The Frumious Bandersnatch (87th Precinct Series #53)by Ed McBain
It should have been the night that launched a new pop idol. Tamar Valparaiso is young and beautiful, with the body and voice of an angel, and the stage is set for her to launch her debut album, Bandersnatch, on a luxury yacht in the heart of the city. But halfway through her performance, while the partygoers look on helplessly, masked men drag Tamar off the/i>… See more details below
It should have been the night that launched a new pop idol. Tamar Valparaiso is young and beautiful, with the body and voice of an angel, and the stage is set for her to launch her debut album, Bandersnatch, on a luxury yacht in the heart of the city. But halfway through her performance, while the partygoers look on helplessly, masked men drag Tamar off the stage and into a waiting speedboat.
Detective Steve Carella is just showing up for the graveyard shift when news of the kidnapping comes in. Working disjointedly with a Joint Task Force that calls itself "The Squad," Carella and the men and women of the Eight-Seven must find Tamar before time -- or indeed her very life -- runs out.
In this brilliant look at the music industry, Ed McBain once again combines his mastery of the form with the fast-paced dialogue and intricate plotting that have become his signature.
USA Today [A] delectably cynical, out-and-out corrosive tale....As savagely satisfying as a very rare filet mignon.
Marilyn Stasio The New York Times O frabjous day! Ed McBain takes us through the looking glass and into the surreal world of the music business....A riotous, if ultimately sobering, tale.
Entertainment Weekly Top-dollar McBain...funny and adroit....Imagine your favorite Law & Order cast solving fresh mysteries into infinity, with no re-runs, and you have some sense of McBain's grand, ongoing accomplishment.
Library Journal McBain shows why he's still the best....[His] writing is tight, his characters believable. Just when readers think they have it all figured out, McBain proves that he is still capable of a shocker.
Publishers Weekly McBain remains as fresh and sharp-edged as ever.
USA Today One of his most delectably cynical, out-and-out corrosive tales since he started writing the series in 1956....This is McBain as savagely satisfying as a very rare filet mignon.
Read an Excerpt
She came cruising downriver like the city personified, all bright lights and big bad music, banners and flags flying from bowsprits and railings, a hundred and sixty-three feet of sleek power and elegant design. It was costing Barney Loomis $6,000 to charter the yacht and its staff of twenty. The additional cost of catering food and drink for a hundred and twelve music industry movers and shakers was close to $12,000. Add the cost of the ten-piece orchestra, and a 15% service charge, and the 8.25% city tax, and Loomis figured the launch of Bandersnatch would cost Bison Records something like twenty-five grand overall. But it would be worth ten times that amount if the CD jumped to the top of the charts.
The boat, or the ship, or the vessel, or whatever the people at Celebrity Yacht Cruises had called it when Loomis was negotiating for the bash, had picked up the assorted glittery guests at Pier 27 West, just off the new marina complex in the renovated Overlook Zone of the city. The boat, or the ship --
Loomis liked to think of it as a launch.
"We'll charter a launch for the launch!" he'd told Tamar, and she'd clapped her hands in excitement -- well, hell, she was still only twenty, she reacted like a teenager more often than not.
The official launch, then, of the new album had started at six P.M. with cocktails on the bridge deck of the launch -- he loved that pun -- where bistro tables were festooned with roses that picked up the red of the mask the beast was wearing on the album cover, and where the mahogany-topped bar seemed haphazardly strewn with giveaway CDs and tapes. The covers on each version of the album showed Tamar as skimpily dressed as she was in the video that had aired simultaneously last night on MTV, VH1, BET, and WU2. Wearing a shredded white tunic that seemed to have been torn forcefully from her legs, she struggled in the clutches of a muscular black dancer wearing an oversized red mask that made him look like some sort of fire-breathing mythical beast -- the Bandersnatch of the title song -- who brought her close to his gaping jaws, while she tried to fend him off, creamy white breasts tumbling virtually free of her equally tattered top.
"Like in King Kong," Loomis had told her.
"Like in King who?" she'd asked, never having seen either of the movies -- well, she was only twenty.
A mahogany stairway swept the assembled guests down to the main deck salon where the passed hors d'oeuvres included raw oysters (even though this was already the fourth day of May, which was not an "R" month when oysters were supposed to be safe, according to the "Oysters 'R' in Season" legend), and chanterelle-and-lobster risotto cakes with white truffle crÈme fraÎche and chives, and salmon tartare on scallion potato chips. For dinner, there was first a mesclun salad with walnuts, Stilton, and cranberries, and then a choice of either grilled tarragon chicken or seared mustard salmon, both served with steamed asparagus. For dessert, the chef had prepared chocolate pâté with vanilla bean sauce and raspberries. Merlot and Chardonnay were served with the meal. A champagne toast was planned for later this evening, after Tamar sang the title song of the new album.
Barney Loomis was a big man, and he didn't get that way by accident. His plate was heaping full, and he demolished his dinner with obvious gusto now, listening to the chatter all around him, alert to every signal beamed from this influential crowd. For a record company mogul -- he tended to think of himself as a mogul -- he was dressed somewhat conservatively, wearing a mocha colored cashmere sports coat over slacks a shade darker, a beige sports shirt open at the throat, a gold necklace showing. His hair was black and worn in a sort of shaggy-dog style, his eyes brown. He fancied a spade beard the same color as his hair but strewn with a few white whiskers that gave it a distinguished professorial look, he thought.
As the launch cruised up the River Dix, passing under the bridges that connected Isola with Calm's Point and Majesta, gliding past Cavanaugh Island and the exclusive Cavanaugh Club, and coming back inbound on the deep water range to head downtown again on the River Harb, a disc jockey began spinning songs from Tamar Valparaiso's debut album, and the talk was of nothing but Bandersnatch and the spectacular television video that would cause the single to leap onto the charts -- Loomis hoped, he hoped. The stars and the moon were bright overhead.
The music swelled.
Several brave souls ventured out onto the dance floor.
Tonight was Ollie's first date with Patricia Gomez.
Man, she looked like a million bucks.
He had first admired her feminine pulchritude in uniform, the blue tailor-mades showing off her perky figure to great advantage, ah yes. But in uniform, she wore highly polished flat black rubber-soled shoes. And in uniform, her long black hair was pulled up and tucked under her cap, and she wore no lipstick or eye shadow, and she carried a nine-millimeter Glock on her right hip.
On this balmy, breezy, first Saturday night in May...
Patricia Gomez was wearing a tight-fitting red dress cut high on the thigh and low on the neck. And tonight, Patricia Gomez was wearing her raven hair falling to the shoulders, punctuated by dime-sized circles of red earrings on either side of her beautiful face. And tonight, Patricia Gomez was wearing glossy red lipstick as bright as the dress, and midnight-blue eye shadow that made her look slinky and sexy and Spanish, like some señorita coming down a long wrought-iron staircase in a movie with banditos and good guys. And tonight, Patricia Gomez was barelegged in strappy red satin sandals that made her seem even taller than her five-feet-seven, which Ollie had already informed her was a perfect height for a woman.
Best of all, Patricia Gomez was in his arms, and they were dancing.
Detective/First Grade Oliver Wendell Weeks was a damn fine dancer, if he said so himself.
The place he had chosen for their inaugural outing was a spot called Billy Barnacles, which was perched on the edge of the River Harb, on the city's Upper North Side. The place served great sea food -- he had asked her two nights ago if she liked sea food -- and it had the advantage of a live band and a parquet dance floor under the stars and directly on the river's edge. The band called itself The River Rats...
Ollie wondered what their name was when they were playing someplace less proximate, ah yes, to the river, but they'd been playing here forever, and in fact Arnie Cooper, the leader, was Billy Cooper's brother, who owned Billy Barnacles, but that was another story.
The band played all kinds of music, all of it danceable. Dixieland from the twenties, swing from the thirties and forties, doo-wop from the fifties, rock from the sixties all the way to the present, even a rap song or two to satisfy the handful of Negro customers who wandered in from Diamondback further uptown. Ollie did not mind dancing on the same floor as "people of color," as they sometimes preferred calling themselves, so long as they behaved themselves. The trouble with most Negroes -- and Ollie preferred calling them this because he knew the outmoded label pissed them off -- was that they seldom knew how to behave themselves. He considered this a crying shame, which was why he tried to take as many of them off the street as he possibly could.
But this was a Saturday night, and not a time to be ruminating about the difficulties of the job in a city as large and as diversified, ah yes, as this one. He considered it a comment upon his social aptitude that he had never once discussed police work all through dinner, and was not now discussing it as he and Patricia glided nimbly across the floor to a spirited version of "When the Saints Go Marching In," another of the tunes in The River Rats' repertoire.
To watch Ollie prance around the dance floor was tantamount to watching the hippos in Fantasia performing to "Dance of the Hours," except that Ollie wasn't wearing a tutu. He was wearing instead a dark blue tropical-weight suit he had purchased at L&G, which was short for Lewis and Gregory, two brothers -- literally and figuratively -- whose shop Ollie frequented on Chase Street in the Eight-Eight Precinct, where both he and Patricia worked. Ollie suspected that half the clothing at L&G had fallen off the back of a truck, which meant it had been stolen. But "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a very good policy to follow when you were looking for designer-label garments at discount prices. The suit made Ollie look a lot thinner than he actually was, which meant he looked like an armored weapons carrier instead of a tank, not to mix metaphors with hippos, oh no, m'little chickadees. Ollie was also wearing a white shirt and a red tie, which made him look patriotic in the blue suit, and which also picked up Patricia's dominant color scheme, the tie, that is.
For a fat man...
Ollie knew that there were some people in this city who called him "Fat Ollie," but never to his face, which he considered a mea-sure of respect. Besides, he would break their heads. He himself never thought of himself as being "fat," per se. Large, yes. Big, yes.
For a big large man, then, especially one who was gamboling about the dance floor the way he was, Ollie sweated very little. He figured this had something to do with glands. Everything in life had something to do with glands.
He twirled and whirled Patricia.
The number was reaching a climax.
Ollie pulled Patricia in as close as his belly would allow.
"A hit video is all about screwing," Todd Jefferson was telling Loomis. "The guys out there want to whack they castles on Britney's bellybutton, the teenybopper girls want to wrap they little boobs around Usher's dick. It's as simple as that."
Loomis tended to agree with him, but he wished he was talking about Tamar Valparaiso instead of Britney Spears. As for Usher, he didn't give a rat's ass about him or his dick.
"Hit videos are all about guys and girls in they underwears," Jefferson said. "White guys like to see leggy black girls in they sheer panties. Black dudes like to see titty white girls in they skimpy bras. All this black-white shit really grabs 'em."
Todd Jefferson was a black man himself, with a black wife, but he was purported to have a white mistress. Loomis figured he knew whereof he spoke.
"Take J. Lo," Jefferson said. "She worked both sides of the street. In the movies, she was screwing white guys, in real life she was screwing ole P. Diddy. Your little girl could take a few lessons from her."
Loomis knew he was talking about Tamar.
Some little girl.
"Her being Hispanic and all."
Loomis knew this was only half-correct. Tamar's father was Mexican, hence the soulful brown eyes, but her mother was of Russian descent, hence the blond hair with a little help from Miss Clairol. Her South-of-the-Border heritage pretty much guaranteed the loyalty of the Hispanic market. It was the crossover crowd they were going for with Bandersnatch. Bring in all those little Anglos who belonged heart and soul to Britney. If they failed to do that...
"Not too many singers can do what J. Lo did, you know," Jefferson said. "Only other artists done it before her was Boyz II Men."
Loomis didn't know what the hell he was talking about. Did he mean screwing white men in movies? Screwing a black man in real life?
"Three number-one hits in the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks or more," Jefferson said, nodding. "J. Lo did it with 'Ain't It Funny.' She's the lady your little girl has to beat, man."
"We're hoping for a number-one single with the title song on Snatch," Loomis said.
"By the way," Jefferson asked, "is that related to her pussy in some way? The title of the album?"
"No," Loomis said. "What makes you think...?"
"Cause it sounds somewhat pornographic, you know? Bandersnatch? Sounds like the girl has a whole rock group going down on her pussy. Band, you know? Snatch, you know? Bandersnatch. You know whut I'm saying?"
"No, it's not intended that way."
"That's not necessarily bad, mind you," Jefferson said. "That kind of association. It relates back to what I was saying before. About videos being all about screwing. Does your little girl screw somebody on this video?"
It dismayed Loomis to learn that Jefferson hadn't even looked at the fucking thing yet. CEO of WU2, the fourth-largest video TV station in the country, he hadn't even glanced at the new video.
"Yes," Loomis said, "she screws the frumious Bandersnatch."
"Uh-huh," Jefferson said.
"This big black dude wearing a monster mask," Loomis said.
"Is that what Bandersnatch means? Big black dude? Cause I'm a big black dude, man, and nobody ever called me no Bandersnatch before. Nor any other kind of snatch."
"No, it has nothing to do with being black."
"Then what does it have to do with?" Jefferson asked. "Cause I have to tell you, man, the word 'Bandersnatch' is bewildering to me."
"Actually, it's a word Lewis Carroll invented."
"Who's that? Bison's Artistic Director?"
Bison was the name of Loomis' label. His Artistic Director was a man named Carl Galloway, whom Loomis had hired away from Universal/Motown, where he'd been Manager of Artist-Development. Jefferson should have known that. CEO of WU2, Loomis thought again, doesn't know Lewis Carroll was an English writer and not Bison's fuckin Artistic Director. Shit, man!
"Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland," Loomis said.
"Ah. Nice. I liked that movie," Jefferson said. "Disney, right?"
"Not the movie," Loomis said. "The book. The one that had 'The Jabberwock' in it."
Jefferson looked at him blankly.
Loomis began quoting.
"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
"The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
"Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
"The frumious Bandersnatch!"
"Frumious, huh?" Jefferson said. "Still sounds pornographic to me."
"There is something totally obscene about chocolate," Patricia was telling him.
She was dipping into the double chocolate soufflé she had ordered. Ollie was on his second wedge of strawberry short cake. The band was playing a tune Patricia recognized from Christina Aguilera's first album. It was called "When You Put Your Hands On Me," and it was all about this girl who gets all oozy when this guy touches her. It was a very hot song that sounded as if Christina had written it herself from her own personal experience, but she probably hadn't. There was a time -- before Patricia joined the force -- when she wished she could be a rock singer like Christina Aguilera. Every young Hispanic girl in the city wished she could be a rock singer like either Jennifer Lopez or Christina Aguilera. There was only one trouble; Patricia had a lousy voice. Even her mother said she had a lousy voice.
"My sister went to Australia last year on one of these tours," Patricia said. "And...I forget which town it was..."
"You have a sister?" Ollie said.
"I have two sisters, actually. And a brother, too. My older sister went to Australia with her husband, and I think it was Adelaide where..."
"Is that your sister's name?"
"No, that's the name of the town. At least, I think that was the name of the town. Where she had this great chocolate dessert. They have this shop sells chocolate desserts there, you know? And it's called 'The Chocolate Slut.' Isn't that a terrific name?"
"Great," Ollie said. "The Chocolate Slut. Perfect. What is your sister's name?"
"The one who went to Australia?"
"Well, yes. Well, both of them, actually."
"She's called Isabella. The other one, my younger..."
"Come on," Ollie said, and almost dropped a piece of cake off his fork.
"What?" Patricia asked, puzzled.
"That's my sister's name!"
"Get out of here!"
"I mean it. Well, not Isabell-a, but it's Isabelle. Yes."
"How about that?" Patricia said, grinning.
"What's the other one's name?"
"Why? Do you have two sisters, too?"
"No, just the one. But I'm curious."
"Enriqueta. It means 'Henrietta.'"
"Do you know what Patricia means?"
"Well...Patricia, I guess. I think it's the same in Spanish as in English."
"I know what it means," Ollie said, and grinned knowingly.
"How do you know what...?"
"I looked it up."
"It means 'one of noble descent.' It's from the Latin."
"That's what the book said."
"Gee," Patricia said.
"I think it suits you," Ollie said. "Would you care for another soufflé?"
If the three people on the boat had been hired by Central Casting, they'd have been labeled The Hunk, The Pretty One, and The Nerd.
The Hunk was driving the boat.
His name was Avery Hanes.
Tall and somber looking, with curly black hair and dark brown eyes, he was muscularly built -- not because he'd ever done time but simply because he worked out regularly. Like the other two, Avery was wearing black jeans, a black sweatshirt, and black running shoes. Later tonight, he would put on one of the masks. But for now he was enjoying the mild May breezes that blew in off the stern of the boat, riffling his hair, touching his face like a kiss. Avery had once worked for the telephone company and then had sold electronics at The Wiz. Then he'd got the job at Lorelei Records on St. John's Av. The gig tonight was sort of related.
The Pretty One was Avery's girlfriend.
Some five-feet-six-inches tall, twenty-four years old, redheaded and green-eyed and freckled and lithe and lean and wearing for the job tonight the same black jeans and Reeboks and black sweatshirt without a bra. Her name was Kellie Morgan, and she was here because this had to look like a nice little boating party cruising up the river and not some people intent on mischief. She was here because a pretty face in the crowd had a way of stilling the most dire fears. She was here because her boyfriend Avery had told her this would be a piece of cake that would be over and done with by Tuesday night at this time, and there was nothing to worry about because it was all planned to the minute and no one would get hurt and there'd be a quarter of a million bucks for the three of them to split when all was said and done.
The Nerd had straggly blond hair and intense blue eyes and contact lenses over those eyes. He looked like a man who might be an accountant for a small private firm, while actually he was an ex-con who'd been paroled only five and a bit more months ago after having done time for 1st Degree Robbery, a Class-B felony punishable by a prison term not to exceed twenty-five years. That didn't mean Calvin Robert Wilkins wasn't smart; it merely meant he'd been caught. He wasn't as smart as Avery, but then again he didn't have to be. He'd got along just fine until the bad break that night of the bank heist when he got a flat tire during the getaway. He'd tried to ride out the flat, but the tire fell all to pieces and shreds, and suddenly he was riding on the rim with sparks flying and the fuzz gaining, and before you knew it his luck ran out completely and there he was upstate, wearing a number. He'd been paroled from Miramar shortly before Thanksgiving. Until just before Christmas, he'd been working as a dishwasher in a deli on Carpenter Avenue. Then he'd found the job at Lorelei Records, which was where he'd met Avery.
The boat they were on was a Rinker 27-footer powered with a 320-hp Bravo Two that could juice up to almost forty-three miles per at top speed. There was an aft cabin with an oversized mattress, and the dinette seating in the lounge could convert to a double berth, but they didn't expect to be sleeping on the boat.
If everything went as planned tonight, by this time Tuesday, they'd all be sleeping in their own little beddie-byes.
If everything went as planned.
Tom Whittaker was program director for radio station WHAM. He was telling Harry Di Fidelio -- Bison's Vice President of Radio Marketing -- that the question his station recently had to ask themselves was whether they should skew their targets younger or still go for the mother/daughter double play.
"It wasn't an easy decision to make," Whittaker said. "With all these new uptempo releases, we all at once had a responsive audience for teen-based pop and hip-hop acts."
"So which way are you going?" Di Fidelio asked.
"Well, we'll continue to beam primarily to our twenty-five to thirty-four base. But what we've done over the past few months is expand our focus to the eighteen to twenty-four demographic. We're trying to get away from that image of a thirty-something station. We want our listeners to think of us as dynamic and youthful instead."
"That makes sense," Di Fidelio said, and then got down to what Bison was paying him for. "We think Tamar will have a broad base among the thirty-somethings as well as the younger group. Her appeal is what you might call universal."
"Oh, hey, she's terrific," Whittaker said, gobbling down his second helping of chocolate pâté with vanilla bean sauce and raspberries. "What I'm trying to say, though, Barry...may I call you Barry?"
"Harry. Actually, it's Harry."
"Harry, right, what I'm trying to say, Harry, is that it was merely a matter of re-examining our goals. A lot of Top 40 stations try too hard to pitch their product to both the kiddies and their parents, and the result is mass confusion. At Radio 180, we augmented our focus rather than radically change it, and we actually improved our ratings with demos who wanted to feel younger or who just wanted to listen with their kids."
"'Bandersnatch' should appeal to both," Di Fidelio said.
"Oh, hey, she's terrific. I feel sure she'll get hundreds of plays on our station."
If much of what Whittaker was saying sounded like total horseshit, that's because much of it was total horseshit. Whittaker knew, and Di Fidelio knew, and -- with the exception of the crew and the caterers and the black dancer who'd be playing the role of the Bandersnatch when Tamar performed the song later tonight -- everyone on this showboat vessel knew that most Top 40 and rock radio stations today got paid by the record manufacturers, and in some instances by the performing artists themselves, to play their songs on the air.
Moreover, this practice of Pay-for-Play, as it was called, was entirely legal provided the station mentioned on air that payment had been made. Usually, the deejay merely said, "This record was brought to you by Bison Records." Whittaker knew, and Di Fidelio knew that the music industry was a twelve-billion-dollar-a-year business. They further knew that only three broadcasters controlled more than half of the top hundred radio markets in the U.S. There were 10,000 -- count 'em, Maude -- 10,000 commercial radio stations in the land, and record companies depended on about 1,000 of the largest ones to create hits and sell records. Each of those thousand stations added approximately three new songs to its playlist every week.
Enter the independent record promoter.
Hired by the record company, the indie got paid each time there was an "add" to the playlist of a Top 40 or rock station. Average price for an add was a thousand bucks, but the fee could go as high as five or ten thousand depending on the number of listeners a station had. All in all, the indies earned about three million bucks a week for their services.
That was a lot of fried corn husks, honey.
Whittaker knew, and Di Fidelio knew, and everyone connected with either Bison Records or WHAM -- "Radio 180 on your dial!" -- that a record promoter named Arturo Garcia, who worked for the indie firm of Instant Prompt, Inc., had made a deal with WHAM that guaranteed the station $300,000 in annual promotional payments provided its list of clients regularly made the station's playlist. Morever, in certain special circumstances...
Consider, for example, the case of Tamar Valparaiso's debut album, Bandersnatch. What with Carroll's original rhyming (which would certainly sound like hip-hop doggerel to many teenagers), and what with Tamar's poundingly simple five-note melody (that would most certainly sound sexually-driven to many teenagers), the title-song single seemed poised, please dear God, to do what Alicia Keys' Songs in A Minor had done in its first week, more than 235,000 copies for a debut album, #1 on both the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart and the R&B Album Chart, please dear God, let it happen!
But just in case God wasn't listening, and just in case all that legal payola didn't do the trick, IPI (ever mindful of its guiding slogan, "The Tin Is in the Spin") was paying WHAM -- and each of forty other top stations around the country -- a $5,000 bonus for fifty plays in the first week of "Bandersnatch's" release. That came to a hundred bucks a spin, and that was a whole lot of tin, man.
To put it mildly, much was riding on the success of that album.
Meanwhile, in the main stateroom of the River Princess, Tamar Valparaiso was getting into her scanty costume.
Ever since 9/11, and especially since the FBI began issuing vague warnings of terrorist attacks hither and yon but nowhere in particular, the Police Department had been on high alert for any possible threats to the city's bridges. There were 143 men and 4 women in the Harbor Patrol Unit, which operated a municipal navy of twenty vessels, ranging in size from twenty to fifty-two feet. The workhorse of the HPU was the new 36-foot launch, which could travel up to thirty-eight miles an hour -- more than twice the speed of the older vessels in the fleet. The Police Department had recently purchased four of these boats at a cost of $370,000 per. To the relief of taxpayers everywhere in the city, the boats were expected to last twenty years.
Not too long ago, Sergeant Andrew McIntosh would have been wearing the same orange life vest over his blue uniform, but there wouldn't have been a Ruger Mini-14 semiautomatic rifle lying across the dash. You broke those out only when you were going on a drug raid. Those and the twelve-gauge shotguns. Nowadays, with lunatics running loose all over the world, the heavy weapons were de rigueur for the course, as they said in old Glasgow, Scotland, from which fine city McIntosh's grandmother had migrated.
McIntosh was fifty-two years old, and he'd been driving boats for the HPU for twenty-two years now, before which he'd operated a charter fishing boat in Calm's Point. Back then, watching the police boats pulling into the marina, he'd wondered what the hell he was doing ferrying drunken fishermen all over the Sound. He finally asked himself Why not give it a shot? Took the Police Department exam the very next week, asked for assignment to the Harbor Patrol the minute he got out of the Academy.
Back then, the Police Department was still calling itself the Isola PD, even though precincts were located in all five sections of the city. Eventually, Calm's Point, Majesta, Riverhead, and Bethtown rose up in protest, demanding equal rights or some such. The department, figuring it would cover all the bases and not cause any more riots than were absolutely necessary, began calling itself "Municipal PD," and then "Metro PD," and then "MPD" for short. Some of the older hands, however -- McIntosh included -- felt they had changed the name only because the acronym "IPD" for Isola Police Department was being translated by the ordinary citizenry to mean "I Peed," a not entirely flattering descriptive image for stalwarts of the law rushing to the rescue.
There was nothing suspicious about the twenty-seven footer moving slowly toward the Hamilton Bridge, except that she was cruising along with just her running lights on. No lights in the cabin or anywhere else on the boat. Well, that wasn't too unusual, McIntosh supposed, but even so, in these difficult times he didn't want to be blamed later on if some crazy bastard ran a boat full of explosives into one of the bridge's pylons. So he hit a switch on the dash, and a red light began blinking and rotating on the prow of the launch, and he signaled to Officer Betty Knowles to throw a light onto the smaller boat ahead.
Aboard the Rinker, Avery Hanes whispered, "Let me handle this."
Well, hell, he was the smart one.
"Why do I have to be black?" Jonah was asking her.
Tamar didn't know what to answer the poor man.
Because the good Lord intended you to be that way?
She hated deep philosophical questions.
Like when a reporter from Billboard magazine asked her what she thought of Mick Jagger, and she'd had to admit she didn't know who Mick Jagger was. When the reporter explained that he was a seminal rock singer, she didn't mention that she didn't know what "seminal" meant. Instead, she told them she didn't consider herself a rock singer, and besides she was very young. So, of course they asked what kind of singer she considered herself to be, and she'd had to admit she thought of her kind of music as mainstream pop. But a question like Jonah's absolutely floored her. She'd never suspected till this very moment that he was so deep.
What she was hoping was that nobody would be disappointed because she and Jonah wouldn't be duplicating all the bells and whistles on the video, but of course how could they do that on a little boat in the middle of the river? Tonight, she'd be lip-synching, which was okay because everyone in the crowd was very hip, she guessed, and surely nobody expected her to really perform the entire video, did they? Shit, it had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to shoot the thing with all the special effects and everything, so how could anyone expect a duplication of all that on this dinky little boat here, even though Barney kept calling it a "launch." She certainly hoped nobody had such wild expectations in mind, which was a good title for a song and maybe for her next album, "Wild Expectations." She certainly hoped they would appreciate her just lip-synching while she dry-humped Jonah.
Jonah was as gay as a bowl of daisies.
This was okay because he only came across that way when you were talking to him. Lisping and all, and sort of limp-wristed, a total caricature of a fag.
"Why do I have to be black?"
And a little limp flick of the wrist.
Cause you unfortunate, amigo, Tamar should have said.
Jonah hadn't done any talking on the video, and he certainly wouldn't be doing any talking tonight, either. Even Tamar herself wouldn't be talking until after the record played and they danced to it. Then she'd do the interview with Channel Four, and whatever other interviews she had to do with all the press people out there, and then they'd call it a night and hope for the best.
The video had premiered last night on all four music channels during their prime-time debut spots --
"I meant why does the beast have to be black?" Jonah asked.
Another philosophical question.
He was sharing the main stateroom as a dressing room with her, but that was okay because he was gay, and she didn't mind if he saw her naked boobs. She was half-naked in the costume, anyway, which she guessed was the whole point of the video, to expose herself as much as possible without getting arrested. She had to admit that she somewhat enjoyed all that screaming and yelling whenever she made a personal appearance, part of which she knew was for her voice -- she really felt she did have a very good mainstream pop style and a very good vibrato besides -- but part of which was for the way she shook her considerable booty, muchachos.
"So?" Jonah asked.
One hand on his hip.
Pouting little look on his face.
He was perhaps six-feet-two-inches tall, with a dancer's firm abs, and strong biceps and forearms from lifting girls considerably heftier than Tamar, thighs like oaks, an altogether wonderful specimen of a man, but oh what a waste! He had good fine facial features, too, a pity they'd been covered by all those masks he had to wear on the video, and would be covered by masks tonight as well -- not the same masks, of course. They'd used maybe ten or twelve different masks during the shoot, so that it looked like the Bandersnatch was changing form each time he -- or it, more precisely -- violated her or tried to violate her, rape or attempted rape as the case may have been, who knew? All these videos were supposed to be somewhat mysterious and murky, like adolescence itself, thank God that was behind her.
She was glad her video wasn't about a black guy going to jail while his chick moped around looking mournful and forlorn. She was glad it wasn't about a drive-by shooting, either, which a lot of the rap groups thought was entertainment. One of the Bison veeps had wanted the title song on the debut album to be something called "Raw Girls," and he'd suggested that they shoot the accompanying video in a high school locker room, with all these young chicks, white, black, Latino, coming in and stripping down to their underwear as they got ready for a soccer game. Tamar had gone directly to Barney Loomis to tell him she wouldn't do any video that looked like a G-rated version of Debbie Does Dallas, and she wouldn't sing any song called "Raw Girls," either.
Tamar knew exactly what she wanted to be.
Tamar knew exactly where she was going.
"Sorry to bother you, sir," McIntosh said. "Everything okay here?"
Standing on the bow of the police launch, Officer Knowles was playing the boat's spotlight around the chest of the man at the wheel of the Rinker. Something they taught you when you began training for the HPU. Unless the suspect was a known perp, you kept the light out of his eyes. Courtesy, Service, Dedication. That's what the decal on the side doors of all the police cars in the city said. That's what it said on the side of Harbor Charlie's cabin, too. Courtesy. Meant you kept the light out of a person's eyes, unless he was a perp.
Avery Hanes was about to become a perp in an hour or so, but Officer Knowles didn't know that yet, and neither did Sergeant McIntosh, at the wheel of the police launch, or Officer Brady, standing in the stern with his hand resting casually on the butt of the Glock holstered on his hip, just in case this guy driving the Rinker turned out to be some Al Qaeda nut determined to blow up either himself or something else, or else some drug runner or something. These days, you never could tell.
"Everything's fine, Sergeant," Avery said, because he was the smart one, and he'd seen the stripes on McIntosh's uniform sleeve.
"Saw you runnin with all your lights off," McIntosh said.
The launch was idling alongside the Rinker, which had come to a dead stop on the water.
"Ooops. Thought I had them on," Avery said, and flicked the dashboard switch that turned the running lights on and off, clicking it several times to make sure, and then turning to look at McIntosh with a slightly puzzled shrug.
"I meant in the cabin," McIntosh said.
"I'll turn them on if you like," Avery said. "Such a nice night and all, so many stars, thought we'd take advantage. They shine so much brighter without any lights."
"Where you bound?" McIntosh asked.
"Back to the marina."
"Capshaw Boats. Fairfield and the water."
"Off Pier Seven, would that be?"
"Who've you got aboard, Captain?"
"My girlfriend and my best man. We're getting married in June, wanted to check out the River Club."
"Nice venue," McIntosh said.
"Yes, sir, it sure is. Might be too expensive for us, though."
"Well, sorry to've bothered you," McIntosh said. "Enjoy the rest of the evening."
"Thank you, sir. Did you want me to put on those cabin lights?"
Knowles turned off the spot. The waters went instantly black. McIntosh eased the throttle forward, and the police launch pulled away from the Rinker. On the stern, Officer Brady took his hand off the Glock's butt.
J. P. Higgins was holding forth on the various types of videos on the air these days. He was Bison's Executive VP in charge of Video Production, and he was obviously impressing the foreign affiliates who'd been invited to tonight's launch party. The man from Prague didn't understand English as well as Bison's people from London (well, of course not) and Milan, or Paris and Frankfurt, but he was nonetheless hanging on every word because he hoped to learn how to promote the "Bandersnatch" video in his own country, now that the flood waters had subsided, and once the video and the album were released there. One drawback was that Tamar Valparaiso was virtually unknown in the Czech Republic. Well, she was virtually unknown here as well. But that was why Bison had spent a pot full of money on the video, not to mention all the publicity and promotion preceding tonight's launch party when -- in exactly one hour by the Czech's imitation Rolex watch -- Tamar Valparaiso herself would be performing with the very same dancer who'd accompanied her on the video.
There was a palpable air of expectation.
Something big was going to happen tonight.
Just how big, none of the assembled guests could ever possibly imagine.
Higgins was a man in his early forties, and he liked to think he'd learned all there was to know about video production by the time he was thirty. Convincing the foreigners gathered around him was a simple task. He concentrated instead on trying to sell his savvy to a young black girl wearing what appeared to be nothing but three chain links and a diamond earring, sitting on a hassock alongside their man from London.
"Your cheapest video to shoot is what I call your 'Pool Party' video," Higgins said, trying to catch the black girl's eye, but she seemed absorbed in her chocolate pâté, which was the exact color of her barely covered breasts, topped with a pair of red raspberries, the dessert, not her breasts. "One of the execs at any label is sure to have a house with a swimming pool. You go to that house, you set up your cameras around the pool, you decorate the premises with girls in bikinis and guys in thongs, and then shoot your artist against a backdrop of all these half-naked young people writhing in time to the music. You don't have to worry too much about lighting because you're shooting in broad daylight. Only thing you have to worry about is airplanes flying overhead. But that's the same as on any daytime shoot."
Higgins didn't know what it was he'd said that suddenly captured the black girl's attention. Maybe she was interested in auditioning for the role of one of those half-naked young people writhing. She was half-naked herself right now, albeit not writhing. Higgins plunged on regardless.
"Your second cheapest video is what I call the 'Disco Party' video, which is a variation on the poolside theme. You rent a disco for the night, you pack it with those same young people from the swimming pool, except the guys are in tight jeans and tank tops and the girls are in halter tops and hip huggers that show their bellybuttons. You use the club's own strobe lighting except for your star, who's performing in their midst and needs special lighting to show her own bellybutton or however much else of herself you'd like her to show," he said, and turned his steely blue-eyed gaze full force on the black girl, who licked chocolate pâté from her fork, and smiled at him. "You've got to remember," he said directly to her, "that there's absolutely nowhere your artist can go after she's stark naked."
Everyone laughed. The man from London had a sort of horsy laugh. The man from Paris sounded like he was choking on a Gauloise. Higgins figured he was both amusing and instructing these two stereotypes. Encouraged, he continued with his thesis, which he would try to get published in The New Yorker magazine one day.
"A little more expensive is what I call your 'Back to the Hood' video. This only works with black or Latino artists," he said, and winked at the black girl, "since your white performers don't come fum no hood, sistuh," and winked again. The black girl winked back. Higgins figured he was home free. "This is a video you shoot outdoors, with your male or female artist roaming the old neighborhood and feeling sentimental about it. You see shots of old black guys playing cards on an upturned garbage can, you see shots of little girls jumping rope and teenage dudes shooting baskets in the school yard, you see shots of what look like dope buys going down, this is like a documentary that says, 'Look where I came from, boys and girls, and now I'm a big rock star, ain't that something?' And your artist is roaming through all this like a hidden camera, with a soulful look on her face, singing her little heart out while she remembers what it was like to be a kid in this hood."
The black girl was nodding dreamily now, remembering what it was like to be a kid in the shitty hood where she herself was born, but look at her tonight, man, here on a million-dollar yacht, wearing chains and a diamond and flirting with a veep from a big-time label, oh lordy!
"The song doesn't have to have anything at all to do with the hood or memories of the hood. The song can have a lyric any twelve-year-old can remember in six seconds flat, 'I'll love you till the day I die,' something like that, 'I'll love you till the day I die, I'll love you till the day I die, I'll love you till the day I die-ai-ai,' like that. Nothing at all to do with growing up poor, the growing-up-poor is only the sub-plot. What the video does is tell all those kids out there who bought the album that here in this America -- or for that matter any of your countries, too, my friends -- anywhere in the entire free world, for that matter, you can grow up to be a diva who will love someone till the day she die-ai-ai-s."
Higgins smiled. They all smiled with him.
The black girl wasn't too sure Higgins wasn't dissing the sort of hood she grew up in, but she smiled, too, what the hell, and grabbed a glass of white wine from a waiter passing a tray.
"Your next cheapest video is what I call 'Smoke and Mirrors,' it's all bullshit flashing lights and blinking neon. Looks like a million bucks, but doesn't cost a nickel. Well, it costs a lot more than the other three, but that's only in the construction. The shooting is cheap. Just your set and your artists on the set. This is the kind of set you use when your song is about absolutely nothing. In fact, not anybody out there can understand the words to the song. Nobody. Not a single living soul. I'm not talking rap. You can usually understand the words in a rap song. I'm talking about a song that has lyrics nobody on earth can understand, no matter how often you listen to the song. This is a song that kids keep listening to over and over again, trying to dope out what the hell the lyrics mean. This is a song that's usually a big hit overseas, because you don't have to understand it in Germany or Italy, it's the same as if you're hearing it in America, where nobody can understand it, either, because it's designed to be unintelligible. Are you beginning to get my drift?"
The guy from London was beginning to get Higgins's drift. Higgins was leading up to talking about "Bandersnatch." The man from London nodded sagely, like a member of Parliament who'd just been advised that his Prime Minister had the goods on Osama bin Laden.
"Your next to the most expensive video is your 'Story' video. This can be a video that actually follows the story of the lyrics in any given song, illustrating the song, so to speak, putting it into pictures for the twelve-year-olds out there, or it can be a video that tells a story entirely different from the one the lyrics are telling. Usually, the Story video is directed by some guy who has dreams of doing a feature film for Miramax. He is more interested in the video itself than he is in the song the video is supposed to be selling. In many respects, it's like your 'Back to the Hood' video. Your artist can be singing, 'I'll love you till the day I die-ai-ai,' and the picture on the screen will be showing a car crashing through the guard rail on the Calm's Point Bridge and hurtling to the dark swirling mysterious waters below. The 'Story' video is full of artsy-fartsy shots and dissolves and fades you learn in Directing 101 in film school. There are women with horns and pointy red breasts..."
Higgins glanced at the black girl again.
"...or guys who suddenly sprout huge wings and fly off into a sky torn apart by thunder clouds. You're sometimes watching two or three stories at the same time, either having to do with the song, or having nothing at all to do with it. The idea is to make the video look like a hi-tech movie so that the kids will run out to buy the album, thinking maybe it, too, gee whiz, is like a high-tech movie. Razzle-dazzle. It's all razzle-dazzle, thank you, Kander and Ebb. Which brings me to the most expensive video of all, and that is the 'Production Number' video, and that is what the 'Bandersnatch' video is."
Finalmente, the guy from Milan thought.
"Leave me dispense with generalities," Higgins said, "and invite you directly into my boudoir," and here his gaze brushed the black girl's long and shiny legs, and her pert and perky tits, and then her overblown lips and her loam-colored eyes, asking his question to those eyes, asking it with a small inquisitive lifting of his brows, and getting his answer with a slight imperceptible nod, Yes, the girl in the chains was saying, oh yes, yes, yes.
"'Bandersnatch,'" Higgins said, "although I feel certain Lewis Carroll didn't intend it this way, is the story of an attempted rape, the story of a thwarted rape, the story of a victim triumphant. Most importantly, it is in fact a story -- a genuine story and not one of those invented film-school stories that have nothing to do with the song they're selling. 'Bandersnatch' is the story of a girl who is warned of the beast out there on those mean streets, but who goes out to find that beast, anyway, and to slay it, my friends, to kill it dead, to emerge victorious, 'O Frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!' Yes, you're right if you're thinking this is the story of 'Beauty and the Beast,' told in nonsense syllables that captivate and mystify, part hard driving rock, part rap, so that we go after and deliver both audiences. You may well ask -- especially our friend from Britain here, who may be more familiar with the poem than some of you others..."
"I'm familiar with the poem," the black girl said.
Higgins looked at her.
"In fact, I know it by heart," she said.
"Then you may be wondering how..."
"I am indeed wondering," she said.
"...how the boy in the poem..."
"'Beware the Jabberwock, my son,'" she said, stressing the word.
"Exactly," Higgins said.
"'Come to my arms, my beamish boy,'" the man from London said.
"Exactly right," Higgins said. "How does this boy become a girl, become a rape victim, become in fact Tamar Valparaiso?"
"My magazine is wondering the same thing," the black girl said.
"Which magazine is that?" Higgins asked.
Ooops, Higgins thought.
She had cut her hair short for the video.
It was growing back now, but if the album was a hit and Tamar had to go on tour with it, she'd have it trimmed back to the length it was two months ago, when they shot the video at what used to be a bakery but what was now the Sands Spit Studios across the River Dix, which in fact they'd passed not half an hour ago. The River Princess had already come around the tip of the island and was now heading downtown, cruising the waters between the two states, moving at a leisurely pace toward the bridge.
On the video, the short hair made her look like a blond Prince Valiant. Or more like a Peter Pan, she guessed. No question there was a girl in that tattered tunic at the end of the song, though, the beast clawing and biting at the garment till it came away in shreds under his talons and teeth, no question about that at all. They'd even had to edit out a thirty-second shot where her left nipple distinctly showed, and another longer sequence where too much cheek and almost some pussy were revealed when Jonah lifted her; you couldn't risk offending all those soccer Moms out there, as if they didn't have pussies and nipples of their own.
Started her quest in what looked like a sturdy-enough white thigh-length tunic, sandals strapped to the calf, subtly heeled to give the leg its essential curve...
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood...
That was when Jonah burst upon the scene wearing the first of his masks. That was when the innocent boy in the song began morphing into a female rape victim as more and more of Tamar's body was revealed in the shredding garment. There was a lot of meaning to this song. This song spoke to gender problems and crises of identification. This song spoke to adolescent boys and girls in turmoil. This was a very deep song.
She was worried that some of its depth and meaning might be lost in the live performance tonight. It had taken hours and hours of shooting time to capture the dual morphing effect. Tamar's transformation from adolescent boy to vulnerable maiden to ferocious defender of her virginity had required repeated costume changes to achieve the effect of a gradually more girl-revealing garment, the rape becoming in effect a subtle strip tease. Nor had it been simple to morph Jonah from a merely somewhat threatening creature (albeit with eyes of flame) that came whiffling through the tulgey wood in a blue mask, burbling as it came, into the raging monster in a red mask, slain and bleeding at the end of the battle. How on earth would they convey all that tonight? Eyes of flame? Wouldn't it have been simpler and better merely to show the video? But it had previewed last night on all four music channels and tonight Barney wanted something to top that. Something like Tamar Valparaiso, live and in person!
And scared to death.
It was already nine-thirty, and Honey Blair hadn't yet shown up. Binkie Horowitz had busted his ass setting up the Channel Four interview, but now he was beginning to wonder if the PD for the Eleven O'Clock News had changed his mind. Or else sent Honey somewhere else where hotter news was breaking. Binkie couldn't imagine what might be hotter than Tamar Valparaiso performing the new Hit Number One Song from her Platinum Album (aluvai and from your lips to God's ear!) live and in person, right here on this little old yacht, but then again he never knew what the hell went on in the heads of program directors.
As VP in charge of Promotion at Bison Records, he'd been working the PDs at radio stations all over the country for the past two months now, courting them the way he would a young girl (some of them were, in fact, young girls), making them familiar with the tricky lyrics of "Bandersnatch," playing the single for them over and over again, hoping they would come to like the song well enough to add it to their rotation. Binkie was shooting for plays on both Top-40 Teen and Top-40 Adult stations, hoping to catch the pubes and their soccer Moms as well. Your dead zone on radio was from seven to eleven P.M., a time slot the big-money advertisers shunned. That's where the Teen-Appeal records usually landed, square in the middle of Death Valley. In radio, your big bucks were in the eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old market. Binkie secretly suspected that Tamar's appeal would be to the teenybopper crowd, but nobody argued with Barney Loomis, and besides, there was plenty of time to go after the younger crowd later on.
For now, what he was looking for was some ninety to a hundred weekly spins on each of Clear Channel's twelve hundred stations. Used to be a record could take off with as few as forty, fifty spins a week, without going into power rotation at any of the stations. Nowadays, if you did a sampling of top hits around the country, you came up with 83 spins in Bakersfield, 86 spins in Des Moines, 95 in San Antone, as many as 115 spins in Vegas, and so on. Moreover, the biggest stations tended to utilize high spins early on in a record's life. They'd play a song for a week or so and then conduct random telephone surveys, calling listeners and playing a snippet of the tune for them, asking if they recognized it. If they got a positive reaction, they added the song to their rotation. Binkie's job, though, was to get the damn song played in the first place.
He knew that Bison had to sell 500,000 copies of Tamar's single before they could turn a profit. In their wildest hopes, the "Bandersnatch" single would hit the Top 10 before the album was even shipped. But not too many records achieved that goal. Of the close to 6,500 albums shipped by the major labels the year before, less than two percent of them turned a profit. A lot of time and energy and talent and money -- especially money -- was riding on Tamar Valparaiso's first outing. So where the hell was Honey Blair?
Higgins sidled up beside him, leaned into him.
"Where's the blond cooze?" he whispered.
"She'll be here, don't worry," Binkie said.
But he was worried.
In the main stateroom of the River Princess, Tamar was starting to get nervous herself. Too many things were bothering her. Would the dance floor be too small or too slippery for her and Jonah to perform the strenuous dance routines that simulated a young girl struggling in the clutches of an animal intent on raping her? Would the audience be sitting too close for Jonah's mask changes to be effective? They'd morphed twelve masks for the video, but tonight they'd be depending solely on a few masks and some dramatic light changes to enhance the effect of increasing menace. Would her tunic, admittedly skimpy to begin with, but certainly intact and pristine, break away strategically when and where it was supposed to, gradually revealing her long shapely legs and firm boobs, but not too much more than that, not with Channel Four's cameras taping her performance.
So many things could go wrong.
Would she be able to hear the lyrics clearly enough through the pickup tucked in her hair? Were the Channel Four sound people any good, and where the hell were they, anyway? She'd hate to be rapping "One-two, one-two, and through and through, the vorpal blade went snicker-snack!" and instead have the sound from the video telling the cameras and later tonight the world, "'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe." Well, she'd got her start in karaoke clubs, she supposed she could lip-synch her way through tonight, which would be sort of karaoke in reverse, she supposed.
But what if somebody had spilled a drink or something squishy and sloppy on the floor? All Jonah had to do was lose his footing and his grip on her -- his grip on himself, for that matter -- for this whole thing to go out the window in three seconds flat, Tamar Valparaiso and the rapacious beast doing a comic pratfall in front of millions of viewers when they aired the tape on the Eleven O'Clock News. Goodbye dreams of rock stardom, goodbye little Russa-Mexicana-American girl making it huge in the big bad city and the wide wicked world.
"How do I look?" she asked Jonah.
"Hot," he said, the friggin faggot.
Tamar's father used to go to church in Mexico every Sunday morning and pray for something to eat the next day. Tamar's mother was born in a Communist country and didn't know from religion or from praying.
Tamar wasn't praying now, either.
But she was wishing with all her might that after tonight she would be the biggest fucking diva who ever came down the pike. "So don't let anything go wrong," she whispered to Whomever. Tamar's ambition was to bury J. Lo, bury Britney, bury Brandy, bury Shakira, bury Ashanti, bury Pink, bury Sheryl Crowe and Christina Aguilera and Michelle Branch, bury each and every one of them, bury them all.
Was that such a crime?
The subject matter had finally got around to ambition and crime.
Ollie and Patricia were sitting out on the restaurant's wide verandah, looking out over the River Harb and the twinkling lights of the next state. Further uptown, they could see the warmer, somehow cozier lights of the exclusive community, Smoke Rise, and yet further uptown the lights of the Hamilton Bridge spanning the river, a yacht coming under the bridge now, all aglow with lights itself, and moving steadily downstream. Patricia was drinking a crème de menthe on the rocks. Ollie was drinking a Courvoisier straight up.
"My ambition is to become first a detective..." Patricia was saying.
"Ah yes," Ollie said.
"...and next a detective on the Rape Squad."
"Why the Rape Squad?"
"Because I think that's the worst crime there is."
"I tend to agree," Ollie said, although he didn't know whether he actually agreed or not.
Actually, he probably thought killing little girls was a worse crime. But when a woman who looked as beautiful as Patricia did in the moonlight reflected from the water told you she thought rape was the worst crime there was, then it seemed appropriate to agree with her, ah yes.
"Why is that?" Patricia asked.
Not that she doubted him. But he'd seen so much, and knew so much...
"Because it isn't fair," Ollie said.
"Who says it has to be fair?" Patricia asked, and smiled, and said, "My mother used to tell me that whenever I complained about anything. But you're right. Rape isn't fair. If men had to worry about rape all the time, the crime would carry the death penalty."
"Do you worry about rape all the time?"
"Not since I became a cop. Not since they let me pack a gun."
"Are you packing now?" he asked.
"Always," she said, and tapped her handbag with one painted fingernail. "Even when I go to bed, Josie is right there on the night table beside me. But before? When I was a kid..."
"The piece. I call her Josie. Doesn't yours have a name?"
"Let's name it."
"Because it's a trusted friend."
Ollie wondered if the conversation was taking a sexual turn. He knew some guys who named their cocks. Women, too. Gave names to their boyfriends' cocks. Louie. Or Harry. Or Pee Wee in some cases. He didn't think that's where Patricia was going here, but you never knew. He'd held her awfully close on the dance floor.
"I wouldn't know where to begin," he said. "Besides, I don't think of it as a trusted friend."
"Have you ever had to use it?"
"Ever kill a man?"
"A woman," he said.
Patricia looked at him.
"She was coming at me with a shotgun. Stoned out of her mind. I shot her once in the thigh, she kept coming. An inch closer, she'd have blown my head off. I dropped her."
"Wow," Patricia said.
"The same piece you carry now?"
"No. This was when I was a patrolman. It was a thirty-eight back then."
"What do you carry now?"
"A Glock nine."
"Heavy for a woman."
"Is what I call her."
"So what should I call mine?"
"You think of a name."
"Nah, come on."
"I'm not good at this."
"How do you know? Give it a try."
Ollie furrowed his brow.
"What's your best friend's name?" she asked.
"I don't have a best friend," he said.
"Well...any friend," she said.
"I don't have any friends," Ollie said.
Patricia looked at him again.
"Then how about someone you really trust?"
Ollie thought about this for several moments.
Back inside the restaurant, the band began playing again.
"Steve," he said at last.
"So name it Steve."
"I don't think so," he said.
"I don't know. I guess it wouldn't be professional. Naming a weapon."
"Do you think I'm unprofessional?"
"Hey, no, I think you're very professional. You're a good cop, and I think you're going to make a very good detective."
"You think so?"
"I really do. The Rape Squad'll be lucky to have you."
"What I was saying about rape before..."
"Yes, tell me. Would you like another one of those?"
"Are you going to have one?"
"If you are."
"I think I'd like one, yes."
"Good, me, too," Ollie said, and signaled to the waiter.
"What I was saying is that in this city, rape was a constant concern of mine. Because, you know, well, I was growing up to be fairly attractive..."
"Beautiful, in fact," Ollie said.
"I wasn't fishing for a compliment."
"But you are beautiful, Patricia."
"Well, thanks, but what..."
"A cream dee mint," Ollie said to the waiter, "and another of these cognacs."
"Yes, sir," the waiter said, and walked off.
"What I was trying to say," Patricia said, "is, for example, as a young girl in this city, I never felt safe, never. For example, we're enjoying a few drinks together here, and I feel perfectly safe with you..."
"Well, thank you," Ollie said, "ah yes, m'dear. And I feel perfectly safe with you, too."
"But when I was in my twenties, I'd be out with some guy...well, even lately, for that matter, before I became a cop. I mean this isn't something that just goes away, it's a constant with a woman. I'd be having a drink with some guy..."
"How old are you, anyway?" Ollie asked.
"Oh, gee, you're not supposed to ask that."
"Why not? I'm thirty-eight," he said.
"I was thirty in February."
"February what?" he asked, and took out his notebook.
"You gonna write it down?" she said, surprised.
"So I can buy you a present. Provided it ain't too close to Valentine's Day."
"No, it's February twenty-seventh."
"Good. So then I can get you two presents," he said.
"Nobody ever gave me a Valentine's Day present," Patricia said.
"Well, you wait and see," he said, and scribbled her name and the date of her birthday in his book.
"Crème de menthe for the lady," the waiter said, "and a Courvoisier for the gentleman."
"Thank you," Ollie said.
"My pleasure, sir," the waiter said, and smiled, and walked off again.
"Cheers," Ollie said.
"Cheers," she said.
They both drank.
"Gee, I still feel safe," Ollie said.
"Me, too," she said, and grinned. "But what I was saying, Oll, is that before I became a cop, I'd be having a drink with some guy who took me out, or even just standing with some guy who was chatting me up in a bar, and I'd all at once be on my guard. Like don't drink too much, Patricia, watch out, Patricia, this guy may be the son of a bitch who'll rape you, excuse my French, Oll. Or coming home late at night on the subway, cold sober, I'd always be afraid some two-hundred-pound guy was going to pounce on me and beat me up and rape me. I'm five-seven..."
"I know," Ollie said, and smiled. "That's a good height."
"Thank you. And I weigh a hundred and twenty pounds. What chance would I have against some guy's been lifting weights in the prison gym? That's why I'm glad Josie's in my bag. Anybody gets wise with me, he's got to deal not only with me but with Josie, too."
"I'd sure hate to meet you in a dark alley," Ollie said.
"You would? I take that as a compliment, Oll."
"You know something?"
"Nobody ever called me 'Oll' before. I mean before tonight. I mean before you did."
"Well...is that all right? I mean...'Oll' sounds so natural. I mean...it seems to fit you."
"Oll," he said, trying it.
"Oll," she said, and shrugged tentatively.
"Here's to it," he said, and raised his glass. "Oll."
"Here's to it," she said, and clinked her glass against his.
The band was playing "Tenderly."
"Wanna dance again?" Patricia asked.
"Yes, I would," Ollie said.
"You're a good dancer, Oll," she said.
"Oll," he said, testing the name again, tasting it like wine.
"Is it okay?" she asked.
"Yes, it's just fine, Patricia," he said, and led her inside and onto the dance floor.
Channel Four's own private motor launch pulled up alongside just as the River Princess slowed her speed and lowered the loading platform and ladder on her port side. Somewhat a celebrity in her own right, more for her spectacular legs than for her news coverage, Honey Blair drew a sizable crowd of somewhat-celebrities themselves to that side of the boat, where -- followed by her crew of three -- she climbed to the main deck, an abundance of leg and thigh showing in the short leather mini she was wearing. Honey was accustomed to dressing somewhat skimpily for her roving reporter assignments on the Eleven O'Clock News, a penchant that made her one of the station's favorites. Tonight, to complement the short blue leather mini, she was wearing calf-high navy leather boots with not-quite stiletto heels, and an ice-blue, long-sleeved, clingy silk blouse, its pearl buttons unbuttoned to show just the faintest shadowed beginnings of her cleavage. Honey normally looked cool and swift and sexy. But in tonight's crowd, she resembled somebody's maiden aunt from Frozen Stalks, Idaho.
Tamar Valparaiso was scheduled to be taped at ten P.M., which would give Honey time enough to get back to the studio, do some quick editing, and get the piece on the air by eleven-twenty, after they'd covered all the local fires, murders, political scandals, and a weensy bit of international news so that the channel wouldn't seem like just another hick television station here in one of America's biggest cities. Honey's taped segment would be followed by Jim Garrison doing the day's sports, which meant that a lot of male viewers in their thirties, a large part of Tamar's target audience, would be watching her do "Bandersnatch" for two or three minutes, after which Honey would interview her, all panting and sweaty -- Tamar, not Honey -- for another minute or so. That was a hell of a big bite of television time, and don't think Binkie Horowitz and everyone else at Bison didn't realize it.
It was one thing to have the video premiere on all four music channels yesterday. It was another to get coverage like this on one of the big three networks, during the Eleven O'Clock News, no less, following the Saturday night movie. Binkie had every right to feel proud of himself for landing the spot.
Now that Honey was here, Binkie's job was to make sure she was a) comfortable and b) well prepared for the short interview that would follow Tamar's performance. Honey was meticulous about not drinking on the job, so while her crew set up their cameras alongside the polished dance floor where Tamar and her partner would be performing, Binkie plied Honey with rich dessert and hot tea while filling her in on Tamar's background, such as it was.
"She comes from karaoke," he said, "can you imagine? Used to perform in clubs in southwest Texas, her father's Mexican, you know, her mother's Russian. Nice little background story there, by the way, how they met. He's a vacuum cleaner salesman, her mother's a beautician, this is a real American success story, immigrants coming here from different parts of the world, raising an all-American girl who's poised on the edge of stardom -- do I detect a skeptical look on your face?"
Honey raised her shoulders and her eyebrows.
"My dear woman," Binkie said, "Tamar Valparaiso is like nothing you have ever seen before, just you wait. She is new, she is original, dare I say she is seminal? She already had vibrato when she was eight, she has a five-octave range, and she can sight-read any piece of music you put in front of her, including opera. She's not only going to be the biggest diva to explode on the CHR-pop scene in decades, she's also going to be a big movie..."
"What's CHR-pop?" Honey asked.
"Contemporary Hit Radio," Binkie said by rote.
"You don't want me to use that word on the air, do you?" Honey asked.
"What word is that?" Binkie asked. "Radio?"
"It's derogatory. It's customarily used to describe a temperamental opera singer."
"Not in rock music, it's not."
"You really want me to call your girl a diva?"
"That's what she's gonna be after tonight," Binkie said. "Once 'Bandersnatch' hits the charts..."
"Why'd she choose a Lewis Carroll poem?"
"Ask her, why don't you?"
"I will. Is she smart?"
"Smarter than most of them," he said, which said it all.
Honey looked at her watch.
"Where's the Ladies'?" she asked. "I want to touch up my makeup."
It was twenty minutes to ten.
Because Patricia had been leaving directly from work earlier tonight, she'd changed in the precinct swing room and met Ollie at the restaurant. Now, at a quarter to ten that Saturday, she sat beside Ollie on the front seat of his Chevy Impala, driving uptown on the River Harb Highway, watching the lights of a yacht that had stopped dead out there on the water, and was now apparently riding her anchor. Music from a station that played what it called "Smoothjazz" flooded the automobile.
"By the way," Ollie said, "have you thought of a song you want me to learn for you?"
"I've been trying to think of one all week," Patricia said.
"Have you come up with anything?"
"Yes. 'Spanish Eyes.'"
"I don't think I know that one."
"Not the one the Backstreet Boys did on Millennium," Patricia said. "The one I'm talking about is an older one. It was a hit when my mother was a teenager."
"The Backstreet Boys, huh?" Ollie said.
He had no idea who she meant.
"Even they're on the way out," Patricia said. "In fact, who knows how long 'NSync's gonna last. These boy bands come and go, you know."
"Oh, I know," Ollie said.
"But I'm talking about the old 'Spanish Eyes,'" she said, and sang the first line for him. "'Blue Spanish eyes...teardrops are falling from your Spanish eyes...' That one."
"I'll ask Helen."
"My piano teacher. Helen Hobson. Any song I tell her I want to learn, she finds the sheet music for me. I'll ask her to get 'Spanish Eyes.'"
"But not the one the Backstreet Boys did."
"Who did the other one? The one you want me to learn?"
"Al Martino. He recorded it in 1966, I wasn't even born yet, my mother was still a teenager. She still plays it day and night, that's how I happen to know it."
"Al Martino, huh?" Ollie said.
He'd never heard of him, either.
"Yeah, he was a big recording star. Well, I think he's still around, in fact."
"1966, that's a long time ago," Ollie said. "I hope she can still find the sheet music. Lots of these people who were big hits in the fifties and sixties, they just disappear, you know."
"But lots of them are still around," Patricia said.
"And better than ever."
"Oh, I know."
"The older they get, the better they get. Look at Tony Bennett."
"You want me to learn a Tony Bennett song for you?"
"No, I want you to learn 'Spanish Eyes.' Just for me. So you can play it for me when you come up the house."
"You got a piano?"
"Oh sure. My brother plays piano."
"I'll be happy to learn 'Spanish Eyes' for you."
"You'll like it. It's a very lovely love song."
"I like lovely love songs," Ollie said.
"It's the next exit, you know," she said.
"You get off at the next exit."
"Oh. Right, right."
The next exit was Hampton Boulevard, and Hampton Boulevard was one of the worst sections in Riverhead. The population on Hamp Bull, as it was familiarly called, was largely Puerto Rican and Dominican; the local cops joked that around here English was the second language. The Hamp Bull Precinct was nicknamed The Dead Zone, and for good reason; it was worth your life to walk around here after dark, even if you were a policeman. Drug-infested and crime-ridden, the ten square blocks encompassed by the precinct were at the very top of the Commissioner's list of Red Alert Areas. Ollie swung the car off at the exit sign, and drove up the ramp.
He said nothing for several moments.
At last, he said, "So this is where you live, huh?"
"1113 Purcell," she said, and nodded.
"How long you been living here?"
"I was born here."
"Your folks, too?"
"No, my parents were born in Puerto Rico. Mayagüez. You make the next left."
Young men were standing on every street corner.
"My brother and my sisters were born here, though," Patricia said.
"1113, you said?"
"The project up ahead."
He pulled the Impala next to the curb. Some young guys wearing gang bandannas were playing basketball under the lights in the playground. They turned to watch as Ollie came around to let Patricia out on the curb side. In a seemingly casual move, he unbuttoned his jacket and flipped it open to show the holstered Glock. Patricia caught this, but said nothing. She watched as he locked the car.
"No wonder you worried about getting raped all the time," he said.
"Kept me on my toes, that's for sure," Patricia said, and smiled. "But I've got Josie now," she said, and patted the tote bag hanging at her side.
"Can I give you some advice?" Ollie asked. "Man to man?"
"Man to man, sure," she said.
"There used to be a time when the shield and the gun meant something. You flashed the tin, you pulled the gun, it meant something. Which building?" he asked, and offered his arm.
"You gonna walk me home?" she asked, looking surprised. "Gee."
"If I lived here," Ollie said, "I'd even walk myself home."
"I'm used to it," she said.
"That's because you still think the shield and the gun mean something. They don't, Patricia. You flash the buzzer nowadays, it's an invitation for some punk to shoot you. You pull your Glock, that's only telling some punk to show you his bigger AK-47. We're outnumbered and outgunned, Patricia, and there's too much money to be made in dope. So don't count on Josie, ever, and don't count on your shield, either."
"What should I count on, Oll?"
"This," he said, and tapped his temple with the forefinger of his right hand. "We're smarter than any of them. That's all you have to remember."
"But throw back your jacket and show the weapon, anyway, right?" she said knowingly.
"With some of them, it still works," he said.
"Admit it," she said.
"Okay, it still works sometimes."
"Who's Steve?" she asked.
"I don't know. Who's Steve?"
They were walking up the concrete path to her red brick building. Some teenage boys and girls were sitting on the stoop, under a lamp swarming with the first insects of the season. One of the boys seemed about to say something, either to Patricia about her splendid tits or Ollie about his splendid girth, but he spotted the Glock and cooled it. Ollie gave him a look that said Wise decision, lad, and walked Patricia into the hallway. In this city, especially on Hamp Bull, too many bad things happened in hallways.
The tiled walls were covered with graffiti.
So were the elevator doors.
"Would you like to come up for a while?" she asked.
"Thanks, no, it's late," he said.
"I had a wonderful time," she said.
"So did I, Patricia."
She looked into his eyes. Her face seemed suddenly forlorn.
"Will I ever see you again?" she asked.
"What do you mean?" he said, genuinely surprised. "Why not?"
"Well," she said, and shrugged, and then opened her hands wide to indicate the building and the hallway and the graffiti. "This," she said.
"Where you live is where you live," he said, and shrugged.
The elevator door slid open.
The elevator was empty.
Ollie put his foot against the door to hold it.
"Well, thanks again," Patricia said, and took his hand, and then reached up to kiss him on the cheek, surprising him again.
"Listen, what are you doing Tuesday night?" he asked.
"Nothing," she said.
"Wanna go see a movie?"
"Sure." She was still holding his hand. "Will you know 'Spanish Eyes' by then?"
"I don't think so. I won't be able to ask Helen for the sheet music till Monday. My piano teacher. That's when I have my piano lesson. Monday nights."
"Remember, it's the Al Martino one."
"I'll remember. Patricia...?"
"I really did have a very nice time tonight."
"I did, too."
"So I'll see you Tuesday, okay? Are you working Tuesday?"
"Yes. The day shift."
"Me, too. So maybe we could go straight from the precinct..."
"That sounds good..."
"Grab something to eat..."
"Okay. But nothing fancy like tonight."
"No, just a hamburger or something."
"And then go to the movies afterward."
"That sounds good, Oll."
"We'll talk before then, find a movie we'd both like to see."
"Not a cop movie," she said.
"Definitely not a cop movie."
They were still holding hands.
"Well..." he said. "Goodnight, Patricia."
She dropped his hand, and stepped into the elevator. He watched as she pressed the button for her floor, waved as the elevator door closed on her. He listened for a moment as the elevator started up the shaft.
Smiling, he walked out of the building and down the steps past the teenage kids, and then up the path to where he'd parked the car.
His jacket was still thrown back to show the Glock.
"This is Honey Blair for Channel Four News, coming to you live from the ballroom deck of the River Princess, somewhere in the middle of the River Harb. In about a minute and a half, we'll be privileged to see and hear Tamar Valparaiso, the rock world's new singing sensation, performing live and in person the title song from her debut album, Bandersnatch. For those of you who may be wondering what on earth a bandersnatch might be, the word derives from Lewis Carroll's poem 'Jabberwocky,' which some of you may recall from your childhood reading of Through the Looking-Glass. Remember sweet little Alice in Wonderland? Well, from what I understand...hold it, I'm getting a signal here..."
Honey looked off camera, striking the familiar "Legs Slightly Apart" pose that had gained her millions of devoted viewers, mostly male, assuming as well the somewhat bewildered expression that made her appear like an innocent trapped in the wilds of TV-Land, a moue that seemed particularly appropriate to the song she was introducing.
"They're telling me we've got forty seconds," she told the microphone and the millions of people who would later be watching the Eleven O'Clock News. "I was saying that Tamar's rendering of 'Bandersnatch' -- if you remember the poem -- has nothing to do with childhood fun and games. In fact, what this emerging diva boldly addresses here is the attempted rape of an innocent...ten seconds, they're telling me, you can already see the lights beginning to change behind me, in eight, seven, six, five seconds...ladies and gentlemen, here's Tamar Valparaiso with 'Bandersnatch'!"
On the video, the song was introduced with a repetitive bass note strummed on a synthesizer, no melody as yet, just a resounding B-flat note repeated against an animated yellow sky with pastel colored clouds and whimsical budding flowers and fanciful floating insects, a children's garden of delights, with the only sound that of the insects' whirring wings and the resonant synthesizer bass note.
Here on the ballroom deck of the River Princess, the speakers picked up the same repeated note from the video, yes, but of course there wasn't any animated garden. Instead there was only a playful display of lights suggesting the innocence of childhood, and suddenly, in a pale saffron spot that bathed Tamar in its ivory-yellow glow (on the video, she materialized in a field of blooming white flowers) she appeared now from nowhere, it seemed, wearing a short creamy-white tunic, palms flat on her thighs. On both the video and here in this simpler performance aboard the launch, she looked directly out at the audience, raised her hands in open-fingered surprise, grinned in delight at the magnificence of this sparkling new fairyland-day, and began singing a melody she herself had written, a tune that played around a blues figure, hinting at misery to come, but which -- unlike real blues -- stayed rooted in the key of B-flat for the first stanza.
"'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
"Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
"All mimsy were the borogoves,
"And the mome raths outgrabe..."
Avery Hanes was anticipating a swim platform running athwart the boat on the stern, with a narrow vertical ladder going up to the lower deck. Instead -- and he considered this a stroke of absolute good fortune -- a loading platform was in place on the boat's port side, and a proper ladder with side rails and steps, instead of rungs, was pointed up at a forty-five-degree angle toward the boat's second level where, he knew, cocktails had been served earlier tonight. The action now was on the lower deck, the ballroom level, the main deck salon where dinner and dessert had been served to a hundred and twelve guests who now sat watching Tamar Valparaiso performing on the parquet dance floor, all unaware. It would have been riskier to board the yacht on that main deck, bursting into the midst of the party, so to speak, although surely this was what they intended to do, anyway. But it would be far better to board on the second level, so handily made accessible by whichever Gods were in charge tonight, and work their way down by stealth to where they eventually wanted to be.
"The masks," Avery told Kellie, and she went below to fetch them as he eased the Rinker in alongside the loading platform and cut the engines to idle speed.
Between stanzas one and two, there was a four-measure interlude in the unrelated key of G, punctuated by drum beats and slashing, off-beat, E-minor power-chords on electric guitars. The drum beats grew louder and more insistent as the synth picked up the B-flat note again, more ominous-sounding now, and Tamar's almost-blues melody reached out with the words of the second stanza, her voice tremulous, her brown eyes wide and darting uneasily, the lights behind her becoming dark and swirling as if in anticipation of a sudden storm.
"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
"The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
"Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
"The frumious Bandersnatch!"
Bison Records had used twelve different rubber masks during the shooting of the video, changing colors, shapes, and sizes to achieve the morphing effect they were looking for, the transmogrification of an insistent date-rape hazard into a crazed and violent beast intent on rape and possibly murder.
There were only three masks aboard the Rinker tonight, and they would not be used for effect, merely for disguise.
Avery handed one of them to Kellie.
He himself pulled another one over his head and face.
Cal Wilkins put on the last one.
Kellie took the wheel of the boat.
Both men lifted AK-47s from the deck, came through the gate on the transom entry, and stepped onto the loading platform.
In the ballroom, Tamar Valparaiso was about to soar into the third stanza of "Bandersnatch."It was strange how all tension left her the moment she began performing. She knew she had them, each and every one of them, could tell by the pin-dropping silence out there that they were hanging on every word she sang. She was hanging on to each word herself, for that matter, caught in the suspense of the moment she alone had created, waiting for whatever was going to happen next, just like when she was a kid listening to stories her mother told her, and then what, Mama, and then what?
There was the insistent B-flat note again, pulsing from the speakers left and right. She imagined that sound magnified a thousandfold, visualized herself singing on the stage of a vast arena, hundreds of thousands of fans cheering and whistling as she stamped around the stage in her flirty little tunic, wanting more of her, ever more of her, screaming for more of her.
Behind the screen on her left, she could see Jonah looking all muscular and masculine and macho in the clay-colored mask he wore for his entrance, waiting to come on, just waiting to burst onto that dance floor and tear off all her clothes.
"He took his vorpal sword in hand:
"Long time the manxome foe he sought --
"So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
"And stood awhile in thought..."
As they climbed the ladder to the second deck, Avery glanced upward to the sun deck and the pilot house above, where he could see two uniformed figures busily performing nautical tasks, half-turned away from where he and Cal tried to flatten themselves against the side of the yacht so that no one listening to the big performance in the ballroom would catch sight of them in their rubber masks. They reached the second deck of the launch undetected, paused for an instant, but only an instant, to listen to the music coming from the main deck...
"So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
"And stood awhile in thought..."
...and then, AK-47s in hand, moved into the lounge.
The space was empty now, bottles gleaming behind the bar, bar stools bolted to the carpeted deck. Abruptly, the singing from the deck below ended. Now there was only a steady beat that sounded to Avery's garage-band ears like a quarter note, a quarter-note rest, then two more quarter notes as they started for the wide mahogany staircase that led down to where Jonah, in a mask quite unlike the ones they were wearing, burst onto the dance floor.
This part of "Bandersnatch" was straight hip-hop, harsh and relentless, the repeated quarter notes in the background serving as a sort of submerged pulse that seemed slower than the Lewis Carroll lines, making the talk seem crammed over it, word after word crowding into the stanza, but always covertly in time.
"And, as in uffish thought he stood,
"The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
"Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
"And burbled as it came!"
And here indeed did Jonah come whiffling from behind that tulgey screen erected at one side of the dance floor, wearing the grotesque clay-colored mask, red pin-spots knifing the air to catch the eye sockets as if they were belching flame or spouting blood, burbling as he came.
And now they danced.
Oh, how they danced!
On the video, Tamar and the beast danced for three solid minutes while he tried but failed to defile her. Here on this small parquet floor, they danced an abbreviated version, to be sure, but none the less violent for its brevity. Silently they struggled, the insistent beat in four behind them, Jonah at first insinuating himself upon her in oily intimidation, muscles gleaming, confident of his advances and his allure, Tamar surprised and timorous, but suddenly intuiting intent and beginning to back away from him, which signaled the first blinding light change and --
The audience gasped.
Where an instant earlier there had been a neutral gray mask covering Jonah's face, almost benign in appearance, a slight smile on the mouth...well, perhaps he was behaving like an overly ardent suitor, perhaps he had drunk a wee bit too much, but this playful creature certainly wasn't anyone a girl in a creamy-white tunic need worry about, was he? Not on a lovely day like today, when the borogoves were all mimsy and the mome raths were outgrabing all over the place.
But now, in the blinding flash of an instant, that nice little fraternity brother who just a heartbeat ago had been beseeching a kiss or negotiating a copped feel was suddenly wearing a tarnished copper mask, and his genial smile had been replaced by something more closely resembling a smirk or a snarl, as if the little girl singing her heart out here had somehow offended him by spurning his advances.
And to show how annoyed he was, to demonstrate clearly and without ambiguity exactly how much he'd been insulted by her having denied his heartfelt compliments and sincere gropings, to indicate without a modicum of doubt precisely how mightily pissed off he was, with one vicious swipe of his right hand -- which all at once looked rather like a claw -- he slashed out at the skirt of her tunic, opening a slit from her waist to her thigh, down the lefthand side of the garment.
Tamar backed away.
He came at her again, this time clawing at the garment's bodice, leaving in tatters a goodly portion of the fabric over her right breast. The pulsing beat behind them, insistent, a rap riff without words, a rap stroll without talk, he began stalking her now, closing and retreating, swiping and withdrawing, each new slash of either claw ripping more and more of her tunic away. Viciously, he slashed at her again -- and missed! Seizing her advantage, Tamar shoved out at him, knocking him more completely off balance. He fell to the floor, and lay there as if dead, his hands and arms covering his head and his face. Tamar circled him cautiously...the quarter note, the quarter-note rest...and drew a sharp breath, breasts heaving on the quarter note again, again.
She moved closer to him.
Bent over him.
A sudden blinding flash of light transformed the copper mask to one of sheer crimson and the creature on the floor became a fully realized raging beast that sprang to its feet and attacked again without warning.
There was no question in this last minute or so of the dance that Tamar was struggling for her life. With each slash of the beast's claws, as more and more of her garment was torn away to reveal the flesh beneath, she appeared to grow weaker and weaker until at last the beast seemed to become a dozen or more beasts, and the assault became not some college-boy adventure in the back seat of Daddy's Ford but a realized gang-rape in the middle of a dark municipal park.
Tamar reached out and up for something.
Both hands closed around something.
She struggled from her knees to her feet.
The beast circled warily, ready to charge her again.
Her eyes turned fully upon him, a laser beam caught in a hot follow spot.
And she rapped out the words in exultant victory.
"One, two! One, two! And through and through
"The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
"He left it dead, and with its head
"He went galumphing back."
The rap ended.
The beast in its enraged red mask lay dead on the floor at Tamar's feet.
Now there was only the B-flat note again, that single repeated bass note, and Tamar fluidly moving the tune into the bluesy figure of its opening melody.
"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
"Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
"O Frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!
"He chortled in his joy."
Tamar's eyes shone, her voice rang out. She was home, baby, she was home.
"'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
"Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
"All mimsy were the..."
"Don't nobody fucking move!"
Saddam Hussein and Yasir Arafat were coming down the wide mahogany staircase.
Copyright © 2004 by Hui Corp.
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