Chasing The Dragons – Part 1
New York City
“I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between stars.”―Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
It was Holy Week in Lisbon. The interval between Christmas and New Year. The towers were still smoldering back home and the days dank and gunmetal grey in the City of the Crow. I wondered if I could still call Gotham home. It was not as if I had anything to go back to. Lisbon was never home but I knew it quite well. I had flipped a coin while crossing the breezeway between Madison Square Garden and Penn Station as secretaries were opening envelopes filled with Anthrax in the offices of the Masters of the Universe. The coin came up “Tails”. So I said ‘yes’ to the plane ticket being offered by someone who had always been more afraid and prone to panic than I. She meant well. I was bone-soul-weary of the ugliness and dread and despair of the Ground Zero environs. I had also exhausted the jukebox at the Mars Bar. Boarded a TAP flight from a deserted El Al terminal at JFK to Faro the next day. Not many wanted to fly just then. The City was spooked.
Spent the next few months sulking, writing dreary prose but trying not to, smoking SGs and drinking cheap wine while getting my comeuppance from an ex-French Foreign Legionnaire. I had known him a long time. He had once stayed with me in our townhouse in Hartford after a stint as Private Soldier in a blood diamond mine in South Africa. That was when I still had a fine wife and wonderful little girl, in some other life long since gone. He was now returning the favor but grudgingly. He had spent most of his life in a foul mood, trying to prove he was not crazy. I always thought he was brilliant. But a tad crazy. He was getting even for everything I had not done for him. Maybe he was right but he seemed to have forgotten anything I had done. No matter. I was drunk most of the time, a good idea under the circumstances. But when my hands started to tremble if I did not take a drink it was time to dry out.
The Algarve is the same as any other tourist region, ersatz and soulless, it’s all about the buck. They were fond of saying the gringos, and Limeys, were all fish for their nets. Charming. I decided to take a train north.
It was a long walk to the train station. I had packed my US Army duffel bag and sauntered out in the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep and got impatient. The road was desolate, not one car or truck, at night. During the day it was a short-cut often used by truckers. There was a large, abandoned quarry along the road where some desperate hooker would stand in hot-pants and halter top, beckoning to the drivers. She was wretched. But I saw a couple of guys stop and pick her up, hot times in the old mine shaft. Not tonight. ‘Fucking Spanish Style’ they call it in Lisbon. There were several large houses along the way, all surrounded by high, chain-link fences, some stone with broken glass at the top, or barbed wire, to discourage intruders. It was the only degree of separation required between the “haves” and “nots”. The dogs helped too. A lot. Mostly Dobermans, the only dog I despise, they tossed themselves up against the fence, growled with evil intent as I passed. It brought to mind my Uncle Emory. He was an infantryman in WWII. Damn good one, I heard. One of his favorite colorful expressions, among countless, was ‘Hell, when I croak you can stick a hambone up my ass and throw me to the dogs for all I care!’ He was dead now but I never found out if he had such a curtain call. Either way I think he would have been disappointed. To say nothing of the dogs.
What is it about dogs and funerals? I went to a Viking Funeral once on East 75th. A legal secretary, far drunker than even I, picked me up at Heidelberg, a German joint quite popular in a neighborhood once brimming with Bavarian beer halls, on a frigid winter night. I have never worked in a law firm. Given the people I have come across who have, other than Partners, I never want to. She was a prime example. Maybe she had her reasons. Everyone does. A more cynical and bitter human being, albeit plastered, would be hard to find. Not that anyone would want to. The heavy mink stole she wore did not help. She went on and on about how disgusting men in general were—I offered no argument—and the one who had left her in particular. Although I did not know him I should think there would be few men, or women, who would have stayed around her for long, myself most certainly not. After my second Old Grand Dad and countless, colorless ugly adjectives describing ‘that bastard’ I got up to leave. She clasped my wrist and pulled me to the street. I let her. She told me to wait ‘right here!’ and went up to her apartment. It was below zero on Second Avenue. Why I waited I do not know but I did. I may someday die along with some alley cat from curiosity. She returned carrying a black rain coat with tartan lining. London Fog. The sidewalk was piled high with snow drifts, much of it a sheet of thick ice. She threw the coat on a large swath of ice, poured Ronsonol on it and dug deeper into her pockets. ‘His!’ she hissed. Then, ‘Hey, you got a light?’ I gave her a book of matches from Elaine’s. It took a few tries but she got the coat lit. The flames grew and the chemical smell of the smoke was nauseating. Broiled Naugahyde. Lust’s labors lost. A Viking Funeral. ‘No dead dog, eh?’ I asked her.
‘What?’ she slurred. ‘For a proper Viking Funeral you would need a dead dog at his feet.’
‘Viking? HAH! He was no frigging Viking! He was a PIG!’
‘Well, maybe then a cat will do. Got a dead cat?’
‘Huh? Screw you asshole.’ I never claimed to be a genius. I left her to her reveries and her pyre to its symbolism. I didn’t mean it about the cat.
To be continued tomorrow …
Bio: MC Alves is a freelance writer. A former journalist, he is a contributor to various publications and author of a collection of short fiction. He has also written two books on Information Technology and is currently working on a novel. He lives in New York City.