New York's Dolls: pt V


J. Edward Tremlett

Anthony let go and took a step back. Earnest looked down at her, and saw that her expression had not changed the entire time.

"She's you," Anthony said, pointing to her: "All this time...?"

Earnest couldn't respond. He was too busy staring at where she started and he ended. But they were truly the same: one ghost who wore two faces. A knotted lump of flesh that had the head and face of a scared, dazed little girl jutted from his arm, right where his hand should be, as though she were some sort of freakish siamese twin.

Her glassy eyes swirled in their sockets, looking up at him, but may as well have been glass. Nothing thought behind them. There was nothing there at all.

"My god," Earnest said, composure coming at last: "My dear god. I've been a damned fool."

"Well... that happens," Anthony said, fully expecting to be turned into a pin cushion at any moment: "But now that you know...?"

Earnest nodded. The change in his demeanor was very slow, but, with the sense of poise and direction that only a man of his time could possess, he turned around by degrees and, with a stiff upper lip, talked to the children.

"I am so very, very sorry for this," he said: "I wish I could... repay you, somehow, for the time I have cost you. I regret that I cannot. You are all... all..."

"Free to go?" Anthony prodded.


The mood in the room changed. Some of the children started crying. One cheered and ran off into the corner, slipping out of sight.

"But please..." Earnest said before any more could run off: "I need to know... I... can you forgive me?"

Some of them got up and hugged him in response, while others kept their distance, scowling. And then, as Anthony watched, one by one, or two by two, they walked off into the gloom and disappeared. They were gone.

He went out to look at the window. Sure enough, the angels were out there: gossamer-winged and brighter than a full moon, all leading the children away through the streets of the city. He often wondered why they never went up into the sky, unless they were flying, but he just let that idea sit. Maybe the entrance to Heaven was on Wall Street after all.

Anthony imagined the little girl leaving the bathroom downstairs. He allowed himself a tiny smirk, hoping her mother had a damn good excuse for what she'd done. Or was she dead, too? There was a thought.

And then there was just Earnest and Anthony. And Billy.

Anthony turned to look at Billy, wondering where the hail of deadly nails was. To his surprise, Billy was sitting down in a state of shock. The nails hadn't come out much at all, and he was holding his head with his stumps in what might have been pain.

"You okay, champ?" He asked, taking a cautious step over there.

"My head hurts," Billy complained: "Daddy said I had to learn how to do this. It makes me hurt. I can't."

Anthony raised a greasy eyebrow and looked back at Earnest. The man was fading away a little, perhaps preparing to leave, too. His arm was slowly going back to normal, the features of what had been his child melding back into the sleeve of his shirt like a cake melting in the rain.

"Earnest? Uh..., before you go. What's his story, if you don't mind my asking?"

Earnest faded back into full view and looked over at Billy: "A sad one, and one I am very ashamed to say I could do nothing about."

"What happened?" Tony asked, lighting up in spite of it all.

"One year ago, a rather noxious fellow came here with him," Earnest said: "He talked to the boy as though he were his father, but somehow I doubt they were flesh and blood. Parents do not do things like... like that to their children."

Anthony knew better, but kept mum: "What all did he do?"

"I am afraid that, again, to my shame, I could never fully find out. They used the basement apartment and he did something so that none of us could go down there to look. We heard screams... terrible screams. He put that little boy through a lot of pain... and then, judging from his appearance..."

Earnest let the point hang. Anthony looked at the little boy with no cheeks, nose, hands or feet and winced, wondering what sort of thing made people want to do things like that.

"And then the man left," Earnest continued: "Billy wandered upstairs a few days later. He's been with us ever since."

Anthony nodded and looked back at Earnest: "One more thing. This guy. His father? What did he look like?"

"I could never see him properly," Earnest admitted: "And that's the strangest thing. He was like a fog to me, as though I were prevented from discerning his true appearance..."

Anthony raised his eyebrows at that, wondering why it took this long in the explanation for that little tidbit to come out. But, again, he kept mum.

"Thanks," he said, extending a hand: "You're a good man, Earnest. Don't be so hard on yourself, huh?"

Earnest slowly, carefully reached out and took the hand, shaking it. His skin was cold and slightly moist, like most of the dead.

"Thank you, sir," He said. And then he was gone.

"Okay," Anthony said, looking at Billy: "Coast is clear. The house is all yours, Billy. You don't have to leave it if you don't want to."

"I have to, now," the boy sniveled: "Daddy didn't tie me down to anything like he said he would. I don't have anywhere to live, mister."

"Well, I guess it's time to go, then."

He extended his hand to the boy's stump: "I'm not mad at you, Billy. I'm not going to hurt you and I'm not going to punish you. I don't think anyone really wants to. I just want to get you someplace safe... can we do that?"



"So what happened then?"

Anthony lit up another cigarette. Off in the distance, the corner jukebox of the nearly-deserted diner skipped a track and went into the Clash's "Magnificent Seven." He tried not to laugh.

"Well, I got him out of the house," Anthony replied to his dining companion: "He'd turned the crackhead's rock-runner pal into modern art downstairs. I bet the other guy's in the slammer wondering why they're beating him into a confession."

"Just desserts," the companion said, shifting in the nondescript clothing and tracing a peculiar pattern on the formica table with his index finger.

"Yeah, well. That's your call, I guess."

"People who abuse their bodies are abusing God's gift to them. It is punishable by many methods, Mr. Bruhn."


"Forgive me. Anthony. You were saying about the child?"

"I got him outside and he felt the Pulling. I sure hope it was up. Before he went he told me his daddy was a librarian. I didn't get a good description, though...."

"Here you two go..." Rosie said, walking by with their meals perched on her ample belly. Anthony had ordered the french dip. His dining companion had chosen the fruit plate.

"Anything else I can get you two?" she asked.

"Ah, just some more coffee," Anthony winked, watching her walk away. Her hips swung amply under the regulation blue skirt they made her wear.

"Oh, please. Control yourself, Anthony," his dining companion said.

"I'm still sitting down, aren't I?"

"She is ten years older than you."

"So what? She's still got class and she knows how to act in public. That's more than you can say for most younger ladies these days."

"Your age is showing. Happy birthday, by the way."

"Can we not mention that?" Anthony asked, dumping half the sandwich into the plastic au jus cup and taking a healthy bite.

"This should be cause for celebration?"

"It's not."

"Why not?"

"I can't hide my age anymore."

"Your glass is still half full."

"Half empty," he said, only to be pleasantly surprised as Rosie appeared with the coffee.

"Ah," his companion said, winking as soon as she'd gone: "Well, I will not pry you from your state of pessimism. It works for you, as my optimism does for me."

"Don't see what you're so happy about."

He chuckled and ate some of the fruit: "You did, I trust, look at the basement?"

"Yeah," Tony said, chewing another hearty bite as he did: "No one down there, now. Bastard didn't leave anything behind... but it... well..."

Tony thought a moment, and then shrugged: "It stunk."

"Basements often do...?"

"Not like that. You know how places start to stink after things go bad there? So bad that no matter how much you clean, there's still something wrong with it?"

His companion nodded: "More than I hope you will ever know."

"Well, it stunk like that. It wasn't the worst I've ever smelled... but it was pretty bad."

"So what will you do now?"

"What do you think I'm gonna do?"

"I know what you are going to do, Anthony. You will go home, drink yourself into a stupor so you can sleep, and then, in the morning, I think you are going to try to find out who that child's murderer was."

Anthony took another bite: "Fuck you."

"I am wrong?"

"No. You're right. And I hate it when you know what I'm going to do before I make up my mind and do it."

"Forgive me. You did ask, did you not?"

"Yeah, but do you have to talk about the drinking bit?"

"No. But as I have told you-"

"Yeah, yeah. I'm abusing the gift God gave me. It helps me sleep. Mea culpa."

"I merely state facts, Anthony. I am not your confessor."

"What a coinkidink. I'm not Catholic."

"Amazing. Neither am I."

Anthony shook his head, and then took another bite: "Too bad. I bet you'd be a riot in the booth."

"So you are going to look into the boy's death," his companion continued: "Good. I would very much like to see his killer dealt with."

"You asking?"

A sly smile from across the table: "Would it make a difference?"

"No," Anthony said, shaking his head: "Fucker's gonna go down. You don't do shit like that to kids. Not to anyone, really... but kids? Fuck that."

"I agree... though I would not phrase it like that."

"'Course not."

Tony took another bite, looking at his french fries. They were soggy enough to look like something he didn't want to think about just then.

"Is something wrong?"

Tony sighed: "Other than what you sent me into?"


"Yeah. There's something that's just not right about any of this."

"Considering what you told me, I would say not."

"No. I mean... it's not just some freak with a thing for killing kids and taking home movies. If ghosts can't get into the room and ghosts can't see him... something's fishy."

"Do you think he might be like you, then?"

Anthony stopped chewing. He swallowed.

"God help me if he is," he said, looking out the window and into the street. Two cars had just collided and their owners were coming out to assault one another.


*Dedicated to Joe Strummer of The Clash (1952 - 2002)


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