Elixir of Life
(From National Police Gazette, Photoshopped by Joe – Orig. below)
I stepped out of the door from the Empress’s place and was met by a bright morning sun and crisp breeze. A host of unsavory odors were in the air, yet I was able to focus on the smell of fresh-baked bread. A short walk brought me to a sixpenny eating house on Nassau Street. I stopped for a fluffy omelet with fried onions, herbs, and cheese; bread slathered with butter; and good strong coffee. I ate without looking up, and then ordered a wedge of pumpkin pie and more coffee. When the pale-faced owner said the bill was six shillings, I wrinkled my nose. Still a bit sluggish, I remembered money wasn’t a problem, so long as I kept on with Jack.
I ran my tongue over my teeth and thought about what had transpired the night before with the Empress, whose name was Lize. In between serving glasses of a tart red wine, she had handed me a glass filled with a few ounces of purple liquid. I had placed the glass to my lips before she said what it was. It was sugary yet bland, and thick as maple syrup.
“Drink it down,” she had said with a glint in her eyes as if something brilliant reflected upon her. She had supple skin and big brown eyes that were outlined in black. She seemed so young, yet there was an authoritative tone in her voice. “We want you to be with us for a long time.”
“You are rich in soul.”
I held out the glass. “What is this?”
“It’s the elixir of life.”
“It makes my soul rich?”
“No, you were born rich.”
After breakfast, I headed to the old warehouse on Fulton Street near the East River, which I had called home of late. It was there that Jack Jefferies ran the fire brigade, met with individuals and groups in his duties as a Brooklyn ward boss, and managed a shipping and counting office.
I went in the first set of arched wooden doors, where four omnibuses were stored during the night, and which was the side that the fire brigade operated out of. I passed a fire engine and a single omnibus with a cracked axle, leaning to one side. The heads of four idle horses stretched out down a row of many empty stalls. I was certain the animals had the day off because the omnibus was broken down. The fire engine was the manual type. It had to be pulled through the streets. It also had to be stocked with casks of beer and ale for the locals who helped the firemen pump the water.
A muttering voice echoed. I couldn’t place it until the old man Skip came backing out of one of the stalls. In the dim light, I could see the silhouette of his crooked figure. He was raking horse dung and talking to himself. I moved closer. He had a hooked nose and waxy skin blotched with cancer. I asked if he had seen Jack and Gabe the gorilla. He lighted upon me, stood as straight as possible, held up the rake in one hand, and spit tobacco juice. “The big men came in an hour ago,” he said in a croaking voice, referring to the height of my companions. Both were both close to six feet five inches tall.
“The gorilla spent last night with a woman,” I said.
Skip gave a guttural laugh, showing slick black gums and a few teeth. He rocked from heel to toe, stumbled, then balanced on the rake. “Oh sure, I bet this woman had a bigger dick than him.” When the old man finally stopped laughing, he lifted one leg and farted, only to start laughing again.
To the sounds of Skip’s chortle, I made my way up the stairs located in the rear. On the second floor was a meeting hall, offices, and storage rooms. I paused to listen for anyone stirring about, but didn’t hear much. I went up to the third floor and headed down the hall. I passed storerooms and came to a room filled with single beds and a snoring inhabitant. It had to be the gorilla. Often, it was just the two of us sleeping the day away, and his snoring was a miserable thing. As far as us sleeping during the day, Jack encouraged it. “The day holds little meaning for us anymore,” he had said. “Our business is the night.”
A shaft of hazy light filtered in the single window, barred from the outside. Sure enough, I saw the gorilla’s massive frame stretched across two beds placed side-by-side.
I stripped down to my underwear, folding my overcoat and suit. I placed them beside an empty bed. I balanced my top hat on the clothes and plopped down on the bed. And then I peeled off the skull cap that the Empress had given me last night.
I clutched the cap between my hands and remembered that after Lize had given me the elixir of life, she had spoken in an Indian tongue. She was reclining on a divan, while I sat aside her plump behind that ballooned her silk dress. For a time, the words she spoke were indecipherable. I had thought she was blessing me. Though soon her eyes grew distant as it seemed she was speaking with someone else in the room.
“I have a new name for you,” she had said at last. She produced the leather skull cap from behind her back. She then reached to a small table, and removed a steel nibbed pen from an ink bottle. “It’s an Iroquois name,” she had said as she wrote it inside the hat. “It is from their medicine elders that I get the elixir of life.”
The room had begun to spin. Afraid I might fall off the divan, I clasped Lize’s hand.
“To conjure up the potion,” she said, “they secure help from the spirit world.”
“Few things in life are free,” a voice whispered inside my head. I slurred the words aloud.
“Oh yes, you are right, because those that ingest the potion, must repay the favor.”
“To the Indians?”
“To the spirit world…”
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Thirty-Nine
(Original – National Police Gazette)