Saturday the 1st of September. Start of the Labor Day weekend, or "Stillborn Day" as it was called at Nonnamou's. By this time I fit in tolerably well among the post-punk crowd, even though I didn't smoke. Certainly nobody there had a more reliable deadpan than mine. On this accursed evening we were seated at the bar, me sketching the clientele like Toulouse-Lautrec at a dimmer-lit Moulin Rouge, when Cranky Lynnette let out a squeak.
"Who he?" (Or maybe it was "Hoo-wee!")
She was looking over my head, so I turned toward the door. Sometimes we'd get a claque of hardcore clubbers making the circuit, or a mislaid member of a local band like the Little Seizures.
Tonight the basement threshold was crossed by an incongruity. One that even then, at the ass-end of the Seventies, seemed to push contemporary fashion beyond exaggeration.
He was too the hell tall and too the hell wide and too the hell tan. Travolta disco coif and Burt Reynolds moustache. Three-piece suit the color of bad salad dressing, its lapels wider than pterodactyl wings. Possibly a shirt beneath the pinched-waist jacket, but if so only to offset the gold chains and gold medallions and pelt of Gucci chest hair.
"Aaaay," went the incongruity. "What is this place, a morgue?"
(May his sour yellow eyes continue to kebab on the shish of the damned.)
Of course he immediately targeted Lynnette. Opening with: "You look like you could use some smacking down, doll." To Tattoo Rula the bartender: "Tequila. No salt. No lime. And same for the lady." To Lynnette: "You bite the worm, right?" To Rula, along with a twenty taken from a thick gold money clip: "What we don't drink, you keep." To me, or at any rate in my direction: "Move, pal."
And bang off our barstool we were heavily jolted—charcoal, sketchbook, and me. Vivid reminder of that time in high school when I innocently hit on Lori Lee Primmisch, a luscious chortler at my laconic wit—and then got punched on by her granite-knuckled boyfriend, Bruce "the Moose" Flanders.
Six years later and here I was, again getting Charles Atlas clichés kicked in my face. Ceasing to exist insofar as Lynnette was concerned; she hanging there sappily on Too The Hell's every cough and grunt.
Then a third guy horned in. Jitterish guitarist Gilbert Blyght sidled over to tug at TTH's sleeve. "Hey Johnny? Johnny, you selling tonight?"
Downing his shot: "Could be, pal." Clamping a meathook on Lynnette's wan wrist: "Not this, though." Tipping tequila into her slackened mouth: "Drink up, doll." (Gurgle and choke from Lynnette, who preferred Pernod or red wine.) To Gilbert: "Not here. Outside." To Lynnette: "Let's blow this worm farm."
"'Kay," she sighed. Blissful-idiotic.
And away they went, two of them being propelled by the third's meathooks. Leaving behind the smell of bad salad dressing, as though his suit produced its own spoor.
"What the hell just happened?" I wheezed at Tattoo Rula. She mopped the bar and shook her doleful gray mohawk.
"I think a different game now."
And it was. The One Night Short Of A Two-Week Affair. With Johnny Ajahr playing the role of Bentley Drummle ("such a mean brute, such a stupid brute") in our new-formed triangle. Except that my Estella, instead of openly dismissing her Bentley with utter contempt, fell for him like a far more realistic ton of bricks.
My neighborly errands abruptly ended, as did my chauffeuring duties. Ajahr took her everywhere in a piss-tinted Corvette, the sort of bastardmobile you'd expect to be driven by a "promoter" plying his trade. Out to paint the town Persian Brown: spreading the reek of spoiled vinegar and liquidated pearls till it permeated my street and my loft and the airshaft on which I couldn't close my steel-sash casement.
Much as I wanted to.
Him she brought home. Him she let into her brass bed, her silk sheets, her lace panties. Night after night. Time after time. Nothing could drown out the noises they made, not my radio or stereo or the industrial-size exhaust fan I lugged up five stories to augment the feeble ceiling air-stirrer. No use: I heard it all. Every grate of boxspring and rasp of mattress, every shriek and moan and unmuffled paroxysm. Every thrust, every gush, every dribble and slobber, every malignant abomination her fragile delicacy was subjected to—while I lay alone and fought to draw breath. Moving my cot as far from the window as possible. Hearing them was obscene enough; the only thing worse would've been catching a reflected glimpse with my own eyes.
Yet I refused to move or flee, in case Lynnette came to her senses all of a sudden and screamed for help, rescue, mercy—anything but Oh yeah Johnny that's raht I need it bad Johnny put it thar oh yeah raht—interspered with his too the hell savage laughs and gloats.
For the first time in years I called upon the supernatural. Asking for swift and terrible vengeance to be visited upon the Foe: a rival dealer with a grudge, ten thousand freaked-out junkies dying for a fix—maybe a power forward like the one who racked up Moose Flanders, breaking off his relationship with chortly Lori Lee when she decided traction splints were "gross." I even tried to hire Theo the Nonnamou's bouncer to do a freelance dry-gulch, but he pretended not to know what I was talking about for the amount of money I could afford to pay.
So: nothing. Lynnette: screwed. Sense of the word: extreme.
I have no doubt that Ajahr's scheme was to break her in, break her down, and trick her out all over town. Little did he (or I) reckon with the depths of the Girl Around the Airshaft Corner—her stamina, tenacity, and willingness to bear anything Ajahr could dish up or out.
Just as long as she could bear his children.
Nor was that wish expressed in jest.
Late at night on Thursday the 13th, through the thrum of my exhaust fan: a furious bellow and a piping-hot twang.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU FLUSHED YOUR FUCKING PILLS?"
"DOWN THE TOILET A WEEK AGO! I WANNA HAVE YER BABY! GIT BACK HERE 'N' GIMME ONE!"
"YOU FUCKING CRAZY BITCH! NOBODY FUCKS THAT WAY WITH JOHNNY AJAHR!"
"I DEW! 'N' DONTCHEW CALL ME A BITCH WHEN I'M OVEWLATIN'!"
"YOU'RE A BITCH IN CRAZY HEAT IS WHAT YOU ARE! I'M GETTING THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!"
"NO YEW AIN'T, YEW BASSURD! YER NOT LEAVIN' THIS ROOM!"
"YOU GONNA STOP ME, BITCH? ARRGH!!—LEGGO, GODDAMMIT!!"
"I LOVE YEW, JOHNNY! I WANNA HAVE YER BAYYYY-BEEEEZ—"
"SHUT UP!! SHUT THE FUCK UP!! AND GET YOUR FUCKING CRAZY HANDS OFF ME&MDASH;"
Blows: struck. Door: slammed. Gallery: clang-clang-clanged. Elevator gate: crashed. Silence: brief.
She burst into sobs then, and wept half the night. It was a terrible thing to have to listen to.