Paul Gamberge stood before the gilt-framed mirror on the wall above the fireplace in the living room overlooking Central Park. He was tall, slender, thin-lipped, and his curly black hair showed no sign of graying.
-Why do you work for me?
Gamberge, having spoken, looked toward the side of the mirror where he saw Silky's image. Silky was an inch or two shorter, fastidiously dressed, and handsome.
-It's rewarding, Silky said. You let me keep a decent amount of what I steal.
-That's not it.
-I'll turn you in if you leave me. Don't forget it. Now, let's watch the video again.
-Don't you think we've watched it enough?
-We're watching it again, Silky.
-But I can see it with my eyes closed. Every frame of it. It starts with this fat man in a casino; we never learn his name. He wins a large sum of money at the roulette table. He's very excited when he goes to cash in his chips. He loosens his tie. Unbuttons his collar. Rivulets of sweat run unobstructed down his neck. The dip, the man off to the left in the light gray suit, Mr. Pickpocket himself, strokes his earlobe to signal that the fat man's the mark. Then the stall, the woman in a short green dress and a pearl necklace, moves in. In front of the cashier's counter she drops her lipstick to distract him. Times it perfectly. Just as the cashier is putting up the fat man's winnings. The least he can do the way he's feeling is help her out. So he bends down to pick up the lipstick. Takes his eyes off the cash. Next come the shields. The two men in black suits. They stand between the counter and the casino to block the view, isolate the incident. And then the dip slips in. Smooth as a snake. Look, no hands! Slide, glide, slide. He whips the money off the counter. Twenty thousand dollars. Whoosh! Gone! But before you can say Muhammad Ali he passes the prize off to the dish, the man in the pink blazer and flowery bow tie. Daffodils mostly. Dreadful. And while the poor man, lipstick in hand, is looking up at the stall, the dish is gone with all his money. Robbed blind before your very eyes. That's it. One, two, three. Nothing more. Nothing less. Moves. Colorful moves. Sweet as ballet. Smooth. They have it down pat. Like that. Precise, professional, predatory. We know all the maneuvers, the sexual undertones.
-The sexual undertones?
-You were the one who pointed them out. You spot them every time.
Gamberge fed the video to the VCR. Used a remote to start it.
-Now pay attention. You can't afford to let up. . . . You're good only because I've made you good. Watch: the stall drops the lipstick about now. There. Concentrate on the dip. See the way he leans to the left, throws everyone off for a second. That's all the time he needs. He's very good. There's always something you can learn from a master.
-Do you think he's better than me?
-That's not the point.
Gamberge hit PAUSE on the remote, continued talking.
-The best pickpocket identifies completely with the mark, knows how he's going to move, what he's going to do next with each part of his body. Gets right inside his head. Has the guy at his fingertips. Like a puppet.
-I know. It comes naturally. Do you think I take it for granted?
-No one's perfect, Silky.
Gamberge pressed PLAY. The tape ran for another thirty seconds or so.
-Never noticed that before, Gamberge said when it finished.
-The dish pats the stall on the ass-on his way out.
-But he doesn't look at her. That's what counts.
Gamberge took his glasses off. Rested them on the top of the monitor.
-Do you think you're attractive to women, Silky?
-Yes, you. There's no one else here.
-What makes you ask?
-To some women I guess I am.
-I want you to feel attractive to women. Good for business. Chicks pick up on a guy's confidence, you know. Draws them in. Makes them feel secure. That's the key, Silky. Gotta make 'em feel secure. Know what I mean?
Gamberge hit EJECT, and the VCR spat out the tape. He put it back in the drawer.
-Okay, maestro, let's see how good you are. Let's see if you still have that old Silky magic. Remove my watch, and don't let me feel a thing. Take it. Then if you want, move like you're handing it off to a dish.
-You know I work alone. I don't need dishes or stalls or shields. When a diversion's called for, I create my own. Legerdemain. Footwork. Prestidigitation.
-I just want to see you move. I'll put my hands in my pockets. Make it more difficult.
-As you wish.
-My father used to say, life's in the movement.
-What did he mean by that?
-I don't know. I just like the sound of it.
-It's starting to rain.
-Damn! You got me. That was good, Silky. Very good. Okay, I'll take the watch back. Same old lightning speed. You really had me then.
-I don't have time to get rusty, Mr. Gamberge.
Gamberge walked to the middle window, watched the rain cut into the park at an oblique angle. He stood with his fists clenched tight.
-That woman the other day, Gamberge said, the redhead. Did you slash a pillow before you left her apartment? The article didn't mention it.
-Yes. I always do that.
-And your name?
-I wrote it on the mirror in the bathroom. In purple lipstick.
-We're famous, Silky. You realize that? I like to read about us in the paper. But they never give enough details.
Gamberge walked back to the center of the room. He stared at the pattern on the Indian rug, tightened his watch strap.
-Tomorrow we'll go after someone new, Gamberge said. I'll try to pick someone challenging for you. Give you a run for your money. Keep you on your toes. The redhead wasn't up to snuff. Nothing much to write about there.
-Did well off her, financially speaking.
-Yes. Are you going to put her in the book?
-They all go in the book. Every woman you steal for me goes in the book.
-I'm tired, Mr. Gamberge. It's been a long day. If there's nothing else I think I'll-
-Not until you've read to me from one of the books. You forgetting the rules?
-I like the way you read. I look forward to you reading. You make everything sound so real, I can picture it happening in front of me.
-Choose any woman you want.
-Would it be okay, Mr. Gamberge, just this once . . . I mean, as I have to make an early start?
Gamberge turned on him.
-You miserable. . . . Forget it. Just go to bed.
-Thanks, Mr. Gamberge.
-Don't thank me. You'll pay for it later.
Gamberge moved slowly through the living room. Moonlight reflected from the oil paintings, paintings of nudes on rocky shores in lewd poses. He stopped at the shelf where he kept the records of Silky's exploits. They were handwritten in hardbound notebooks.
Gamberge decided on the woman who liked water pistols. She excited him more than most. The book fell open to her page. He was reading about her when something flickered, over by his desk. He put the book down. Went to see what. The same flickering happened again, but when he reached the edge of the desk it stopped. There was no way to tell what its source had been. He wanted to imagine one, but stopped himself, knowing that if he started to obsess he would not be able to get his mind onto anything else for many hours. He screwed up his face. Shook his head. Things would be bad if he began to obsess, if he allowed himself to wander into the dark corridors of his mind. For one thing, he'd get no sleep. He opened the bottom drawer of the desk, took out a pair of binoculars. A powerful pair that his father had used in the Sudan. He cleaned the eyepieces, then set the binoculars on the top of the desk beside the lamp. Ready for morning. Ready for . . . food. Food took his mind off things. A snack. That's what he'd do. Nibble on something.
Next morning Gamberge entered the living room. He put his brioche down. He checked the time by his watch, then reset the ormolu clock on the desk, which had lost two minutes during the night. The rain had stopped. A strong wind worried the leaves at the tops of the trees. Their movement for some reason reminded him that he'd forgotten his mother's birthday. He picked up the binoculars, focused them on the park.
-See anyone who takes your fancy? Silky said.
-You scared me. . . . Not yet.
-Are you looking between the oak and the bench?
-Yes. We've had some of our best catches there. Hold on.
-What is it?
-I think I've got a live one.
-She look like money? Anything glittering?
-I don't care about money. She's in her thirties. Short red dress. Black hair. She's walking a small dog. Cairn terrier if I'm not mistaken. I want her. Go get her. And no blabbermouthing with the doorman on the way out.
-I didn't have my coffee yet.
-Never mind that. I don't want you to miss her. You can pick up coffee when you've done the job.
-I think this one's got promise.
-No way of knowing from a distance.
-Remember to give her enough time to discover she's been robbed before you make contact.
-I always do, Mr. Gamberge. My technique is solid: let them worry awhile; that way they feel the maximum relief when I tell them I've found their wallet; the greater relief they feel, the more grateful they are; the more grateful they are, the more susceptible they are to my advances.
-Excellent, Silky. Now get going. Don't forget your bag.
In the lobby Frank, the doorman, was getting his ear bent by Mrs. Dillard, so Silky was able to slip by with nothing more than a wave. He ran across the road into the park, and headed for the oak. The wind had moved on, taking with it all but a few wispy clouds.
Some fifty yards past the oak, the woman in the red dress took the path off to the left. Silky followed her, making his observations from a distance at first. Then he closed in, walked past her, and smiled. In that second, sensing there was no way he was going to be able to manipulate her to Gamberge's satisfaction, he abandoned her as his mark, and circled back to the bench to await further quarry.
He did not have to wait long. Dressed in black, thin, and olive-skinned, a woman of about fifty approached. Silky weighed the situation. He decided he would try something new, let his mark come up on him, from behind. Pretending not to have seen the woman, he walked ahead of her, then he slowed his pace to allow her to catch up with him. The instant he felt her close to him he spun around. Bumped into her. She gasped. He stared into her eyes, and using his newspaper as a shield, he undid her bag. While he was apologizing, his fingers, working like tentacles, located and seized her wallet. He offered a further apology as he walked away, her wallet safely stowed in his pocket.
Out of her sight he looked to see what he'd made. The four hundred dollars he counted made him happy. Her name, Dolores Rey, and her phone number were on a business card, which read: NECROMANCER TO THE STARS. He checked to make sure the name matched her credit cards. Having no need to follow her further, he went to find coffee. Before he left the park he removed his false mustache. Put on his shades.
Dolores Rey lived in a loft in SoHo. She was more than happy to get her wallet back. She gave Silky a big smile when he handed it to her.
-I had a premonition you were coming, she said in a low voice. Just what I expected. Maybe an inch or two shorter.
-It's hot out there. Could I trouble you for a glass of water?
-Forget about water. You look like you could use one of my potions. Come in.
The place, almost entirely black in color, was bedecked with all kinds of trappings: crystal balls of many sizes, some suspended, some set on luminous rocks in the middle of the floor, stuffed bats and stuffed birds on wires, a mummy, shortwave-radio equipment, and a large telescope pointing to the sky.
-Nice place, he said.
-Did you design it yourself?
-I put it together is more like it.
-I admire people who aren't afraid to go for what they like. Seems a cop-out, wheeling in designers.
-Have a seat. Think positive. It'll soothe your hemisphere.
Silky sat on the sofa, which was upholstered in black satin.
-You definitely have a good eye, he said.
-It's crucial in my line of business.
-I read something about that recently.
-Hold it right there.
She returned almost immediately with a glass pitcher filled with what looked like a snake that had been fed through a juicer.
-Here you go, she said. This'll restore your energy.
Silky waited for her to drink some of hers before he touched any of his.
-Where's that? he said, pointing to a large photograph on the wall.
-The Sudan. I go there every January to talk to the dead.
-Not much there. Sand and sun in the day. Stars at night.
-Ah, but stars give us much of our power.
-I didn't know.
-I sense a secretive, but very sensitive, side to you.
-You were in my latest readings, you know.
-You're more handsome than she told me.
-The woman I connected with. An old Norse woman who lived five hundred years ago. She told me you'd come today.
Dolores moved closer to pour him more of her concoction.
-No thanks, I'm fine.
She remained close to him after she put the pitcher down. Silky, sensing his opportunity, took hold of her hand.
-Death will have the last word, she said.
Silky's colored contact lenses felt gritty. There was nothing he could do about it but blink, and in the hope that a kiss might take his mind off them, he leaned forward. She met him halfway. So far, Gamberge could have nothing to complain about.
-Every inch as good as the old woman predicted, Dolores said.
She closed in for another kiss, longer than the first, more intense, and where it was possible to measure ambiguity in the former, this one left nothing to doubt. Dolores began to stroke Silky's back. After a few moments she stood up.
-Come with me, she said.
She led him by the hand into a chamber off the living area. It was poorly lit, cold. Large objects were lined up in rows. At first he couldn't make out what they were, but as he moved farther in and his eyes adjusted, he could see that they were sarcophagi, marble sarcophagi. On top of each one, carved in marble, was an effigy of a man lying down. He identified Elvis, Napoleon, Alexander the Great, and Jimmy Hendrix. Elvis had a sheepdog at his feet.
-Glorious, aren't they? Dolores said.
She lit three candles on the pricket between Elvis and Napoleon.
-That's a lot of marble you've got there. Hope the floor's reinforced.
Dolores unbuttoned her blouse and pushed gently against Silky. Ran her fingers along the back of his neck and up into his hair, and then she undressed him.
-I love famous men. Dead famous men. You can have any one you want.
-The one we're going to do it with.
-Oh. Who's that over there, the guy in the corner?
-That's the Unknown Soldier. You want him?
-He's one of my very favorites. Get up there, she said. Lie on your back next to him.
Her tone was military. Silky didn't mind. He'd learned, as part of the job, to go with the current in whatever direction it flowed. He climbed up onto the sarcophagus of the Unknown Soldier. The guy had a very off-putting expression on his face. Silky looked away.
-For the Unknown Soldier, Dolores said as she climbed on top of Silky.
-The marble's cold, Silky said.
-Never mind that. For the Unknown Soldier.
She signaled for Silky to say it with her.
-For the Unknown Soldier, they said in unison. For Mr. Gamberge, Silky thought.
Wait a minute, Gamberge said. I need to pop another tape in. Okay. Back up.
-After you climbed off the Unknown Soldier.
-We took a break while she smoked a cheroot. Then she pointed to Robert Mitchum in his marble trenchcoat. She got up first, knelt down, and put her hands on his chest. Last we moved on to Napoleon. I was spent. I asked to leave.
-You didn't, did you?
-No. She told me no one exits the mausoleum till she's ready. Would be very bad medicine to leave without her.
-Chick had stamina. You gotta give her that. Who'd she like the best?
-The Unknown Soldier.
-Weird. He's like nobody. So how do you rate her?
-Mr. Gamberge, you know I hate-
-Silky, get on with it. You know we got to have details for the book. How was her body?
-Fabulous. Toned. Beautiful neck.
-Good catch, Silky. I'll call her Marble Woman for now. Might come up with something better when I transcribe the tape.
Gamberge turned off the machine.
-You leave your name?
-Of course. On Jimmy Hendrix's marble guitar.
-I never found one to slash. While she was taking a shower I prowled around. Pocketed some jewelry. Rings mostly. Diamonds with rubies in filigree settings. Gold and silver crosses of all kinds. Fancy stuff. No pillows anywhere.
-Show me what you got.
-In the box. There on the desk.
Gamberge looked inside.
-Nice. Very nice. Maybe I'll give my mother a couple of the rings. A belated birthday present.
-That would be nice. You haven't seen your mother in a very long time.
-On second thought, you can fence it all. What did you do with the four hundred bucks?
-Put it in the usual place. I took a dollar for a cup of coffee.
-I'm going to get to work on this tape. We need more catches like Marble Woman, Silky.
-You'll get them. Law of averages.
Gamberge put the lid back on the box of jewelry.
-You don't really like women, do you?
-I prefer money, Mr. Gamberge. But a good job is hard to find.
The next morning, Gamberge, still charged from the night before, dispatched Silky into the park in pursuit of a tall blonde in a yellow minidress, who he fantasized would top Marble Woman's deathly excesses.
The woman in the yellow dress was sitting on the bench, drinking coffee and reading a newspaper. Silky kept his distance, waiting. He became agitated. He lost his rhythm. His hands felt heavy. The woman finished her coffee, threw the cup and the paper into the trash, and walked away. Silky followed her. He stopped when the tree cover grew thick, the moment he knew Gamberge had taken his eyes off him. The woman headed south. Silky continued on, along a different path, to the west side. Before he left the park he put on a fedora, affixed a mustache, and popped in blue contact lenses to become Mickey. He made his way to a diner where he knew he'd find Lance.
Lance was sitting at a table in the corner cracking his knuckles. He'd pushed his scrambled eggs to one side, untouched. Silky joined him.
-Where you been hiding, Mickey?
-It's my boss.
-Your pimp more like. I made an important discovery since I saw you.
-Guys in baggy suits carry more cash on them than anyone else.
-Glad you appreciate it. . . . The cops are tightening up, Mickey.
-Getting real tough out there.
-Survival of the fittest.
The waitress came over. Silky ordered a coffee.
-Something wrong with your eggs? she said to Lance.
-They're too yellow.
-Eggs is suppose to be yellow.
-Not that yellow, they ain't.
She took the plate away. Brought Silky his coffee.
-They're going to use these new cameras, Lance said.
-You think so?
-Sure. What else are we going to do?
-I know I am.
-You think you're hot shit, don't you, Mickey?
-I'm not bad.
-What's eating you this morning?
-I dunno. Maybe it's the eggs. How about a little wager, Mickey? Settle this shit once and for all.
-Who's the best dip in the business, me or you?
-Come off it.
-Fifty-seventh and Fifth. We'll work the two blocks south. Take whatever side of the street you want. The one with the most hits in an hour wins. Winner takes all.
-The one with the most hits wins? Not the one with the highest takings?
-You got it, Mickey. Winner gets to keep everything.
-So if you lose I get all yours as well?
-If I lose.
-You're on, Silky said. When is this world championship event going to take place?
-Soon as you've finished your coffee.
-You're going to regret this, Lance.
-No way. . . . You see the paper? That Silky guy struck again. He's asking for it. He'll get caught.
-You think so?
-Yeah. If he keeps sticking his dick out too far.
The cab pulled up on the southwest corner of Fifty-seventh and Fifth. Lance and Silky bundled out. Took in their surroundings.
-Let's toss for who takes what side, Silky said.
-Fine by me. Heads.
-Tails. I'll take the east side.
-What time do you have?
-Check. Good luck, Mickey.
-May the best man win.
They took up their respective positions, glanced at their watches, looked across the avenue at each other, and nodded. Silky got off to a flying start, opened with a new gambit he'd been practicing. He named it the Flipper. Took about four seconds. Pretending not to look where he was going, he walked directly into the first woman he saw laden with shopping bags. He apologized. But whichever way she moved to get around him, he blocked her. This way or that, he was working, first to open, and then to delve into, her handbag. By the third move he'd grasped her wallet. And with that he let her pass. One down! Gamberge would not approve of this. There'd be nothing in it for him. Silky looked over at Lance, who'd gone in for his first hit only to run afoul of a pack of assorted barking mutts that appeared to be walking the dog walker. With time on his side Silky watched Lance extricate himself from leashes and dander, and laughed.
Pleased with the Flipper, Silky decided to employ it again. After all it was fast, and took very little preparation. His target was a tubby old lady who'd just wandered out of Tiffany's. She was shorter than the first hit. This caused him to modify his act somewhat because he could not make the all-important eye contact so easily. He distracted her as he went for the spoils by making his left arm violently twitch. Two down!
Lance was still in the blocks. Looked as if he'd bumped too hard into this big guy from behind. The big guy seemed to want to take it a step further than a verbal apology. There was no wallet on the scene. Silky felt certain Lance had the guy's wallet safely tucked away. Lance could be erratic, but was one of the best dips around when he was on. Silky assumed it was two to one in his favor, and he went back to work.
He spotted a vendor pushing his hot dog cart up Fifth. The vendor hadn't set up yet, but Silky persuaded him to sell a cold hot dog with plenty of mustard on it. Hot dog in hand, he took a moment or two to check the scene and identify his next mark. This was more fun, he thought, than stealing women for Gamberge. A guy in an Armani suit looked promising. Silky moved into action, looked briefly over to see where Lance was. He'd disappeared in the crowd. A second later Silky feigned a trip and stumbled into the Armani suit, applying a dollop of hot dog mustard to it before righting himself. With a flurry of napkins and apologies, he tried to make amends. The guy watched, forlorn, as his suit continued to absorb more mustard. Three down!
Lance had reappeared. He held two fingers in the air. Silky dismissed him with a wave. And with that the battle was joined; both men threw in a bit extra as they continued along the two-block course.
Silky utilized a variety of skills. Among others, he pretended to faint, dipping into the pockets of both the men who helped him to his feet.
Then with only twelve minutes to go, on the premise that some people will watch anything for as long as it takes someone else to pick their pockets, he started a fire in a garbage basket. Silky, aware that Lance didn't go in for pyrotechnics, figured he might gain the advantage here, on the homestretch. He hit three spectators in quick succession and then, knowing the time was up, joined them to watch the blaze. The fire truck, as soon as he heard its siren in the distance, gave him a feeling of accomplishment.
Lance crossed over to meet him at Fifty-fifth Street. They took a cab back to Lance's place. Neither of them spoke until they were safely inside his living room. Lance took the tops off two cold beers. Gave one to Silky.
-Thanks. I needed this.
-Okay, Mickey, how many you got?
-Seven, Silky said.
-It's true. What about you?
-Six. I thought that would do it. Show me.
Silky removed wallets from all his pockets, together with three watches. Laid them out in a line on the coffee table.
-Watches don't count as separate hits, Lance said.
-All the same to me. I'm ahead on wallets.
Lance looked inside every wallet Silky laid down.
-I didn't throw my own in with them, if that's what you're insinuating, Silky said.
-I'm thinking I can't figure out how the fuck you beat me.
-Simple. I'm world champ.
Lance added his own spoils to the table: six wallets and two watches. By the time all was added up, Silky had himself twelve hundred dollars and change, excluding what he'd make on the watches.
-Not bad for an hour's work, he said.
-Fuck you, Mickey.
-Now that's what I call bad sportsmanship. You can forget that C-note I was going to give you.
-Listen to Mr. Generosity here. You were lucky, Mickey. Real lucky. You realize how fucking lucky you were today? You were lucky it just happened to be more fertile on your side of the street. Very lucky. You know, anyone halfway decent would make it the best of three. At least have a rematch.
-You want to do it again, it's fine by me. But there's no way I'm rolling over my winnings. No way.
Silky beamed as he pocketed the money.
-I'd better be getting back, Lance. The empty wallets are all yours. Consolation prize.
-Careful you don't get picked on the way home.
-That you, Silky?
-It's me, Mr. Gamberge.
-Where the hell you been all week?
-I was working.
-You were right about the one in the yellow dress. She turned out to be . . . you'll definitely want to tape this one.
-You were with her for a week?
-You never did that before.
-Never had to. We made out like bandits. Twelve hundred dollars and change. Felt much sweeter when I found out she's in the same business.
-You stole from a dip?
-How do you like that!
-Wait. Let me get the tape. I want this from the beginning. From when she finished her coffee. Threw the cup in the trash.
Gamberge flicked the tape on.
-After that she headed south. I followed her out of the park to a café on Madison. She sat at a sidewalk table. Elegant, enticing she was. I don't know why, but I had this odd feeling she wanted to be picked. I had several opportunities while she ate some pieces of fruit, and licked her long fingers. She had this sensuous way of licking them. Every time she leaned forward to wipe her face and hands, more opportunities presented themselves. I didn't want to put her in an embarrassing position, so I waited until she'd paid the check. Believe it or not, she put her bag on the ground. No challenge at all.
-What happened then?
-There was a wad of twenties in her purse but no ID. So I . . . I followed her for quite a way. Up Madison.
-Yeah, go on.
-Well, she stopped in a doorway in the seventies. One of those fancy boutiques.
-She took in the scene on the street for a while. Turned out she was looking for a mark.
-I like this. Very sexy. Speed it up.
-She settled on this man with a ponytail. Forty-five. Suntanned. He looked like good pickings.
-She swept out of the doorway. Smooth as a swan, no ripples. One move, a delicate swerve accompanied by a beautiful smile, was all it took. And your man was sans wallet. She was hot.
-You sure you haven't run across this dame before?
-Yeah. She operates alone. Very low-key.
-What happened then?
-Oh yeah. . . .
-Silky, what's with all the hesitation?
-Yeah. This is like pulling hen's teeth.
-Sorry, Mr. Gamberge.
-Are you holding back?
-Of course not. Why would I do that?
-You look pale. You better not be hiding anything.
-So cut to the chase.
-Yeah, idiot. You know, like what happened when you got back to her place. The meat and potatoes.
-I. . . .
-Mr. Gamberge. . . .
-This had better be good.
-I . . . I made it up.
-I didn't follow her.
-I didn't follow her.
-Wait! Let's get this straight. First you tell me you followed her. Then you tell me you didn't. You don't have a problem with that?
-I didn't follow her.
-So what were you doing? For a whole fucking week?
-I was with Emily Wurrboe.
-Emily who? Do I know this chick?
-Remember the one with her leg in a cast a few months back? Blonde?
-Bullshit. You didn't have time. You were always here when you weren't working.
-I made the others up. The ones you sent me out to get. I never met them.
Gamberge pointed to the notebooks on the shelf.
-You telling me there are women in those books that don't exist?
-They exist. But I made up the stories about them.
-You piece of shit. You never had sex with any of them?
-How the fuck did you get the money? You always came back with plenty.
-I'd cruise hotel bars on my way to see Emily. I dipped in, dipped out. Didn't take very long. Mark a fat cat. Bingo!
-How could you do this to me? Why?
-I didn't do it to you, Mr. Gamberge. When I met Emily . . . it was . . . I mean we . . . it was very fast. We fell in . . . it can happen to anybody.
-You fool. You know what this means?
Gamberge was shaking. He couldn't get his next words to form. He banged his fist on the mantelpiece several times before he was able to speak again.
-I can't handle this naked, he said.
He flew into the liquor cabinet. Fixed himself a very large, very dry martini.
-This for real? You and this broad?
-It's fucked up, Silky. How about the woman the other day, Marble Woman? Did she happen?
-Yes. I took Marble Woman. Stole her for you. If you think I found it easy deceiving you, inventing stories. . . .
-Traitor. . . . And before her?
-I think Monkey Woman was the last.
Gamberge kicked a chair over, took another slug of martini.
-After all I've done for you. You'd be nothing without me. Shit. Who do you think's protected you all these years? Huh? How many times have I saved your scraggy ass? You know you never never get involved with a client. Pick and fuck. Period.
-I said shut up. I don't want to hear it. What's this Wurrboe bitch got going for her anyway?
-She. . . .
-I'm waiting, Max.
-Don't "mister" me. I want to know what happened. I'm trying to run a business here.
-I took her money. When I returned her wallet we . . . I don't know. It was mutual I guess.
-You're disgusting. She know what you do?
-You fuck her a lot?
-We make love.
-Bullshit. What's the sex like?
-I don't want to talk about it.
-You're going to.
-You screwed me, Silky. You're never going to see her again.
-You can't stop me.
-Yes I can, and you know how.
Silky shut the door to Gamberge's apartment quietly and hurried to the elevator. Ten floors below he got out. Made his way along the corridor to 7G, where Gamberge's mother lived.
-He can't do this to me, he said out loud several times before he reached her door.
-I think she's asleep, Louisa, the maid, said when she answered.
-I won't keep her long, Silky said.
-She's in the library.
-Thanks. How are you doing?
-I'm slowing up.
Louisa shuffled toward the kitchen. Silky walked through the sitting room to the library.
-Hello, he said as he tapped on the door.
The old lady was slumped in her chair clasping a glass. Two gin bottles stood, one nearly empty, the other unopened, on a table within her reach. The shades on both windows were pulled down almost all the way. She didn't respond.
-Hello, he said louder.
Mrs. Gamberge opened her cataract eyes and looked up, at least six inches higher than the top of Silky's head.
-No, it's Silky.
-Why does Paul never come?
-He's very busy.
-That's some excuse. He sends you, doesn't he? His conscience.
-He likes me to keep an eye on you, yes. He wanted me to give you this. A belated birthday present.
Silky handed her a box he'd wrapped up containing the two rings he'd chosen. She felt it on all sides. Then let it fall to the floor.
-How are you feeling today? Silky said.
-Terrible. My memory's getting worse.
Mrs. Gamberge felt for the bottle that was almost empty. Poured what remained from it into her glass, and drank.
-Would you like a drink?
-Too early for me, thanks, Silky said. Have you been into the park lately?
-No. It's full of robbers. Besides, Louisa's getting too old to push me over there.
She tipped the rest of her drink into her mouth.
-Let me get you another, Silky said.
He broke into the new bottle, filled her glass. She took the stuff straight.
-Can I get you anything else? he said.
-What else is there? Gin is fine. Louisa's always trying to get me to eat. I tell her I'm not hungry. But she won't let it go. I don't count anymore.
-She's only trying to be helpful.
-Some help she is.
Mrs. Gamberge, defiant, knocked back the gin in her glass.
-Another? Silky said.
-What sort of question is that?
Silky poured her more gin. He knew what he was doing, and he could only guess as to whether or not she knew what he was doing. Either way, she showed no signs of slowing down.
-Have you always lived in New York? Silky asked.
-Ever since I got married. Marriage. . . . That was a big mistake.
-Why do you say that?
-I was young and needed to get away from my family. Bernard seemed normal, supportive, you know, the proper sort. The only person I could trust at the time. I thought I was in love. What did I know? I was twenty-two years old.
-That must have been around the end of the war?
-Yes. Bernard had to go back to the Sudan after the wedding. God knows what he was doing there.
-So you were all alone?
-Completely. I learned to cope, although it was never quite the same after the war.
-Getting pregnant. Believe me, I wasn't trying to get pregnant. I wasn't prepared for one, let alone two.
-You mean twins?
-One, two, buckle my shoe.
-I didn't know Paul had a twin.
-I nearly died when they told me. Two, when it shouldn't have even been one. Bernard was scarcely around. He had no idea about children. Nor did I for that matter.
She scratched the top of her head, going after the spot where her white hair was thinnest, where there was an open sore.
-Paul's never said anything to me about a twin, Silky said.
-Paul can be that way.
-Was it a brother, or a sister?
-A brother. Max.
-Maxwell Davenport Gamberge. They were identical.
-Does he ever come visit?
-He would if he could. He's dead.
-It was a long time ago. But there's never an hour goes by. . . .
Mrs. Gamberge started to cry.
-Is there anything I can do? Silky said.
-I'm used to it. I'll be all right.
She sipped her gin. After a few moments she started to talk again.
-Max was sweet. The sweetest boy. If only he were here now. He wouldn't abandon me. It wasn't his fault. Poor, sweet Max.
-How old was he when he died?
- About four.
She threw her head back, shook it. Then she settled down again.
-Paul cried a lot. Sometimes all night. I couldn't bear it. When he wasn't crying he was whining. I was depressed enough as it was. Paul drove me crazy.
-Did they get along well together?
-Sometimes. Sometimes not. Max was always happy to be Paul's friend, but with Paul it was a different story. In his good moods he'd play with Max.
-What happened to Max, if you don't mind me asking?
-Darling Max. He was the sweetest little boy. . . . February nineteen. I found him in bed that morning, cold as a stone. Paul was crying. I don't think he realized what he'd done.
-What did he do?
-It was an accident. Somehow he rolled on his brother in the night. . . . He suffocated him.
-That's awful. I'm very sorry.
Mrs. Gamberge tried to mop up her tears with her sleeve, but more kept coming.
-Poor little Max couldn't breathe. He was such a treasure. I see him every day. I try to keep it to myself. He's always smiling. . . . People say they do, but they don't understand. Dear, precious Max. So unlike Paul. Paul was trouble. I couldn't always tell them apart, you know. When they were quiet it was almost impossible. I couldn't cope. Bernard was never home. I did what I could. What I had to do. What does it matter in the end? There's only one thing to look forward to.
She cradled her glass, pulled it to her, and closed her eyes. She moaned for a moment, then was silent.
-Are you all right? Silky asked.
He asked her again. There was no reply. He tiptoed out of the room.
Gamberge was reading about Monkey Woman when he thought he heard a voice. He closed the book.
-Silky! How did you get out? You went to see that bitch, didn't you?
-No, I did not.
-I'm not lying to you.
-So where the hell were you?
-With your mother.
-You heard what I said.
-You're pissed with me, aren't you? What did you talk about?
-You mostly. So why is it, Mr. Gamberge, that you don't visit your mother? That you have me make your excuses?
-I have my reasons.
-Is your brother the reason?
Gamberge's face turned funereal.
-She's a drunk, Gamberge said. She makes things up. She's senile. Don't pay any attention to her crap.
-She made Max up?
-Don't listen to her.
-Max was your brother, wasn't he?
-Did she show you a photo of him? Did you see any photos of Max down there?
-You know why? Because there aren't any. None.
-Max was your identical twin, wasn't he, Mr. Gamberge?
-Shut up, Silky.
-I'm talking now. Why do you keep me from having my own life? Why can't I be with Emily? Tell me. Does it have something to do with Max?
-Leave me alone.
-Is it true you killed him? Did you kill him?
-Did you smother him in his sleep? Did you kill your own brother because your mother loved him more than she loved you?
-You're crazy, you know that? Crazy. Crazy as a. . . .
Gamberge grabbed his own neck with both hands and squeezed. Silky did not let up.
-Max existed all right. Not for long. But long enough for you to-
-Enough! Enough! Gamberge continued, in a softer voice. It's not what you think. We played this game. I'd pretend to be Max and Max would pretend to be me. We'd confuse our mother that way. Answer to the wrong name. She'd been drinking when she came into the bedroom to turn out our light. I smell her now. Max and I had switched places in the bed. She thought Max was me. There was terror in her eyes. She took a pillow and held it over Max's head. It's a game, she kept telling me, thinking I was Max. He stopped wriggling after a while.
-You knew what she was doing, didn't you?
-I don't know.
-Why didn't you try to stop her?
-I wanted her to love me. The same way she did Max.
-I see. So for all these years you've made me go out-
-You're finished, Silky.
Gamberge picked up the phone, hesitated for a moment, then called the precinct. He told the cop on the desk that Silky the pickpocket was in his apartment, and gave his name and address.
When the cops arrived they burst in, three of them, hands on their guns. Except for the detective, who came in behind them.
-Where is he? the detective asked.
Gamberge pointed to the door at the end of the living room.
-Is he armed?
-Silky, armed? Gamberge laughed. No, he's not armed.
The cops made for the other room. Their guns drawn.
-My name's Rugg, the detective said. What's your connection to Silky, Mr. Gamberge?
-I've known him a very long time.
-We grew up together.
-Here in New York?
-You were close all that time?
-Close? He never leaves me alone.
-What made you decide to turn him in?
-I want to be able to live with myself.
There was banging and crashing as the cops stormed through the apartment.
-Were you aware of what he did from the beginning?
-Oh yes. But that didn't make it any easier.
-I understand. I'm glad you called us. I've been trying to nail this guy for more than five years. He's very slippery.
Rugg looked around at the paintings on the wall.
-You have an interest in art, Mr. Gamberge?
-Not so much anymore.
-These are quite some paintings.
The cops returned. Their guns were lowered. Fuseli, the senior cop, waved Rugg to one side.
-There's no one here, Fuseli said.
-Okay, you wait outside, Rugg told the others. Fuseli, you stay here.
The cops trooped out.
Gamberge had taken a seat at his desk. Rugg went over to him. Gamberge stood up.
-He must have got away, Rugg said. If you hear from him again, please let us know immediately.
-We have a profile of him. Prints and all. We'll get him.
-He left his prints behind?
-I am surprised.
-He likes to leave his name on the scene, Rugg said.
-He nearly always writes it in lipstick. Prefers dark shades. That was never in the paper. He slashes a pillow. You didn't allow that in the paper either.
-He's tall. We know that from a grainy shot on a surveillance camera.
-About my height, would you say?
-Those fancy cameras you're using now, are you getting better results?
-Definitely. Well thank you, Mr. Gamberge. Like I said, if you do hear from him again. . . . Here's my card.
Rugg headed for the door.
-Aren't you forgetting something, detective?
Rugg turned around. Gamberge was holding a watch by the strap, swinging it from side to side. Rugg checked his wrist. His watch was missing.
-Are you aware your Rolex is a fake? Gamberge asked.
-You know what detectives make? Rugg said.
Gamberge smiled, continued to swing the watch.
-Would you mind accompanying us, sir? Rugg said. We need to ask you a few more questions.
Eager to apply the handcuffs, Fuseli closed in on Gamberge.
-Could we leave those off until we get into the car? Gamberge asked. The doorman's a friend of mine.