Necrophilia Jones teased a spit curl with her little finger
“No. She lured me to my death. Dear Nicky—she was such a cozy little piece. I was smitten; what could I do but follow the call of the glands? I allowed myself to be murdered. Anything else would have been unfeeling, insensible. That’s French. Nicky was a dancer in the Roxy chorus, a showgirl. Breasts like a renaissance whore, tight blonde curls. What we called a flapper in those days. A veritable heart-stopper, sister. She had that indefinable something, a je ne sais quoi.”
“August 6, 1930. I can read it as if it were yesterday. Time comes and goes, Sister Joyful. In an astral plane it expands and contracts on a whim. To me, it was only yesterday. Or today. I can till smell sweet Nicky’s perfume, Chanel No. 5. I was famous as a fancier of chorus girls and fine dining—all the good things life has to offer. We had just exited Billy Haas’s chophouse on West 45th Street in Midtown. A cab—one of the Checker wide-bodies—came spinning around the corner. There was a cop on the running board. The taxi screeches to a stop and out pops Hizzoner the Mayor. Nicki slides into the cab and we headed for what I thought to be an evening at the theater. To my surprise there were two men already in the car. One, on the jump seat, was a copper—a police sergeant I knew from mayor James J. Walker’s bodyguard. Hizzoner the Mayor was a frequenter of Broadway theatre and the upper-class speakeasies like the Central Park Casino, much as was I. The other was a hooligan of the race track sort, checkered suit, a prison pallor and brass knuckles prominently displayed. The hooligan introduced himself as Schottke and flexed his fist around the brass knucks. The last thing I remember was Nicky batting those wedgewood blue eyes at me as she teased a spit curl with her little finger. I suspected nothing. When I awakened we were in Brooklyn—Coney Island.”
“They killed you. Why?”
“Why, indeed—one of those big, sticky words. There, I was garroted, stabbed and buried beneath the Boardwalk near West Eighth Street. I was declared legally dead in 1939 and the Police Department’s missing person’s case was closed in 1979.”
“They didn’t investigate your disappearance?”
“Tammany.* I was as corrupt as any of ’em. More than most. I think a lot of people knew that no good could come of delving into Judge Crater’s affairs.”
The couple had been strolling as they talked. Sister Joyful noticed that they were hand in hand. She did not disengage herself. By now they had reached a shady triangular park, placed by the city at an intersection of an angled avenue. An iron fence and a crop of starveling grass beckoned the weary passerby to stop and commune with nature.
“Thus you see why I feel an affinity for the unanointed dead,” said the judge. “That is why I performed my first miracle with the man on the meridian—to pretty him up. He had to stay dead; that’s the rule. I strangled him, just as I was strangled. We were brothers, under the noose, sort of...”
“So the dead man in the middle of the street has nothing to do with why you came to the church. You were looking for me?”
“No, sister. For a bowl of hot broth and a crust of bread. It’s been over seventy years.”
“Ohh...” Sister Joyful sat on a bench next to an old woman who was tossing scraps of bread to a flock of pigeons. “Pardon me,” she said to the old woman, indicating that room should be made for her escort.
“You farted?” said the woman not moving an inch.
“Well, I pardon you anyway.” The woman went back to feeding her flock.
“Some things never change,” said the judge. “Pigeons. Their hordes darken the sky at noon."
“You spoke of two miracles. Or a second miracle. How many miracles do you have up your sleeve, anyway.”
“One more that I know of. But I shall require your help. The female perspective...”
“For the Second Coming.”
“Depends where one starts one’s counting, doesn’t it. Oh, alright, second coming. The new messiah at any rate. Like all sons of famous fathers he will have to start at the bottom. For this we need a Mom. A virgo intacta...”
“I am a Pisces, if that is any help.”
“...an unbroken bridge of flesh denying entrance to the birth canal. One of those prophesy thingys, but there is some wiggle room. Parthenogenesis is a tricky business. It requires a woman’s touch.” Here Judge Crater slipped a hand beneath Sister Joyful’s habit. “Your touch.”
“Parthenogenesis. That’s not French.”
“No, Greek. Refers to Athena leaping full grown from the brow of Zeus, her father.”
“Do you have any children?”
“No. Stella wouldn’t allow it. All her demands—sex here, sex there: in the car, under the shrubberies, in the powder room at a cocktail party. I never figured it out until this very minute that she was unconsciously trying to get pregnant. The pitter-patter of little feet about the house.” Judge Crater looked lost in thought. “I’ll wager Stella was some pissed-off that I missed her birthday. I had been stabbed and strangled at the time and couldn’t make it. She most likely thought I’d been detained on some coital hanky-panky with darling Nicky or, failing that, political business. My colleagues thought I was in Maine. After a week, though, she began calling around. She was reassured everything was all right, that I would eventually turn up.” Judge Crater picked up a stone and scattered the old woman’s flock. The woman cursed him in an ancient tongue and picked up her own rock.
“Tsk, tsk. Language,” said the judge as he whacked her over the head with his rolled umbrella. The rock was dropped.
“She is...?” asked Sister Joyful.
“The municipal angel. Her mind has crumbled. She haunts the waterfront putting an arm on passing strangers in the hope of a charity windup. Shabby, alas. No fruit baskets today.”
“The pigeons are mine,” the municipal angel cackled, “...the souls of departed aldermen. Bite on this, dead man.” The woman reached into a bulging tote and produced a huge pink overripe Florida grapefruit, which she prepared to hurl at the judge. Silent as an Indian scout, a figure loomed out of the smog of pigeons to stay her hand. “Hush, my lovely. Not yet.”
The municipal angel wept and unfurled slate-colored spotted wings—not unlike those of an overlarge pigeon. There was a ratcheting of neglected joints as she fluttered over to the apparition to be consoled. Lithe and dapper, there could be no doubt as to the newcomer’s identity.
The Sister gasped and fell to her knees; Joseph Force Crater doffed his fedora. “Jimmy. James J. Walker. Is that you?”
“Yep.” Hizzoner doffed his gray Homburg. “The late Joe Crater, I believe. The police assured me you were dead. I’ll have to look into that. Nonetheless, glad that you could come. This is the End of Days of which I spoke at, at...” He turned aside to confer with a person unknown and unseen. Hizzoner cleared his throat. “...the dedication of the Bayside Community Center. That was 1929 I believe, the 19th of October.”
There was a roll of distant thunder; the ground shook. “And I’m never wrong.”
* The Society of Saint Tammany, founded by a furniture dealer named William Mooney, was organized in New York City on May 12, 1789. A history of political corruption in New York is not quite the same thing as a history of Tammany, but Tammany plays such a large role it is worth more than a footnote. See Judge Crater and Tammany Hall.