North American Review 281.6
Police Detective Kevin Reilly was dreaming he was at his condo on the west coast of Florida, out on the tidy patio off the screened Florida room, barbecuing some kind of pork in the red eye of the sun, and as the dream slid into the actual morning he woke to the smell of frying bacon. Through the open bedroom door, across the hall, he could see his wife, Constance, standing in her bathrobe at the white stove in the white painted kitchen of their Queens apartment.
Ten minutes later, he eased his 190 pound bulk into a kitchen chair. "Budget's done," said Constance, as she poured his first cup of coffee.
Detective Reilly had trained Constance to keep the household budget after he realized that her somewhat undisciplined spending was less a question of willfulness than a lack of any concept of financial management. Constance was frightened at first by what she had always understood to be a male prerogative, but in time she grew proud of the neat ledger she presented to him each month, headed by his paycheck, followed by their expenses, and ending, usually, in a small surplus they either saved or spent on something frivolous.
Detective Reilly ran his eye down the ledger she handed him.
"Little over," he said.
"Where's the difference?"
"Insurance premium on the condo. Plus the VCR repair. That's most of it."
"Jesus, $160 on the VCR. Why not buy a new one?"
"We talked about that."
Detective Reilly's remarks and questions and Constance's responses fell into the familiar and comfortable ritual of the stern boss who is privately pleased with his or her subordinate's performance but cannot fully acknowledge this. Detective Reilly had a secondary source of cash from the precinct pad, about $1,200 a month. With day-to-day expenses under control, he used the extra cash as a cushion against emergencies and a source of funding for personal indulgences such as the occasional fresh faced, just-off-the-bus-from-Minnesota farm girl whore or his smuggled Cuban cigars with a scent as rich and powerful as a woman's musk. (This money also provided guilt relieving gifts for Constance, who, being a bright woman, was aware of his second income but did not openly acknowledge this.)
After his third cup of coffee, he removed his first cigar of the day from its aluminum screw tube and carefully notched the tip. He rolled the cigar under his nose savoring the smell, but did not light it till he walked out the front door because Constance would not permit smoking in the house. The five to six cigars he consumed each day helped him maintain a certain judicious distance from the grotesque events and scenes routinely offered up by the New York City Homicide Bureau in the course of his work.
Driving into Manhattan, smoking his first cigar, Detective Reilly stopped at a red light next to a brother with a boom box blasting out a song by Dana Dealer and her Bitchcraft band. Detective Reilly knew this song, titled `Eat My Feet'. In fact, he knew all her music. Five years ago, when he was working narcotics, he had raided the apartment of a society dealer on the lower East side and she had happened to be there at the time. He arrested her, but treated her with deference and respect, and he liked to think she appreciated this, although in truth she scarcely acknowledged him. Her lawyer had her out in an hour, but Detective Reilly continued to dine out for years on the story of arresting Dana Dealer, the famous rock star, embellishing the tale here and there to suggest more intimacy, more of a personal exchange with her. It was his secret conceit, his link, however tenuous, to the rarefied world of top entertainers and rich superstars.
* * *
"You've had quite a number of jobs."
The immediate problem was the song, flooding Lyle's mind with images of dark hair and sucking lips, breaking his concentration, and he knew that concentrating was part of his responsibility in the present situation, part of his end of a very bad bargain called trying to maintain a life of dignity. Was that a question he was just asked? Was he supposed to answer? He tried a smile, managed a grimace, then realized that smiling might not be the right response.
"Yes," he said, and instructed his facial muscles to remain motionless as he made what he considered appropriate eye contact with the moonfaced man across the desk.
The office they occupied squatted in the rear corner of an A&P next to the loading dock amid the mulchy smell of vegetables and decaying scraps of meat. The soft rock song, still playing on a radio somewhere outside the office, had triggered an involuntary automatic shift in Lyle's focus from the carefully crafted Q and A volley he was trying to engage in with this prospective employer to the evening a dozen years ago, shortly after his eighteenth birthday, when the woman singing the song on the radio had gone down on him in the front seat of a borrowed car parked on a quiet side street in the Bronx. Wild at heart, generous of spirit, she was, at that time, just a neighborhood girl with a rep. And though his few dates with her had been directed with callow single minded purpose toward the very act she was now performing with patience and good will, he found himself unable to complete, rigid, straining, and finally, both furious and abjectly apologetic. He didn't call her again.
A decade later, after she changed her name to Dana Dealer, after her all-girl rock band, Bitchcraft, made the cover of Rolling Stone, he tried to contact her. Her phone number and address were unavailable and she did not respond to the letter he sent to her recording company. He went to one of her concerts, pushed his way to the front, forced eye contact. He was certain she saw him and recognized him but she did not smile or take any further notice of him. After the concert, her security guards kept him from getting anywhere near her.
"These letters are more than two years old. Where have you been working recently?"
Every time Lyle saw Dana Dealer on MTV or heard her on the radio his thoughts shifted immediately to the front seat of that car and his straining, angry, failed attempt to consummate. He had richly detailed fantasies about meeting her by chance and striking up a friendly conversation and then somehow rekindling that lost moment and getting her to try again and having no trouble this time, no trouble at all.
"Are you still with me, Mr. Strand?" Moonface asked this gently, without apparent rancor.
"Yes," said Lyle. "Yes. Well. I've been unemployed. There's a recession out there," he spoke with what he perceived to be a correct blend of irony and assertiveness. He considered tipping moonface a wink, then decided that this familiarity might not be well received.
Moonface sat silently, apparently considering him. He did not look particularly happy. Lyle began to feel scrutinized. He decided to bring matters to a head.
"I am a college graduate," he said. "I have management experience. I am the best candidate you will find for this job. I want the job."
"Perhaps you're overqualified."
"I am not overqualified."
Moonface kept looking at him. Lyle began to twitch. What's wrong with him, he thought. He's staring at me like I was a goddamn bug.
Moonface smiled, as if he had decided something. He leaned toward Lyle.
"Would you consider a temporary position in produce, keeping the shelves stocked, till we can get a sense of you with the employees and customers? Working with fresh vegetables can be very soothing and pleasant."
"Don't fuck with me."
"Mr. Strand, I..."
"Did you read those letters? I am a manager."
"Of course you are, it's just that..."
"Your ad says `night manager'."
"That job is taken."
"When? In the last fifteen minutes?"
"I think this interview is over."
"Damn right it's over. Moonfaced turd."
Moonface rose from behind his desk.
"I think you better go."
"I'll go, all right," said Lyle rising. "I'll go all over you." He motioned as if to unzip his fly and Moonface jumped back from his desk.
Outside, when he stopped hyperventilating, Lyle looked at the next address. It was a large Duane Reade drugstore not far from the one bedroom apartment where he lived with his wife, Mary.
* * *
Mary grew up in a small town on a flat Midwestern plain where the sense of community was strong enough to indulge a degree of quirkiness in the citizenry. When she was young, her intense enthusiasms and her "quiet periods," as her mother called them, were generally accepted as little more than the seasonal moods of a sensitive and intelligent child. At the State University, however, without the support or loving restraint of family and community, her mood swings became dangerously disruptive. Her enthusiasms blossomed into excesses — 200 page papers written in sleepless bursts and filled in equal measure with insights and chaos, or one-night-stands with strangers whose perceived merits, like their corporeal selves, tended to fade with the dawn light. And her "quiet periods" came to be spent almost entirely in bed with the shades drawn in a semiconscious state, during which she would lose up to a week of classes and 20 pounds in body weight.
She was diagnosed in her sophomore year. After graduation, she chose to teach at a school in New York City because she wanted a fresh start where no one knew her history.
Mary was an attractive young woman, slender and small boned, with bright eyes and an alert, birdlike expression. One night she caught Lyle Strand's eye in a singles bar. He sensed immense vulnerability, which drew him like a magnet. A year later they were married.
* * *
Lyle managed everything, which was what initially attracted Mary because her own life seemed so chaotic. Managing the details allowed Lyle the saving illusion of control. Mary eventually understood this, and learned never to argue with Lyle's judgments or decisions, even when it seemed he was managing them into deeper and deeper trouble, or managing every ounce of joy out of a potentially happy occasion.
Lyle chose Mary's clothes, the red dress she wore Christmas day, the conservative navy suit she wore to court. When people didn't play by the rules, Lyle sued them, mostly in small claims court, and she always showed up wearing the navy suit to make a good impression.
Lyle began each day with the best of intentions and what seemed to him to be reasonable expectations only to encounter people and events as pockets of disintegration, forever gouging and staining and littering the smooth surface of his life, forcing him to correct and adjust and clean up after everyone else.
Lyle often reminded Mary that she didn't have to be part of the problem. She wholeheartedly agreed, and tried in every way to promote order in their lives and bolster his self-esteem starting with the essentials, which included a posture of sexual submission and the keeping of an absolutely immaculate house.
* * *
At age 30, Mary was on permanent partial disability leave from the New York City School system. She had adjusted to her condition as people will adjust to anything. She called her states of mind `heaven,' `hell,' and `here' and she called the journeys between them `the ride' and `the slide,' the ride being toward heaven and the slide toward hell.
She had a shorthand for these states, which she used on the few occasions when other people were around and she needed to alert Lyle to an impending change. She called heaven `H-1,' here `H-2,' and hell `H-3.'
Mary felt great ambivalence toward the drug prescribed to stabilize her blood salts and sugars. It was a powerful drug that left her without affect when it worked, and for this reason she privately resisted the establishment of a dose that would reliably stop the journeys and keep her grounded, keep her `here,' although she professed to be seeking such a formula to keep the peace with Lyle. For Mary, the flat state of here, while preferable to the tortured and depressive state of hell, offered none of the frisson that attended a quality life, a life worth living. She compared it to eating a stale Saltine cracker — still identifiable for what it was, but lacking any bite, texture or savor.
The upward current, when it gripped her, had its own dangers. Her celestial ascents had taught her that heaven itself was too rich a state to dwell in for any length of time. Heaven was an ongoing explosion of color and sensation and overflowing well being best savored in small doses. Its intensity made her behave in ways that appeared bizarre or childlike to those who had never fully tapped into the transcendent joy that lay like a geologic stratum just above (or was it below?) the terror and tedium of everyday life. (Once, en route to heaven, she ran up a very high long distance bill calling various world leaders to share urgent insights regarding the path to world peace. After that, Lyle started unplugging and removing the phone receiver when he left the house.)
What Mary really wanted, what she could never admit to Lyle or anyone else, was to stay on the ride forever, to be always approaching and anticipating heaven, but never quite arriving.
* * *
Lyle's father was a low level civil servant, remote when sober and volatile when drunk. His mother was remote all the time. His childhood was a mean, pinched affair that left him without dreams. He took a business degree at City College and then commenced a series of short duration, entry level jobs for retail stores and restaurants. He was intelligent enough and clean cut if undistinguished in appearance, and would usually do well at first by dint of raw effort, dependability, and uncompromising attention to detail. He would then be promoted to a supervisory job, but no one could work for him, no one could bear his incessant perfectionism and micro management. Shortly after his promotion he would be fired, often with a letter of recommendation to the next employer, a letter attesting to his intelligence and zeal.
Lyle's employment string ran out abruptly with the business at Carvel. He had taken a job as night manager of a Carvel outlet in the Bronx. One evening he was serving a cone to a kid. Vanilla, with chocolate sprinkles. He leaned through the window and handed the cone to the kid, a wiseass 12 year old, who took it and shoved it quickly up into Lyle's face.
Lyle reared back, cracking the top of his head on the service window. As he stood, swaying, his face dripping blood, ice cream, and sprinkles on the counter top, the kid and his friends danced and taunted him from the asphalt parking lot beyond the window.
Later that evening, Lyle went looking for the kid and spotted him in a McDonald's a block away. Lyle cornered the kid and hit him in the face twice, very hard, breaking his nose and knocking out his front teeth. There were plenty of witnesses, and the consensus was that, whatever the provocation might have been, this was a grown man hitting a child, deliberately, and with great force.
Lyle was fired and couldn't find another job. He spent their $4,000 savings on legal expenses and medical claims connected with the incident, and still owed more than $6,000 to the lawyer and the child's family. Mary took on some typing and proof reading from a law firm, work she could do at home on a piece basis.
* * *
Mary sensed that striking the twelve year old boy represented a significant departure for Lyle. It seemed to release something in him. He had once told her he considered physical force vulgar and that if he ever had to strike her, which is to say, if she ever provoked him to such an extreme, he would undoubtedly also have to leave her. But sometimes she thought she would prefer the simplicity and directness of physical blows to the things he was beginning to do around the house with his idle time.
Like the hole in the wall. One day she came home with an armful of legal briefs and found he had taken a sledge hammer and bashed a hole in the wall between the living room and the kitchen. He said he intended to install a shelf that could be used for passing food from the kitchen, a little window like you see in some apartments. But he never did finish the job and put in a shelf. It remained just a big, jagged hole in the wall that leaked plaster dust which she vacuumed up every day.
The hole was set at a height and angle that allowed him to watch her in the kitchen from his favorite TV chair in the living room. He said he liked watching her, liked knowing where she was and what she was doing.
The bathroom door upset her more than the hole in the wall. When he took the lock and latch off the bathroom door, he told her that after ten years of marriage, there was nothing that they should have to hide from one another. The only place in the apartment she had ever felt truly safe and relaxed had been in the bathroom with the door locked. The door frame was slightly askew, and with the lock and latch gone the door swung open. She found that she couldn't reach quite far enough with her leg to hold the door closed while sitting on the toilet.
He often walked by when she was in the bathroom. He would stop and look at her, wordlessly.
She used to linger and luxuriate in the bathroom. Now, she was very quick.
* * *
All of these things made Mary want to try hard to stay in the `here' state, the safest state, the state that was least likely to provoke Lyle, who could be angered equally by inertial depression and blind euphoria. But if remaining `here' was safe, it also diminished her perspective to little more than flat indifference, and on the same April morning that Lyle was having his unsuccessful interview with the moonfaced manager of the A&P, Mary felt a gentle lift, as if a pair of angels had taken her arms gently from behind and blown their soft, warm breath on the back of her neck, and she knew she would soon have to make a decision. Then she felt the beginning of the ride coming on like a sexual rush, felt as if she were spreading her thighs and straddling a hot ice cream highway and riding the thick core of it up toward the stars, and she found she was completely disinclined to suppress this feeling by tampering with her blood chemistry. It was a sunny day in the high 60s, a day of bright shimmering clarity, and she decided she would keep this transcendent welling glory a secret for a few more hours before taking one of the "zombie pills," as she called them, to curb her rampant joy before Lyle got home.
But how should she spend this special, secret, joyous time? Suddenly it struck her that going out shopping was the perfect way to spend the first hour or so, and she would not let her enthusiasm be dampened by financial constraints, though she had less than $20 dollars in cash. (Lyle had canceled her credit card two years ago after she charged $12,000 in toys one afternoon at F.A.O. Schwartz in a frenzy of happiness over what turned out to be a false pregnancy.)
Mary walked the sidewalk with jaunty step and a wide smile. "What I want," she said, "is a selection of products so I can choose the things I want the very most." She nodded to her right and left as she walked along saying these things, although there was no one to hear her. Her brain was fizzing with joy.
She turned the corner and entered the Duane Reade drugstore. As she walked up the first aisle, the first thing that caught her eye was the first thing she saw: a quart bottle of orange tinted mouthwash. She turned to the stock clerk working the aisle beside her.
"This stuff contains a powdered root that really works against plaque," she said brightly. "I saw a news story about it. Three years ago plaque got the best of me and a dentist removed a major portion of my gum tissue to get at the rot underneath. It cost my husband thousands. I never want that to happen again, and this product helps to preserve my remaining gum tissue."
Mary continued down the aisle without waiting for a response. She reached for a dry stick deodorant.
"This has a pleasing, fresh scent and comes in a sensuous oval tube," she said, looking around for someone to address. "Two short efficient strokes coat each pit for the day. No sharp acidic pungencies escape my underarms when I follow this simple regimen."
Laughing out loud at her cleverness, she turned the corner and proceeded up the second aisle.
"I'm going to give these capsules a try," she informed a woman on her left. "They're an aid to dieting which is directly related to maintaining a positive appearance and upbeat self image. According to the manufacturer, these pills will actually make me feel less hungry, thereby helping me to shed a few pounds, which is desirable both cosmetically and from a health perspective."
"Really," said the woman.
"Oh, yes indeed!" she said, pleased to have someone to share her perceptions with. "And a few pounds off might rekindle my husband's sexual interest, which has waned somewhat since he lost his last job."
"Is that so," said the woman, looking away.
"Don't you think all these products are simply wonderful? Look at this package of white plastic garbage bags! Lightweight, smooth, strong and supple, and each bag comes with its own little wire strip to tie off the neck! Think how they hide our private little messes, how they shield them from the world!"
"I have to be going," said the woman, moving down the aisle.
"And what about these light bulbs?" asked Mary, following her. "Each one providing literally hundreds of hours of steady, reliable light on demand. At the flick of a switch, these little honeys turn night into day! Pretty impressive for under two dollars!"
"That's very nice, dear," The woman was moving more quickly now.
"You know," said Mary, following behind the woman, "sometimes I think of the time and effort it would take me starting from scratch to come up with even one of these products, even assuming I had the right materials and tools. Then I feel this swell of gratitude toward all the big companies that make all this stuff. I mean, really, I'd never get anything else done if I had to come up with all this stuff myself."
"Leave me alone," said the woman, "or I'm going to report you."
"I'm extremely sorry," said Mary, smiling broadly. "I know that I am sometimes overly enthusiastic. It has been a great pleasure talking to you. I think reds and yellows would suit you well, although, I, personally, am allergic to those colors."
Mary turned abruptly and studied the shelves before her. Every product seemed desirable, indeed, essential. It seemed impossible to choose among them. The wisest course would probably be to purchase one of each.
Except for the absolutely essential items, of course, where it would be prudent to purchase several.
She began to fill her shopping cart. She moved with efficiency and purpose.
"My approach is democratic, if not to say catholic," she said aloud, then giggled. At the periphery of her consciousness she was aware that Lyle might find fault, might question some of her selections, but this concern seemed very remote at present.
In a few minutes her cart was full to the point where items were beginning to slide off over the sides. She pushed it carefully toward the station near the checkout where she could pick up another cart. She had a long way to go — she had only shopped one aisle — but she was feeling supremely energetic and confident.
* * *
Lyle decided to walk the twenty five blocks to save bus fare and he decided to walk at a very brisk pace in an attempt to take the edge off his humiliating exchange with the moonfaced turd at the A & P and clear his mind for the interview with Mr. D'Angelo of Duane Reade. But as he walked, his thoughts kept returning to what he considered the A & P man's bizarre reference to the soothing aspects of working with vegetables. What did he take me for, he seethed, some New Age tofu sucking hippy freak on the dole who doesn't have the guts or the ambition to manage a goddamn A and fucking P?
Lyle's head was filling with screaming noise. They're taking up my time! I am pissing away my life dealing with these people! My wife is a nut case! I can't pay the rent!
Lyle walked faster, but the accelerating pace seemed only to ratchet up the screaming voices already battering his brain.
* * *
Mary was having the best day of her life, the best day she could remember or imagine. She was simply overwhelmed by the cheerful ordered abundance of goods available in this late twentieth century American drug/convenience store. She saw — she experienced deeply — the specific human need behind each product, and she was immensely, tearfully, grateful that this amazing plethora of products had been expressly designed to meet such a wide variety of needs, important needs like hunger and illness and embarrassment and pain, needs like cleanliness and comfort and cosmetic assistance. The only thing intruding on her otherwise ecstatic surge of understanding and joy was the color problem. She was starting to notice that the bold, assertive colors associated with some of the products — particularly the yellows and reds — were sometimes disorienting and even threatening. She was considering exchanging some selections for products with packaging done in more soothing colors when she saw Lyle turn into her aisle.
She was at once surprised by the coincidence and thrilled at the prospect of sharing her perceptions with Lyle. She was bursting with insights regarding the depth and pathos of human need and the amazing energy and courage of the thousands of people who produced the products she was selecting, products that made every effort to address every human problem and condition imaginable.
She stepped toward him and smiled in welcome.
* * *
Detective Reilly approached the Duane Reade drugstore humming a Dana Dealer song, eased through the door, took a long, careful look around, and asked for the manager. A stoop shouldered, balding man with sagging dark eyes approached.
"Look at this place. Look at this mess," he said. He pointed to the litter in the aisles, the trails of boxes and packages apparently spilled from the shelves. The stuff underfoot looked like a mix of crackers and cereal and vitamin pills.
"This will do it," the man said. "This will cost me my job."
"Okay, Mr...D'Angelo, right? My name is Detective Reilly. Let's just take it easy. Let's sit down and you can tell me what happened, okay? Nobody's blaming you for anything."
"Eight years I've worked here. Jesus."
"Okay, take a deep breath. That helps, doesn't it?"
"Guy went nuts."
"Slow down. What guy?"
"Okay. Guy calls me this morning. He saw my ad for night manager. Says he's a college grad who knows retail, so I told him to come in."
"What's the guy's name?"
"Ah...Strand. Lyle Strand. So he shows up and introduces himself and he looks really tense, you know? So I figure I'll walk him around first, show him the operation, maybe he'll loosen up a little."
"What time was this?"
"Around eleven. So we're walking by the canned goods and dry food aisle and the guy just freezes. Just stops completely. So I stop and turn around and he's staring at this woman and her shopping carts. Now, the thing is, I've been watching this woman myself, before he came in. I mean, she's been in the store for a while and she's got three, four carts full of stuff and she keeps trying to keep the carts together while she moves around which means she's blocking any aisle she's in, okay? Plus, these carts are really full and stuff keep sliding off which she picks up and piles back on. So I figure maybe she's buying for a school or something and maybe she could use some help getting organized and checked out and I was just about to go over and speak to her when this Strand guy arrives. So I figure while I'm showing him around I'll ask her if she needs some help."
"Am I telling you too much? Do you want..."
"You're doing fine."
"So anyway, Strand looks at this woman and just stops in his tracks and she takes a step toward him with this weird kinda dreamy smile, and he looks at this string of carts she's got and he says, real quiet, are these yours? And she says, lemme get this right, she says every item is useful and necessary and all he has to do is pick something, anything at all, and she'll be happy to explain why she selected it. She's just standing there smiling and looking real happy. So then he picks up a box of cereal — it was Special K, I'm pretty sure — and he looks at it and he says what about this, can you explain this? And he heaves it at her, really throws it hard, and the box hits her and busts open and cereal flies all over. So then she says vitamins, Lyle, that cereal has lots of vitamins, and she's just smiling away, and he says what about these, and he throws a bottle of CENTRUM SILVER vitamins at her and it hit her in the face and cut her nose and it busted open too. And then he starts throwing everything at her, everything in the carts, cans of tuna and Fleet enemas and toothbrushes, everything, and all the time he's screaming what about this, what about this, and she's backing away and ducking but she's still smiling and it looks like she's really trying to explain each item as it comes sailing at her but he doesn't give her any time, he just keeps throwing stuff. Then he throws this bottle of mouthwash, it was pretty heavy and it hit her on the side of the head and she fell into the shampoos and lotions and pretty much took everything off those shelves."
"Okay, so what were you doing while all this was going on?"
"That's fair. That's a fair question. I mean, for a few seconds I was just in shock. Then I started yelling at him to quit but he didn't even look at me. So then I started yelling for my guys, Frank and Jose. Officer, I'm fifty-seven and I gotta heart condition."
"Nobody's blaming you for anything, Mr. D'Angelo."
"Isat right? You wanna explain to my boss? Dead people and crazies and..."
"Okay, so then what?"
"So then she was trying to get up, she was bleeding pretty bad and I was screaming for Frank and Jose and he threw a jar of mixed nuts at her that hit the wall and sprayed all over and she said — I remember this perfectly — she said, they're on sale, Lyle, fifty percent off, and — I couldn't believe it — she was still smiling like she was just having a normal conversation with him, and she's dripping blood and covered with cereal and nuts and crap. But he just kept coming and she tripped and fell and she started saying, it sounded like, H one, H one, over and over while he was throwing this stuff at her. Then Frank and Jose, they were trying to handle this thing right, but when Frank took the guy's arm he turns around and really smacks him one, really cuts his mouth up bad, so then Frank and Jose and even Jimmy, the kid on the register, they all jumped him and the guy just keeps thrashing around and kicking. Took out the condom rack and two shelves of cold remedies. Well, you see what the place looks like. And then Jose got him in a choke hold, you know, just trying to get him to quit. And then after a while he did quit. And then they let him go and he wasn't moving."
"Yeah, pretty much. Except the woman turns out to be the guy's wife, and she starts screaming when she finds out he's dead. Jesus, what lungs! Anybody left in the store, they beat it when she cut loose. She hadda be sedated to get her in the ambulance."
Detective Reilly sighed. "Some guys just can't deal with it when the little woman blows the budget."
"That's not funny, Officer."
Detective Reilly looked mildly surprised.
"Hey, Mr. D'Angelo. What happened here is a human tragedy. We all know that. I'm just saying I think he coulda handled the situation better, is all."
Detective Reilly closed his notebook, reached in his jacket pocket, and drew out a slim aluminum tube with ornate embossing.
"Mind if I smoke, Mr. D'Angelo?"
"It's not allowed inna store."
Detective Reilly held the metal tube loosely, his fingers stroking the cool complexity of the embossed design.
He really wanted the cigar. He decided to step outside for a smoke before talking to Jose and Frank.
* * *
Dana Dealer lay on her back on a fitted, lavender silk sheet in the middle of her circular, king sized bed, her glistening dark hair spread out behind her like a fan. She was basking in the spring sunshine pouring through the skylight of her triplex loft while her current boyfriend, Nils, knelt between her elevated hips, supporting her back with his thin, tattooed arms while he earned his keep through votive service. Nils was a Danish guitar player with fair talent, uncertain ambition, no money, and a handsome blond ponytail. He also had enough of a heroin habit to render him impotent much of the time, and to compensate, he offered Dana long sessions of energetic oral sex enhanced by the metal stud that pierced his tongue.
Dana, in fact, preferred to be serviced in this manner, which was part of her initial attraction to Nils, but this afternoon she was having trouble fully connecting with him. She kept losing her momentum, and eventually she closed her eyes and slid into a fantasy wherein Nils was replaced with the image of the beefy Irish detective who had handcuffed her during the drug bust at Lenny's place five years ago. Servile and self important, reeking of cigar smoke, he was almost apologetic when he put the cuffs on her, and she could tell he was thrilled just to be near her and to be able to touch her in an official capacity. After her release, she considered inviting him over. Her plan was to slap the cuffs on him, wear him out with some hot cop-slave action, and send him on his way, blubbering with humiliation and gratitude.
Although she never acted on the idea, she did indulge the fantasy from time to time as a sexual aid, and it was this fantasy which now pushed her over the top, legs thrashing, as Nils squealed and grunted in sympathetic chorus.
The world drifted back into focus. Dana became aware of a TV newscast from the floor below, and out of the low rumble of sound she distinctly heard the name `Lyle Strand.'
She knew a Lyle Strand. Who was he? Some kid from the old neighborhood in the Bronx, no?
There was something unpleasant about the memory, something wrong with that boy. What was it?
She felt too good and too lazy to pursue it.