“What?” Carla asked, looking up from her study of the faded Formica tabletop, her eyebrows crunching and her cheeks rising.
“You know,” Marge said, pleading, her arms raised and her head tilted. “Everybody just talks about it. Nobody actually does anything anymore.”
“Like what?” Carla said, absentmindedly tracing her finger around the mottled pattern on the table, thinking about something else … someone else.
“Well … for example … like sex!”
“Oh,” Carla said, “ain’t getting any lately, huh?”
“No! That’s not it,” Marge protested, shaking her head and shutting her eyes. “It’s just … you know … like, everybody talking about that stupid sex on the computer … know what I mean?”
“OH!” Carla said, looking up at Marge now, “You mean the Pseudo Life Web site, don’t you?” She said the last part with a sly little smile crossing her lips, looking something like a smug cartoon character. She grasped a handful of her long hair in her hand and tugged on it until the sensation reached that edge between pain and pleasure … then she released her grip.
“Well, yeah –“
“You girls want more coffee?”
“No thanks Sharon,” Carla said, looking at her watch. “Got to get to work.”
As they left the diner Carla looked up at the sky, craning her neck to see the sun between the buildings on East 12thStreet.
“Want to go to The Rodeo tonight. Tom’s Trash Can Band is going to be there.”
“That dump!” Marge said.
“Well, you said you wanted to DO something!”
“No thanks. I’m just going home after work and doing my laundry.”
“OK. Give me a ring if you change your mind.” They waved goodbye and went on their way, Carla to the bus stop and Marge to the subway.
Late that night, when Carla heard the phone ring she wasn’t sure whether it was in her dream or on her night table, so she kept her eyes closed and turned on her side a little. When she heard it again she knew it was the phone on the table. She picked it up, still not opening her eyes.
“Carla, it’s Marge.”
“Yeah? What is it? What time is it anyway,” she asked, opening her eyes a slit and searching for the clock … it said .
“Carla, please, I need your help. I need you to come over here. Right away. I need your help.”
“What? Marge it’s three in the morning. Can’t it wait ‘til morning? I’m asleep. Can’t it wait — “
“No Carla, I need you. Now. Please…”
Carla sat up on the side of the bed and blinked her eyes and shook her head. “What is it Marge? What’s the matter?” She grasped the sheet and squeezed.
“It’s a man Carla … a man … “
“A man? You have a man? There? Now? With you?”
“And you need help? Don’t you know what to do? Did you forget?” Carla asked, smiling.
“Carla … can you fuck a man to death?”
“WHAT?” Carla said, standing up now and jerking the phone cord.
“I think he’s dead … “
Carla got dressed and ran over the two blocks to Marge’s apartment. When Marge opened the door Carla said, “You look awful!” Marge had her bathrobe clutched around her. She was shaking and her hair was messed up. Her face was pale and her eyes were rippled and wet. She ran the sleeve of her robe across her dripping nose.
“Where is he? Is he still dead?”
Marge nodded her head in the direction of the bedroom. Carla walked in and saw the man, sprawled out on the bed, his eyes still open and his mouth agape. He was nude and she could see that he was a good looking guy, but probably twenty years older than Marge.
“What happened Marge?”
Marge was at the counter between the kitchenette and the living room. She was pouring two glasses of whiskey. Carla went over and they both took sips.
“So, what do you think Carla? Can you fuck a guy to death?”
“It was that good huh? Well, he looks older. Maybe, I guess, he wasn’t in such good shape. Did you call 911? What did they say?”
“Stop joking around Carla,” Marge said, shivering and sipping the whiskey. “And no, I didn’t call 911. I’m worried they’re gonna arrest me. For murder. Or something.”
“Listen Marge,” Carla said, walking towards the phone, “first thing, we gotta call 911. When did he … when did this happen?”
Marge looked at the wall clock. It was almost now. “I don’t know exactly. Don’t remember. When did I call you?”
“It was around three.”
“Must have been around two … two-thirty.”
“What? What the hell did you do for an hour before you called me?”
“I … hoped … you know … I was thinking maybe he’d … wake up? I tried massaging him …”
“Where, exactly, did you try ‘massaging’ him Marge?”
“Well, you know,” Marge said, shrugging her shoulders. “Where men might be … more … likely to … respond.”
“Oh! Great! You’re trying to turn on a dead guy for an hour. We gotta call 911. Right away. The more time goes by, the worse it can be. Where did you find this guy anyway? Wait. Don’t tell me. Let me call 911 first.”
When she hung up the phone Carla asked again.
“When I got off the train I stopped in Ginger’s for a drink. It was happy hour. You know, ninety-five cent cocktails for the girls. I sat at the bar and ordered a martini. Ginger brought it over and said the gentleman at the other end of the bar paid for it. Big sport, I thought, a get a ninety-five cent sugar daddy. Anyway, I smiled and lifted my drink, he nodded and picked up his package and his drink and started coming over to me. I would have left right away except that I saw that his package was one of those little Tiffany shopping bags and that got my curiosity. He sat next to me and smiled and said hello. Nice. He was nice. We finished our drinks and he ordered more. After a while we sat down and had a couple of burgers and just talked and talked … all the while he’s got his Tiffany bag — “
“Did you ask him how old he is … umm, was?”
“Of course not Carla. It was just nice to have a nice conversation with somebody for a change … know what I mean?”
“Oh? What am I? Chopped liver?”
“No, no, I mean with a man. See?”
They took another sip of the whiskey.
“So, what happened then?”
“After we finish our coffee … it must have been around eleven by then, he said he wanted to go outside for a smoke. I said why don’t we pay the check and I’d go out with him. So we did. When we got outside he took out a joint. I nodded, he lit up and we both took a hit. He said we should probably walk while we did this and so we strolled and talked, him carrying his Tiffany bag, and before I knew what was happening we were in front of my apartment, so I asked him up.”
“Umm hmmm,” Carla said, taking the last drop out of the glass and fishing a cigarette from her pocketbook. Marge reached in the drawer for the ashtray and took one of Carla’s Virginia Slims.
“So, when we came upstairs, he says he just bought this gift for his mother, in Omaha, or somewhere, but he decided he wants me to have it. He can always get another for Mom. And he takes this watch out of the Tiffany bag. Carla, it’s a Rolex. I say no, no. He insists and puts it on my wrist — “
“Where’s the watch now Marge?”
She pointed with her cigarette across the room to her desk. Carla went over and picked it up. “Oh no,” she said shaking her head, “you poor dumb bimbo.”
“What? What did you say? Why —“
“Marge, this isn’t a Rolex. Rolex is spelled R-O-L-E-X. This piece of crap says R-O-L-I-X. It’s a twenty dollar knock off. You went to bed with a guy for a twenty dollar counterfeit Rolex!”
“What?” Marge said reaching for the watch. “Let me see that. Holy Shit! You’re right!” Carla nodded and poured more whiskey. “So what happened after he gives you the watch?”
“You know, one thing leads to another and then we’re in bed. After a while I’m on top and he starts moaning — I’m thinking that’s a good sign — then I see him sort of turning colors and closing his eyes and then I hear him —“
The door buzzer rang, interrupting Marge’s story. She went over and pressed the intercom button.
“EMS. Open the door please.”
“Oh oh! Now what Carla?”
“Well, first thing is, we let them in.”
The two EMTS came into the apartment and went into the bedroom, looked at the dead guy, checked him out, shook their heads to each other and pulled a body bag out of their kit.
After they attended to their duties one of them came back to talk to Marge.
“Name?” He asked. His tag said he’s Sherman O’Malley. Marge noticed that he’s cute and tried to smile.
“Name?” Marge asked?
“Yeah, you know, the name of the deceased.”
“Oh, him. Umm, Bill. I think. Yeah, I’m pretty sure he said his name is Bill.”
“Not sure? What? Did you just meet him Miss …. ?”
“Kane. Marge Kane. You can call me Marge.”
“Right,” he said making notes in his book. “So, did you just meet?”
“Yeah, sort of,” she said, looking down, shaking her head and taking a drag on her cigarette.
O’Malley looked around at the condition of the place and, smirking, said, “So what did you do, fuck him to death?”
Marge looked at Clara. Her eyes said I told you so!
“Hey,” Clara said, as she moved in towards them, “That’s not … there’s no reason to talk like that … “ she looked at his name tag, “Sherman. My friend is in a very fragile condition right now. She’s distraught over the death of her friend … ummm … Bill,” she said looking at Marge and nodding.
“Right. OK. Sorry. Personal effects?”
“You know, his clothes, his wallet, his watch,” he said, looking at Marge’s Rolix.
“Here,” she said, pulling the watch off her wrist, “he gave this to me, but I don’t want it now. Take it.”
O’Malley took the watch and looked at it. “Piece of shit, sister.”
“Yeah, right,” she muttered as she went over to the counter for her drink.
“Oh,” O’Malley said, “here’s the cops now.”
“Cops? What? Why?”
“On a case like this we have to call the cops. That’s all.”
Two policemen walked in the open door. Carla and Marge noticed that a few neighbors were peeking in.
“I’m Officer Gomez, miss, This here’s my partner officer Brown. We need to ask you some questions and look around. First of all what’s your name?”
Marge answered their questions. When they asked her what she did she said, “I work For Macy’s.”
“Not in the watch department,” O’Malley said from the other side of the room.
“What?” Gomez said.
“Nothing,” O’Malley said, cleaning up his details. “We’ll be downstairs when you guys are through. I’ll give you the rest of the details there.”
The cops searched Bill’s clothing and found his wallet. “Did you take anything from him Miss? From his wallet?”
“What? No! Of course not. What do you think … “
“Sorry, but we have to ask. Did he offer you anything in exchange, for … you know? Did you ask him for anything?”
“What?” She said. “That’s an awful thing to ask me! Of course not!”
“Well, you know how it looks. You didn’t know the guy. You just pick him up in a bar —“
“Wait a minute there fella! I just didn’t pick him up. We met. We ate dinner there. Then we went out for … umm, for a walk, and things just sort of happened. See?”
“Right.” Well we don’t know how he died. We will have to notify his family—“
“Family? He’s got a family?”
“From the things in his wallet it looks like he’s got a wife in the suburbs. Jersey. But the M.E. may want to do some investigation. We need to know whatever you can tell us. And I think you probably should not plan any trips out-of-town anytime soon.”
“Family? He had a family? In New Jersey? He told me he was from Wyoming or something like that.”
“Right,” Gomez said, still writing his notes.
Marge looked at the wall clock. “Trips? I gotta get ready for work.”
The door buzzer rang again. Marge spoke into the intercom. “Yes? Who is it?”
“This is Charles Curdale from the Morning Sentinel. Is this the apartment where the deceased came from? We’d like to talk to you. Can you buzz us in?”
Carla went over and leaned on the button. “No.”
The buzzer went off again, and the phone rang, They ignored the door buzzer and Carla picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Hello. This is Henry Katz. KKNNC News. Can we get a comment from you about the suspected murder? Who is this?”
“The suspected murder? What are you talking about?” She hung the phone up.
“What should we do now officer Gomez?” Carla asked?
The phone rang again; Carla and Marge looked at it and Carla shook her head. They ignored it.
“Just be sure to stick around. We have your contact info. We’ll be in touch.
It was around 5:30 now and more neighbors were trying to peek in. Marge went to close the door.
“Watch out for the paparazzi outside,” Old Mrs. Schwartz said as Marge closed the door.
“What?” She said, opening the door a slit. Mrs. Schwartz shrugged her shoulders and walked away. Marge went over to the window and looked out. About a dozen people, some with cameras, looked up at her and started taking photos.
Manny the building super came to the door. “Miss Kane, I’m going to switch off the circuit breaker for the door buzzers. All the tenants are complaining. Those guys … “ he nodded his head towards the downstairs, “are ringing everybody’s buzzer, trying to get in here.”
“Yeah … sure Manny,” Marge said. She turned to Carla and said, “Holy shit! What’s happening?”
“Let’s turn the TV on and see if there’s any news about this …” Carla said.
“And early this morning an EMT team was called to a small apartment in The Village to help a man. Turns out he died while, ummm, how shall we say this Vince … “
The TV reporter turned to her colleague and asked, smiling, “What do we call this?”
“Well, Melissa, some of the tabloids have dubbed it the Thriller Killer. It seems that a man, engaged in, let’s call it romance, with an attractive young woman, apparently went too far and allegedly died there, in the woman’s apartment — “
“Actually, in her bed Vince,” Melissa piped in.
“Right Melissa. And now, we have a live report from our city beat correspondent, Pete Gaviano, standing by, right there, on the sidewalk outside the building where it all happened. Pete, what do you have for us?”
“Holy shit,” Marge said again. Carla nodded as the two of them stared at the TV.
“OK Vince and Melissa, We’re here, Pete-On-The-Street, reporting another exclusive for our viewers. I have here, with me right now, a neighbor of the girl allegedly involved in this homicide—“
“Wait a minute Pete. This is Vince. You said homicide? Has this been officially classified as a homicide by the police —“
“Holy Shit!” Marge said. Carla nodded, sipped her whiskey and smoked her cigarette. The telephone was ringing. They ignored it and watched the TV.
“Well,” Pete-On-The-Street said, “no, I guess maybe I jumped the gun, we haven’t heard any decision on the, ummm, event, so maybe it’s best if we call it the alleged homicide. Anyway, here we have the neighbor …”
The camera zoomed out so that Henry Frawn, Marge’s upstairs neighbor, appeared on the screen.
“Holy Shit!” Marge said.
“Who’s he?” Carla asked.
“Lives upstairs. A pain-in-the-ass.”
“Unn ohhh, sounds like trouble.”
“OK Vince, here we have Mr. ….,” he turned to Frawn and nodded. Frawn said, “Henry, just call me Henry,OK?”
“Sure Henry. OK. So, you live here, in the same building with the girl?”
“Yes, she lives one floor below me.”
“OK. So what can you tell us? What’s her name?”
“You don’t know her name? Oh. I didn’t know that. If you don’t know her name —“
“Just a minute Henry, I’m getting something over our communications network. Oh. Yes. Yes. Well Henry, and …” Pete-In-The-Street turned full face back towards the camera, so that Marge and Carla could see his handsome smiling face. “It seems that we have just learned the identity of the mysterious and glamorous seductress …”
“Wow!” Marge said, a slight smile now creeping across her face.
“Our sources have identified the girl as Margaret Cane? Is that right? Cane? Like sugar Cane? Yes? OK. That’s it. Our sources have … wait, there’s more coming in …” he said, clutching the microphone in his right hand and holding his earpiece close to his head with his left, as though he was reporting from a war zone.
“Yes, Margaret Cane, sometimes known as Sugar Cane —“
“What? What the hell? I’ve never heard anybody call me that!” Marge said.
“Shhhh….” Carla said.
“Sugar Cane, well now Henry,” Pete-In-The Street said, turning again to Frawn as the camera panned out to include the two of them in the shot. “Can you confirm that information for us Henry?”
“Umm,” Frawn said, looking at his watch, “Yes, her name is Marge Kane. I got to go to work now.” Frawn walked off and the camera turned on Pete-In-The-Street again.
“There you have it Vince and Melissa. Another exclusive from Pete-In-The Street. Sugar Cane, the alleged Thriller Killer, identified. We’ll have more news very shortly, In the meantime, back to you Vince and Melissa.
“In other news this morning ….”
“Holy Shit!” Marge said. Carla went over to the TV and turned the sound off.
“Now what are we going to do?” Marge said to Carla.
“Well, first thing, I think you’d better call in sick. Me too, maybe. I’ll stay here with you for now.
“Call in sick?” Marge said, pointing at the TV. “Don’t you think they already know what’s going on? Sugar Cane! My God!” She ran her fingers through her hair.
“Maybe you should get cleaned up and dressed while we figure this out. Maybe we need a lawyer.”
“Lawyer? Where am I going to get the money —“
“Wait,” Carla said, going back to the TV and turning the sound up again. She saw the background banner of Thriller Killer on the screen.
“Yes, Melissa, we have just learned the identity of the victim in this case —“
“The Victim?” Marge said. “I’m the victim here!”
“Shhhh.” Carla said.
“Our sources tell us that the man found in Sugar Cane’s apartment this morning was William H. Port. Mr. Port was a business relationship manager for the Mission Telecom Corp. —“
“Hmmmph!” Marge said. “A telephone salesman.”
“Apparently Mr. Port was on his way home from work when he met Sugar Cane, and, well, you know the rest. We’re trying to find out where and how they met. We will dig into this story for you as it unfolds. We need to know if this type of activity was a pattern of Sugar Cane’s and whether there have ever been any other victims of her, ummm, charms.”
“Holy Shit!” Marge said.
“Go take a shower,” Carla said. Marge nodded and went to her bathroom. Carla picked up the phone and was about to dial out when she heard somebody say, “Is this Miss Cane? Sugar Cane?”
“What?” Carla said.
“We were just trying to reach Miss Cane. You must have picked up the phone as we were dialing in.”
“Who is this?” Carla asked.
“This is PMN, the cable news network. We want to interview you Miss Cane. We’ll help you.
“This isn’t Miss Kane. And it’s Kane, K-A-N-E.”
“Right. We’ll make a note of that. Who’s this. Are you working with Miss Kane? Are you her rep? You know, we’re not like the networks. If we get a good exclusive we can pay for it. And this story is hot today …. Don’t know for how long. So who are you?”
“Umm, this is Miss Long. Carla Long.”
“OK. Miss Long. Are you the one we talk to? Are you handling Miss Kane’s schedule on this story?”
“Can I call you back?”
“Fifteen – twenty minutes?”
“OK. Got a pencil? I’m giving you my direct line.”
Marge walked in, drying her hair with one towel, another wrapped around her body, as Carla wrote down the phone number.
“What’s that?” She asked.
“The money for the lawyer,” Carla said after she hung the phone up. She explained what was going on to Marge.
“Yeah. We got to make some decisions here. Fast. He says stories like these flair out quickly.”
The phone rang again. Carla looked at it and decided to pick it up.
“Hello?” Carla said.
“Hello? Marge? Is this Marge Kane?”
“Who wants to know?”
Marge was watching, wrapped in her towel, as Carla spoke.
“This is Sherm … Sherm O’Malley. I was there a little while ago.”
“I know who you are O’Malley. What do you want?”
“O’Malley?” Marge asked, “That cute EMT guy?”
“I just want to talk to Marge. I want to apologize to her. You know. For the way I talked to her.”
“What does he want?” Marge asked Carla.
Carla put her hand over the mouthpiece and said to Marge, “He wants to get laid.”
“He said that?” Marge asked, smiling. Carla took her hand off the mouthpiece and spoke to O’Malley.
“Hold on a minute, will you Sherm?” Then she covered it again.
“No, Marge he didn’t actually say those words. He used code. He says he wants to apologize to you. That’s guy code for I want to get laid, see?”
“Wow!” Marge said. Carla uncovered the phone again. “Sherm, call back in ten minutes, will you?”
“Are you kidding? You have any idea how tough it is to get through to this line?”
“Oh. Yeah. Right. OK. Give me your number. I’ll call you right back.”
“OK. You sure?”
She took the number and then disconnected the phone.
“We have to call PMN back Marge. And Sherm. I’m worried that Sherm has something else in mind.
“OK,” Marge said, “but what the hell am I going to tell PMN. I mean it wasn’t exactly a big love affair, or a triangle, or any of those things that make the papers,” she said, slumping into her sofa. “And what about Sherm?”
“Well what about if Sherm gets to sleep with you and survives. Then he’s got a story to tell too, doesn’t he? I’m worried that maybe he’s figuring that angle for himself. But first I need to let PMN know we’re going to sign with him. Let me call him so we can get the ball rolling. Then we have to figure out how to get them in here.”
“I have an idea,” Marge said. After she told Carla her idea she called Sherm back.
“Sure,” Sherm said, “I can do that.”
Carla called the producer back and told him they would take the deal. It was only $500 but she figured better take the money now, before the story turned cold.
Then they waited and watched TV. About forty minutes later they saw Sherm on TV, in his EMT uniform, approaching the front door of Marge’s building with another man in a suit and carrying a small black bag. The TV reporters went berserk!
Marge buzzed Sherm and the other man in after Sherm called Carla on her cell phone. The TV stations broke into their regular program with “This breaking news from the site of the Thriller Killer.”
“This is Pete-On-The-Street, live, at the site of Miss Candy Cane’s home,” he said, holding his earpiece to his head and speaking into his mike, his square handsome, earnest face staring directly into the camera.
“We have just witnessed another EMT entry into Candy Cane’s building. This time the EMT was accompanied by someone who appeared to be a doctor. The man was carrying what looked like a medical bag. There is widespread speculation here that there may be another victim of the Thriller Killer inside. We did have unconfirmed reports earlier that there was a third person in that apartment when the EMS arrived there this morning. Now it may be that she … yes, the unconfirmed report was that the third person was another woman … anyway, perhaps she has also succumbed to the Thriller Killer. Once the doctor comes out we’ll try to interview him … “
“Holy shit,” Marge said.
“Shhh,” Carla said, “here they come now,” acknowledging the knock on the door. They turned the TV off and answered the door. Sherm came in with the PMN producer.
The TV reporter went on with his live report, unseen and unheard by Marge, Carla, Sherm and the PMN producer.
“We have just been informed that the ME is about to hold a press conference. We will take you there live, now …”
“This is Justin Remall at News Central, Yes, Pete, we are switching now to Charles Harridale down at the morgue. The ME is about to address the reporters there. Charles, come in please … “
“Yes, thank you Justin. Charles Harridale here, at the offices of the ME … “ Harridale looked somber and spoke in hushed tones,
“We are waiting for Dr. Allook Menudiene to come in — oh, just a minute, here he is now.”
The camera swung towards the bank of microphones set up for the ME. He spoke in a soft voice tinged with a slight middle-eastern accent.
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for coming in. There has been much speculation about the cause of death of the victim brought in here this morning —“
“Please name the victim doctor,” one of the reporters shouted across the room.
“What? Oh, yes, one moment please,” Menudiene said as he consulted his notes.
“There has been much speculation about the cause of death of the victim, Mr. William H. Port. After a preliminary examination we can report that Mr. Port’s death did not occur as a result of any physical dysfunction —“
“What?” two or three reporters shouted out.
“Umm,” the doctor said, “there was no heart attack, nothing physical like that.”
“Please, let me continue,” the doctor said. “Mr. Port apparently died of a chemical reaction —“
“What? She poisoned him?” One of the reporters asked.
“No, no, no,” the doctor said, shaking his head and waving his arms, “please let me continue. It appears at this moment that Mr. Port died of an extreme allergic reaction to some substance he encountered during the few hours just before his death. We need to study further, perhaps consult his medical records, and investigate the conditions and environments where he spent the last four-to-six hours before his death —“
“You mean like that peanut allergy …”
As the anti-climatic news of Port’s death was being revealed to the general public on TV, back in Marge’s apartment, after having handed over the $500 check, the PMN producer was trying desperately to find some newsworthy spin on Marge’s seriously unimpressive story of her date with Bill Port.
Carla sat on the side, looking at her nails.
Sherm paced up-and-down, staring out the window, wondering why the reporters and TV crews were packing up and leaving.