Gone for Good Page 21

She crossed the room, stopped in front of the lamp, and faced us full. To our credit, neither Squares nor I flinched. But it wasn’t easy. Whoever had disfigured her had done it with great care. She’d probably been a looker at one time, but it was as though she’d gone through some anti-plastic-surgery regimen. A perhaps once-well-shaped nose had been squelched like a beetle under a heavy boot. Once-smooth skin had been split and ripped. The corners of her mouth had been torn to the point where it was hard to tell where it ended. Dozens of raised angry purple scars crisscrossed her face, like the work of a three-year-old given free rein with a Crayola. Her left eye wandered off to the side, dead in its socket. The other stared at us unblinking.

Squares said, “You used to be on the street.”

She nodded.

“What’s your name?”

Moving her mouth seemed to take great effort. “Tanya.”

“Who did that to you?”

“Who do you think?”

We did not bother replying.

“He’s through that door,” she said. “I take care of him. I never hurt him. You understand? I never raise a hand to him.”

We both nodded. I didn’t know what to make of that. I don’t think Squares did either. We moved to the door. Not a sound. Perhaps he was asleep. I didn’t really care. He’d wake up. Squares put his hand on the knob and looked back at me. I let him know that I’d be fine. He opened the door.

Lights were on in there. Full blast, in fact. I had to shade my eyes. I heard a beeping noise and saw some sort of medical machine near the bed. But that wasn’t what first drew my eye.

The walls.

That was what you noticed first. The walls were corked—I could see a little of the brown—but more than that, they were blanketed with photographs. Hundreds of photographs. Some blown up to poster size, some your classic three-by-fives, most somewhere in between—all hung on the cork by clear pushpins.

And they were all pictures of Tanya.

At least, that was what I guessed. The pictures were all pre-disfiguration. And I had been right. Tanya had been beautiful once. The photos, mostly glamour shots from what appeared to be a model’s portfolio, were inescapable. I looked up. More photographs, a ceiling fresco from hell.

“Help me. Please.”

The small voice came from the bed. Squares and I moved toward it. Tanya came in behind us and cleared her voice. We turned. In the harsh light, her scars seemed almost alive, squirming across her face like dozens of worms. The nose was not just flattened, but misshapen, claylike. The old photographs seemed to glow, swarming her in a perverse before-and-after aura.

The man in the bed groaned.

We waited. Tanya turned the good eye first toward me, then toward Squares. The eye seemed to dare us to forget, to etch this image into our brains, to remember what she’d once been and what he’d done to her.

“A straight razor,” she said. “A rusted one. It took him over an hour to do this. And he didn’t just slice up my face.”

Without another word, Tanya moved out of the room. She closed the door behind her.

We stood in silence for a moment. Then Squares said, “Are you Louis Castman?”

“You cops?”

“Are you Castman?”

“Yes. And I did it. Christ, whatever you want me to confess to, I did it. Just get me out of here. For the love of God.”

“We’re not cops,” Squares said.

Castman lay flat on his back. There was some kind of tube connected to his chest. The machine kept beeping and something kept rising and falling accordion-like. He was a white guy, newly shaven, fresh-scrubbed. His hair was clean. His bed had rails and controls. I saw a bedpan in the corner and a sink. Other than that, the room was empty. No drawers, no dressers, no TV, no radio, no clock, no books, no newspapers, no magazines. The window shades were pulled down.

I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked.

Castman’s eyes—and only his eyes—turned toward me. “I’m paralyzed,” he said. “A fucking quadriplegic. Below the neck”—he stopped, closed his eyes—“nothing.”

I was not sure how to begin. Neither, it seemed, was Squares.

“Please,” Castman said. “You gotta get me out of here. Before . . .”

“Before what?”

He closed his eyes, opened them again. “I got shot, what, three, four years ago maybe? I don’t know anymore. I don’t know what day or month or even year it is. The light’s always on, so I don’t know if it’s day or night. I don’t know who’s president.” He swallowed, not without some effort. “She’s crazy, man. I try screaming for help, it don’t do no good. She got the place lined with cork. I just lay here, all day, looking at these walls.”

I found it hard to find my voice. Squares, however, was unfazed. “We’re not here for your life story,” he said. “We want to ask you about one of your girls.”

“You got the wrong guy,” he said. “I haven’t worked the streets in a long time.”

“That’s okay. She hasn’t worked in a long time either.”


“Sheila Rogers.”

“Ah.” Castman smiled at the name. “What do you want to know?”


“And if I refuse to tell you?”

Squares touched my shoulder. “We’re leaving,” he said to me.

Castman’s voice was pure panic. “What?”

Squares looked down at him. “You don’t want to cooperate, Mr. Castman, that’s fine. We won’t bother you further.”

“Wait!” he shouted. “Okay, look, you know how many visitors I’ve had since I been here?”

“Don’t care,” Squares said.

“Six. A grand total of six. And none in, I don’t know, has to be a year at least. And all six were my old girls. They came here to laugh at me. Watch me shit myself. And you want to hear something sick? I looked forward to it. Anything to break up the monotony, you know what I mean?”

Squares looked impatient. “Sheila Rogers.”

The tube made a wet, sucking noise. Castman opened his mouth. A bubble formed. He closed his mouth and tried again. “I met her—God, I’m trying to think—ten, fifteen years ago. I was working the Port Authority. She came off a bus from Iowa or Idaho, some shithole like that.”

Working the Port Authority. I knew the routine well. Pimps wait at the terminal. They look for kids fresh off the bus—the desperate, the runaways, the raw meat, coming to the Big Apple to be models or actresses or start anew or flee from boredom or escape abuse. The pimps watch like the predators that they are. And then they swoop in, take them down, gnaw on the carcass.

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