Sorry about the length of time between posts. ‘Tis the season to be busy! I’ll try to get back to once a week.


 Negative Reaction

by Julie Baker
© 2002

Chapter Eight:  Something Stinky is Afoot

Bess was still sitting next to Nancy on the couch, slowly running a comforting hand up and down the distraught woman's back. Finally unable to take the silence anymore, she hesitantly spoke, not sure if she what she wanted to say would help or hinder. "You know, Randy didn’t say for sure that they were after you for that man’s murder."

Nancy bent forward, holding her head in her hands. "No, but he didn’t say they weren’t, either."

Her cop neighbor, Randy, had given up very little information at all. He'd heard that a homeless man named Agent 409 appeared to be the latest Freak victim. The police grapevine was buzzing with the fact that Nancy had been seen asking around about him only a few days before. So Randy immediately left the station and rushed home to get to the bottom of it. When Nancy sputteringly told him that she'd actually been asking after the man, he closed up tighter than a virgin's legs and wouldn't tell them anything more. "Look, Nancy, I could lose my badge if they find out I talked to you. We’ve known each other a long time and I really don’t think you’re capable of doin’ these crazy things. Just the same, ya need to watch your back." Paranoid, he looked around as if he expected detectives to bust in at any second. "Look, I gotta go, I’ll try and help ya if I can - but no one can know I was here." With that, he was out the door.

Nancy lifted her head up and turned to Bess and frowned. "I think I'd better get you home, huh?"

Bess started to protest but one look at Nancy’s weary face and she knew it would be a useless effort. Nancy went to the phone to call for a cab. "They’ll be here in ten minutes," she sighed as she hung up and leaned heavily against the wall.

Bess rose from the couch and stood in front of her. "Even with the way this evening ended ... I had a really great time tonight. I think I learned some new skills. Doll tattooing and piercing. There's got to be a market for that, right?" She put her hands on the taller woman’s waist and stood on her tiptoes to place a warm, soft kiss on her cheek.

Nancy put her arms lightly around her and gave her a gentle squeeze with a wan smile. "Sure, there’s gotta be. I had a good time too." She released her and pushed off the wall. "Come on, let’s go wait downstairs." She grabbed the jar of stewed tomatoes that Silvio had given Bess earlier and guided her out the door.

After saying their reluctant farewells, Nancy gave the cab driver a twenty and waved as it pulled away. As soon as it disappeared from sight, she gazed up at her apartment window for a moment, then turned on her heel and disappeared into the night.

"She was asking about the guy in the park the other day." Quinn repeated again as he handed Friedman a pile of papers. It was after 4 A.M. and the two detectives were already on their third pot of coffee while they went over the latest findings.

Friedman tossed the papers on his desk and picked up a photo of Wesley Taylor’s - aka Agent 409 - corpse. "I know. I read the report. Her buddies were also asking around about him last week. It seems she told them she wanted to find him so he could confirm the time she was in the park, sleepin' on that bench."

Friedman finished tacking up the photo of Taylor on the too crowded victim board.

Quinn rubbed his eyes, and scratched at his beard stubble. "Whattya think? Ya still think she's not involved in this?"

The detective turned away from the grisly photos and sat down on the edge of his desk, and loosened the ties on his shoes, giving his sore corns a little room to breathe. "She could've been looking for him because of what she told us, or maybe ... he knew she was there at a different time. I wish we woulda caught up with him before the killer did."

He stood gingerly and shuffled over to the bulletin board again. Running a finger over the photos of the last three victims, his eyes widened as he noticed something not quite right. "Quinn, something’s not adding up here. Look at this. This guy ... or girl … is gettin' sloppy."

When Mei finally left the after-hours club, the sudden shift from blackened dimness to early morning sunlight brought tears to her eyes and knocked her senses slightly off balance. The Tribeca Club was only a few blocks away from the nursing home that housed her grandmother. Guiltily reminding herself that she was overdue for a visit, she walked the short distance to the old, nondescript building.

The city-funded home was utilitarian in appearance and its sterile environment helped draw notice to Mei’s disheveled appearance. The smell of cheap booze and cigarettes permeated the air around her. She entered her grandmother’s room to find her still sleeping. Taking a chair by the bed, she gently grasped the old woman's hand and softly spoke to her in Chinese.

The routine was always the same. Mei would speak about a fantasy life in her stories, weaving tales of an ideal life she certainly was not living. She mentioned the many museums she'd visited, the wonderful, thoughtful men she dated, and the wealth that she had accumulated. She spoke of the many friends she had and the beautiful apartment that she lived in.

The old woman slowly opened her eyes and looked around the room. The confused look on her face upset Mei to the core, no matter how many times she'd witnessed it.

Her Grandmother was no longer aware of who or where she was. She looked to Mei and spoke in Chinese, "Who are you?"

Mei stroked her hand and tried to smile. "It’s me, Mei, Grandmother."

There was no recognition to her words. "Who are you and where is Doon Lang?"

"Doon Lang has been gone for fifteen years now, Grandmother. It’s just you and me now."

"Doon Lang said we we’re going to the park today. I have to get ready."

Mei held back anguished tears and tried to bring her Grandmother back to the present. "No, Grandmother, Doon Lang isn’t coming."

But the old woman would have none of that. "I have to get ready." She ran her hands through her thinning hair and tried to get up.

Mei put a hand on her shoulder and stopped her. "Here, let me help you." She reached into the nightstand and retrieved a hair brush. Perched on the edge of the bed, she carefully brushed her Grandmother’s hair. Unable to hold back the tears, she wept as she helped her Grandmother prepare for a trip to the park that happened nearly twenty years ago.

Georgia was sitting at the kitchen table finishing the last of her breakfast before heading out for another day of work. Bess stumbled in carrying the want ads and scratching idly at her stomach. Sitting down she snatched the last slice of toast off of her sister’s plate and took a sip of her coffee.

Georgia took her now empty plate to the sink and spoke over her shoulder, grinning in expectation of the reaction her next statement would bring.

"Guess what? I talked to Daddy this morning." She paused, and almost cackled. "He’s coming to visit."

Bess slumped forward and laid her head down onto the Betty Boop tablecloth and moaned. "Noooo. What? When?"

This time, Georgia did cackle with glee. "Tomorrow!"

Bess lifted her head far enough to drop it back down with a painful thump. Georgia smiled with secret satisfaction. When Bess was living in Beemerville, it was always Georgia who was the constant object of their father's disapproval. Each time Georgia came home to visit or talked to him on the telephone, he pestered her, wanting to know when she was going to move back home. Georgia’s answer was always the same. Daddy, New York is my home. Too stubborn to let it go, he'd nag Bess into calling her sister to tell her about the latest single man that he’d found for her. Or, after reading the local paper, he'd call her at work to announce he'd found a house that she'd absolutely love. When one of Bess’ co-workers at the Dairy Farm quit, he even convinced Boyd Maloney to get in touch to offer her a job. Of course, all of this cajoling and plotting stopped the minute that Bess moved to the city. Now he spent his time hounding Georgia to convince Bess to come back home to the wonderful burg of Beemerville.

What goes around, comes around.

Pausing a moment to revel in her sister's obvious discomfort, Georgia decided to give her a small reprieve. Pulling up a chair next to her, she leaned and murmured to the back of her baby sister’s head. "You were out late last night. Did you have a good time?"

Bess finally raised her head up and absentmindedly played with the paper. "To a point." She groaned again. "Tomorrow? Really?"

"Tomorrow, really." When Bess plunked her head back down on the table top again, she snickered, and then her curiosity kicked in. "What does that mean, 'To a point'. Did you, or did you not, have a good time on your date with the Freaky Murderer?"

Bess scowled. "It's the Freak Murderer! Not freaky! Have you no long-term memory at all? And yes, to a point. We were having a wonderful time until her neighbor showed up."

Remembering the sweet Italian man who sent her away with a dozen eggs when she left Nancy’s apartment, Georgia was confused. "What did he do, give you rotten eggs? That smell would be enough to kill any mood."

It took Bess' mind a moment realize who Georgia was talking about. She reached out blindly and slapped at her arm. "No, not Silvio, you ass. Her other neighbor - Randy the beat cop."

This explanation was not helping Georgia’s confusion by any means. "How did he ruin your evening? Did he nail Nancy with another jaywalking ticket?"

Knowing how this was going to go over, Bess gripped the sides of the table preparing herself for the nuclear meltdown that was about to occur. "Randy, well, he told us that ... Agent 409 was the latest Freak Murderer's victim." She immediately shut her eyes and waited for the blast to come. After long moments of nothing but silence, she finally dared to peer at her sister. All the color had left Georgia's cheeks and she stared without blinking. Bess waved her hand in front of her face and still there was no response.

Putting a hand on her sister’s shoulder she gave her a little shake. "George?"



Still nothing.

"George, come on, you’re starting to freak me out here." Whoops, poor choice of words.

Georgia looked at her sister as if she were seeing her for the first time that morning. "Did you just say that Agent 409 was the latest ... victim?"

Pleased that Georgia had finally responded, Bess sat back and nodded. "According to Randy he was. Is. Was."

The color had returned to Georgia’s face with vehemence as she stood up, and the yelling dam broke at the same time. "That’s it!"

That's my George! "What’s it?"

Georgia lifted the phone off the wall. "I’m calling the police to tell them where they can find your girlfriend. Yessir. Right now."

Bess was up from the table in a flash. "Whoa there, George, wait a goddamn minute!" She grabbed the receiver from her sister and hung it up, putting her body between it and her livid sister. "Nancy didn’t do anything wrong. You should've seen her last night - she was in a bigger state of shock than you are! Besides, I think the police already know where the hell to find her if they want her, dontcha think? Or have you already forgotten about our little joyride to the police station last week?"

Georgia's voice could probably be heard a good block away. "Bess, wake up! This is getting downright scary. Some poor soul that I was asking about is dead." She shuddered involuntarily. "I’m not playing around with this anymore and you’re not either. I don’t even like reading about this in the paper and now I’m directly involved. All I need is them showing up at work. That would just be the ticket now, wouldn't it? Just what I need! And YOU! I think you need to get as far away from this shit as you can." She took a step closer to Bess and said under her breath, "Maybe you should go back home with Daddy for awhile."

"Are you mental? Oh no, I don’t think so. In case you haven’t noticed, you big sissy, I’m an adult and quite capable of taking care of myself!" She took her own step forward, until the sisters were nearly nose to nose. "Use your brain. Think about it! This Formula 409 guy - alright, Agent 409! -was one of her alibis! Why in God's name would she make such a big deal about finding him, only to kill him off? That just doesn’t make sense."

Georgia held her sister's gaze "Okay, so he was one of her alibis and now he’s dead. What if she wanted to find him to kill him, or something screwed up like that? Is everything that comes out of her mouth a lily white absolute truth? All I know is if you asininely insist on continuing to see her… What happens to you if you become one of her alibis, huh Bess?"

Bess caved, but only to the point of conceding the point. "Then you can have the thrill of standing at my grave to tell me 'I told you so'." Bess stomped out of the kitchen and down the hall to her bedroom. She yelled her parting shot, "I gotta get my own place"

Georgia wouldn't allow her sister to have the final word. "Don’t even joke about it, Bess! This isn’t even close to being funny." She followed to find her sister back in bed, under the covers. "Now what are you doing? Don’t you have an interview at The Harley Davidson Café this morning?"

Bess pulled the covers over her head and burrowed in. "Yeah, yeah. I’ll get up again in a minute."

Georgia shrugged with irritation and couldn’t resist one last dig. "By the way, Daddy’s train gets in at 12:30 tomorrow. I told him you’d be happy to meet him."

The lump under the covers simply groaned her response.

"Whattya mean you can’t find her?" Friedman growled and tossed the last of his tuna salad sandwich in the trash with a resounding thud.

"By the time we got to her place, she was gone."

"GONE? What do you mean gone? Has she left the city? The state? The country? The fuckin' planet?"

The uniformed cop arched backwards dramatically to avoid the fragrant fish flavored breath of the older man. "We went to her apartment as soon as you told us to. She wasn't there, from what her neighbor says, she left around 1 A.M. last night. Nice guy, he gave me some balsamic vinegar to give to you. But I think the last thing you need right now is something bitter."

Quinn’s impeccable timing saved the insolent cop from losing a few front teeth courtesy of the fist of an outraged Friedman. Pushing the uniform out the door, Quinn turned to face the older man just as he launched into yet another tirade.

Friedman's stomach was already roiling in protest, and he reached for his ever present Tums. "This is fuckin' unbelievable! First you tell me we should stop tailing her and now we can't even FIND her! I’d be goddamned better off just handling this case myself!"

Quinn backed up and took a deep breath. A lack of sleep and his own frustration finally surfaced. "Keep up that attitude, buddy boy, and you’ll be doing just that."

Ernie was standing on Nancy's doorstep, preparing to knock on her door. He'd gotten frustrated trying to call her all morning. After lunchtime, he decided to go over and pull her butt out of bed.

Silvio interrupted his insistent pounding. "She’s notta home, Ernie."

The small man spun around. "What do you mean, she’s not home? We’re going to Coney Island this afternoon."

Silvio pointed to the street and said, "She putta that pretty l'il girl inna cab last night and left. She never come back."

"Great. Now I'll have to lug those dolls to Coney Island myself. Just terrific. Do you have her spare key? I have to get something out of her apartment."

Silvio walked Ernie to Nancy's apartment and after a short wait, returned with the key and let him in, telling Ernie of the police's continual visits overnight and throughout the morning looking for the elusive photographer.

Bess arrived out front to find Ernie juggling two cases of Freak dolls, his small arms strained to the limit. "Hey Ernie," she greeted him cheerfully, looking around as she asked, "Where’s Nancy?"

Ernie lost his grip on the cases and one tumbled forward and freakishly enhanced dolls spilled out onto the steps. He swore, not something he was prone to do. "That’s the fuckin' million dollar question, isn't it? She was supposed to help me take these things out to Fred today."

As she bent down to help him stuff the dolls back in their box, she paused to reinsert a pin into the forearm of a dominatrix Barbi. Worry plainly tinged her voice. "I had an interview this morning or I would have come over earlier. I’ve been worried about her all day. You don’t think they arrested her again, do you?"

"Arrested her? What for?" He gamely tried to concentrate on what she was saying, but something else was distracting his attention away. He sniffed the air suspiciously.

"You mean you don’t know?"

"Don’t know what? Silvio just told me she never came home last night." He gave the air around them another sniff and scowled in consternation.

Bess filled the preoccupied Ernie in on the events that occurred after his departure the previous evening. "Shit!" he exclaimed as he lifted up his foot.

"Shit is right. I know she was pretty upset when I left her."

He looked at her, perplexed, and then laughed away his previous frown. "No, Bess, I cut through the dog park on the way over here - and I’ve got shit on my shoe." In demonstration, he scraped the bottom of his shoe on the step's edge.

"Oh." She laughed herself, and then moved away from the offensive step. "I’m scared for her. What if they have her again?"

"Silvio said the officers keep coming around asking for her so my guess is they don’t know where she is either. She has trouble sleeping and she wanders all around the city. I'll bet she’s fine. She'd better be, or I'm gonna kill her myself. If they had her again Silvio would know, right?"

Bess nodded in the affirmative although his explanation did little to ease her fears. There was little to do but take his word for it. "Are you taking these to the Sideshow?" She gestured down to the boxes of dolls.

"Yeah, I’m attempting to anyway. Nancy was supposed to help me. I’m gonna have a heck of a time hauling these onto the train."

Bess brightened; glad to be able to do something that might take her mind off her worries for a moment. "Let me help. I already did my daily job groveling so I really don’t have anything else to do today." Grabbing a case she started down the stairs with a grateful Ernie trailing behind. After walking along in silence for a few minutes, she looked to him for reassurance. "Do you really think she’s OK, Ernie?"

Ernie gave her the most confident smile he could muster considering his own misgivings. "Trust me, that woman can take care of herself." He only wished he felt as sure as he sounded.

Nancy was taking her second tour of Times Square that afternoon. Earlier that morning, she stood outside of ABC studios and watched the taping of Good Morning America. She'd stood next to a woman holding a sign that read ‘I wake up with Charlie Gibson in my bedroom every morning!’ After looking around at the enthusiastic crowd, she was half wondering if Monty Hall might come up and offer the woman twenty dollars if she had a tape measure in her purse. Glancing at the large outdoor monitor, she was surprised to find herself in the crowd shot. The mornings when she caught the show, she couldn’t help thinking how ridiculous people were when they waved at the cameraman. Quite unaware of what she was doing, she found herself waving wildly to her image on the monitor before she could stop herself. Dork

She'd craned her neck to watch Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts. They make me actually look forward to the news. It’s so much easier to hear what's happening in the world when it comes from Robin or Diane.

After getting a heaping helping of female TV journalist eye candy, she wandered off to take in the sites of Times Square like any typical tourist. She went to the TKTS booth and bought a matinee ticket to Phantom of the Opera. Upon entering the half filled theater, she took a good look around. It was filled with tourists; the majority of them senior citizens whom she assumed belonged to the tour buses parked outside. Finding her assigned seat, she grumbled when she discovered people were seated tightly around her. As soon as the house lights dimmed, she moved over to an unoccupied section of the theater. Before the overture was over, she was fast asleep.

"Ernie, these babies are fuckin’ great!" Fredini was closely examining a made-over Barbi who looked identical to Serpentina. He pulled out a doll fashioned after him and laughed out loud. "Oh my god, this is so perfect!" He looked down inside the doll's pants and smirked. "Well, maybe everything isn’t quite perfect, but we could always add like, a doll's sock down there." Ripping off a corner of a napkin, he wadded it up and stuffed the front of his doll's pants. The 'filling' took some adjusting until he got a satisfied grin. Turning the doll so Ernie and Bess could get a better look, he declared, "There. Now, that’s more like the real deal."

Ernie pointed to the bulge in the front of the real Fred’s pants. "You mean that’s all stuffing?" he teased with a wink and a smile, "Pity."

Fredini took the good natured flirting in stride. "Now listen, Ernie, if I thought you could handle the real thing, I’d be happy to show you just how real this is." He finished his boasting with a healthy grab of his own family jewels. "Speaking of sharing my ... attributes with someone, where’s my girl Nancy?" He smiled at Bess and decided she was an easy mark for his brand of smutty humor. "The way you two were getting along the other day I didn’t think she’d let you out of her sight. I thought you two would be joined at the hip -- or tits -- by now."

Bess blushed and turned away, leaving Ernie to pick up the conversational ball. He was happy to do so; he always got a kick out of a little back and forth with Fred. "Ah, she didn’t know I'd be meeting up with Bess. If she did, I don’t think she would have blown me off. She would have been tagging along, drooling away at Bess like a dyke who's been held captive in a monastery for ten years."

To escape any more embarrassment, Bess wandered away and pretended to be interested in the selections on the jukebox. But she was close enough to hear without the fear of her blossoming relationship with Nancy being the basis for tawdry jokes any longer.

Ernie took note of the fact that Fred was alone behind the bar. "So's hows come the Great Fredini is tending bar? Where’s Koko?" Koko usually worked the day shift at the bar and performed in the afternoon shows. He was a midget who billed himself as Koko The Killer Clown. His shtick included telling bizarre murder stories in full clown face and a prison uniform.

Fredini rinsed a few bar glasses and set them on the shelf to drain. "Don’t talk to me about that little prick. He hasn’t shown up in days now and if and when he does, he can just keep on walking."

Ernie glanced over at Bess, and he winked at her. His ever enterprising mind shifted into gear. "So, have you hired a replacement?"

Fred shook his head. "Nah, not many people are lining up to tend bar at a Sideshow."

Ernie knew a perfect opportunity when he saw one. "Hey, Bess, c'mere." She approached them, and he continued, "Fred needs a bartender and you need a job."

Bess pursed her lips, and looked to Fred, and then at Ernie, and then around the bar with an appraising eye. It would sure beat the hell out of cleaning up horse dung in Central Park. That enticing job was her scheduled interview tomorrow. She ran her hand across the varnished wood of the bar and said doubtfully, "I’ve never tended bar before and the only drink I can make is a Screwdriver. Even that's pretty bad."

Fred’s smile widened. "Well, then you’re already one drink ahead of what Koko knew when I hired him. You're perfect."

Remembering the bartender she'd encountered on her last visit here, she suddenly envisioned herself with pierced nipples and devil's horns grafted under her forehead skin. "I’m not what most people would consider a Freak, unless you talk to my sister."

Fred knew she was leaning towards taking the job, and rushed to seal the deal. He loved the bar, but hated working behind it. "No need to be a bonafide Freak, baby! Just show up on time and work your shift and you’ll be everything I could hope for in a bartender. The tips are great too, if that helps you decide."

Bess contemplated going out on more interviews for jobs she really didn’t want. Well, one thing is for sure, it won’t be boring and it beats shoveling shit all day. She gazed back at the stage area to see a man juggling running chain saws. Nope, no way will I get bored. "When do you want me to start?"

Continued in Chapter 9

Return to the Academy