It was mildly drizzling. The AG stood by the East River watching a seemingly opaque sky. Actually, the clouds made innumerable formations. A stray jogger made a draft on her back. The AG didn’t care. She was opening herself to the obscure pagan forces she believed to run the events of nature, if not man. Her offering was for the safety of her Anarchist. Seething, he shuffled between the restaurant and the shop. Asleep, he’d grind his teeth, desperately wrapping his arms around her with constrained cries. Sandy would use his unrest. She would provide an event, some momentary promise of realization. Would he bend? The AG paused at the edge of a dock on the Upper East Side, wanting an answer, hoping he loved her more than a little. A tugboat chugged raggedly by. Its motor needs revving, she thought, ready for the trek home.
Wayne Niebold was also staring out onto the East River. He stood on the top floor of a pigeon-hole parking lot. The garage, run by a rehabilitated couple, was part of the Denotational Church. Wayne, displeased with his job there, was taking stock of his “life situation”. He pulled two notebooks from his jacket. The first, a “conversational” notebook, held the pages Wayne ripped for notes when language wasn’t sufficient. The second book contained his “life situation”, something Wayne chronicled constantly so he could forget about it on a daily basis. Today, with much trepidation, he looked over a half page he had written a week or so ago.
I am a youth worker with the Denotational Church. I make a salary as a garage attendant. I also am watchdogging for the Llama. This assignment and my work on The Printed World are part of my church apprenticeship. After it’s done, I hope to graduate to a staff journalist job, retaining an editorship on The Printed World. In the meantime, my position remains an uneasy one. The managers of the garage are not my choice for daily associates. In fact, I’ve been ignoring them as much as possible and neglecting my reports. The problem is that my subjects are very repetitive in their routines. I thought I had it down. I did, but yesterday I missed the variation I was assigned to record. Today I’m not going to miss anything. The Llama’s got to know…
Wayne broke off at this point and flipped to an earlier, less emotionally-charge page from his first week on the job. It read:
l. The lift is a red-painted box with a grille on the floor. It is mobilized by two metal cables wound on cylinders. Like a rook, it moves in either horizontal or vertical direction. It is, however, a one-man game; how many oblongs fit into a square. Spaces are drawn from one cubicle to another, indicating the maximum for the minimum car. They were drawn ontologically by a Japanese engineer. Making any car fit is a challenge.
2. The cars are driven inside the ruled box painted on the ground floor. The lift sends out searching rods which lock under the wheels, drawing the car by the belly into the lift. I mate the cars to the lift and levitate them to the pigeonholes, pushing the levers. It’s a pleasant ride, the earth recedes. I feel slightly ecstatic. The whole thing seems to me subtly sexual. It’s probably because I’m 21 and still peaking sexually. I hope to be happily ascetic by 36.
Wayne crossed out the last four lines as being personally indulgent in a factual report. Looking at the PROCEDURES more critically, he suddenly realized he had used them to escape the issue he should be examining. Once again, he had “lost purpose in process”, a common Denotational sin. For not the first time, Wayne appreciated the Llama’s wisdom in assigning him the “Helpful Hints” column. It was challenging to come up with simple, clear ideas and follow them through. The column was not profound, but there was wisdom in small, practical things–a sense of promise in a new way to clean a sink. With thoughts like these, Wayne felt new confidence in his ability to tackle problems. He flipped back to the half-page he had avoided, determined to confront the danger at the garage and his own ambiguous role in it.
It’s the kind of chill morning that makes your blood run cold. I decided to embrace it.
The river was choppy, the sky gray, business very calm. I looked across the roof at a new, single-dwelling apartment house, the Dauphine Arms. Fleurs de Lise are on a billboard. The construction process was interesting; death, birth, filler. The fly ridden, swampy lot became a shanty town of catwalks and scaffolding. Poured cement pueblos grew and were molded to octagons with tinted, slit windows. The process was spare and modern. It’s something I aspire to. I, Wayne Niebold, can complicate any task until it is an awesome project. My jobs are designed to tame that. The parking procedure in a pigeon-hole lot is very geometric. It takes a lot of precise notation, especially since my mind retains nothing but impressions…
Impatient, Wayne skimmed on. That afternoon he had been struggling with ways an old, peeling bathtub could be rejuvenated. The research had been technical. He cautioned against a mere cleanser and spray can approach, since the paint would gunk up in spots and peel off. He had composed the copy in, what he hoped would be, an amusing, zippy style:
If it’s time to re-enamel that unsightly bathtub, don’t take the easy way out! Why spray-can it when, with a little more effort and less money, you can do a better job. Sand it yourself using several grades of…
That was as far as he got. Wayne, displeased, saw the distraction in the next paragraph:
I am high in the lift here…visual stimuli make it hard to concentrate. Rooftops sprout water tanks high on stilts–orange girder constructs, triangular elevator shafts, rock gardens, skylights and chimneys. Pools of water from faulty drainage systems, vinyl bubble gardens seethe with vegetation.
Despite the drizzle, two men take turns lifting weights. One bends his leg at the knee, leaning forward onto his soles. His feet are spread masterfully. He grips the silver bar and hoists it onto his waist. His arms shake with a smooth swing over his head. He stands and faces his enthusiastically clapping friend. Before reversing the process, he pauses to rule the buildings, triumph on every muscle. The man’s white sweat socks, the silver pole–all the studied sensuality astound me. I wonder about sex in the city, its primal aim and current uses. Business seems a virile thing. Virility is big business. There was another note under a certain windshield today…
Wayne put a red asterisk in the margin of the next section. It contained a reason he had been neglecting his reports.
The car is a Citroen. The model is blandly beautiful, with an all-over tan, a well maintained perm, and a contorted soul. She said her name was Thursday, the day
I met her. She likes regularity in her sexual partners. The note is always the same: “5:00, IF YOU CAN. DOORMAN WAITING…THURSDAY”
She has long, fine bones and eyes a refractory blue. Her fingers are the only unselfconscious part of her. Thursday had been a landscape painter at an exclusive Seven Sisters school. She had loved, she said, to contemplate the structure of a line. She had transposed this into her professional life. She exercised the line of her leg. Instead of mixing paint for a flawless shade, she groomed her tan.
The last afternoon I’d seen her, she’d been haunted. When she took a drag of a thin cigarette, her lips half-rejected the filer. As she smoked, she’d stop at points, as if rooted by self- revelation:
“It’s odd being an object, know what I mean? Before I was a maker of an external object, now I’m in someone’s commercial. Clichés aside, I am well-conceived, but it’s strange, being the girl in the ad. I’ve got to get out of this business.”
I went to her like a healer. My hand admired the curve from shoulder to breast. Her eyes softened a little, ”You see, the money’s good and I don’t draw anymore … “
I traced her cheek, loving the color gradation. My kiss showed compassion for her commercial sacrifice. You see, Thursday was a perfectionist. I always understood the part of her body she was most displeased with. I made this my center, righting the wrong she had done herself. It was an odd affair. She was “schizzy”, I speculated (having never known a real schizophrenic) how a “wash” might dent her mindset. I mentioned the Denotational Church to her, but she let it pass. I did what I could…
Wayne realized that between Thursday and the bathtub, he hadn’t been paying too much attention to the managers of the garage, Ray and Zeke. Once a week, at eleven A.M., they went through a ritual so familiar to Wayne, he sometimes mouthed the words along with them, unseen from his perch in the lift.
ZEKE: I can’t help being a criminal. I’m a genetic throwback to my great-grandad who fished the gutters for his fortune to start-up dad’s garment business.
RAY: What about evolution? You’re third generation.
ZEKE: It’s way back before that. You can’t deny history. (kiss) What about the Pigeon Drop?
Wayne knew from reading their Profiles that this ritual grew out of perversely reciprocal needs. Ray grew up in foster homes which severely punished behavior more than passive. Zeke was raised amid too tolerant affluence. Since their reform, the ritual was a test of constancy. She would admonish him denotationally, “Actions bring consequences.” He would reply, “You take them for me,” reaffirming his freedom of choice. For some reason, that morning, Zeke had said, ”Damn the consequences.” Wayne, long bored with their routine, had been juggling their cars. He had also been noting his “life”, the mistake that was responsible for his failure of duty as a Church watchdog.
The day was slow. Most of the pigeonholes were empty, so precision was not so important. A Fiat drove in. I should have started at the bottom and placed it laterally. I didn’t feel like it and clamped, levitating into an upper right hand cubicle. The transaction was easy and gave me some time to enjoy the roof. The men were gone and Thursday had banished the bathtub from my thoughts. The Llama would, I knew, consider her a negative pattern. I didn’t even know her real name. The doorman let me in, and she, at first, always acted as if she didn’t know me. It was stupid. I looked down the street for some diversion…
The half page was unfinished. Wayne closed the book, remembering what had happened. He had seen Ray, carrying a Swiss Air bag, run out of the garage and frantically accost an elderly woman. Ray had linked her arm in the woman’s and walked her up the street out of Wayne’s view.
Was she the young lady from the ‘Pigeon Drop, Wayne wondered, or was the odd newswire story haunting his imagination? On paper it didn’t make sense – a nonobjective scam with an improvised closure- the form was perfect for Ray and Zeke. Still, he was an attendant at the garage. It was up to the Llama to jump to any conclusions. He was not supposed to compromise his watchdog role under any circumstances. He dismissed the incident until the next morning when Zeke teased Ray.
Bending his arms at the elbows, he flapped as if he were a bird — pursing his lips in a round ”C”-shaped coo. Then, he smashed the fist of one hand into the palm of the other. Ray, upset, left the office before their usual routine. Wayne’s rationalization didn’t help him accept the fact that he had not followed Ray and the woman up the street. In fact, he had no definite idea of what had happened.
Well, today would be different. He looked at his watch and realized it was close to eleven. Wayne took a last look out over the tranquil river when something metallic caught his sight. He went down a few levels in the lift.
It was the AG’s silver suit. “Extraterrestrial” crossed Wayne’s mind before he saw her face, fifty feet below. Wayne tried to think of an adjective besides “dazzling”, which wasn’t quite right. “Penetrating” implied an analytical element. “Wonder” combined with the others might be appropriate. She waved to Wayne, all excitement, indicating the pigeonhole lot.
Why, Wayne wondered, is she fascinated by the neatly aligned cars in this giant auto-mat — this child of the egg crate. Had she never seen one before? Or was this some kind of odd come-on?
Wayne levitated downward, answering a vibration on the cord of the lift. The girl’s face, growing nearer, was completely transfixed as if she were viewing the supreme triumph of an ancient civilization, Wayne thought, intrigued.
When Ray entered the lift, Wayne knew something had taken place. Opposing emotions made havoc of her simple features. She shrugged her lower back into a small arch, her arms floating buoyantly to her sides. Wayne recognized this gesture of female capitulation and worried. He had seen the same gesture for years in restaurants, cabs, on dance floors. After the lift hit the ground, he followed her to the ladies’ room signing: WHAT IS THE MATTER? Ray smiled and rumpled his hair, as if she thought he was asking a different question.
Through a small window, he watched her wash her face, brush ingénue bangs, apply a dash of lip gloss. She changed to a well-cut gray suit, and hauled a bulky leather bag onto her left shoulder. Stenciled on the side was Wayne’s confirmation of his suspicions: SWISS AIR in red and white.
The AG was in the same spot. Several dogs watched her watch the lot. Ray brushed past Wayne and headed straight for her target. Wayne was paralyzed by ambiguity. His desired role in the event was less than clear. He thought of a theory, which held that 3D images were stored in memory on 2D structures similar to holograms. Maybe the waking mind, like the sleeping mind, pulled accurate images from memory and placed them in unfamiliar contexts. Maybe cause and effect was nothing but an interesting category for understanding– the same way chronological order gave meaning to the reports he filed for the Llama. Otherwise, weren’t his notes mere images out of context?
Such abstract reasoning had little to do with decision-making. It only served to increase Wayne’s anxiety and put him in danger of ”fragmentation”. What, Wayne wondered, was a mere recorder for the Llama doing in a criminal activity? There was, he realized, a difference between the Llama’s and his own job description. He would have to satisfy both of them. The girl’s welfare and an accurate report were his responsibility.
Pulling his notebook from his jacket, Wayne wrote that the “Pigeon” wore a silver suit, purple suede boots, and a gold hairnet. No matter how Ray attempted to divert her attention, she remained glued to the parking lot.
Ray unzipped the Swiss Air Bag and showed the girl a pile of money. She wasn’t interested. Ray scooped a few bills, but the face that met hers was more than blank. Though, exactly what else, Wayne could not describe. From his viewpoint, under the garage, he could see two women in profile; two mouths shaping words. Ray’s small, pointed features were molded in urgency, “The money! I found the bag and there’s two thousand just on top! I’ve got to get back to my boss. Can I deposit the bag with you, while I get the police and call the office?”
“OH!” the girl said, rounding her word, but continuing to watch the lot.
“What is so fascinating about that parking lot!”
“It’s so many things,” said the girl, looking at Ray, who found herself avoiding eye contact.
“It might be a shoe rack for giants, housing units for an alien race…” the girl broke off, her gaze resting on Ray’s little finger.
Ray, involuntarily, hid her finger, “Do you think you could deposit the bag in your account for safekeeping and give me a thousand for it?”
“There isn’t a thousand in here,” said the girl, acting as if the bag were transparent.
“Maybe we could go to your apartment and count it exactly. I could call my boss, too.”
“But that’s far. I live on the Bowery,” the girl said.
Wayne thought she would leave then, but she didn’t. Illogically, she put her arm around Ray and suggested they call her boss from a payphone. He could meet them at the bank, so Ray would have protection taking the money to the police. Wayne shut his book. Some people have to be protected from themselves, he thought. He trailed the two women up the street, hoping to be hidden in the crowd of attentive dogs. Despite his commitment to the Llama to remain a spectator, he would protect the blonde girl if it were necessary. He would not be ineffectual.
Past the fifth booth, Wayne thought of all the different kinds of deficiencies. Because of his handicaps, authorities had placed him in slow classes in grade school. Later, when he had proven advanced for his age, he was placed in accelerated studies. The marginally retarded and the advanced, he discovered, had a sensibility in common. Both groups took a considerable amount of time to register the impact of an event.
The girl’s lack of comprehension must be the result of one group or the other. Brilliant or an idiot, she was choosy about her phone booths…
At the sixth booth, Ray stopped, saying she’d only be a few minutes. The girl nodded absently, scouring the high rises with the same absorbed look, which she had fixed on the pigeonhole lot. Wayne signed “hello” to Ray in front of the booth. Ray was bad at hand signals, but she made it very clear that Wayne was to go away. He loitered, unsure of how to approach the girl, but convinced it was necessary.
“If you want to make a call,” the girl said, “she’ll only be a few minutes.”
“What’s your name?”
“Is that a family name?”
“I guess you could say that.”
The phone rang. Ray talked nervously. Wayne watched the AG pet the dogs. She was very fair. Each one, in turn, received the same amount of affection. He tried to follow Ray’s lips behind the glass.
“Oh, Zeke, she’s really nice and not very smart. She lives on the Bowery and I don’t know about any cash on hand. She suggested her bank, so she must have something.”
Ray let the phone dangle and opened a crack. “My boss will hold the money, while the police search for the owner. Later, if they don’t find him, we split the sum. We go to your bank, first, deposit the bag, and get the thousand. What do you think?”
Wayne held up a paper: ARE YOU GOING TO BE MUCH LONGER?
Ray was hostile: FIND ANOTHER BOOTH!
I’LL WAIT AND TAKE THE CONSEQUENCES
Before Wayne could finish the message, the AG looked up from a black and white terrier. “Don’t make him wait for the phone. I don’t care about money. But, if you need an exchange, we can trade the bag at my bank.”
“1f you don’t mind my asking, do you have a savings account? “
“Yes, a small one. “
“Great!” Ray said, picking up the dangling receiver. “I’ll give you the bag for deposit and you can write me a check for the grand. After the bank counts the rest, you can let me know the balance. I’ll trust you.”
“I said we could deposit it, but there’s not that much in my account.”
“Are you kidding? What the hell do you do for a living?”
“I’m a go-go dancer and,” she blushed modestly, “I design clothes, but I don’t make much money on them.”
The dogs had lined up. Ray and Wayne watched with wonder, as the AG carefully removed minute glass chips from the first one’s paw.
”It doesn’t matter much, does it? The center of the bag is hollow, anyway. It’s just an empty shoebox with bills padded on the sides and top. There’s tickertape below that.”
“How do you know!”
“It’s not hard to focus your attention,” said the AG, examining the dog’s paw.
“What a fool I am!”
The AG kindly objected, “Not at all. You’re a decent person. You just have criminal tendencies.” She paused to wipe the dog’s paw with a tissue and some liquid from an alcoholic smelling bottle. “Your little finger is unusually small. In fact, it’s undersized by a quarter of an inch and curves around the ring finger to hide in the soft Apollo mound. You’re very easily influenced by love and beauty and, perhaps I shouldn’t say it…” The AG broke off, sensitively replacing the paw on the sidewalk.
“You’re very easily manipulated. It’s your thumb. It’s small and not at all firm. That’s your character. The clubbed end on the right one is an atavistic sign.”
“Not too evolved. You’re gifted at deceit. You’re not, I’m afraid, a poor girl who’s unexpectedly found a fortune,” said the AG politely.
“You’re from the Church,” Ray began defensively, “some sneaking test.”
Wayne signaled NO, fuelling Ray’s suspicions.
“She’s a friend of yours and you’re both from the Church, aren’t you?” Ray backed into the booth and picked up the dangling phone.
Wayne put his arms around the AG and turned her, pointing in the opposite direction of the booth, and mouthed the word RUN.
The AG ignored his instruction and began to treat the next dog in line. Ray opened the door of the booth and mouthed the word TRAITOR to Wayne.
“I guess all this is a terrible experience for you,” the AG said to Ray.
“Here, take the bag,” Ray said. “I don’t think you want to meet my boss. “
Ray had come to her conscience! Wayne felt very relieved. The AG seemed mildly confused.
“Your boss? Oh, yes, you mean the man in the glass office above the parking lot. He’s assembling a rifle. It’s got a long lens. He’s enjoying himself. I guess he hasn’t done this for a long time.”
“My God!” Ray said. “Get out of here, please!”
The AG, unconcerned, separated a painful burr from a mutt’s belly.
“But, I’m in it,” she said gently. “I can’t disconnect from the flow of events.”
While the AG checked the hindquarters of a Doberman, Wayne and Ray exchanged helpless looks. They had become allies.
“Don’t you know this is a dangerous situation?” Ray asked the girl.
Wayne wrote WE WILL RUN TO THE CORNER MISS AG.
Ray, the bag on her arm, sped off into the distance, thinking the girl would follow. The AG held a finger in the air before the crowd of infatuated dogs. She turned it thumbs down on the sidewalk. The dogs retreated across the street, not crossing the spot she had marked.
Wayne found the girl’s death wish hard to believe. She didn’t seem a martyr, yet she knowingly chanced her confused captors. Not cold killers, they were nonetheless lethal. Maybe she believed some “good”, some tangible will, would assert itself. Random response, he wanted to say, is often another form of evil. He had no time to sign the debate. The AG waved at the exact spot, where the window of the office would be. It was as if she knew the black pinpoint of the rifle was trained on her. The lens might have been her eyes.
High up in the office of the parking lot, Zeke was out of control.
Rehabilitation had not muted the violence of his fear of discovery. Wayne was a watchdog, but his report could be argued. If the AG lived, the Llama would know all. Zeke pulled his finger back, but…at that moment…he was inconveniently flooded with a memory of the coral mouth and round eyes of a cardboard Christmas angel he had once received as a “Secret Santa” present in grade school. He fell in love again with the angel in the AG’s face — understanding, forgiving. The Denotational homi1y: LOOK TO YOUR IMPULSES. IF EVERYTHING SAYS YES, DO IT. IF NOT, DON’T. COROLLARY– YOU DO KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING came to Zeke’s cloudy mind. The AG had tentatively fine hair. Zeke didn’t want to touch it, but he was afraid of prison, of losing the garage, of losing Ray, of losing…
A second before the shot, Wayne embraced the AG in a flying leap. The AG skinned her cheek on the cement. The bullet ricocheted off two bulletproof windows in the new apartments across the street, lodging in a third of cheaper glass. The AG emerged from under Wayne. She stood, brushing off her suit. Wayne pulled her down, too stunned to sign, but not to write: YOU’RE A BIT ODD. STAY DOWN UNTIL WE KNOW THERE’S NO MORE SHOTS.
The AG got up again, fearlessly smiling at the man in the pigeonhole lot.
Wayne tensed for another shot. It didn’t come. Ray must, he reasoned, have gotten to Zeke by now. A light rain sounded. The AG tilted her face up, seeming to enjoy the feel of it. Wayne handed her his pad. DO ME A FAVOR. WHEN YOU LEAVE, DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS. NO MATTER WHAT THE LINE.
The AG smiled, shaping her words so that Wayne could see with little trouble.
“Thank you for saving my life. I’ll try to return the favor sometime. If you see your friend, tell her there’s a quick-change item I sew for people in her profession. If she’s interested, she can find me walking on the Bowery most mornings.”
Wayne, awed by her zany equilibrium, watched the AG cross the street to her dogs. He penned his last note for the garage owners:
I’M FROM THE CHURCH. THIS INCIDENT WILL BE FEATURED IN MY REPORT TO THE LLAMA. THIS IS MY LAST DAY AS ATTENDENT. FOR ANY NECESSARY COMMUNICATION, YOU CAN REACH ME AT THE PRINTED WORLD.
Wayne knew the message would not be news. He left the sidewalk, furious he hadn’t found a way to head off the incident. If he hadn’t been so preoccupied with Thursday, so bored with the garage work- -he might have discovered the scam earlier.
Back on the lift, prepared to confront Zeke and Ray, Wayne looked on the city below him. With some astonishment, he noticed the “miracle” making her way with her dogs. She looked up at the garage, toward him, (he was positive) for one long moment. Then, she divided her crowd of dogs into four groups – gesturing north, south, east, west. The dogs dispersed and she made her way, solitary, down the East River Drive.
Wayne was left with innumerable questions. Who was she? Why had she so willingly accepted her role in the incident? Were they bound together in some inexplicable way? Had the Llama some knowledge of her and the scam? He would like to clarify the issues. The Pigeon Drop was, he realized, a scam which depended on coincidence. It was unpredictable, since it lacked logic. He, Wayne Niebold, had done the best he could.
Intoxicated with this idea, Wayne made a note to confirm it denotationally, if impossible.
In the meantime, he looked at the world around him with open eyes. The rain had stopped. The sun was setting. Along with the rainbow, it seemed a double bonus. He felt, pleasantly, not a shadow of a fear.