Friday, January 30, 2009

Introduction to the "Dover Street" Stories, CONCLUSION

What follows are random afterthoughts from a true story. However, names and other identifying details have been changed, because of that fact.

* * * * *

And saving the best for last... Whatever happened to Bella?

She and I didn't see each other for several months after I stopped visiting the other streetwalkers in Worcester, as it turned out. I did cruise up and down Main Street once in a while, usually after work, just to search for her, but... nothing. Not for a while, anyway.

Bad timing, I guess.

When I did finally find her, I couldn't help but notice that she was now walking with a pronounced limp. Her right calf now had a slight bow shape to it.

When I picked Bella up, she matter-of-factly told me that not long after she and I had last been in touch, she'd ripped off a vic to the tune of close to $200. A few weeks later, he was in Worcester again, spotted Bella, and purposely rammed his car into her.

She almost died.

"Every one of those guys is potentially dangerous, and every one of those guys only has to remember one face. Yours," I'd told her. And for once, I hated the fact that I'd been so right.

In spite of how close we'd been the last time I'd seen her, I almost felt like she'd forgotten who I really was. Bella talked to me like I was one of the many customers she'd stolen from in the past. She told me, almost cheerfully, that because of her deformed leg -- she called it her "Frankenstein leg" -- she wasn't able to run from vics like she did before, so if I actually wanted to do something for the money...

It was at about this time that I reminded her of what we were to each other, or at least, what we had begun to be...

And the friendship -- the real friendship -- resumed.

As it did so, I was struck by the contradictions in Bella.

Here was a young woman who'd steal a man's money, if she could, and if she couldn't, would passively -- as opposed to willingly -- be his plaything. But this was the same woman who'd make the sign of the cross every time we drove by a church, and the same woman who was in tears the day she was picked up by the police for an outstanding warrant... because later that day, her son was scheduled for his First Communion, and she was going to miss it.

Here was a woman who'd literally been without a place to sleep on several occasions. I'd been told about times she'd broken into condemned buildings for shelter. But this was the same woman who would be borderline insulting to a waitress as she gave her oh-so-specific meal order, as if she'd been accustomed to receiving the very best service and accommodations all her life. (And by "oh-so-specific," I mean... well, did you ever see Meg Ryan's character ordering a meal in "When Harry Met Sally... "? Just ordering a tuna sandwich was a project for Bella.)

Here was a woman who would tell me all sorts of creative stories (i.e., lies) in hopes of talking me out of as much money as I could possibly see fit to give her. (Years later, I told her truthfully that I'd known that these scams were indeed scams, but was basically making her work for money I would have given her anyway. I told her I'd been paying for the entertainment. She was amused and furious at the same time, if such a thing is possible.) But this was the same woman who -- once we were firmly established as friends, I should add -- wouldn't steal so much as a dollar from my wallet if I casually left it on the bureau.

During the next three years or so, I fell in and out of touch with Bella several times. We'd usually see each other on a regular basis for a few days or weeks at a time, and then follow each of these periods with one where we didn't see each other at all for months.

But it was rarely dull.

She had an on-again, off-again relationship with a guy named Ronnie. He was never overly friendly to me, but he did accept me as being just a friend of hers. Most men in his exact position would only have tolerated me if they thought I was a trick. He knew that I wasn't, so thankfully, Bella didn't need to produce money every time she visited with me.

Outside of Ronnie, she didn't seem to like men very much. And that extended to almost all men, not just her vics. (There were some molestation issues at some undefined period in her past, as is far too often the case with women I've known.)

But she and I had something special, and in case you're wondering, it stayed platonic between us. The closest we ever came to anything "romantic" (and not sexual), for lack of a better word, was one day in my kitchen, during a period when she'd spent a few days staying with me at my apartment.

She asked me, "David, how do you kiss?" And by "you," she meant me specifically, of course.

Well, the obvious answer to that would be, "It's not really something I can describe... I'd have to show you." But I only said the first half, waiting for her to "pick up the spare," as it were. My hesitation was to avoid seeming even the slightest bit manipulative. "I don't like perverted men!" she had once told me in response to a silly but otherwise harmless joke I'd made where I'd supposedly taken the word "fork" to mean the other, much more popular "F" word.

But she didn't follow through.

Usually, when we were at my home for any length of time, we spent a lot of time watching my boxed sets of "Highlander" episodes on VHS. She enjoyed the series quite a bit, but until I corrected her, thought that the character of "Methos" was named "Meatballs!"

And there was a day when she and I had arrived at my place, both dead tired for one reason or another. We sat on my very small bed, talking for a bit, and before I knew it, we were both reclining, with our heads on the pillow. I don't know which of us dozed off first, but it wasn't long at all before the other one followed.

We awoke at roughly the same time. I thought of making a crack about our having "slept together," but since I generally walked on eggshells when discussing anything remotely sexual with Bella... I didn't.

She told me that she'd never trusted anyone -- outside of boyfriends, naturally -- to the point where she'd allowed something like that to happen. But she felt safe with me.

Her attitude was remarkably upbeat for someone who had lived through -- and was living through -- so much outright crap in her life. When I commented on that one day, she laughed and said "Hakuna matata, baby!"

"Excuse me?"

"Hakuna matata."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"It's like... " She paused. "It's like, everything's cool, no worries for the rest of your days, you know?"

"That's obviously not Spanish. Where'd you pick that up?"

"You're kidding, right?" I shook my head, no. "It's from 'The Lion King!' Haven't you seen that?" I shook my head again. "Really?"

"Hey," I replied, rather defensively, "you're the one with two kids, not me."

Bella tried to explain what a good movie it was, for adults as well as children, but I wasn't interested.

If it'll make you feel any better, I did eventually see it, and loved it. Especially the sex scene ("Can You Feel the Love Tonight"). And don't tell me you didn't know that that is what's really going on there.

Bella and I even had a huge falling out, somewhere around 1996. I was going through a short-lived but exasperating financial pinch, but stopped in Worcester to see her.

She asked for money that I couldn't -- not wouldn't -- give. I told her I couldn't help her.

She immediately turned into an outright Bitch. (Yep, with a capital "B.")

I'd dealt with Bella the Addict before, but never like what I dealt with that day. She pretty much accused me of lying to her, of "holding out" on her. "You just got out of the flea market," she said -- this was a Sunday afternoon -- "so don't tell me you got nothin'."

"What I have is going toward my rent," I told her truthfully.

She demanded the money.

Again, I couldn't have afforded to give her anything if I'd wanted to. But telling me to give it to her was showing more gall than she'd ever shown me before. I began to get angry.

"What is this sense of entitlement you have about my money?" I asked her. "Just because I have some doesn't mean I can afford to hand it to you!"

We were in my mother's car that day. (I must have been "in between" cars, since this was more than a year after I'd bought the car which gave me the freedom of mobility that allowed me to move from my sister's house in Southbridge to my own apartment in Webster.) Out of respect for my non-smoking mother, I didn't smoke in her car, nor did I allow anyone else to do so. Knowing this, Bella lit up a Newport and absolutely and childishly refused to put it out.

Well! Disrespecting me was bad enough, but disrespecting my mother, even indirectly... ?

I pulled over and told her to get the hell out of the car. She refused to do that, too.

We drove around some more. I pulled over again. We argued some more. She was still demanding money.

While we were parked in an otherwise-empty parking lot, Bella opened the door to throw out her cigarette (only because she'd finished it). Why she didn't just throw it out the open window, I'll never know.

The parking lot we were in was a fenced-off lot for a strip joint that wouldn't be open for a few hours more. I decided that sitting there for any length of time was probably not a good idea. "Would you please close the door so we can get out of here?" I asked.

Of course, she refused to do that, too.

"Bella, close the door," I repeated. She ignored me. It was only ajar by a little bit, so I reached across her to grab the inside door handle so I could pull it closed, but she braced her leg against it, which opened it far too wide for me to reach it.

I was getting angrier by the minute. "Fine. Be that way," I said, starting the car. I put the transmission in "drive" and drove to the lot's exit. "Are you going to close it now?"

"Nope." She was acting like a four-year-old!

I pulled out of the lot, and into traffic. "Are you going to close it now?"

"Nope."

"Okay, have it your way," I said, with a deceptively calm tone. I took a side street which ended on Main Street.

"Where are you going?"

"Main Street." I paused. "You realize, of course, that if you keep that door open, a cop will spot us, and stop us." She didn't answer. "I'm not doing anything illegal. But the cops know you." She didn't speak, nor did she look at me. "I sure hope you don't have any outstanding warrants or... "

She closed the car door.

I drove across Main Street, and onto a side street beyond a convenience store. I stopped the car. "Get out."

She didn't actually say "no," but the defiant look in her eyes said it for her.

"If you'd like, I'll give you three different reasons why you'd better change that 'no' to a 'yes' and get the fuck out of this car, now."

That's the thing about me. When I do get angry or am otherwise determined about a particular subject, I brook no argument. And I'm usually so agreeable and easy-going that people don't know how to deal with it when I'm not. But that's their problem.

Her features softened. She looked defeated. And she was. She opened the door and stepped out, but before she closed the door -- gently -- she sadly said, "I just know you're never gonna stop for me again," like she'd done nothing wrong.

Well, "never" ended up being several months. I was in Worcester for legitimate errands once in a while during those months, and I saw her a couple of times, but after purposely making eye contact with her, I drove right by her.

Eventually, though, I stopped. And she apologized. Repeatedly. Profusely.

Finally, she said, "So, we're back to square one? Clean slate?"

"Actually," I said, "I was looking forward to having you kiss my ass just a bit more before I give in and forgive you completely." She stared at me, wide-eyed. "Kidding. Only kidding."

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"Remember when you said you could give me three good reasons to get out of your car?"

"Yesssss... "

"What were they?"

I laughed. "Who knows? I just made it up to sound threatening." I was tempted to check out the look on her face, but didn't. "Worked, though, didn't it?"

She didn't reply. I suppose she didn't dare.

It took a little while, but our friendship did eventually get back to where it had been. I suppose that's a good thing, too, because Bella actually ended up saving my life. And not just once, but maybe even twice.

No, really.

Hell, it'd be three times if you were to count that time she showed up while I was having my little confrontation with Jeff, but I don't count that. I may have been in a tight spot there, but I never really thought that my life was in danger.

Denial? Perhaps. But it's all mine, baby!

Anyway, let me explain that "maybe even twice."

My friend John had owned a large, heavy television with all sorts of cool options. One day, it kinda/sorta went "snap, crackle, pop" and died. John replaced it with a new set, and told me that if his old one was able to be repaired, I could have it, as long as I footed the bill to fix it.

Sounded good to me.

The repair costs were hefty -- somewhere over $200 -- but according to the cool old guy who ran the repair shop, the manufacturer no longer included half the features (for free, that is) on newer versions of this model than the one that I had. So I ended up saving several hundred dollars.

The TV stayed in my car for a few days after I'd had it repaired. On the day I decided to move that big bastard into my apartment, Bella was with me.

"Want some help with that?" she asked.

"Nahhh, I can handle it." I made it from the car to my porch, up the six or seven steps and across the porch itself, through the kitchen, and into the hallway... where I stopped. The living room -- the TV's ultimate destination -- was only one room away.

But something inside of me was saying, "Put the set down here and now, or both it and the idiot carrying it are going to fall... and land badly."

I didn't like the way I was breathing, and my chest felt like someone was standing on it.

"Are you okay?" asked Bella. I turned to face her, and I don't know what she saw other than my gorgeous self, but she looked like something had scared the crap out of her. She took one of my hands and yanked me toward the bedroom.

"Lay down," she commanded.

Somewhere in my mind, I remember composing a feeble joke to the effect of "Not tonight, dear, I have a headache," but the words didn't want to make the long journey from brain to lips, so my mouth stayed uncharacteristically shut.

I'd had several instances of chest pains before this one, often after episodes of physical or emotional stress. This time, however, I thought back and couldn't recall any prior experiences that left me in so much pain, as well as being somewhat breathless and relatively light-headed.

Bella asked me once more if I was okay, and started talking to me. At first, my thinking was a bit fuzzy, so whatever she was saying didn't really register. But after a while, I started picking real words and sentences out of the calming sound her voice was making.

She told me about how she'd tried her hand at modelling when she was in high school. From previous conversations, I knew that there were a lot of unhappy moments in her childhood. But during these few minutes, as her soothing voice regaled me with events of her past, it was as if all the bad things had never touched her.

I've read enough about heart attacks to know that one of the pieces of sage advice they give you when you think you're having one is to relax and remain calm.

Relax and remain calm.

Riiiiiight.

I don't know about you, but my general reaction to the remotest thought that I may be having a heart attack is to think, "OHMIGOD!!! I'M HAVIN' A FUCKIN' HEART ATTACK!!! I'M GONNA DIE!!! I'M GONNA FUCKIN' DIE!!! WAAAAAAUUUUUUGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!"

...or words to that effect.

But Bella distracted me, which did a better job at calming me down than anything else probably could have.

It was only later, when I was returning her to Worcester, that Bella told me about the day her mother had had a heart attack. Bella stood there watching for a few moments... completely panicked... and left the house!

The only reason her mother ended up being rushed to the hospital that day was that a neighbor chanced upon the scene and called an ambulance.

But when I evidenced heart attack symptoms, Bella sat with me, held my hand, and "talked me down," as it were.

However, since I'm not 100% sure that these "symptoms" were a bona fide heart attack, I call this the day that Bella "maybe" saved my life.

There was another time, a year or two later, when she definitely saved my life. A real personal story. And although I hate doing this to you yet again, because it's so very personal... I'm not going to tell it.

Sorry.

No, I really am.

But suffice it to say that if she hadn't been there for me, I honestly wouldn't be alive to be writing this.

So. That's my Bella. A manipulative, selfish, uptight, demanding, untrustworthy little drama-queen/hooker/thief...

...whom I happen to love.

I'm not one of those people who says "I love you" and expects or demands that the sentiment is immediately returned. So the first couple of times I said it, I didn't expect to hear her say the same to me. And she didn't.

But it was possibly the third time I said 'I love you" to her that she replied, "I love you, too," and I was floored.

"Really?"

"No, fake," she replied sarcastically.

Damn. She'd really meant it. "I... just never expected to hear that from you," I said, truthfully.

In 1998, Bella wound up incarcerated in MCI-Framingham. During the months she was there, I wrote to her, visited her, and sent money to her, just as I had written to, visited, and sent money to Dawn three years earlier.

After Bella got out, she moved in with her mother (and Bella's two sons), got a real job at a Worcester restaurant, stayed "clean," and seemed to be getting her life together. I called her as often as I could -- which was difficult for me, as I didn't get a telephone in my Webster apartment until three or four years ago! -- and saw her two or three times, before we fell out of touch again. And this time, it was for a long time.

The next time I saw her was about three years ago. Unfortunately, she was using drugs again (which insured that she was no longer at her mom's). I quite bluntly pointed out to her that at forty years of age (or thereabouts) she needed to clean up her act once and for all. Predictably, my unsolicited advice fell on deaf ears.

She and I followed our usual pattern, meaning that we were in frequent contact for several weeks until falling out of touch, as always.

And now? Well, after briefly being in touch with Bella's sister Corrinne, I was told that Bella had landed back in MCI-Framingham on a robbery charge. I don't have any details about the robbery in question. It could have been a somewhat standard theft, or maybe some vic had the gall to complain to the police after being ripped off by Bella.

For various reasons, I haven't written to her in prison. I keep telling myself I'm going to, but keep procrastinating.

I'm famous for that.

So, as with the "ending" of my "hangin' with the hookers" gig, the story of Bella ends, not with a bang, but a whimper, as the old saying goes.

At least I know she's alive, and relatively well. And for now, I'll settle for that.

And here's a little bonus for y'all:

In the middle of 1994, when I was a part-time comic book dealer, I chanced upon the following illustration of a character in a title called Harem Nights.

Amazing.

Without ever having known her, penciller Yanick Paquette and inker Michel Lacombe had combined their talents to provide what I can honestly say is a strikingly-close image of Bella as she was roughly fifteen years ago!

Enjoy... and thanks for your time.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Introduction to the "Dover Street" Stories, Chapter Seven


What follows are both the conclusion of, and random afterthoughts from, a true story. However, quite a few of the names and other identifying details have been changed, because of that fact.

Actually, I should say that this is "almost" the conclusion. Judging from several comments -- both public and private -- it seems that "Bella" has made quite a hit with my readers. So the next segment, the true conclusion, you might say, will deal primarily with her.

* * * * *

Let me quote from one of my favorite writers -- myself (and yes, that is a joke!) -- and repeat the following (which I've trimmed slightly) from an earlier chapter:

I was smack dab in the middle of a dangerous situation. Why do so many writers have this need to be self-destructive? There's an unnamed "something" that far too often makes sleaziness attractive to writers, and I'd discovered too late that I, in a sense, had developed an addiction of my own.

Writers throughout history have succumbed to alcoholism, or drug addiction, or bouts with excessive gambling, or sexual misadventures, or [fill-in-the-blank] sometimes by merely being around The Bad Thing(s)... and usually the writers in question have arrogantly assumed, as do most addicts, that they could quit The Bad Thing(s) if and when they really wanted or needed to.

In my case, my own brand of arrogance was in believing that it was okay to surround myself with hookers, junkies, drug dealers, and the like, as long as I remained detached from it all -- one could almost say "above" it all -- by
not paying for sex, not using drugs, not (naturally) selling the drugs... I wouldn't be breaking any laws, even while surrounded by those who were.

And as far as being "safe?" Hell, these people didn't even know where I lived. If I ever wanted or needed to "escape" from them, all I had to do was stop visiting them!

In other words, I could quit any time I really wanted or needed to...


Yeah.

Actually, in terms of whether I was "addicted" to hanging around these various sleazy types, or able to turn my back on them any time I so chose... As it turned out, the truth was somewhere in between.

There were a few of the girls I'd become really attracted to, on the level of friendly acquaintances. And out of those, a couple of them, like Julia and, obviously, Bella... meant more. And perversely, right about the time I decided to stop prowling the streets of Worcester, I actually started getting to know Dawn, Jeff's girlfriend. (Eventually, I even got to the point where he and I became... not friends, certainly, but two men who learned to co-exist.)

There's a lot more to the whole story behind Dawn, Jeff, and myself, but unfortunately, this isn't the place to tell it. Someday -- in a few months or in a few million years -- I'll tell the "Dover Street" version of that odd little triangle. Not the real one. That, I'd tell here, if I were going to.

I started out writing this "introduction" to explain why a law-abiding sort like myself would keep coming up with these "Dover Street" stories every now and again. ("What is this guy's fixation with drug addicts and hookers?" Logical question.) And this story has mostly contained details about my period of research which won't otherwise show up in Dover Street tales.

You've only "met" the people you've had to meet. There are many more who will show up in highly fictionalized form at a later date.

Like Catherine. I've mentioned her a few times, but only in passing. Someday she'll show up as a radically altered character who is merely based on her and another girl.

Anyway, this introductory story doesn't end with some knock-down, drag-out, climactic moment of truth. It just kinda peters out. To help explain that, I need to fill in some details about my personal life that concern my living arrangements, automobile issues, and a few other things.

At about the time that I'd decided to limit my Worcester visits, my "famous" Hyundai died. At that time, my mother and I had both been living with my sister, so I briefly relied on my mother's car for transportation to and from work. This made it easier to cut down my Worcester trips.

This was also the time when my close friend Patty, who lived in Ohio, died. That was a major shake-up, something that insured I'd become somewhat more anti-social.

I was also working on a comic book concept called Aero. One more thing to take up my time and keep me home.

So, I stopped picking up new girls, and started spending a lot less time driving around in Worcester. When I was out there, it was to see Dawn or look for Bella.

I say "look for" Bella because, for no apparent reason, a long period went by during which she was never out and about when I was in the city. Before that period, I do remember warning Bella about her habit of "beating" (slang for ripping off) her "vics."

"Who's to say you won't get into a car with someone you stole from a few months earlier?" I asked her. "And don't try to tell me you remember every face you see out here!"

She didn't try to tell me that. She knew better, as did I. I continued, saying, "Don't you realize, Bella? Every one of those guys is potentially dangerous, and every one of those guys only has to remember one face. Yours."

Shortly after that, purely by happenstance, Bella and I fell out of touch.

So, before I stopped going to Worcester completely -- well, in terms of going there to hang out with the street people -- I'd tapered off to the point where my only contact was with Dawn, with whom I was actually forming a friendship.

The last time I saw Sheila, Dawn and I were driving down a side street. Sheila was staggering along the sidewalk, about half a block from us. She looked totally zonked on something.

The last time I saw Catherine -- in Worcester, that is, and I'll explain that later -- I told her that, for various reasons, I was curtailing my Worcester visits. She told me that, coincidentally, she was considering leaving Worcester herself, and moving to Florida.

The last time I saw Julia was one morning after I'd gotten out of work. I worked the third shift at Shaw's Supermarket in Shrewsbury (one town over from Worcester) at the time, and was driving down Worcester's Main Street merely out of force of habit. Julia flagged me down frantically.

"Hi! What's up?" I asked.

"David, look, I know you don't usually do this... " she began, continuing to offer me, shall we say, a $20-30 service for $10.

What do you mean, "don't usually do this?" I thought, but "What? Why?" was all that I asked. I mean, what the hell was this, a Kmart blue light special? Or should I say, a red light special?

"I need works!" she said, which -- as you probably already know -- was and is street slang for a syringe. "I already got drugs... " Drugs, but no way to use them. So near and yet so far, I thought, immediately followed by Oh, great, and she's sitting in my car with them in her possession! "...and all I need now is works!"

We were near McDonald's, so I pulled into the parking lot. I looked at Julia very seriously. "Look, it's not the money... "

"David, please." She repeated her offer.

"What would you have done if I hadn't driven by?" I asked.

She shrugged. "Make same offers to someone else."

I took out my wallet. "How much do you need?"

She smiled. "Oh, bless you, baby! I said I do you for ten."

"You're not going to 'do' anything. How much do you need?"

She blinked. "He charge seven... "

And seven is exactly what I gave her. "This is for you, free and clear, like the other times I gave you money. Only this time, you don't even have to spend time with me. I'm in a rush anyway." I looked at her and shook my head. "Honey, don't ever under-sell yourself!"

She was looking at me very strangely. "David, you come find me again, and we do something. No moneys." She roughly grabbed my face in her hands, and gave me a long kiss which was reminiscent of that time in her mother's parking lot, as well as a few times after that which I haven't bothered discussing with you before now. That kiss almost -- almost -- made me wish I'd taken her up on her initial offer.

I started asking if there was someplace I could bring her, but she interrupted me to say no, then jumped out of the car... and disappeared.

As I drove away, I started laughing, thinking back to what I'd told her: "Don't ever under-sell yourself!" Between that and my admonishment to Bella about ripping off her customers, I started thinking that these girls needed actual business advisers more than pimps (which almost none of them had as well).

So if you ever read a light-hearted Dover Street story called "Hooker High School" or something similar, you'll know where it started. But I digress.

It's funny. Julia had said "You come find me again, and we do something. No moneys," but I never saw her again.

I said earlier that I'm leaving out a lot concerning my budding relationship with Jeff's girlfriend, Dawn. And I am. But suffice it to say that due to a court case which began before I even met her, Dawn ended up in the women's prison in Framingham, Massachusetts for several months.

While she was there, I wrote to her, sent money to her, and even visited her once or twice using my mother's car, as my Hyundai had died, remember? And although it was really none of her business, my sister made it difficult for me to use my mother's car for such visits.

Long story.

Anyway, I made it a priority to get myself another car and get myself an apartment of my own, in that order That's when I moved from Southbridge, Massachusetts -- which I call my "Crappy Day Job Town," among other things -- to the nearby town of Webster.

(I should probably take this opportunity to shoe-horn in the fact that during one of my visits to Dawn in prison, I saw Catherine in the visiting room. She and I locked eyes briefly, but the rule there was that you were to have no contact, verbal or otherwise, with any inmate other than the one you were there to see. Dawn saw me looking at Catherine, and made a couple of rather rude comments. Keeping in mind that the two would very likely be encountering one another here and there while both were incarcerated, I said, "Just... be good to her," and nothing more.

So, Catherine hadn't made it to Florida after all. I hope she's there now, or if not there, someplace that's safe...

I'd been living in my own apartment in Webster for a few months by the time Dawn's time in Framingham neared its end. But somehow, before -- and I mean right before -- she was scheduled to be released, we fell out of touch, for lack of a better term. In retrospect, I'm not sure what happened, nor whose fault it was. Mine, hers, ours? I dunno.

Another long story. And one I won't be telling. At least, not here, not now. Sorry.

* * * * *

Next time... whatever happened to Bella?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Introduction to the "Dover Street" Stories, Chapter Six

The following is a true story. However, quite a few of the names and other identifying details have been changed, and some dialogue has been re-written accordingly, because of that fact. Some characters are composites.

* * * * *

Wow. I almost feel like I've got Quentin Tarantino for a co-writer on this one.

Look at it this way: I'm sitting here writing this in 2009. My main storyline -- which left off with a drug addict/dealer named Jeff pointing a so-called "throwout knife" at me -- took place in 1994. However, before the chapter break, I was side-stepping a bit to tell of a series of events which began only a few weeks before Jeff's knife-wielding...

Well, it reminds me of when I first watched Reservoir Dogs, and realized at one point that I was watching a flashback sequence contained in yet another flashback sequence.

* * * * *

So, in my screwed-up timeline, Jeff didn't threaten -- or should I say, won't be threatening -- me with that knife for another seven weeks or so. Which gave -- or will give me! -- plenty of time to get to know Bella.

(Sheesh!)

So -- he said again -- there was something about Bella and myself that "clicked" on a personal level. Despite the warnings I'd gotten from Julia and Catherine, not to mention the fact that Bella had tried to steal from me, I wanted to see her again.

In our second little "session" -- as well as our third, and fourth, etc. -- Bella ended up telling me a lot about her personal life, past and present. And for some unfathomable reason, this adorable-looking little rip-off artist felt like she could answer my questions with as much openness and honesty as she was able to bring forth.

Of course, the money which I gave her admittedly helped in terms of explaining why she'd spend so much time with me, but that's as far as it goes. Someone who talked as quickly and artfully as she did could have easily given me a lot less information -- or at least, information of a much less personal nature -- than she did. The "openness and honesty" I mentioned weren't insured by the amount of time we spent together. Conversations are malleable; try engaging me in a conversation about something I'd rather not be discussing, and then think back on how much of substance you actually learned from me.

Bella told me about her childhood, her two sons (who lived with Bella's mother), her sister Corrinne, and a lot of other things which I'm willing to bet that the other girls in Worcester didn't get to hear much about. (They did know about Corrinne, I should mention. Corrinne was a slightly less attractive streetwalker with the same M.O. as her older sister: Steal from the John if you can, rather than give him what he'd paid for.)

One day Bella looked at me and very seriously said, "You know, David, sometimes I think you're my only real friend out here."

I'd really like to speculate on why Bella ended up trusting me, but I have no idea. And I'm not going to make light of the situation by joking about how wonderful or special I am, either. I'll just repeat that I really have no idea.

Julia was angry when she learned that I was seeing so much of Bella. She assumed that maybe I was actually having sex with Bella, that I was one of the "lucky" ones who'd backed her into a corner -- figuratively or literally -- and made her "give" me something in return for the money I was giving her.

But it didn't stop with Julia. Catherine, whom I've mentioned before, also told me not to trust Bella. Other girls out there, many of whom didn't really know me (or what I was really doing while associating with them), would see me with Bella, and then warn me about her when they saw me alone at a later date.

It got worse. One day, Bella and I were in a pizza parlor, sharing a meal. She excused herself to go to the ladies room, and no sooner had she left than a tall, beefy African-American guy in a cap and an overcoat walked over to my table.

"Yo, man, watch out for that chick. She poison." I stared up at him. He looked familiar, somehow.

I didn't want to sound so airheadedly sappy as to say "Oh, no, she's different when she's with me," nor so cocky as to say "Don't worry, she won't rip me off." I merely replied, "Thanks, I know about her."

He looked at me and shook his head, as if to say "Then why are you even with her?" but instead, said "Just don't give her no money."

I couldn't resist being a smartass. I indicated the large pizza Bella and I were sharing, and said, "Not a problem. I paid for this with my last dollar."

He probably figured I was just a trick who didn't want to admit to being one. He shook his head again and walked away.

Much later that day, it occurred to me where I'd seen him before. He was Sheila's boyfriend, the one I'd seen that one time only, months earlier.

It suddenly struck me that I hadn't seen Sheila herself in weeks, and I hadn't even realized it since Bella and the others had been taking up so much of the time I spent in Worcester. And just as an FYI, in case you've gotten the wrong impression, I should point out that all the days and nights doing my "research" made up a very small chunk of my social life, only a few hours a week.

But I digress. Again.

* * * * *

My "friend" Bella was the one who was suddenly caressing me and nuzzling my ear as Jeff -- and, I assume, everyone else who was watching -- stared at her... well, at us... in amazement.

"I hope he's talkin' about me," she'd told Jeff.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Her hands had snaked into my t-shirt at the neck and had made their way down toward my chest. She laughed. "I told him I don't mind if he indulges his hooker fetish to the point of hangin' out with these other hoes, and talkin' with them, as long as he saves his money for me."

Jeff's eyes narrowed. "You tellin' me he's your trick? Bullshit. You don't even do dates. Everybody knows that."

"I do sometimes," she replied defensively. "and you know it." She started playing with the hair on my chest. This was all too surreal. Ordinarily, never mind publicly, Bella was not the touchy-feely type. "When I have to. Or when I want to."

Jeff sneered as he looked at me. "Oh, and you just can't keep your hands off this one?"

"Don't be an asshole!" she snapped. "He's a nice guy, not like you. And he's generous." Bella suddenly put her lips right against my ear and whispered, "Make believe I am making you the filthiest offer you've ever heard in your life, and we can get out of here."

My eyes widened accordingly, and I attempted a perverted leer. "Really? All of that?" I said, getting up from the floor.

Bella brought her face close to mine yet again, and whispered -- this time loudly enough for some of the others to hear -- "If you got the money, baby."

She and I left the smoky confines of the sparsely-decorated living room. I didn't turn back to see if Jeff was coming after us, but I listened to hear if he was going to get up. He didn't.

As we walked through the small kitchen toward the front door (and toward freedom, relatively speaking), I quickly looked around and saw four or five other people standing there, drinking beer and smoking.

One of them was Julia. How long had she been at this little gathering? I couldn't read the expression on her face -- disgust, disappointment, anger? -- but it was obvious that she'd heard the conversation in the other room between Jeff, Bella, and myself.

She shook her head as I walked past her. "I fuckin' knew it," was all she said.

Bella and I walked to my car without a word, and I unlocked the passenger-side door for her, opened it, and watched her get in. I walked around to the driver's side, which she'd unlocked for me by the time I got there -- you know, the "Bronx Tale Test?" -- and got in next to her.

"Bella... " I began.

"Shut up. And let's go to Store 24. I need cigarettes."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Newport."

"Newport 100s. Box."

"I know."

"And do you also know, you gotta cut down on your little fact-finding missions, now? Tonight was too hairy. Maybe your luck's running out. What would you have done if I hadn't spotted your car tonight and come lookin' for you?"

"Good question. Why did you come looking for me, anyway? Just for cigarettes?" She laughed at that last part. She wasn't humor-impaired after all. She just needed a few weeks to understand my sense of humor.

"I just wanted to see you. You're my amigo. My friend... "

"You don't have to translate that word for me. Geez."

"So, now you believe me, finally? I really do think of you like that. You're my friend, my real friend. Not a vic. And not a trick." She paused. "Not like Jeff."

As that little fact sank in, I realized she was right about what she'd called my "little fact-finding missions." They had to end. I certainly didn't plan on not seeing Bella any more, but I was going to have to wean myself from the sleazy streets of Worcester in general.

* * * * *

Next time, as soon as I can post it -- hopefully by Monday -- the storyline reaches its... well, it'll be a combination of a conclusion and an epilogue! Join me here, and you'll see what I mean.

Thanks for your time.
.. amigos.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Introduction to the "Dover Street" Stories, Chapter Five

I wonder how many other writers have churned out stories about hookers that have next to nothing in terms of blatantly sexual elements...

Anyway.

The following is a true story. However, quite a few of the names and other identifying details have been changed, and some of the dialogue has been re-written accordingly, because of that fact. Some characters are composites.


This chapter will hopefully be the most entertaining, at least so far. If so, maybe that will make it worth the days I've made you wait for it.

* * * * *

"So what are you always talkin' about with the girls, man?" asked Jeff.

I suddenly felt two hands on my shoulders. My first thought was that someone behind me was providing a little physical reinforcement for Jeff's line of questioning.

My second thought was, "Oh, shit."

Then I realized that the hands on my shoulders seemed to be touching me too gently for them to have belonged to one of Jeff's cronies.

That last thought was confirmed by a female voice which answered Jeff's question. "I hope he's talkin' about me," she said.

I recognized the voice. It belonged to a young, strikingly attractive girl named Bella.

* * * * *

A couple of months earlier, I'd been standing outside of the PIP Shelter -- "PIP" meaning "People in Peril," as this was a shelter for Worcester's homeless -- with Julia and Catherine (a blonde whom I'd met weeks earlier). An absolutely lovely, tall, young, light-skinned Latina with long, frizzy brown hair approached.

The two women I was with seemed less than pleased to see her, but Catherine introduced me to her nonetheless. Her name was Bella. She looked to be in her early twenties, but was actually about five years older (as I learned later).

Bella smiled to acknowledge me, then turned to the others. "Who got bags?" she asked urgently, meaning "Who's selling heroin?"

Simultaneously with her question to Julia and Catherine, I was saying, "Actually, we've met."

All three female heads turned to look at me.

Catherine only looked moderately interested.

Julia's eyebrows shot up as if to say, "Oh, really?" (I suppose Julia was wondering if I'd ever "dated" Bella, which would have concerned her because -- as I've stated before -- Julia herself was always trying to get me to "go out" with her.)

Bella herself was a different story.

Bella looked nervous.

"How'd you meet me? And where? And when?" she asked rapidly.

I explained that a few years ago, I'd been in a convenience store on Chandler Street in Worcester, and had run into a co-worker of mine, whom I'll call Tim. He was with a beautiful young Latina, who must have been nineteen or so at the time, a little younger than he was. He didn't smoke, but he was buying a pack of cigarettes (Newport) for her.

Tim looked surprised and more than a bit uncomfortable when he saw me. "Uhh... Hi, David," he said.

I waited only a couple of seconds, hoping he'd introduce me to the young lady. He didn't. "So, Tim," I asked, "who's your lovely friend?"

He stammered a bit, and looked at his companion uncertainly. She extended her well-manicured right hand, which I took as she said, "I'm Bella. And you are... ?"

"David," I replied. "Very pleased to meet you."

Her full lips parted to reveal a perfect set of pearly-white teeth. She smiled as if I'd said something either humorous, or perhaps -- dare I say it? -- charming. "Likewise," she replied, sounding playfully genteel.

I stared into her wide brown eyes for a moment, then turned to Tim. Whatever I was about to say never got said. "Hey, David," he said quickly, "I'd love to stand here and talk all day, but I... we... gotta run."

And they left. End of story.

Back to the street corner. At the conclusion of my little tale, Bella just shook her head. "Sorry. I don't remember you."

"I had a full beard then, not just the mustache," I offered, but she shook her head. "Oh, well, it was about five years ago, maybe more," I admitted. "But... You don't remember Tim at all?" I described him to her.

"No." she said firmly. She shrugged dismissively. "He musta been a vic." She turned away from me, and looked at Julia and Catherine. "So! Who got bags?"

They didn't know anyone who was selling that day. This was a Sunday, and for some reason I could never figure out, it was always really hard to find drugs on a Sunday.

I guess all the dealers were in church. Yeah, that's it.

Anyway, as Bella trotted off, I shook my head. "Vic. That's a new one. Why does she call her dates vics?"

Catherine had an almost mean tone in her voice, one I'd never heard coming from her before. "A vic isn't a trick. It's Bella's word, short for victim."

"Victim?" I repeated.

"She don't do dates," said Julia, with almost the same tone in her voice as Catherine had had in hers. "At least, not if she can help it. She take their moneys and run." Julia then looked at me pointedly. "An' you don't need to see her again."

You know what's coming, right? At this stage, telling me that was tantamount to a dare.

It was only a couple of days later that I spotted Bella and picked her up.

She didn't let me get a word in edgewise. I'd barely gotten to say hello and mention our encounter two days earlier, when she began her spiel, drowning me out. It was a rapid-paced little oratory of what she'd "do" for $30, $40, $50 -- I believe she went as high as $80! -- and the speed of her delivery was overwhelming. In fact, I can honestly say that it reminded me of being at a restaurant when the chef has piled on too many specials, but the waiter or waitress is obligated to tell you all of them, right down to the salad, soup, vegetable, and potato options.

During her well-rehearsed little menu, she interjected driving directions, making it sound like there were two people talking to me. "For forty bucks, I'll [blah-blah-blah] and you can touch, feel, anywhere you like, for fifty bucks -- Take a right! -- you can [such-and-such] while I [so-and-so] -- Next left! -- and for sixty bucks I'll let you [various descriptive expletives deleted] or -- Pull over here! -- if you want, and for seventy... "

We were now parked in front of an empty warehouse of some kind. I don't recall how much money I handed her -- I was feeling generous, so it was either $30 or $40! -- but I do remember thinking that Bella's little speech alone was worth it, and I planned on literally recording it some time in the future.

She glanced around -- this was taking place in the early morning, by the way, between eight and nine a.m. -- and started getting out of the car. "We can go in here," she said, pointing to the warehouse. "It's empty, and it's always unlocked."

"That won't be necessary," I began...

Suddenly she sprinted away from me and the warehouse entrance. "Sorry!" she yelled, without looking back. (Only in movies and TV shows do people look back at whomever or whatever they're running from.)

Oh, great. So, now, I was to be her "vic?" Well, it's not like I hadn't been warned...

Evidently, it was at this point that something in my subconscious decided that her "little speech" was not worth my thirty or forty dollars, after all. I jumped out of the car and began running after her.

Fueled by adrenaline, I ran faster than I'd run since grammar school. I've never been in the greatest of shape either, admittedly, but I was gaining on her and had almost caught up to her when she spun around and said, "Look you my mother's boyfriend's a cop and if you so much as touch me him and his buddies are gonna stuff you in a fuckin' dumpster-- "

"SHUT UP!" I screamed. I mean, really! I'll be the first to admit that I'm a long-winded sonofabitch. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to deal with...
Someone.
Who.
Won't.
Let.
Me.
Talk?

She stood there, wide-eyed, not knowing what the hell to expect.

"I'm not going to hurt you. Or touch you."

"Then what are you gonna do?"

I wasn't especially liking the way I was breathing so heavily. My adrenaline rush was gone. It sucks how when the crisis is over, the Hulk changes back to Bruce Banner, ya know?

"I just want to talk to you," I said. "That's why I picked you up in the first place."

She laughed in a way that told me exactly what she thought I was "full of."

"No, I mean it. Let's go back to my car... "

"Yeah! So you can take your money back, and beat me up, and... ?"

"No!" I stared into those pretty brown eyes for a long, hard second. "Look. I'm going to go back to my car. You can either follow me, or... go wherever you were going to go when you stole the money."

"I didn't steal it. You handed it to me."

"You thought I was giving it to you to pay you for... whatever. Running off without doing anything changed it to stealing."

"What are you, a friggin' lawyer?"

"When was the last time you saw a lawyer driving a used Hyundai?"

She smiled for the first time since she'd leaped from the car with my money in hand. "Maybe you're a sucky lawyer."

I shook my head. "As I said, I'm going back to my car. You can either follow me or take off. And if you do follow me, you'll be behind me, so I won't get to see where you tuck my money... "

"My money," she corrected.

"...and I won't be able to take it back from you unless I give you a strip search." Her face clouded when I said "strip search," so I said, "Just kidding. Geez, lighten the hell up, will you? Anybody else would've pounded you into the pavement by now." I turned away from her, saying "So I'll wait long enough to start my car and check the rear-view mirror to see if you're coming. So, trust me, or don't trust me. At this point I honestly don't give a damn."

Actually, I think I phrased that last part a bit more strongly than "give a damn." Maybe a lot more strongly. But I digress.

I got into my car noticing that in my haste to catch Bella, I'd left my keys in the ignition. That was dumb. Anyway, before I could even check my rear-view mirror as I'd told her I would, she opened my passenger-side door and got into my Hyundai.

"What took you so long?" I asked her. She looked at me, suddenly -- and genuinely -- angry. "Geez! Lighten up, it was a joke! What are you, humor impaired?"

"What's that?"

"They say it's an actual... " I was going to use the word "psychological," but decided not to, since Bella seemed so easily offended. "...medical condition. There are people out there who know a joke is a joke, but have no real sense of humor beyond that, so... "

I was boring her. She interrupted me. "So, what do you wanna talk about?" I paused. "Go ahead, it's your dime."

I almost pointed out that it was actually three (or four?) thousand dimes, but decided against it.

We began talking, and Bella graciously gave me half an hour of her time. Among other things, I learned that her real first name was Isabel; "Bella" was a nickname (as opposed to a "street" name).

Out of that half hour, I can only recall three of my questions:
  1. Q: "Why did you yell 'Sorry!' when you tried to run away earlier?"
  2. Q: "Why did you get back in my car?"
  3. Q: "So, you're not really a hooker; you're a thief?" (That one was actually more of a statement.)
And her replies:
  1. A: "You seemed like a nice guy, and I almost felt sorry about rippin' you off. Almost."
  2. A: "I don't know. Something about you."
  3. A: She looked offended again, at first; then her features softened. "If I don't have to take care of a date... No, I won't. I hate sex, usually. Unless I'm high, and with a boyfriend. Not with a date."
I do recall discovering during our conversation that, other than the rapid-fire "menu" I described earlier, Bella didn't like to talk dirty at all. She used profanity, true, but she just didn't talk... dirty.

I learned a lot about Bella over the next few weeks, actually, because I (naturally) ignored everyone's advice -- I'll explain that more fully next time -- and started spending a great deal of time with her.

* * * * *

And don't worry. I haven't forgotten that, in another part of this narrative, Jeff is still pointing his knife at me!



Friday, January 9, 2009

Introduction to the "Dover Street" Stories, Chapter Four


The following is a true story. However, quite a few of the names and other identifying details have been changed, and dialogue re-written accordingly, because of that fact. Some characters are composites.

* * * * *

Let's begin this one with a cliff-hanger, shall we?

The room was full of people, male and female. Mostly female. There were three or four or five separate conversations going on. Most of the members of the small crowd were smoking cigarettes (primarily menthol). Several were eating slices of an extra-large pepperoni & mushroom pizza, the remaining one of two pizzas which I had paid for. Some were smoking cigarettes while eating slices of the extra-large pepperoni & mushroom pizza which I had paid for.

The pizza -- or, I should say, the box which the pizza was in -- was on the floor in the middle of the room. Those who were seated -- and there were several of us -- sat on the floor as well. For some strange reason, the two chairs in the room were both empty. I noticed that because... well, because I usually notice stupid stuff like that.

A guy named Jeff sat facing me, across the pizza, as it were. He was in his mid-thirties, maybe three or four years younger than I was at that time. Despite his white-bread, preppy-sounding name, Jeff was actually Latino. I knew him as the "husband" of a young woman named Dawn; they weren't actually married, but they shared a two-year-old son... and a heroin habit.

Dawn wasn't with Jeff tonight.

Each time Jeff reached for a slice of pizza, he cut it free (unnecessarily) with a rather strange knife he had. This knife was similar to a switch-blade, but without the "guts" needed to respond to the button you'd press to open a switch-blade. Jeff's knife was opened by a sharp flick of the wrist, whereupon it remained locked into its open position,. I'd seen this type of knife before, years earlier, and heard it called a "throw-out knife," but I doubt that was or is the proper name.

And, as I said, Jeff was using it -- unnecessarily -- to cut slices of pizza for himself.

I think he just wanted me to see that he had a knife.

Actually, let me re-phrase that: I know Jeff just wanted me to see that he had a knife.

"So. Dave." he said, while still chewing.

"David," corrected one of the girls. A couple of them laughed.

(People often find it amusing that I prefer "David" to "Dave," and that I bother to point that out if and when someone calls me "Dave." I'd like to learn exactly why that's so freakin' funny, before I die. If your name is "Robert," and I call you "Bob," but you prefer "Robbie," wouldn't you correct me?)

Jeff ignored her. "So," he repeated, adding "What are you even doing here, man?"

The "three or four or five" ongoing conversations which I mentioned earlier suddenly dropped to one. Ours. Mine and Jeff's.

I'd been dreading this one for months. I knew what Jeff was asking.

* * * * *

Between my two "hooker buddies," Sheila and Julia, I'd been introduced to several more streetwalkers over the course of several weeks. I got to know some of them very well. They didn't all learn that I was, as Julia had put it, "writin' a book." That information was generally saved for those I ended up getting along with to the point where I'd invite them for one or more one-on-one interviews... the kind which generally involved money.

Most of these women were addicted to one drug or another, usually heroin. Eventually -- I should say "inevitably" -- I got to meet the boyfriends or husbands of some of them, and I also got to meet some of the low-lifes who supplied them all (women and men alike) with their drugs.

By this time, I realized that I was smack dab in the middle of a dangerous situation. Why do so many writers have this need to be self-destructive? There's an unnamed "something" that far too often makes sleaziness attractive to writers, and I'd discovered too late that I, in a sense, had developed an addiction of my own.

It was the same kind of "addiction" that may have brought Edgar Allan Poe to the point where he was found delirious -- and shortly to die -- on a Baltimore Street.

It's the addiction to what Hunter S. Thompson would later call "gonzo journalism" that brought Ambrose Bierce to his disappearance and probable death.

Many years later, it also brought that same Hunter S. Thompson to ride with the Hells Angels, researching a book, much as I was... and the final chapter tells of the day when the same Hells Angels who had welcomed Thompson into their midst beat the living crap out of him for no apparent reason.

This thirst for "real sleaze" as opposed to "phony sleaze" steered Jim Morrison down a path where psychedelics gave way to alcohol, but neither prepared him for what is today accepted as a lethal overdose of heroin, heroin which he may or may not have mistaken for cocaine.

Writers throughout history have succumbed to alcoholism, or drug addiction, or bouts with excessive gambling, or sexual misadventures, or [fill-in-the-blank] sometimes by merely being around The Bad Thing(s)... and usually the writers in question have arrogantly assumed, as do most addicts, that they could quit The Bad Thing(s) if and when they really wanted or needed to.

Bullshit.

Well, usually.

In my case, my own brand of arrogance was in believing that it was okay to surround myself with hookers, junkies, drug dealers, and the like, as long as I remained detached from it all -- one could almost say "above" it all -- by not paying for sex, not using drugs, not (naturally) selling the drugs... I wouldn't be breaking any laws, even while surrounded by those who were.

And as far as being "safe?" Hell, these people didn't even know where I lived. If I ever wanted or needed to "escape" from them, all I had to do was stop visiting them!

In other words, I could quit any time I really wanted or needed to...

One thing that didn't occur to me until it was too late was that when you're among those who habitually break various laws, minor and/or major, the law-breakers themselves don't necessarily see the predominately law-abiding populace as being "their" type of people. And if said law-abiding people are also gathering information, for any reason, the information gatherer might as well be taking his or her notes for the police.

And although I was making all of my "notes" mentally, I fully realized that my purposes would be resented and misinterpreted all out of proportion if the wrong people were to question what I was doing there.

* * * * *

"So," said Jeff, a "wrong person" if ever I saw one, "What are you even doing here, man?"

I knew exactly what he meant, but didn't admit it. "What do you mean?"

"You don't sell drugs. You don't use drugs, neither." He waved his knife in the smoky air, vaguely pointing at some of the prostitutes in the room for emphasis as he said "And you don't date the girls... "

"I go out with a lot of them!" I said, disagreeing. I was hoping to fall back on the fact that several people could vouch for having seen me driving off with one streetwalker or another for one of my so-called one-on-one sessions.

Now Jeff was leaning partway across the open box of pizza, closer to me, gesturing -- only gesturing, so far -- with his knife, to accentuate a point. "No, man, you go off with 'em, but you don't go out with 'em." He was artfully -- more artfully than I would have given him credit for -- cutting through my own bullshit. And he wasn't letting me use "going out" -- yet another term which, like "dating," meant having sex for a fee -- in the euphemistic way in which I was trying to use it. He was nailing me down to the point where I could only use it his way. "You give 'em rides an' shit, but you don't do dates."

"Says who?" I asked, quickly glancing around the room and noticing that none of the girls whom I joking called "my regulars" were there. No Sheila, no Julia, no Catherine, no Bella...

So much for back-up...

"Never mind who. Says... enough of them," answered Jeff, with a smirk. I can only guess what emotion(s) my face betrayed then. "Yeah, I've talked to a few. Just like you always do. I just talked to 'em." I took another glance around the room, and wondered if it was just my imagination that told me that the percentage of male inhabitants in the room had increased. "So what are you always talkin' about with the girls, man?"

* * * * *

During my time among those who would inspire my "Dover Street" stories -- which, by the night of this head-to-head between Jeff and myself, was envisioned as an endless string of comic book mini-series, rather than the book Julia was anticipating -- I'd only made a few of my famous mental notes about Jeff and/or his "wife," Dawn.

Dawn was a pretty, thirtyish little -- and by "little," I mean short -- white girl with long, frizzy blonde hair, whose mission in life seemed to be telling people that although she was totally flat-chested, she had a great butt. Each time she said that -- and she really did say it a lot -- she'd either turn around or, if she were sitting, stand up and turn around to show off her butt. Then she'd look back over her shoulder for confirmation.

I liked Dawn a lot, even then, which was odd considering that I didn't get to know her well until a long time after the night Jeff started getting nosy. She was more intelligent than most of the hookers -- and that's not some kind of joke, seeing as how they weren't the bunch of idiots you may assume that they were -- and there was something about her personality that brightened up a room, at least, by comparison to most of the Main Street crowd. She was pretty popular.

Jeff was different. Although he seemed fairly well-liked by the male addicts and dealers, most of the women talked against him whenever he wasn't around. They were always telling Dawn she should dump him. In fact, these little confrontations usually consisted of two or more hookers telling Dawn to dump him, arguing with her until she was on the verge of tears.

They never had these conversations in front of any men, with the glaring exception of myself. (I suppose that by then, they had accepted me as an impartial observer.)

I was never quite sure what they had against Jeff other than the fact that he occasionally beat Dawn up. And I'm not trying to pass that off as something relatively inconsequential. They did, however. Truth be told, most of them had boyfriends or husbands that smacked them around, and most of them felt that they themselves had provoked the "smacking." Far too often, I'd hear one of the girls joking about how she'd "really pushed his buttons this time," or something similar. Like it was her fault, ultimately.

(Then again, these were women who also considered being occasionally raped to be little more than a hazard of their profession. I suppose that eventually, all sorts of affronts to your body become more tolerable if your self-esteem is that low. There's an old joke that says "you can't rape a hooker, only rob her." In fact, one of my "Dover Street" stories begins with that joke. Well, once you've met a few hookers, and heard part of -- or all of -- each one's life stories, that joke loses whatever humor it may have ever had.)

The first incident which made me aware of Jeff at all, before I'd ever actually met him or Dawn, occurred one summer afternoon. I had been standing on Main Street, talking to Julia and a couple of other women. I saw two policemen several yards away, in a verbal altercation with Jeff in which one of the cops made some crack to Jeff about "your whore girlfriend."

Jeff bristled. "Hey, man, have some respect! That's the mother of my son!"

The other officer laughed. "How can you talk about respectin' her when you make her work out here to support your habit?"

It was two or three weeks later when I was actually introduced to Jeff and Dawn. About a week after that, I was flagged down one evening by Julia. Jeff was with her.

"David," asked Julia, "how long you been in towns?"

"About half an hour, why?"

"Have you see Dawn anywhere tonight?"

"No. Some kind of problem?"

"We don't know. She get pick up to do a date, and after that she supposed to go with Jeff to cop."

"How long ago was this?"

"Almost an hour. You go look for her?"

"Sure," I said, which was when Jeff jumped into my car. I began to object, but then figured that it was his wife (or girlfriend), after all...

Jeff was either drunk or on something. Half the time he was with me, he was talking about how worried he was about her. The other half, he was saying that she'd probably had her date drop her off at her dealer's place, and gone to do all the drugs by herself. During those more suspicious moments, Jeff called Dawn the "C" word more times than I -- and any three friends of mine -- have ever used it in our lives.

At one point, immediately after saying what a pain in the ass she was, Jeff added something incredibly graphic about her sexual talents which I supposed was meant to be a compliment. And maybe it would have been if it hadn't been phrased so crudely, and if it hadn't been said to a relative stranger.

Or maybe he assumed that I'd either agree with him if I was one of Dawn's tricks, or consider it as a recommendation to go out with her if I hadn't already! I didn't ask. All that I almost said was, "Hey, man, have some respect! That's the mother of your son!" but I knew the remark would have been lost on him.

We looked for almost an hour, but never did find her that night. She showed up at home about three hours later, long after I'd gone home, according to Julia. And Jeff had been right. She had gone to score her drugs and do them without him.

* * * * *

"So what are you always talkin' about with the girls, man?" asked Jeff.

I suddenly felt two hands on my shoulders. My first thought was that someone behind me was providing a little physical reinforcement for Jeff's line of questioning.

My second thought was, "Oh, shit."

* * * * *

Next time -- I hope! -- the conclusion.

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