"Where the hell have you been?" Georgia was at the door the minute Bess opened it. "You were supposed to call me after the interview. I waited all day and I never heard from you. Then I come home at 5 and youíre still not here? Itís almost 6 now and youíre just strolling in. Your interview was at 11. Why didnít you call?"
Bess couldnít help the smile that came to her face as she recalled the day she spent with Nancy and Ernie. "I went to Coney Island." She handed her sister a shot glass with a bare ass on it that read 'Bottoms Up from Coney Island'. "Here, I got you a souvenir."
Georgia stared at the shot glass and then her sister with addled confusion, suddenly noticing her change in wardrobe. "Where did you get those clothes?"
"Nancy bought them for me after she dumped a hot dog on me on the subway." Bess said vaguely as she rummaged around in the fridge. "Do we have any bottled water in here?"
Georgia hipped her aside and reached in the back to pull out a bottle. She went to hand it to her sister but pulled it back, "How did the interview go?" She decided to find out about the job first. The mysterious Nancy and the trip to Coney Island could wait until she got an answer.
Bess grabbed for the bottle, but Georgia pulled it out of her reach again. "I didnít quite make it to the interview."
Bess lunged forward and finally snatched the bottle out of her sisterís hand. "I said, I didnít make it to the interview." Bess opened the bottle and took a long swallow.She eyed her sister with impatience."Iím in New York City, dammit. I want a job that I canít get in Beemerville. If I wanted to be a hostess I could work at Stubbyís Diner on Route 519."
Georgia nabbed the bottle out of Bessí hand, spilling the water down her sister's chest. "Hey!" Bess protested.
Georgia was frustrated to the point of wanting to choke her baby sister. She ground her next sentence out through clenched teeth. "Bess, would you mind telling me what in God's name happened today?"
"Fine, jeez, calm down. Youíre gonna have a stroke." Bess snatched rightful possession of the bottle one final time. She tried to explain it matter-of-factly, as if this sort of thing happened to her every day. "I was on the subway heading to the interview when ... Nancy got on. She lost her balance and her hot dog landed all over me. The toppings ruined my clothes, so I couldnít go to the interview."
Georgia's eyes narrowed, but she didn't interrupt.
Bess continued, warming to the story. "She nicely offered to buy me new clothes if I went with her and her friend Ernie to Coney Island. She bought me these clothes and after she finished photographing Freaks at Sideshows by the Seashore, we spent the day at Astroland riding the rides." She stopped, and giggled. "Well, most of them. Ernie was too short to ride on some of them because you have to be at least 52 inches tall and he was not happy about that at all." Positive that she'd cleared things up, she ducked by her glowering sister and sat down on the couch, taking another drink from the bottle.
Georgia was trying to muster up the smallest amount of patience with her sister, and fell far short of the mark. She tried to act as though what her sister had just said was perfectly understandable. She attempted to process everything Bess had said and then after taking a calming breath, asked, "Ernie was too short for some of the rides? Is he Nancyís son?"
"No," Bess snorted as she laughed at the thought of that ridiculous notion. "Ernie's a midget."
Georgia looked at this alien being plopped on her living room couch and wondered how a complete stranger could look so much like her little sister.
Bess dug around in her Beachcomber's shopping bag and then she declared happily, "Oh ... I almost forgot! Look, I got a snow globe!" She shook it and waved it in triumph just as she had with every snow globe she'd gotten from childhood on.
Georgia stared, and shook her head.
not an alien, this is Bess all right. Aliens have better taste.
Nancy was slowly strolling up 2nd Street, heading back to her apartment. Her mind was hazily replaying the afternoonís events. God, I canít remember the last time Iíve had that much fun. I havenít actually ridden the rides at Coney Island in years. She snorted, remembering the strangled sounding noises that Bess made right before she let out a scream on 'The Cyclone'. It sounded like she was trying to swallow her scream rather than let it out. The more Nancy thought about it, the more she was convinced it was the sexiest noise she'd ever heard. She'd liked it so much she made Bess ride the rollercoaster three times just so she could hear her do it again. That and she throroughly enjoyed the way Bess would desperately grab her arm every time the car took a sharp turn.
Bess had shyly given Nancy her phone number when they parted. Nancy promised to call her to make plans to get together the following day after the photographs were developed. Since Ernie was going to be busy with his volunteer work for the Special Olympics for the next few days, she had the rest of the week free. She was hoping she could turn the viewing of the pictures into a date. A date, thatís what I want, an honest to God date. A date with a woman I havenít picked up in a bar. I wonder if sheís even interested in me that way. Iíd like to have her as a friend, either way. Christ. A friend, I havenít made a real friend since Ernie, and that was what? eighteen years ago?
She was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didnít notice the man sitting on the stoop at the entrance to her apartment, with a half eaten loaf of Italian bread in his lap and crumbs dotting his tie and shirtfront.
"Miss Zoccoli!" Friedman called out to her just as she reached the door. He stood up, and hastily wiped off his shirt, watching the crumbs land on his scuffed wingtips.
Nancy was preoccupied with thoughts of Bess, and certainly not used to any one calling her Miss Zoccoli, so it didnít register that the man was calling her. She started to pull open the door when she heard it again.
"Miss Nancy Zoccoli?" the detective said a little more urgently.
Nancy finally caught on to the fact that he was talking to her. She turned back and gazed blankly at the Detective without answering.
Friedman tried one more time. "Youíre Nancy Zoccoli, arenít you?"
She struggled out of her daydreaming daze and looked him over, not recognizing him. "Yeah, thatís me. Who wants to know?"
"Iím Detective Friedman with the 9th Precinct." He held out his shield as she leaned in to take a closer look. "I wonder if you wouldnít mind taking a walk with me over to the station and answering a few questions?" The tone of his voice was polite, but didn't invite refusals.
Nancy studied his appearance with an experienced photographer's eye. He doesnít really think heís fooling anybody with that comb-over does he? Youíre bald, give in to it, embrace it. Donít part your hair at your ear. You look like Sam Donaldson. Then the artist in her withdrew and her rational mind took over, if just for a moment. Did he just ask me to come down to the station? Isnít that something they do on cop shows? "Excuse me, Detective, but what's this all about?" she managed as she realized what he was asking of her.
"Iíll explain it all at the station." He switched the remains of Silvio's excellent bread to his other arm, gently grasped her elbow and started to turn her toward the street. "Now, if you wouldnít mind."
Nancy was too stunned to protest so
she let him lead her away.
The sisters sat on the floor in front of the coffee table, every square inch of it covered with Chinese take-out. They were eating out of the open containers with chop sticks, wordlessly trading off the cartons to each other with familiar precision.
Finally, Georgia decided to take a break from the pork fried rice and ferret out the details of her sister's peculiar morning and afternoon. "So tell me about your new friends."
Bess was busily concentrating on her Moo Goo Gai Pan and didn't appreciate the interruption. "What do you want to know?" she said with her mouth full.
"Will you be seeing them again?" Georgia queried lightly as she speared the last baby corn from yet another container. It wouldn't work if she appeared too concerned, so her voice took on a casual air as if they were just chit-chatting about the weather.
"Nancyís supposed to call me tomorrow. Weíre going to get together so I can see the photos she took today." Bess answered between mouthfuls of General Tsoís Chicken. "Sheís really so ... terrific! ... youíd like her, and sheís so creative. It's great to watch a photo shoot! Iíve never seen anything like it before." She saw the doubtful look on Georgia's face, and she continued defensively, "Iím talking about the portraits and the Sideshow performers? Do you know they had one guy who could actually lift forty pound weights with his nipples?"
Georgia nearly spit out the piece of pork she was chewing at that visual. "Talk about talent." Georgia replied dryly after taking a quick swig of water, and then felt a phantom twinge of pain in sympathy for those poor nipples. "Iíve never seen a sideshow before." She paused, and then the recent stories came to mind. "Did these people know any of the people whoíve been killed in those freaky murders?" Georgia handed the container to Bess in trade for the chicken.
"No, and itís the Freak Murders, not freaky. 'Freaky Friday' was a movie with Jodie Foster, when she was a kid." She picked through the containers, trying to decide on her next victim. "No, Nancy explained that the recent victims werenít actual freaks, they were just mutilated afterward to resemble them."
Georgia swallowed back a gag. "All right, then, thatís enough about that. Iím trying to eat here. I donít usually read the details about the murders because itís so gruesome, so spare me, OK?"
Bess nodded with a small grin as she sat back with a sigh and debated whether she should tackle another egg roll.
Georgia tried another tack. "So tell me about this Nancy person .... is she just a friend or is she a ... potential?"
Bess couldnít stop the smile or the blush that reddened her fair features. "Sheís just a friend," she said, knowing she was downplaying the hopes she had for the course of their blossoming relationship.
"Uh huh," Georgia commented with a knowing smile. "Is she ... family?" using the term Bess had taught her for identifying lesbians. The two of them got the biggest unexplainable charge out of recent commercials and their liberal minded slogan ? "The Olive Garden- when youíre here, youíre Family."
"She never really said, but ..." Bess' eyes lit up mischievously. "I think itís safe to say she is." She smirked, remembering that she caught Nancy blatantly checking her out while she was building a sand castle at the beach. She'd had the softest, sweetest look on her face, and Bess could honestly say that none of her 'friends' had ever looked at her quite that way.
"So tell me about her, what does she look like?"
"Oh God," Bess couldnít hide her wonder. "She's so beautiful, and I donít mean that in a glam supermodel way. I mean, she's easily the most attractive woman I've ever seen." She stopped herself, and formed a picture of Nancy in her mind. "She carries herself in a way that I donít think sheís aware of how stunning she is. At the same time, she's kind of awkward. Sheís funny and sweet. I think sheís about my age, oh, mid-thirties or so. She and Ernie sort of remind me of us, the way they bicker back and forth. But you can see the genuine love they have for each other."
She thought some more, trying to explain her impressions of Nancy so her sister could understand. "She has moments where sheís a little bitchy, but itís hard to take her serious when she's acting that way. Sheís got the bluest blue eyes Iíve ever seen and sheís really tall. Iíll bet sheís almost six feet. Her hair is jet black and comes down to her shoulders." Bess stopped herself, afraid that Georgia would think that she was babbling. Embarrassed, she reached for a fortune cookie and cracked it open.
Georgia listened with quiet fascination. Just a friend, my ass. Suddenly Bess was rolling on the floor next to her, giggling hysterically. She rolled over and handed Georgia her fortune. Her sister couldnít help it; she joined Bess in surprised laughter. The fortune read: "Try something new today."
Nancy sat, slouched uncomfortably in the 8 by 10 stale smelling room. She was waiting impatiently for Detective Friedman to return with the water she had asked for when he offered to get her something to drink. The quick walk over from 2nd to 5th St was made in mostly silence, because Nancy was trying to figure out why her presence was needed at the station. When she asked Friedman again, he'd sternly told her it would be better discussed in the official confines of the precinct setting.
Nancy knew from watching way too many episodes of 'Cagney and Lacey' that there was nothing good about being asked to Ďcome down to the stationí. Even in her apprehensive state she couldnít help the thought that came to her mind every time she walked by the 9th Precinct. This is the station they used for the opening shots for Kojak and NYPD Blue. In all the years she'd lived in the neighborhood, it was the first time she'd actually been inside the building. She decided now that she really hadn't been missing anything.
Friedman returned to the claustrophobic room and placed the water in front of her. "I wonder if you could tell me where you were last night," he began, sounding like a stereotypically scripted interrogator.
"I wonder if you could tell me what this is all about," Nancy volleyed back.
Friedman rolled his eyes. That was the standard glib answer to a standard question. He took a deep breath and tried again. "Miss Zoccoli, could you please just answer the question?"
"Fine," Nancy replied, folding her arms across her chest. "I was having trouble sleeping so I went out for a few drinks and walked around for a while."
"Anybody go with you?"
"No," was the snipped reply.
"I understand you were in The Avenue B Social Club last night. Is that true?"
Nancy was quickly growing irritated. "Yeah, so? That place is a shithole, but I wasnít aware that it was a crime to go in there."
Friedman ignored her flip response. "Do you recall meeting a woman with short blonde hair?"
Nancy remembered her all right, she'd spent an hour and twenty bucks on her before the blonde told her she was straight. "Yeah, why? Is she in some kind of trouble?"
Friedman didnít acknowledge her question; instead he produced a photo of a very alive victim #5. Her name was Veronica Benedict. The picture was provided by her heartbroken brother after he'd identified her body earlier that afternoon. He'd taken it when they'd attended a Yankee game earlier that summer. The victim was looking straight at the camera smiling a smile that only happened when there was a laugh behind it. He slid the photo across the table to Nancy. "Do you know her?"
Nancy looked at it for a moment before she answered. "No."
"No," Nancy said with conviction.
Friedman's temple was starting to tighten with the beginnings of a tension headache. "Was this the girl you were talking to?"
Nancy thought seriously about replying with ĎWhat part of 'no' donít you understand?' but one quick look at Friedmanís intensely serious face and she thought better of it. "No, she resembles her, but the woman in this picture wasnít her."
"Do you know the name of the young lady you were talking with?"
Nancy thought back for a moment. Oh, I already know he isnít going to like this answer either. "I donít remember it."
"You donít remember her name?" Friedman shot back, but really didnít seem surprised by this at all.
Nancy suddenly felt a lot less cocky and a little nervousness snuck into her voice. "No, I donít. She said it once when we started talking but I guess it just didn't register."
Friedman's sore corn on his little toe began throbbing in tandem with his burgeoning headache. "Where did you go when you left the club?"
"For a walk." Nancy said rather lamely. She had seen enough cop shows to know that this part of her story was going to go over like a lead balloon.
The Detective's eyebrow rose. "Where?"
"Around the neighborhood," she replied vaguely. She unconsciously slumped farther into her chair. She knew she seemed uncooperative, but there was really not much to tell.
"Anyone see you?"
Even in her anxious and defensive state Nancy realized that this was a ridiculous question. "Itís New York! Plenty of people saw me!"
Friedman's voice lowered into a growl. "Where, exactly, did you go?"
"I donít know. I just kinda wandered." She was quickly losing whatever feeling of composure she had left.
"Did you wander anywhere specific?"
Nancy shifted uncomfortably. "I went to the leather bar on Avenue D."
His interest piqued. A leather bar? Plenty of freaks in a leather bar. But Friedman knew the answer to the next question even before he asked it. "Anyone there who could say what time you were there?" No one admits to knowing anyone in a leather bar. Especially to a cop.
"No!" Nancy said adamantly. "I didnít talk to anyone!" Her face colored in response to his skeptical look." I just went in because it was the only place open on that block and I wasnít ready to go to sleep yet."
Friedman scrutinized her, and she felt even more desperate to explain.
"I just watched for a little while and left. Itís not my scene, not even close! I was just looking for something to do. I thought that it might be entertaining, but truthfully, it was a little ....scary."
Friedman held back a chuckle, he certainly couldnít argue with that. That particular leather bar was a little scary even in the daylight. But his years of experience as a detective wouldn't allow him to show his amusement. "Go anywhere else?"
Nancy took a deep breath and tried to relax her hands, which were fisted in her lap. "I stood outside Venusí Body Alterations and watched a girl get her nipples pierced and then some guy ... had a metal rod put through his scrotum."
Yep, Friedman thought, a typical night in The East Village and Alphabet City. Strange is normal. Normal is strange. He knew he was wasting his time with the next question but he asked it anyway. "Did you talk to anyone there?"
"No, I just watched through the window." The window was part of the establishmentís biggest drawing powers. Late at night walking home from the bar many local residents would watch for a bit while their friends tried to convince them that they should ĎGo for ití and have that piercing or tattoo done that they always wanted. It was the best free show around.
"Go anywhere after that?"
"No, I went home and went to bed." Nancy was really getting tired of saying the word 'no' in response to the man's questions.
Friedman slid a paper across the table. "Can you tell me what your fascination is with sideshow freaks and ..." His mind searched for the correct term. "... human oddities?"
It was a list of all the books she'd checked out of the library in the last six months. She looked at it and then replied immediately without thinking. "Itís research for my work." She looked at him with curiosity. "Why, is it a felony to be interested in this type of thing?"
As soon as the words left her mouth a clue bit her on the ass. That girl in the photo must be missing or in some kind of trouble. All these questions. Fascination with human oddities. Nancy sat up straight, and blinked. No, No, No, NOÖ. "This is about the Freak Murders, isnít it!?" Nancy leapt out of her chair like it had an electrical charge pulsing through it. "You think Iím the freak murderer?"
"Now, now Miss Zoccoli, I never said anything like that." Friedman said in even tones, watching her carefully for what she might do next.
"You didnít have to!" She began pacing, focusing on his lined face and throwing him incredulous looks. "Every one in this neighborhood, this city, fuck that! Everyone in this state knows about the Freak Murders." She stopped midpace, and stared at him. "Why else would you give a flying fuck about my choice of reading materials?"
The sharp pain in Friedman's forehead migrated southward and settled behind his left eye. "Miss Zoccoli, calm down and SIT down. I only have a few more questions."
Whatever flustered "No way!! Iím not saying one more word to you unless I have a lawyer with me."
"Thereís no need for that. You arenít being accused of anything," Friedman tried to keep his voice as calm as possible.
She was fuming. "Good! Then you can direct all of your questions to the back of my head while I walk out the door, 'cause Iím not saying one more goddamn word to you with out a lawyer!"
"Iím afraid youíre not going anywhere, Miss Zoccoli," said Detective Friedman firmly.
"What!? You are not keeping me here unless you charge me with something. I know my rights." She didnít really, but she hoped she was right about this.
"Actually, I can hold you for questioning, and thatís what I intend to do - so sit down and relax. If you havenít done anything wrong than you havenít got anything to worry about."
Nancy stopped pacing and took a couple of very deep breaths, trying to think of something intelligent to say. Instead, she ended up impotently glaring at the policeman.
He met her eyes. "Now, listen, I just want you to answer a few more questions for me."
"I AM NOT GOING TO ANSWER ONE MORE QUESTION WITHOUT A LAWYER!" This response shook the glass pane on the door.
Mei Cheung pulled down the metal curtain on the front of her booth and locked it to the sidewalk. Gathering up her things, she started home. As she moved up the street she tried to ignore the lewd comments emanating from the Chinese gang members who were coming out to claim Chinatown as their personal turf. The area had a malicious transformation when night approached. The elderly citizens retreated indoors and the streets were taken over by the young gangs who ran the neighborhood.
Mei wanted nothing more than to move out of this area, but the meager income from her booth was barely enough to pay her rent on the small studio apartment she rented above the fish shop. The smell assaulted her each time she entered the apartment even though she had lived there for over five years. The one benefit was that there were always tidbits for her cat who had the run of the alley in back.
She opened the window by the fire escape to let him in as she stood in the tub to wash. The claustrophobia inducing small room was a lesson in utilizing space. The toilet was behind a curtain and the tub was right next to it. The only sink was next to the tub. A twin bed divided the bathing area from the kitchen. The kitchen consisted of a three foot high fridge with a hot plate sitting on top. Next to that were a small table and two chairs. There were no pictures on the wall and almost every inch of space on the floor that wasnít used for walking was covered with books of every variety from trashy romance novels to her current selection on medical experiments.
Mei took one last look in the mirror before she headed out for the night. She glared at the reflection and grimaced at it, "What a fucked up life." With that she was out the door and into the night.
Friedman returned to his office the following morning, and read over the reports of the detectives who had questioned Nancy for most of the night. There was a two hour time lapse between when she left the piercing parlor to the time that she arrived back at her apartment. The detective who caught it questioned her about it over and over again. She claimed to have fallen asleep at Tompkins Square Park. Again she claimed no one saw her but she said she was covered with cardboard when she woke up.
The other fascinating tidbit he gleaned from a separate report was that Veronica Benedict had a ticket stub in her pocket. It was from Sideshows by the Seashore, dated the day she was murdered.
Just as he was puzzling over this interesting information, there was a knock on his open door. Detective Quinn stuck his head in. "I donít think weíre going to be able to hold her much longer unless you charge her with something."
"I know," Friedman sounded frustrated and tired. "I just need a little more time until Coleman comes through with the search warrant for her apartment." He scanned the computer screen on his desk and suddenly his face lit up. "Yes!" he breathed, "We just caught a break! I can officially charge her with something."
"Something what?" Quinn was curious and came around the back of Friedman's desk.
"She has an outstanding warrant for ... I can't believe this." He looked at Quinn and laughed. "Jaywalking." Friedman explained with relieved disbelief.
Miss Nancy Zoccoli wasn't going anywhere.
Continued in Chapter Four
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