Other people’s success always made M. drink way too much. Weaving slightly as he walked across the hard wood floor, he felt each of the three dirty martinis he’d gulped within the hour of arriving at his friend David’s book party. The restaurant was already crowded, and a few folks stood outside in the spring coolness smoking cigarettes and chatting. Years ago, the rowdy bar where he unsteadily stood was he and David’s former hangout spot the Saloon, a place where once the crew of beauty queen waitresses who worked there were required to wear roller skates. M. often journeyed to the restaurant on 64th and Broadway from his Harlem hood to meet dates for Sunday brunch.
Gulping cheap champagne at the outdoor café in hopes that it would lead to some afternoon delight, he marveled at the waitresses rolled gracefully to the tables on their skates, gently lowering trays, desperately trying not to slip. M. was sure there must’ve been a few collisions, but never once did he see a waitress drop a tray of cocktails or crash into a co-worker. Theirs was a type of coordination he would never possess, he thought as the bartender pushed yet another drink across the wet bar.
It was a beautiful spring night and M. already bordering on drunk when he arrived. Usually he felt a click inside of his head that alerted him that the intoxication fog was coming in, but that night it snuck-up on him. One minute he was fine and the next, while congratulating his buddy David, M. slurred a few congratulatory words while hugging him tightly and accidently splashed his drink on David’s jacket.
David glared at M. as if to say, “I know you, you pitiful bastard, and that passive aggressive bullshit was no accident.” Staring at him suspiciously, some of the strangers standing near him jumped back, while others snickered nervously.
“Who is that drunk?” some chick whispered loudly.
M. and David had known each other since the cocaine eighties, back when they both hung-out at Danceteria trying to fuck glasses-wearing arty Lower East Side girls. Twenty years back, when they were both young Black boys from the ghetto who dreamt of a life beyond the neighborhood, they were the local weirdos more drawn to the glam of Andy Warhol’s downtown pop life than the wild streets of strive outside their windows.
To M. and David, the names on Page Six, checking out bad bands inside the urban ruins of CBGB’s, watching Godard and Truffaut films at the Metro, eating sushi on St. Marks Place and walking for blocks beneath the starless sky meant something. Sharing fragments of their imaginary futures, a different world where M. would be a celebrated painter like his hero Basquiat while David wrote award-winning literary novels, they wanted to be part of an artistic community that, at least at that point in history, was still vibrant.
In between all their partying, M. painted pictures and fantasized about fame. Not that corny kind of fame that was part of the reality show fabric of millennial modern life, where one simply threw insults or plastic cocktail glasses into the shocked faces of their tele-rivals. He had wanted to be a downtown darling creating shocking work that would engulf the world in his creative genius.
Somewhere in between exhibiting his neo-post-ghetto-pop on magazine covers, book jackets and gallery shows, he’d have unlimited access to downtown haunts, clubbing with rock stars and having dinner parties at midnight as the guests marveled at his enchanting view of the New York City skyline and talked about the primitive beauty of his paintings. Instead, as is usually the case, reality had different plans.
After years of sweat, a few sold paintings and a show in his then-girlfriend’s apartment on 12th Street and Avenue A, he decided to be practical when his lover finally saw the light (as well as some used condom wrappers on the floor) and kicked him out. Before moving out, M. stole her pair of pricey Charles Jourdan green snake-skinned shoes from the closet. Why not, he thought, it had been those shoes that attracted him to her in the first place. With no girlfriend to support his genius, M. got a gig working as a caseworker at a cluttered city office located on Church Street. He still painted when he could, but lately a new habit began eating into his time.
David, on the other hand, parlayed his writing skills into a publicity job at Sony. Churning out press releases and bios in the beginning, within a few years he was making high six-figures and running the department. Throughout it all he kept a diary, scribbling scandalous notes about the singers, rappers and handlers he slaved for before being fired in the publicity purge of 2004. Two years later, after a cancer scare, David finally sat down, knocked-out a trashy novel with no literary value and received a big book deal for The Jiggy Generation, his music industry roman à clef.
Commutating his anger with a glance, David removed his jacket and coolly hung it over a chair. Rolling up his sleeves, he walked towards the rear of the restaurant where those phony publishing bums were waiting to be graced with his presence.
“You better pace yourself,” someone behind him mumbled.
M turned around, staring into face of stunning woman, her voice a hoarse sexy whisper. M. wondered if this beauty was one of David’s old flings, but instantly pushed the thought out of his mind.
Standing beside the beautiful stranger, M looked at her and smiled. With her a cinnamon complexion, wild natural hair and green eyes, the stranger was intriguing. Clad in a chic black dress, he marveled momentarily at her pretty cleavage before being lured to her classic high-heeled black shoes.
Trying to be witty as her eyeballed buxom body, he answered. “It’s much too late for that; I started drinking before I got here.”
She was a beautiful, full-figured Amazon standing six feet tall in her pointy-toed stilettos. The shoes managed to be the perfect combination of classy and tacky, reminding him of the ones his godmother Vera wore when he was a boy, her smooth legs crossed, the left shoe dangling from her foot as she played bridge with his mom and their friends. Every week she wore the same black pumps, the ones she called her lucky shoes. When M. was ten he got his first hard-on staring Vera’s feet in those pretty shoes.
“I think your son is happy to see me,” Vera drunkenly slurred, and all the women at the table, including his mother, laughed. Thirty-years had passed since that night, but lately he’d been thinking about it often, reliving the most embarrassing night of his life over and over. M. should’ve been over the shame a long ago, but he knew he never would me.
“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked the stunning soul sister, his words slurred. The stranger chuckled, obliviously thought he was cute.
“It’s an open bar,” she said, smiling.
“Well then, I’ll leave the tip,” he offered.
Her smile widened, “Sure. Order me a rum and coke.”
Walking to the bar together, he turned slightly to see if anyone was looking him, making sure there were no jealous boyfriends or ex-lovers around who might not take too kindly to his interest. M. was always afraid that he would be attacked by some chick’s crazy jealous man. Although it had never happened, it didn’t mean that it might not.
Waiting for the bartender, he glanced through the plate-glass window and saw the white lights sparkling from Lincoln Center across the street. Though the lights were out of focus, the beautiful building, with its glorious fountain in front, remained one of his favorites in the city.
Back when he was a student at Fordham, M. used to sit on the fountain, perched like a bird as he watched the girls go by. Dusty Burt Bacharach tunes (“The Look of Love,” “Walk on By”) drifted through his brain as he stared first at the woman’s face before moving his eyes down to their shoes. If their shoes could talk, he sometimes wondered what tales they might tell, what secrets they might reveal about their masters.
“Thank you,” the woman said, holding her drink high, “what should we toast to?”
Before he could hold his drunken tongue, M. blurted, “Let’s toast to your shoes.”
“My shoes? Are you gay?”
“No, I just like women in heels. If I were king, women in flat shoes would be banished from the kingdom.”
Laughter brightened her face.
“All right,” she replied. “My first husband was gay, and I can’t even begin to tell you what kind of nightmare that was.”
M. smiled, took a swig of his drink, not bothering to click glasses. The worst part about martini glasses was that your drink was always splashing over the rim.
“Did you know he was gay when you married him?”
“I kind of suspected. He was the doorman at Boy Bar, a place on St. Marks I used to bartend when I was in college. What did I know; I was a kid from Peterson, West Virginia. We didn’t have any gay people down there.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“For real. If they were there, they didn’t talk about it.”
“Doesn’t sound like your ex talked much about it either.” She laughed. “So, how did you find out the truth?”
“About your gay ex husband.”
“Oh, him. Well, I came home early one night, and he was doing the backstroke with the bar manager. I screamed so loud, they both fell out of the bed. Romeo stared up at me…”
“Wait a minute,” M. laughed. “Dude’s name was Romeo?”
“Well it was really Robert, but we met the year Purple Rain came out, and he thought calling himself Romeo was so much cooler.”
“I bet he used up all your mascara.”
“Don’t be mean,” she said.
“I wasn’t being mean. When Purple Rain came out, I was sixteen years old, still living at home. Me and my crew went to Times Square every week-end for a month to see it. It changed my life. ”
“Did you learn anything from it?”
“Yeah. Don’t fall in love with yellow girls named Apollonia.”
Laughing nervously, she accidently spit a piece of lime pulp into his left eye; instantly it began to burn. Without looking in the mirror, he knew it had already turned slightly red.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe that just happened.”
“Better you than me,” M. laughed.
Downing her drink in one gulp, she said, “I need to catch up with you. Let’s go get me another cocktail. ”
M. nodded and mumbled, “No problem.”
Looking at his new friend walking to the bar, he admired the way she held her body was erect in her pumps, never teetering the way some women did when they wore heels. Some days, after leaving his Tribeca office, he saw women walking unsteadily in their shoes, looking as though they might collapse on the concrete. This woman, on the other hand, strutted with the confidence of a young model on the runway. Small chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and slivers of light reflected off of the woman’s shoes as she moved across the room. As the light reflected from them, the black was as sleek as a panther’s fur.
Years back, he dated a shoe obsessive she-devil executive who, as he would later learn, spurned every man who ever loved her and referred to her massive shoe collection as, “My children.”
Not so long ago, after his fortieth birthday party at a gaudy Indian restaurant, where the waiters dimmed the lights and sang a special birthday song, M. had a one night stand with a high school history teacher who lived on East 9th Street, her small apartment overflowing with shoeboxes tumbling from the shelves and colorful cardboard boxes peeking from beneath the bed.
“Forgive the collection,” she said, obviously not really caring what he thought. “Men are temporary, but my shoes are forever.”
Planning on being one of those temporary men, he simply agreed. The following morning, a bright red box tumbled from the shelf and crashed into M.’s head.
“I think your Manolo’s just tried to kill me,” he quipped. “Or, they were trying to commit shoeicide.”
“You’re silly,” she said, laughing as she walked him to the door. “How do you know so much about women’s shoes?”
Stepping into the first floor hallway, he turned around and kissed her on the cheek.
“I used to watch Sex and the City,” he lied.
M. didn’t like lying, but he knew she would never understand his passion, since he barely understood it himself. He despised the word fetish, but was there another way to describe the chill that shivered through him whenever he saw a pretty woman in a pair of pumps, mules or stilettos clicking on the sidewalk.
“Do you work with David,” M. asked his new friend upon her return.
“We used to, but that was a thousand years ago, before he started keeping that damned diary. I don’t think any of the characters in his book are based on me, thank God.”
M. looked around the room. “Being written about doesn’t seem to have stopped anyone from attending the festivities.”
“These are music industry people,” she said. “All publicity is good publicity. No matter how vicious David’s book is, they would be mad if they weren’t in it.”
“So, what do you do now that sets you apart from the pack?”
“Well, I’m a shoe designer,” the woman answered. “I work for Jimmy Choo.”
“You’re joking,” M. laughed. “A shoe designer, huh. Isn’t that one of those mythical jobs like unicorn herder or magic beanstalk planter? In all my years, I’ve never met a shoe designer. I’m impressed.”
“I would think somebody who like women’s shoes as much as you do would know at least one designer,” she said, downing her drink. “I think that buzz I was waiting for finally got here. Why don’t I go get my coat and we sneak out the side door? I’ll give you a chance to take a closer look.”
M. grinned. “I don’t even know your name.”
It was her turn to grin. “Just call me Gilda.”
Looking at her shoes once again, he felt himself getting an erection, but knew it would be awhile before being fully satisfied. He looked across the room and noticed David was still signing books, which gave him amble opportunity to slip out the door without being noticed. Considering her future, the less people that saw them together the better.
Standing on the sidewalk, M. lit a cigarette as he caressed the pearl handle stiletto blade that was deep in his right pocket. In the same way drunkenness had crept up on him, in the back of his mind he could hear the angelic voice of Karen Carpenter singing “Close to You” and he knew that something terrible was going to happen soon. For the last six months every time he heard a Burt Bacharach track in his head, be it the Fifth Dimension wailing “One Less Bell to Answer.” B.J. Thomas’ wonderful “Everybody’s Out of Town” or Dusty Springfield dramatically singing “The Look of Love,” something bad happened, something he didn’t like thinking about.
The last time it was Dionne Warwick wailing “Message to Michael” that had set him in action and he usually couldn’t stop until it was over.
“You all right?” Gilda asked, as she walked out of the restaurant wearing a red spring coat, matching hat and gloves. She reminded him of Red Riding Hood, which of course would make him the big bad wolf.
“I’m fine,” he lied.
Surprising him, she said, “I live on the other side of Central Park, why don’t we walk.”
Women in heels never wanted to walk; this was more perfect than he could’ve expected.
M. nodded. “It’s such a nice night, why not,” he answered.
They strolled up Central Park West chatting endlessly as though they were old friends, grammar school classmates catching up after years away from the playground. She had a trusting quality one didn’t find in many city girls, a vulnerability that was as rare as it was precious.
It was ten o’clock when they reached the corner of 72nd Street. M. stopped at the newsstand.
“Looking for anything special?” Gilda asked seductively.
“I think I’ve already found it,” M. answered.
Gazing at the covers of the tabloids held down with a brick, M. imagined the bold headlines of tomorrow morning’s papers declaring: STILETTO KILLER STRIKES IN CENTRAL PARK!
M. wasn’t sure if the press started calling him “The Stiletto Killer” because of his weapon of choice, the warm knife in his pocket, or because of the heels his victims wore. He smirked slightly, extending his arm to Gilda. Locking arms, she pulled him close as though he was her man, as he would protect her from whatever evils might emerge from the darkness while somewhere in his mind Karen Carpenter’s voice suddenly appeared much like the birds in that song. M.’s body tingled with anticipation as the flugelhorn gently blew and he imagined all the high-heeled girls in town following him around as he waited for the orchestra to guide him towards liberation as he destroyed another high-heeled dominator.
Seconds before M. knew it was the perfect moment to pull his stiletto from his jacket pocket, Gilda pulled away from him and the music in his head stopped. Suddenly, he felt the cold metal of a sharpened blade slipping into his side three times quickly. Swiftly, before he could scream, the bitch removed the knife and sliced his jugular. Blood gushed from the deep gash in his neck, hot blood bubbling from his throat. Gilda laughed sinisterly as her red gloved hand buried the blade in his heart.
Falling to ground, M. looked up at her face noticing that whatever vulnerability he thought was on her pretty face had been replaced by anger.
“You men are so easy,” she whispered hoarsely as he fell to the ground.
“You men are so stupid.”
Lying on the ground groaning, blood bumbled from the hole in his chest. Fading like a song in the night, the last thing M. heard before dying was Gilda’s serial killer heels slowly walking away.
Bio: 2013 Spinetingler Awards nominee Michael A. Gonzales has published noir fiction in Needle, Crime Factory, Pulp Metal and Black Pulp (Pro Se Press, 2013) edited by Gary Phillips. He has also written about pop culture for New York magazine, Spin, The Village Voice, The Source, Redbull Academy and Pitchfork Review. His articles have appeared in Cuepoint, Wax Poetics, Stop Smiling and Baltimore City Paper. Gonzales has also written essays on crime writers Chester Himes (Noir Originals), Jim Thompson (Mulholand Books) and Ken Bruen (One More Robot). A New York native, Gonzales claims Baltimore as his other home, but currently lives in Philly.