Judy's Delicate Condition
For the first few weeks Tommy was uncomfortable having a dead guy in the freezer, but after a while the dead guy became a fixture, a familiar frosty face with every TV dinner. Tommy named him Peary after another arctic explorer.
During the day, after he came home from work and before he crawled into bed with Jody, Tommy puttered around the loft talking first to himself, then, when he became comfortable with the idea, to Peary.
"You know, Peary," Tommy said one morning after he had pounded out two pages of a short story on his typewriter, "I am having a little trouble finding my voice in this story. When I write about the little farm girl in Georgia walking barefoot to school on the dirt road, I sound like Harper Lee, but when I write about her poor father, unjustly sentenced to a chain gang for stealing bread for his family, I start to sound a little like Mark Twain. But when the little girl grows up to become a Mafia don, I'm falling into more of a Sydney Collins Krantz style. What should I do?"
Peary, safe with his lid closed and his light off, did not answer.
"And how am I supposed to concentrate on literature when I'm reading all these vampire books for Jody? She doesn't understand that a writer is a special creature - that I'm different from everyone else. I'm not saying I'm superior to other people, just more sensitive, I guess. And did you notice that she never does any of the shopping? What does she do all night while I'm at work?"
Tommy was making an effort to understand Jody's situation, and had even devised a series of experiments from his reading to try and discover the limitations of her new situation. In the evening when they woke, after they shared a shower and a tumble or two, the scientific process would begin.
"Go ahead, honey, give it a try," Tommy said, shortly after he'd read Dracula.
"I am trying," Jody said. "I don't know what I'm supposed to try to do."
"Concentrate," Tommy said. "Push."
"What do you mean, push? I'm not giving birth, Tommy. What am I supposed to push on?"
"Try to grow fur. Try to make your arms change into wings."
Jody closed her eyes and concentrated - strained, even - and Tommy thought a little color came into her face.
Finally she said, "This is ridiculous." And it was determined that Jody could not turn into a bat.
"Mist," Tommy said. "Try to turn into mist. If you forget your key sometime, you can just ooze under the door to get in."
"It's not working."
"Keep trying. You know how your hair gathers in the shower drain? Well, if it gets clogged, you can just flow down there and dig out the clog."
"There's some motivation."
"Give it a try."
She tried and failed and the next day Tommy brought some Drano home from the store instead.
"But I could take you to the park and throw a Frisbee for you."
"I know, but I can't."
"I'll buy you all kinds of chew toys - a squeaky duck if you want."
"I'm sorry, Tommy, but I can't turn into a wolf."
"In the book, Dracula climbs down the castle wall face down."
"Good for him."
"You could try it on our building. It's only three stories."
"That's still a long way to fall."
"You won't fall. He doesn't fall in the book."
"And he levitates in the book, doesn't he?"
"And we tried that, didn't we?"
"Then I'd say that the book is fiction, wouldn't you?"
"Let's try something else; I'll get the list."
"Mind reading. Project your thoughts into my mind."
"Okay, I'm projecting. What am I thinking?"
"I can tell by the look on your face."
"You might be wrong, what am I thinking?"
"You'd like me to stop badgering you with these experiments."
"You want me to take our clothes to the Laundromat."
"That's all I'm getting."
"I want you to stop rubbing garlic on me while I'm sleeping."
"You can read thoughts!"
"No, Tommy, but I woke up this evening smelling like a pizza joint. Stop it with the garlic."
"So you don't know about the crucifix?"
"You touched me with a crucifix?"
"You weren't in any danger. I had a fire extinguisher right there in case you burst into flames."
"I don't think it's very nice of you to experiment on me while I'm sleeping. How would you feel if I rubbed stuff on you while you were sleeping?"
"Well, it depends. What are we talking about?"
"Just don't touch me while I'm sleeping, okay? A relationship is based on mutual trust and respect."
"So I guess the mallet and the stake are out of the question?"
"Kmart had a sale on mallets. You were wondering if you were immortal. I wasn't going to try it without asking you."
"How long do you think it will take for you to forget what sex feels like?"
"I'm sorry, Jody. Really, I am."
The question of immortality did, indeed, bother Jody. The old vampire had said that she could be killed, but it was not the sort of thing that you could easily test. It was Tommy, of course, after a long talk with Peary while trying to avoid working on his little Southern-girl story one morning, who came up with the test.
Jody awoke one evening to find him in the bathroom emptying ice cubes out of a tray into the big claw-foot tub.
He said, "I was a lifeguard one summer in high school."
"I had to learn CPR. I spent half the summer pumping pissy pool water out of exhausted nine-year-olds."
"Yeah, we drown you. If you're immortal, you'll be fine. If not, the cold water will keep you fresh and I can revive you. There's about thirty more trays of ice stacked up on Peary. Could you grab some?"
"Tommy, I'm not sure about this."
"You want to know, don't you?"
"But a tub of ice water?"
"I've run all the possibilities down - guns, knives, an injection of potassium nitrate - this is the only one that can fail and not really kill you. I know you want to know, but I don't want to lose you to find out."
Jody, in spite of herself, was touched. "That's the sweetest thing anyone ever said to me."
"Well, you wouldn't want to kill me, would you?" Tommy was a little concerned about the fact that Jody had been feeding on him every four days. Not that he felt sick or weak; on the contrary, he found that each time she bit him he was energized, stronger, it seemed. He was throwing twice as much stock at the store and his mind seemed sharper, more alert. He was making good progress on his story. He was starting to look forward to being bitten.
"Come on then," he said. "In the tub."
Jody was wearing a silk nighty that she let drop to the floor. "You're sure if this doesn't work..."
"You'll be fine."
She took his hand. "I'm trusting you."
"I know. Get in."
Jody stepped into the cold water. "Brisk," she said.
"I didn't think you could feel it."
"I can feel temperature changes, but they don't bother me."
"We'll experiment on that next. Under you go."
Jody lay down in the tub, her hair spread across the water like crimson kelp.
Tommy checked his watch. "After you go under, don't hold your breath. It's going to be hard, but suck the water into your lungs. I'll leave you under for four minutes, then pull you out."
Jody took deep breaths and looked at him, a glint of panic in her eyes. He bent and kissed her. "I love you," he said.
"Of course." He pushed her head under the water.
She bobbed back up. "Me too," she said. Then she went under.
She tried to make herself take in the water but her lungs wouldn't let her and she held her breath. Four minutes later Tommy reached under her arms and pulled her up.
"I didn't do it," she said.
"Christ, Jody, I can't keep doing this."
"I held my breath."
"For four minutes?"
"I think I could have gone hours."
"Try again. You've got to inhale the water or you'll never die."
She slipped under the water and sucked in a breath of water before she could think about it. She listened to the ice cubes tinkling on the surface, watched the bathroom light refracting through the water, occasionally interrupted by Tommy's face as he looked down on her. There was no panic, no choking - she didn't even feel the claustrophobia that she had expected. Actually, it was kind of pleasant.
Tommy pulled her up and she expelled a great cough of water, then began breathing normally.
"Are you okay?"
"You really did drown."
"It wasn't that bad."
"Try it again."
This time Tommy left her under for ten minutes before pulling her up.
After the cough, she said, "I guess that's it."
"Did you see the long tunnel with the light at the end? All your dead relatives waiting? The fiery gates of hell?"
"Nope, just ice cubes."
Tommy turned around and sat down hard on the bathroom rug with his back to the tub. "I feel like I was the one that got drowned."
"I feel great."
"That's it, you know. You are immortal."
"I guess so. As far as we can test it. Can I get out of the tub now?"
"Sure." He handed her a towel over his shoulder. "Jody, are you going to leave me when I get old?"
"You're nineteen years old."
"Yeah, but next year I'll be twenty, then twenty-one; then I'll be eating strained green beans and drooling all over myself and asking you what your name is every five seconds and you'll be twenty-six and perky and you'll resent me every time you have to change my incontinence pants."
"That's a cheery thought."
"Well, you will resent it, won't you?"
"Aren't you jumping the gun a little? You have great bladder control; I've seen you drink six beers without going to the bathroom."
"Sure, now, but..."
"Look, Tommy, could you look at this from my point of view? This is the first time I've had to really think about this as well. Do you realize that I'll never have blue hair and walk with tiny little steps? I'll never drive really slow all the time and spend hours complaining about my ailments. I'll never go to Denny's and steal all the extra jelly packets and squirrel them away in a giant handbag."
Tommy looked up at her. "You were looking forward to those things?"
"That's not the point, Tommy. I might be immortal, but I've lost a big part of my life. Like French fries. I miss eating French fries. I'm Irish, you know. Ever since the Great Potato Famine my people get nervous if they don't eat French fries every few days. Did you ever think about that?"
"No, I guess I didn't."
"I don't even know what I am. I don't know why I'm here. I was made by some mystery creature and I don't have the slightest idea why, or what he wants from me, or what I am supposed to be doing. Only that he's messing with my life in ways I can't understand. Do you have any idea what that is like?"
"Actually, I know exactly what that's like."
"Of course, everybody does. By the way, the Emperor told me that they found another body today. In a Laundromat in the Tenderloin. Broken neck and no blood."
If Inspector Alphonse Rivera had been a bird, he would have been a crow. He was lean and dark, with slick, sharp features and black eyes that shone and shifted with suspicion and guile. Time and again his crowlike looks landed him in the undercover role of coke dealer. Sometimes Cuban, sometimes Mexican, and one time Colombian, he had driven more Mercedes and worn more Armani suits than most real drug dealers, but after twenty years in narcotics, on three different departments, he had transferred to homicide, claiming that he needed to work among a better class of people - namely, dead.
Oh, the joys of homicide! Simple crimes of passion, most solved within twenty-four hours or not at all. No stings, no suitcases of government money, no pretense, just simple deduction - sometimes very simple: a dead wife in the kitchen; a drunken husband standing in the foyer with a smoking thirty-eight; and Rivera, in his cheap Italian knock-off suit, gently disarming the new widower, who could only say, "Liver and onions." A body, a suspect, a weapon, and a motive: case solved and on to the next one, neat and tidy. Until now.
Rivera thought, If my luck could be bottled, it would be classified a chemical weapon. He read through the coroner's report again. "Cause of death: compression fracture of the fifth and sixth vertebrae (broken neck). Subject had lost massive amounts of blood - no visible wounds." On its own, it was a uniquely enigmatic report, but it wasn't on its own. It was the second body in a month that had sustained massive blood loss with no visible wounds.
Rivera looked across the desk to where his partner, Nick Cavuto, was reading a copy of the report.
"What do you think?" Rivera said.
Cavuto chewed on an unlit cigar. He was a burly and balding, gravel-voiced, third-generation cop - six degrees tougher than his father and grandfather had been because he was gay. He said, "I think if you have any vacation time coming, this would be the time to take it."
"So we're fucked."
"It's too early for us to be fucked. I'd say we've been taken to dinner and slipped the tongue on the good-night kiss."
Rivera smiled. He liked the way Cavuto tried to make everything sound like dialogue from a Bogart movie. The big detective's pride and joy was a complete set of signed first-edition Dashiell Hammett novels. "Give me the days when police work was done with a snub nose and a lead sap," Cavuto would say. "Computers are for pussies."
Rivera returned to the report. "It looks like this guy would have been dead in a month anyway: 'a ten-centimeter tumor on the liver. Malignancy the size of a grapefruit."
Cavuto shifted the cigar to the other side of his mouth. "The old broad at the Van Ness Motel was on her way out too. Congestive heart disease. Too weak for a bypass. She ate nitro pills like they were M&M's."
"The euthanasia killer," Rivera said.
"So we're assuming this was the same guy?"
"Whatever you say, Nick."
"Two killings with the same MO and no motive. I don't even like the sound of it." Cavuto rubbed his temples as if trying to milk anxiety out through his tear ducts. "You were in San Junipero during the Night Stalker killings. We couldn't take a piss without tripping over a reporter. I say we lock this down. As far as the papers are concerned, the victims were robbed. No connection."
Rivera nodded. "I need a smoke. Let's go talk to those guys that got hit at the Laundromat a couple of weeks ago. Maybe there's a connection."
Cavuto pushed himself out of the chair and grabbed his hat off the desk. "Whoever voted for nonsmoking in the station house should be pistol-whipped."
"Didn't the President sponsor that bill?"
"All the more reason. The pussy."
Tommy lay looking at the ceiling, trying to catch his breath and extricate his right foot from a hopeless tangle in the sheets. Jody was drawing a tic-tac-toe in the sweat on his chest with her finger.
"You don't sweat anymore, do you?" he asked.
"Don't seem to."
"And you're not even out of breath. Am I doing something wrong?"
"No, it was great. I only get breathless when... when I..."
"When you bite me."
"Are you sure?"
"No, I faked." Tommy grinned.
"Really?" Jody looked at the wet spot (on her side, of course).
"Why do you think I'm so winded? It's not easy to fake the ejaculation part."
"I, for one, was fooled."
He reached down and unwrapped the sheet from his foot, then he lay back and stared at the ceiling. Jody began to twist the sweaty locks of his hair into horns.
"Jody," Tommy said tentatively.
"When I get old, I mean, if we're still together..."
She yanked on his hair.
"Ouch. Okay, we'll still be together. Have you ever heard of satyriasis?"
"Well, it happens to real old guys. They run around with a perpetual hard-on, chasing teenage girls and humping anything that moves until they have to be put in restraints."
"Wow, interesting disease."
"Yeah, well, when I get old, if I start to show the symptoms..."
"Just let it run its course, okay?"
"I'll look forward to it."
Rivera held a plastic cup of orange juice for the mass of plaster and tubes that was LaOtis Small. LaOtis sipped from the straw, then pushed it away with his tongue. The body cast ran from below his knees to the top of his head, with holes for his face and outgoing tubes. Cavuto stood by the hospital bed taking notes.
"So you and your friends were doing laundry when an unarmed, redheaded woman attacked you and put all three of you in the hospital? Right?"
"She was a ninja, man. I know. I get the kick-boxing channel on cable."
Cavuto chomped an unlit cigar. "Your friend James says that she was six-four and weighed two hundred pounds."
"No, man, she was five-five, five-six."
"Your other buddy" - Cavuto checked his notepad for the name - "Kid Jay, said that it was a gang of Mexicans."
"No, man, he dreamin'; it was one ninja bitch."
"A five-and-a-half-foot woman put the three of you big strong guys in the hospital?"
"Yeah. We was just mindin' our own bidness. She come in and axed for some change. James tell her no, he got to put a load in the dryer, and she go fifty-one-fifty on him. She a ninja."
"Thank you, LaOtis, you've been very helpful." Cavuto shot Rivera a look and they left the hospital room.
In the hallway Rivera said, "So we're looking for a gang of redheaded, ninja Mexicans."
Cavuto said, "You think there's a molecule of truth in any of that?"
"They were all unconscious when they were brought in, and obviously they haven't tried to match up their stories. So if you throw out everything that doesn't match, you end up with a woman with long red hair."
"You think a woman could do that to them and manage to snap the neck of two other people without a struggle?"
"Not a chance," Rivera said. His beeper went off and he checked the number. "I'll call in."
Cavuto pulled up. "Go ahead, I'm going back in to talk to LaOtis. Meet me outside emergency."
"Take it easy, Nick, the guy's in a body cast."
Cavuto grinned. "Kind'a erotic, ain't it?" He turned and lumbered back toward LaOtis Small's room.
Jody walked Tommy up to Market Street, watched him eat a burger and fries, and put him on the 42 bus to work. Killing the time while Tommy worked was becoming tedious. She tried to stay in the loft, watched the late-night talk shows and old movies on cable, read magazines, and did a little cleaning, but by two in the morning the caged-cat feeling came over her and she went out to wander the streets.
Sometimes she walked Market among the street people and the convention crowds, other times she took a bus to North Beach and hung out on Broadway watching the sailors and the punks stagger, drunk and stoned, or the hookers and the hustlers running their games. It was on these crowded streets that she felt most lonely. Time and again she wanted to turn to someone and point out a unique heat pattern or the dark aura she sensed around the sick; like a child sharing the cloud animals flying through a summer sky. But no one else could see what she saw, no one heard the whispered propositions, the pointed refusals, or the rustle of money exchanging hands in alleys and doorways.
Other times she crept through the back streets and listened to the symphony of noises that no one else heard, smelled the spectrum of odors that had long ago exhausted her vocabulary. Each night there were more nameless sights and smells and sounds, and they came so fast and subtle that she eventually gave up trying to name them.
She thought, This is what it is to be an animal. Just experience - direct, instant, and wordless; memory and recognition, but no words. A poet with my senses could spend a lifetime trying to describe what it is to hear a building breathe and smell the aging of concrete. And for what? Why write a song when no one can play the notes or understand the lyrics? I'm alone.
Cavuto came through the double doors of the emergency room and joined Rivera, who was standing by the brown, City-issue Ford smoking a cigarette.
"What was the call?" Cavuto asked.
"We got another one. Broken neck. South of Market. Elderly male."
"Fuck," Cavuto said, yanking open the car door. "What about blood loss?"
"They don't know yet. This one's still warm." Rivera flipped his cigarette butt into the parking lot and climbed into the car. "You get anything more out of LaOtis?"
"Nothing important. They weren't doing their laundry, they went in looking for the girl, but he's sticking with the ninja story."
River started the car and looked at Cavuto. "You didn't rough him up?"
Cavuto pulled a Cross pen out of his shirt pocket and held it up. "Mightier than the sword."
Rivera cringed at the thought of what Cavuto might have done to LaOtis with the pen. "You didn't leave any marks, did you?"
"Lots," Cavuto grinned.
"Nick, you can't do that kind of - "
"Relax," Cavuto interrupted. "I just wrote, 'Thanks for all the information; I'm sure we'll get some convictions out of this, on his cast. Then I signed it and told him that I wouldn't scratch it out until he told me the truth."
"Did you scratch it out?"
"If his friends see it, they'll kill him."
"Fuck him," Cavuto said. "Ninja redheads, my ass."
Four in the morning. Jody watched neon beer signs buzzing color across the dew-damp sidewalks of Polk Street. The street was deserted, so she played sensory games to amuse herself - closing her eyes and listening to the soft scratch of her sneakers echoing off the buildings as she walked. If she concentrated, she could walk several blocks without looking, listening for the streetlight switches at the corners and feeling the subtle changes in wind currents at the cross streets. When she felt she was going to run into something, she could shuffle her feet and the sound would form a rough image in her mind of the walls and poles and wires around her. If she stood quietly, she could reach out and form a map of the whole City in her head - sounds drew the lines, and smells filled in the colors.
She was listening to the fishing boats idling at the wharf a mile away when she heard footsteps and opened her eyes. A single figure had rounded the corner a couple of blocks ahead of her and was walking, head down, up Polk. She stepped into the doorway of a closed Russian restaurant and watched him. Sadness came off him in black waves.
His name was Philip. His friends called him Philly. He was twenty-three. He had grown up in Georgia and had run away to the City when he was sixteen so he wouldn't have to pretend to be something he was not. He had run away to the City to find love. After the one-night stands with rich older men, after the bars and the bathhouses, after finding out that he wasn't a freak, that there were other people just like him, after the last of the confusion and shame had settled like red Georgia dust, he'd found love.
He'd lived with his lover in a studio in the Castro district. And in that studio, sitting on the edge of a rented hospital bed, he had filled a syringe with morphine and injected it into his lover and held his hand while he died. Later, he cleared away the bed pans and the IV stand and the machine that he used to suck the fluid out of his lover's lungs and he threw them in the trash. The doctor said to hold on to them - that he would need them.
They buried Philly's lover in the morning and they took the embroidered square of fabric that was draped on the casket and folded it and handed it to him like the flag to a war widow. He got to keep it for a while before it was added to the quilt. He had it in his pocket now.
His hair was gone from the chemotherapy. His lungs hurt, and his feet hurt; the sarcomas that spotted his body were worst on his feet and his face. His joints ached and he couldn't keep his food down, but he could still walk. So he walked.
He walked up Polk Street, head down, at four in the morning, because he could. He could still walk.
When he reached the doorway of a Russian restaurant, Jody stepped out in front of him and he stopped and looked at her.
Somewhere, way down deep, he found that there was a smile left. "Are you the Angel of Death?" he asked.
"Yes," she said.
"It's good to see you," Philly said.
She held her arms out to him.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com