The Lure, page 23
The room was filling up, forcing Noel farther from the bar. Every face around him seemed an archetypal image of luxury, sin, eroticism, temptation, lust: eyes shining, hungry; lips wetly open; tongues lolling sensuously; bodies gliding to focus now on a shoulder, now on a well-developed chest in the shifting red light.
Despite his haziness from the drugs, Noel determined to get out. As he reached the elevator, the doors opened. A rush of people massed toward one room, carrying Noel with them.
He seemed to enter a bubble. He could still hear the music, but muted, subsumed in a sough of sliding, rubbing sound, as of many bodies in constant motion. Hands reached out, touching him lightly, tentatively, and as he turned away from them, he moved into other hands, other bodies, stroking, caressing. Then he was floating along, slowly turning, bodies sliding against him, hands more forceful now, someone opening a shirt button, someone else unzipping him, someone else lifting his shirt from behind, a hand slipping down the back of his trousers. All the while he was moving, revolving through the mass of bodies, until he saw a face near him that looked familiar, kind, and hands reached out for him.
The face bent to his and he felt caressed all over, hands in front, in back, until his clothing was open or off, and he felt freer, more flexible, more comfortable with this stranger kissing him slowly all over. In tune with the music, thinking nothing, unwilling to think, letting himself be guided, shown what to do, how to do it, Noel let go.
“Get up! You have to leave!”
Noel turned over, feeling sawdust under him. Someone was shaking his shoulder. Groggy, he sat up. The music and bodies were gone. Silence. Emptiness. The red lights still shone dimly. Someone was hunkered in front of him, great concern on his face, shaking Noel awake, repeating that he had to get up and leave.
“Is this yours?” The man held out a twisted bunch of material that separated into a vaguely recognizable shirt. He looked down. His trousers were on, the belt undone. Christ! He must have fallen asleep right here on the floor. The Quaalude Larry had given him had finally put him out.
“C’mon,” the man urged, extending a hand, rising himself. “Get up. You have to leave.”
He helped Noel up, and even helped him to put his shirt on, all the while urging him to hurry, looking around as though someone else were in the room. But Noel still couldn’t shake himself fully awake. He might go to sleep in a minute, a second, but he tried to do what he was asked, finally slurring out a question:
“What time is it?”
“I don’t know. Six. Seven. In the morning. Here, buckle that up. C’mon!”
“Where’s my jacket? I was wearing a jacket.” Noel managed to recall the fact, and turned around to look for it. Scattered sawdust, mixed in with cigarette butts, spilled beer cans, plasticene cups half crushed, used, snapped-in-half amyl nitrite capsules littered the floor. What was that pile of clothing in the corner? It must be in there.
The man jerked him back. “It’s not there! It’s in the checkroom. You checked it.”
He had to help Noel out of the room to the check counter. Only two jackets were left hanging, one of them Noel’s lightweight windbreaker. As he put it on, he heard the wail of sirens.
“They’re here,” another man said, looking into the room.
“Shit! I want him out!”
“Through the stairway,” the other suggested.
Noel had just opened the stairway exit door when two policemen began coming up.
“Who’s this?” one of them said, pushing Noel back out the door and into the loft. “Who’s the manager here?”
“I’m the assistant. Reed,” the guy who’d awakened Noel said.
“Who’s this?” the policeman asked of Noel again.
“Where was he going?”
“Someone who crashed here. I was letting him out.”
“Hold him. Everyone else who’s here, just stay still.”
“There’s only the three of us,” Reed said.
“Oh? Well, let’s see what you got to show me.” He turned to Noel. “You two stay here.”
Noel sank down against the wall and watched the two cops follow Reed into the big room where he’d been awakened.
“Here, have a cigarette. It might wake you up,” the other employee, Jerry, said, lighting one for each of them. He seemed scared, nervous.
“What is it? A raid?” Noel asked.
“No. We don’t get raided. Worse than that.”
Reed and the two officers came out of the room, conferred apart so that Noel couldn’t hear what they were saying. The bigger one asked in a louder voice where a phone was and was directed to a wall phone near the bar.
The other cop, younger, slimmer, a bit more sympathetic with his long fair hair, said to Noel, “You don’t look too good.”
“Someone slipped me a Mickey last night. What happened?”
“A guy was cut up in there.” He pointed to the room. “Really worked over.”
“Dead?” Noel asked, knowing the answer already. Through the fogginess, he suddenly realized what was under those clothes that Reed wouldn’t let him go near.
The other policeman was loud on the phone. His words were clear from where they were.
“Yes, the whole business. Privates cut off. Throat slashed. Must have crawled out of the bathroom where it seems to have happened into another room where people were. Probably choked to death on his own blood. No. No weapon…” (to Reed) “You didn’t find anything?” (back into the receiver) “No, nothing…who knows…probably the same freak who killed the others. It was dark in there. Lots of guys. It would be easy.”
Noel was beginning to sober up fast. He’d slept peacefully, drugged to sleep, only a few feet from where this poor guy had choked to death on his own blood! Only a few feet away. For how long? Could it have been hours?
Reed came out of a small room with steaming cups: the smell of coffee. He offered some to Noel.
“You should have hurried,” he whispered as Noel sipped.
“You find any identification?” the cop on the phone shouted.
“We know him,” Reed said. The other employee nodded.
The cop talked another minute, then hung up and came over to them. “I need positive identification, witnesses. Let’s go.” As Noel hesitated, he said, “You, too. Come on.”
In the big room the lights were off, the painted-over windows partially opened to show gray daylight, feeling damp, muggy. The clothing had been removed from the head and torso. The body was twisted on the floor with one hand stretched out, the other curled underneath. The black, rich ringlets of hair were splattered with blood, the face, too, the chest and shoulders stained with a dry crust of blood like a bib, the neck a blur of red-brown.
“Positive identification?” the big cop asked, notebook ready.
Noel looked at the body, revulsion making him sway.
“He used to manage the place,” Reed said in a small voice, turning to look at Noel, biting his lower lip. “Didn’t he?”
“You know him?” the policeman asked Noel, who looked down at the figure again, now beginning to make out details: the eyes, the nose, the mouth.
“Randy Nerone,” Reed said.
“That right?” the cop asked Noel. “Hey, shake him, Bob. That right?”
Noel nodded. “Yes, it’s him,” then turned away and began to vomit until he thought he’d never stop.
“Yeah! Lure here.”
“Why didn’t you call in sooner?” Loomis asked harshly.
“I couldn’t. I was down at the precinct house all morning.”
It was only noon, but Noel was exhausted. The horrors of the morning hadn’t ended with his recognition of Randy as the mutilated body he’d slept in the same room with—drugged as he’d been, annihilated by his surrender to everything that
“You mean about Randy?” Loomis asked.
“I see rotten news travels fast.”
“What were you doing there?”
“Thanks to your little buddy, Larry Vitale, I woke up there. Not ten feet from where Randy never did wake up.”
“What do you mean? Were you doing research for your book?”
The question was so ludicrous, Noel said, “Sure. Sure. That’s exactly what I was doing, research. Until I got slipped a loaded Quaalude.”
“If you can’t handle drugs, you shouldn’t use them,” was Loomis’s reply, and that seemed even more ridiculous.
“I have to, Fish. Everyone else on the scene does, you know. You want me to be just like them, don’t you? You said so. You said you didn’t want me to stand out from them, didn’t you?”
Loomis didn’t understand. His words were unemotional, flat. “You’re upset, Lure. Just give me a few more facts, and we’ll talk about this later. When you’re feeling more yourself. All right?”
“I’m feeling fine,” Noel said, wanting to have it out now, not later. “And if I’m upset because a friend of mine got his own cock shoved in his mouth, well maybe your friends at the precinct house should have shown a little consideration for my feelings, eh? It was a very educational experience, Loomis. More valuable for my book than almost anything else I’ve seen or done. Now I know what it’s like to be gay and under suspicion.”
“Calm down. You weren’t arrested, were you?” Loomis said, as though that solved everything. “What did you tell them?”
“The truth. That I was drugged and was awakened much later and told to leave when they arrived.”
“That’s all? Surely they didn’t think you did it?”
“They sure pretended they thought so. The first one to question me said I’d probably gotten hopped up on drugs and done it to Randy and couldn’t remember I’d done it. Can you believe that! Then Reed and another cop pointed out that Quaaludes are tranquilizers, not the kind of drug that makes people go out and kill. It was a pretty withering moment. Made the detective look like a real asshole. So he demanded a urine sample, to make sure it was Quaaludes I’d been on.”
“And they still held you?”
“Yeah. Seems while I was out of the room, Reed dropped a little bomb about me and Randy knowing each other. It seems that Randy’d heard from Vega that Larry and I were going to Le Pissoir, and came that night looking for me. Naturally the minute I got back in the room, the cops hit me with that.”
“Say that again,” Loomis asked curtly.
Noel repeated it, then asked why.
“Who else knew you were going to be there?”
“No one. No one but Larry, who took me. Why?” But before he was done asking, Noel had another question. “you don’t think what happened to Randy was aimed at me?” He almost stumbled over it, it was so off-the-wall, so frighteningly possible.
“Could someone tell you two apart in that place?”
“Randy is—was, I mean—bigger than me. Otherwise, I don’t know. It’s pretty dark in there, until you get used to it.”
“You didn’t tell anyone at Redfern’s, did you?”
“No. I wasn’t there all day.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Loomis remembered. “You had a date. What happened to that?”
“I had it,” Noel said. “Then I met Vitale on the subway and he took me to the Grip, and we had a drink, and from there we went to Le Pissoir. I was staggering stoned long before I got there.”
“Little mischief maker,” Loomis muttered so low Noel wondered if he had heard it right. “Go on,” he said, louder, when Noel had stopped talking.
“Well, when Reed blabbed all this, I had to—you know—admit that I knew Randy and all. They tried to make me admit to having killed him in some kind of lovers’ quarrel. But I told them we weren’t lovers. And Reed and Jerry said that while it was known that we saw each other, that it was also well known that it was an open relationship. So that theory stank, too. But it was a real down experience, I assure you.”
“What did you tell them about Whisper?”
That was the question Noel was waiting for. It made him pause now, as it had made him pause in the precinct house.
“What could I say? With Reed and the other guy there?”
“What did you say?” Loomis demanded.
“Well, I thought I had to tell them and I tried to do it indirectly, you know, by giving them stupid kinds of hints, like they’d ask me something, and I’d say I would whisper it to them. They never caught on.”
“Not even the detective?”
“No. I’m sure he didn’t catch it.”
“I doubt that he knows about the operation,” Loomis said, satisfied. “In the future, Lure, should anything like this happen again, don’t say a word. Don’t even hint. We’ll come fix it up.”
“Like you did this time?”
“We got the news late.”
“Five hours late?”
“I was busy. By the time I found you and called, you’d been released.”
“You’re upset, Lure. I said I was busy.”
It would be just like the Fisherman to let Noel rot in a police station all day, as he’d let him become defenseless in the abandoned Federal House of Detention months before. But Noel wasn’t going to let Loomis know he knew that. He’d keep that knowledge, and the bitterness of that knowledge, to himself.
“You still there, Lure?”
“All right. We’ll talk later. Go on back to Redfern’s and get some rest.”
“I’m not going.”
“Look, Lure, I understand how you feel but—”
“But I’m not going back to that town house! Not for a few days at least. I don’t want to see Eric. I’m afraid of what I’ll do to him.”
“That’s perfectly understandable, Lure. But now, more than ever before, you have to make sure you don’t screw everything up. One false move after this, just the slightest hint of hostility now from you, and he’ll know…”
“I’ve been hostile to him from the day we met. He’s no better toward me.”
“But you can’t show him that you think he’s responsible for this. He’ll know why—and who you are.”
“That’s why I don’t want to see him. Not until I calm down enough to look at him without wanting to strangle him,” Noel explained.
“Fine. Maybe that is the best way to do it. Get control of yourself. That’s the surest way to nail this heartless bastard!”
The instant the Fisherman said it, Noel felt the hate in his voice as an almost palpable thing. More palpable somehow than Noel’s own grief and anger over Randy. Perhaps because it wasn’t tinged with gratitude, unconscious until now, that Randy was dead—Randy who’d initiated Noel so deeply into homosexuality. Sure, that must be the reason why his own anger couldn’t be as strong as Loomis’s—because Loomis had no guilt, no mixed feelings.
And, as Noel hung up on Loomis, he wondered, too, if the Fisherman didn’t have a more embracing enmity, one of longer duration, with more experiences, more grief, because he had more deaths and mutilations to tally against Eric than just this one.
What if Loomis did know about the fraternity gang rape years back? What if he did think Noel was a psychosexual? What if he had tested him severely, was still testing him? It was all for an unswerving, determined, and just cause, wasn’t it? Other men were more ruthless, more unscru
Once he thought that, Noel realized it was the counterbalance he had needed the night before, when he’d become hysterical—as Vega had been so fast to point out. Seeing only from his own perspective, Noel had hated Loomis. Rising above it, above his puny little ego and its problems, he now saw how he fit into the larger picture. Loomis’s almost sacrosanct cause would be Noel’s cause: his just anger would be Noel’s noble fury; his controlled purpose, Noel’s goal.
Noel would get even with Eric for Randy’s death in his own way. And he would take his time doing it.
Despite that decision, it was another three hours before Noel could bring himself to call the town house.
Okku answered, which was lucky.
“Please tell Mr. Redfern I won’t be able to come in for a few days,” Noel said, acting as though it were an ordinary job, he an ordinary employee.
“Hold on! Hold on!” the manservant said.
Noel heard a buzz, then a ring, and before he could figure out that Okku had not been interrupted on another line, but was connecting him to Eric, he heard:
Too late. Noel tried to control his voice and the anger he still felt.
“I’m not coming in for a few days,” he said.
“Listen. I heard from Reed and Jerry that—”
“Right!” Noel interrupted, not wanting to hear another word, not another syllable of the hypocrisy. He’d heard from Reed and Jerry! Sure, he had! “See you later,” Noel managed to get out and quickly hung up.
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