StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

A Sorcerer on Montmartre – (Chapter Twelve)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 1, 2014

Brooklyn at night

A Sorcerer on Montmartre

By Kyle Thomas Smith

© 2013

Twelfth chapter from the novel I’m writing

(Click the following for Chapters 1234, 5678910 (p. i)10 (p.2)10 (p.3)111213)

CHAPTER TWELVE:

LUCKY 13

By the time Simon was able to locate a subway station anywhere close to Bucktrout’s East Williamsburg apartment, it was still news to him that he was even in Brooklyn. It seemed this would’ve been the kind of thing Bucktrout would’ve mentioned at his table, but it never came up, somehow. There were overpasses, an expressway, a bridge and a river just like on the Lower East Side, but what spun Simon’s head was, when he looked across the water, he could see Manhattan sure enough but he wasn’t on its shores anymore.

Where he stood, the houses were nondescript, clapboard with aluminum siding, not far off from the kind you might see around Wizard’s Stone, though here they were offset by warehouses and colossal tenements with imposing fire escapes, the kind you might see by Clinton Street. Defacements jumped off the sides of buildings like hatchet men and a lot of the side streets he wandered down were as empty as the shuttered factory towns back home.

The main drags, though, looked every bit the bric-a-brac bohemia that St. Mark’s Place was. The faces were younger and fresher, with not all that many more lines on them than on Simon’s face, but the denim was just as skinny and tight as it was on St. Mark’s, vendors stocked used paperbacks and vinyl records on card tables all down the blocks even in winter and there was one jam-packed, clattery café after another, each redolent with espresso and unorthodoxy, just like in both Villages, West and East. It would have given him some context if he had at least seen a storefront or a billboard or a masthead bearing the name Brooklyn—and there were plenty around, but his bewildered eyes kept shifting right past them. Instead Simon had the feeling he’d been transported to some parallel universe, but he’d already been spun around enough for one weekend to want to go exploring it.

From a distance Simon saw the G train station at Metropolitan-Lorimer, so he ran over to it and down its dark brick stairs to ask a station attendant just where he was and how to get to where he was going. The attendant was an east Indian, Simon noted, maybe even one who worships tens of millions of gods, which he knew Menard would’ve deemed an even more salvageable situation somehow than having just that one god, Allah—except Simon also remembered being taught there are hundreds of millions of Indians who follow only that one god, Allah, although the Sunday school teachers somehow failed to mention that Allah is the same god as God. Simon didn’t see a red dot on the subway agent’s forehead, though, so it was a good bet he was one of those Allah worshippers himself and, if that were so, then he and Simon were heading for the same eternal furnace—in Calvary’s book, if not in Allah’s.

Help was help, though, heathen and hell-bound or otherwise, and the station agent turned out to be a great help indeed. Simon told him he was looking for this one place, a bar called Lucky 13, and the attendant took the time in his scratched-up Plexiglas booth to flip through the newest edition of the White Pages for it. When he found it, he said in a reedy timbre, “S’in Pa’ Slo’.” It took a few iterations before Simon was sure he’d heard him right, but finally the words Park and Slope came through loud and clear, words which rang a bell for Simon from the few chats he’d managed to have with Belinda about her jobs (or about anything at all) these past many weeks. The agent wrote down directions—actually wrote down directions. Not the reputation New Yorkers had back home, but there the Good Samaritanism was in writing on the slip of paper the Indian handed him: “Take Dntwn Bklyn G to Smith-9th—Trans to F—Get off, 4th Av. —Walk S to 13th & E to 5th Av.” It was only then that Simon came to see he was in Brooklyn and the station agent squinched his eyes at Simon for not knowing that much already.

Subway directions still read like hieroglyphs to Simon, but he’d also started noticing how much more decipherable they became once you rolled up to the actual stops. Simon had hours just to wander through Park Slope, where the limestones and brownstones were stately and landmarked, so unlike the rachitic neighborhood he’d just left. Simon had never heard about Brooklyn being any kind of place where there’s money. He’d always pictured overloaded clotheslines, strung between tall apartment buildings, and smudged, barefoot children waiting up on stoops for dads who wouldn’t be home until way past their bedtimes after having drunk or bet away a whole week’s low wages—the latter part of the picture being something akin to Wizard’s Stone back before meth started taking the place of booze and jobs. But here well-to-do mothers abounded, pushing high-end strollers with scrubbed-up kids in the newest Nikes in tow. More and more, though, he was coming to know New York as a place full of surprises, so he was starting not to get too surprised by his own surprise on this end of town.

Simon went to Lucky 13 and saw on the hours sign that it wouldn’t be open until after nightfall. There was a cold snap in the air that his new suit coat was no match for, so he decided to walk around some more just to keep up his body temperature. He found Prospect Park and there he did what he’d become such a pro at doing, just loitering along until enough hours could pass to be where he needed to be. It’s a good thing Simon had remembered to keep his wallet in the suit that Robert O had made him put on at the party and which he was still wearing, and it’s a good thing the wallet hadn’t fallen out when he’d been unconscious and his pants were below his kneecaps. His head still reeled from the mickey Robert O had slipped him and he hadn’t put anything with calories in his stomach besides that one chemically altered Coke for almost a full day, yet he was loath to spend money on food since he knew he might have to shell out most of what was in his account on any cheap hotel with a room for the night.

Hunger got the better of him as more hours crawled by, though, so he stopped into Purity Diner on 7th Avenue (Brooklyn, it turned out, had a 7th Avenue too) and splurged on a tuna on rye that didn’t taste one bit different from the one they made at Chelsea Night & Day, but with the help of some fries and Saltines, it did the job of filling him up so he could go back out and keep on walking in Prospect Park.

He had to make it work, this life up north. Walking past the endless species of trees and across the Lullwater and Fallkill Bridges and the vast lawns in the park, Simon vowed to himself that, even if he were winnowed down to protruding ribs and a French fry a day, he’d never call down like a prodigal for a Greyhound ticket back home. Who knew whom there was to rely on for help out in the elements, though? Maybe Belinda knew of better options than sleeping on the streets like those dead-end kids Simon would so often give money to. He knew he was too out of the know to take asylum among roofless punks and goths like Belinda could; he had a feeling he’d be too white and inept to cut it with the kids he’d sometimes see break-dancing for loose change in Times Square or Union Square or on subway cars, and he couldn’t see himself making a good Krishna, though he’d once overheard some Chelsea Night & Day customers say they have a yummy buffet at their temple and if there’s one thing he was good at, it was eating. If only there were an existentialist cult that fed, clothed and housed its disciples, he’d be first in line to join. He could handle wearing an overcoat and horn-rims and studying in libraries, like they all used to do; heck, he’d even take up smoking if he had to! But the Krishnas’ sikhas, robes and tambourine playing, he just couldn’t get with. Alas, existentialists didn’t form a society unto themselves—at least not officially—they were typically loners, and besides it was an outdated 20th Century movement with nobody in it anymore.

Simon walked around until after seven o’clock on this late winter’s day while his headache grew worse. Shortly after six p.m., a policewoman told him the park was closed and he’d have to vacate, so he kept walking within a three block radius of Lucky 13 Saloon warming his hands in his front pockets for the next few hours, hoping Belinda would be working so he could talk to her about what to do next. He had quarters and dimes from the change from his bill at Purity so he’d stop at payphones to call Belinda’s cell phone but she wasn’t picking up.

Yet when Simon walked into Lucky 13, there she was, peeling lemon rinds and putting the mise en place in place for the long night ahead in the dark bar. A guy in a yellow Suicide t-shirt and black leather vest sat on a studded, red leather-topped stool. He had a green and black Mohawk that he hadn’t bothered putting up (but that was a foot and a half high when he did), so it just draggled like toxic slop down the sides and back of his head. He was doing Jägermeistershots with Belinda. No customers had come in yet. They were listening to Johnny Cash’s “At Folsom Prison” for laughs before any sort of crowd could roll in wanting a fast and loud nihilist ruckus.

For a frozen moment, Belinda just glared at Simon as he stood in the doorway. She couldn’t remember ever mentioning to him where she worked, but she had and he’d found her. The Mohawk guy looked at Simon like he was a twerpy nobody and even scowled at how a chick like Belinda could waste her time gawking at somebody who was nobody. Simon in turn looked at Belinda under the overhead lamp and saw for the first time how hard living was going to war on her face, how by now her skin was something no self-respecting burn victim would trade her for. Finally, Belinda slugged down the Mohawk guy’s next shot for him and said, “Kick him out. He’s not 21.”

“Look, Belinda,” Simon said, “I don’t know what you heard.”

“What I heard? What I heard is Robert O could lose everything now.”

“He had it coming.”

“Get him out,” Belinda shouted. The Mohawk guy did a push-up off the bar, kicked his stool to the side and rubbed his hands together as he walked on over to Simon. He was six foot six and was saying something about how they could do this the easy way or the skull-busting way he liked to do it, but by now Simon was too used to threats to pay attention.

“We gotta talk, Belinda.”

Using just the finger pads of one hand, the Mohawk guy pushed Simon out the door by his bony chest. Simon stood his ground outside, though, and before the door could swing all the way shut, he could see Belinda coming out from behind the bar. Next thing, she was standing on the walkway with him in the brisk night air. For a small stretch of time, neither one said a thing to the other, though Belinda’s flared eyes and nostrils made it clear that Simon had better start talking.

“I wish you’d been at the party,” said Simon.

“Well, too bad,” Belinda said, lighting a cigarette, “I wasn’t.”

“You coulda seen for yourself. You coulda stepped in.”

“I was working. And I’m working now. So, quick, what’s your side? What happened?” She folded her arms, the cigarette smoldering about an inch off her black sweater.

“Y’know, down in Georgia, you had all day to sit and jabber,” Simon said, back-talking for the first time in his life, “Get you to New York and suddenly your time is money. You’re practically snappin’ in my face.”

“Take up any more of my time, your face’ll get a fuck lot worse.”

“They tried taking advantage of me, Belinda.”

“Oh, please.”

“Did a lot more than try. They did. They got me in the bedroom.”

“You got two fists. And lungs for screaming in case your arms are too noodlely to fight off a bunch of pansies.”

“They drugged me.”

“Okay, so? You live, you learn.”

“Learn? You blamin’ me?”

“I’m not blaming anyone. I’m just saying that’s life, kid. I had to deal with it. You think my mom’s boyfriends stuck around cuz a her? You think they always woke up in her bed? And I didn’t want ’em. I was just a schoolgirl. I couldn’t help it I was growing tits in my sleep. I couldn’t help it Ma wasn’t home reading me bedtime stories. She was out with them. But a lot of times I’d wake up to one of her scum, with their fingers in me, tellin’ me bedtime stories—about bears playing doctor on Goldilocks. And it was shit and I hated it…but it was supposed to be that way.”

“It was supposed to be that way?”

“Yep. Because it’s life. Life showing me its real face, right from the get-go. And the sooner you learn people are like that, that they do that kinda shit, the better off you’ll be.”

Simon looked to the sky, “Makes me want to run screaming back to church when I hear talk like that.”

“Why? You think they’re any better there?”

“They didn’t drug me in church.”

“Only cuz they don’t drink. Sure raped the shit out of your mind, though. And it’ll be a lifetime before you shake that off.”

“I need my stuff.”

“Your stuff? He bought it for you. It’s his. And don’t go expecting more free haircuts either. Your roots look like shit, by the way.”

“So, I’m not getting anything back?”

“You can try. But Robert O is gettin’ out tonight, darlin’. His boss is posting bail. I’d stay well out of his way.”

“He’s not going up the river?”

“We’ll see, but he’s gonna tell the judge a lot of the stuff wasn’t his. He might turn in some names for leniency, do some rehab, some community service. He’s got a good lawyer—that other guy you got busted got the lawyer for him, from his firm.”

“You mean, the Jew.”

“His best client…who you got busted. Don’t know if he’ll be his client anymore after this. Might lose his law license if he gets a record.”

“Oh, he’ll be back,” said Simon, “Robert O’s just gotta hold out some coke and that Jew’s nose’ll be right back sniffin’ at his hair chair.”

“Whoa, Simon, honey,” Belinda said, “Never heard you so hostile before. Chip off the ole bigot.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just—that guy…Look, how long’s Robert O in the tank?”

“Could get sprung any minute. The lawyer thinks he can bargain for house arrest. He’ll have to wear one of those anklets. He can go to work and home but nowhere in between, and he’ll have to do some pop-piss quizzes. I went to see him this afternoon before they shipped him to Queens. He says he wants to kill himself, but I don’t think he means it. He says he wants both us out, though, and he means that. He put a message through to someone to change the locks. And he got some guys to put our shit in bags too, I don’t know who they are, and I don’t know how they know whose shit is whose but I don’t want your paws on any shit that’s mine, got it? Robert O said the bags will be next to the dumpster. He doesn’t want us coming up when he gets home. He wants to be alone to think.”

“Maybe sitting and thinking’ll help him change. Maybe this experience helped change him.”

“That’s the angle you churchies always work, isn’t it?”

A few customers started coming up the walkway. They shouted out to Belinda, who gave them a disinterested wave as she cashed out her cigarette with her combat boot.

“Where you staying?” Simon asked.

“With…friends.”

“Ain’ t you gonna ask where I’m stayin’?”

Belinda opened the Lucky 13 Saloon door, “Nope.”

“Is that all you got to say?”

“You mean, besides fuck off and good luck and thanks for getting me evicted? Well, one more thing: Get off the walkway or you’ll find out what it’s like getting the cops called on you.” Belinda walked back into the bar. Simon didn’t even try telling her it was Bucktrout who’d called the cops. It’d be like talking sense into a badger. She’d only believe what she’d made up her mind to believe.

But even after all that had happened, and even after how Belinda had left things, Simon still couldn’t agree that everyone was like those white-trash lechers she’d talked about, with their dirty lullabies. Bucktrout wasn’t like that. The station agent wasn’t like that. Not even Belinda would be like that if her mom’d had better taste in men. And there was Margie at work, who got Simon the job as soon as he hit town. And the cashier with the big glasses and stringy strawberry blond hair at The Strand, whose name Simon still hadn’t learned but who always gave him a big smile and remembered what he’d bought the last time he’d been in, she wasn’t one of the bad guys. As he wandered away from Lucky 13 in the cold, Simon continued running a counter list of names in his head, comprised mainly of customers who’d say please and thank you and treat him like an equal when he’d refill their water glasses or bus their dirty plates. Granted, it wasn’t a roster to rival the “begat” chapters of Genesis, but there were enough people on it from the past couple months to keep him from throwing himself on the F train tracks as he waited on the platform to go back and collect his things from the rubbish pile next to Robert O’s building.

But then he got to Clinton Street and saw the by-now familiar sight of his few meager chattels stuffed in garbage bags; only, in this newest set of bags, he’d found even less than he’d come to New York with. There were only two bags left outside for both him and Belinda and scavengers had already gotten in and picked the best bits out of both—that is, after Robert O and whoever had helped him pack had decided on what they’d keep for themselves and what they’d toss. Not even the tattered orange russet winter coat he wore on his first day was there anymore. Most of the stuff was women’s wear and bondage gear, all belonging to Belinda and nothing Simon would want, though he did recall how much fun it was acting all camp in that negligee during that Bette Davis movie. About all Simon managed to find of his own were a couple pairs of underwear and socks and fortuitously a canvass shopping bag from The Strand to carry them off in.

None of the mounds of books he’d bought at The Strand were in the trash, though. (Who knew Robert O or his packers were such big readers? Or maybe whatever dumpster divers had gotten there before him were?) But his copy of Euro Boy had found its way into the pile, so Simon picked it out and put it in the Strand bag as a memento of being cast out of the Bible belt. Simon knew this was the part where the Prodigal Son had better make that call home before he’s forced to dine on pig feed, but he also knew that if he went back to Menard’s house, he’d be the fatted calf before he could even open his mouth to say father.

Simon looked up to Robert O’s apartment window. The only lights he saw came from Robert O’s HD TV set, which vibrated a frenzy of colors on to a gallimaufry of fine art and conspicuous consumerism, all meant to underscore Robert O’s good taste, though the overall effect was that of a Cockatoo’s acid trip. Simon gathered up his little bagful of unmentionables (not the least unmentionable of which was Euro Boy) and walked back to Chelsea Night & Day to see if Paula might be able to furnish him with a replacement uniform, a free dinner and maybe some flattened cardboard to sleep on for the night behind the leaky refrigerator in her restaurant’s kitchen.

Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel 85A. He lives in Brooklyn with his husband Julius and his illustrious felines Marquez and Giuseppe.

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