by Julie Baker
For disclaimers, see One
Chapter Seven: Never Tease a Wet Midget
Or : A Doll Even Skipper Wouldn't Date
"Hey, baby, how are you with your ... hands?" the low, sexy voice on the other end of the phone whispered. The deep rumbling timbre actually tickled Bess ear.
Trying to sound like the wide-eyed innocent that she no longer was, Bess teased back, "Well, I havent had any complaints so far."
"Ive got a proposition for you," the deep voice continued suggestively.
"What did you have in mind?"
The voice on the other line hushed to impart an even more enticing tone. "I wanted to know if you wanted to come over and ... play."
Bess almost slid off the couch, the suggestion threatening to melt her into a warm puddle of helplessly aroused flesh. "Hmmm," she swallowed, "I dont know. What did you want to ... play with?"
A short, meaningful pause. "Dolls."
Bess had to giggle and she snickered, "I gotta admit I havent had that kind of proposition in years."
"Well, consider yourself officially propositioned," Nancy laughed.
Scheduling a time to see each other was becoming a lesson in patience for the duo. Nancy had been trying fitfully to catch up on her sleep for a few days, with spotty results. They both had been trying to further their careers as well. Actually, Nancy was practicing hers; Bess was still trying to find one. Bess would job hunt by day, pounding the pavement, while Nancy was spending her days looking for the elusive woman from the bar and the homeless secret operative, Agent 409. In the evenings, Nancy was photographing the evening performances of the Freak Show.
Frustrated and getting nowhere but fast, Nancy came up with a plan to get together with the object of her affections and get some work done, too. Tonight Ernie was coming over to put together the Freak dolls to sell at the shows. If Bess would help them, she could get a percentage of the sales and they could spend the evening together.
"How artistic are you, anyway?" Nancy returned to her normal speaking voice, and rolled her eyes. I dont care if you cant draw a straight line.
"I never really advanced any farther than eating crayons when I was little, so Id say ... not very."
Nancy filled her in on Ernies latest marketing idea -- Freak Dolls -- and asked if she was interested in joining in.
Bess warmed at the invitation. Id be happy to fold laundry with you at this point. "I dont know, theres a great rerun of 'My Three Sons' on tonight. I think Steve catches Chip and Ernie with a copy of 'Hustler' and they both get grounded for a month. I've seen it a million times, though. The thrill is gone."
Nancy spun in place and silently mouthed a long drawn out, YYeesss!! "Tell you what, Ill tap my foot while I whistle the theme music to the show, and on top of that, Ill let you personally drive the needles up the nose of the Human Blockhead dolls."
"Oh my God! How could any woman resist you when you make offers like that?" I cant. Bess wide smile was starting to hurt her face but she wasn't about to try and restrain it.
"They cant. It's futile, so dont even try. My wiles and talents are too nauseating even for those with really strong constitutions." Nancy cringed at her rather lame attempt to be overtly flirtatious. Although a hesitant flirt in person, the telephone gave her the freedom to be brave and just a little bit forward. She was truly enjoying that.
"Well, this is one of the most interesting propositions Ive ever gotten." And cutest. "I give up; I'm yours for the evening. Do with me what you will."
"Stick around me baby, and I promise your life will always be interesting." If you stick around I think Ill be doing all sorts of propositioning.
"What woman could pass up such a unique and lucrative invitation? Not moi. What time? Do you need me to bring anything?"
"Sevenish?" She took a deep breath, and let herself go. "Just bring yourself and your sweet smile."
Although annoyingly packed on weekends, week nights were notoriously slow at the Parkside Lounge and week days were down right morgue dead. This meant heavy duty clean up time for the staff. The bouncers brought brute strength to scrubbing filthy floors and polishing every square inch of the dance club.
After piling up the weekend's waste, a particularly burly bouncer who wanted to get some fresh air and smoke a bowl volunteered for dumpster duty. He easily carried four full trash bags in each hand into the alley. As he headed towards the dumpster, he sidestepped and ignored a makeshift tent made of cardboard pieces. Never one to pass up the opportunity to work out, he used the bags as makeshift weights as he walked. Flexing one then the other arm, he admired how his biceps tightened and bulged.
Arriving in front of the dumpster, he set the bags from his right hand down before lifting the lid. Once opened, he peered inside. The remaining bags in his left hand slid to the ground unnoticed, and the dumpster lid fell with a loud, creaking bang.
Normally hale and hearty, his face paled and he bent at the waist and proceeded to retch uncontrollably onto the tops of his brand new Nikes.
Once he was able to stand upright again, the six foot mass of muscle teetered back into the bar, and finally was able to describe to his bewildered coworkers the sight that had reduced him to a bawling, vomiting mess of manhood: in the depths of the dumpster he'd spied a bloody pair of human legs. Those legs were not attached to a body -- and the feet were missing.
Three digits were tapped into a nearby phone, and not one of his fellow bouncers felt the need to go verify his story while they waited for the police to arrive.
Mei looked up from her copy of The Girl Who Gave Birth to Rabbits to watch the odd pair. The tall woman was chewing intently on the end of a long piece of jerky while her small companion picked through the Barbi and Kenn dolls in the bin at the front of her booth.
Nancy bit off a sizeable chunk of the jerky and mumbled, "Tell me again what were doing here?"
Ernie handed her a doll, and stared up at her with impatience in his eye. "I told you I talked to Fred about this last week." He watched as Nancy turned the flesh colored doll around to inspect it with a doubtful look on her face. "Were going to make Freak dolls, remember now?"
"I know that!" She chewed harder on the jerky, and then piled the wad into her cheek so she could speak a little more clearly. "Tell me again what Im doing here!"
"I could lie and say its for the pleasure of your delightful company. But the truth is, I need you to help me carry these."
Nancy chewed a bit more before she winked at him. "Thats what I thought -- youre just using me for my body."
His head was level with the strip of jerky when she lowered her hand. He got a whiff of it and shot her a sour look. "What kind of jerky is that?"
"Squid, want some? I got it at that booth back there." She waved it even closer to his nose.
He backed away, his stomach roiling at the unappetizing odor. "No thanks, Ill pass."
She ripped off another healthy bite with her teeth. "You dont know what youre missing."
"That's the same thing you said when you told me I should try sex with women. Again, I'll go with my better instincts and pass on that tempting offer."
They laughed and then he favored the Asian woman who was watching them with his best smile. "Do you have these dolls by the case?"
Mei closed her book. "I have one case of the Barbis and two of the Kenns."
"How many dolls are in a case?" Ernie asked casually, not wanting to be seen as an easy mark just because he'd shown interest in her wares. It was wheel-and-deal time, something he excelled at.
"Twenty." Mei put her book down and stood up, mentally calculating her profit. She quoted him a price, and then he counter offered. Some haggling took place, and Nancy started to get bored with the whole process before Ernie and the woman struck a deal.
Ernie beamed Nancy a satisfied grin. "Perfect, well take all three cases."
Nancy finished up the last bit of the jerky and helped the woman lift the boxes off the back shelves. After setting the boxes down on the makeshift counter she picked up Mei's book and leafed through it. "Interesting title."
Mei glared at her and snatched the book back. "Yeah, it is."
Startled by the woman's rude behavior, Nancy stepped back and held up her hands. "Hey. Sorry."
Mei snorted and ignored her apology. Ernie stepped up and handed her the money. Without bothering to thank them, she put the folded bills in a cigar box and sat back down, flipping open her book as if they no longer existed.
Sliding a box into his arms, Ernie nodded towards the other two. "Come on, Nance, grab those and let's roll."
As soon as they were out of ear shot, Nancy groused, "Was it just me, or is she one miserable bitch?"
Ernie smiled up at her. "You do bring out the best in people. Must be your squid breath or something. She was pretty though."
Nancy shrugged off his commentary about the rude vendor's good looks. "Hey, I can be damned charming when I wanna to be. Bess is coming over tonight, that's proof positive."
"If you say so." Putting thoughts about the rude vendor behind them, Ernie shifted the light weight of his box as they walked along. "Speaking of the truly charming, how is Bess, anyway?"
"I think she's still job hunting but hey, shell be over tonight to help us with these silly dolls." Nancy took a broad step over a large puddle and then waited on the other side for Ernie to catch up as he went around it.
"How long has it been since youve seen her?"
Nancy sighed wistfully as she watched Ernie leap over the next puddle. "I havent seen her since the day you bailed me out. Weve just been talking on the phone. I guess its five days now." Five days of frustration.
"So whats going on with your snooping around?"
"Nothing new. The more time that passes the less I care about it. Well, personally, that is. Im just relieved that the cops are leaving me the hell alone. Jauan said he hasnt seen them around the hot dog cart in a few days, so I think theyve stopped following me."
Ernie stepped to the edge of the curb and frowned at a rather large puddle directly in their path. Nancy stood behind him, staring off into space as they waited for the traffic to clear so they could cross.
"Maybe they have a new suspect."
"Yeah, maybe," Nancy said without conviction.
Just then a cab drove right through the puddle in front of them, kicking up a spray that landed directly on the small man. He took the brunt of the hit, unintentionally blocking any from landing on his taller friend behind him. Nancy couldn't help but witness the whole event and was desperately doing her best not to laugh. He spun, dripping, and glared menacingly at her. He was mad, really mad, because he was drenched and there she stood; dry as the Sahara and on the verge of helpless laughter.
She looked him up and down, and couldn't resist turning to the stranger who had just approached the curb beside them. "Lookit that, willya? Get a little water on him and he shrinks. Before he got splatted, he was just as tall as me."
The man just blinked at her and then at Ernie, and quickly crossed the street, avoiding the both of them as though they'd just been released from Bellevue. When he'd safely reached the far curb, he sneaked a look back to find one muddy and swearing midget clutching a box while smartly kicking the tall, doubled over with laughter woman in the shin.
He shook his head, and continued on his way, giving silent credit to the woman for keeping a good grip on the boxes she held while trying to evade the persistent kicks coming from the very angry and wet little man.
Bess was sitting in a room with about a dozen bored looking people. What is it with me? I dont think I want this job either. After all those years at the dairy farm, I want something different. I went through the days on autopilot. Now I dont care how much I make, I just dont want it to be such a complete snooze. Different, thats what I want. Something different and maybe ... a little exciting.
She flipped through a dog-eared past issue of Time magazine, turning each page, scanning without really reading a word. When she came across a photo of President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky she paused and turned to the cover to check the date. Four years ago!! This bored me to tears then. Im not reliving it now. She tossed the magazine on the table in front of her and sat back sighing, puffing out her cheeks. She glanced around the room and surreptitiously examined each person. Who would have thought so many people would want to be a museum guard? Gotta be the cool uniform.
While she waited to be called for her interview, she decided to kill time by playing a little guessing game. Taking into account the person's wardrobe and body language, she tried to sum up their personal lives.
Married .Married .Gay .Divorced .Pretending to be straight Never had a date .Separated .Married .Sooo gay. Her game was interrupted when the office door opened and a young woman announced tiredly, "Thank you all for coming in today, but Im sorry to say that the position has been filled."
Relieved at being released from this tedium, Bess elbowed her way out of the room and into the hallway. Good, this will give me more time to get ready to see Nancy tonight. But the uniform would have been nice...
"GODDAMN IT!" Friedman was pulling at the knot in his tie; his struggle was tightening it instead of loosening it. "Fuck!" He yanked at it again, still not managing to loosen it in the least. "Sun fun a zoig!"
Quinn watched him fumble in frustration and tried to calm the older cop down. "Yo, Friedman, stop pulling on it like that or youre gonna choke yourself."
"YOU! You have no business talking to me right now!" Friedman barked.
"Me?" Quinn poked his thumb to his chest, "How is this my fault?"
"Drop the surveillance, you said!" Friedman paced back and forth in a small circle while still pulling fretfully at his tie. "The uniform cops time would be better utilized searching leads, you said." He finally yanked the tie over his head and threw it towards his car, falling short of his mark by a good twenty-five yards. "TWO DAYS!! Two days after we drop the surveillance and - this happens!"
Quinn just barely kept his voice to a civil level. "Look, you know better than that. We followed her for three days and got nothing. There was no way to justify continuing it and you know it. Weve got jackshit on her." He stepped in front of the pacing man and got right in his face. "I repeat, NOTHING. So give it, and me, a fuckin' break."
Friedman stopped his pacing and shrugged his shoulders with a sigh of defeat. "Ya know, I think we should just give it up and call in the Feds. I cant stomach the thought of finding someone else like this." He swallowed back an acidic burp and looked very much as if his mediocre lunch was about to make a return trip to the outside world.
Quinn placed his hand on the senior detectives forearm. "Now come on, you dont want to go out like that. In all your years on the force youve never had to call for outside help. Dont start now." Quinn pulled his own tie loose and undid his collar button. "Remember when we hit a dead end on the deaths in the shooting galleries around here?" Quinn paused and waited for a response from Friedman, when he received a small nod he continued. "You were convinced that these people werent just your run of the mill ODs. You wouldnt let me call in the Feds to do a job we could do ourselves. We got 'em."
Quinn could see he was finally penetrating the frazzled armor of his comrade. "We'll find this guy, this perverted sick freak murderer ourselves. Dont bring in a bunch of federal yahoos just yet." Quinn looked to the lastest victim and muttered "Fuckin' freaks "
After a number of cleansing breaths and a bit more swearing in Yiddish, Friedman had to admit that Quinn was right about ending the costly surveillance of Nancy Zoccoli. Although Friedman was doubtful she was the Freak murderer, he was certain she was a magnet for trouble and he had a cop's intuition that she would lead them to some sort of new evidence that the task force was overlooking. He closed his eyes, concentrating on slowing his heart rate. Finally he nodded down to the ground and in a much more professional tone rumbled, "So fill me in on the details."
Quinn handed him the plastic evidence bag with the murder's calling card in it: an old postcard of a sideshow freak. "This one's been made to look like some freak by the name of Eli Bowen, The 'Legless Acrobat'."
He read the information about Bowen aloud from the back of the postcard through the clear plastic of the evidence bag. Bowen worked for PT Barnum in the 1890s. Born with no legs, his feet grew out of his hip joints. He often performed with Charles Tripp, the armless wonder. A part of their act was to ride a tandem bicycle - Charles would pedal while Eli steered.
Friedman squatted down to get a closer look at the posed and mutilated body. "So what's that? A bicycle helmet?"
Quinn stretched his jaw as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well, look at the postcard. Theyre on a bike."
Friedman looked at the card but there was no helmet in the picture. "So, theyre on a bike. I don't see a helmet."
Both men puzzled this over silently.
Friedman's next question arrived shortly thereafter. After slowly and meticulously examining the corpse, he frowned up at Quinn. "And whats with the kilt?"
"Good question. Ya got me." Quinn answered. "I dont think its relevant. I'm not sure."
He watched as Friedman reached down and lifted the kilt to reveal that the man no longer had legs but he had two feet sewn with haphazard cross stitching to his hips. He lifted the evidence bag in his hand, pointing to the picture on the front of the postcard. "Not to sound too obvious, but from the looks of it, Id say those feet are somewhat relevant."
Friedman chuckled darkly at Quinn's attempt at macabre humor. After taking into account the condition of the dead man's clothes, the cardboard tent by the dumpster and the shopping cart next to it, he surmised, "Poor guy's a vagrant."
"Looks like it. The boys seem to think theyve seen him around Thompkins Square. I sent one of them over to see if he could find that guy we talked to the other day, Dr. Doolittle, and see if he could tell us anything about him."
Friedman was still troubled by a number of things. "This poor slob doesnt even facially resemble the guy in the postcard and he has a friggin' helmet on."
The close proximity of decomposing bloody limbs made Quinn straighten up and move a step away. "So you're thinking this is a copycat job?"
Friedman lifted the kilt a last time to examine the attached feet again and then stood up, a little dizzy from it all. "No. Can't be. The press doesnt know about the postcards the schmuck leaves behind. I think our killer's just getting sloppy, taking the first mark that seems convenient. He's getting desperate for attention and his next friggin' thrill. It gives him less time to plan."
Quinn nodded, and stepped farther back as the police photographer moved in to take additional shots.
Friedman loosened the first few buttons on his starched white shirt as he blinked against the harsh flash of the camera. Sloppy is good. Youre going to trip up and Im gonna be there to nab you. He made another silent promise. Soon. Very soon.
Coffee breaks at the Little Brown Publishing Company usually consisted of going to the inter-office café and gossiping about each other's mind numbing personal lives. Georgia had already used up her shock quota on her morning break, telling the story of her trip to Thompkins Park with Ernie over dry doughnuts and lousy coffee. Now it was her mid-afternoon break and the thrill was gone.
Their lunchtime had consisted of discussing the scintillating revelation that the afternoon security guard at the front reception desk was moonlighting as a faux caller on a morning radio drive show. He was the celebrity voice that callers had to identify to win cash. His latest impersonation was mimicking Nicolas Cage, who was getting a divorce after a brief marriage to Lisa Marie Presley. This morning's zinger had been: "I married the King's daughter only to find out she wanted a queen in the bedroom."
Georgia had enough of the lame office banter, and wandered out for a short walk. Strolling up 51 St., she punched her home number into her phone.
Bess rushed out of the bathroom to grab the phone. "Hello?"
Georgia knew that identifying herself to a person who had known her since birth was unnecessary. "How did the interview go?"
Bess carried the phone with her into the bathroom to retrieve her toenail clippers. "It didnt."
"Whats that supposed to mean? 'It didnt'."
Bess plopped on the couch to finish clipping her toenails. She secretly enjoyed the idea that Georgia would have a cow if she knew she was being so unhygienic in their living area. "Its supposed to mean just what I said. The job was filled before I even had an interview."
Georgia turned away from the store in time to watch a bike delivery person nearly kiss the front end of a cab as it sped past. "Aw, Im sorry. Maybe next time." She couldn't help but be suspicious that her sister had sabotaged the interview herself, but didn't say so. "What do you have lined up for the rest of the day?"
Bess grinned as a clipped toenail shot towards the kitchen. I gotta remember where that one went. "Im going over to Nancys to help them turn some Barbie dolls into Freaks."
"Bess, dont you think you should be spending a little more time trying to find a career? You remember what that is, right? Money coming in? A paycheck?"
"Come on, you know Ive been job hunting non-stop. I want to go out and have a little fun tonight. You do remember what fun is, dontcha?" She decided to put a better shine on it. "Besides, theyre going to pay me to help them."
Typically, George remained unconvinced. "Wait until after 5 and Ill go with you."
Bess spoke in a mock childish tone while catching a flying toenail clipping at the same time. "I appreciate the offer, but I think Im old enough to go play with Barbies all by myself."
Georgia skipped past mother hen and went into full smothering mode. "Fine, but I want you to leave me Nancys phone number."
"Dont give me any crap, Bess. I love you for some silly reason and I just want to know that youre safe."
Bess sat down on the toilet lid and chastised herself for being so insensitive. "I know George, I love you too. Ill leave the number."
Later, Bess was trying fruitlessly to shove a tiny pin through the hardened plastic chest of a Kenn doll. She wasn't succeeding. "This wont work," she said with frustration, "the pins keep breaking. Youll need to drill hole or something first. Its too damned hard otherwise." She had a small pile of broken tiny pins on the table in front of her.
Nancy temporarily halted drawing the body tattoo on her Barbi doll to study the situation. "No, the problem is youre pushing too deep into the breast. Keep it a surface piercing and the pin will go in easier. Here, try heating the end of the pin with this lighter first. Oughta slide right through." She put her sharpie pen down and picked up one of the dolls Bess was working on, demonstrating her technique.
Bess grinned at her ruefully. "Ah, I see I didnt realize that the nipple piercing ... of dolls ... was such a refined art."
"Yep its right up there with Barbi hairstyling." Ernie explained seriously as he gave a naked Barbi a Sergeant Carter buzz cut.
Bess applied Nancy's technique with another doll. After the heated pin passed through it like butter, she dropped the doll in the pile and went around the table to thank Nancy with an exaggerated hug.
"My piercing hero!" she trilled as though Nancy was a Mountie and had ridden up to untie her from a set of railroad tracks.
"My pleasure!" Nancy answered, her voice happily muffled by Bess' chest.
Ernie looked up from performing hair makeovers to watch the playful exchange between the two women. The three of them had been at this tedious duty for hours now and he'd been looking for an excuse to make his exit. Thats my cue. "Well, I dont know about you two but Im beat. Im gonna head home."
Still with her arms hanging loosely around Nancy's neck, Bess looked into Nancys eyes and asked a silent question.
Nancy quirked a grin. "Thats funny, it's almost midnight, and Im not tired in the least. How 'bout you, Bess?"
Bess quick and blushing shake of her head was enough for Ernie. He yawningly said his farewells and left the two women alone.
They continued to doggedly work on the dolls for a short while when Nancy glanced at a squinting Bess and an idea came to mind. She left the room and returned with her camera.
Bess looked up from her piercing work to find a camera lens pointed at her, grinned shyly and dropped her head to return to her task. Nancy watched Bess through the viewfinder and took a few frames of her deep in thought as she tried to complete a doll. She finished working on a Kenn doll with a mullet, garishly tattooed with a snake wrapped around his upper torso and she pierced his nose, ears and nipples. Forgetting how much she hated to be photographed and that Nancy was watching her through a camera, Bess held the doll up to the photographer and smiled.
When looking at a subject, there are times a photographer doesnt really look at them. They may look at their hair, clothes and background to make sure its all in order. Then there are those rare times when a connection with a subject is made on a deeper level. Thats what separates a good portrait from a great one. The mediocre shots are composed properly but achieve no emotional communion with the subject.
Through the viewfinder Nancy carefully composed the image. Move to the left, zoom in a little closer, have the doll slightly off to the left, take the hair off her shoulder. As she thought this, she automatically reached out and moved Bess hair off her neck and behind her shoulder. The light touch caused Bess to visibly tremble. She gazed up to the camera and directly into the lens. Nancy stopped composing the shot and let Bess' image fill her viewfinder. A connection was forged, and Nancy forgot she was seeing her through a camera lens and found she was looking straight into Bess eyes and became transfixed. The photographer forgot why she had a camera in her hands and never once depressed the shutter.
Bess squirmed a little, uncomfortable with the scrutiny of the unmoving camera so close to her face. "Are you going to take the picture or not?"
Nancy was startled into reality and immediately snapped the picture. She kept looking through the viewfinder long after the shot had been taken, trying to compose her shaky nerves.
Bess was quickly tiring of looking at Nancy only to see a camera staring back at her. Shed had enough and gently reached up and lowered the camera. She searched Nancys face only to be captured by the look of desire shining in her eyes.
Nancy set the camera down on the table next to the dolls. Once her hands were empty, she reached for Bess to fill them again. Bess was already standing, moving towards her with the same urgency. They stood next to the table and slid into an embrace. Lips collided, tongues explored, and hands sought out flesh to fondle, squeeze and caress. Seeking fingers stroked at instantaneously taut nipples through the fabric of bras and shirts. Decorum was discarded and replaced by fevered groping; neither woman seemed to be able to get enough of the other. Only the need for air made them realize how quickly things were spiraling out of control, and they pulled back just slightly, not to stop, just to slow things down.
After a moment Bess dropped her head onto Nancys chest and simply said. "Wow."
Nancy dropped her cheek to the top of the head below and breathlessly agreed, "Uh huh."
Bess reached up, pulling Nancy's mouth back down to her own. "Slower this time," she whispered against the taller womans lips just before they met again.
This kiss was softer, calmer and very deliberately sweet. It caused the two of them to slowly move against each another, and before they could stop it, their passions were escalating again as they nearly slow danced towards the living room. Nancy felt the couch at the back of her legs and never allowing their kiss to break, she sat down, pulling Bess down on top of her. She tugged at the bottom of the smaller womans shirt, releasing it from her pants, and ran warmed hands inside, searching for...
BAM, BAM, BAM! "Nancy, wake up and open the door!"
BAM, BAM, BAM! "Nancy, open up the goddamned door. Now!"
"Oh for God's sakes." Nancy sat up, bringing a panting Bess with her. She clutched at her pounding chest certain she was having a heart attack.
Bess slid off the wheezing woman and fell against the arm of the couch as she tried to slow her breathing and straighten her rumpled shirt.
Recognizing Randys voice, Nancy grumbled, "Im gonna KILL 'im!" She gave Bess a quick frown of apology and stomped to her front door and threw it open. Just as she was beginning to take a deep breath to bitch him out for interrupting her so late at night, he pushed his way past her and left her standing their, open mouthed and seething.
He gave Bess his best bad ass cop sneer and demanded, "You two need to tell me everything you know about some weirdo who went by the name of ... Agent 409."
Continued in Eight
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