according a grinning but half-serious Duke.
When you considered the income level, and how few people in the building actually seemed to be working once you’d had time to observe, there probably was a grain of truth in it.
It was like they were all suffering from something.
The rain poured down. In a minute his coat was heavy and sodden, the jeans soaking it up from the air and the shoes absorbing water from the pavement. It was impossible to avoid the inevitable puddles in a city where sheer entropy ensured that the infrastructure was always breaking down and the city couldn’t always keep up with it. His toes were already damp.
He still wasn’t taking those nickels for granted. Anything but.
Shit had a way of happening and Thursday night seemed a long ways away.
The phone booth was steamy but mostly out of the rain. The glass didn’t even reach the ground and the wind was strong and gusting.
The switchboard put his call straight through to the newsroom, and a bored, effeminate but definitely male voice answered.
“I’d like to speak to Teddy Irvine, please.”
“And may I tell him who’s calling.”
“Ah…it’s Mark Jones.”
“Oh, yes, please hold on, Mister Jones.” The line hummed and then clicked.
Another voice came on.
“Theodore Irvine, features, human interest, tear-jerkers a specialty. Hi, Mark?”
“I’m doing fine, Mark. How are you?”
“Uh. I’m doing okay. So, uh, Burt Keeler called you—” This was nuts.
Just plain nuts. Mark wasn’t a cop, he wasn’t a detective. He wasn’t Miss Fucking Marple or Mike Shayne, for crying out loud. He was tempted to hang up on the spot.
Irvine knew all about him, and it was all scary shit Mark didn’t want to deal with.
“Okay, Mark. I’m afraid I don’t have much for you.”
The line buzzed and he could hear typing over the adjacent traffic noises.
Mark could imagine him riffling through a steno pad, or more likely frantically searching through a pile of message forms, hastily-scribbled notes and bits of paper all over a desk heaped with rotten old back issues, heaping ashtrays and half-full tea cups with mold growing in them.
“Okay. Here we go. Gwen Kassmeyer. She was at a friend’s house, hiding out from her father who she said beat her whenever he thought she was going out with boys. Typical Biblical tyrant-complex. She returned home when some friends told her the police were looking for her, where, no doubt, she would have gotten another good beating. She graduated from high school, left home immediately, got married and moved to Missouri where she and her husband have, ah, two girls and a boy.” All of this in a little over four years.
Four years when he’d been inside. Another punch in the guts. She was living a life. That was for sure. Hopefully it was all worth it to her.
“Jackie Alviar. The case is still open, and the police have no suspects. Roy Olivetti, presumed gangland hit, no suspects. Case still open. Sylvio Rossi, cousin to Roy Olivetti, presumed gangland hit…no suspects.” Case still open.
“Yeah. It’s what they say, sometimes, when they, ah, don’t really have any other theories or any viable suspects. It’s more political than anything. The police budget comes up about the same time every year. It’s almost a kind of cop-gossip, but they have to tell us something off the record, sometimes just for perspective. There’s always that give-and-take. I have sources, some of them pretty good, some of them pretty…uh, I don’t know. I don’t always know.”
“Anyways, I hope this has been helpful to you. Look, if there’s ever anything I can do—”
It was the brush-off, or so Mark interpreted it.
“No. Thank you. You’ve been very kind.”
The man hesitated, and Mark could hear voices in the background suddenly getting louder with proximity.
“Mark, I want you to know that you can call me anytime. I really mean that. I’m a journalist, first and foremost. Burt says you’re a jazz horn player. I’ve heard, never mind how, that you’re pretty good and maybe even potentially great.”
“Let me know if you get anything. Anyways, we’re getting close to lunch-time. I have a powerful thirst as I often do, and I’m going to wish you the best of luck…okay?”
“Uh…thanks, Teddy. Mister Irvine.”
“Excellent. Keep the faith, Mark. The world needs good people. Have a nice day and I gotta go, my editor’s piles are acting up and he can be a real bitch at times.”
That was it.
“Sure.” That sounded bloody cold.
“Mark. Passive aggression is the best kind of aggression. I want you to think about that, just for a bit. Okay? Don’t let the world push you around. I want you to promise me that.”
There was a click and the line went dead.
Who in the hell was this guy?
He stood there in a phone booth in the rain.
Who the fuck was that guy.
Slowly, Mark’s hand, seemingly disembodied by the surreal nature of the things he had just heard, hung up the receiver and he rattled and banged the bi-fold glass and aluminum door open.
Some oxygen would be nice. What the fuck was that all about?
There were one or two things he needed at the store. Amy would be wondering.
So that was it, then.
He wasn’t guilty of abducting and killing anybody up in Schenectady.
Which was something of a relief.
When a man is going mad, or has gone mad, or is being told he is going mad, or that he will go mad, or has gone mad, he will doubt—or believe, the strangest things.
Also, there were the dreams, which were vivid in the extreme and one of the reasons why he had believed himself capable.
Amy was waiting at home—
What a word that was, so pregnant with meaning. A man’s home was his castle. It was a symbol of hope, desire, peace and plenty.
It was also an illusion.
We are all alone, inside.
Anything else was just bullshit.
(End of Part Twenty.)
Thanks for reading. Only an episode or three to go now, ladies and gentlemen.