So, I am in Café Figaro with Dexie Steve waiting for Ronnie Fontayne to meet us and I am full of ardent expectation and tingling anticipation. In the whole wide universe, for once, I am exactly where I want to be. I have a crazy mad desperate crush on Ronnie. Unfortunately he is lost in lust to Judy Summers and barely acknowledges my existence. Judy Summers, meanwhile, could care less and is all goo-goo eyes for Dexie. Guess who Dexie likes?
Judy is out of town for weeks now and Ronnie is moping away at the Hotel Earl. Dexie gets him to come out promising we will distract him from his misery and longing. If there is dope to be had, we will acquire it; if there is a party out there, we will find it. I keep telling Dexie how strung out I am on Ronnie and I think he is throwing us together tonight as a final expression of love for me. Crazy. Hey, I will take it anyway I can get it.
Mom and I have been making the scene with the A-set ever since her boyfriend Jack Freemans last flip out. She was staying at a cheap midtown hotel with a bunch of circus people. She hangs with the midgets mostly. Jackie found her, bust down the hotel room door, dragged her naked down to the lobby and stabbed her three times. Fortunately, it was only a penknife so she was handily patched up and quickly mended. Since then we have completely dropped out of all former circles and only stay downtown.
The A-Set are a loosely knit, looser-wrapped outfit of downtown amphetamine addicts. Dexie, Judy and Ronnie are older than me but still pretty young. Johnnie Lidner, Don Neild, Sad James, Diana Doe, Mad Marty and Bobbie Cummings have all been on the A-Set since before the Great Amphetamine War a few years back. Me, I am thirteen and have never shot up anything, but I do eat speed, I like to drink with the winos in the park and I smoke pot.
Dexie and I discuss the possibilities of the evening while I eye the entrance eagerly awaiting Ronnies appearance. I am so het up, I am only half-listening to Dexies rant about how the Empire State Building is actually a huge hypodermic and "what we gotta do is pick that shit up and shoot it into the ass of NYC and turn everyone on." The thing you have to expect from speed freaks is they will regularly come up with some pretty harebrained notions. Just then someone barreling across the room at us attracts my attention. My heart skips a beat for a second because I am expecting Ronnie Fontayne. But no, a potentially perfect evening was already turning bad. Its that creep Gatonrhymes with Satan. I pretend I am wrapped up in what Dexie is saying, but in no time Gaton is at my elbow, glaring down at me with his flat psycho eyes. Scary. The guy is bad news.
"You gotta come with me right now" Gaton insists.
"Im doing a thing here, man" I respond. "I got something coming down, dig?"
"Its your mother," says Gaton. "Shes awful sick. Wants you to come right away. Told me to come get you, find you, bring you to her."
Shit. What was Audrey doing hooked up with this guy? My pop, Al, always says there could be a total dirty scumbag deadbeat piece of shit guy in a roomful of nice fellows with good jobs, money in the bank, whore falling over themselves rushing forward to light Audreys cigarette--my mother will unerringly head straight for the sole single aforementioned dirty scumbag, her eyes glazed and drool coming out of her mouth, and she will step over all those guys with outstretched lighters, to get to him.
I dont know Gaton at all well. It is generally not considered healthy for anyone to know him too closely and I am nothing if not prudent and cautious inasmuch as the life we currently lead allows for it. I protest weakly. I tell him to give me the address where shes at and I will come over as soon as my deal is done.
"What kind of a shit kid are you? Your ma is real sick and here you are doing bullshit. If you dont even care about your ma " He turns to split, but doesnt leave.
I dont want to go but I know I have to and Dexie knows its a bad idea but before he can say anything I tell him firmly its my mother, I got to go.
I push back my bad feelings and follow Gaton out of Figaros. Audreys gone around with hepatitis twice already. Shes probably having a relapse. Actually I havent seen her in over a week. I was about to worry about her but it was a little too soon just yet. On the street were joined by a big thug named Carl. Gaton walks by my side, Carls right behind us. I check Carl out. Hugging him would be like grabbing hold of a refrigerator. The guy is solid. And he isnt at all friendly.
We walk east on Bleeker and I think about everything I know about Gaton. First, hes an escapee from Mattewan Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He wasnt released, he aint cured, he hasnt done his timehe busted out. I don't know the details of why he went in but it was probably something pretty bad. When he showed up downtown a couple months back everyone seemed pretty concerned. People say he has unfinished business relating back to what happened at the end of the Great Amphetamine War of 1961. They dont like to talk about him or those days and they get nervous whenever his name comes up.
Were down around Lafayette. Its dark and deserted and there isnt a soul in sight. Neither Gaton nor Carl has said a word to me since we left Figaros. I ask where we are going. No answer. I start to chatter. How I was gonna go out with Ronnie Fontayne that night, how cute he is, how much I like him. Suddenly, Gaton turns, grabs my arm and asks me where my mother is. I fucking knew it!
"I havent seen Audrey in two weeks, Gaton. I thought you said she was with you."
Again, no answer.
I offer, "Maybe I better get back to Figaros and see if someone knows where she is. If shes sick, I better track her down. Have you tried up at Bellevue?"
By now we are crossing the Bowery at Second Street heading for Second Avenue. I sneak a peek at Gaton and his face has gone blue gray and hes scowling. You know that look psychos and bad drunks have when theyre flipping? I swear you could see fucking smoke coming out of his ears. I am looking around for some way out but the guys have me hemmed in and there is no one on the streets. One of the biggest busiest cities in the fucking world and theres nobody on the fucking streets but us.
"Hey, if you aint seen her maybe shes not even sick. Im just gonna go back over to the west side and check it out, but if I hear of anything Ill letcha know next time I see ya."
Gaton snorts in disgust. He pushes me from behind as we turn up Second Avenue.
"Get outta here you lousy fucked up kid. Whatta lousy kid doesnt even care about her mother and her mothers all sick, maybe dying. You dont care! You dont give a shit! Fucking punk! Get the fuck outta here."
"Later, Gaton" I say and walk away ahead of him along Second Avenue towards 3rd Street. Between 4th and 5th is Ratners Deli. If I can get there, or up to St. Marks Place, theyll be people, somebody. I am walking fast now when I hear running footsteps behind me and "CRACK!" Gaton smacks me on the head. I stagger from the blow. He grabs my arm and bends it behind my back like in movies or like mean boys on the playground when I was a kid. I want to say "Uncle" and have him stop; have it be over, but I know thats not the way this one is gonna go.
"Im done fucking around with you, you little bitchnow tell me where your mother is! NOW!"
"I dont know, Gaton. Honest. I havent seen her in days and days. Lets go back to the Village. Ask Dexie; hell tell you. We havent seen her in a couple weeks. Didnt have any idea where she was staying."
Now I am crying. Carl looks like hes going to join in. Hes angling in on my other side. I start bawling. Loud. I say to Carl:
"Hey, Im only twelve years old, Mister. You gonna mess up a little kid? Beat up a little kid? Hes crazy, but what about you?
CRACK! Another smack from Gaton. I dont think Carl knew my age. Of course I was lying. I am fourteen in January. But it worked and Carl backed off. He wasnt gonna save me or help me get away from Gaton. But he wasnt going to help Gaton kill me either. Somedays you got to take your breaks where you find them.
Again Gaton shoves me hard. This time I go sprawling. He kicks me once and then walks away, then circles back and kicks me twice again. Hard and vicious. It feels like Ive been stabbed. Then he walks away from me and yells for me to get the fuck away from him.
"You make me sick! Get the fuck out of here before I kill your punk ass."
I scramble to my feet but this time I hit the ground running; more like a fast hobble as I am holding my kicked in gut and every breath and step I take hurts. I get a few doors away and he is on top of me again. This time, he grabs me by the hair and yanks me around. Felt like he was going to snap my head off my neck. He pushes me up Third Street back up towards the Bowery all the while telling me how bad he is going to hurt me if I dont tell him where my mother is. By now, I am so pissed off at her, if I knew where she was hiding I swear I would give her over.
In between smacks, slaps, kicks and punches, Gaton explains how we got where we are right now.
"She made me fall in love with her, so I would be weak and then she could destroy mebut I am too smart for her. I know her game. I will destroy HER! Im gonna kill you in front of her. All she talks about is you and you--you are such a piece of shit sad excuse for a kid you dont even wanna go see her when she is sick and dying? After I kill you, I will kill her. No one can have power over me. No one!"
I cannot fucking believe this crazy shit. He is raving. I cant get my breath and I hurt all over. I keep thinking I can connect with this guy and come up with something thatll stop him from killing me. I gasp appreciatively up at him: "So shes not even sick or dying or anythingit was all a trick?"
"Shell be sick and dying as soon as I find her and youre gonna tell me where she isnow!"
"I dont knoooow where she is, Gaton! I dont knoooow!" I bawl and snuffle pitifully.
I fling myself to the ground weeping, stalling for time. I am doing my most piteous child and it is not moving the man. He is hard; he is steel. Im not getting anywhere with it. This is my best kid stuff and its not doing nothing. Up to this point I am scared but taking my punches and looking for the angle. Theres always an angle. An escape clause. A way out. Sometimes you have to hustle for it but I always found one up to this point.
I am scared shitless. When you are attuned, you can sense a rhythm to things, anything, everything--even catastrophe. I feel things moving to a conclusion and my time is running out. I know I dont have another play. I go limp with this realization so I am dead weight when he drags me across the sidewalk to the side of a brick tenement.
I think: this is what it feels like when you are drowning or when youre freezing to death. You just give up and want to sleep for a while. I see Carl look away. Gaton pulls me up to my knees, grabs me by my hair and yanks my head backhard.
"You see this wall? SEE IT?"
"Yeeessss," I blubber.
Never saw anything so clear before as this wall of bricks. Somehow I have time to notice that each brick is different, unique.
"Your fucking head is going through this fucking wall right now if you dont tell me where your mother is."
I look up at him pleading: "I dont know I swear I dont know please Gaton dont kill me."
The brick wall loomed. He jerks me back then hurls me forward and I am heading towards it but somehow magically in mid-thrust he drops me, turns and moves back and off. I want to run, escape, scuffle and shuffle off somewhere and hide fast before he comes back again but I cant move. I cant make sense of why he stopped but he is looking at something or someone and backing away. Suddenly Dexie is sweeping me up in his arms and glaring at Gaton. All the guys are here. Ronnie Fontayne, Bobby Cummings, Don Neild, Sad James, Johnnie Lidner. Even Mad Marty. Gaton and Carl are outnumbered. Gaton pulls a knife as he and Carl move back down towards Second Avenue. The guys move after them. Carl pulls out a piece and now it is the A-heads turn to back off.