THE TIME MADAM
by Brad Stone
Sometimes Shirley and me play games at night. It depends on my mood. If it's bad at work, I'm not up to it. But on a day off, or if it's quiet on the streets, there's no stopping this cop's imagination.
We plan ahead. I tell her I like something prehistoric, from the dinosaurs. Later, she surprises me, with a deerskin vest or a wooden club.
We saw a flick about old England once and I got steamy. The next day she wears a long, curvey thing, moaning about her honor. I don't know where she gets all the costumes.
Shirley likes anything with cowboys. So I got hats and lassoes. I'm John Wayne with a Brooklyn accent. My NYPD pistol is a six-shooter. She stampedes.
Afterwards we tangle up and talk about the future. What it holds for us and for the baby we're trying to make.
* * *
Sergeant Mulgrew has a thing for prostitutes. He doesn't like 'em, says they're filthy slime stinkin' up his territory. They're always the first to come, he says, the whores with their gold-chained pimps. Then the drug dealers. Then the gangs. Then the hardcore criminals.
We've heard this before.
"Hooked on smack. Anything for dope." He's got a personal hatred. The word is, one of 'em bit down. I don't like to think about it.
So Looch and I aren't allowed to cut the hookers a break. Our streets are filled with 'em. We spend something like half of our nights in the van, bringing in whores.
Routine never changes. They come out at night, find their men, take their dough, get high, back by the next night.
Looch and I round 'em up like dogs. They smile, make kissey- face, say, "Come here honeys, Emilio, Looch, we like a man in uniform." We lock 'em up. Doesn't do any good, they're back the next day, a regular crowd and we know all their names.
So I notice when they start to disappear.
* * *
The night Lacey Love vanishes, Looch and I joke about it. We'd taken the van out that day. Lacey wasn't there and we didn't think anything of it.
"What, you gals found better streets than ours?" I ask Brenda Bush, behind bars. "We don't get to see Lacey Love any more?" asks Looch.
Brenda gets sad. "No one sees Lacey no more." She shakes her head, wig almost falls off. "Lacey's left the streets. Gone into business with a woman."
Looch and I look at each other. The only business Lacey Love knows is the back seat of a car.
"What woman?" Looch asks. We're both thinking dope.
Brenda shrugs. "A weird-looking thing," she says. "Puffy cheeks. Big mink around her neck, pink. And a ring." Brenda holds out her hands -- "too big for an old woman."
That was the first we heard of her.
* * *
That night Shirley and I argue. I say "female cop." She gets mad, says I fool around at work.
I throw my hands into the air.
"Don't give me that Emilio, I know you do!" She's out of the bed, pointing.
I ask her where she gets the notion. "Perfume," she says.
I laugh and tell her again about the hookers. She pouts. I pick up the phone, "Here, call Looch."
She drops her head, sits on the bed. She doesn't move.
I curl up next to her, put my hand on her stomach, snuggle my nose into her neck. She smiles, giggles.
"Female cop," I say.
She disappears into the bathroom, takes my holster and uniform. Comes back and arrests me.
* * *
"Out, out, out," growls Sgt. Mulgrew. Looch and I brought the girls through the front door. Lost the keys to the pen.
"Out," shouts Sgt. Mulgrew. He's holding his pants. We get the keys, bring the girls around back. They mill around like dogs, chattering. Head count.
One less than usual. "Mona's gone," someone says.
I look at Looch. He's faking heartbreak.
"Get in the can," we say, locking the bars. Looch leaves. I stay and call Brenda Bush over.
She smiles, coyly, "You want some of this, Emilio?"
"Where's Mona?" I ask.
Brenda runs her hand through the fake nest on her head. "Went into business," she says. "Gonna make good money."
"Same as Lacey Love?" I ask.
Brenda nods. "Old woman with puffy cheeks. Mink and a ring. She asked me, too, you know." Brenda gives me eyes.
"What kind of business," I say to Brenda.
"Good money," she says. "That's all I know."
"What kind of business," I say, squeezing her hand. The other whores are looking.
Brenda pulls away and shrugs. "Not for me to say."
"Why'd you say no?" I ask Brenda.
"Not leaving my cat," she says lamely, eyes lowered. "No money worth leaving Marvin."
Brenda turns and walks away. Hiding something.
* * *
Looch and I are in the van, talking about women. Looch has tons of 'em, one every night. He brags about it.
"Not me," I say. "Got Shirley. We have a past together. Share a future."
He shakes his head. "Stupid motherfucker. Dumb, dumb, Emilio. You don't know what you're missing."
"I'm not missing anything."
"A new carton every day and you're milk won't go bad," he says, flashing teeth.
"You're gonna run outta women, Looch," I say. "Gotta think about tomorrow."
"Fuck it," says Looch. "The future can wait."
"It's gonna be you and the whores," I joke. "The only women for you." I look over at the sidewalk to point, see Barbara Booty . . .
. . . Talking to an old woman with mink around her neck.
"Stop the car," I yell.
* * *
I cross the street with Looch behind me. We're almost run down by a truck, beeping.
The two women look over. Barbara does her usual thing, screams "rape!" and runs for a warehouse.
Not the old woman. The old woman's graceful, like a bird. She moves without her feet. Glides.
Looch and I make the sidewalk, running. "Who is she?" he yells.
"Freeze," I scream, down an alley, gun waving.
Dead end. We turn around, there's no old woman. No mink. A little smoke, and a smell, like lemons.
* * *
Shirley sees I'm in a nasty mood that night, so it's quiet at dinner. Steak and fries, silently. I chew and think.
Afterwards, TV and cuddling. She lays on my lap, I put my hand on her belly. She looks up and smiles.
I say, "What?" She nods.
I stand up, throw my hands in the air. Hah! Emilio a father! We lay on the coach and I listen to her stomach. Little Emilio. Little Shirley. I look into her eyes and see an old woman, next to me in the sun.
We giggle into bed, troubles gone. She says, "What time?" I look at my watch, "Nine-thirty."
"No," she says, "What time tonight?"
I smile and think. I say, "The future. The next century. When we're old."
She grins and I see her mind, racing. She disappears into her closet, comes back an old woman, rouge on her cheeks, a sweater around her neck.
I tell her to put on a ring, the biggest she has.
* * *
Head count. One less. Looch looks over, frowning. No one says anything, they're quiet, waiting for us to figure it out.
"Barbara Booty." Looch and I say it at the same time.
"Where is she?" I say.
Quiet. The girls are looking down, counting floor tiles.
"Brenda," I say.
"Brenda!" She comes over, pulling on her wig.
"You finally come around, Emilio?" she asks. Doesn't mean it, she's nervous.
"Who is she? I ask. "Where's Barbara? Who's the old woman?"
She picks at her head, not talking.
"Selling drugs?" I ask.
"How's Marvin?" I say.
Brenda starts to cry. Big ugly tears, and the water wells up in the scars on her cheek.
"We wouldn't want Marvin to get hurt, right?"
Looch puts his hand on my shoulder. "Easy," he says.
"You got something to tell us?" I ask. "A drug ring?"
She shakes her head. Sobs, "I can't."
I look at Looch. He shrugs.
* * *
We talk it over with Sergeant Mulgrew. "The best thing I heard all week," he shouts, hand off groin. "Good news."
"Why good?" I ask. "Not if they're selling drugs."
"No, no," says the sergeant. "Not drugs. They're moving on."
"That's not what the girls say," says Looch. "They're going with an old woman, doing business."
"I know," nods the sergeant. "Believe me, I know. She's a madam, taking them to a better neighborhood."
I sigh. "I don't think so, Sarge. Woman's rich, wears jewelry."
Looch says, "She's not going to make any money off those skanks."
The sergeant stands and lights a Cuban. "Someone else's problem, boys, not ours."
I look at Looch, he's thinking it over. Nods and says, "Fine."
"We dodged a bullet," says the sergeant. "No pimps. A little drugs. No gangs. No hardcore criminals. Whores are always the first of 'em. Not this time. We got away easy."
I shake my head. Something's out there, hovering.
* * *
Shirley's nauseous that night, doesn't eat. We sit in front of the TV, not watching. It's quiet in bed when I say, "Indian."
She says, "Native American, you mean."
"Whatever," I say. "I'll be the chief."
"Not tonight," she moans. "I'm not feeling well." She turns her back.
"Okay, okay," I say. "No costumes. The '90s can get me going, too."
She doesn't laugh.
I give her some room and stare at the ceiling. The plaster's falling and I listen to a couple downstairs, they're fighting. And I can hear a baby, crying.
Think hard, Emilio, it's right there. Whores disappearing. An old woman, wearing mink. Jewelry. Rich. She wants street hookers. I look down at the dirty brown carpet and see a cowboy hat.
Nothing makes sense. I get up, get dressed. Wear all black.
* * *
Four in the morning, the pay-off. Brenda's talking to the dark. Someone's in the shadows, holding her hand.
"The late 20th century is in style, dear." An old, soothing voice. "It's all the rage. Makes my customers crazy."
Brenda's sniffing, mumbles something about "how its going to feel."
"It's like a large hole. You step through."
"I don't think I can do it."
I nudge my head further, trying to see in the dark. There's a large shadow with moonlight in front. I see a feather, sticking out.
"You have a skill, my dear. Market it. You're in demand where I come from."
The feather is strange, like the end of something. A coat? It's pink. I stretch further.
"There's nothing for you here. Come with me."
"Will I feel anything?" Brenda's stuttering voice.
There's no answer. I stretch further. Silence. I see the feather is mink, and it's wrapped around the shadow of an old woman.
"Ms. Jivids?" Brenda turns around, looks at me.
I look at myself and see moonlight, shining on my chest. I step out, draw my gun.
"Now everyone freeze," is what I manage.
The old woman pulls Brenda by the hand, charges down alley. It takes a second and then I'm chasing them. She glides, faster than me and it's nothing like I've ever seen. But the end of the alley's coming and they're trapped.
"Stop," I yell, pointing the gun.
The old woman and Brenda turn. She's whispering something.
Brenda looks at me, terrified.
"Step away," I yell. "Let go of her." I cock the pistol, aim at the old woman.
A moment of silence.
Brenda screams, "I can't do it! I can't do it!" and pulls wildly at her hair.
The old woman looks down, holds her hand out. With her other hand she does something to the ring. Then a bright light, it's blinding and I shield my eyes.
When I force a look, I see the old woman with her arm around Brenda, pulling her into the light. Brenda's kicking and screaming. For the first time I see the old woman's face clearly, its pale and long. Cheeks are puffy, no eyebrows. Haunting.
Something falls onto the ground.
Then there's darkness again. I'm alone in the alley and there's a smell, like lemons.
* * *
I inspect the scene and find two things. First, Brenda's wig, black and wormy. I don't touch it. Kick it to the side and leave it for the dogs.
Then a business card, under a layer of dirt and shoeprints. I pick it up, dust it off. It's nothing like I've ever touched, weightless, on silver paper. There are holographic words on one side:
T H E T I M E M A D A M
* * *
TRANS-DIMENSIONAL SEXUAL SERVICES
I go home to Shirley. The sun's coming out. Two hours until I'm back to the office. I stand over the bed, looking at her.
Then I look down at the floor and see the cowboy hat. I pick it up, fold it in my hands. No one will believe it. I slide in next to Shirley and think.
On the bright side, Jivids has probably left the neighborhood. She won't risk coming back. She knows I'm onto her, but knows I can't do a damn thing about it.
The other side's much worse. I think of what Sergeant Mulgrew said. Whores are always the first. Then the drug dealers. Then the gangs. Then the hardcore criminals. There's a buck to be made on the past and the future is coming back to cash in. Like a snake, eating its own tail, feasting on history.
Jivids told Brenda the '90s are all the rage. So there will be more of them, and there's nothing we can do. Looch was wrong about the future, it won't wait.
I put my hand on Shirley's belly and close my eyes, but I just can't sleep. *
Story copyright © 1995 Brad Stone <BStone@panix.com>
Artwork copyright © 1998 Romeo Esparrago <email@example.com>
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