Esmeralda was a cheap, ordinary little Capuchin monkey. Rick Albright bought her off Moe McCormick when Sally Tannenbaum went to Alaska where a man expected to pay for what he got. Sure, there'd been some good times. Moe tried to get Sally to say great. He followed her up and down the stairs, asking what about this, what about that, as she carted boxes to her beat up orange station wagon parked halfway on the sidewalk. She was tired. He got her to admit goodthere's bound to be some good times in twelve years, but he couldn't get her to say great.
Sally had on a pair of rust-colored pants with pleats at the pockets and a black polyester shirt which created electricity between it and her fine, limp, long blond hair. The shirt was untucked in back from reaching above the bathtub to get the last three bottles of Finesse Extra Body Shampoo that remained out of the case she'd bought back in 1998. Sally was a super shopper. Moe had always loved that about her. The pants fit loosely except when she climbed stairs.
"Can we just sit down a minute, please?"
"No, Moe. We can't," she said, steadfastly stomping back up from one step to the next.
"So, what are you saying?"
"The same thing I've been saying all morning."
"Which is what, exactly? Don't mince words."
"I'm going to Alaska."
"Now? Right this minute? Is that what you're telling me?"
"You're doing the talking, Moe."
"So, I talk too much? Is that it? Why don't you just say so? Why do we have to carry everything to extremes? All this dragging boxes up and down, we don't need that. Do we need that? Not to mention traumatizing the poor monkey. Have you seen her in there? All crouched up and shivering?"
"She'll be fine." Sally was on her last load. Moe followed behind her, not carrying things.
"What are you going to do in Alaska, man? Live in a igloo? Plus there's a big-ass hole in the ozone right on top of the whole god damn state, man. You'll get skin cancer. Is that what you want? Skin cancer?"
Through the car window Moe noticed ways Sally could have packed more efficiently but didn't suggest them. The vacuum cleaner, for example, would have fit nicely on the floor behind the front seat with the hose kind of snaked up over the wheel well. He also didn't mention how the hell did she think he was supposed to vacuum the fucking rugs without a fucking vacuum cleaner?
"God damn it, Sally...okay, take the monkey with you, then. I'm serious."
"I can't. Be nice to her. Explain things."
"What things! What I'm going to say? I haven't got the slightest clue what the fuck any of this is all about, man."
"I know, Moe."
"When she sees you're gone, she'll be an emotional wreck. She'll tear the place apart."
"Bribe her. Spoil her. Buy her bananas."
Moe was a large, hairy man with a pink, chubby face and black curls curling over his forehead and sticking to the plump back of his pink neck. He was out of breath and sweating. "How about we just go..." He huffed and puffed. "...up to Mendocino? Take a few days, take a whole week, what the hell. Screw work, screw everything. Just go. Relax. Enjoy ourselves."
"I'm going to Alaska," Sally said, tossing a last Hefty bag through the open window and onto the passenger seat.
"Let's just go up the coast," Moe said.
Sally lifted an eyebrow to remember her by, eased off the curb and, without waving or looking back or glancing in the rearview mirror, drove away with her elbow resting on the door, catching a breeze in the palm of her hand, holding it a second, letting it go, catching it again.
When the car was out of sight an orange smudge remained in his mind and Moe still stood there, absently following the long gone blue-gray trail of exhaust hovering the pavement. He held a finger in the air as a new thought occurred to him. Sally had loved him. She must have. She had to have loved him. Moe was so happy for a minute that tears came into his eyes, real tearsand he was sure Sally would somehow feel his happiness. They had this thing. She'd slam on the brakes and make a U-turn in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge, cut through the divider posts, tiptoe up behind him and throw her arms around his neck and they'd end up head over heels in the spirea.
He prepared himself to pretend that he hadn't heard her sneaking up on him. A chill dried the sweat between his shoulder blades. He was cold and felt stupid still standing there, but when he got back to the apartment he was still all set to pretend, when she got back, that he really thought she might actually have left him, there for a minute. "You really had me going," he would say and laugh and rub his neck.
After a week, Moe was no longer pretending. He couldn't live there anymore. Everything reminded him. The number seven on their apartment door was the barb at the end of a hand-held harpoon. The toilet bowl was white as an igloo. Moe didn't eat. He reached for a Kleenex and thought about how Sally used to clean her glasses. He thought about her poor nearsighted eyes. He saw her naked on a bearskin rugbig ivory yellow bear teeth snarling, thick pink tongue curled against a thick pink palate. Ropes of her hair were wrapped around the insides of the drain in the bathtub. It had molded into a greenish, grayish clump. The more he tried to pull it out the moldier it got and that night Moe dreamed he had a clump of hair stuck in his throat. When he tried to pull it out it came alive between his fingers like a lizard with a long barbed tail digging into organs deep inside him. If he kept pulling at it he'd have his heart in his throat. That woke him up. He had to move, period, that was itbut how could he find a new apartment dragging the god damn monkey with him everywhere he went? He had to get rid of Esmeralda.
Rick might take the thing, Moe thought. Rick was the landlord. He owned the building. Moe put on his bathrobe, picked up Esmeralda by the handle of her cage, went downstairs and knocked on Rick's door. It was quarter to five in the morning. Moe didn't give a shit. He knocked on the door again, "Hey, Rick! It's me. Moe. It's a emergency. We have to talk."
Then Moe remembered that Rick worked graveyards as he had every night for the last fifteen years and didn't have it in him to climb the stairs again. He eased himself down against the front of Rick's apartment door and sat there on the floor. Esmeralda sat there with him, eating pine nuts.
Rick Albright stood in front of a window on the 15th Floor of the Tishman Building, looking at the reflections of computer terminals. Then he looked through the reflections to the patterns of lights on and off in the buildings across Market Street. The rosy fingers of dawn were still pretty gray, but behind the Ferry Building, Rick could see they were on their way again. Not much had changed since Homer when it came to the rosy fingers of dawn. He had on Levi's, old Asics and a yellow T-shirt with the words, "Envision It" stenciled across its chest.
His phone rang.
"Wire Transfer, this is Rick...
"No, it would have gone directly to the trust department. You have to try back after eight...
"That's the way it used to be, yeah. But now it goes straight to the trust department...
"Since they put in the new system...
"Six months ago...
"Hell if I know...
"I don't have a supervisor...
"That's right. I'm it...
"All nine thousand branches, you got it. Singapore. Malaysia. Burkina Faso...
"It used to be Upper Volta...
"I have no idea, maybe some ad agency found out volta meant vagina in Hindi...
"I'm not being a smartass, I truly do not know why Upper Volta changed its name any more than I know why the trust department doesn't open until eight...
"Look, lady, I'm doing my job, you're doing yours, why bust each other's balls, all right?...
He hung up and went to the bathroom in case she called back.
A couple hours later Rick was leaning back in his chair with his feet on his desk and an open People Magazine face down on his chest.
"Good morning, Rick," a voice said softly, almost singing.
"Jesus, Ruby, you scared the shit out of me."
"I always scare you. Don't you know when I'm coming by now?"
Ruby Lucca was a Filipina woman in her mid-thirties, cute, sexy, lots of makeup and perfume, short, tight red skirt.'
"How am I supposed to know when you're coming?"
"You cannot tell when a woman is coming?"
Rick ignored her innuendo. "Everything's pretty caught up," he said. "There might be something in code and test."
"You want some Egg McMuffin?"
"Coffee? Tea? Me?"
"I'm afraid I wouldn't know what to do with you, my dear."
"You're afraid of everything. I could show you."
"I bet you could."
"So, I'm out of here."
"Why do you always run away? Are you gay?"
"You are not. Someone told me you were married before."
"It was a long time ago."
"Do you go out with women?"
"Not much, no."
"Why not? Never up, never in they say...my husband used to play golf."
"What happened to him?"
"He divorced me."
"Do you want to get married again?"
"Is that a proposal?"
"You could get any guy you want."
"It's not so easy. I have a seven-year-old son."
"So, it's not easy. Look at you. I throw myself at you every day."
"I just don't want you breaking my heart."
"If I broke anything it wouldn't be your heart."
Moe was asleep on the floor in front Rick's door when he got home from work. Esmeralda looked up at him and offered Rick one of her pine nuts. He poked a finger into her cage. She put the pine nut into her other hand and took hold of Rick's finger like it might have been the end of a banana, then let go when it wasn't. Rick poked Moe gently in the ribs with the toe of his right shoe.
"Hey, Moe. What's up?"
"Oh, Rick. Shit, man. I gotta talk to you."
"I can't live here anymore. I have to move. Like now. Like today. Keep my security deposit, I don't give a shit. I'm moving. That's it."
"What's it been? A week?"
"Yeah. And what have I heard in a week? Jack! Not a word. She could be dead. She could be worse than dead."
"What's moving going to do?"
"Well, in the first place, I wouldn't know if she fucking called my ass or didn't call my ass, for one thing. Or if I got a god damn cheap-ass post card or not. I wouldn't know anything. That's what I want to know. Nothing. Nada. Zip."
"Couldn't she still just...call you at work?"
"Yeah. But she ain't going to. I don't think. I mean, I think she might have dumped me, man. I think it's over. I mean, I fucking know it's over, you know? All she wrote. Finito."
"So, why move?"
"'Cause she's haunting the shit out of me here, that's why. I can't eat. I can't sleep. I have...dreams. Fuck it, you don't want to hear this shit."
"Sure I do." Rick smiled.
"I just have to move. That's all there is to it."
"It's not your fault. I know that. I just need to get me something like one of those singles places, you know? With a Jacuzzi and shit? But that's the other thing. Sally took every god damn nickel we had in the bank. I mean, it was mostly all her money, but still..."
"You want to just not pay rent this month?"
"That'd be great, man. But what about the security deposit, though?"
"Don't worry about it. You've probably got some interest coming."
"Like about how much, do you think?"
"I don't know. A hundred bucks, maybe."
"That'd be cool. That'd be really cool. But the other thing is she stuck me with the god damn monkey, man. I mean, who's going to rent me a place with a Jacuzzi when they see me dragging a monkey around like I'm some kind of fucking organ grinder, you know?"
"You want me to keep her awhile?"
"You think you might want to buy her off me?"
"I don't really need a monkey, Moe. Thanks."
"Well, what the hell are you saying then? Don't jack me around, okay? None of this is very fucking funny if you ask me."
"I thought you wanted to get rid of her?"
"I do, yeah. But, hey, I could just take her up to U. C., too. They'd give me something, you know?"
"Okay, I'll give you fifty bucks."
"I was thinking more like around a hundred, manlike, including her cage and shit. I mean, she needs a cage, right?"
"Yeah, I guess she probably does. Okay. A hundred it is. I'll figure it all out and write you a check for the whole thing, security deposit, interest, monkey, cage...anything else?"
"No, I guess not. That ought to about do it. That'd be really good. That'd about save my life. So, you want to just take her now, then?"
"The fucking monkey, man. Esmeralda!"
"That's her name?"
"Yeah. Sally named her. Some hunchback horseshit, I don't know. You can change it if you want."
"What does she eat?"
"Anything, man. Whatever you got. So when do you think I can get that check, then?"
"Come by tonight. Around nine. I need some sleep."
"Hey, thanks, man. I really mean it. I been going nuts."
Moe managed to swing a sublease at a place in a complex of condominiums with all the conveniences up off I-280 in the hills behind Millbrae. A few months later, he was standing out on his new redwood deck. It was a Sunday. He could see down to the deck below his. They were a seedy pair. The guy had a motorcycle. The chick had a tattoo. A broken clay pot with a dead spider plant in it lay on its side against an unstrung aluminum lawn chair. There was an open bag of Black Magic spilled across the wide, rust-colored planks. Spots of mold grew around cantaloupe rinds. He didn't have to live surrounded by filth. He could take it up with the associationhave their asses thrown the fuck out.
Moe stared out across the gray ocean to the horizon. He couldn't tell water from sky. His eyes drifted north, across to Marin and up the rocky coast toward Mendocino, toward Coos Bay and Astoria and into Canada. The coast got rockier, wilder, colder.
"Motherfuck," Moe said, and felt like kicking his right heel into his left shin.
He looked at reflections of the dazzling gold morning sun flashing off windows in the valley. They disappeared from one window and showed up flashing from another window.
"Cocksucker," Moe said and felt like hitting himself in the face with his fist.
Over the hills behind Moe's place, past the TV tower and down the woodsy side of Mt. Sutro to the flatlands of Haight-Ashbury, Rick Albright was talking to himself too, but at least he had Esmeralda to listen to him. Esmeralda would listen to anything but Heavy Metal.
French doors separated Esmeralda's room from the rest of Rick's apartment. That morning hadn't been much different from any other. When he went to get her, the first thing Rick heard was her toenails scrabbling across the varnished floor. Then she scratched the glass like screechy chalk and turned her lips inside out. Rick couldn't look at her. He wanted to look at her but had learned he couldn't look at her. Looking at her got her too excited. When she got too excited she wet herself and was mortified. When she wet herself she positively wanted to crawl into a hole and die. But, as long as he didn't feed her before he went to work at night and didn't look at her when he got home in the morning, the minute he opened the door to her room, Esmeralda zipped past him in a flash and headed straight to the kitchen.
Rick had rigged up the spare bedroom with a trapeze and a pair of still rings. Outside he'd covered the patio with chicken wire and had put out a few pots of ferns and philodendrons from the rain forests of South America. She had the run of the place, inside and out. She was one lucky monkey. Hardly a day went by that she didn't pull some new stunt to show her appreciation.
One morning she got into a rusted can of Johnson's Baby Powder and creeped around disguised as a wily albino thing, prowling the high plateaus of the Andes, hooting her pink mouth, rolling her mischievous eyes. Another morning she figured out how to make phone calls. She figured out all kinds of things: 1) that rolls of toilet paper took a long time to become saturated enough to sink to the bottom of the toilet bowl, 2) that the neighbor's dogs barked when she chattered at them through her chicken wire, 3) that if she pulled on the little slip of shiny brown cellophane at the side of a cassette tape pretty soon she had a whole room full of shiny brown cellophane to tie into knots and hang in long streamers down from the chandelier and across to the curtain rods and 4) plenty more.
"Okay, maniac, out!" Rick called to her through the French doors. Esmeralda flung herself backwards in a flip through the air to a perfect landing. Paint came unstuck. The door opened with a crack like a rifle shot and Esmeralda slipped between Rick's legs, scrambled over the low, slick surface of the coffee table, bounded across the living room rug and slid onto the swirling linoleum up to the legs of her highchair. Rick helped her into it. She could get into her highchair by herself, sure, but she liked making Rick feel like he was of use to her. Esmeralda intuitively knew he liked being of use to her. She was one smart monkey. She knew more weasely ways into Rick's affections than anyone had in a long, long time.
Esmeralda tore into breakfast with a vengeance, Froot Loops popping like pink and yellow popcorn all over the place. She sneaked peeks at him through her eyebrows to see if she was getting away with anything or not. When there wasn't any cereal left, Esmeralda played with one of her pine cones in the wooden tray of her antique highchair. She loved pine cones. She loved the smell of them, the overall look of a pine cone, the feel of it, the way it gave a little and squeaked when she twisted it, examining it for tics, for spiders, shaking it and listening for tiny shrieks.
Rick was a tall man. Skinny. He had on a pair of white boxer shorts. That was itwhite boxer shorts with tiny blue pinstripes. Cervical bumps at the back of his spine diminished up into his short, thinning blond hair. The rest of his bones were equally prominent; scapulae, clavicles and ribs protruded under thin looking skin. Ropy purple veins bulged in his arms. Tendons in the front and back of his neck held his head on his shoulders. He was an engineering miracle. A couple long clumps of oily hair sticking up looked like an old fashioned TV antenna. He glanced toward the monkey. She was still intent on her pine cone.
"Want to go count the diamonds?"
Esmeralda looked over at him and cocked her head.
"Come on, let's go count the diamonds!" Rick jumped up and slapped both knees and stood there with his wrist's limp and his fists in the air like a squirrel standing on its hind legs.
Esmeralda leaped from her highchair and onto the table, which she knew was the wrong place to have leapt, and hopped into a chair and onto the floor, barely able to contain her excitement at the prospect of counting the diamonds again. Rick lit a candle in one of the burners of the stove and took Esmeralda by the hand and went down the dark back stairs and into the basement.
Rick hadn't always owned the building but he'd lived there since 1984going on twenty years, was it? He no longer kept careful track of time. He and Nordby had found the place together. They'd been friends since high school and had driven Nordby's newly-dead great-aunt's Toyota from Indiana to California when it dawned on them one day that all they wanted to do was buy and sell drugs. They didn't go to Haight-Ashbury on purpose. When they got to San Francisco the first cheap apartment they found was on Belvedere.
Not long after they rented the place, Nordby brought Daphne over and Rick and Daphne hit it off. Nordby was pissed. Daphne was serious and pretty and small and shy. She had haunting green eyes and brown hair. Rick and Daphne got married within a week. Nordby was their best man. After the wedding, he moved into a studio on the top floor of the building and left the newlyweds to themselves.
Somewhere around the third month of her pregnancy, Daphne got sad. After the baby was bornMiranda, they called her, after the chick in The TempestDaphne stayed sad. It came from everywhere, this sadness, unutterable, bleak, empty, debilitating, painful, unendurable, like a volcano out of a dry lake bed, covering everything in her with slow molten sadness.
Her first suicide was mainly experimental. She put on new makeup, laid a pillow across the open oven door, turned the gas to BROIL and tried to go to sleep. That was the way he'd find her. Pregnant. In her flannel nightgown, looking serene. Pretty. Nice. Honest. Clean. Meant what she said. She couldn't sleep and just ended up with a splitting headache.
Somewhere in the middle of the eighth month of her pregnancy, Daphne was soaking in a hot bath. Her belly was a shiny island. She lolled her head back, felt the water creeping through to the roots of her hair and with her face entirely underwater, took as deep a breath as she could. After a day in the psych ward, they set Daphne up as an outpatient. She went to the appointments written down on appointment slips and waited in the waiting room for the time on her appointment slip to show up on the clock. Pharmaceutical salesmen left samples of new drugs which the Pakistani doctor kept haphazardly in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet in the reception area. The drug samples had soothing sounding names and came in crackly cellophane packages with pamphlets explaining what all they could do. The wrappers rustled like penny-candy when Daphne stuffed them into her purse.
When she was alone, Daphne took each new batch of pills down to the basement and into an unlighted little room made of narrow, tongue-and-groove slats Rick and Nordby used to use to grow marijuana plants. Daphne always brought six or eight white, cinnamon flavored votive candles with her. The floor was smooth cement. A round slab like a manhole cover had been cut out of the floor. Beneath the slab was bare earth. By fitting an iron rod into a pair of hidden, hinged hooks, Daphne lifted out the slab and hid her pills in a four quart metal mixing bowl. She was the only one who knew it was there. She kept the rod behind the ironing board.
It was a ritual. When she got back from the clinic, Daphne went into the basement, spaced the candles in a circle around the hole in the floor, lit them, took out her mixing bowl, ripped open the cellophane and dropped new pills into the ones already there. She put her hands into them and felt how they felt all together; capsules with beads inside, tablets the shapes of hearts and ovals and tiny two-tone aspirin shapes. She let them fall between her fingers. Back upstairs, Daphne burned the pamphlets and empty wrappers in the sink and washed the ashes down the drain. Rick kept thinking he smelled something burning. Daphne told him he must be smelling things.
Miranda was born in March and Daphne's sadness let up for awhileor maybe she was just too worn out to notice. By May it was back. Rick was mainly in charge of the kid. He didn't mind. He liked the kid. The kid liked him. They did everything together, listened to music, danced, sang, cooed, gurgled, grimaced, giggled, laughed and cried and laughed again.
Toward the end of July, Daphne started taking the pills, one at a time, with small sips of raspberry-flavored kefir, first a heart-shaped pill, then one of the capsules and a small fuchsia oval and on and on until she felt queasy and curled up on her side with the knuckles of her right hand in her mouth. Rick found her, hoisted her over his shoulder, blew out the burning candles, stuffed her body into the back seat of the old four-door Mercury he borrowed from the landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Cruckshank.
Daphne spent a week at Langly Porter. August and September and October were fine. Rick had Nordby or Mrs. Cruckshank look in on Daphne when he had to go out. At the end of November, Rick and Nordby spent the day with the Columbians in San Jose. When they got back, there were two police cars and a fire engine in front of the building. Inside the apartment, there were two cops in uniform and two other cops in street clothes.
"I'm Rick Albright. I live here," he said.
"I'm Sergeant Griggs," said the cop in a blue blazer. "This is Inspector Sullivan. Mind telling us where you've been?"
"In the park. Where's my wife?"
"Mind telling us why you're sweating?"
The door going to the basement was open. The apartment was thick with smoke. There were fire hoses snaking like snakes down the back stairs. Water was running. Rick didn't answer the question right away.
"Okay, listen, Mr. Aldrich," the inspector said.
"Albright," Rick corrected him.
"Just answer the question." He had on a prickly herringbone sport coat. His tie was loose to relieve a shaving rash.
"What question?" Rick frowned.
"I'm not in a mood to fuck around." The inspector blew the words out his nose. The diamond-patterned butt of a gun showed up in a shoulder holster. The inspector's face was red. "For all we know, you killed them yourself," he said.
All Rick heard was the word "them."
Rick was arrested for assaulting a police officer. As part of a plea bargain initiated by the judge who was a colonel in the National Guard, he agreed to enlist in the U. S. Army. He was stationed in Thailand and sent zip lock bags of Thai-stick and dirt cheap heroin back to Nordby. Nordby cut it and sold it and moved back into the big apartment again. He was making a fortune. When Mr. Cruckshank died, Nordby bought the building from Mrs. Cruckshank. Nordby was stoked. He owned an apartment building. He could rent out apartments to whatever chicks he wanted to rent apartments out to.
The money went to his head. He was buying more and more cocaine and getting more and more paranoid. He didn't trust banks. He turned whatever excess money he made from selling the dope Rick sent him into loose diamonds and a few sapphires just for fun. He kept them in Daphne's hole in the basement. Toward the end of Rick's tour, Nordby did up a little heroin to take the edge off all that god damn cocaine, ducked out between two cars on Oak Street and was killed by a bread truck.
When he got out of the military Rick found a quit claim deed to the building under a small stainless steel mixing bowl full of diamonds and the sapphires in the hole in the floor of the room in the basement and got a job in the Wire Transfer Department of the World Headquarters of Wells Fargo Bank. He requested and was given the graveyard shift on a permanent basis.
Since then, nothing much had changed. He always went to work. Mornings were his nights. Even on weekends. He had not missed a single shift in fifteen years. The bank gave him raises but Rick didn't pay much attention. The checks went straight into his bank account, along with the income from the apartments in the building. His accountant took a look at the whole kit and caboodle once a year. At the diamonds and sapphires, his accountant did not take a look; about the diamonds and sapphires, his accountant did not want even to know.
There was a padlock on the cellar door. Rick unlocked it and Esmeralda skittered inside. There were forty lush orchids on shelves lit by gro-lights. In the old days they had been marijuana plants. Rick used the lit candle to light the other candles which were in a semicircle around a small Persian Prayer rug. He misted the orchids with a half-gallon fern mister and turned off the gro-lights. Newer lumber was butted up against older lumber where some of the walls had been patched. He pulled the rug toward him, sat on it, and removed the slab of cement covering the hole. Then he got out the parcel of old newspapers with a rubber band around it, slipped off the rubber band, removed the small mixing bowl and sat the diamonds on the rug in front of him. Among the diamonds, the few sapphires went almost unnoticed. He let them fall between his fingers, plinking, one at a time, back into the bowl. He knew by then it was utterly useless, but again that morning Rick tried to teach Esmeralda how to count.
"One," he said and dropped a diamond into the bowl.
She looked at him like he was nuts. He dropped two or three together, plinkity plink-plink, then the whole small handful all at once, just to hear the euphony nearly two million dollars can make in almost no time at all. A quick crash. A splash of diamonds and sapphires obeying the laws of liquid tossed into a dish. Splash, flash, sparkle, stop.
Esmeralda seemed to think the diamonds were hers. She figured she was about the richest monkey on the planet Earth, and got to acting like she might go out and buy herself a little red pillbox hat to wear on a tightrope stretched across Market Street. You could almost see it in her eyes, feeling how it might be up there on that high wire, gazing down upon all the adoring onlookers on the sidewalks below. She pictured their hearts in their throats. She pictured them breaking into thunderous applause when she made it safely to the other side, and pictured herself taking a bow and doffing her pillbox hatand all that adulation got her so excited she couldn't help but throw herself into a little back flip and landed among the burning candles. Wax and flame singed her fur and caught the parcel of yellowing newspapers instantly on fire.
"God damn it. You little..."
Esmeralda screeched and chattered and ran and cowered in a corner, with nowhere else to go. Rick got the fern mister and put out the fire. Then he squirted it at Esmeralda. She screeched all over again and tried to climb up one of the walls. Rick opened the door. Esmeralda screamed again and scampered between his legs and tore off upstairs, lickety split.
"You better god damn scream...fuckbrain. Yeah, and stay up there," Rick yelled, then returned to put everything back the way he found it and locked the padlock again.
Esmeralda was hiding behind the couch. She had her hands over her face but was tentatively looking out at Rick between her fingers.
"Did I yell at you? I did, didn't I? I'm sorry. Are you ever going to like me again? No? I'll be really, really sad if you don't."
Esmeralda came out then from behind the couch. She touched his hand shyly. He bent down. She touched his face.
"You want to do a flip? Huh? Is that what you want? Okay, come on," he stood up and held Esmeralda's hands while she walked up his shins. When she got to his stomach, she flipped herself backwards, hung, double jointed, between his outstretched arms, then flipped forwards and back again, let go of his hands, landed on her feet and clapped and clapped and clapped like mad. "Good girl! What a good little girl you are! Yes! You are a good, good, good little girl."
No matter what he did, Moe McCormick had not been able to help but think about Sally Tannenbaum...all the time. It could not be stressed enough. Moe thought about Sally every minute of every day. He didn't know what to do. He could not stop his mind from thinking about her. He thought about her constantly. He dreamed about her at night and mistakenly felt her next to him in the morning and moaned about the whole sad situation nonstop to the guys at work so that, at around noon that Sunday, it ticked him off when he answered the phone and a guy's voice asked if he would accept the charges for a call from Sally Tannenbaum.
"Come on, man, who the fuck is this?...
"Charlie, you fucking prick, if this is you...
"Yeah, right. If you're the fucking AT&T Operator I'm fucking Napoleon fucking Bonaparte...
"Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, charge me double, man. Sorry...
"Where the fuck are you?...
"I thought someone was dicking with me, man...
"So, you're on your way, like, back here?...
"Sure it's cool with me, are you crazy?...
"I moved, yeah. You got the address?...
"Yeah, I told him if you ever called...
"It's all right. I don't know. It's got, like, a deck and shit. And a view...
"Yeah, you can see the whole god damn freeway going back and forth all night...
"Yes. I missed the total piss out of you...
"Yeah, she likes it fine...
"So, like, about when tomorrow?...
"You think you can find the place okay?...
"I know, I know. You're an extraordinarily bright, capable, independent, beautiful woman...
"So, how was Alaska?...
"Yeah, okay, it's been a long time, I know...
"Tomorrow night, then...
Holy Fucking Fuck!
Well, the first thing Moe was going to have to do was go over and get the god damn monkey back. Rick probably wouldn't even take the hundred bucks, but, hey, he'd offer it to him anyway, what the fuck. In fact, when he heard Sally was coming back, Rick would probably give him a hundred bucksto take Sally out to dinner or some such shit. Rick was like that. A truly generous, thoughtful guy...the schmuck.
Of course, he wouldn't have a problem giving him the monkey back, Moe knew that for a fact. Rick didn't have a problem with anything. He'd never had a problem with anything as long as Moe had known him. Twelve fucking years. And in all that whole entire time Rick did nothing but go to work at night and come home in the morning. They used to pass each other in the hallway, coming and going. Rick always had the same bland expression like a walking pushover. The guy didn't even hassle people about the rent. It was like he just lived there like anybody else. That was why you could talk to the guy. And he knew about Sally. He'd understand. Moe nodded his head in agreement with himself.
Burnished, copper-colored ceramic tiles went about halfway up the facade of Rick's apartment building, otherwise it was made of bricks; dirty bricks held together with dirty mortar. Its windows were tall, stately, framed by bricks laid opposite the rest. Moe ran his knuckles across the cool tiles as he climbed the stairs. He used the key he'd never returned to get into the hallway and knocked on Rick's door. Rick was still in his underpants, just about ready to get into bed for the day.
"Okay if I come in for a minute?" Moe asked.
"Sure. What's going on?"
"Okay if we sit down?"
"Yeah, sure. You want coffee? 7-Up?"
"No. No thanks. I'm fine."
They sat across from each other, Moe on the couch, Rick in his wicker chair. "Sally called," Moe said.
"I thought she might."
"She called here, right? She didn't mention the monkey, did she?"
"No. I was asleep. I just gave her your number and new address."
"Cool. That was good. So I need to get the monkey back."
"You can't have the monkey back, Moe. Sorry."
"I'll give you the hundred bucks, don't worry."
"That's not the point."
"Yeah? What's the point then? I need the fucking monkey back, that's all there is to it. Sally asked me about her."
"You can't have the monkey, Moe."
"What do you mean I can't have the monkey? I have to have her. Are you nuts? I'll pay you extra or whatever. Like, for your trouble."
"I like her."
"Yeah, well Sally likes her too. What am I going to say? I sold her fucking monkey? She'll raise her shitty eyebrow at me and go back to fucking Alaska again. Just get yourself another one. I'll pay for the whole thing. Give me back all the old stuff and I'll get you all new stuff. Cage, monkey, the works. You can start from scratch. Like Sally did. I mean, that's the whole point right there. We raised her together, is the point."
"We've gotten to...sort of like each other."
"Tough shit. Go get to like some other fucking monkey."
"I can't do that, Moe."
"Why not? She's Sally's monkey, man. What's up with that?"
"I told you. We like each other."
"Look. You don't understand what I'm saying. I need to get the monkey back. I really do. There's more to it than I can explain."
"I understand what you're saying. You don't understand what I'm saying. You can't have her back," Rick said and stood up.
"Sit down a minute, all right? I'm serious." Moe collected his thoughts. "If you could feel what's going on in me...why don't you just tell me what you want."
"I don't want anything. I'm keeping her. She's mine."
"What a fucking prick!" Moe said quietly, shaking his head.
"I think we're through talking," Rick said.
"I don't," said Moe. "You're pretty vulnerable here, you know. I've still got keys. Probably everyone who ever lived here still has keys. And you work nights, right? Someone could just, like, come in and take the fucking monkey. What are you going to do? Call the cops? You got a bill of sale? I don't think so. But I bet Sally does. What about that?"
Goose bumps prickled the insides of Rick's arms and shivered the skin of his bare stomach. "Are you going to rob me, Moe?"
"Not really, no. I just need you to know I'm fucking serious, man."
"I can see you're serious," Rick looked directly into his eyes. Moe's long black eyelashes seemed to tremble in the stillness. His cheek twitched. Perspiration had accumulated on his lip. "So am I," Rick said.
"So, what are we going to do?"
"I don't know. Let me think about it."
"What's to think about? You either give me the fucking monkey or you don't. It ain't rocket science."
"No, I guess not," Rick said. "Hang on a second."
Hm. Apparently it wasn't going to be such a big hassle after all. Moe prided himself on his powers of persuasion while Rick walked through Esmeralda's French doors and into her room. He and Rick probably wouldn't be such good buddies for awhile, but, fuck it. He didn't need any buddies who were going to be such pricks about things anyway.
Esmeralda was curled up in an old tire on the patio, half asleep in the shade of ivy and morning glories tumbling over the weather-beaten fence. She loped over to him, dragging her tail behind her across the freshly hosed cement. Rick didn't look at her. She reached for his hand, tightened all five of her hot fingers around his thumb, and Rick lifted her into the crook of his left arm. She folded her arms smugly across her chest and snuggled her face into the hair behind his ear. He cradled the back of her head with his right hand and felt the bumps of her spine sticking out like tiny clothes pins, and felt how the tiny muscles attached to them spread out into her bony shoulders and down toward her frail ribs. He put his hand gently under her chin as if he was going to rub behind both her ears at the same time the way she liked him to do. She trusted him.
Her expression very nearly didn't change a bit when he broke her neck over his knee like a dry stick. Rick didn't feel much either. Nothing you could call an emotion. He felt the three distinct but simultaneous, muffled crackling noises that separated her mind from her body and separated her brain from her heart and separated her muscles from her nerves so fast her eyes didn't have a chance to close but that was about all he felt. He pushed her eyes shut and carried her body back inside to where Moe was sitting, still looking pretty proud of himself, on the edge of the couch.
"Here you go, Moe. She's all yours."
Rick lay Esmeralda gently into Moe's lap.
Moe didn't say anything. He felt sort of sheepish at first, making Rick give him the monkey back, but then recoiled like a snake exposed under a rock when he felt the limpness of her body. Moe squirmed out from under the dead monkey, stood up, hesitated a couple times, and took off out the door, still without saying anything.
Rick picked Esmeralda up, took her into the kitchen, lit a candle, took her down the back stairs, lay her on the floor, unlocked the padlock, turned off the gro-lights, lit the rest of the candles, removed the slab of cement, took out the diamonds, took off the rubber band, poured the diamonds into the newspapers, dug a hole in the dirt with the mixing bowl, picked Esmeralda up again, lay her body into the hole, covered her over with dirt, replaced the cement slab, wiped the dirt out of the bowl, poured the diamonds back into it, wadded up the newspapers and still didn't feel anything spectacularly out of the ordinary.
He just sat there. It wasn't right that he didn't feel anything. It wasn't humane. Reflections from the candles leaped against the boards of newer lumber butted up against the boards of older lumber. He was going to have to move. Sell the building. Cash in the diamonds. Quit his job. Go somewhere. Fiji, maybe. Live in a hut. New people would buy the place. Some corporation. Maybe after awhile a family with kids might move into his apartment. The kids would start exploring, getting into things, come down and play in the basement, maybe. Figure out how to get into the hole. Dig around. Find the bones. Make up stories to scare each other. How a baby killer might have lived there. How he must have been a monster. But the truth, Rick knew, was that wouldn't be the way it would actually happen at all. The truth was eventually a bulldozer would come along and haphazardly dump piles of rubble and cracked cement into a truck without anyone even noticing an indistinguishable little handful of dried up monkey bones being carted off to a landfill in Milpitas. The truth was no one would ever know anything about anything.
Rick didn't go to work the next day. He called in sick, and went to McDonald's instead. He was there when Ruby came in to get her usual Egg McMuffin. She was happy to see him. He figured she would be. Not much longer later, Rick met her son. His name was Anthony, but everyone called him Tony. Tony Lucca. Sounded like a linebacker. Rick bought him a football for his eighth birthday.
"I'm still pissed, Moe. Don't think this is going to make up for anything," Sally said, looking at a sad eyed Basset Hound puppy in an aluminum cage at the Pet Center in Serramonte.
"Hey, don't worry. I don't think anything of the kind. I am perfectly well aware that you're going to be pissed forever."
"How could you be so...stupid?"
"Hey, man, I'm telling you. I couldn't help it. She heard your voice on the phone and got so excited she took off over the railing, man, bam! She was gone. I looked everywhere. Called and called. 'Esmeralda, Esmeralda, where are you?' Like that. Fucking totally pissed off the people downstairs, man. Made them take me all through their bathroom and bedroom, looking in their closets and shit. I thought the scruffy fucker was going to pop me one in the mouth."
"So essentially it's my fault, is what you're saying."
"Hey, come on, Sally. I didn't say that. Would I say that? It's fucking nobody's fault is what I'm saying."
"Hey, wait. Check it out. How about him!" Moe stopped dead in his tracks at the cage of a black Vietnamese Pot-Belly Pig toward the back of the store.
"He's kind of cute. I have to admit," Sally said. "Two hundred-and-fifty-dollars, though. I don't know."
"Hey, we can probably talk the guy down, man. Nobody pays sticker-price. I bet I can get him down to a hundred-and-a-half, one-seventy-five, tops."