ALMOST A DEAD MAN by Peter Nolan Smith – CHAPTER 2

Howling sirens sent East Villagers fleeing into the Astor Place Subway. A lucky few reached the shelter of the tunnel and the rest raised their eyes to the speck falling to Earth. A white flash vaporized New York into the ionosphere. The subhuman scream from East 10th Street ping-ponged up the canyon of tenements. Inside a railroad flat’s bedroom a naked man buried his head in the pillow. It failed to block out the madman’s wail and the thirty year-old tossed off the damp sheet to jump from the bed. The blood drained from his skull and he collapsed toward the open window.

Down on the sidewalk a middle-aged Polish woman was fleeing from a dope-sick junkie mauling a parked car with an iron pipe. Sparkling fragments flew in the sunlight. The beserker arched his face to the broiling sun and emptied the ashes of his soul.


No woman answered this two-syllable aria, but a cop car rounded the corner. The madman straightened up to play good citizen. His posture masked his mania and nothing short of an ‘officer-down’ call was extricating the policemen from their air-con cruiser.

Once the cruiser was out of sight, the junkie demolished another windshield.

Shit.” Sean Coll pushed away from the window. His Triumph was on deck for batting practice. He filled a trash bag with water from the brimming tub in his kitchen and returned to the open window. Taking quick aim, he heaved the plastic sack out the window. Liquid beads sprayed from its rupturing seams. The ten pounds of water accelerated and struck its target on the shoulder.

The junkie dropped to the sidewalk. The torn plastic shroud fluttered over his unconscious body. Water dropped from that height could be fatal, but several seconds later madman staggered to his feet. He was going to live.

The naked man flopped on the living room couch. The floor fan pushed sullen air around the living room. Sweat ran down his body like he was a miraculous weeping statue. The madman had only been a menace to property and his Triumph wasn’t worth a life. Every psychiatrist and girlfriend had blamed this violent streak on his childhood, except h is parents had provided everything necessary to be normal and he tried to examine his past for the millionth time to discover what set him apart from everyone else.

The seconds swelled to minutes and the minutes thickened to a change in the weather. A tainted breeze tainted by the distant Hudson stirred heat-swollen air. Sheet lightning crackled across the sky and the rumbling thunder echoed the tale of Sleepy Hollow, yet no amount of rain could cool the city and he slipped into the tub. The water wrapped around his body like a discharged placenta. His fingers wrinkled after twenty minutes. They could have been thirty, except the telephone broke his trance. The man leaped from the bath and grabbed the phone on the third ring.

It wasn’t Tammi, then again why would it be. After the murder at the Continental Sean had fled New York. Tammi was supposed to meet him in Paris. She had sent a letter saying she was going to LA to get into the movies. He couldn’t blame her for not coming.

“Sean, this is Kurt Oster. You remember me?” A man’s voice crackled over trans-Atlantic interference.

“Who can forget Paris?” The German possessed a jet set life of multiple-city dwellings, cars, and beautiful women. Sean had done drugs with him twice.

“New York in the summer. Hell, no?”

“Pretty close to it. Only me, the poor, the depraved, and the dying.”

You speak a little German, yes.”

His high school class had ridiculed Sean’s reading of Kafka’s DAS URTEIL, until the warty Bavarian teacher had snubbed out his Pall Mall. “Herr Coll’s accent is better than the rest of you hairdressers.”

Sean owed his accent to a slight stutter. “Ein bissel.”

“You are Irish, yes?”

“Irish and American.” That nation’s granted second-generation blood citizenship in both Ireland and the EEC.

“Good, because you need papers to work in Hamburg at my new club. Your friend, Bertram Bellepas, is the DJ. The city is beautiful. The women more so. You manage the club for two-hundred Deutschmarks a night, plus a one and a half percentage of the gross, which I figure about two-thousand marks a month. A ticket will be waiting at Lufthansa. I will meet you at the airport. It will be summertime and the living is sleazy.”

Hamburg conjured up the Beatles at the Star Club, a harbor on the North Sea, sex trade on the Reeperbahn. Working six months came to roughly fifty thousand marks or roughly $30,000. “Ich musste uber es zu denken.”

“What’s there to think about?”

Sean had barely survived the last six months. His funds from Paris were completely depleted. Rent was overdue by a month. There was only one reason to stay here and that was to find Tammi. The odds were that she never would, still Sean answered, “I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

“You’d make a big mistake not to come.” The line went dead.

Somehow a god had answered his prayers for salvation. He could only hope it was the right one. At worst Bruder Karl was smiling at the prospect of his worst student working in Germany. His classmates could go to hell.

The long summer’s day surrendered to night without a perceivable temperature drop. Sean drove up 1st Avenue to East 77th Street. He parked the bike on the corner and walked halfway down the block. The third-floor apartment across the street was dark. Tammi’s name was on the mailbox and the building super had said her rent had been paid. She had to show up some time. A bottle whistling by his head shortened his wait.

“Bastard. Man. Bastard.” A wizened woman wearing garbage bags searched the nearest trashcan for another missile. “I’m the only Crazy on this block. You’re not crazy. You’re only in love with a woman who left you for another man and she’s never coming back. You don’t think I see you, because I’m nobody, but I’ve seen you and your whore. She was fucking that Russian and everyone else. All you bastards want is for us to be whores, then you throw us out on the street.”

The old woman tore apart her plastic sheath. The sight of her dirt-encrusted body drove him back to his motorcycle. The kickstart ignited the 650cc engine with a flaming backfire. Dogs barked and car alarms howled. He revved the motor and raced up the block to 2nd Avenue.

Only one thing could erase the old woman’s accusations. He burned the next red light. A newspaper truck missed him by inches. It was just a question of time, until an impact with steel car smashed all thought about Tammi from him.

At 23rd Street he shifted into fifth. At this speed any crash would be fatal. At 14th he spotted a redhead getting into a taxi. She was the same height as Tammi. Sean braked to a halt. A young businessman ran up and lift the young redhead’s skirt. She laughed, while he forced her into a taxi.

The yellow Checker pulled away from the curb. Sean blasted through the red light in pursuit. Instantly a siren whooped behind him. The redhead turned and Tammi’s mirage dissolved into another woman’s face. No cop in the New York would believe his story about seeing his ex-girlfriend’s double, but running from the police was always a bad idea.

Sean veered over to the curb and pulled off his helmet. Two car doors slammed and footsteps flapped against the pavement. Sean. A flashlight beam struck his eyes blind and a voice ordered, “Get off the bike.”

“What’s the problem?” Sean balanced his bike on the kickstand and lifted his hands.

“You see what I see, Kev?”

“I can’t friggin’ believe my eyes. Sean Coll in the flesh.”

“I told you that was his bike, but you said, “Naw, Seano’s out of town.” Guess you were wrong,” the tobacco-harsh voice commented with the pleasure of being right.

The flashlight was shut off and Sean blinked away the shadows. The two NYPD officers were grinning like drunken hunters discovering an animal snared in their trap. Kevin Driscoll was thinner than his partner, but still had forty pounds and a few inches on Sean. Neither cop was shy about tossing around their weight.

“Welcome back, Seano.” deRocco took off his perforated summer-weight peaked cap and scratched his balding head. “You shoulda stayed out of town.”

“I’m leaving as soon as I can.” Sean had not counted on deRocco and Driscoll.

“You believe that, Kev?” deRocco was the brains of the pair.

“Nah, it’s bullshit.” Kevin Driscoll waved on the gawking drivers and deRocco stepped closer, the whiskey heavy on his breath never a good sign in hot weather. “Drop yer fuckin’ hands. This ain’t no arrest. We just wanna talk with you.”

“I haven’t talked to no one about where you were the night Johnny Fats was killed.”

”Why should we believe you?” Driscoll slapped the flashlight into his palm.

One thin dime would change this balance of power. “If I had ratted you out, you wouldn’t be here now? And a cop in jail isn’t a pretty sight.”

“You threatenin’ us?” Driscoll’s hand dropping to his .38. The citations above his badge attested to his shooting without thinking.

“Not at all.” Sean had discovered the precinct’s bagman in the Caddy parked behind his after-hour club. A single bullet hole perforated his forehead. Somehow a Grand Jury had ruled it ‘death by misadventure’. In the ensuing IAU investigation fifteen cops from the Ninth Precinct were suspended and two jailed. No one had all the answers to the whys and whos. Sean possessed more than most. “Just I saw you leave with him.”

”We weren’t involved with Johnny Fat’s death.” Driscoll protested, not knowing the bagman hadn’t said a single word before his death rattle. deRocco was equally ignorant and snapped, “Shut up, Kev.”

While they might have been innocent of murder, the two cops had somehow set up the execution and deRocco’s eyes blanked out with a cold-blooded gaze. “And we came back before he was offed.”

“Sgt. Ferguson thinks that piece of timing is a little off.” The IAU sergeant had plenty of theories, mostly of them on the money.

“That cocksucker.” deRocco venomously spat out the words.

Sean smirked, for the precinct cops spread about deRocco’s sexual leaning.

“What you smilin’ about?”

“Nothing.” Cops had a hard job in New York City, however these two were past redemption. “Just I got a phone call today from Germany. They want me to work at a nightclub there. Maybe I should go?”

“And stay away for a while too.” deRocco lit a cigarette. “You’re a lucky fuckin’ Mick, Seano.”

“You want to contribute to my bon-voyage fund?”

Driscoll feigned a punch and Sean ducked to his right.

“Don’t push it, Seano. Just get the fuck out of town.”

“Sure, I’ll send you a postcard.”

The two officers returned to the cruiser and then u-turned across 14th Street the Ninth Precinct. Sean had to face the truth that he had only come back to the scenes of the crimes, because of his love for Tammi.

Thousands of other women lived in this city, yet falling in love with one seemed improbable cursed by his obsession with Tammi. Still he envisioned the ideal woman as someone who had been through too much and only needed one more love to make her world complete, though she could live without one just as easy.

Someone just like himself.

Sean headed back to his apartment, obeying all the lights. By the time he reached East 10th Street, he was thanking deRocco and Driscoll for forcing him to accept Kurt’s offer. Maybe being a few thousand miles away from New York would help free his soul of Tammi. Something had to someday.

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