Authors: Reggie Nadelson
“Another one of your boyfriends?”
“Gee whizz, Pat, you've really gone off the deep end. Is it this murder? You're suspicious of everyone, even this hardworking young Cuban. Jorge just sells glasses. Really, he's very nice, he's Cuban, and he works part-time to support himself as a journalist. You should do it. You could get glass in your eye or something.”
I tell her I'll go because it's easier than arguing.
“Can you do me a teeny favor, Pat?”
“Honey, I've told you what I know about the High Line case. It's all in the papers. I don't have any more for you.”
“Right. But there's another little thing.”
“Really? You're such a peach, Pat.”
“Well, I have this party to go to the day after tomorrow, but it's out in Brooklyn, and I don't want to take the subway when I'm dressed up, and I was wondering if you'd drive me. You always say you don't mind giving me a lift.”
“You look pretty good to me like that.”
“Oh, thanks, but I can't go like this,” she gestured dismissively to her sheer white blouse, and the thin cotton skirt. “I plan to wear my new black sheath, with the red cinch belt, you know? And heels, probably, and those long silver earrings Daddy brought me from his trip to Morocco.”
“What should I wear?” I don't care for her friends or their parties, but the way I feel right now I wouldn't care if she was attending a party run by Che Guevara.
“Oh, sweets, that's so nice, and you have such terrific clothes, but I didn't mean you have to actually come to it. You'd hate it, Pat. It'll be all writers, and those actors from LaMama trying to get in touch with their emotions and what not, and you always burst out laughing, and also some friends who went to Brandeis, I wish I had gone there, and we'll be planning our next Fair Play for Cuba demonstration, and you'd just get mad.” She takes a swig of her drink, and a deep breath, and I look at her, and I want to hurt her. I want to get to her enough so she hurts, but I don't know how. “You'd hate the music, I mean, they'll play Woody Guthrie, and all that folk music that bores you silly.”
“The lying. There's actors, and music, and politics, you have no idea what the hell you're saying. You have a date, but you want me to give you a ride.”
“Because you love me,” she says. “It's like this, Pat, to tell the truth, I do have a date. So you won't mind just dropping me, will you?”
“What's wrong with him? This date?”
“He doesn't have any wheels. And you have your Uncle Jack's lovely red Corvette you bought from him.”
“You're really something.”
“Honestly, Pat. Sometimes I don't understand you. You like driving me, don't you? You always say you like it. Why don't I come over to Hudson Street one night soon, like we did before, I could meet you over there? I like your place.”
“You like slumming it.”
The rancid stink of pizza from the place next to Nancy's building gets in my nose. “I have to go. I'll drive you to your party in Brooklyn Heights.”
“You are a doll, you really are. Thank you, Pat. I do love you,” she says, and looks at her watch. “Do you want to come up for a little while?”
I have no pride left, and I go with her, and we fight because she tells me she's on the Pill now, and I ask her how come.
She says it's so much easier, and I get mean, and ask if it's easier to pick up guys in the subway. Nancy opens her door, and waits for me to leave. “Don't be such a prude, Pat,” she says. “I'd like you to go now.”
“Go to hell.”
It's a sultry, still night, no air, hard to breathe, Italian families out on the stoop, men in undershirts, women gossiping, swollen feet in backless bedroom slippers.
Outside my building, Tommy is hanging around with some boys who look like creeps from some gang. I tell him it's late, time to go to bed, but he ignores me. Upstairs, I get a pair of ice-cold beers, drag my mattress out onto my fire escape, and settle down. These days, I'm not sleeping. The heat. The case. At least out here, there's a breath to catch.
What time is it? 11:30. As hot as midday. Left Minetta around 9.30, Max still at the window. Left Nancy around 11. I can't get the sight of them, Max, Nancy, out of my head; it eats away at me like a worm in my gut.
October 17, '62
seeping under my apartment windows, the murder on the pier too fresh in my head, me hallucinating, feverish, my hands stinking of the dead body, I stayed in bed, trying to sweat it out. When the phone rang, I struggled to get to the kitchen to answer it. I was too slow. Whoever it was had hung up.
In spite of myself, I was hoping it was Nancy. Burning up I lay on my bed, thinking about her.
I wanted Nancy in spite of her and Max being an item almost since they met at Minetta. Me, being a sap, it had taken me a while to figure it out. She was like white phosphorus.
My uncle Jack got hit by the fall-out from a phosphorus bomb in the war. He recovered but his right eye was always screwed up, and it was on his mind a lot, the way those bombs would explode, set things alight, could be used for bombers to find their way. When fragments of white phosphorus hit your skin, they stuck to the flesh, you couldn't get it off, and it burned you bad.
It was like that with Nancy. Whatever it was, it stuck to me. It burned me, I couldn't get it off. She took no notice. Carelessly, she strutted her stuff. Sometimes she let me sleep with her. Sometimes not. She laughed and charmed and sulked, and she got what she wanted. She had the looks and the sex, and I couldn't resist no matter how many times I tried. I knew she was bad for me. I knew she would never love me, or want me the way I wanted her, and it was killing me.
I watched the ceiling of my apartment and listened to the radiator clank, steam hissing. I had to get up. I had to get onto the case, the dead man on Pier 46. I knew it wasn't the Mafia. I felt panicky because I couldn't stand up. My legs were like Jello.
Next door, somebody was typing. Upstairs, somebody was playing opera music. Lot of Italians still around the area, even a few artists who couldn't afford better.
My own pop had said I was going straight to hell for living in Greenwich Village alongside faggots and Commies. But God knows, it was better than the dark, pious, myopic place I came from. I was born on the West side, midtown, what they call Hell's Kitchen. My parents lived in that suffocating apartment where you could smell the cabbage from downstairs, and hear the neighbors yelling, and the sound of my mother saying her beads.
The family, the church, it was all they cared about, maybe baseball for the men, at least until the Giants left town. The women hung up pictures of the President next to the Sacred Heart stuff, and they talked about JFK like he was some kind of saint. Otherwise, they had no vision of life.
My old man hated the Russkis almost as much as he hated the English, and that's saying something. Joe McCarthy was a saint in my house, not to mention J. Edgar Hoover.
“You got to hand it to them, the Russians, they put a man in space, first,” I said once because I was obsessed with space, and also to aggravate my pop. He wanted to slug me; I could see it on his thin mean face that was worn down from anger.
But by then I was bigger than him and a cop, and he couldn't do anything about it, or the way I dressed.
“What's with them shoes, Pat? Jesus, faggoty suede boots,” he said. “Black turtleneck, what the hell is that?”
After I finished school and the academy, and I was a working cop, I got myself the apartment here on Hudson Street, on the far west fringes of Greenwich Village. The area was still rough, the tenements inhabited by immigrants and dockworkers, who kept chickens in the scruffy backyards. People were hard up. Single men lived alone in rooms with a gas ring. Rolled their own smokes, or picked up pennies from the sidewalk to make the quarter for a pack of Pall Mall.
My place had been a cold-water flat back then, the toilet in the hall, the bathtub in the kitchen, but I got it fixed up, bathroom and all. I could play my music loud as I wanted and I spent summer nights on my fire escape, listening to the stuff coming in on the radio from the south, or WUFO in Buffalo. Didn't have to listen to my father call it “monkey music”.
In those days, there were a few other cops who lived around the Village. I used to run into one of them, an Italian called Frank who lived on Perry Street; he had pretty long hair for a cop, but he was sharp as hell, and we would sometimes drink together, or play a little pool. He had been in Korea, like me. He had the kind of guts I never had. Everyone knew how corrupt the system was, and years later he fought it, and he got shot in the face for his trouble.
Hudson Street wasn't part of the Greenwich Village of cafÃ©s, and galleries, cobblestone streets, brownstones and redbrick houses. But at the White Horse, a couple of blocks up, I met writers, and I liked them; I liked the life.
I started drinking there when I moved into my apartment. Sometimes I met girls who asked about that Welsh poet who drank himself to death. Told them I knew him, and I was there that fatal night. It was a great pick-up line.
People fought over politics like it was life and death, and I heard stuff I had never thought about. Sometimes the conversations turned into fights that went on all night. One time this skinny writer, Michael something, tells me about what he calls the other America, whatever the hell that is, but they're pretty happy to have an Irish cop. I know the Irish songs. When I bring Nancy by, Mailer looks her up and down, and Baldwin says she can call him Jimmy. She's impressed, unlike my pa who says to me, “Fucking Dorothy Day, Catholic Workers, my goddamn ass. What kind of Catholic is she? She's a goddamned Red.”
Again, the goddamn phone rang; again, I stumbled to the kitchen. It was one of the guys in the office. Voice almost inaudible.
“How come you're whispering?”
“Just listen to me. The coroner, the ghoulish one, you know, with three strands of hair he combs over that bald head? He examined the man from the pier. Said far as he could tell, the wounds matched those from the girl on the High Line. Says it's the same knife. Same everything.”
“I have to get off, Pat. That's all I got.”
“What's the hurry,” I said. “Hello?” But he had hung up. I tried calling back. As soon as he heard my voice, he put the receiver down. I called the station house again; the sergeant said, “Get your rest, Pat.”
What the hell was going on? Was it that bastard Logan? Was I no longer welcome in my own precinct?
“What's going on?” I said.
“Just get some damn rest,” the sergeant said, and I told him to put me through to my boss. When Murphy picked up the phone, he told me the same thing he had told me the night before: get some rest.
Somebody, and it had to be somebody higher up, didn't want me on the case. Again, I thought about Logan, the bastard on the pier who told me I was off it, that I was not wanted.
I stumbled upstairs to the Perinos' apartment to check on Tommy. He was OK, and his father was home, so I went back to my bed, feeling like death warmed over.
Nancy always told me that I used Tommy Perino. “Use him for what?” I said. “For company,” she says, “you make believe he's your son. You ought to get married, and have some kids.” She tells me all the time. “What about you?” I say. “Not me,” she says. “I don't want to be tied down. Not me.”
Tommy was a loner, kept to himself, but he liked a little change jingling in his pockets to make him feel good and right with the other kids. He never took a handout. Not since I met him, first day I move into the building in '57, would he take money for nothing.
So, over the years, I gave him little errands, got him to pick up some smokes, take a package over to the precinct, and I gave him a quarter, and sometimes a buck.
Maybe it's wrong when I ask Tommy to help me on the High Line case. I say, listen, Tom, it's about this arm. We can't find the poor girl's arm. And he says, sure Pat, sure I can help you out. I tell him there's a brand new crisp fiver for him in it, maybe a sawbuck. Tommy's a garbage rat, always diving into the cans, looking for something to sell or salvage. Maybe it's wrong, asking him. But I got nothing else.
It's the end of July, and we're not making any progress. After we fix the victim up someâpeople react bad when they look at a mutilated girlâwe put out a picture of her to the papers; nothing comes back. Jane Doe remains unidentified.
Takes Tommy two days to find the arm. Takes him two days of searching the meat market until he finds the arm in one of the garbage bins. Put his arm right in it, and pulls the thing out. I call it in, and somebody, a couple of cops on that beat, one of the medics, get it and take it away before I see it. Did I ever worry about how it affected Tommy?
Did I notice he wasn't exactly the same kid after that?
“What did it look like, Tom?”
“Like? Like a hunk of old meat, maggots all over it,” he says. “It stank. Whadya expect when it's boiling stinking hot in the city,” he adds and then goes upstairs to his own apartment.
But this gives us something. The coroner examines the arm. It's a match for the dead girl, he says. The top of the arm matches the wound where they sawed it off, and he explains some process by which he can tell if the flesh, the skin and bone, once belonged to the girl. Also, most important, there's the tattoo; on the inside of her arm, the worm, the words Cuba Libre.
We get the news out that the Jane Doe is probably Cuban. We put the tattoo in the papers. It's only time until we get an ID, and catch the bastard who killed her and hung her from the High Line.