The lure, p.41

The Lure, page 41

 

The Lure
 



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  When Parnell had told Noel he would have to come here and face Loomis, he had almost not come, so strong was his fear of the man after the horrors of the early morning hours. But the commissioner had been persuasive. He’d waited too long already; he wanted to nail Loomis now! Noel was too tired really to resist it, and—he reminded himself—he was clear of that control now, forever.

  He hadn’t felt the overwhelming hatred and disgust he’d expected when he’d come in the room and seen the Fisherman. Probably because of Loomis’s own eerie aloofness. Or possibly, Noel thought, because he had gone through so many emotions, so intensely, in the last six hours that perhaps he no longer was capable of feeling anything. Even nerves got overstimulated, blocked out sensations after a while. Yet he retained a strong curiosity to know what it was that Loomis could be thinking about as the accusations were heaped against him.

  The others had all decided on something, were suddenly standing, collecting documents and briefcases. Noel stood up, too.

  Kirsch came over to him.

  “Mr. Redfern has been released. Without bail, of course. I understand he’s waiting for you in the main lobby of the Criminal Courts building.”

  At the end of the table, Russo and Loomis were conferring, the Fisherman, oddly enough, talking animatedly, although in a tone so low no one else could hear him, as though arguing something.

  Noel headed for the door. The attorney kept up with him. Noel felt a hand on his arm.

  “If you have any qualms,” Kirsch said, “you ought to know what we know. After we received Mrs. Vega’s material, we pulled in the half dozen Whisper operatives who ranked closest to Loomis. Without his knowledge, of course. Between threats of demotion and intensive questioning, we discovered that there was a contingency plan in case you failed to go off. Redfern was to be placed in a common cell, seeded with a Whisper operative who, unknown to the desk sergeant, was armed. He would begin an argument and… We knew of that plan, however, and I made certain that Redfern was placed where he would not get hurt.”

  Kirsch’s voice dripped sarcasm. Noel decided he would prosecute Loomis with the same ruthless will to destroy that the Fisherman had shown in all his dealings.

  “Can I go now?” Noel asked. Everyone agreed he could. He had just left the chambers when Russo came out.

  “My client would like to have a word with you,” he said to Noel.

  Before either Noel or Kirsch could reply, the defense attorney added, “Naturally both guards will be on duty.”

  “Cummings,” Parnell asked, “it’s up to you.”

  Kirsch didn’t like the idea and said so.

  But Noel’s curiosity was stronger than his wish to leave. So he went into the room, approached the oval table, took a seat as far from Loomis as he’d been before. He barely heard what the Fisherman said to him.

  “Go on. Ask me.”

  Still unnerved by how this man always seemed to know his own mind better than Noel, he nevertheless took courage in the presence of the two burly police officers. “Have you figured it out yet?”

  “Figured out what?”

  “You know. Why it didn’t work?”

  Loomis stared at him. He was succinct. “No.”

  “Because of her, Alana.”

  “Her?” Loomis answered with such disdain his nostrils Hared. “Her? She was designed to be the trigger.”

  It took Noel a minute to understand that Alana’s death was no accident, but planned from the beginning and integral to the success of the plot. He had to clutch the edge of the table so he would not leap across and throttle the monster.

  “The drug was good to me,” Noel said. “The LSD. It was good.”

  Loomis shrugged that off.

  Noel remained coldly angry. “Maybe the plan was just lousy right from the beginning.”

  There was no answer to that. Loomis seemed to have lapsed back into his absentmindedness. Noel couldn’t stand being in the room. He got up to leave.

  When he had one hand on the door handle, he heard from behind him, “It’s always worked before,” so matter-of-factly, that he had to shiver—and get out fast.

  16

  The clammy chill the Fisherman’s last words induced in him didn’t disappear until Noel had entered the lobby of the Criminal Courts building and spotted Eric, still dressed in the expensive, casual-looking, white summer tuxedo he alone of all the men invited to the Window Wall dinner had been allowed to wear. He looked none the worse for his few hours in a jail cell as he paced the patterned-tile floor, staring down at the design.

  Seeing Eric safe—after so many odds had been piled up against his ever seeing today’s daylight—made Noel stop. He wanted to do something, to throw his arms around Eric, to hug him; to verify by touching him that Eric was unhurt, alive; to thank him and whoever else was responsible for the miracle that had kept him from being Eric’s executioner. Then Noel remembered he had another task ahead—he had to tell Eric that Alana was dead.

  He waited for Eric to make the first move. When the tanned face turned toward Noel, Eric appeared strained, as though he’d been trying not to think, not to cry, maybe. He ran a hand through the sunstreaked blond hair and said in a voice with no waver at all, “Nice design, isn’t it?” Noel followed his gaze down to the sweeping interlocking pattern on the floor, as Eric went on: “I think I’ll send someone to copy it, blow it up, make a big mural for the wall opposite the DJ’s booth. She’s dead, isn’t she?” he said, in that same controlled tone of voice. One of his white shoes was rubbing a spot of dried chewing gum off a tile.

  “She never regained consciousness.”

  “She never knew the truth, then?”

  Noel saw no reason to hide anything anymore. “She knew who I was,” Noel replied.

  “And thought you were responsible?”

  Noel sighed. “Yes.”

  “I’m sorry.” A pause, then, “It won’t be the same without her.”

  “No.”

  Eric had rubbed the gum completely off. The tile was a clean pale yellow compared to the gray around it.

  “She asked me to go with her to Paris,” Noel said, not knowing why he was telling Eric this. Only that it was necessary. “We were supposed to leave on the six o·clock flight. She was very insistent. She had everything planned for us. She begged me to go tonight. To save you, I think.”

  “To save herself,” Eric said. Without explaining, he went on: “Well, Professor Cummings, you almost had it made, wealth, fame, happiness. So close…”

  “I could kick myself for not giving her that small satisfaction.”

  Eric was surprised. “You told her no?”

  “I couldn’t tell her yes.”

  “Because of your book?”

  “The book? No. Not because of the book. I don’t know why,” Noel said, not wanting to have to explain it; there was too much to explain.

  Eric stared, his deep-set, intense, dark blue eyes holding Noel’s own eyes—not in battle, not trying to see through them to what was hidden, not competing, or demanding, or judging for once, but as though observing a major celestial phenomenon that had been in the sky all the while, but which he was noticing for the first time.

  “I know why,” Eric said, without a hint of superiority or triumph, as though stating a fact so obvious it didn’t bear repeating, “because of me.”

  “Yes, because of you,” Noel answered simply; it was true.

  A group of people came up behind them, forcing them to move to one side, breaking the moment and the sudden embarrassment Noel had felt along with his admission. Thankfully, Eric didn’t pursue it, but asked what had happened at the hearing.

  “Everything’s going to be all right now,” Noel told him, knowing it was vague.

  “For whom?”

  “For us. For you,” he amended quickly. “You’re safe now.”

  “That’s comforting.”

  “You weren’t being paranoid,” Noel tried to comfort him. “You were being hunted. It was a con
spiracy. It’s over now. Squashed.”

  “That bastard Malchuck. Ready to sell me out. After I gave him everything, everything! You know when I found him he was handing out towels at the Baths?”

  “I never knew anything about him,” Noel tried to explain. There was so much to explain to Eric, from the bike ride that morning on. “I was so wrecked on that acid I couldn’t do anything until…”

  “Forget it. Let’s split. This place gives me the creeps. I called Okku. He should be waiting outside. Come uptown. We’ll clean up. Get some rest. You sleep any?”

  “I didn’t have time. So much happened.”

  “I had time. But I was afraid to lie down on the cot in that hole.”

  He took Noel’s arm and began walking out. Once they passed through the front doors, out onto the bright, hot, sunny street, Eric put his arm across Noel’s shoulders. Noel didn’t flinch, didn’t shake it off.

  “We’re going to be together now, aren’t we?” Eric asked.

  “Yes,” Noel said, amazed at how easily he answered.

  “Not just because Alana would have wanted us to be?”

  “That’s one reason. Not the only one.”

  “Good. Because a lot of shit has gone down between us, Noel, around us, too. We’re bound by that. We’re going to have a lot of work to make it up to each other. I’m willing. Are you?”

  “I have nothing else to do.”

  Eric hugged Noel closer, and Noel reached an arm around Eric’s waist as they descended the short flight of steps onto the street. Noel felt as though after a journey of almost twenty years’ duration—destination unknown—he was finally finding his way. Still uncertain as he was of that destination, he was at least certain it coincided with Eric’s.

  On the sidewalk Eric looked up and down for the Silver Cloud. Noel suddenly felt a piercing coldness that even Eric’s close warmth could not blanket.

  The manservant was two blocks north, leaning out of the sunroof, waving at them. It was almost noon. Traffic in the area between Foley Square and Canal Street was inching toward its midday chaos. Arms still around each other, they began walking toward the limo.

  Noel felt the coldness again. Not disappearing after its initial frozen thrust as before, but lingering. Perhaps he was coming down with some illness, he thought, and involuntarily detached himself from Eric, unable to concentrate on what Redfern was saying.

  The sidewalk was bristling with people coming out of buildings on their way to lunch at one of the dozens of delis, and hot dog stands, souvlaki and pizza places. But Noel was immediately drawn to a figure who seemed to be deliberately keeping pace at the opposite side of the sidewalk. He was a slim, short man in dark glasses that hid most of his features, business suit, and striped tie. Noel couldn’t say why he associated the continued and frightening chill with this man, but he stopped Eric, waiting for the figure to move ahead before they started up again.

  He recognized the sensation, unmistakable, all pervading, as the same icy presence he’d last felt in the small high room of the abandoned saloon, surrounded by the mutilated corpse of McWhitter, the grotesque hanging body of Buddy Vega. He knew the presence emanated not from Eric who was all heart—affection, possibly lust—but from this small man.

  “You’re shaking like crazy,” Eric was saying, as though from behind a wall of Lucite. “What’s wrong with you?”

  Noel couldn’t answer. His entire awareness was on the man in the suit, slowing down a few feet ahead of them, as Noel began to see details: the angle of the arms, the shape of the head, and particularly the walk, that so familiar walk, that Noel could not place, though it pained him to see each step. He had to find out, had to know who it was.

  He shook Eric’s hand off his shoulder and hurried to catch up with the short man. As he drew abreast, he felt the cold even more numbing. Eric was joining him, saying something. Both Noel and the man stopped—as though on cue. Even with the disguising sunglasses, the completely unexpected suit and tie, Noel knew whom he faced: Loomis’s last card, his final crushing trump, his law beyond the law, his vengeance outside the trappings of justice. Here was a killer as carefully programmed as Noel, but unlike him, an already proven murder machine, the slayer of Kansas and Randy and Vega and McWhitter—Loomis’s ultimate, effective executioner, encased in the most treacherous of forms: seductive, childlike, Little Larry Vitale.

  —Who noticed Noel, but seemed not to see him, turned past Noel, as though he were an automaton programmed to see only one face, kept swiveling around, behind them, and suddenly produced a thin, deadly, gleaming icicle which he launched into the air.

  Eric saw his assailant before Noel could cry out for him to beware. With all the training McWhitter had instilled in him, Eric sidestepped the first lunge, retreated to a parked taxi, spun around with breathtaking rapidity to avoid the second jab of the glittering knife at his heart.

  “Come on, bastard,” Noel heard Eric breathe out between clenched teeth, “come on,” taunting him, as Larry lunged again, and Eric seemed to fall over the hood of the car before his foot shot out hard, smashing the small killer in his chest, knocking his sunglasses off, forcing him to stagger slightly before he regained his balance and came on again. Eric lifted both feet off the ground and, heedless of the sweeping movements of the blade, kicked again, this time knocking the weapon to the sidewalk. Before Larry could turn around to retrieve it, he was grabbed by one shoulder, twisted around, sent flying into the fender of the car.

  Noel bent down, immediately felt the warm hilt of the knife connect with something deep and ready and longing inside of him, and turned back to the car, where they still struggled.

  The knife was a burning ember in his hand, melded to his arm by an urgency he couldn’t explain or resist.

  “It’s always worked before.” He heard Loomis’s last words thudding through his mind, as though Loomis were inside his skull, shouting in glee. “It’s always worked before.”

  And Noel felt the split he had fought off so successfully before, sensing this time the split was for real, that this time he would complete his mission, and wreak the final outrage, to destroy what Loomis could no longer get near.

  “It’s always worked before.” Loomis’s words danced a frenzied tarantella through his reeling, buzzing mind, as Noel turned to face the wrestling forms in front of him, feeling the urgency of the knife blade wedded to the poisoned fingers that held it, move forward, ready to strike, to plunge, to cut, slash, rip, tear, feel flesh separate from bone, tissues come asunder, nerve ends snap, synapses scream, skin split like butter, blood issue, ooze, stream, gush, cooling him—

  He felt the split, saw the two men facing him, expressionless, as he froze them both to stillness—trapped against the fender of the car, both mouths open to beg, scream, cajole.

  And the knife was a burning coal. It had to be doused or the fire would consume his flesh, too, so he plunged it in, feeling the urgency take over, and the soft tissue melting under the frozen blade, finding sweet relief in the wet coolness that surrounded each thrust, cutting, ripping, tearing, upward, downward, in, across bones, muscles, cheeks, ears, eyes even, those deceiving mirrors, those lying reflectors, immersing himself in the methodical slashing and tearing, finding the split resolving itself in relief, not minding the pummeling of fists at his back, the futile attempts by mere human hands to dislodge him from this preordained encounter, but taking his time, cutting, and plunging again, feeling all time stop, feeling both the heat in his hands and the coldness that had frightened him so before evaporate now, as the head in front of him began to slide off the slimy wetness of the metal fender, the torn mirrors of its eyes hidden now, as it crumpled slowly onto the tops of his shoes, and he plunged once more into air, unable to stop himself, then stopped, and all he could feel was utter, total, complete, and life-restoring relief.

  For an instant.

  Before the voice repeated its incantatory drone, “It’s always worked before,” and the relief was gone, and Noel back,
one person, not two, on the Lower Manhattan sidewalk, looking down at a confusion of hair and blood and material crumpled in front of him. He looked around, dizzy with the onslaught of sensory stimuli as sounds, smells, images, sailed before him, and slowly came to a stop and became ordinary, recognizable as before.

  “I’ve killed,” he said. “I did what he wanted me to do. I’ve killed. He’s won. He knew he would win.”

  Noel began to cry: a hard racking disabling weeping.

  “Give me the knife,” someone said. “Give it to me.”

  Noel did as he was told. It didn’t matter now.

  “I’ve killed,” he tried to make him understand. “He’s won.”

  He was grabbed around the shoulders, held close, as Eric’s voice breathed into his ear, “We won, Noel. You and I.”

  They were surrounded by men in uniform, moving in on them. In the distance, Noel heard siren’s screams, coming closer, but above their piercing wail was a calm, steady voice from within, saying over and over, “We’ve won.” It was a victory: for Kansas and Vega, Randy and Alana, for the dead, and those who might have died. “We’ve won.”

  About the Author

  Felice Picano is the author of twenty-three published books, including novels, novellas, short story collections, poetry, memoirs, and other nonfiction. His work has been translated into thirteen languages including Japanese, Hebrew, and Slovenian. He has been nominated for or received over a dozen literary awards in several literary forms and genres. In the U.S., Picano is considered a founder of modern gay literature; internationally, as a noted American postmodernist. Writing about him can be found in several references including Contemporary Authors, The Cambridge History of American Literature, and Wikipedia.com. His third play was revived in Palm Spring for a sold-out run in 2008.

 


 

  Felice Picano, The Lure

 


 

 
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