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HALLOWE'EN GHOST STORY

By Terry Sheils

In that Ghost Stories are part of Hallowe’en – and seeing that I am in the middle of a series of MARK’S VARIETY stories – I herewith present a MARK’s VARIETY Ghost Story. Those who are unfamiliar with Rosie, Violet, et al should read the intro to the Mark’s Variety Stories.

-----

In life, one must often take a risk in order to win, while one can lose without ever risking anything. So, the way Moishe figured it, it was worth it to fall in love with a ghost. I mean, wasn’t it...? 

Another Ghost for Number Four

It was the first cold night of November that Rosie who was in charge of keeping the “things” on the shelves at Viro’s Cards and Things, reported that Unit Four of the Mall, next door to their shop, was haunted again.

Dom, naturally, pointed out that, since the first incident had turned out to be that nice young couple, Steve and Alex, it couldn’t really be haunted “again.”  And Peter deAngelis, characteristically, said he doubted if it was haunted this time either. After all, Rosie had been hearing voices theatening to rearrange her things for several months now - perhaps it was just the owners of those voices moving in, so they could be nearer to Rosie’s “things,” he suggested to Dom and Moishe.

Henry Mark was good enough to get the pass key which Wendy their landlord, had entrusted to Mark’s Variety and check the empty store and, when he found no trace of anyone having even spent the night there, even Neddo Rubens and Verba Spyles who believed implicitly in aliens and such had to admit that Rosie was probably getting just a few grains short of a shakerfull with the passing years.

Finally, only Violet, her sister, would listen to Rosie’s tales of what she was hearing in the dead of night, though she never admitted that she didn’t believe her for a moment. She had waited up all one night with Rosie and, when nothing happened, Rosie had blamed her for scaring the spirit away.

“If your ghost was half a man, it’d scare me away,” Violet had huffed.

“It’s not a man, it’s a ghost,” Rosie had pointed out. “Besides, I think it is...was a young girl...by her voice.”

“Why what’s she say?”

“Nothing. That is, no words. She just moans...sometimes makes little sounds like...like a baby nursing. I don’t know.”

“If a girl that young were in there, bottle feeding, Henry would have found something.”

“But that’s not all the time,” Rosie pointed out. “Sometimes her voice changes...becomes a kind of low growl, like a dog or something...”

“A bottle-feeding werewolf? Come on, Rose...” Violet said facetiously. “Or is it maybe a vampire...sucking on a bottle of plasma?”

“I tell you, there’s something in there,” Rosie insisted. “Something unnatural is going on, and if no one here will do something about it, I’ll call in Mervin Klassen.”

“Mervin Klassen? Who’s he?”

“Here.” Rosie handed Vi a small advertisement she had clipped out of the paper.

“Haunted?  House possessed by spirits of the undead? Shape-shifters in your Cellar? Poltergeists on the Porch?  Werewolves in the Woodshed? Vampires in the Vestibule? Mervin Klassen to your rescue. Guaranteed exorcisms. Money Back if not satisfied. Write for details and endorsements to Box 13 Postal Station H(for Haunting) or phone 555-1313 (Please note: Contract requires the permission to use your story in my promotional material.)”

“We can’t call him!” Violet said.

“Why not?”

“Look at that last line in the small print. Everybody who answers this ad and asks for the endorsements will know about our haunting. And if word gets around that Kinford Plaza is haunted...”

“We’ll make all the papers,” added Peter de Angelis who had come into Viro’s unnoticed. “I won’t be able to keep up with the coffee and donuts for the press. It’ll be a bonanza.”

“See?” Rosie gloated at having someone support her. “And if Klassen doesn’t scare the ghost off, a bunch of reporters certainly will.”

“I think we better put this to a mall meeting,” Violet appeared to compromise. People only call meetings when they’re pretty sure the meeting will side with them.

Which the meeting, held the following morning - a rarity on a Wednesday - in La Caf, sort of did.

That is, though it quickly decided that Mervin Klassen was not the answer to their problems and could, indeed, cause a lot more, Rosie refused to be dissuaded from her insistence that there was a malignant spirit in Unit Four and that something had to be done about it.     

That’s when Moishe (aka Tony or Murray) Feldman, Dom’s young assistant barber, volunteered to spend the night in Unit Four and prove to Rosie she was imagining things. No self-respecting vampire would suck guilt-ridden Jewish blood, he assured them. And, unless it was a golem, - or cheap scotch - Jews didn’t believe in evil spirits.

“Can I borrow the cot from your back room?” he asked of Joanna Mark. And when she nodded, added, “Fine. I’ll start tonight.”

“Better wait ‘til tomorrow,” Rosie told him.

“How come?”

“Because I’ve been keeping track,” Rosie answered. “The spirit’s not there every night. Mondays and Thursdays it’s there. And most Sundays. This being Wednesday, it should be there tomorrrow, sometime after midnight.”

“Good, that’ll give me time to get comfortable,” Moishe nodded. “I’ll move Joanna’s cot in today and get my younger brother Danny’s TV from home - he’ll loan it to me, or I’ll break his neck.”

“You can have our extra stereo,” Verba Spyles offered.

“And I’ve got a table and two chairs out back I was going to send out for refinishing,” Peter said.

“By the time you get through equipping the place, I’ll be more comfortable than at home,” Moishe laughed.

“You won’t be comfortable...” Rosie said ominously, “not  when it comes and sucks your blood...”

Thursday night found Moishe Feldman sitting comfortably on the cot, drinking a beer from La Caf, and reading Ann Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, just to put himself in the mood for midnight. He had put his alarm clock across the room and on top of the stereo which in turn was on top of the counter left over from when this had been a video store so that he would have an unobstructed view of the time.  After all, he wanted to be able to pinpoint in time anything that happened...although, he kept telling himself, nothing was going to happen, nothing at all, absolutely nothing...at all...

*****

So it was with more than mild surprise that he awoke to find the girl sitting cross-legged on top of the counter and staring down at him.

“Where...who...wha...?” he stammered.

“I might ask the same of you,” the girl answered, “since you seem to have invaded my space.”

She was about eighteen to twenty, Moishe figured, two to four years younger than he, but it was hard to tell for she was over made up which made her look even older. But the jeans and  plaid shirt, open to show a glimpse of bra, and running shoes with white sox were signs of a teenager, at least at heart. Not in manner, though. It was tough, challenging. A pretty solid ghost, Moishe thought.

“I was sent by the storekeepers of the mall to see who or what was using this place.” Moishe wondered why he was doing the explaining.

“You a cop...or a private eye?” The girl eyed him suspiciously.

“Neither. I’m a barber. The Tony of Dom and Tony’s. And you are?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does when you’re trespassing on private property.”

The girl shrugged.

“So, there are other places,” she said off-handedly. “Some a them even have blankets, you know?”

“Then why did you come here?”

“None a your business.”

“Look, I’ve told you about myself...”

“Not a fat friggin’ lot!”

“More than you have about you!” Moishe snapped back. She had no right to be so self-righteous. “What are you a runaway? Is somebody after you, or something?”

Suddenly, the girl’s anger evaporated into self-pity. She slipped down from on top of the counter and sat with her back against it, drew her knees up to her chest, wrapped her arms around them and, burying her head behind her legs, sobbed piteously.

“I’m sorry...” Moishe said, wondering what in hell he was sorry about. “I didn’t mean to...”

The girl lifted her red-rimmed eyes to his. She was really pretty, he thought, even with the mascara running down her cheeks. Maybe even because of it. And he could see now that she couldn’t be more than eighteen...if that.

“My name’s Amy. Just Amy. I don’t have a last name any more...not that I want, anyway. And yeah, I’m on the run, but not the way you probably mean. I’m not running away from home. Home ran away from me when I was sixteen.  There were a coupla bad years after that I won’t talk about, but, when I married this guy...well, I thought things would get better. Turned out he got his jollies from beating the shit outa me. That’s who I’m running away from. That’s why I have about six different places where I crash. So he won’t find me.”

“Then why do you keep coming back here?” Moishe asked. “Isn’t that dangerous?”

“Yeah, but I like it here.”

“What’s to like about it?” he said incredulously. “There wasn’t even a stick of furniture until tonight.”

“It’s warm, with the other places on either side being heated, and that counter’s a good thing.”

“To sleep on?”

“To sleep behind.  If someone were to look in when I was crashing here, they wouldn’t see me.”

“Then why don’t you stay here every night?”

“Jeez, you ask a lot of questions!”

“Look, I know you spend Monday, Thursday and some Sunday nights after midnight here. Why?”

“Because I’ve got a friggin’ part-time waitress job at a bar down Wenford those nights, for Chrissake! You satisfied now?”

“And the other nights?”

“I work...other jobs. Look, I’ve said all I’m gonna...”

“It’s all right. I think I’ve got enough now to argue my case...”

“With whom? You gonna rat on me?” Suddenly the girl’s face was contorted with fear. “Jeez, Mister Tony, don’t do that!  My bastard husband’s got the cops lookin’ for me too, you know. You’d be like murdering me...”

“I’m not going to talk to the cops. And the name’s Moishe. You wanna hear a story?”

For a moment, the girl looked dumfounded by his sudden question.

“I...I guess so...if it’s got a point.”

So Moishe told her the story of how the tenants of Kinford Mall had kept Steve and Alexis in this very unit until they had found jobs and could afford to get married. And how Steve and Alexis had finally been able to pay them back for their kindness.

“The point being,” he concluded, “that with that experience as a measuring stick, I think I can convince the others to vote to keep you here until we can all work out how to get you protection from your abusive husband.” 

“It’d be a lot more comfortable than a few of the places I’m staying now...” Amy said thoughtfully.

“And four of the tenants sleep on site. That means someone’d be aware of anyone snooping around. Just like they were aware that someone or something was in here. All I have to do is talk the others - and our landlord - into accepting a new tenant.”

“Do you think you can do that?”

“From what you’ve told me already, I’d be astounded if they turned you down. But, just in case, would you be willing to meet with them if necessary and tell them about your husband and stuff?”

“I...I guess...God, how can you be so...nice?”

And with those words, Amy rose from the floor and threw her arms around his neck and kissed him hotly on the mouth.

Twenty years old, at least, Moishe thought. That was no teenager’s kiss.

Moishe abandoned Unit Four to Amy for the rest of that night and went home, where he tried to explain to his younger brother Danny what had become of his TV. In parting, he and Amy had arranged that he would bring up her story at the regular Friday morning Mall meeting, and she would come by Unit Four Friday night to discover the outcome of that meeting.

So Moishe lay awake most of Thursday night, trying to plan what he was going to say, and finding himself thinking instead about that kiss.

Wendy Caiden, their landlord, had taken to attending all the regular Friday meetings, so it was primarily to her that Moishe directed his spiel. But his tale of this poor homeless waif, pursued by an abusive husband and having to make do on    part-time bar jobs while keeping on the move had the predictable effects on each of his audience.  Vi and Rosie wept openly. Neddo and Verba joined them. Henry Mark nodded sagely and allowed as he knew of a lawyer who might be able to get a court order against the husband to stay away, Joanna offered her a regular evening clerking job in the Variety. Frieda of Lola’s Fashions said she’d outfit her to go job hunting for something more permanent, and Bert and Frances Sisters of Sisters Cleaners said they’d make sure the outfits were always clean and pressed. Maxine said she’d do her hair for free.

And Dom, of course, said her whole story was probably bullshit, but he’d go along - albeit unwillingly - with the majority decision.

The “majority” meant, of course, the single vote of Wendy Caiden, for it is well known in any democracy that a landlord’s vote is worth one more than the total number of tenants.

“I think I would like to meet this Amy before I make up my mind,” Wendy said cautiously. “Not that I mistrust anything you say, Moishe, but I like people to have last names. And I can always tell when people are trying to snow me. That’s why I always felt that business with Steve and Alexis would turn out as it did.”

That statement prompted Moishe, who distinctly remembered Wendy being the most convinced of them all that they’d been taken by Steve and Alex, into making a, perhaps incautious, promise.

“All right,” he said. “I tell you what. I’ll personally vouch for this girl. If what she has told me turns out to be in any way untrue, if she is just trying to take us, I’ll make it good to each and every one of you...even if I have to borrow from my brother, Sid.”

That last phrase was, everyone knew, like swearing an oath on your mother’s grave, for Moishe would far rather be buried beside his mother than borrow from his elder brother. Danny, the younger one, O.K.; that’s where he’d got the TV set. But not Sid.

“That’s good enough for me, then,” Wendy smiled. “You can tell her when you see her to move in.”

“And tell her that there’ll be a hotel bar fridge and a hotplate delivered tomorrow,” a customer who had been snivelling in one of the booths of La Caf piped up. “From Iggy’s Furniture and Appliances - I’m Iggy.”

“Did you think to ask her about those noises?” Rosie asked Moishe as they left the meeting.

“What noises?”

“Those moaning, sucking and growling sounds.”

“No!” Moishe slammed his palm into his forehead. “I’ll ask her tonight.”

She dragged herself into Unit Four just after midnight that night, looking frazzled. Her long blonde hair looked as if she’d just got out of bed, her lipstick was all smeared, her red blouse was half out of her belt and there was a rip up the side of her black miniskirt.

“Moses!” Moishe invoked his namesake. “What kind of a bar is it you work in on Fridays?”

She looked at him curiously, as if trying to place who he was and why he was here or, for that matter, why she was wherever here was on a Friday night. And then her eyes seemed to refocus as it all came back to her.

“A rough one,” she smiled tiredly. “Customers can’t keep their hands to themselves.”

“Men get that way when they’re tight,” Moishe nodded.

“What men?” she laughed.  “I work a Lesbian Hangout Fridays. You take work where you can get it and put up with shit to keep it. That’s the way life is. ‘Life sucks and then you die,’ they say.”

“Cynical for one so young. Say, I never thought to ask. Did you have to lie about your age to get a bar job?”

“I never thought to answer. So I won’t. My business.”

“Anyway, I don’t think ‘life sucks’ is what you’re going to say in a minute,” Moishe smiled.

“Whatcha mean? They’re gonna let me stay?”

“Not only that,” Moishe grinned. And he told her about their decision and the fridge and hot plate from Iggy’s and, leaving the best to the last, he thought, the outfits from Lola’s Fashions.

That’s when she surprised the hell out of him.

She leapt at him with a whoop of joy, clamped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, and her momentum carried them both over backward onto the couch. And then she kissed him fiercely, her tongue parting his lips and finding his, exploring it hotly.

It was the kind of kiss Moishe had never had before and, for some reason, it frightened him. There was something not right, sort of not-human about it, and he rolled her off him and leapt up, reaching the door to the back room in a single stride.

Amy looked up at him and her mouth grinned broadly and her lovely blue eyes twinkled devilishly.

“By the jeez, I think I’ve actually scared you,” she said incredulously.

“I...I...I’ve never been...” Moishe stammered.

“Never been kissed like that?” Amy laughed. “Geez, Moishe, where have you been, in a monastery?”

“Hardly...I’m Jewish,” Moishe said unnecessarily. “I...I just haven’t had that much...experience with kissing...girls, I mean.”

“What have you been kissing then? Your mother? Your dog?” Amy continued to snigger.

“And my cousins...yeah...”

Amy stopped laughing.

“You’re serious aren’t you?” she said incredulously. “Well, I tell you, Moishe baby, you keep bringing me good news like you did today and I’ll make you the best f...darn kisser in the City. You’ll have more kissin’ cousins than you can shake your stick at...if you know what I mean.”

Moishe didn’t; he only knew it was time he got out of here...before she kissed him like that again. It had done strange things to his tummy...no lower than that...

“Frieda says you can come in tomorrow after five to pick up what you want,” he blurted out. “And Maxine’ll do your hair and give you a make-over before eight in the morning. By tomorrow night, you won’t recognize yourself.”

“Gee, I hope not.” Amy seemed sincerely worried.

“Why?”

“I work a pretty sleazy bar on Saturdays,” she said. “The tips are better if you look like a slut.”

“Everyone who comes out of Max’s looks like a slut, I think,” Moishe smiled weakly. “And just tell Frieda what look you want in clothes. If you ask me, she runs more a theatrical costume shop than a fashion store.”

“Sounds like my kind of place.” Amy got up off the bed and started towards him. “God, I don’t feel I’ve thanked you nearly enough...”

“Quite enough for now, thanks.” Moishe swallowed hard.

And was out the door lest she jump him again.

Outside was safer...and the traffic on Kincaid all but drowned out the sound of his heart pounding...and of the peals of laughter from inside Unit Four.

But it was only then Moishe remembered that he hadn’t remembered to ask her about those noises.

Sunday of that week was the last Sunday of the month, and the tenants of Kinford Mall had agreed that they would all do their inventories and books that day. Of course, La Caf and Mark’s would have been open anyway, and Earthanasia was almost never formally open, but the others usually shut on Sundays. However, the arrangement meant they had an extra day a month to discuss common business if something had come up.

And, of course, this week, something had, in the person of the Surnameless Amy.         

“You should have seen the outfits she got from me,” Frieda marvelled. “I’d’a never sold that stuff around here in a million years. Don’t know whatever prompted me to buy it. Some fast-talking salesman I bet.”

“Why what was it like?” Peter de Angelis asked.

“A black faux leather mini, so short I swear her bum was hanging out a foot below it, black net stockings, and a sleeveless sheath that left nothing to the imagination except the colour of her tits. She’ll look like a thirty-year-old floozy in those things. If it’s passes she wants from drunks in those bars she works, she’ll never have to buy a ticket again.”

“I could use one of those around here, to spice up La Caf,” Peter laughed.

“I did her hair that way too,” Maxine nodded. “Long, wavy, draping over one eye...you know like Veronica Lake.”

“Who?”

“A movie star,” Maxine said grumpily. “I forget I was born in a different century from the rest of you.”

“Why’s she want to cultivate the hard-boiled look?” Henry Mark, who could remember Veronica Lake, wanted to know. “Moishe says she’s pretty enough as she is.”

“She’s lovely,” Moishe nodded, and then blushed at his admission.

“So?”

“She told me she has to dress for the kind of jobs she’s trained for,” Frieda answered. “Primarily cocktail waitressing. Though she’s done a couple of stints as a receptionist.”

“For what? A brothel?” Dom diPietro grumbled.

“Lawyers, she says. She also takes dictation and her presence keeps the clients from noticing the fees they’re being charged.”

“So, when are we going to meet our mysterious new neighbour?” Joanna Mark asked.  “I don’t think anyone but Moishe’s ever laid eyes on her.”

“I bet he’s laid...” Dom started to say but was stifled by a glare from Moishe.

“I’ll see if she’ll come to our meeting next Friday,” Moishe leapt in with an answer. “And you’ll see this ‘hard-boiled’ look is just a kind of...a business uniform. Basically I think she’s just a nice kid who’s been dealt a rotten hand. Which reminds me...can I borrow yesterday’s paper from someone? Amy says she wants the Classifieds to look for something steadier than four different bar jobs.”

“Tell her if she applies for something that doesn’t require tits, she’d better see me again,” Frieda chuckled.

Monday afternoon the sofa, easy chair and four-poster bed arrived from Iggy’s Furniture and Appliances.

“Said she saw the ad in Saturday’s paper when she stopped in this morning,” Iggy told Moishe when he called the store. “Said you’d sign for the delivery and someone would let my guys put it in her room.”

Moishe didn’t see what else he could do but send it back and that would probably cause more trouble than it was worth. So he signed for it and got the passkey from Henry Mark to let the delivery guys in.

“I guess, when she was looking for the want ads the ad from Iggy’s caught her eye,” he explained to Dom.

“She got the money for all that?”

“Guys in the truck say she’s buying it on time.”

“Can she even afford that though?”

“I guess. She’s got tips and stuff from four jobs...”

“And no rent to pay.” Dom said suspiciously. “How old is she?”

“I don’t know exactly, but what’s it matter?”

“If she’s under eighteen, she’ll need a co-signer.”

“Oh no problem, then.  She’s gotta be twenty, maybe even twenty-five,” Moishe laughed, wondering why he felt relief.

“You better hope,” Dom said ominously.

*****

And that tone, as well as his promise yesterday to invite her to the Friday meeting meant Moishe was sitting in the new easy chair and waiting for Amy in Unit Four when she arrived after midnight that night.

If Amy was surprised to find him there, she didn’t show it. She was wearing the tight scarlet sheath which showed the outline of her nipples, and her lipstick matched her dress, the stiletto heels and the red mesh stockings.

There was no way that woman was younger than twenty-five, Moishe thought.

Amy, undulating delightfully as if she were putting on some kind of mime show for him, walked over to the hotel bar fridge by the old video counter and got herself a beer before she spoke.

“You want one?” she asked.

“No. I don’t drink except on weekends,” Moishe answered.

“Every day’s a weekend,” Amy smiled. “Do you mind if I get comfortable?”

She kicked her heels off.

“This’ll just take a moment,” Moishe said hurriedly. “Can’t that wait?”

“Sure, I guess.”

But she sat on the arm of the easy chair which didn’t make him any more comfortable. He could smell her perfume.

“Aren’t you curious as to why I’m here?” he asked.

“No, because I know why you’re here,” Amy smiled.

“Then you tell me.”

“You’re wondering why I, an employed adult, had to have you co-sign my loan on this stuff.” She waved a lacquer-nailed hand around at the furniture.

“I...what?” Moishe gulped.

“You signed a paper when those guys delivered the furniture, didn’t you?”

“Yeah...for the delivery.”

“You didn’t read it?”

“No, I didn’t think...”

“Boy! You’re even stupider than I am! You should always read things you sign, didn’t you know that?”

“Yes...but...”

“Look, what you signed was a paper that says you’ll make it good if I don’t pay for this stuff. It’s called co...”

“I understand that,” Moishe interrupted. “What I don’t underst...”

“It’s because I’m not exactly...employed...” Amy muttered.

“What?”

“Oh, I work. But the bars I work in...they don’t pay me nothing. I work purely for tips. That don’t count when you’re buying on time.”

“But do you make enough?”

“To buy this stuff? Sure.  Oh, don’t worry, they’ll never come after you. The tips are pretty good at all times. And, of course, get better if I let the guys...or, on Fridays, the girls...play around with me a little. Nothing serious, just feelies, you know.”

“Not really...”

“Like this.”

Her hand dropped to his and she shoved it under the hem of her dress which had ridden well up her thigh.

Moishe was out of the chair in one heroic bound.

“The others want to meet you at the Friday morning meeting!” he panted as he ran for the exit.

“Tell them I’ll be there,” Amy chuckled, as he threw himself out the door, slamming it behind him.

“And, maybe, during the meeting, I’ll let you finish that feel,” she laughed to herself.

Amy was dressed the way Moishe had first met her when she turned up at the Mall Meeting Friday. In blue jeans, running shoes, and a plaid shirt...done up so that no bra showed. She had also removed the scarlet nail polish and make-up and had tied her blonde hair back into a pony tail.  The result was the little lost girl look that had first tugged at Moishe’s heart and started this whole thing. And once again. he had to wonder if she really was under eighteen and had lied about her age to get the waitressing jobs. That would also explain why he’d had to co-sign that contract for the furntiure.

And then the story she told - in a frank, straightforward manner - of how her father had married again to a woman who resented her, and how she’d come home one day to find their apartment bare, and the two years on the streets as a squeegee kid, living in youth hostels, until she met and married Pete, made Moishe realize she had to be at least twenty. You simply couldn’t cram that much living into less time.

Amy certainly seemed to impress the others too. She sat primly in a booth with Moishe and recounted her tale without emotion and - for which Moishe was particularly thankful - without some of the more colourful language her jobs had taught her. Indeed, except for one small instance where she referred to Pete as a “poor shit,” she seemed to realize that a certain circumspection was required in the presence of Rosie and Violet and the others.

If she’d deliberately been out to win their hearts, Moishe thought, she couldn’t have done it better. But what was the best about her that morning was that she was being perfectly natural. The “tarty babe” in the scarlet sheath was the act.

At the close of her tale, Henry Mark said he had been speaking offhand to a lawyer friend who might be willing to get her a court order to prevent Pete from hounding her, but Amy insisted that, while she appreciated his concern, she would rather go her own way with this. She’d worked with a lawyer for a few months, she said, and she was sure she could get him to act for her to institute divorce proceedings, which is what she really wanted.

And the Mall meeting broke up with even Wendy Caiden admitting she was inclined to like the girl...even if she still didn’t have a last name.

Moishe walked her to the back door of Unit Four, which led to the little back room where she’d set up the four-poster.

“You really won them over today,” he told her.

“Did I look as nervous as I felt?” Amy asked.

“You looked as cool as a cucumber.”

“To coin a phrase,” Amy smiled. “Well, I wasn’t. I was scared shitless.”

“Why?”

“‘Cause I knew, if they didn’t like me, they’d kick me out...and I...I couldn’t stand that...” Her lower lip began to quiver and the tears to well in her big blue eyes.

“I...I’d never let them do that...” Moishe managed to gag out.

But the little lip still quivered.

Moishe didn’t know what came over him. But suddenly he found himself kissing that lip. Both of her lips in fact. And her hands were behind his neck and pulling his lips hard against hers. And her breasts were thrusting against his chest through the plaid shirt. And he was suffocating in the lovely smell of her...

He wrenched his head away and gasped for air.

“You...wanna come inside...?” she breathed.

“I...I think I better not...” Moishe said weakly.

Amy shrugged.

“Have it your way,” she said. “I need the sleep anyway.”

And she was gone into Unit Four.

Moishe turned away to find Dom glowering at him from the back door of the Barber Shop.

“She’s really got you fucked up in the head, hasn’t she?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I think you’re falling for her, that’s what I mean.”

“If I am, what’s it to you?” Moishe said defensively.

“I like you, and I don’t want to see you hurt,” Dom answered. “So listen to me, Murray. That little kid’s trouble.”

“Fuck you,” Moishe said, uncharacteristically.  But sometimes Dom just pissed him off with his constant pessimism.

Wednesday morning, Rosie came into Dom and Tony’s and asked to see Moishe out back.

“Have you asked about those sounds yet?” she asked him.

Moishe applied the heel of his hand to his forehead again.

“I keep forgetting. I’ll ask her Thursday night when I see her.”

“Why not today? I heard those noises last night again. And this morning I smelled bacon frying, so I’m pretty sure she’s still there and not out job hunting...at least not yet. This mystery is driving me crazy.”

Amy’s regular routine had become to sleep in Unit Four every night, then work her Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday shifts. Then, after sleeping in late the following day, she’d go out job-hunting in the afternoon. She also went job hunting all day before work, so the only times she was at home were when she was sleeping.

That made it most unusual for her to be cooking bacon there at this early hour on a Wednesday. Besides she ate almost all of her meals out. But, when he walked up to the front door of her Unit, there was certainly the smell of cooking bacon on the air.

He tapped on the door gently so as not to startle her, but it did anyway, for the voice that answered was small and afraid.

“Who...who’s there?”

“Me...Moishe...”

“Just a sec, Moishe...” The voice was relieved. “I...I’ve got nothing on...”

“Then I’ll certainly wait a sec.” Moishe found himself blushing.

It was several minutes, in fact, before she opened the door to him and when she did, though she was dressed in her jeans and plaid shirt, she was still wearing her tarty make-up and, he could see by the running mascara that she had been crying.

“I was hoping this would be a happy surprise breakfast for the two of us,” she said. “Instead it’s going to be a disaster.”

“Why, what’s the matter?” he asked.

“You know that lawyer I told you about? The one I worked with for a while?”

“Who might act for you? That the one?”

“Yeah, well last night I thought I had him all teed up to do it on the cheap for me. But do you know what ‘on the cheap’ means to him?”

“Not an idea.”

“I called him on the payphone just now. Five thousand fuckin’ bucks! That’s his deal ‘for a friend.’”

“Gee, what’s he charge enemies?” Moishe exclaimed. “So why don’t you take Henry Mark’s friend?”

“You don’t understand.” Amy began to well up again. “I’ve already signed some papers. I owe him the five thou whether he acts for me or not  That’s just a...you know.”

“A retainer.”

“Yeah. Geez, what’m I gonna do, Moishe?”

And the tears burst forth again.

Moishe fought off the impulse to take her in his arms, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to stop himself this time. And not knowing if he wanted to be able to. But damn sure he didn’t want to take advantage either.

He took a deep breath, both to clear his mind and find what resolve he had left.

“Leave it with me. I’ll see what I can do,” he said.

And was gone before she could even think of thanking him.

Moishe’s elder brother Sid was a doctor, and not just any doctor, a shrink, and not just any shrink. His clientele included half the top money ACTRA members and two-thirds of the investment banking executives - professions not entirely unrelated. He lived in a fifty room bungalow on Park Road - the ritzy side of the tracks as Bert Sisters called it.

Moishe’s younger brother, Danny, would be rich as Sid one day, for he was studying business law at Western, where he planned to go on to an MBA.

Moishe wasn’t mentioned by his father. Not because he didn’t realize the value of his chosen occupation, but because he was a barber and not a “tonsorial artist,” or a ladies’ artiste who got a thousand bucks a perm.

So Sid was more than a little surprised when Julie, his current live-in maid, told him his brother Moishe was at the door.

At first he wondered if Dad had died and then decided that, if he had, they’d have sent the family lawyer not Moishe to break the news. So he took a second guess that turned out to be the right one.

“How much do you need?” he sighed, taking the initiative away from his brother as he entered the sunroom.

“Five thousand dollars.” Moishe noticed for the first time he needed a shoeshine.

“What for?” Sid swung around to face Moishe, keeping the sun behind him so that Moishe could not see his face...another cheap psychological trick.

Moishe decided to tell the truth.

“Christ, what a sap you are!” Sid laughed when Moishe was through - as Moishe knew he would. It was a bray of a laugh that always had made Moishe feel like a turd, a very small turd.

“I think I love her,” Moishe admitted for the first time in a tiny voice.

“I think you’ve got testosterone between the ears,” Sid said. “How you gonna pay me back?”

“I was going to branch out...do shampoos, women’s hairstyling,” Moishe lied. “Oh, shit, Sid, I don’t know how I’ll pay you back!”

“Good for you!” Sid beamed. “You’re the first leech in our family ever admitted that. You know how much Danny and Dad and Uncle Morty are into me for?”

“N...no...”

“You’d choke if you knew. Five thousand is chicken-poop. Julie?”

“Yes, Sid?” the pretty little brunette materialized as if by magic.

“Give this bloodsucker five thousand out of your jelly jar and show him the door. And, for Chrissakes, don’t thank me. You’ll make me look like a sap in front of the...hired help.”

Sid leered at Julie.

Moishe had never seen so much money in one place. And neither had Amy.

They spread the thousand five-dollar bills out on the bed and stared at it for maybe five full minutes.

“Where’d you get it?” she finally asked, in a voice full of awe.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s yours.”

“But I’ll never be able to...”

“I said ‘it’s yours.’ You don’t have to repay it. Ever.”

“Geez, Moishe...” Her big blue eyes welled with tears for the umpteeth time. But this time it was with happiness.

And then she kissed him.

Really kissed him.

Before he knew it, they were rolling naked in the money, and her experienced kisses were discovering every inch of his innocent body.

And soon, without asking, Moishe found out what the slurping, sucking, groaning, growling and moaning noises meant.

The slurping was her wet tongue exploring his every nook and cranny, the sucking...well, he’d never have imagined that was so good. And the growling was the noise she made when he entered her, the groaning the noise he made when he came and the moaning...that was her spasming to her orgasm.

They lay for a long time, listening to their heartbeats, before it occurred to Moishe but, when it did, he rolled off her and stared down at her beatifically smiling face. Then he kissed her closed eyelids and said softly,

“You have...other boyfriends, don’t you?”

“Mmmm...mmm,” she nodded without opening her eyes.

“You have them here sometimes?”

“Mmmm...mmm.”

“To do what we just did.”

Amy opened her eyes and stared up at him earnestly.

“I used to...do all that...once or twice, that is,” she said. “But you’ve suddenly changed it all. God, Moishe, you were wonderful. Do me like that again...”

He’d have to make up something to tell Rosie, Moishe thought, as he melted into her naked breasts.

Moishe didn’t get into the Barber Shop all day that day. He had Amy sneak out to the pay phone, call and say she was Moishe’s landlady and that he had the twenty-four hour ‘flu and he didn’t leave Amy’s until she went out that night to work a special shift at the lesbian bar. Then he dressed, gingerly pulling his undershorts over his chafed member, and waddled off to his rented room to sleep the night away.

Rosie accosted him before nine in the morning with the usual question about the noises.

“I knew you were in there yesterday,” she said. “And I swear I heard them then.”

Moishe nodded.

“She keeps tropical fish,” he said.

Rosie looked at him peculiarly.

“Every few days she has to clean the water. Suck it out of the tank, you know.” He made a sucking sound with his lips. 

“But the growls and other things...”

“Big tropical fish,” Moishe nodded sagely. “Some get angry when they’re flapping around in a half inch of water. Others just get sad or sick.”

And he walked off, moaning, groaning and growling.

That should satisfy her for now, he smiled and knocked on the door to Unit Four, hoping for the same breakfast he’d had yesterday...all day.

But Amy must have been sound asleep in the back room, for there was no answer.

There was no answer at noon either when he walked past on his way to La Caf for lunch.

Nor at the back door when he tapped there after closing. She should have been up and getting ready for her Thursday job.

Maybe she was as tired as he was after yesterday.

Or...maybe something had happened at that gay bar last night.

Lesbians could be pretty vicious, Dom had said as if he knew. But then Dom always sounded as if he knew.

Still, she could have been hurt.

Maybe she was in there injured and in need of help.

So he went over to Mark’s Variety and borrowed the passkey from Henry Mark who was working nights.

Of course, Unit Four was dead empty.

Everything was gone.

Even the old video counter.

Amy had taken every blessed thing.

Including Moishe’s five thousand dollars.

And his trust.

The others tried their best not to rub it in. Even Dom seemed to realize that it would serve no purpose to say “I told you so.” So he stuck to the party line, which was that Amy was so smart she had conned the whole lot of them.

Which was true...though not five thousand bucks worth.

Of course, Moishe couldn’t bring himself to tell anyone about that stupidity.

But as the days went by, Moishe’s inner optimism - developed as a defense against Sid’s constant belittling of him - began to reassert itself, and he found himself - secretly - making excuses for Amy.

Chief among these was the theory that Pete had somehow got wind of where she was staying, that she had been alerted by a friend and had flown the coop before her brute of a husband could catch up to her.

Of course, that being the case, Pete should have been around looking for her by now...and he hadn’t.

But, Moishe told himself, Amy’d be getting in touch with him as soon as she felt it was safe.

And then, after a week, the first piece of evidence supporting Moishe’s theory seemed to fall into place.

Pete turned up.

At least, though he never gave his name, Moishe was sure it had to be Pete.

He looked like a Pete. He looked like a guy who’d like to beat girls up for the fun of it. His scruffy jeans contrasted with the thick gold chains draped around his neck and, even from twenty feet away, he smelled of stale beer. And he was pounding on the door of Unit Four when Moishe arrived to open the Barber Shop on Friday morning.

“Excuse me,” Moishe said. “Can I help you?”

“You got someone living in there?” the big, broad-shouldered, unshaven man asked, pointing at the window that had been papered over since it was a video store.

“No,” Moishe said simply. It was the truth after all. “This is a mall, not a condo.”

“I can see that,” the square-jawed lout snapped. “You ever have someone sleeping there?”

“Not...not in three years.” Moishe’s voice was less certain, though there was still a element of truth. Steve and Alexis had been about three years ago. And Amy sure wasn’t there now. “It’s just an empty store.”

“Just the kind of place she’d choose,” the man nodded. “You sure?”

“You can ask the other storekeepers. Nobody’s been in there. Store’s been deserted since a porno video store folded.”

“Porno video,” the man snorted a laugh. “That’s appropriate. Well, if you ever see a blonde - little tits, big blue eyes, pretty kinda - hanging around here...”

“There’s lots of girls fit that description,” Moishe interrupted.

The man dug in the pocket of his faded jeans shirt and produced a photograph. It was slightly out of focus, but the girl, posing in the nude on top of a bar table with her head half-turned to the camera was definitely Amy. Moishe tried not to reveal his recognition.

“Now I’m sure,” he said. “I’ve never seen this girl.”

“Well, if you should, tell her I’m still after her.”

“Who shall I say...?”

“Just tell her I’m after her. She’ll know who you mean.”

And the hulk turned and lumbered away.

Only then did Moishe notice that his mouth was parched.

Dom always opened the Barber Shop on Saturdays so, the day after the big man’s visit, he bought his usual paper from Mark’s and took it in to read until the first customer turned up. Naturally, he flipped to the Local News Section first, because that was where Dom and Tony’s ran an ad every Saturday.

And a picture leapt off the page at him. There were two pictures actually, but it was one that first caught his attention.

He read the brief story under the picture, slipped the Local section out of the paper and went down the strip mall to La Caf, where he figured Henry Mark would be having breakfast. He needed Henry’s advice in the worst way.

Henry was sitting with his paper open to the same page, as if waiting for Dom to show up.

“It says she was badly beaten before she was killed,” Dom said sadly.

“Poor kid,” Henry nodded.

“I guess when you’re a street pro, you take those chances,” Dom said.

“But they figure her pimp - what’s his name - did it,” Henry tapped the paper.

“Alpietro Digiovanni, known as ‘Pete’” Dom read. “Bugger gives us Italians a bad name.”

“Do they give her a last name?”

“No, she’s just a ‘prostitute known on the street as Amy,’” Dom read further.

“Poor kid. No wonder she took off.”

“Not far enough it looks like.”

“Shhh..hide your paper. Here comes Moishe,” Henry whispered.

But when Moishe Feldman came through the door of La Caf, they saw he already had a copy of the paper under his arm. His face looked as if he’d been mortally wounded and his choked voice could manage only five small words.

“Jesus, she was only sixteen...”