A Glibertarians Exclusive: Marilee – Part VI
Brooklyn, New York – March 1965
Coy wasn’t fond of New York.
But the idea of disappearing into a big city, even almost a quarter-century after his confrontation with Jim Gompers back in Falfurrias, did have its appeal, especially on those occasions when he saw an old wanted poster with his name on it. So here he was, sharing a basement apartment in Brooklyn with two other men who worked with him on a building maintenance crew.
There was another reason Coy had been hanging around Brooklyn for two years now. Somewhere, not too far away, he knew Marilee Peyton was living, presumably with the man she had left Iowa for. He saw her from time to time, sometimes in the company of a tall, thin man with slicked-back black hair.
So far, he had not had the nerve to approach her.
Friday evening now, and Coy and his roommates had finished work for the week. Their habit on Friday evenings was to wash up and head out into the city to find some supper, to drink a few beers, and to dive into what the city had to offer. And what the city had to offer now, in early 1965, was… mixed.
Maybe I should have stayed in Iowa, Coy would muse from time to time.
Tonight, at least, Coy had something almost unknown in his wandering life: A friend. This friend and co-worker was Enrique “Rat” Cardoza, a scrawny, short, swarthy, oily, colorful little fellow with an eagle’s-beak nose, an incandescent vocabulary, and an intimate knowledge of the five boroughs of the city where he had lived all of the thirty-eight years of his life.
Coy was in his tiny room, just putting on a clean shirt when he heard Rat’s shrill voice: “Hey, yo, Tex! Dafuk you doon?”
“Relax, Rat, I’m coming.”
Coy stepped out of his room and took a breath. The six-by-eight closet that passed as a bedroom made him claustrophobic. There was barely room for a narrow, hard bed, a short chest of drawers that contained Coy’s few changes of clothing, and a tiny bedside table on which reposed a cheap alarm clock and the old Japanese bayonet. Coy’s Marine ruck and cheap suitcase, empty now, were stacked in the corner.
“Well?” Coy asked Rat. “Where to tonight?”
“Mama Pepe’s,” Rat stated. “Mama’s got picadillo tonight.” Coy had long since learned to surrender any hope of control over the agenda when on an adventure with his friend; Rat was always confidently in control of the itinerary. Tonight, it seemed spicy Cuban food was part of the plan.
“Den, who knows?” Rat went on. “Mebbe get some fuggin’ beers, mebbe get some fuggin’ broads.” Coy had also learned that Rat’s appetite for both beer and broads was insatiable.
They went outside, up the narrow stairs that led up to Montague Street, then hung a right to start the twelve-block walk to Mama Pepe’s.
“Some fuggin’ week a work, wadn’t it?” Rat demanded. Coy grunted in reply.
Rat, being used to Coy’s monosyllable answers, went on. “Whadday t’ink a dat foreman, eh? Charlie Watson, watta prick. Son of a bitch, his mama shoulda washed ‘im out wit’ a douche bag.”
The scrawny little man continued to expound through the walk to the Cuban restaurant, through the bowls of heavily spiced ground beef, and through the walk to a neighborhood bar that the two favored. Coy listened with half an ear, used to the little man’s salty loquacity, knowing that his response was rarely required.
We sure as hell make an odd pair, Coy thought as they walked, their footsteps on the sidewalk punctuated by Rat’s generally obscene commentary. Never reckoned a fella from south Texas would end up in New York City, hangin’ out with this unprintable little runt. Weren’t for… what happened, guess I’d be back in Falfurrias now, probably still drinking beer in that same old bar – what was it called? The Long Haul, that’s it. Wonder if it’s still there?
They walked on, the tall, lanky, taciturn Texan and the short, bawdy, outspoken Puerto Rican. Yeah, one hell of an odd pair, Coy smiled to himself. Little fucker hasn’t ever called me anything but ‘Tex.’ Wonder if he even knows my name?
Music blared from the bars and cafes they passed. On a street corner, some asshole was shouting about class struggle. Coy scowled. Fuckin’ commies, he snarled silently. He realized Rat was rubbing off on him; his own language was now frequently peppered with words he hadn’t much used since the war.
Then Coy and Rat turned a corner, and Coy stopped dead. Rat, in the middle of another foul soliloquy, walked on for a few paces before noticing. He stopped and looked back.
“Tex, waddafuck you stoppin’ for?”
Across the street, in the cone of light from a streetlamp, a tall, thin man with slicked-back black hair was talking with two obvious ladies of the evening. As Coy watched, another streetwalker came up to the man and not-too-discreetly handed him a couple of bills.
It was the man Coy had seen Marilee with.
“Hey, Rat,” Coy said. “That guy across the street. Seen him before?”
Rat squinted. “Shit, yeah, I seen dat asshole. Motherfuckin’ pimp. Yeah, he been ‘round, ‘bout a month now.”
Coy thought hard. He had first seen Marilee with the pimp over a year earlier.
“Ever seen him before that?”
“Nah. Whattafuck would I care about a goddamn pimp for? Fuck dat sonovabitch. C’mon, let’s go get some beers. Sorry asshole what’s ever paid for it, you wanna know what I t’ink.”
“Yeah,” Coy agreed. “Damn right. And a sorrier asshole that’s selling it.”
“Fuggin’ A,” Rat agreed.
Coy felt his fists clench. If I find out that guy’s selling Marilee like those other girls… Hell, what’s one more wanted poster?
He ended up drinking more than usual that night, switching from beer to whiskey at about midnight. He woke up on Saturday morning with a Richter-scale hangover. He yanked on trousers and a shirt, then went out into the basement apartment’s tiny kitchen. A cacophony of snoring still came from the apartment’s other two bedrooms, but Coy was an early riser, hung over or not.
A quick look out the window revealed a drizzling rain dropping from a leaden sky, hardly unusual for Brooklyn in March. Coy took down a tin pot, boiled water and made a pot of coffee strong enough to try to climb out of the mug. Two cups of the evil black brew restored a little of his energy but none of his good humor.
Got to find out if Marilee is still with that pimp, he reminded himself. His gaze flickered towards his bedroom door, the image of the old Jap bayonet coming briefly to mind, but Coy shook the urge off. Grabbing his jacket and jamming his old Marine fatigue cap down on his head, he walked out to the street.
What Coy had badly underestimated, even after two years in Brooklyn, was how difficult it would be to find one needle in this malodorous haystack. Two weeks passed by before Coy spotted the black-haired man again, on a Sunday morning. The pimp was eating in a small diner on Henry Street, alone in a booth.
Coy walked in and sat down in the booth across from the pimp, who looked up at him, showing some surprise. He said nothing, just inclined an eyebrow in a silent query.
“Seen you around,” Coy said. He waved to the waitress, pointed at the empty coffee cup in front of him.
“Yeah?” Coy couldn’t place the pimp’s accent. “So? Sometin’ I can do for ya?”
“Yeah. Tell me where Marilee is. I’ve seen you with her. Red hair, green eyes, five-three or so?”
“Marilee? You mean Mary? That c…” Something in Coy’s eyes made the man trail off without pronouncing that last word. “No idea. Ain’t seen her in a month.”
Both men sat silently while the harried waitress poured coffee. “You want anything to eat?” she asked Coy. Coy just shook his head, holding the pimp’s gaze the entire time. The waitress, sensing something, backed away and went behind the counter.
Coy took a sip of coffee. “Listen, pal, I know what you do.”
“So? You a cop?”
“No. If I was, you think I’d be setting here talking to you like this?”
The pimp nodded. “I ‘spose not.”
“So, spill. What happened with Marilee? Where is she?”
“Gone. I dunno where. She was fine long as I had a day job. But then…” The pimp tried an ingratiating grin, which just made Coy’s expression turn dark. “I went to doin’ what I do now. You know what that is, you just said so. She didn’t like that. So, she took off.”
“Like I said, I dunno.”
“If I find out you hurt her, or made her…”
“Listen, pal, Mary was my girl. You get that? My girl. A fellow don’t share that kind of thing, get me?”
Coy sat for a moment. I don’t know if I believe that scrawny shit, he mused. But hell, the Marilee I remember would never get caught in that kind of business.
“Listen, pal, if you’re done talkin’, I got places to be. Capice?”
Coy waved the man away. The pimp dropped a couple of bills on the table and, looking relieved, hurried out.
Shit. That lead came to nothing. Now I don’t even know if she’s still in the city or not.
The old feeling was back. The old feeling, the entanglement, was still there, even after twenty-five years.
Coy sat for a moment, feeling the old feeling, until he felt someone’s eyes on him. He looked up to see the waitress, heavy-set, sixtyish, standing over him. “I heard you talking to Tony. You’re looking for Mary?”
“Marilee, that’s her name, but yeah. I knew her once… in another place.”
“Quarter for the coffee,” the waitress said, then, under her breath, “meet me in the back. Five minutes.” She walked off.
Coy left a quarter and a dime as a tip, then wandered out of the diner, around the building, into the alley in back. After a few minutes, the waitress came out, a cigarette pack in her hand.
“Boss won’t let me smoke while I’m working,” she explained. “Don’t know why. Everybody else in the place is smoking.” She took a Chesterfield from the pack, lit it with a battered Zippo. “So. Marilee, you say?”
“That’s her name. Least, it was.”
The waitress took a drag on the cigarette. “Well, Tony, he’s a damn liar and a snake, but this time he’s telling the truth. Nobody knows where Mary… Marilee went. She used to come in here and eat breakfast with Tony on Sundays. Sweet gal. Everybody liked her. But then, Tony got fired from his construction job and started… working nights, you know? Well, Mary didn’t like that, not one little bit. So, she left. Stopped in here for a cup of coffee her last day here in Brooklyn. The whole thing… I guess you’d say, it changed her. Made her cold. Man like Tony, he’ll do that to a gal. You ask me, she deserves better.”
“She sure does. Any idea where she was going?”
“Some. She had kicked Tony out of their apartment, sold everything – furniture, linens, the works – and was buying a car. Said she was going home. That mean anything to you?”
Sure as hell does. Means I can’t follow her. Not without landing in prison. “Yeah,” he said. “That means something to me.”
“Sorry to bring you bad news.” The waitress dropped the cigarette on the ground, crushed it under a black, sensible shoe.
“Yeah,” Coy said. “Well, it can’t be helped. I sure do thank you for telling me what you could, all the same.”
The city seemed somehow different as Coy walked back to the tiny basement apartment. Now that he knew Marilee wasn’t nearby, it somehow seemed colder. The buildings seemed dingier, the air dirtier. She’s not here, he thought bitterly. She’s not here, and she’s damn well out of my reach now.
Over the next few weeks, Coy kept more and more to himself. He stopped attending Rat’s Friday and Saturday evening outings, resisting the little man’s foul-mouthed persuasion. Weekdays he went to work, replacing pipes, repairing boilers, fixing gas lines; at night and on weekends, he either stayed in his room, laying on his narrow bed, staring at the ceiling, or else wandering the city streets, alone.
Then, one morning in October, he found himself staring at a U.S. Road Atlas on a street vendors’ stand. On impulse, he picked the atlas up and found himself flipping through the states. One state somehow caught his gaze.
Nebraska. Ain’t Texas. But it’s more like Texas than this shithole.
The next day he gave his foreman polite but final notice. Two weeks later, taking his few possessions and his nest egg – about five hundred dollars – he left the apartment without saying anything to his roommates, took a cab to New Jersey, where he bought a battered 1949 Ford pickup at a disreputable-looking used car lot in Newark.
Then, he headed west.
I lived with them on Montague Street,
In a basement down the stairs,
There was music in the cafes at night,
And revolution in the air,
Then he started into dealing with slaves,
And something inside of him died.
She had to sell everything she owned,
And froze up inside,
And when it finally, the bottom fell out,
I became withdrawn,
The only thing I knew how to do,
Was to keep on keeping on,
Like a bird that flew,
Tangled up in blue.