The young couple left The Avenue B Social Club and looked for a place to duck into to get to know each other a little better. When youíre young, drunk and convinced youíre in love with the person you just met, any back alley will do for a romantic tryst. Between gropes and heated kisses they stumbled into the alley behind Jane's Exchange. The short haired blonde couldn't believe her luck. This girl was hot by any standards. The ladies always got cuter in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol she had consumed, but this one was pure smoke after only one beer. An outside observer might take note of the fact that the two women looked like they could be sisters. Of course, theyíd have to admit that they currently werenít acting very sisterly. The long haired blonde already had the shirt of her companion wide open and was making fast work of removing her bra. Just as she was about to attach her suddenly starving mouth to her new love's mouthwatering nipple, she felt the muscles under her seeking hands completely tense up. She heard a sharp gasp and the short haired blonde turned so stiff that she could pass for a statue in the park.
Shit, here we go again. Why do I always pick up women with sexual hang-ups?That was the long haired beautyís last thought before her world went permanently dark.
The Village/East Village
The offending noise was stopped fast by the hand that shot out from under the covers to smack the snooze bar, mumbling and cursing coming from the still sleeping form.
The alarm sounded again and the previous actions to stifle it were repeated and minutes later, repeated again. This little dance went on for the better part of an hour before the body under the covers started to come to life.
"I hate mornings." These words were spoken by that body each day about this time. Some people wake up to thank the powers that be for a new day. Nancy Zoccoli had always viewed mornings as a curse that interrupted her avoidance of reality by hiding behind the curtain of sleep
One final time the alarm went off. With eyes still shut, she made the fatal mistake of trying to do two things at once, sitting up and reaching for the alarm clock. She took a swing at it, and her arm caught the side of the glass of water on the nightstand. The misaimed swipe sent the half filled glass flying right onto her chest before it tumbled wetly into her lap.
"Great. Just great," she mumbled into her hands. After returning the empty glass to the nightstand, she flung her legs over the side of the bed and attempted to get up. Still groggy, she vigorously rubbed her hands through her black hair as if she was trying to shake her brain loose from its fittings. She reluctantly stood up and stumbled her way towards the bathroom to get out of the sopping t-shirt she'd slept in and start her morning ritual.
"AAHH!!" Taking her first step, she promptly stubbed her big toe on the pile of books left on the floor near the bed, the result of her bad habit of falling asleep while reading. After hopping around on one foot and letting loose a stream of colorful obscenities, Nancy glared down to see just what was going to have to die so early in the day. Even in her sleepy and pain-addled state, she allowed a chuckle to escape when she glanced down and recognized the culprit.
It was a nude picture of Frieda-Fred.
The blue eyes that had nearly turned black with anger softened. "Morning, Frieda. Morning, Fred," she greeted to first one and then the other side of the photo. Frieda-Fred was one of the stars in the movie 'Freaks'. She/He was billed as a hermaphrodite. The person had one fully developed breast and one undeveloped one. The arm on the side of her/his body with the undeveloped breast had a very pronounced bicep while the other was quite feminine in appearance. But the real cause of Nancy's throbbing toe was the stack of books under the revealing shot of Frieda-Fred. The books were all on human oddities.
She closed the book on top and grumbled to the empty apartment, "Imagine if I died in my sleep, the rumors that would start because of my bedtime reading. " She chuckled. "I can hear 'em now," she whispered, lowering her voice to imitate Randy, her aptly named neighbor across the hall, "You know, I always thought that lesbians were perverts and look, here's proof! She got off on this stuff!" She switched voices, attempting an imitation of Silvio, her Italian friend. "Justa look ata dis. She's a got three boobs! Do you think dis is wat she liked ina women?"
Nancy shook her head and laughed out loud, not the least concerned that she'd just had a pretty weird conversation with herself. Finally heading towards the shower, the photographer quickly detoured to unlock the front door. Her friend Ernie was coming by to take her to their morning meeting.
Ernie was a living, breathing, flesh and blood human oddity. His constant obsession was cooking up different money making schemes and it consumed nearly all his waking thoughts. Some weren't half bad, but they always required his best friend to work her ass off while Ernie did little more than schmooze their way into places.
His latest scheme, merchandising human freaks and oddities, had actually paid off pretty well. This was the partial explanation for the bedside books. It was research material for the greeting card line they were starting. Partial proceeds from those sales were going to go to the original sideshow freaks. This subculture of people became unemployed when a suddenly socially aware America found it distasteful to profit from other people's physical misfortunes. The real problem was that many of these people were simply not suited to work in a world that demanded uniformity in appearance. So those caring people who thought they were doing them a favor were actually creating a terrible financial problem for them.
Ernie often heard about this dilemma and thatís when he decided to start this latest business venture in order to help them out. He and Nancy were merchandising the freaks' likenesses through calendars, and greeting and post cards. People came to New York City expecting the unusual anyway, so they saw nothing wrong with making a buck or two off of othersí blatant curiosity. With Nancyís artful photography skills and Ernieís quick wit, the cards were truly funny, in an 'I canít believe they wrote that!' kind of way.
Getting access to photograph these people was surprisingly easy for the enterprising duo. It probably helped that Ernie was himself a midgetÖ a dwarfÖ or to use the PC terms, a Little Person. He was also Nancy's oldest and dearest friend. He stood 3 foot ten and 3/4 inches to her two inches short of six feet. He never forgot that three quarters of an inch when asked his height. It was kind of like asking a pre-teen their age and having them respond in increments. 9 and a half. Ernie had worked hard for that extra near-inch, and he wasn't about to forget about it.
Nancy and Ernie were quite the contrast in appearance and temperament but equally empowered partners in business. When she was indifferent, he was emotional. If she was abrupt and blunt, he balanced that with gracious politeness. As friends, they complimented each other very well. She guarded her emotions and he was openly demonstrative. They were also both gay, which immediately eliminated the awkward elements that sometimes develop between friends who work together.
Nancy tossed her wet shirt and still bemoaning her sore toe, she entered the shower. Unfortunately, the hot soothing water had the opposite affect of what she needed to do. It started to lull her back to sleep again. She stood there with her chin nodding on her chest until she nearly fell asleep standing up. She shook herself and tried, without success, to work the shampoo into a lather. After a minute or so she realized that she'd put conditioner in her hair instead of shampoo. "God damnit," she cursed to the shower head, "please do not let how this morning started mean this is how the rest of my day is gonna go."
"Bess!! Bess!!" Georgia yelled at the bathroom door. "Hurry up in there or you're going to be late!"
The door yelled back at her in a feminine voice. "Get off my back, George! There are some things you just can't rush!"
"Fine!" Georgia threw up her hands in exasperation. "Donít you dare cry to me when you don't get this job because you were putzing around! I know we did a test run on this yesterday and we got there in twenty minutes. That was before I heard the President was in the City. You haven't lived here long enough to know what that does to the traffic. You can't take a cab now or you'll be sitting in traffic until halfway into tomorrow! You're going to have to take the subway and it'll take you a little longer because you're going to need to walk part of the way."
The bemused redhead ensconced behind the door rolled her eyes. This was at least the third time she'd heard the horrors of a Presidential visit and the way it screwed up the traffic in the city. She tilted her head ceiling-ward and asked beseechingly in a soft prayer, "Merciful God, please give me the strength to keep from killing her today."
"Bess? Bess? Are you even listening to me?" Georgia pounded on the closed door, trying to get an answer.
Bess whipped the door open, and took the towel she was using to dry her hands and shoved it in her sisterís face. "Was I listening? I didn't really have much of a choice, did I? I was sort of a captive audience." She glared at her sister, who wasn't intimidated in the least. " You know when I'm on the throne I like a little privacy. IF you don't mind."
"Yeah, yeah, and you can't pee around
other people. I forgot about you and your shy bladder," Georgia mocked.
Bess made her way to the closet to choose an appropriate outfit for the job interview. But she called over her shoulder, "You know, George, I think you're more nervous than I am about this job interview."
Georgia followed her into the bedroom. "I am NOT nervous! Why does everyone always accuse me of being nervous? Iím eager - thereís a difference! Besides, Iíd like to be able to give Dad good news -for once - when he calls."
This vehement denial brought a giggle to Bess' throat. "Hey, I figure every day that goes by without one of us calling home to announce weíve identified the other's body is good news."
"Cute. Very cute, Bess. You know that Daddy is just waiting for you to screw up so he can say 'I told you so'. Iím just trying to stop that from happening," Georgia explained> She was simultaneously shooting down the clothes that Bess held up to her with questioning glances. After several rejections, the sisters finally agreed on a white silk button down blouse and a short but not overly short black skirt.
"You can borrow my 'fuck me' pumps," Georgia generously offered while holding up her black stiletto heels.
Bess frowned. "Not if I need to walk or maintain an ounce of dignity. Thank you anyway."
"Just trying to help," her sister replied with a hurt shrug.
"Listen, George. Help me if I need a kidney. Or better yet, help me if I need to explain my life to Daddy. Otherwise, you might want to look into helping yourself -- or should I say, protecting yourself every now and then," Bess chided as she held up the empty home pregnancy test box that she'd found lying next to the trashcan by the closet.
Georgia scowled, snatching the box out of her smug sisterís hand. "It was stupid. I know that. A one time thing. Thankfully, it was negative. So lay off, Sis." She paused a moment, trying to regain the upper hand. " At least Iím getting laid, Ms. Goody-goody."
Bess stared at her a moment, trying to figure out how to reply to that.
"Iím so far from being a prude and you goddamn well know it. Itís just a little scary here in the Big City. STDís are not my idea of a good time. At home I could pretty much trace the genealogy of my lovers. Here, who knows? Hey, Iíve been to the bars on theme nights." She shook her head, and followed that up with a frustrated sigh. "Talk about wild. It wouldnít seem too out of the ordinary to think some of these women had slept with the horses near Central Park!"
"No, youíre wrong," Georgia said with a smirk, "only the men in New York sleep with horses. Itís a law actually. Bloomberg figures itís New Yorkís answer to population control."
"Funny, oh, so funny George," Bess replied without a trace of humor. "Maybe instead of a proof reader you should be a stand up comic. Youíre not funny at all -- but, hey, that could be your bit." Bess took on the voice of a typical nightclub announcer. "Ladies and Gentlemen, directly from Cadillac Memorial Gardens, where the audience is every bit as dead as her act, please welcome ... George! Sheís really a funny girl - in her own mind."
Georgia stalked off in an ill-humored huff, and left Bess to get dressed in blessed silence. While fussing with her outfit, Bess reflected on the events that had brought her here to live with her sister a mere month ago. The girls were raised in a small farming community in Beemerville, New Jersey, just a two hour train ride from New York City. Their family had often taken day trips by train into the city to attend plays and enjoy a cultured dinner and the sisters had always romanticized about living here someday. Georgia beat Bess to the punch by attending Columbia, majoring in English. Bess' original plans to follow her were thwarted when she fell in love and remained in Beemerville.
The eventual demise of her relationship left her wondering why she stayed behind while her sister was living out their shared dream. So, jobless and penniless, she appeared on her sisterís doorstep ready to pursue her delayed fantasy of a life in New York. One small problem was that she was no longer sure what her dreams were. She only knew she didnít want to live in Beemerville anymore. So, here she was, shamelessly leeching off her big sister and heading out for an interview for a job she was pretty sure she didn't even want. Being a hostess at Harbor Lights in South Street Seaport wasnít exactly her preferred vocation. The restaurant did have a beautiful view of the Brooklyn Bridge, but it was often overrun with tourists. Tourist spots ultimately meant an abundance of Mimes, and South Street Seaport was no exception to that god awful rule.
Bess snickered as she buttoned up her shirt, and examined her appearance in the mirror behind the door. I am not a fan of Mimes. For some reason whenever she saw one she would laugh almost by reflex. This was a huge step up from her childhood reaction to them. They scared her out of her wits for no logical reason. Even the benign mime duo of Shields and Yarnell, making a guest appearance on The Mike Douglas Show or Dinah, would sometimes send her to sleep with disturbing nightmares. These stopped when she saw her first real live Mime in the city and she realized just how silly they were. Why donít they speak? What is their fascination with stairs? Does the white makeup itch in the summer? These were all questions that inexplicably haunted Bess, and she pondered them even as she left the apartment for her appointment with destiny.
Nancy exited the shower and was greeted by the smell of cigarette smoke. That could only mean that Ernie had arrived.
"You shouldnít smoke, it'll stunt your growth," she punned to her diminutive friend, who was currently sitting on her couch reading the newspaper that he must have lifted from her neighbor Randyís doorstep.
"Oh, Hardee har har, telling short jokes to a little person. My, arenít you the clever one?"
Then he made the mistake of looking up from the paper to address his friend, just as he inhaled on the cigarette.
Nancy was standing there looking down at him in all her naked glory. One look at the statuesque beauty in front of him, and he began to choke. Now, just because he was religiously attracted to men, it didn't mean he couldnít appreciate raw beauty when he saw it. And boy, was he seeing a lot of it.
"For Christís sake, Nancy, put some friggin clothes on, would you!" Ernie choked out between racking hacks.
Nancy came up to helpfully pat him on the back which gave Ernie an unencumbered view of what even the closest of friends shouldnít see. Gynecologists, yes. Friends, no.
"Relax Ernie, I havenít got anything that you want," Nancy glibly advised her friend, whose coloring was faintly resembling that of an Oompa Loompa.
"You havenít got anything I want to see, either, Goliath," Ernie reminded, his hoarse voice closing back in on normality.
"Fine, see if I ever come to your rescue again, buddy boy," Nancy warned over her shoulder as she headed to the bedroom to dress. "Hey Ernie," she called back to him. He looked up just in time to see her shimmy her ass at him. Heh heh heh, she grinned as she watched him rush to cover his eyes.
He wandered into the kitchen. "How in the hell do you live like this?" Ernie wondered aloud as he stuck his head in the fridge.
Nancy sauntered in, ready to conquer the world, dressed in her usual outfit of fitted black jeans and a solid color t-shirt. She stood behind him, and wondered what he'd been whining about. The fridge certainly held all the essentials she required. As a New Yorker, she viewed the refrigerator as one big condiment holder and a cooler for her beer and wine. The current residents of the fridge were spicy mustard, soy sauce, French dressing, cream cheese and the ever present box of Franzia Sunset Blush.
She scolded him, "Youíre just complaining because there isnít anything you can mooch off me. Which reminds me, when you return Randyís newspaper, make sure you fold it right this time. Last time you borrowed it, I had to listen to him go on and on about how he was going to use you for midget bowling if you didnít refold it properly."
Ernie gave her an indignant look and decided to take his reaction to Randyís insensitive remark out on Nancy. Pointing to the box of wine he demanded, "How can you drink this shit? Itís no better than Boones Farm! Youíve got the refined taste of an adolescent."
Nancy refused to rise to the bait. She knew that Randyís crude words had pissed Ernie off. He normally wouldn't let midget jokes get to him and when he was in the right mood he would even have a witty retort. The comment from Randy hurt because Ernie had a crush on the sometimes dense, but studly NYC police officer.
"Come on, let's get something to eat
before we head to Coney Island," Nancy said impatiently as she checked
to make sure the paper was folded sharply when she returned it to the floor
in front of her neighborís door. "Who am I scheduled to photograph today?"
Ernie checked his memory as they headed down the stairs and onto the street. "Serpentina, the contortionist and snake charmer."
"Ooh!" Nancy cheered while rubbing her hands together and forming an evil grin, "I love a multi-talented woman!"
This Odd Couple strolled to the Wiener Cart that was parked just outside Nancyís apartment building. She nodded a hello to Jauan and waited patiently for him to prepare her breakfast.
"The usual, Nancy?" Jauan needlessly questioned.
"You know it," Nancy filched the proper amount of napkins and a straw to make ready for her feast.
Ernie grabbed her hand. "Why in the hell are your nails so dirty?"
Nancy had to stop a moment and think about it. "I was having trouble sleeping last night, so I polished my boots. I must have got some of the polish under my nails," she replied defensively as she pulled her hand back. Why didn't that come off in the shower?
Jauan set her dogs and soda on the top of the cart, and Nancy handed over her money, suddenly self?conscious of her dirty fingernails. Day starts out bad, stays bad.
"Iíll never know how in the hell you can eat this garbage first thing in the morning," Ernie complained. He made a face that looked like he was trying to keep his breakfast down.
"Not really different than eating sausage with your eggs, in my humble opinion." She eyed the loaded chili dogs to make sure they were up to her usual high low standards. Jauan never failed her; they were perfect. Sauerkraut, onions, chili and spicy mustard. Condiment whore heaven. Nancy termed this mixture as the 'wake up call' for her stomach. Jauan sold bagels and coffee out of the cart in the mornings, and gourmet dogs in the afternoon. But he always had two dogs at the ready at any time for the apparently iron-lined stomach housed in his most devoted customer.
While she happily took the first big bite, Ernie filled her in on the many varied talents of 'Serpentina'.
Nancy stopped listening to his chatter right after he mentioned the word 'contortionist'. The seemingly endless possible sexual positions associated with that word were flashing through her head, making it impossible for her to concentrate on anything else he was saying.
The Detective returned to his car on Avenue A to face a questioning uniformed officer.
"Same MO?" The beat cop asked.
"Unfortunately, yeah." He had to gulp down some bile before he continued with his description. "These two were sewn together like they were Siamese twins. The sick fuck has some kind of weird fascination with freaks. The IDs on these two says they were about the same age - thatís the only thing that would keep me from believing that they were sisters. Practically twins. I guess our mystery sicko agreed but decided to take it a step further," Detective Friedman said as he finished off his now lukewarm, bitter coffee to clear the bad taste out of his mouth.
Friedman was a good and capable Detective. A 'straight up kinda guy' is how the other police officers would describe him. Now he felt like he was in a badly written TV cop show. He wanted to retire in a year and he was heading out to pasture with a pristine record. Then, in March, the so-called Freak Murders began. The press leaked the story two months ago and now that it was July, rarely a day went by that the murders werenít mentioned in the news. Five victims so far, and each one was intentionally mutilated and posed to resemble a carnival sideshow freak of days gone by.
The current string of murders had spurred the Detective into obtaining a self-taught education on the subculture of a people he had rarely felt a need to give a second thought. The present day Freak shows tended to feature people who had self mutilated or altered their bodies in some strange way. Sometimes they were simply people with unusual talents. Sword swallowing, fire breathing, walking on broken glass or sleeping on nails. Untreated rare skin diseases got you the job of Lizard Woman or Alligator Boy The Freaks of yesteryear were more often people with rare medical conditions. Improvements in modern medicine made it possible for people born with an extra limb to have it removed. Sixty years ago it guaranteed you a job in the sideshow..
The murderer seemed to be well versed in the more infamous of freaks of the past, and the grisly results exhibited his attention to detail. The first victimís limbs were removed so she resembled Violette, the limbless Human Torso, who'd worked at the Dreamland Circus in the 1920ís. DNA results proved that it was one of the first victim's missing severed legs that had been attached to the second corpse they found. This second unfortunate person was made to resemble Frank Lentini, who was considered by many to be the undisputed King of Freaks. He'd worked for Ringling Brothers until he started his own side show. Like the real Frank, the victim was presented with three legs. Some unwittingly lucky soul had been spared an atrocity, given the fact that the murderer did not complete the whole of Frank's unfortunate reality. The real Frank also possessed two penises. The victim only had one.
However, when victim #2 was examined, it was found that all of his hair had been carefully removed, which then showed up on body #3. The hair from #2 was attached to the face of #3 so he resembled Jojo 'The Dogged Faced Boy'.
Next up was a grotesquely twisted neck ala Martin Laurillo. Martin's claim to fame was his ability to turn his head completely around to face the rear. He amazed the crowds at the 1940 New York Worldís Fair.
The most recent young female couple found behind the bar were sewn together -- certainly emulating Mary and Arrita, the Mexico City Siamese twins. The brazen killer had even taken the time to complete an even more accurate portrayal of these Latino sisters. The blonde victims were found as brunettes.
Friedman did not get all of these freak facts simply because he was a good detective and thorough researcher. The killer always left a taunting original photograph and a brief biography of the freak being immortalized. Looking at the circa 1924 photo of Mary and Arrita, Friedman cursed, using his mother's favorite expression: Kish meyn tokhes you mamzer. Iím gonna catch you.
Bess already hated riding the subways, even with only living in the city for a scant short month. They always made her feel like she needed a scalding shower afterward. It seemed that no matter where she placed her hand, it was sticky.
She thought briefly that she should forgo the job interview at Harbor Lights and call her father to announce that she was going into business for herself. She fantasized how that conversation would go. Hello Daddy. Itís Bess. Listen, Iíve decided that being a restaurant hostess is not what I want to do. Iím going to sell Wet-Naps to the subway travelers.
Ha, she thought, he'd never recover. Hell, heís still trying to get over the fact that Katherine was never just my roommate. Five years into the relationship and her father was clueless to what was patently obvious to everybody else with an open eye to see with. Finally Bess couldn't take his denseness one minute more and explained in very clear terms just what kind of women she and Katherine were. Four years later and it had never been mentioned again.
Lost in thought, Bess idly looked up from her seat when the train stopped at the Broadway/Lafayette station. She was struck with a vision that she had rarely ever seen equaled, most certainly not in person... That's the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen. Ever. Completely enraptured, she blatantly stared at the magnificent creature who boarded the train while eating...A hot dog!! Sheís eating a hot dog at 10:30 in the morning. Thatís sick!! Sitting in the last seat on the train, Bess watched in utter fascination as the tall woman strolled in with her short-statured friend.
"Ernie," Nancy mumbled between chews, her eyes looking down at her smaller, overloaded friend, "Hold my soda until the train takes off."
He gestured down with his chin. "How many hands do you think I have?" His arms were fully laden with Nancy's camera equipment.
"Please, just put the cameras down. You know I canít balance myself when they start up. If I donít catch a hold of the bar, Iím going to spill my soda when we start moving."
Ernie looked at her full hands and caved. "Fine," was all he got out, as he bent to set the camera bags down.
Too late. The train started with an abrupt jerk. True to her earlier prediction, Nancy lost her precarious balance and fell forward at the same time Ernie bent down. This motion sent her tripping over him, heading straight down to the trainís floor. The immediate impact against Ernie's solid body not only cushioned her fall but loosened her grip on both her soda and her loaded hot dog, and they went flying. Swearing in frustration, she heard and then saw where her soda can went. The can rolled across the car and appeared to be waiting for someone to open the emergency exit so it could escape.
The all-important hot dog was nowhere in sight. Still on her hands and knees bent over a complaining, flattened Ernie, Nancy prioritized her needs and looked around a bit for the missing dog. She was momentarily distracted at just how sticky the floor felt.
Satisfied that the loaded dog had not ended up down at that lower level, she raised up to her knees and continued her search, leaving Ernie to fend for himself. Instead of the elusive dog, her eyes halted and fixed upon the most sensational woman she'd ever seen.
She glanced briefly at her face, and then her eyes immediately tracked downwards. There, nestled cozily on the woman's black skirted lap was her precious hot dog, still snug in its bun. Well, almost all of it was. The rest of it, the really vital condiment parts, were dripping lazily down the center of the woman's white blouse. Nancy stared at the rise and fall of those delicious looking toppings much longer than necessary. She thought fleetingly about asking if she could continue to eat her hot dog from its current different positions on the woman's anatomy. The thought lasted only as long as it took Nancyís eyes to feast hungrily upwards from the woman's lap, to her cleavage and on to her ...
Uh oh!! That is NOT a happy face.Nancy vaguely noted the redhead's widened eyes were of a rather military green hue, which was perfectly appropriate considering the way those eyes were currently shooting bullets in her direction.
Nancy shuddered and opted for complete and utter surrender.
"Iím Nancy, and this is Ernie. Would
you care to join us and go to Coney Island to meet some freaks?"
Continued in Chapter Two