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March 31, 1996
There are times, when the drugs are flowing and the emotions are running high, the lights and music can make you dizzy -- and the world slips out of control.
It's like a car accident that happens too quickly...you can't stop it, you can't think about it, you just have to lean back, and watch as everything changes forever.
You've lost control, you say to yourself, as the wheel of the world slips from your hands -- "It's happening too fast" -- and all you can do is wait for the ride to end, the car to crash, the world to stop.
It's like chasing after time, chasing after the things that have already happened, because the drugs have made you too slow. You're thick and awkward, but if you can just catch up, then maybe you can grab it, maybe you can grab at time and stop it --
It's already happened.
You have no choice. Play it out.
That's how Michael described to me the moments leading up to the murder. That's the way he described killing Angel.
I didn't realize when I came over to his house to warm my feet that we would be having such a serious conversation. I must confess, I was rather unprepared for it.
You see, my night had started off very typically...
When I surfaced from my K-hole, I didn't know where I was, exactly, but that's not unusual. I didn't recognize anybody, either, but that, too, is not unusual. Often on Special K, everybody looks like Mrs. Butterworth -- all clear and brown and syrupy slow. It's usually quite comical to watch them pour over each other and on to each other, then ooze across a dance floor.
I panicked, though, this time, and bolted from whatever club I was just in -- too quickly perhaps.
I was barefoot and without a coat. I was wearing...hmmm, what was I wearing? Goodness! I guess I was wearing a peignoir -- not at all suitable for a blizzard in Times Square.
But yes, by the looks of it, I was in Times Square, nearly naked, in half-drag, and those spots in my eyes were snowflakes.
I didn't have any money and, for the life of me, I couldn't remember where I lived. And the club I had just left? It had already disappeared.
A sticky situation.
I stumbled through the storm until I came across a police station.
The doors were locked, so I knocked, and when an officer opened the door, I boldly announced that I was turning myself in. "I would like to be taken into custody immediately, please. I'm very cold."
Strangely, they wouldn't let me in. "Please, sirs, I'm sure I've done all sorts of illegal things this evening. We can work out the charges later. Now about that one phone call..."
"There's a phone booth on the corner," the officer growled and locked the door on me again. "Go away, you."
I had to beg for change, and New Yorkers proved to be a callous lot. Maybe it was that my eyes were going, lizardlike, in two directions. Maybe it was my potbelly spilling out of the filmy little negligee that I was wearing. But nobody stopped to help, which was just as well: I didn't know my phone number, anyway.
I sat down in a puddle to cry.
Then I looked up and saw a beacon of hope. Miles away, but there. A point of reference -- Riverbank! My old home. My fortress of solitude. Michael's home now. I can go to Michael's! I can go home to Riverbank!
I hobbled through the snow, with a little string of snot swinging from my nose in the frigid night air. I had only a few rocks thrown at me on the way.
The doormen, God Bless Them, remembered me and let me go straight up. Michael's door was open, wide open, but nobody was home. I sat down and inspected my battered little body for frostbite and chilblains -- and I don't even know what chilblains are.
But I was safe.
Safe and sound on friendly ground.
I took a quick look around, and was surprised by what I found. Since when, I wondered, did Michael Alig ever show any interest in home decorating? When did he get taste? He'd always been alarmingly unoriginal, as far as I was concerned.
But this! It wasn't Brooke Astor's taste, to be sure, or even mine, but his apartment had undergone a rather radical transformation in the months since I'd last seen it. A decent Louis Quinze replica rested in the corner, a marble bust of some mad composer in the foyer, a red velvet sofa with golden claws and ram's head arms...Not bad. Little glass drug vials filled with colored liquids dangled prettily from a new chandelier and tinkled in the night air.
He clomped into the apartment and when he saw that I was there, threw his arms around me: "Skrinkle!" he cried.
"Oh! Hey, Skroddle..."
"Lover-la-da, I'm so glad you're here. We have so much to catch up on. Would you like some tea?" he asked. "Here, come get nice and comfy."
We went into the bedroom and climbed onto his big new bed. He put a Bergman film (Wild Strawberries? Michael was watching Wild Strawberries?) into the new VCR on top of his new television, that sat next to his brand-new computer. Something was very wrong here.
"Michael, you can't even read. What on earth do you need a computer for?"
"Oh...ah...it's a...gift for Freeze." He waved his hand dismissively. "Scone? They're from Balducci's..."
I shook my head no. Then he got out nine bags of heroin and lined them up on the tray next to the tea cozy.
I reached for a bag and he slapped me.
"After. I want you coherent for this. Now try the tarts."
We nibbled and sipped and giggled like geese.
Then twenty minutes later...
"James, we have to talk...Do you notice anything different? Anyone missing?"
"Missing? From this room? I don't get it."
"No, just missing in general. A drug dealer who hasn't been seen in a while?"
"No, no, no. Another drug dealer. Used to stay here..."
"Freeze stays here."
"The other drug dealer who stays with me. I hate it when you do Special K."
I shrugged thickly.
"Angel, James. Angel. Haven't you noticed Angel hasn't been around?"
I mean, well, sure, I guess Angel was a drug dealer...oh, but he was the worst kind of drug dealer: the kind who actually wanted money for his drugs. How rude is THAT? So, I avoided him like the plague, of course, which wasn't easy. He strutted around the clubs like he was God's Own Cousin, sporting a ridiculous pair of wings, yes WINGS. Dingy old white wings, that were always knocking off my wig or spilling my drink. Oh, he was such a nightmare!
"No, Michael," I said, "I haven't seen Angel lately. I don't care enough for him to keep track of where he is. In fact, you really ought to get rid of him. He makes you look bad. He's so nasty. And those wings are so damn annoying..."
"Oh. Well, you'll be happy to hear that I did just that. I got rid of him, all right." He laughed in that staccato, half snort and gulp that is uniquely his. "Yep, I got rid of him, boy, once and for all. Skrink-la-da-doo! I killed him."
I didn't believe it at first. He was exaggerating, I thought. Something happened, of course, something always happens.
Oh, Angel probably was dead, all right. No big deal. Or maybe he was in the hospital. Who cared? They had probably been partying too hard and Angel overdosed. Happens all the time. People die around us all the time. Drop like flies. Overdose. AIDS. Sometimes they kill themselves. People come. They go. Dying is the same as rehab or moving back to Missouri. It just means I won't be seeing them again. New people were already in line to take their place.
Hey ho. I grabbed a bag of heroin.
"Please, James. This is serious."
I could tell that he really was upset.
So he told me the whole story, from beginning to end, how he and Freeze had murdered Angel during a fight, and how they dismembered the body and threw it into the Hudson River.
There is a fight, an argument. Each one contends, in turn, that he is owed money. Michael, of course, has been robbing Angel blind for months, stealing his drugs, dipping into his profit margin. Everybody knows it. Angel knows it, but because Michael is his idol, he has chosen not to say anything. Until now. Suddenly, he wants it back. He wants it all back. Michael is outraged. Angel owes him money, he says, Angel owes him rent.
Such a confrontation would have been inconceivable just a few short weeks ago. Angel wouldn't have dared.
But times have changed.
The fight escalates. They're both angry, out of control. Michael is like an ape-child who doesn't know his own strength, who frequently bites and draws blood, who doesn't notice -- doesn't care -- feels justified in fact, and is oblivious to the pain and discomfort of others. Michael, the ape-child, punches Angel, or kicks him; he's petulant, angry, not about the money, not about the argument, but about the shift in power. Angel is fighting back and that means Angel is lost to him forever.
Angel has been empowered, you see. There had been another fight, an earlier fight, two days before, in which Angel finally stood up to Michael. It was a first, and a precedent was set: he can fight back, so he does. He pushes Michael up against the wall.
Things are happening quickly now.
At this point Michael's roommate Freeze walks in. With Daniel. No, that's not right. Maybe Freeze walks in alone. Maybe Freeze wakes up when Daniel arrives, or maybe Daniel wakes up when Freeze walks in. Who can tell? Michael's story changes with each retelling. The official story, though, according to the newspapers, is that a boy named Daniel was asleep in the next room when Freeze entered the living room. So Daniel is asleep and therefore not a part of what happens next. Got that? Here we go.
Freeze then leaps into the fray, although this is unlike any side of Freeze that I've ever seen. Freeze, who is detached, emotionally unplugged and unavailable, who floats in and out of people's lives so carefully, quietly, always, so as not to disturb the balance of things, so that he may come back again and again and nobody will mind -- this very different Freeze leaps into the fray to help Michael. Apparently, just this once, he felt compelled to muster up some energy, bring himself to care. Maybe he thought of Michael as his last chance, the last person who could possibly help him, and he sought to protect him. Or maybe he had been freebasing again and that accounts for the energy and the anger it must have taken, because a freebasing Freeze is an evil mother-fucker.
At any rate, help arrives.
Like all faggots who fight, there is kicking and screaming and much Mary-ism involved. Nelly little girls grab the first thing they see and use it.
Michael needs help, fast, just grab something and use it, swing, connect, hurt, like anybody would.
Freeze took a hammer and hit three times, knocking Angel to the floor.
There are times when the world slips out of control. It's like an accident that is happening too quickly, and you can't stop it, you can't think about it, you have no choice but to lean back and watch as everything changes forever.
All you can do is wait for the ride to end, the car to crash, the world to stop.
You're chasing after time, chasing after the things that have already happened, because the drugs have made you too slow. You're thick and awkward, but if you can just catch up, you can grab it, you can stop it --
It's already happened.
You have no choice but to play it out.
And they see what's happened.
Roll the film.
There is blood everywhere and Angel is down. His head is open.
In one of Michael's versions of the story, Angel does not go quietly into the night. The dead man made a reluctant corpse. He seizes, he seizures, he tries to make it to the door. He looks to Michael for help -- He looks to Michael for help! -- even utters those words. He is confused, hurt...Does he know that it is about to end? Can he think clearly, can he comprehend the enormity of what is about to happen -- or has his mind short-circuited with the last blow?
(In a later version, he screams and they muffle those screams with a pillow. This may or may not have been true, although it is important to remember that he mentions doing this only later, and then just as an aside. Neither one of them knew that asphyxiation was the official cause of death. They learned that with the rest of the world after the body had been examined. Which means, they were operating under the assumption that he was still with us when they...when they...)
He's down. He's hurt. Not moving now. Call the police? Call an ambulance? Ah, but the need for self-preservation is stronger than you think. Angel is over. Angel is no more. If he lives he will most likely be brain-damaged or a vegetable. He may be paralyzed, comatose -- something is very wrong. Will somebody please pick the brains off the floor? Something awful, something irreparable has happened to him. If he were to live, if they were to call the police -- he may be in a coma for the rest of his life, for the rest of their lives. They would be responsible forever for what has happened.
It is far easier to rationalize, in that state of mind, that they are doing the humane thing. They are putting him out of his misery. He is in pain. Let's get it over with.
And it will save all of us, the rest of our lives, having to care for this vegetable, cripple, or whatever.
So how do we do it --
I'm not going to do it --
Well, I'm not going to do it --
You do it --
You're the one who hit him over the fucking head --
I was helping you, asshole -- Goddamn it, we are in this together --
This is what is happening now -- this is how it's playing out.
Not me, not you -- I'm not going to do it. We'll both do it --
Now this is how it's done, this is how it's done in the movies, on TV. Anyone who has ever grown up watching Columbo, Quincy, Cannon, Charlie's Angels -- this is what murderers do...
They make a pact. They will do it together. They are bound together forever.
How to do it? There's a needle:
"Maybe a heroin overdose?"
"Good God, man, how could you even suggest such a thing?! We're going to need that. In fact, let's all do a bit right now, just to think clearly."
They do, and a method crystallizes.
OK, now get the Drano.
From the kitchen.
Find a vein, and insert your needles. At the count of three, I want you to push into Angel's body the steaming, acidic mix of caustic lye and sodium silicates. Try not to look at his eyes, and notice not the tears that flow down his cheeks. Never mind the terror and the pain and the confusion he feels. Look away from the betrayal and the death. Never mind the future, never mind yourselves.
There is a final flash of pain; his body arches, leaps upward, eyes open, accusing.
And it's all over. For Angel it's all over forever. For Michael and Freeze -- only five minutes have passed but five minutes that changed who they were forever.
What next? How now?
Unfolding in front of us is a scene so chilling, so horrific, so utterly bizarre that if you look real close and real fast -- you can actually see Alfred Hitchcock in the background, cleaning the windows.
Look at this. Look at them: Two wild-eyed dope fiends huddled around ye olde corpus delecti, needles poised, Drano drained.
Blood is everywhere. Torrents of blood spilled into the hallway. A trail that starts in the living room pushes its way into the hall, past the kitchen. Almost to the door. He almost made it out the door, almost free, almost lived, but he was stopped, a third blow to the head, or a pillow to the face. Whatever.
Sticky red footprints in a grotesque dance pattern -- left foot, left foot, right, right, right...Handprints smeared on the wall...little blue clots of something like jelly, stuck in the floorboards...
As the horror dawns, as they realize what they've done, a vague unease settles upon them...far off...not yet formed...not yet understood, are the troubles they face...But for now, one thought, one voice:
"How easy it was."
How simple. Anybody could have done this. There is no mystery to death. No complicated pattern, nothing difficult. They are not special. It could happen again. Anytime. Anywhere. Of course. A slight miscalculation, a simple mistake -- it didn't take a special kind of person. Death was easy. A piece of pie. That is the true horror.
So now: action. A call to order. A caucus. Murderers unite.
The exact words, the exact blocking, is blurry. The minutes of that meeting are lost forever. I do know that Michael panicked and called Peter, his boss, for help -- Peter who has always helped, who was magic that way, and pulled strings that don't exist for the rest of us -- he called Peter but was denied access by Peter's girlfriend, Alexandra.
"Leave us alone," she said. "Click," she said.
Three times they called, and three times they were denied.
What to do? What to do?
I know Freeze became unhinged, going on a crack binge of superhuman proportions.
Watching at the window.
For the police. For Angel's ghost.
For a long time he was silent, watching the snow of that terrible winter sweep along the terrace.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"You're fucking crazy."
This, whenever Michael tries to talk about what happened. Whenever Michael starts complaining about the smell, the body.
But horror fades whereas comedy endures.
Michael bounces back with breathtaking elasticity. Within hours, it is business as usual.
He stashes the body in the bathtub -- to let fluids drain. They go shopping. Invite friends over. Many friends. "Never mind the stench, pass me a straw."
Like a lousy, lopsided Lucy episode, a girl goes in the bathroom to pee, and a mottled arm tumbles out from behind the shower curtain -- "Oh, excuse me!" she says, "I didn't know there was anyone in here." And she quickly hurries back to the party.
Needless to say, that bathroom is blocked off -- a mattress is leaned against it -- and that smell? Plumbing problems...
Finally, how long has it been -- a week? almost two? -- and something must be done...That bloated, gaseous, purple corpse must go!
Freeze is no help: "This is your problem, Michael."
I suppose they argue, but finally it's up to Michael to chop off the legs. It's the only way he'll fit in the box.
A bargain was struck: Freeze would go to Macy's and buy the cutlery required to dispose of the remains. He would also provide Michael with enough heroin to do the job.
"Fuck you, Freeze," Michael said as he inhaled an unprecedented ten bags of heroin, "I hope I overdose and die and then you have two bodies on your hands. I hate you for making me do this."
But once the inevitable is accepted, this, too, is not so bad. Fortified by the warm blanket of dope, and swept up in a Technicolor B-movie fantasy, he takes to his task like Leatherface at Thanksgiving.
"Was it hard to do? Did you have to hack at it?" I asked.
"No, no, no. It was like cutting chicken. The meat just fell off. And the bones snapped really easy." Then he showed me the ordinary kitchen knife he used.
Who was this person in front of me, I wondered yet again, but I reminded myself that person is me. There but for the Grace of God...opposite ends of the same stick...and all that...
And that was the story as he told it to me that first night, except for a few loose ends.
Like instead of taking the almost always empty service elevator at Riverbank, they take the trunk down the main elevator, sharing it with an older gentleman who couldn't help but comment on the smell.
...past the security guards and doorman, bless 'em...
And then, via taxi, to the pier across the street from the Tunnel. After both bags of legs sank nicely to the bottom, they tossed in the box. But, of course -- oh those wacky club kids -- comedy ensues when they realize the trunk was lined with cork.
They couldn't do anything except watch as Angel floated off to his sweet reward.
Yes, kids, Angels float, and that was his ultimate revenge.
Of course, as he was weaving this tawdry little tale, my world was ending.
My head fell into one of those spinning cartoon vortexes...
The room was lurching and heaving about, the floor would drop, the ceiling cave in. Spikes popped out of the walls and the walls inched closer together...
I was frozen in an adorable Macaulay Culkinesque pose, with my mouth wide open, throughout.
No, I did not respond to all of this with my usual élan. Nothing could ever be the same. I was no longer the same naive waif blowing sideways through life. My wide-eyed innocence was gone, and within the space of that half hour, I was transmogrified into the bitter, broken hag you see before you.
Michael had finally gone too far. In one fell swoop -- no, make that three fell swoops -- he destroyed everything...everything he had worked so hard to create. And now: the party was over. The ride was through. It was the end of an era, MY era, and, damnit, that meant I was about to become "dated." Talk about adding insult to injury!!
"My goodness," I finally managed, as I collected the clumps of hair that had fallen from my head, "that's quite a story."
"Does this change your opinion of me? Do you love me less?"
(A difficult and, well, rather unexpected question, given the circumstance. Really best to sit down and think about it another day.)
"Of course I love you, darling," I replied automatically. Then: "It's just that, well, you're Michael Alig, I've always known you were capable of really big things...monumental...historical...things -- "
"Oh -- that is so sweet!" He air-hugged me, then added: "And you're James St. James, don't forget!"
"I know, dear..."
And we gave each other a quick social peck.
"My point was...I just...I mean, why waste your
big chance at immortality on Angel? He was so inconsequential. He wasn't worth it! You couldn't have taken out Bianca Jagger? Rubbed out Courtney Love? You realize that everything from now on is changed -- because of Angel? What a waste."
He looked almost humble for a moment.
"I need a bag rather desperately, Michael."
"Well, I'm glad you're finally addicted..."
"Oh, I'm not. Blech."
Heroin is such an ugly drug. Everytime I do it, every day of my life, I'm reminded just how unattractive it is, and how happy I am that I'm not addicted.
I sniffed one bag, just to get a grip on the situation. Disgusting stuff!
First of all, it tastes filthy. Like powdered pavement. Like your mother's disapproval. Then there's the gag and the drip, followed by...nothing. So of course I did more. This news was a lot to deal with.
And I just never learn when to stop.
My eyes won't stay open, but they won't stay closed, either. So it's a tic-toc thing, jerking, then slumping, heaving and sighing. Moaning and groaning.
No, no, no, I think. This is all wrong, I think.
None of this is right.
I'm nasty. Nauseous. Groggy. I can't pee. For the life of me. Pretty soon I'll be vomiting urine. Then I'll need the old do-it-yourself catheter kit.
Oh, I hate heroin.
Maybe this time it will be better.
Yea, maybe I've been doing it wrong all these times.
I began slowly putting the pieces together.
"So, all this new stuff...the furniture, the computer...Balducci's...the drugs..."
"Money from Angel's bag." Eight thousand, he said. Or thirteen. Or twenty. I can't rightly recall. The heroin was kicking in and for once I was swept away in a warm current of sanguine thoughts.
"Wait...wait a min...ute. You mean," -- it was registering -- "You went on a shopping spree afterward?...Gorgeous!"
Suddenly the whole situation seemed farcical. Slapstick. And we laughed until our sides hurt. We laughed until tears ran down our faces. "And those boots, Michael? They look awfully familiar..."
And we collapsed on the pillows in peals of girlish laughter.
"You're wearing Angel's boots?"
"Aren't they nice?"
Then we stopped laughing as abruptly as we had begun. "Do you still love me? Really?" he asked.
Hanging in the airspace above my head was the monstrously vain implication that I even loved him in the first place. Endured him, yes. Admired him? Yes...but with clenched teeth. And I suppose I even got a vicarious kick from the improbable life he had always led. But it was a wistful kick, and it always made me sad, like I was in the backseat straining to see the fun that was going on ahead of me.
But if familiarity breeds contempt, it also fosters a bond -- and over the years he had become family. He has been at various times my best friend, my worst enemy, my rival, my partner, my neighbor, my boss, and my worst nightmare -- so buck him, fuck him, chomp at the bit to get away from him...he was still there. He was Michael. And no matter how you sliced it (whoops) -- yes, I loved Michael, still.
"Of course, I do darling." I sighed. "Do you have any K?"
But this didn't mean I could ever accept what happened. I needed to understand it, pull it apart. I needed to synthesize the previous monster, who was merely annoying, with this new one, who was actually homicidal...and, more importantly, I had to look at the monster in me that could understand and love someone like this.
To do that, I had to go back. Way back, to the very beginning. My head hurt, and the crest of dope was breaking. Where was that Special K?
He poured some out and I inhaled a hefty line.
I could hear the skrinkling of Michael's new computer as the K pushed me down and carried me away. My mind splintered into a thousand fragments, then regrouped and configured as it saw fit...
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