7 – The Penthouse

Gabi rounds the corner to Eric’s building, takes down the number, makes the call, meets the agent, pays for his cab and forks over three thousand dollars for the top floor apartment, in cash.  Anja had insisted on working off her half on the insult line but Gabi loves helping Anja.  She feels guilty for having left Anja alone in Dresden, then failing to write her and smothering that guilt with selective amnesia.  They both changed, naturally; we all do, Gabi sighs.  But do we ever find closer friends than those we knew in youth?   Gabi knew how to make contacts, court acquaintances, but did she have any solid friends now?  Gabi perks up strangers and they become brighter to themselves, more confident, never sensing Gabi helped them, gave them free energy.  Gabi has a social persona, but feels more alone sweating under a mask.  Anja is constitutionally incapable of selling out, honesty means struggle.   Gabi, the smaller and more flexible of the two, loved playing second fiddle to Anja’s intensities and travails in Dresden, mending fences for Anja, coaxing her back to earth.  Gabi truly missed the action, danger and edginess, Anja ignited.  Now Anja seems to be mocking her own virtues, her aspiration …  her own sanity.  Without Anja, Gabi found herself  patching up for other people’s flaws, compromising, so Gabi let one man, then another, control her agenda and she ended up in New York sleeping with and working for a petty dictator.  She recalls watching him strap a knife on his leg in the morning with a shudder.  But Gabi hamstered away half of her earnings and now she has caught on, the silent watch is over.

She gathers her few possessions and cabs over without any intention of seeing her nemesis again.  Now her life will return to its origins, to Anja.  She signs the lease in her own name for Anja and for their freedom.  Now she will build a true private life, maybe help Anja find Eric, and in time, find a sweet, hard-working but gently cultured young man closer to her age and to her future, to herself.

They own no furniture save Anja’s mattress, so Gabi finds a chair in an alley, buys drapes and blankets, a used couch at a flea market, takes pots and pans from her bosses’ apartment, a few mugs from a local bar, negotiates several paintings on loan from a local painter who fancies her and borrows an old record player and records from a client with a basement full of antiques.  Pressing him, Gabi further borrows a bookshelf from him, makes him pay for the cab and has him carry it upstairs.  Delighted by actually meeting the insult line redhead, Gabi lets him stock the refrigerator, even set up her bookshelf.  Dismissing him, she furiously cleans up, and more or less slides everything into place, anticipating Anja.  She knows Anja will be bright at her job and full of anger, and creativity, as Gabi, gentle by nature, feels utterly burnt out by insults, and incapable of putting another stranger down.

When Anja arrives, knocking on the door, Gabi peeks through then greets her with a glass of wine.  Anja slowly walks in, then lets out a yelp.

“I can’t believe it!  No!” Jumping around, Anja inspects the windows and bathroom, laughs, hugs Gabi and together they dance, playing Ravel then an old Ramones album at full volume on their new stereo, eating Chinese take-out, drinking wine, eating strawberries, both laughing at Gabi’s frenetic ingenuity and Anja’s natural talent for phone insults, surrounded by possessions neither of them had seen yesterday.

“After eight hours on the phone I feel wildly friendly!  I wanted to compliment everyone, strolling back here … I … wanted to whisper, no, shout, ‘How nice your polyester flower dress covers your opulent butt’, ‘Oh, that wart on your nose is so cute’ — and mean it!  More of this Gabi and I’ll be wearing sandwich-sign greeting cards, ‘Just married? ‘Till death do you part! (I knew you couldn’t live alone!)’, ‘Retired? Bingo!’ Bar Mitzfa? Happy Second Circumcision!’  Or  ‘Happy Birthday, ha, ha, if you had died this year it’d have bummed me out!’”

“I know!”  Gabi giggles, the white wine rising to her now glistening eyes,  “I’d be good at putting real people down if I had a decade break.  But you seem monstrously talented!  Tell me what you said today.”

“I can’t!  I can’t.”

“Oh, c’mon Anja, I know you like it!”

“I do not! O.K.  I told a guy he was really a tortoise who should freeze in a bucket of ice this winter.  Got it from his childhood!  Made him sit in ice water in his bath tub doing penance for killing a tortoise when he was five.”

“Poor tortoise! What else?”

“I made a guy speak to me with his deer head trophy strapped with duck tape to his head.”

“How did you know he had a stuffed deer head?  Or he was actually doing it?”

“I made him give me an inventory of his house.  I heard him dismount it from the phone — really wasted time — and listened to the sticky tape sounds.  Besides, what do I care if he really did it?  It’s his money!”

“Yes.  Mean people are the greatest fools.  Mean with a conscience, with a just a little religion, good Catholics when they were children are … what?”

“Clients!”

“Yes!  Listen, Anja, it’s our old song — ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ by the Ramones! What ever happened to Billy Brag?”

“Oh shush, Gabi!  It’s no more our song than some valley girls in Beverly Hills.  Didn’t it shock you the little we knew about the West when we finally lived here?”

“Oh, I don’t know Anja!  It’s all just so commercial, but it’s been exciting. Yes, I’m shocked and loving it.”

“Gabi, what about your boss?  I just did your job without you asking him if I could.  And you just moved out on him without warning.”

“He’s not worth talking about.  The scumbag!”

“And when he fires you and we run out of money?”

“Then we live for two months here and find other jobs.  Maybe we travel west?  We can do anything we want.  We’re together again!”

“But I can’t pay you back.”

“Pay me back? Please don’t pay me back.  Bliztkrieg Bop!  C’mon Anja, let’s rock, or bop!”

“Wait.  No dancing until Eric is back.  Do you have cigarettes?”

“Yup!”

“Gabi, what’s that over there?”

“What, the bed sheet with flower print.  Is it in bad taste?”

“No, beside it, now that’s in bad taste!”

“Just a newspaper.  Why?”

“It’s a tabloid.  I hate tabloids.”

The Daily Star? No, that’s the alternative to The New York Times.

“It is not.  You big silly!”

“Yes, it’s just easy to read without all that folding.”

“A picture rag for regressive adults.  For illiterates!”

“Anja, leave your insults in the office.”

“I’m sorry.  I just can’t stand the sight of it.”

“Oh?  You snob.  Watch me read it!”

“Don’t!  Now you’re insulting me.”

“Look, here’s a movie star on the second page!   A murder, two of them on page three.”

“And cleavage?  And Elvis screwing a refrigerator on Mars.”

“Wait.”  Gabi turns the record player off.  Anja lights a cigarette.

“What?  You mean, a three syllable word?  Sound it out.”

“No, shut up, Anja.”

“Now you’re telling me to shut up.  Great party.”

“You’re not going to believe this.”

“Gabi, you look pale.  What is this?”

“Your picture.”

“No.”

“Yes.  Look: “Sexy ‘Water Tower Girl’ Sends Boyfriend into Subway”

“‘Lost since Monday Night.’”  Anja reads the sub-title, in a whisper.  “The reporter outside Danny’s!  The flash!”

“Look: Subway Girl Becomes Watertower Girl: After a sexy performance which degenerated into a near riot at Mr. Gigs Monday night at an Open Mike (shown left) — a showcase for musical amateurs in the East Village — our Daily Star reporter Phileus Leaux writes that two witnesses called 911 after arriving home in Brooklyn Friday.  After the pandemonium at Street Corner Café the singer saw a man she alleges to have attacked her two years ago and ran madly after him, then her boyfriend, Mr. Eric Stone, joined the chase and disappeared into the F-train subway tunnel and has not yet reportedly emerged.  After being questioned and charged with narcotics possession, Daniel Van der Rhodes,  who accompanied Anja on her signature song, ‘Water Tower Girl, confirmed her name.  Singing her own, ‘Water Tower Girl’ here  is Anja, in a very revealing tanktop (right).  Further, a water tower repairman, name withheld, claims he discovered sexy Anja swimming in the water tower where he works and that she was, as he said, “very naked”.  The unnamed source calls her “rat girl” because, he claims, she dropped a rat into the tank to protest repairmen fixing the water tower.  The repairman discovered her Wednesday night while cleaning up.  “She was very naked and real pretty but crazy, a real b —-”.  Our Village reporter Leaux reports that the organizer for Monday Open Mike, Mr. Gigs, recorded her anthem “Water Tower Girl”, featuring many X-rated on-stage insults in the riotous musical night.  Mr. Gigs submitted the cassette to WNYC radio, which will add it to its Play List (beaps for the foul language) depending on listener response.  What you think guys?  Would you run into a subway tunnel, risk your life, for this femme fatale?”

“This is the worst!” Anja cries, storming around the apartment, examining a picture of her singing, and another, beside it, being comforted in the subway by Danny.  “What have I done?”

“Wait!”  Gabi whispers, holding her forefinger to her lips.  “Listen!”

They both can hear a conversation two flights down.  Anja tiptoes to the door.   Below, on the landing a man is questioning a tenant.  Anja, in her socks, darts out.   Gabi tries to stop her, but Anja quietly squats and peeks down at the same reporter who photographed her in the street before Danny’s basement apartment and he’s wearing the same glasses, shabby suit and sneakers, and holding a copy of the same article with Anja’s picture.  The woman, in her seventies, living alone, at first cannot recall, then changes her story so that the reporter will linger, maintaining that she has heard a “wild girl” running up and down the stairs.   In fact, Anja opened the door for this woman two weeks ago but after that it was easy to avoid her.   The reporter cuts the old woman off, then knocks on another door.  No answer.  Anja watches the reporter pause, then begin to climb up to their floor.  Anja breezes in their door and slowly, quietly, turns both locks and draws the security chain through for good measure.

Anja’s fingers are to her lips, to hush Gabi.  The reporter reaches their door and knocks.  Anja and Gabi stand directly behind it controlling their breaths.

The reporter knocks again, then talks at the door, “Don’t be alarmed.  I heard your stereo outside before entering the building  Heard you turn it off. I’m Phileus Leaux from The Daily Star and mean no harm.  You could very well be named in an article I’m doing, featured, in the news.  So, if you do know something about the girl named Anja, tall, blonde, a little crazy, whose been sleeping in your water tower, if you’ve seen this Anja or her boyfriend Eric Stone, please talk to me.  There even could be money in it.”

“How much money?”  Gabi asks, infuriating Anja, who readies herself for war.

“Not much really, but if you have information … “

“How much?  Tell me or go away.”  Gabi waves her hand and desperately winks to Anja, to calm her down.

“Are you alone?”

“Yes.  And I will not say anything to you unless you offer me five hundred dollars.”

“Five hundred?  Try twenty!”

“I’m talking five hundred.”

“How about fifty?”

“Three hundred!”

“Seventy?”

“One hundred.”

“Seventy and that’s my last offer.  I don’t even know if you have anything.”

“I do but I will talk only after you slip the envelope under the door.”

“No way!  You open the door, tell me what you know and then, maybe, I give you money.”

“No deal.  Go away.”

“I have to protect myself.”

“I have to protect myself! O.K.  I crack the door with the chain still hooked and you give me the money, then I talk.  I will hold the money in my hand through the door and you can take it back if what I say is of no use.”

“Deal.”

“Wait!  I have to put something on.”

“O.K.”

Meanwhile Anja is writhing with anger at Gabi.  Gabi reassures her while ferrying her out of sight, then puts on a sweater which she buttons up and opens the door.

“What’s your name?”

“None of your business.”

“Here’s the money.   Keep it outside the door.   It’s our bargain.”

“I know.  Look, I know this Anja.  I saw her up on this roof three days ago.  She’s a beautiful and well-spoken girl.  We had a kind of friendship — we’re both German.  Did you know she is German?”

“We didn’t think it important.  Why care about her nationality?”

“Well, I spoke to her after she had this guy, Eric, chase that man into the subway.”

“You did?  Are you sure?”

“She was here to collect her stuff.  She told me she was leaving and where she is going.”

“Where?”

“Boston.   She said she heard there are watertowers in Boston …  Aren’t you going to take this down?  I’m not going to repeat it and I want no more knocks on my door.   And I will sue your paper if you describe me and declare everything I said was a lie to your competitors.  Good.  Yes, take out your yellow pad and pencil.   She told me that since your article the heat is on here and she left today for Boston.  She said she likes Beacon Hill and the Italian section of town, whatever they call it.”

“Is this true?”

“Of course.”

“Does she know anyone in Boston?”

“No.  She told me that she meant to live in a watertower there because no one knows her.”

Do you know anything more?”

“No.”

“Nothing more?”

“Nothing.   Now, I’m going to close the door.”

“Wait.  I have no way to verify this.”

“That’s your problem.  Call up people in Boston.  You have connections up there?”

“A few.  Your story better be true.”

I assure you, Anja’s in Boston.”

“I’ll check it out.”

“Do.  Good-bye.”

“Wait, that’s not worth seventy bucks!”

Gabi snaps back her hand and shuts the door and stands just in side it counting the money, in front of Anja.  They both listen then to the man’s footsteps descending  the stairs.  He knocks on Eric’s door, though no one, of course, is home.  After a few minutes, they listen to him leave the building.

“What did you do that for?”  Anja asks, livid.

“To keep him busy and give you some escape money.  I call it fuck-you money.”

“Fuck you money?”

“Yes.  And even if he does catch on, it could slow his interest in the story, when he feels he lost the money.”

“Or intensity it!”

“It’s O.K. Anja.  I’m just not sure how much longer you now or I can stay here. We need money to escape.”

“We just got here!  And Eric will never find me if I leave.”

“You’re right. The only place he’ll ever come to is here, where he lives.”

“So we stay.”

“Yes, but let’s at least pull out of the office.  You shouldn’t leave this apartment.  But we need to get our wages before my boss returns.”

“How do we do that?”

“I get paid tomorrow.  I forge his signature today, we cash the checks at a check-cashing place.”

“This is awful.”

“It will be worse without money.”

Impossible without Eric!”