…Murph’s head spun with memories as he drove. He remarked to himself in the midst of it that this was why he didn’t travel here often. Nathan hated Husky pants. He hated his son wearing them. Nathan hated taking him to Robert Hall and out toward the Island to Klein’s and Abraham and Strauss, two other stores that carried Huskies.
Jesus, Murph thought as memories bombarded him from numerous directions. He remembered the ripped coat and was thinking about it when he came upon the block Georgewood Florist used to be on. He wasn’t sure this was the exact block anymore because the entire area was Korean and all the businesses had changed. But the bicycle store was still there, its signs in Korean, and the brick church was on the block before it—that was Korean now too.
His thoughts became more like flashes here because too many landmark-recollections were in this space. “Hello Georgewood,” was first, the sound of his aunt’s voice in his ears as she answered the phone with those same words every time. That church was where he and one group of his teenage friends used to go cruising for girls at church dances when he was in high school. They traveled in a pack, cruised for girls, looked for and picked fights. The old Roosevelt movie theater was next, on the other side of the street. He’d felt up ugly Mary there and made out with her because his friend Alan’s girlfriend wasn’t allowed to go out unless it was a double-date. So he and Mary got to be partners of sorts, an arrangement. Mostly they went to the RKO Palace on Main Street in Flushing because Alan’s father owned a share in it and Alan always had free passes, but the old Roosevelt was the usual standby. It wasn’t a theater anymore. Now it was a banquet hall and catering center. The RKO wasn’t a theater anymore either. It was an indoor flea market.
Murph had also made out with Mary Lamb at the Roosevelt. Mary Lamb—that was her real name—had a tongue made of sugar, the sweetest tongue Murph had ever tasted in his whole life. If he could still hear his aunt’s voice in his ears, he could still taste that tongue, and when he allowed himself this pleasure, he could picture her face and remember the first time he’d put his hand under her skirt and felt her up over her panties. She’d told him to stop, but she hadn’t meant it. He knew that because he stopped when she told him to and then she asked him why he stopped. So he continued. That was the first time he’d ever found his way inside a girl’s panties. It was his first look inside a girl’s mind too.
Lots of girls were named Mary back then, especially the Catholic girls, and Murph mostly found himself with Catholic girls because most of the friends he hung out with, who were really Alan’s friends, were Catholic. That was why it was church dances, garage parties, beer and fights. Alan came from a mixed family, Jewish father, non-Jewish mother. Technically he wasn’t Jewish, and actually he wasn’t religious at all. In the scope of things it didn’t matter other than it led Murph to being where he might not have ordinarily been, but then they were kids and kids did what kids did, different back then than it was now…
Look for Rose’s Story toward the end of May 2017
After the trip to Hawaii Murph found himself alone at the McDonald’s where, after some thirty-two years, he’d reunited with Carla. Carla had not retired, not even partially. Her preliminary goal was to plod on to sixty-six, and since she’d just turned sixty-five, it was less than a full year away. That definitely seemed doable.
Murph sat in the same booth he and Carla had shared that morning. Sipping his coffee, he thought back to that moment and smiled a bit as he mulled over their time together, some six months now coursing through three seasons though only one season in full. They had watched the leaves wither and die, then huddled and cuddled together through an unusually cold and snowy winter. The welcomed spring had not brought the desired warmth yet, but as the weather often did, thus far there had been a tease or two.
This morning, as usual, Murph had dropped Carla off at the train. He would have gone directly home to his apartment but he had a chore to run in Bayside, some ten miles down the road from the McDonald’s. Feeling hungry, he’d decided to stop. He’d brought his tablet with him, and once settled in the booth, he read what he’d written yesterday, looking at it not so much for like or dislike or good or bad as for correctness and how it advanced the story. That done, he picked up where he’d left off and worked for about a half-hour.
He hadn’t been back to Bayside for a long time. He still went to the dentist over in Bay Terrace, but usually he went with the Long Island Expressway to the Throgs Neck Expressway. If he did go with Northern, he turned on Francis Lewis Boulevard so he didn’t go into Bayside proper. By the time he got to where he was going today, he would have traveled along Northern Boulevard through Jackson Heights, Flushing, Auburndale, and Bayside.
In Bayside, he was turning right on Bell Boulevard and heading up toward the Long Island Expressway. He was going to meet a woman he didn’t know, a woman who’d read his book and contacted him through his website. She said she was looking for a ghost writer and had liked what she’d seen. Murph had sent her the links to his blog and a PDF of his Doctoral Dissertation, and he told her he’d never done this before and didn’t know if he was really interested, but when she’d told him that the potential earnings went easily into six figures, he’d decided he couldn’t possibly let the opportunity slide by without at least seeing what it was. Her address, from the way he figured it, was pretty close to the church where he had gone to Boy Scouts when he was a kid, maybe a block or two from where Mr. Gilbert, the Scout Master, had lived.
After he’d eaten and worked a little, he drove slowly along. He toured up Main Street Flushing and then went back to Northern Boulevard along the road where the Robert Hall used to be, the clothing store where his father, Nathan, a World War II POW survivor, used to begrudgingly take him to buy Husky pants. The whole area was Korean now with not a word of English to be found on any of the storefronts or businesses. It was the same physical space but a different world…
Look for Rose’s Story toward the end of May 2017
“Damn, damn, damn.”
That was Bill’s initial reaction to feeling the knife cut him. He put the knife down and walked over to the sink where he ran cold water over the cut. Red blood poured out and washed down the sink. He’d nicked the side of his right index finger, not too bad, but no cut was good. When it was clean, he took a paper towel and pressed on the cut to stop the bleeding.
In another drawer on the other side of the meat room, they kept band aids and iodine and gauze bandages—all the things that might be needed to treat cuts and burns. Bill walked over to that drawer. Mary dropped from the counter and went over to look at the cut.
“See,” she said. “I told you to change that goddamned uniform. You never listen, do you?”
“Of course I do,” Bill said. “I listen to all you teach me and everything you say. And I do everything you tell me regarding the work. I just don’t always do what you suggest regarding other things. Mostly I do, though.”
“You’re full of it,” Mary said. Seeing it wasn’t too bad a cut, she went back to her spot on the counter. “Bring the band aid over and I’ll put it on for you. I’ll kiss it too if you want.”
“Kiss this,” Bill said, making a well-known male gesture.
“It’s what I’m waiting on,” Mary said. “But only if you kiss this,” she said, responding to his gesture in kind.
“Now, now, children,” Henry Lee said. “And you ain’t said yet how her panties smelled.”
Mary laughed. She was putting on the band aid and as she did so she reminded Bill that he hadn’t answered her question as to how the panties smelled.
Bill flushed red again. He looked at her. “They smelled like pussy,” he whispered since he was close to her. “And they turned me on.”
“I didn’t hear that,” Henry Lee said.
“And you ain’t gonna,” Bill said.
“He said they got him hot,” Mary said. She was finished with the band aid and reached down to feel Bill up. “I know how to make a boy hot,” she said. She laughed again and patted Bill on his shoulder. “I need to show you some things upstairs, and then you can come back down here. I see you got a lot of meat to cut.”
“We getting there,” Henry Lee said.
“We won’t be long,” Mary said.
“Doing a quickie, huh?”
“We ain’t’ doing nothing,” Mary said. She came down from the counter again and headed out of the meat room.
“Be right back,” Bill said.
“Take your time again,” Henry Lee said. “I’m gonna take my time with Marie and I’ll work late if I have to. We need about two hundred-fifty Tops, a hundred-fifty Supers and eighty Bostons. The rest I already just about got.”
“Okay,” Bill said. He winked at Henry Lee. “They smelled good,” Bill said on his way out the door.
Henry Lee grunted an acknowledgement.
Upstairs, Mary showed Bill how she set the chickens to boil. Then Bill scrubbed three trays of potatoes for the dinner service. He immediately put two trays into the convection oven. After that, he checked the prime rib by poking it with his finger right in the middle.
“It done?” Mary asked.
“Not hardly. Needs at least a half hour, probably an hour.”
“We’ll use that chicken stock for cream of potato soup in the morning. And we’ll make chicken sauce for pot pies for the day after. Tomorrow night I’ll have grandma bake off some crusts.
“We’re gonna be real busy through the weekend,” Bill said.
“Lord have Mercy,” Mary said. “I just want to lay my head down and sleep.”
“I feel like tripping.”
“Trip on this,” Mary said. She lifted her dress and flashed Bill.
Bill ran his tongue over his lips.
“Come on,” Mary said. “I’m horny and you owe me. Let’s go down.”
“You go first. I’ll meet you in the girl’s room.”
“Don’t make me wait,” Mary said.
Murph’s overwhelming instinct was to start the story with the double murder of the Georgia Senator and her husband some seven years ago, the double murder Rose had told Murph to look up at one of their first meetings. It was ruled a murder-suicide, dismissed as a financially distraught husband who could simply bear it no more, whatever the it was. The police and FBI never did a murder investigation, never looked into the fact that such an investigation would likely lead to high-powered, high-positioned politicians and State DFCS workers who were involved in the kidnapping and selling of children.
The why of it was easy. There was a cover-up going on. Kidnapping kids and placing them in foster care where they were literally for sale, and consequently sold—that was what it was about. The Senator’s murder, the double murder of her and her husband (of course since there was no murder investigation it could never be called a murder) was swept under the rug and anyone who disagreed with the murder-suicide findings was called a conspiracy-theory hack. Her death occurring just a few weeks before she was to present a new report on the corruption within DFCS, specifically on DFCS kidnapping and trafficking kids, thereby selling them and/or forcing them into prostitution and even worse, was never even considered suspiciously coincidental. How strange!
It was so clear to Murph and a whole lot of people, as clearly non-coincidental as Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald. To Murph, it was as clear as the FBI starting the riot he was arrested in. That was clear because he’d seen it with his own eyes, personally witnessed it and been a victim of it. Oorah.
Initially, the Senator criticized The Adoption and Safe Families Act passed during the Clinton Presidency for the trouble with DFCS. This act provided financial payouts to state and local agencies that increased the number of children being adopted out of Foster Care. It was like a royalty system, a pay-per-head scheme which she claimed caused Georgia state and local officials to flood the Foster Care System with kids that did not belong there so they could get their hands on the Federal monies.
The Senator’s initial criticism and her subsequent finding of the “flooding” of the system led her to publish a report about the “corrupt child protective services in her state,” a report which detailed her ongoing investigation of CPS, a report in which she chronicled witnessing firsthand the ruthless behavior from caseworkers, social workers, investigators, lawyers, judges and therapists. Essentially, the report outlined their collusion and pretty much damned the entire system.
Having produced this report, the Senator was beginning to lose favor with the press and beginning to be marginalized by her peers. What she was looking into was extremely volatile and dangerous because it threatened to expose high-level officials. Nevertheless, the more she uncovered, the deeper she went with her investigations and the further she expanded her scope, even encompassing areas outside Georgia’s borders and into surrounding states.
The Senator had her supporters, ardent supporters who encouraged her to go on. Her going on led her to the belief that there was a direct link between elite-level child pornography and child sex trafficking and gross misconduct within Child Protective Services.
Hence she was murdered, but not immediately, Murph thought. First she was politically murdered. She lost reelection a year after publishing her first report and claimed the loss was due to the report, her beliefs and her refusal to cease her investigations. She was about to present the new report which named names and provided details of her suspicions regarding the illicit link between CPS and child trafficking when she was killed, when the alleged murder-suicide took place.
Look for Rose’s Story toward the end of May 2017
Downstairs in the meat room, Bill drew up a stool and sat down. He had put Mary’s drawers in his pants pocket. He pulled them out now and twirled them on his fingers.
“Bea souvenir?” Henry Lee asked, seeing what he was doing.
“Actually they’re Mary’s,” Bill said. He gave them a little sniff then went back to twirling them.
“Playing a double header, huh?”
“Looks like it.”
“Damn boy. I ain’t had neither one of them.”
Bill laughed. “Bea was a whole new experience.”
“I can imagine. She’s old enough to be your mother. Bet she ain’t getting none at home.”
“She can still kick it pretty good. Wasn’t really something I was looking for, but you know how it is.”
“Yeah. I know how it is.” Henry Lee laughed. “Have a drink and let’s finish cutting meat. We still need lots of everything. Robert said they were really busy last night and they need a full supply. My wife be here about four. She driving the van today. Alvin’s not moving his lazy ass.”
Suddenly Bill felt bogged down by work. Until now, until this moment, he’d felt like a kid in an amusement park. Every day was like a new ride, every new thing he did, every new experience, was a thrill he’d never had before. He got tired, but it was good tired. He didn’t get bored; he was ever-enthusiastic. For the first time in his life he was in demand too. Waitresses wanted him, the kitchen girls wanted him, he could just about have his pick of ’em all. Bea wasn’t exactly a beauty queen, but what she lacked in that department, he’d just learned, she made up for with experience. Experience, he’d discovered, was really something. He might never have picked her or tried for her, but he wasn’t the least bit sorry and he knew he could go for more if the situation was right.
Bill lit a cigarette. He got up, went into the drawer for the bourbon and took himself a nice long drink. He handed the bottle to Henry Lee who did the same thing. When Bill had put the bottle away, he pushed the stool back to its place and resumed cutting meat. He was still working on top sirloin butts. These butts yielded Boston Strips, Supers and Tops. Once the fat was trimmed from everywhere but the top of the butt, the first two cuts were made the long way. These were the Bostons, a strip steak similar to a New York Strip except that it came from a different cut of beef. It was less expensive than a New York and it had a slightly different texture about it, but it was really tender and had a good taste. After the two Bostons were cut, the butt was split, making two mostly triangular pieces of meat. These were cut into the Tops and Supers which were the best-selling of the steaks.
Bill weighed every steak he cut. So did Henry Lee. Uniformity was the key. Any steak too light ended up as beef tips or chopped meat (hamburger). Any steak too heavy was trimmed to precise weight. This way customers could not complain that the steak was thicker the last time, even though some tried.
About three-thirty, Mary came downstairs. They all took a moment in the deep freeze to get high and then they drank some more bourbon. Mary parked her butt up on the counter and crossed her legs at the ankles like she usually did. She swung her feet like a kid.
“Boy here was sniffing your panties, girl,” Henry Lee said. He cut meat as he spoke. “He take ’em off you or you give ’em to him?”
“They smell good?” Mary asked.
Bill flushed red and that’s when he cut himself.
They were pleasantly high and nicely buzzed by bourbon as they set about the meat cutting. Bill still had not changed his uniform but he had taken off his apron so the blood stains on his pants were again visible. They were not bright red anymore. They were the dull red color of scabs and Bill, under the influence, no longer gave them any thought. He honed his butcher’s knife, as did Henry Lee, and started into the cutting. He was thinking more about Eleanor’s leaving than anything else, considering that he was simultaneously disappointed and relieved. He was disappointed because she was a good time. He was relieved because there would be one less thing to conceal from his soon-to-be wife. Then, he still had Norma, and Norma was a pip. Drenovis had pegged her correctly and he would probably still be sore at her for going with Bill if he wasn’t already two new waitresses past her.
Henry Lee had set Bill to cutting Bostons and Tops. Bill was on to his fifth top sirloin butt when Bea came into the meat room and asked him if he could help her carry some things up from the storeroom. Bill asked if she could get one of the dishwashers, but she said she needed him. He told Henry Lee he’d be right back. Henry Lee told him to take his time.
In the storeroom, Bea closed the door behind them and bolted it from the inside. She sat herself up on a stack of cases of canned tomatoes and spread her legs wide.
“You weren’t gonna forget me, were you?” she asked.
“Not at all,” Bill said.
“I been waiting for this since yesterday, since you told me not to wear any drawers. Well, here, see?” She put one leg up on the stack of tomatoes next to the one on which she sat so Bill could see all of her. As she did this, she slowly began unbuttoning the kitchen dress from the top. Once her brassiere was completely visible, she reached behind her, unhooked it and let it fall so her breasts were fully exposed. She smiled at Bill. “Come to Mama,” she said.
Bill was not even twenty-one yet. It didn’t matter that Bea was in her mid forties. As soon as she put that leg up and started unbuttoning her dress, he was ready. Thoughts of Eleanor dissipated and disappeared. Even thoughts about Mary went to a back burner in his mind. Bea didn’t have to tell him a second time. Without any hesitation, he stepped forward towards her.
Afterwards, before he went back into the meat room, he helped Bea carry upstairs the things she needed to set up for the dinner and complete today’s preparations for her specials tomorrow. It took him two trips to get everything upstairs. After the second trip, he carried in a case of lettuce for Bea to wash for the dinner. Once she was set, he went back to where Mary was working.
“Want a beer?” he asked her.
“Be right back,” he said. He went out the side door into the side dining room where he found Eleanor. He told her to bring three beers into the kitchen and quickly returned to Mary.
“Have fun with Bea?” she asked.
“Not one single bit. But like I said, you better not leave me high and dry.”
“No more lectures?’
“Would it do any good?”
“Not a bit.”
After Eleanor brought the beers , Bill leaned Mary against her sink and reached up her dress. His fingers found their way inside her underwear and probed at her, but Mary stopped him. “Not here,” she said. “And not now. Go get me a half dozen chickens for Bea’s chicken salad tomorrow.”
Bill went downstairs with his beer and the one he’d gotten for Henry Lee. When he returned upstairs with the chickens, Mary was washing potatoes for the baked potatoes for dinner. Bill set down the chickens next to the sink. Mary stopped what she was doing, dried her hands, then reached up her dress and stepped out of her underwear. She handed them to Bill. “Think on these for awhile,” she said.
Bill’s afternoon was busy. His dance card was full and he couldn’t quite fathom how it had gotten this way. He was scheduled to help Henry Lee cut meat and to work with Mary setting up for tomorrow. Meanwhile, they all sat eating lunch in the side dining room.
The kitchen, of itself, was quiet. The exhaust fans droned endlessly on and the hiss from the gas broiler was ever present. But the dish machine was shut down and none of the dishwashers were in the kitchen, so there was no chatter and no clatter. Quiet, relatively so. No calling for orders, no dishwashers yelling at each other over the thunderous machine, no sizzling steaks or clash of pots and dishes.
Bea and Mary sat next to each other. Bill and Henry Lee sat opposite them. Bill ate a roast beef sandwich he’d made for himself: roast beef as rare as he could find it with tomato, pickle and mayonnaise on a hamburger bun. Henry Lee ate a hamburger. Bea and Mary ate tuna on hamburger buns. They all shared a full plate of well-done French fries and a double order of onion rings. No one spoke much, and when they spoke it was mostly about personal things. Mary mentioned what her son Eddie was doing on the weekend. Bea mentioned that she was going out to the race track, Scioto Downs, to watch the trotters. Henry Lee said nothing, but he’d told Bill he was planning to hit it with Marie later in the bathroom downstairs and then after work to go home and get some from Alfreda. Bill had nothing to say since he was closing.
While they were eating, Eleanor, who happened to be working the lunch this day, came out to them with an order. She handed it to Bill who told them it was just roast beef dinners. He got up and followed her into the kitchen. Once in the kitchen Eleanor told him she was giving her two-week notice to Tommy at the end of her shift.
“Why?” he asked.
“Mostly Drenovis. He’s always on my case, gives me crappy shifts when he can get away with it and he’s never gonna get any better since I won’t give him what he wants. It’s even worse with him knowing about you and me.”
“I’m really sorry,” Bill said.
“Why? You got Norma. And Mary. And Bea.”
“Don’t be catty. I like you.”
“I like you too.”
“Good. You have another job?”
“One for sure and a couple of maybes.”
“That’s good. You want me to ask Robert if he can get you something?”
“You want to?”
“I will. I do.”
“Okay. Anyway, no matter what, we can still meet if you want to. I’ll make sure you have a number where you can reach me.”
Bill had worked Eleanor’s order as they talked and he set up the two plates. She took them in one hand and went out to the front dining room. Her gone, he returned to the side room where Mary, Bea and Henry Lee still sat. He did not sit back down. He grabbed an onion ring and stuffed it in his mouth, then he took up his plate, half the sandwich still on it, and settled it in a bus box. He went back into the kitchen, drew himself a coffee, lit a cigarette, sipped the coffee and began breaking down the line. By the time the others came back into the kitchen, he had the line emptied out and was scrubbing it down. Once he finished that, once the stainless steel shone bright, he strained the fryer grease with a metal screen strainer.
“Going downstairs,” he told Bea and Mary when everything was ready to be set up for the dinner. Neither one of them said anything but both acknowledged with a nod. Down in the meat room, first thing, he took a long drink of bourbon. Then he and Henry Lee donned the arctic parkas and quilted mitts and went into the deep freeze to get high.