I know something was up when Nicole’s name glows green on my caller ID twelve times in seven minutes. Nicole stands six feet tall (not counting her mohawk) and has two or three degrees. People are always asking if she’s a model and where to get drugs and what the Latin roots of words are. She’s not the clingy type. And anyway, we aren’t that kind of friends.
So I’m not surprised when I call her back and it’s not her at all, but John her Irish boyfriend.
‘‘Marian,’’ he says, drawing my name out with his warm accent. ‘’I fucked up real bad. I need your help. Nicole’s in jail.’’
I meet John at the pub, buy him a round, and ask him to start at the beginning.
‘’I was seeing someone else,’’ he says. ‘‘This Russian girl I work with.’’ He lifts his arm from under the bar to show me recent stitches, dyed black with blood standing out against his milk-pale skin.
‘‘Wow. Nicole did that?’’
John nods. ‘‘She threw kitchen knives at me. I’m lucky to be alive. I’m lucky I was a boxer and know how to block. Ida been blind. Maybe dead.’’
‘‘What’s the charge?’’
‘‘Assault with a deadly weapon. A felony. Bail is twenty-one hundred dollars. I don’t know what a bail bond is exactly though. To be honest.’’
‘’I can find out.’’ I send my boyfriend a text. ‘‘Where is she?’’
‘‘Riker’s Island.’’ John drains his Guinness and I signal the bartender and send another text.
‘’I never wanted to hurt Nicole,’’ John says, gazing in his empty glass. He’s a tall guy, sweet-faced, but I never really saw why he got so many girls, especially Nicole.
‘‘This Russian girl, she means nothing to me, Marian, nothing. It was just a stupid thing, a moment of weakness. And now she has her Russian mafia boyfriend after me. I don’t even care about my arm, it’s only scratches. But Nicole…’’
The bartender sets two fresh glasses of beer in front of us. John puts another twenty on top of a stack of ones and fives. My phone lights up and vibrates and starts playing the Gorillaz. People look up from their drinks and I’m embarrassed. My boyfriend’s text says: ‘‘take the Q101R bus to Riker’s. Runs 24/7.’’ It’s just past noon. I want to get her out before she has to spend another night in jail.
I try a place in Chinatown that’s obviously a private residence. It has a paper BONDS sign taped to a wooden door warped from years of humidity and neglect. Dirty yellow paint falls off the wall in flakes. I try the door bell twice, and someone yells in Chinese from upstairs. I hear another person on the other side of the door, breathing like they’re trying to figure out who I am. I think, well, this is where I will die, this is the end for me Chinatown. I leave.
I try a shiny new place in Queens, Bad Apple Bail Bonds.
‘‘What’s he in for?’’ demands the scrawny guy behind the bulletproof glass. ‘‘Because we don’t handle drug cases, I’ll tell you that right now.’’
‘‘She. She beat up her boyfriend.’’
The girl with long purple nails behind the reception desk looks up. ‘‘Nice,’’ she says, nodding.
It is midnight and raining when I board the bus to Riker’s. An old Jewish lady asks me where I’m going and I tell her.
‘‘What did he do?’’
‘‘She beat up her boyfriend.’’
‘‘Good for her,’ says the lady, adjusting her shopping bags. ‘‘Men are no good, no good. My husband was terrible…’’
Outside the compound I wait for her. I knock a couple chapters off the book I’m reading and give cigarettes to the newly released convicts, who look excited and shell-shocked. I let them borrow my phone to call their girlfriends or parents, to find out if they still have a job and where they can stay the night.
‘‘What are you doing here?’’ they ask.
‘‘Waiting for my friend.’’
‘‘But he’s not going to be out for maybe hours.’’
‘‘It’s a she. No shit. What’d she do?’’
‘‘Beat up her boyfriend.’’
‘’No shit. He deserve it?’’
‘‘He’s not pressing charges.’’
‘‘Marian, oh my God.’’
Nicole walks down the rain-slicked street wearing a red hoodie. Her pretty brown eyes are sad. I reach out to give her a hug.
‘‘Don’t touch me,’’ she says. ‘’I smell.’’
I give her a pack of cigarettes, her cell phone and the spare set of keys to my apartment.
‘‘Thanks for being here,’’ she says meekly.
‘‘Don’t mention it.’’
We part ways at the pub. Nicole needs a drink and I want to go to bed.
My boyfriend fixes me one of his enigmatic looks and asks if I want to go to Montreal for the weekend. I say I do. We ask Nicole if she wants to go, but she has court dates.
The Adirondacks are majestic and I feel thrilled to be out of the city. People seem more cheerful in Canada. I eat chewy pieces of elk and introduce my boyfriend to maple sugar candy. We drink beer. We play in the snow.
When we get back, I have to go to work, but Nicole doesn’t. She’s lost her job and so one night, while I serve cocktails, she and my boyfriend go to a party and they are there all night and she goes over to his place.
In the morning, he tells me he’s sorry, Nicole crashed at this place, he should have called, but Nicole didn’t think it was a good idea. I call Nicole. She says she would have called, but my boyfriend didn’t think it was a good idea.
Now it’s my turn to go to the pub. I have a shot of whiskey with the bartender and a couple pints, turning the situation over in my head. I pay for my drinks and walk through the Village in the dirty snow to the Lower East Side. I know Nicole is at her old apartment, the one she shared with John, packing up her things.
There is a liquor store across from her house, and I pick up a bottle of wine. Nicole’s building is dingy and illegal. She opens the door in a mudpack and asks if I want to join the pore cleansing. I say no, and offer her the wine. She opens it and pours two glasses. It tastes like vinegar.
I ask how things are going. She sweeps a hand across the two-room apartment, strewn with dishes, clothes, boxes, and piles of paper. I look at Nicole and John’s unmade bed. There’s a cot on the floor next to it, so there’s very little floor space.
‘‘Right,’’ I say. She stands in front of me slim and elegant, a soft white sweater falling off one shoulder, and drinks from her glass gingerly so no green clay rubs off. She lights a cigarette. I light a cigarette. She finds an ashtray and places it on the kitchen counter on a stack of Hustler magazines.
‘‘What do you think of pornography?’’ I ask, leafing through the stack. The alcohol is moving through me, and I feel confident and toxic.
Nicole is sober. ‘‘You know how my parents met, right?’’ she says.
I shake my head.
‘’My dad was a bouncer and my mom was a Playboy bunny.’’
‘’I thought they were both cops,’’ I say.
‘‘Yea, that came later.’’ She sharpens her cigarette end to a point on the edge of the ashtray. ‘‘They had the most amazing porn collection. My brother and I used to watch it when we were little.’’
‘’I want you to leave my boyfriend alone,’’ I say.
Nicole cocks her head and draws her spine up into a straight line. ‘’Be very careful,’’ she says. ‘‘You are insulting me pretty seriously.’’ Her lips look soft but her voice is hard.
I get up and turn my back on her and walk through the bedroom. I look out the window at Katz’s Deli. Rats are eating through the trash outside the trendy new bistro across the street. I sip my wine and press my forehead against he cold glass pane. The radiator hisses. ‘’I want you to leave my boyfriend alone,’’ I repeat.
‘‘Listen–’’ she starts.
I turn around. ‘’I don’t care if you have feelings for him. My problem is that he might have feelings for you. And whether you intend to or not–’’ she opens her mouth, so I raise my voice, ‘‘you are threatening my relationship.’’
‘‘You need to calm down,’’ she says. She turns toward the bathroom.
I run behind her, spin her around and smack her across the face. My right hand is smeared with green clay and her cheek is zebra-striped chocolate and green. She overcomes me easily and holds me on the floor by my wrists, my hands crossed hard over my chest, my elbows pointing at her neck.
‘‘I’m going to let you up, Marian, but you can’t hit me again,’’ she says evenly. I nod. She lets me up. I hit her again, in the face. She pins me again and reaches on top of the kitchen table where the packing equipment is. She ties my wrists together with duct tape and throws me into the hall.
It takes me two blocks to find someone with scissors to cut me loose. It’s an old Puerto Rican lady, standing in the doorway of a tenement building, and she doesn’t ask any questions.