Cy’s Place

by

07/19/2011

Neighborhood: Midtown

Cy’s Place
Photo by Bex Walton

The voice on the phone is asking what I see, and since this is the third time we’ve spoken, I’m feeling a bit chummy.

“Police cruisers,” I say, taking in the block. “A whole shit load.”

We’ve been tracking each other since Penn Station, this voice and I, for precautionary reasons I’m told, and this is where it ends: Thin Blue Lines everywhere.

Now this voice is raspy and a little but harsh. I swear, sometimes it’s as though I’m speaking directly to danger, which is partly why I’ve called. I can hear giggles on her end of the line, my guide telling me not to worry. “Just the local precinct, Boo, some of our best customers. Now jus’ turn the corner an’ we’re two doors down. Press the butt’n when you get here. I’ll buzz you in.”

As I follow her instructions down to the very last splotch of gum on the sidewalk, I can’t help agonizing over being so predictable with my brothel selection. I could have been spanked up in Harlem. I could have been nailed to a cross in Chelsea. Decadent, depraved, and hopeless is what I was hoping for.

Instead, I went with CLEAN, SAFE, DISCREET. DELICIOUS PENTHOUSE PETS WITH WINDOW VIEW OF THE SKATING RINK. Yet once inside it’s apparent that other than fully functioning female parts (of which I’m still not completely certain) these women do not resemble Penthouse Pets in any figment of a troubled man’s imagination. And unless they plan on tossing my charred remains from the roof of this building, there’s not much chance of getting that view of the skating rink either.

It’s a dark, two bedroom apartment. I start getting that pins and needles feeling right away, still young enough to believe in secret identities, the super-hero-in-training that inhabits male souls. The old Spidey senses start to tingle. I’m reaching for utility belts that aren’t there and peering around corners for traces of Kryptonite. I’m scared, not horny, and I’ll need every shred of make-believe I own to get me through this.

As far as I can tell there are two women here, the one who opens the door, allowing me to enter, and the one on the couch ignoring me. The one on the couch is white, clammy, and cadaverous. She’s obviously been chain smoking for awhile and is grinding out another butt into an overflowing tray atop a glass coffee table. She’s wearing a sweat-suit as gray as her flesh and has long, dishwater blond hair streaming down her shoulders. I’m assuming she’s off duty. I’m praying to Baby Jesus, as well as Allah that she’s off duty. She leans forward to light up again and I quickly look away.

The woman who opened the door is on my right, hand still poised on the knob. She sounds like the woman who guided me in, but any witty repartee we shared earlier has vanished. It’s obvious we’ve never spoken before in our lives. In heels she’s around my height, just under six feet, and the red dress she’s wearing does absolutely nothing for her, hugging her small breasts to her chest then down to a pear shaped bottom. With the television light twitching off her face, it’s tough to say whether she’s black, white, or Latina.

My first baby steps forward and the hardwood floors begin to creak. She gestures to the unfortunate smoke cloud across the room, tells me to have a seat, get comfortable, this may take awhile. I’d like to know how far along we are in the process, as though the sounds of company policy and operating procedures might lend some sense to this. I’d like a comforting woman’s voice to explain things.

“So- how much do I get,” I blurt. “And what’s it gonna cost?”

My voice sounds nervous and shaky, very unsuper-hero-like. It’s obvious I’ve broken some kind of code by speaking out of turn. Red Dress scans me quickly then glances over a shoulder in the direction of what I imagine used to be a kitchen. It’s a large, separate cubicle with small openings cut into the walls like a machine-gun nest. I can tell by the way she keeps looking back that she’s waiting for instructions, as if the holes might suddenly start to speak. There’s someone back there, behind that wall, standing in the dark.

She’s got herself an ace.

It’s good to have an ace.

“You get our company, of course, baybee,” she eventually says, shutting the door hard, bolting it shut behind me. “Now, please, go and have a seat.”

The woman on the couch is watching porn, the post-millennium kind, everyone tan, everyone fit enough to be the trainer at the local gym. That incredibly lucky pizza boy of the Seventies has vanished. Now the cameraman’s in on it. We see what he sees, travel with him on his adventures. It’s also cable porn so nothing too graphic is visible. The camera shows heads bobbing into unseen genitals and intercourse is really just an awkward way of pushing someone across a bed. Normally, I view porn in ten to twelve minute intervals. The prospect of sitting fully clothed, watching this stuff as though it were a real film with characters to root for and a plot to unravel, is mind numbing. So after ten minutes of silence I’m convinced the woman on the other end of the couch is made of straw, a smoking head propped atop a sweat-suit stuffed with hay, like that thing the neighbors drag out every year at Halloween.

She must see me eyeing the remote, but never says a word. I look down again, back to her, lift my eyebrows, comment on the porn, “Hey, she’s pretty,” then end up peering down at the coffee table to stare at the glass. At some point she must have raised her cigarette for a good toke because there are streams of smoke disbanding into the projecting light of the TV, but I never actually see her do it.

There’s some muffled conversation coming from the other end of the apartment. I strain to hear, listening for key words like, “stab, kill, toss body in weeds off The Belt,” but come away with nothing. Rising from the couch, I contemplate some dingy curtains hanging from the ceiling behind the TV. I want to make sure there’s an actual window back there in case I have to jump and not some brick wall with Rod Serling waiting for his cue.

I tug on a stream of it. It’s softer than I thought, but dusty and reeking of smoke. There are two small burn marks at its center, staring back at me like ghost’s eyes.

“Would you leave that alone, please, and come sit down?”

Who said that? I reel around, peeking over a shoulder, then recheck the curtains to see if Serling wants a piece of me. It must I’ve been her, but she never flinches, and her face shows no indication of having just spoken.

I head back to the couch smiling. “Hey, pretty neat the way you throw your voice like that.” I grab the remote then sit back down. “Hope you don’t mind, but I’m changing the fucking channel. Bravo!’s running Actor’s Studio repeats all week long and Gwyneth’s up next. You’re gonna love this. Trust me.

Plumes of smoke fan across the table as I find my program then gesture at the tube. “Hey, look at Gwyn. Ain’t she pretty? Our generation’s Grace Kelly if she wanted it. Good head on her shoulders, too. Just like you.”

More smoke.

I settle into the couch, watch the end of the interview. Guy with the beard and blue cards wants to know what Gwyneth’s favorite curse word is.

Balls.

Her favorite curse word is “Balls.”

Red Dress clip clops down the hall on stiff heels, her thighs swishing together like helicopter blades. “Sir,” she says, “we’re ready for you now.”

My head jerks at the sound of her. I’d actually forgotten why I’d come. I place the remote back on the table, thinking, Balls, balls, balls… I spring from the couch, bending forward at the waist. The woman looks right through me, smoke pouring from her mouth and nostrils.

“So..,” I begin, “thank you for frightening the shit outta me, but other horrors await down that hall.”

She slowly leans forward then does something remarkable. She tells me to go fuck myself, right hand feeding her mouth the cigarette as she speaks. There’s some semblance of a grin on her squiggly lips as she does this, face all done up with TV light like some low budget Jolly Roger.

“Sir!” Red Dress booms, tearing me from the burning side-show before me. “Must everything be said to you twice?”

We start across the room. The volume on the tube cranks up instantly, Gwyneth’s sweet nasal rasp giving way to robotic porn once more. I’m led into a room at the back of the hall, but it’s really just another holding cell. Its interior is sparse and dim. A reddish tint illuminates from a lamp with no shade, giving my skin a bloody shine when I pass a hand over it. There’s a window opposite the door covered with the same hard plastic on a shower stall, making the city outside all blurry and mottled with light.

The bed is empty and sagging, but covered with clean blue sheets. The thought of them touching my skin makes me itch. Minutes go by and I’m wondering what the holdup could be. This can’t be good for either of us. Red Dress looks surprised to see me when I peek out the door, but with her eyebrows shaved then tattooed back into place like a pair of bat’s wings, I really have no indication how she feels.

I could present her with a beautiful array of diamonds. That’s the look I’d get.

I could flash her at church. Same look.

I could be this incredible pain in the ass causing trouble in a whorehouse and never really know the consequences until it’s too late.

“Sir, if you can’t wait patiently, and if I have to speak to you again…” She never finishes her sentence, just points me down the hall and sends me to my room.

I turn away, head bowed, dejected. I’ve made my whore angry and the room’s funky lighting is starting to give me a headache. I’m back at the window, staring into the shower stall, silently cursing the magazine that gave this place a four and a half pecker rating. No chance of me ever getting naked here nor will one of my shiny credit cards be leaving my wallet this evening. My clothes are already starting to thank me, nestling against my skin the way a house settles into its foundation. I better explain the bad news.

“What the fuck? Didn’t I say..? Look, you brain damaged or somethin’?”

“I’m sorry, miss. I’m not feeling very wanted around here so I guess, I guess we won’t be having sex tonight.”

“What?”

“Uh, what I’m trying to say is, I’m sure you have a lovely vagina. I just won’t be paying you to stick my penis into it.”

I start down the hall, passing a small bathroom on the right. I’m angling for the exit when Red Dress steps in my way, flexing her legs in this dangerous, Tina Turner Rollin’ Down the River sort of way. It seems like she’s about to leap forward, checking me into a wall. I brace for impact.

“Look, Boo,” she says, gently cupping a hand to my right shoulder. “We jus’ bein’ cautious, is all.” She’s patting my sleeve, guiding me back down the hall. She smells clean, but smoky. I think she may be wearing a wig, but only glance it at once, resting stiff and shoe polish perfect atop her head. She tells me these are just precautions, that since I’m new and don’t particularly fit any one category, I should view these hesitations as a compliment considering what usually slinks through that door.

We just takin’ it slow, Boo,” she assures me, tickling the nape of my neck with long, curlicue fingernails. I like it when she calls me Boo, as if I’m some kind of ghost who could vanish whenever he felt like it. I start thinking, yeah, maybe… Maybe I could stick around a while. “Beatriz,” this loud, gurgling voice suddenly rattles from behind a wall. “Don’ baby ‘em! Let the nigga go if he wan’ go.”

It’s a deep voice, one that could use a good throat clearing. I picture its vocal cords layered in flesh, packed with cords of muscle, a voice that might play outside linebacker for the Jets, a voice that could do some harm.

“Who was that?”

“Cy.”

“Who is Cy?”

“Cy is I, muthafucka, and you gettin’ close. You gettin’ real close.”

Why did he have to say it like that?

Pride. If it’s not lust then pride or some other deadly sin just waiting around the corner, a pleasure, really, this masculine energy, always having to make no one steals it and leaves you with nothing.

“Close?” I’m saying, mocking Cy outside his cell. “Close to what… Muthafucka?”

‘Muthafuckas’ start ricocheting off the walls, his, mine, hers, but the Jolly Roger in the other room is pretty much still quiet. I slap Beatriz’ hand off me, accidentally knocking her into the open bathroom.

“Close?” I keep shouting, searching for an angle. “Close to the trigger of this Glock? Is that how close I am, Cy?” I start flapping down the hall like there’s something inside my coat.

Beatriz recovers quickly, the great ones always do. She kicks off her pumps, throwing each one at my face. She’s headed my way and crouching down low for leverage. She won’t be calling me Boo anymore either. “Oh no you di’ent,” she says, “No you just did not!”

Her momentum sends us crashing into the wall next to the exit. She’s clawing my face with those corn chip fingernails of hers, letting loose a stream of curses normally reserved for comic book strips- exclamation points, dollar signs, and asterisks. Her free hand starts searching my waist, patting me down, feeling me up. “Cy!” she screams at the kitchen wall. “Dis bitch ain’t got no gun! Cyrus, get da fuck out here!”

I’d really prefer not to meet Cyrus, and I tell him so. Beatriz is currently riding my back, forearms locked around my throat, so my words come out sort of hoarse and raspy.

“No, ah, Cy, really. You don’ need to come out here. I was just on my way out. I swear.”

I’m determined not to go down, reeling back and forth while Beatriz digs her feet into my haunches.

“The door, Cyyyyyy,” I slur, “All I want is the door.” I can feel the veins in my neck start to bulge, the blood racing to my temples. Taking two steps forward then a hard one back, I slam Beatriz against the bolted doorway. The air rushes out of her and I’m hoping the fight has left with it. She sort of clings to me like a bear skin rug after this. I flip her off, her mean little body skidding down the hall.

I’m collapsed at the waist and gasping. Beatriz is actually threatening to get up, but I jerk forward, like maybe I’ll plant a boot in an eyebrow if she does. She stays put, but a long scraping noise can be heard inside the kitchen area, the sound of something heavy shifting in its seat.

“Son, I come out there, you don’t see the light a day,” Cyrus tells me, relaxed, the height of restraint. An eerie second passes where I consider his words, him callin’ me son, and the importance of the light of day.

So I’m standing here, sweating and bleeding in one of Manhattan’s finest whore houses, when it hits me how wonderful it might be to one day hear a tiny voice say something like, “Granpappy, tell us the one about the whore with the crazy eyebrows, pleeeaaase!”

Okay. The light of day. Why not?

I tell Cyrus that I understand exactly what he means. “Please, sir, really, all I’m looking to do is leave.” I’m waving to the blank wall as if he was standing right in front of it. “No hard feelings ‘bout all those ‘motherfuckers’ and everything…”

Cyrus starts to chuckle, a cross between an asthmatic’s wheeze and a ghoulish howl. He tells me how lucky I am that he’s in a good mood tonight, then says, “Boy, you so crazy, you make crazy crazy…” He laughs some more then thankfully gets bored with the whole mess.

“Beatriz… Show dis man the door.”

“Yeah, Beatriz,” I whisper once she’s up and fumbling with the lock. “Show this man the muthafuckin’ door.” Beatriz promises to cut me to ribbons should we ever meet again then swings the door wide open. I can almost see the stairs from where I’m standing. I slip past her, stopping abruptly at the threshold to say my goodbye:

“Hey, change that fucking channel back to Bravo!”

No answer, nothing, until one bony digit rises up over the precipice of the couch like a last fuck you from the grave. It hovers for a second, glowing in the unnatural TV light, then slowly sinks back into the couch. Beatriz, of course, looks completely astonished. We both watch in stunned silence then regard each other with contempt. The door slams shut just shy of my nose. I can hear ol’ Bea fumbling with the locks once again, muttering something about somebody being a total fucking asshole.

My first steps for the stairs, the street, the rest of my life, this painful stitch surfacing below the ribs. I check my face for scratches, fingers tapping out some Morse code gibberish on a cheek. All things considered, I think it went pretty well back there.

I limp through Penn Station, ice cream cone in one hand, slice of pizza in the other, clots of dried blood dotting my neck. I stare up at the board and wait for my gate with the rest of demented Long Island. This homeless guy near me is rousted from sleep by a cop. He’s barefoot and bleary eyed, tendrils of hair sweeping his face when he looks up. The cop behind him is just a slouch shouldered entity performing a task. I hand the guy my pizza when he stands because all I really want is the ice cream. He takes it in stride, as if we’d planned it, like it was my job to feed him and he was going to pass the crust to someone else. I can feel him eying my fucked up appearance as he moves past. He takes a few more steps then stops. “Young man,” he says, “I’ve seen you before and often wondered what happens when you come to my city..?”

He turns toward the escalator on flat feet, folding the slice up to his face, and then disappears around a corner. I chomp into my cone, cream dribbling down my chin. The sugar does its thing, revving me back up, settling me down. My number comes up on the board. I shamble to the gate, dissolving down the steps like the ice cream in my throat.

JB McGeever’s stories have appeared in Hampton Shorts, $pread Magazine, and the Southampton Review, with nonfiction in The New York Times, Newsday, The Long Island Press, City Limits Weekly, and Family Circle.
 

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