MAYBE TOMORROW Chapter 4 by Peter Nolan Smith

Thirty-one shopping days remained until Christmas, yet not a single wreath adorned the entrance of the porno shops, strip clubs, or X-rated theaters above 42nd Street and any Santa Claus, real or fake, steered clear of Times Square, where hapless victims were robbed, cheated, murdered or worse without any interference from the Law, for the ‘Deuce’ had been designated a free-for-all red-light district by NYC officials in hopes of containing the city’s rampant sex and drug traffic. Standing in front of the Haymarket Bar Johnny Darling bore silent witness to the overwhelming failure of the politicians’ social experiment.

All along the Minnesota Strip suburban tricks hijacked teenage runaways straight off a bus from the Midwest and slick hustlers struck cowboy poses on the street corners, while unsuspecting hicks were trailed down dark streets by dope-hungry muggers. The action should have tapered off before Thanksgiving, except the players on the Strip were dedicated to acting naughty and not the least bit nice and tonight was no exception.

A sharp gust unraveled a pile of trash and the discarded newspapers scattered over the sidewalk. Johnny dodged a page, as the door to the Haymarket opened for a tall blonde transvestite in a white leather jacket and tight matching pants.

“Leaving so soon, Dove?” Johnny asked, blowing into his bare hands.
“Just taking a break from my date’s complaining about his wife.” The blonde sashayed behind Johnny for shelter from the cold and she towered over him taller in her stiletto heels. She wasn’t wearing a shirt or bra and her heavily made-up eyes simmered with slattern lust, as if she were auditioning for a porno film. “What about you? Any luck?”

“A wasteland and I need a quick score to pay my rent.” The twenty-year old leaned into the slender beauty, whose translucent skin radiating an unnatural heat for this time of year.

“If you help me, I’ll help you, my dear dear Johnny.” The young transvestite caressed the blonde guitarist’s neck with a tenderness of a girl scout recovering a long-lost teddy bear.

“It’s a deal. You know I have simple tastes,”Johnny declared over KC’s THAT’S THE WAY booming on the bar’s jukebox. “My guitar, drinking at a bar, eating a little food, good music, and someplace warm to sleep.”

“What about the gypsy’s woman’s prediction of fame and fortune?” Dove cuddled closer to the guitarist with each syllable.

“I’m haven’t given up on stardom, although you’re the only star in this night’s sky.”

“You’ve always had a sweet way with words.”
“Only for my friends.” Johnny had witnessed Dave’s transformation to Dove in the seclusion of her parents’ bedrooms. Her mother’s lingerie and make-up had given way to clothing stolen from Macy’s. “But you’ve been a star ever since we dressed you up as Jodie Foster in TAXI DRIVER.”

“A pink tube top, white silk hot pants, and red spaghetti strap pumps.” Dove sighed with fondness of her debut on the Strip.

“You stopped the traffic dead on 42nd Street.”

“That act was good for a teenage summer. Now I’ve matured into a Vogue model. Last night at Les Jardins this designer asked me to be in his fashion show. He was I would be a sensation.”

“As you are every night.” 42nd Street was Dove’s runway. The eyes of the men seeking her attention were the cameras. The nineteen year-old sold glamor by the hour and her buyers understood the risk and price of that transaction.

“But really, Johnny, when are you going take me away from all this?” Dove twirled a lacquered strand of hair in her fingers.

“I’m starting a new band.”

“Another band playing to a hundred punks at CBGB’s or Max’s is not buy tickets to the South of France.” Dove sighed with exasperation.

“Knowing your tastes, I’d have to sell out Madison Square Garden to afford a vacation on the Riviera.” Johnny stepped aside for a priestly gentleman and two teenagers entering the Haymarket. His companions were above the legal age, but pretended to be 16 and Dove said, “They won’t pass for jailbait much longer.”

“Not unless they lower the lighting inside.””¨

“Dark lighting is a girl’s best make-up.” Dove hushed into Johnny’s ear. “You hear about Jimmie Bags?”

“How the cops gave their favorite bagman a machine gun for his birthday and how later the drunken idiot tested the gift at a nightclub, nearly wounding three cops in the line of duty?” People on the Deuce told him everything, although sometimes Johnny wished that he could retire from his unofficial position as the Strip’s confessor, except the only applicants for the job were the police and no one plea-bargained their sins with the Law.

“You hear and see all.” Dove backed away from her longtime friend to survey the Strip.

“And on no account do I tell all.” Whatever entered his ear didn’t break the seal of his lips.

“That’s my baby.” Dove kissed Johnny’s cheek. The street was too rough on her kind and she told him, “I got to get back inside and save my date from the claw’s of some Miss Thing’s. Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my scene.”
Dove entered the bar and a passing middle-aged trick beamed an inviting smile. Johnny shook his head, indicating that he was waiting for a better offer, then silently asked, “How long I been saying that?”

Most of his old friends and competitors were in jail or dead, for Times Squares’ math was as loaded against hustlers as crooked dice. Chilled by the premonition of his luck crapping out, Johnny scanned the quagmire of faces shuffling along the sidewalk. Two seconds later Frankie scooted up to him and announced, “We have a live one on the way.”

“Left or right?” Johnny asked defensively, since his protege specialized in unnecessary risks.

“The loaded white guy was checking out on the last block. He spots me and I motion for him to follow me.” Frankie glimpsed over his shoulder.

An overweight businessman with his tie adrift at the neck was staggering through the crowd.
“I’ll take him into a peep show and pickpocket his wallet.” Frankie bounced on his toes with too much eagerness.
“We have to give him a miss.”
“He’s drunk.” Frankie was puzzled by the rejection of this sucker.
“Take a closer look. Those thick-soled shoes are for running and the undercover cop across the street is back-up. You want to spend the night in Spofford?”
“At least Juvie Hall is warm.” Last summer Frankie had racked up two thirty-day bids in the Bronx jail famed for rotten food, sadistic guards, and bloody gang beatings. “I need money.”
“The night is young,” Johnny assured the drummer, although the theater had let out their audiences. The easy marks were being replaced by drunks with little cash in their pockets and their fellow hustlers were switching to the more predatory pursuits of purse-snatching or knifepoint robberies.
“And colder too.” Frankie wanted everything yesterday.
“We’ll score soon.” Without one he was sleeping in an all-night theater on 42nd Street.
“I hope so.” Frankie swept back his hair. “How I look?”
“Like a young Richie Valens.”
“How many times I have to tell you.” The young boy stood with raised fists. “I’m Puerto Rican, not Mexican.”
Johnny slipped a left under Frankie’s guard. His knuckles barely tapped the teenager’s chin. Frankie dropped his hand and tears dampened the corners of his eyes.”¨
“What I tell you about fighting?” Faking fighting prowess could be a fatal error on the Strip, where everyone was a potential killer.

“That we’re lovers, not fighters.”
“That’s right.” Johnny gave Frankie two dollars. He was down to three. “Stop your crying and go get warm.”
“You know where I’ll be.” The young boy hurried to the subterranean Eight Avenue arcade. $2 bought eight pinball games out of the cold and Frankie was skilled enough to last an hour at the KISS machine. If nothing happened before then, Johnny was calling it a night.
WALK ON THE WILD SIDE replaced KC’s disco hit inside the Haymarket and Johnny fingered Lou Reed’s anthem on air guitar. His Les Paul was safe with the cashier of ShowWorld and he sang along with the irresistible chorus.
“In the backroom she was everyone’s darling.” Johnny stepped forward to allow an exit from the bar. It was Dove and she stuck a wallet in his hand, as she sang, “But she never lost her head, even when she was giving head.”
“Meet me at Adonis.” She tugged on her paper-thin white leather coat and clattered around the corner seconds before a mustached man in his thirties burst from the Haymarket, his head bopping on his shoulders like a turtle on Speed and his hands clawing at his pockets. Any honest citizen would have been shouting for the police.
“You see a tall blonde?”
“She have on a white coat?” Johnny knitted his brow with concern.
“Yeah, that’s the one.” The sucker bought his sincerity with frantic gratitude. His wedding ring meant a wife in the suburbs. Most of Dove’s tricks were straight or so they told themselves.
“Which way she go?”
His having heard the truth about the coat primed the man for a lie.
“She headed toward the Port Authority. Maybe thirty seconds ago.”
“Thanks.” The man darted down the crowded sidewalk.
“Just doing my civic duty.” Johnny casually crossed the avenue, for running was a sure sign of guilt in Times Square. Opposite the Haymarket he pulled the cash from the wallet, which he dumped in the nearest trash can.
Farther down the block Johnny counted the bills before stepping into the foyer of the Adonis Theater. Dove was leaning against a poster promoting a gay sex movie. Johnny slipped the money into her jacket pocket.
“Nice little score.” She returned five $20s to Johnny.
“Are you sure?” His take was on the generous side.
“Most of the scum on this street would have stiffed me.”
“We go back plus I have three rules; trust no one more than you trust yourself, steal from the most deserving, and avoid the deadly sin of greed.”
“You’re such a good Catholic boy, too bad you’re not into women.” Dove strived hard to sound like a young Tallulah Bankhead.
“Never said I didn’t like women.”
“You ever been with one?” Dove fluttered her eyes at a mustached passer-by.
“You know better than that. All the women care about is turning me straight.”
“So there’s no hope for me?” Dove cinched the belt of her leather jacket and Johnny poked his head around the corner of the foyer. There was no sign of her victim.
“You never know.” He wasn’t into to women, but Dove was not a woman and he said, “One day I might love you.”
“I’ll be counting the minutes till then.” The transvestite strutted to the curb and flagged a taxi. A checker stopped in the street and Dove flipped a loose strand of hair from her face. “You care for a ride to CBGBs? The Ramones are headlining.”
“I have to take care of Frankie.” $42 covered his back-rent at the Terminal Hotel and a twenty would happy up the young Puerto Rican drummer and leaving him $38. It was time to call it a night.
“You’re a soft touch.” Dove waved good-bye from the taxi window. “That kid will be the death of you.”
“He’s no trouble. No more than you.”
“No trouble? Baby, trouble’s my adopted last name?” Dove shouted out the window, as the taxi turned left on the next street. Johnny pulled up his collar and clocked the foot traffic on the sidewalks. The scammers outnumbered the scammed 5 to 1 and he hurried down the sidewalk dreaming about his bed at the Terminal Hotel.
His foot stepped onto the pavement of 44th Street only to have a black 1976 Lincoln TownCar block his path and a hand as white as smoke beckoned from the rear window. Johnny peered through the crack at a grim blonde boy in a black silk bathrobe and pajamas suspecting a set-up, but pale-skinned teenagers were only narcs on TV cops shows.
“I know you?”
“No.” His voice was barely audible. “But I know you.”
Johnny didn’t like hearing that or the lock popping up open.
“You want me in the car?”
“If you please.” The young man replied with a private school accent hoarse from disuse.
“Who can’t resist such politeness.” Johnny sat in the car. The interior smelled of medicine, instead of leather.
“You’re staring.” The pajamaed passenger slouched against the opposite door, as if his back had been hammered out of place.
“It’s not often you meet Howard Hughes’ illegitimate son.”
“It’s Hugh Hefner who wears pajamas.” His host was annoyed by the levity.
“Sorry, I get millionaires mixed up.” Johnny lifted his hands in apology.
“Where to?” The thick-necked driver coughed in front.
“Down the block.” A sheet of black glass cut them off from front seat and the car drove farther from 8th Avenue. The passenger told Johnny, “This isn’t about sex.”
“That’s a first for Times Square. So how do you know me?” Johnny wanted to solve this mystery.
“I don’t know you personally, but I saw what you did.” The passenger scowled, as if he had co-authored the Ten Commandments.
“Do what?” Johnny wasn’t admitting to anything.
“You helped that ‘girl’ rob that man and dumped this wallet in the trash.” He held up the discarded wallet with a handkerchief. “And last week I saw you rescue a drug dealer from arrest by pushing two theatergoers into the path of the police.”
“Really?” Johnny was irritated by the absence of this incident from his memory and even more so that he hadn’t noticed this car or its passenger and he asked, “How much?”
“I don’t need your money.” The passenger fidgeted into a more comfortable possession, as the Lincoln turned onto 9th Avenue. The driver was in no hurry.
“Good, because I’d hate to split $100.” Johnny’s hand grasped the door handle, hesitant to jump out of moving car, then settled back into the seat. The passenger wore expensive slippers and his pajamas were made of high-quality silk. He was rich and a rich sucker was an opportunity not to be passed up in Times Square.
“You’re staring again.”
“Sorry, if this isn’t for sex or a shakedown, what’s the story?” Johnny was a musician as well as a hustler. Both professions required an acute sense of timing and he allowed several seconds of silence to pass before spinning his web. “You don’t want to tell me, then I have a story for you. Three years ago an old Gypsy woman taught me the ancient art of palmistry like how the left hand reveals the past and the right hand predicts the future. I started fooling around reading palms of the strippers, massage girls, pimps, cops, and dealers in Times Square. Some paid me $5 for a reading, but I got tired of reading their highways to hell and I closed up shop.”
“You can divine the future?”
“No, but I learned that most people want the same thing; money, love, happiness and so I told people what they want to hear and they’ll nod their head when you’re right.
“So it’s a trick?” This revelation clearly disappointed the young man like he had been told a magician’s secret.
“Sometimes yes, sometimes no, I’m not sure when was which.” Johnny sensed the passenger’s desire for answers and spoke without any premonition as to what he would say. “We are all trapped by the past. It is the future that frees us, if your present isn’t a jail. I bet you haven’t stepped on the street in months.”
The passenger’s eyes widened with this plundering of his soul.
“And I’m probably the first person you spoke with in a long time other than the driver and your family.”
The passenger’s lack of a response confirmed that he was on the right track.
“You don’t talk about anything to anyone. You don’t ever leave this car either and I know why.” Johnny played him without pity. “Because whatever happened to you didn’t kill you and sometimes you wish that it did.”
The passenger reached forward to knock on the window and the effort hurt more than he was willing to show, giving Johnny another insight into why he was in this car.
“You had an accident. A bad accident. It changed who you were into who you are now and you don’t like that person, but you’re not the only person in the world that changed from who they wanted to be. I was a good kid once. An altar boy. No one recited the Mass better than me. Families hired me to serve their weddings or bury their grandparents. I was vain enough to consider myself special. A priest did too and he corrupted my life time after time. He said he was trying to teach me humility. I didn’t need to taught humility and neither did you, even though you went to the best schools and summered in Europe.”
“This is all a trick.”
A red light stopped the Lincoln at 54th Street and Johnny slapped his palm on the dividing window. It slid down halfway.
“Pull over to the curb,” Johnny told the driver and turned to the passenger, “I can only tell you what I see. It’s no trick. I see you trapped in this car, praying for the boy to come back from the grave, but both him and my innocent altar boy are dead. We can only become someone else. Someone new.”
“You make it sound so easy.” The passenger’s right eye twitched with a slight spasm.
“It is easy.” His host had been hurt bad and Johnny knew hurt. “All you have to do is leave this car and live.”
“With them?” The passenger regarded the passing parade with a noticeable disdain. The dregs of Times Square were heading home for the night and none of them had houses or apartments.
“There’s more to life than them or this car. Other people, other places.”
“If I fall, I could hurt myself more.”
Being scared is all part of taking the first steps. Have you fallen since your injury?”
“A couple of times.”
“And you didn’t die?”
“I can understand you’re frightened of the pain, but mummifying yourself in this car is a form of death and that’s why you picked me up tonight.” Johnny told the driver, “Me and my friend are leaving the car.”
“Mr. Ames?” The driver asked, as if getting out of the car was against the rules.
“Robert, park the car for a second.”
The car pulled over to the curb.
Johnny stepped out of the car and reached inside to assist the young man from the back seat.
The passers-by stared at the black pajamas and Johnny glared at them with practiced disdain.
“Ignore them. They’re nobodies. You’re what matters. How’s it feel to be out of that car?”
“Like I should return to the cocoon.” He wasn’t very stable on his feet.
“Too late for that. Breathe.”
The young man inhaled the cold air like an astronaut testing the atmosphere of Mars. The garish streetlights were unfiltered by the Lincoln’s smoked windows and jarred his eyes and the noise battered his eardrums, then a harsh wind kissed his skin with an old lover’s forgiveness. His knees buckled from the sensory overload and Johnny caught him. The young man didn’t weigh much.
“It’ll improve with practice. Trust me.”
“You expect me to trust a thief?”
“Thieves have more honor than most people and I’m not only a thief. You play an instrument?”
“A little piano.” The young man hesitated, as if he might have given an incorrect response.
“Think you could play an organ?” Dove was right. Johnny was soft. This kid was primed for a scam and he was letting him off the hook to become part of his life.
“A Bach fugue worked for Procul Harum in A WHITER SHADE OF PALE and the Doors’ LIGHT MY FIRE would have been nothing with the organ, which is definitely a hipper choice than a piano for punk.”
“Punk?” The term was a blank for the Lincoln’s passenger.
“Punk like the Ramones, and Patti Smith.” Johnny’s blitz of information retilted his new acquaintance.
“The only times I heard the word “˜punk’ have been in reference to this incense burnt to stave off mosquitoes.”
“It’s also a prison definition for another convict’s sex slave, but the punk I’m talking about has to do with music.”
“Sorry, I don’t listen much to the radio.” The young man stood erect with a pained effort.
“Punk doesn’t get play on the radio.” The record executives hated it. “I’ve had two bands, the Disappointed and the Precious Few. Both failed, due to ego problems or talent conflicts, but I haven’t abandoned my dream, so today is your lucky day.”
“Lucky?” He looked to the car, as if his driver was supposed rescue him, but doors remained shut.
“Yes, you’re lucky, because I’m offering you a crash course in punk and punk will bring you back from the dead. You know the song LOUIE LOUIE?”
“Yeah, duh, duh duh, duh-duh, duh-duh duh.”
“So you’re not totally brain dead about music. Now speed it up faster and rawer and nastier.”
“Like Slade? My sister had played them on her stereo.”
“Not exactly, but close.” Frankie had been the drummer in the Disappointed and Cheri from room 301 had sung for the Precious Few. Bass players were as rare as light bulbs, but an organist with money was a trick pony begging for a circus.
“When I first got in the car, I was thinking about ripping you off, but I said to myself, “Why I rip him off for couple of hundred dollars, when I can score more, but now that you’re going to be in my band, your money is safe. Like I said there’s honor among thieves.”
“I-I-I-I never said I’d join in your band.”
“Okay, don’t join my band.” Johnny backed away from the passenger, who snagged his arm.
“Don’t go.”
“Okay.” He was hooked, but good and Johnny had yet to tell one lie. “But a warning. Punks about burning down the temple of soft rock, pissing off the middle of the road producers. It’s not a big scene. Maybe two thousand punks in New York, LA, London, but there’s more every day and your joining us could only help the cause. You’re going to love it.”
“Couldn’t I like it first?”
“Like is for a distant aunt with a mustache. Tomorrow evening come to Max’s Kansas City on Union Square.”
“I’m having dinner at the Carlyle Hotel with my father and sister.”
“That’s right. Tomorrow’s Dry Turkey Day.” Johnny wasn’t losing his organist to a dead bird and spotted another opening. “Can your sister sing?”
“Not a note.” Caroline had many talents. Singing was not one of them.
“What she look like?” Nico had proved that a good voice was not a prerequisite for a lead singer and he tried to imagine a female version of Charles.
“Many men find her attractive.” Mostly because she was overtly open to their suggestions, but the coldness of her beauty was a frightening challenge to her suitors.
“Great, then she can be in the band too.” Johnny wondered if he could pass them off as twins.
“No, Caroline isn’t into things like that.” Charles shook his head with a slight back and forth motion.
“That’s too bad.” Finding an organist and a singer in one go was almost too much to ask from New York. “So what about tomorrow?”
“I can meet you after my dinner.”
“Great, but do yourself a favor and lose the Hugh Hefner pajamas.” Johnny fingered the material. Imported silk had to cost a fortune. “Go to St. Mark’s Place around 11 and buy anything black and leather at Trash and Vaudeville and get Snookie to cut your hair at Manic Panic. You have a number?”
“Yes.” He handed Johnny an embossed card. “You can call me “˜Charles’.”
The accent inhibited the use of Charlie or Chuck and Johnny acceded to his new friend’s unspoken request.
“Charles, my name’s Johnny Darling. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I have a previous appointment.”
“Your young friend?” Charles held up the wallet.
“I forgot you were spying on me.”
“Sorry.” The apology sounded heart-felt.
“I’ve forgiven you too.” Johnny helped Charles into the car. “You’ll meet my assistant tomorrow. He’s the drummer.”
“Your band have a name?” The rich boy was visibly relieved to be off his feet. His pain was no joke.
“GTH.” Johnny had remembered the top bill at the Adonis Theater and stripped the first letter of each word in the title. “It’s short for “˜Gone To Hell. I’ll call you tomorrow, “˜Charles’.”
“Any time after ten.”
“I’m a late-waker too.” Johnny shut the door and the Lincoln disappeared down the street.
Nearby drifters envied his imagined score and Johnny walked toward 42nd Street. Times Square was shuttering for the night. Entering ShowWorld his nose reeled from the smell of pine oil used to clean the viewing cubicles. The elderly clerk passed his guitar from behind the counter.
“More than you can imagine.” Johnny left the porno emporium and spotted Frankie across the avenue. The young boy was begging for a handout under a movie marquee promoting THE DEVIL IN MRS. JONES. Tonight his helplessness was no act. No one on the Strip owed anyone favors and Johnny could walk away from Frankie without a twinge of guilt, instead he shouted out to the drummer, who lifted his head like a dog hearing its master’s whistle. Frankie ran across the avenue and said, “I thought you had ditched out on me.”
“Would I do that?” Johnny slipped him $20.
“My prayers are answered. I love you.” The young boy stamped his feet on the pavement.
“Love no one. Not me. Not anyone.” He couldn’t tell Frankie that fools never followed their own advice.
“Everything is just business.” Frankie had adopted Johnny as his God, even if worshiping him might cost his soul.
“And business is good.” Dove’s score was none of his business, but he had to tell someone about meeting Charles. “I ran into an ‘angel’.”
“What kind of angle you talking ‘about’?” An F in Algebra had ended his schooling.
“Not angle. An Angel.”
“You turning religious on me?” Frankie had lost more friends to the church than drugs.
“I’m talking about an angel to finance our band off the ground.” The priest’s kiss had permanently soured Johnny’s faith in God.
“Our band?” Johnny’s plans to reform the Dispossessed was mostly talk.
“No, new one.” His hands itched to create new music on his guitar. “GTH.”
“GTH?” Frankie asked, eagerly, hoping for the three letters might have been a new drug.
“It stands for Gone To Hell.” They needed new songs to go with the new name.
“Gone To Hell?” Frankie hadn’t been to church in years, but he still respected the horror of a fiery eternity. “I don’t want to burn in Hell.”
“You’re not going to burn in any Hell. Not while I’m around in this life and the next.” They needed a place to rehearse and he knew one in Chinatown.
“Okay, if you say so.” Frankie bongoed a beat on a car. “So who else is in GTH?”
“This rich kid’s on organ and Cheri will sing.”
“She has a terrible voice.” Frankie had no use for the stuck-up painter living down the hall from Johnny at the Terminal Hotel.
“If I know you two don’t get along, but Cheri can shake her ass. The straight guys and the lezbos will love her. The organist is a cripple. The sad girls will love him. You beat the drums and I scorched the air with my guitar.” Johnny was thinking way ahead of tonight, even knowing that no surefire formula existed to guarantee musical success, however not contemplating failure was a step in the right direction. “We’ll have a number one on the charts for a hundred weeks and live the life in Hollywood.”
“Movie stars, palm trees, and swimming pools,” Enticed by Johnny’s enthusiasm, Frankie chanted the words like “˜lions, tigers, and bears’ from THE WIZARD OF OZ and then asked, “Care to score a few bags?”

“No, I have to stay straight for this ‘angel’ tomorrow.” Johnny couldn’t preach moderation in fear of throwing a rock through a window of his temple of sins. “Go get high. You can crash at the Terminal later.”
“Thanks.” Frankie headed to Bryant Park with reckless determination and Johnny lifted his arm to flag a taxi. Instead a Plymouth Valiant halted by the curb and its overweight driver ordered, “Don’t move.”
Nearly half the foot traffic froze in place, though the command was aimed at Johnny. He walked slowly over to the nondescript car and asked, “And how can I help you this fine evening, Sgt. Weinstein?”
“Save that Eddie Haskell shit for LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.” The grey-haired detective hauled himself out of the unmarked cop car and hitched up his 40-inch waist Sta-Press pants, pretending he had all the time in the world. “See your guitar’s out of hock.”
“Yes, sir.” There was a chance that the cop had witnessed Dove’s score. Johnny paid it safe and said, “An old friend repaid a debt.”
“You’re fortunate to have friends, Mr. Darlino.” The heavyweight detective was waging a one-man campaign against the wickedness of the Strip. Ten more cops like him would have shut down Times Square for good, however the NYPD honored other commitments to Law and Order.
“The name’s Darling.” Johnny hated any connection to his past.
“We get you down to the precinct and you’re John Darlino real fast.” The detective frisked the hustler’s pockets. “Where you headed?”
“Home, Sergeant Weinstein.” Johnny lifted his arms to facilitate the search.
“You mean ‘home’ like Mom and Dad’s house in Florida for Turkey Day?” While most of the cops in Times Square were on the take, the detective was relatively honest. Whatever he found on Johnny was Johnny’s as long as it wasn’t illegal.
“Hell, no, I’m done with that cracker state.” Four years ago DisneyWorld in Orlando had offered his father a position promoting tourism. The move had mostly been made to save Johnny from his friends and the sixteen year-old had accompanied them, promising to be a good boy. He had lasted two very long years.
”Don’t you miss the palm trees and sun?” Sgt. Weinstein withdrew the remaining money from Johnny’s pocket.

“Naw, I’m into the change of seasons.”
“You call your parents sometimes?”
“Every once in a while.” He told them with the stories about studying at Hunter College days and playing night in a band. Hopefully his lies were easier to believe than their fears about the truth.
“Two years on the Strip and not once have you been arrested or sent to the hospital. Not many people on the Strip can say that.”
“I obey the laws.” Another one of his # 1 rules was to only break one law at a time.
“Unlike the rest of the scum on the street.” Sgt. Weinstein glared at the passers-by and they shrank from his gaze. “I can remember coming here with my mother. We’d go to the movies and I’d have some hot dogs.”
“Not many kids around here now.” Johnny eyed the sidewalks.
“Thank God for that.” The detective couldn’t fathom his city’s descent from the glory days of the 50s. His fellow officers blamed the blacks and drugs, yet the decay ran deeper than race or narcotics.
“I don’t think God has anything to do with it.”
“Same as your luck and that of your boyfriend.” Sgt. Weinstein respected Johnny’s tutelage of Frankie and their avoidance of violent crimes.
“Just trying to keep him out of trouble, that’s all.” Johnny wasn’t taking the bait about Frankie being his boyfriend. “We don’t want to be a burden for the city.”
“My fellow officers are not so appreciative of your effort and they have you in their sights. You’re twenty, right? No more Juvie Hall for you and prison is hard time on pretty boys.”
“I’m dedicated to my music and nothing else.” Johnny Darling lifted his guitar.
“I wish that was true, but everyone makes a mistake and one day you’ll make one too and that day we’ll play LET’S MAKE A DEAL.” Sgt. Weinstein had seen thousands of wiseasses hit the Strip thinking that they could beat the long odds of the street. Most couldn’t count on their fingers
and ended up in jail or lying in an alley dead for less than $50.
“I wish I could walk away from it, but not just yet.”
“Don’t push it too long.” Officer Weinstein shook his head. It wasn’t too late for Johnny to save himself, although he wasn’t so sure about Frankie.
“I’m starting a new band and need some money.”
“You ever heard of work?”
“$2 an hour pays about $65 after taxes. No thanks. I’ll take my chances here, but I promise you. Not for much longer.”
“Don’t promise me. Promise yourself.” The detective’s good cop act was in his nature and he handed back Johnny’s money.
“Have a happy Thanksgiving.”
“Thanks, Sgt. Weinstein. You too.” Something was very wrong about Weinstein cutting loose Johnny, for the detective was renown for never giving an inch, unless he received a yard in return.
Standing on a windy corner offered no answers to this mystery and Johnny Darling jumped in the next Checker cab, instructing the middle-aged driver, “14th and 9th.”
“You have money?”
Johnny flashed a twenty.
“You do a runner on the other end and I’ll drive you down.” The driver coldly flipped on the meter.
“Thanks for the warning.” Only the NYPD were meaner than New York taxi drivers.
“It’s a promise, not a warning.”
At the meat market on 12th Street the taxi turned onto Washington Street and dropped Johnny at the Terminal Hotel. He paid the driver and raised his eyes to the third-floor corner room. The lights were out in Room 21. Cheri was either asleep or in bed with a new lover. Johnny was knocking on her door either way and entered the hotel lobby flourishing cash.
“You better have my money, cuz no way yer gettin’ a key widout payin’.” The nearly toothless clerk turned off Johnny Carson’s interview with Robert Blake on THE TONIGHT SHOW.
“Shut your hole, Ernie.” Johnny slapped forty-two dollars on the counter and snapped a fiver before the wino’s roadmap of wrinkles. “And a bone for you too, you old alkie.”
“Fer me?” Ernie licked his swollen lips in the anticipation of a soul-quenching bottle of Thunderbird.
“For you.”
“Sorry for the grief, Johnny, you know I like you, but the bosses have a hard-on deadbeats. Even the Great Johnny Darling.”
“Hey I know, but who else takes care of you like me?” Johnny patted the old man’s cheek.
“Only you, Johnny Darling, only you.” Ernie pocketed his tip. “By the way Cheri left you a box.”
“Left me a box?” He palmed his key.
“Yeah,”Cheri split about two hours ago fer the airport. She said sumthin’ about goin’ to Paris.”
The old man toed a cardboard box from behind the desk.

“She say anything about coming back?” Johnny had dismissed her late-night prattling about art school in Paris as a bedtime lullaby.
“Damn is right. Guess she wuz spooked by this hippie boy.”
“Spooked?” Johnny had heard Cheri talk about this hippie. She had never spoke about her lovers before. Maybe Ernie was right.
“She spent last weekend with this hippie boy. He had stars in his eyes and a girl like Cheri gets scared that a young fool in love will kill her dreams.”
“But why she leave?”
“Because this hippie boy is supposed to show up tonight to live with her. She left him this letter.”
The clerk held up an envelope and Johnny tried to snatch it. The old alkie had faster reflexes.
“Gotta give that to the hippie, Johnny Boy.”
“So you’re not going to give it to me.”
“I’m like the US Mail that way.”
“I’ll keep that in mind the next time you run short for a bottle of wine.” Johnny lifted the box and walked over to the elevator. “They ever fixing this?”
“Boss sez soon.” Ernie shouted, as Johnny climbed past two winos arguing over who was the most beautiful member of CHARLIE’S ANGELS. On the 2nd floor a madman ranted about the president-elect’s being too Christian. Johnny gave him a quarter and continued to the 3rd floor, where he walked down to Cheri’s room. It was empty, although a painting of a naked hippie covered one wall.
“Fucking hippie.” Johnny entered room #308 and dropped the box next to the stack of LPs. He laid the guitar on the bed and cued up the Dolls’ LONELY PLANET BOY on the stereo. A quick ferret through Cheri’s box produced vintage clothing, two wigs, and no letter. She had loved dressing him as her. “Long as you stay the same weight, you can be my mirror.”

His fingers struck a discordant twang on the steel strings of his Les Paul.
Cheri’s leaving was the hippie’s fault.
He strummed several ragged A chords and visualized this longhair. Her surprise disappearance would break his heart. He might even cry and tears made a man defenseless.
Johnny added an F chord to the train of As chord and envisioned Cheri’s ex-lover facedown in the street without a penny to his or anyone else’s name. A-A-A-F-A ended his murderous solo and he mimicked with Johnny Thunders’ lead.
No one in the Dolls had a spectacular voice. Not even David Johansson. Singing came from the heart not the throat and tomorrow he would find a soul-filled singer at Max’s. As for tonight he could only wait until tomorrow and tomorrow wasn’t never too far away from this time of night.

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