A bonfire erupted in a Chrysler Le Baron, a ball of wildfire swirled into coils of smoke in the air of New York City, suddenly flames also burst from the sides of the convertible. “He’s gone to far,” observed someone, the New York police supervisor, who was watching the calumny next to a security guard at Coney Hospital, the new Brooklyn Medical Center, just to the right of a sliding doorway, and behind a blue-and-white wall of police squad cars to protect the general public, and five other officers of the New York City Police Department, the NYPD. The guard cradled something in his arms.
An older gentleman with a cane wore a beige Fedora with stripes, and a chichi black trench coat, possessing oyster whiskers from his chin, and only his chin. He stepped deliberately from the steep darkness, and past the two officers of law. He noticed the guard, who was unfolding slippery, bronze packaging, the package in his arms, a sample from the lab, and a bundle given him at the desk of the hospital emergency room, the ER. The guard’s eyes drifted easily, right and left, commenting to the supervisor, “You should try the fish.”
The police supervisor warily glanced at the security guard, who was holding the open package, as the gent entered the emergency room, summarily. The supervisor said, “Walleye.”
The guard raised the fish in his arms, and studied it, considering the supervisor’s view. He iterated, “It’s a bass.”
“Walleye,” the supervisor corrected him, and gloomily. “It’s how it goes into the books. I already did the books. It’s in the report.”
The guard frowned, and asked, “The Monger?”
The captain stared at the Le Baron, and repeated, “He’s gone too far.”
The security guard said, “Nice New Yorker. Eighty-two?”
“It is vintage,” he agreed. “But it’s not a New Yorker, no K-platform. That’s a Le Baron.”
The guard advised, “The Monger used to be a cook for the hospital. He was a good cook.”
The policeman stared at the guard’s head. “He’s dead-eye with these things.”
Another officer of the NYPD officer broke from behind one of the cruisers, and scampered to the supervisor. He was winded, and blinking, stood erect next to him at the ER door, turning his glare to The Monger. The Monger was a mere bibelot in the weekly annals of New York City’s police history, and had been generally contained to blocks north of Coney Island. A police officer tried the same tact, but was shockingly struck in a well-shaven face out of the darkness, and from nowhere with a sloppy, gray wet fish. This officer gaped at The Monger in utter contempt. The Monger now was a menace, officially. The security guard repeated, obliquely, “Dead-eye.”
The officer asked the supervisor, “What the hell was that?”
“A walleye,” the supervisor replied, unhitched.
“It could be a bass,” the guard said. The supervisor stopped staring at the security guard’s head, and he folded his arms.
Kapitolina followed these incidents for nearly an hour, enjoying the city’s fare, New York City, entertaining it safely behind a panel of bulletproof glass at the entrance of the medical center’s ER. The unidentified man, dubbed “The Monger” in April, by none less than the front pages of a New York tabloid, had brashly parked an ash panel truck in a space reserved for the disabled, protected by other parked cars. He clutched sundry fish from an actual variety of species lying from the bed of the truck, and was pelting lawful hospital visitors. NYPD arrived quickly, one vehicle immediately, two more, and these had surrounded The Monger. Pearl never saw a police officer draw a pistol, except for the thousands of times on TV; and it nested a curiosity in her mind, the incident, not the splotch of another fish slamming on the glass in front of her, and then slowly drooling to the ground. The officer’s cool, smooth speech, the harsh directions, the tender for The Monger to surrender; she drew a gun from her holster like it was a Slim Jim in her pocket, and offered it, the pointed barrel, not the gun, to the fugitive. It was more than enough to watch. Hurriedly, Kapitolina entered the secondary doors of the ER’s entrance, scarcely listening to the hospital staff count eleven, twelve people smacked by a fish, and also what type of fish, and occasionally proposing a final remedy. “Ugh,” she said, and sprung a cell phone from her purse, and sat busily in one of the bank of orange visitor’s chairs.
The gentleman with the Fedora stood enigmatically at the desk, drawing occasional up-eyed glances from nurses’ aides at the station. He navigated towards Kapitolina. She shook her smart phone an empty chair away from the attorney, H.L. Tauri, who was situated agily on the aisle, with a Holy Bible under his arm. The gent gestured at the empty chair; she ignored him, but Tauri greeted the gent, and thumped the book. H.L. pronounced a greeting with a Reagan-esque whirl of his chin, “Wherever there is two or three of you, there I am.” H.L. Tauri then smiled politely, and nodded gravely, because gent did not reply, and seemed to eavesdrop on Kapitolina’s conversation with her cell phone, probably with her father. Tauri had already gleaned the man was Ukrainian, a preacher, a Russian, or he previously a Russian. He was irresolute. She tapped the phone for emphasis against the hard plastic chair for no apparent reason. Tauri whispered to the gent, who began to agree, “That had to hurt.” The gentleman became more generous, and hushed. “My name is Blake,” he recalled. Kapitolina blinked, looked away, and then crossed her legs, trying to lean away from the well-dressed, and aromatic barrister. Tauri extended his hand to the gent, with heft. “Blake!” H.L. cajoled. Kapitolina raised her voice and then lowered it, substantially, to an angry whisper, and was insisting, “He’s going to be perfectly fine, Pop. I have no intention of ‘taking the aeroplane.’ I’m doing very well here. Pop, so don’t get…ridiculous. What? You need me for the choir? No. No, I don’t need a ride. I don’t need money. No, this is home.” She rolled her eyes, and then acknowledged Blake, and then concluded, “America. We are in New York, America.” She then whispered to Tauri, whose eyes widened, “This is like baby talk!” And then, shouted, “I’m in New York!” Blake allowed to Tauri, “This is a such a lovely place, so very modern. I can’t believe they built it. but I am troubled by the mill-yur,” meaning the milieu, a word both men knew, and both understood together, and promptly concurred. H.L. Tauri had heard Kapitolina tell her father, “They won’t let me see him. He was admitted to hospital. No, I am not family!”
Pearl breathed, ignoring the two men, and occasionally whistled to vent away her nesting anger. She resorted to daydreams before answering the call, idylls of returning to Greece on another vacation, a reduce of the trip they took late last fall, long before his collapse, the cool blue waters, the hearty cuisine, the row of restaurants, the face of a Greek mensch who served them as if he been serving them since they were a child; sunbathing on the smooth boulders of the Aegean, singing Greek songs, mispronouncing words, and the world snuck away as a courtesy. Pearl said, firmly, “It’s heart failure. Yes, of course he’ll recover. No, he will. He’s a strong young man. Alright. You want to send a taxi. I dunno. There’s a…disturbance. You don’t know why I’m here. Of course you do. I am…just…fine.” She pressed the power button to end the call, rose, and clapped the phone in a common triumph.
He sighed in the rays of the sun partly lighting his apartment. The New York Mets lost a game 25-4. He had changed the channel after the Mets walked the opposing pitcher. There was better travail: The Vegas Golden Knights were poised to win the championship of the National Hockey League in their first year; he contrasted it helplessly to the Rangers. “A world awry.” Pearl’s adage. The eaves were evening in the diminishing light. He invited his metabolism, the irregular whoosh of flowing blood, a savior gale; human functions were clapping shudders, like a door tattering from the hinge; his mind had come to resemble the early television sets, when, if they weren’t work properly, streamed a frame at a time, with continuing square borders. He mused gingerly how the world’s upheavals, like losing 25-4, were agreeably worse than the upheaval of his life, and could puzzle how it might continue forward, nonetheless. His social rule was always rooted in the demeanor of a sign he once saw posted in a Gerritsen coin-op laundry: “Absolutely no rugs.”
He pursed his lips, and twisted them skeptically from one side to the other. Kapitolina’s father visited Coney Island regularly, and returned to the Ukraine regularly, especially in the most recent years. He knew the choir could survive without her. They were immigrants, and the minister viewed their status as “part-time,” and as a “trial basis,” a phrase that made him uneasy. Her father called her “Pearl,” inducing a curl in his face. Red loved to hear about them, “the Immigrants,” he tagged them, like they were the last, and only immigrants, and this was inexplicable. He heard Red late in afternoons repeating the stories to his macaw, Krakow. It was, as a Florida governor once steadfasted, “a weirdy worldy.” Red’s apartment was across the hall. They played cribbage every Tuesday, all day, in the summer. His son, Gabriel, was a co-habitant. He hustled used electronics every day at flea markets around Manhattan. Kapitolina was reliably unpredictable, with a passion for fashion, and also freedom. She visited him at Coney Hospital, but never found his room.
Later, at dusk, he wrote in pencil in his notebook: Aji met Nap, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, at the pier in Brighton Beach. The subject of their search was Will Adorjan, and, despite involving a collective GPS of the galaxy Sombrero, it was increasingly futile. Nap said they should have found him by now; unbeknownst to any of them, Will was enjoying the salt air of Florida, and, at that moment, was purchasing a flower-and-bee shirt on the Daytona Beach boardwalk, while awaiting the arrival of a small ship, The Sunshine State, for a dinner cruise on the St. John’s River. Elsewhere, the outlaw Sawbones, or Yon Raulyn, and his compadres, his deputy, Tune, the second-in-command, Slack, a gator, and his closest friend, the dire wolf, rested restively at the Lazarus Taxa landing, their outpost home. They had debated Jupiter, and were lusting about diamonds, sloughing bugs from the side of a boosted Stanley Cup. Slack, was a new friend-de-camp, a twelve-foot Mediterranean alligator, a gharial, or “Alligatoridae,” and lately much more pleasant since his endangered status was commuted in Laniakea, including Earth. Slack was not especially talkative, and only occasionally showed many outward signs of life. He liked to prank by grasping Glug’s radio with his mighty jowls. Glug was a resident, nondescript bear. Slack’s jowls were the jowls of the “alligatoridae,” the kind National Geographic notes can clamp upon fish with the force of 16,000 newtons, certainly considerable. Yon mentioned Slack’s bite had gusto, and could rival the chomp of the great Tyrannosaurus Rex. The dire wolf said typical humans can chew with only about 900 newtons. Tune added the Smithsonian estimated T-Rex used a force equal to the weight of thirteen Steinway Model D grand concert pianos. Just now Slack, who was usually silent, nipped about Yon’s trousers, to play Glug’s radio. Sawbones moved it anticipating a storm, and switched it on, placing it atop of a cave rock, the usual perch, which allowed Slack his daily habitue. The gator’s kind, violet eyes widened, and his jaw listed slowly, from side-to-side, with the bass beat of the music. Yon dismissed it with an aside. “Groovy.”
“The man was like Dr. Kildare,” he told Kapitolina. His voice betrayed a genuine ardor, in the receiver of the smart phone. “He emerges from the darkness, Dr. Rhys, get this, in from the shadows of the ER, he bursts through the doors of the room, laptop in hand. He’s vital. He’s knowing. He’s a bloody Golden Knight. The problem is heart failure, he says. I’d have believed him if he said mosquitoes, or the bomb. He shows me the ultrasound, a grayscale picture, on the laptop screen. Dr. Rhys. Yes, that’s his name. He says my heart looks like a pork chop.”
She said, cautiously, “Gross.”
“Gross is money,” he related. “You can’t be gross enough in the medical world. It wasn’t fried – didn’t look fried. Boiled. That’s it. It looked boiled. Grilled? No. So they look at it. They nod. ‘About right.’ We don’t really know medical people until meet them at work.”
“That’s gross. That’s not good.”
“Yeah, yeah, well,” he continued. “It was pale, gray. It looked flat. I’m saying, ‘This is a heart?’ Why isn’t it shaped like, you know, heart-shaped. Like Valentine’s Day.”
“What is that?” Kapitolina queried. “What does it mean?”
“It’s a holiday. You know Valentine’s Day. We did Broadway.”
“What does it all mean?”
He felt strangely absent, a schoolchild on a snow day. His voice resonated in a corner of the room. He said, “It doesn’t get better.”
He said, “A part of the heart stopped working. A ventricle? One of the chambers. Two. The one on the left side. It deflated like a balloon. A tire? Yeah.”
Reflecting, he watched the fable activity of a Florida sandhill crane. There was a crane who periodically tarried outside his Florida room, and liked to poke its gray beak into the screen. Kapitolina was gone. He met her at the door to his Coney Island apartment. Her father was part of the clergy in Minsk, she explained, and she had originally departed Russia in 1999. She worked for the United States Census. The minister financed her modest living. She joked how her father visited New York, but could not pronounce hamburger, definitely a necessity to become American; it was “am-boyger.” He invited her to Shea Stadium. They wouldn’t have hamburgers at all. They’d have hot dogs. She said, “ Hoyt-dogs!”
Pearl forgot The Monger brouhaha, and, in a hurry, arose from the hard, orange chair in the Coney ER to rush outside. The Monger had just swiped two more victims with the disputed fish, and a SWAT trailer had pulled into the parking lot ostensibly to take him down. She turned eagerly, and fled to the ladies’ room. The attorney, H.L. Tauri, and Blake, the gentleman, stood, sat again, and then both rose to begin walking to the cafeteria. Tauri remarked, “It’s a clear case of domestic dispute. The Monger is simply acting out. He’s probably got problems at home. He could be insane. I should be monitoring the city. He’s just throwing fish.”
The gent said, “I was busy listening to the girl.”
Tauri replied, “She’s a lightweight. Nothing to it. Fly away.”
“You think the Monger’s got problems at home? There’s a SWAT truck.”
“He’s insane,” Tauri said, glimpsing the drama, and walking backwards to catch up to the cafeteria.“Hey, it’s a desperate cry for help! Legal help. From a qualified professional. Let’s eat. I need some strength.”
They approached the heavy, wooden double doors of the cafe. “In my experience, domestic disputes are the very worst of all,” the gent ruminated. “Easiest way to invite mortal danger is blank with someone’s family.”
“Yup,” Tauri said, broadening his arms at the machines of the canteen. “What’ll you have?”
Kapitolina’ darted from side to side, in frustration, as she emerged from the ladies’ room. She stomped into the parking lot in a bluster. Under her breath, she protested, “I tried every floor of this place.”
Pearl was buffeted by a phalanx of NYPD vehicles, the SWAT team, the police supervisor, security, and two more officers, who were notably finishing a box of Buffalo wings. The Monger did not have wings, and watched them unhappily. The police searched Kapitolina with their eyes, in a professional manner; their gaze caused an inward groan, in the pit of her stomach, as if she was the suspect. “Arrest him!,” she ordered them, indignantly, as if the police were waiting for advice. The captain nodded, without saying a word; the others, after a moment, nodded, too. ◊
¤ JUKE BOX ¤
Theme, (Episode 3): “We Belong,” Pat Benatar | playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 1-50,” a myopic vaile (No. 25).
….. from The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories by Soda Tom,
Vol. II of III, Copyright (C) 2018; 2017, ff.
All Rights Reserved.
Created by Soda Tom