BMQ, Excerpt - Chapter 1, Scene 3

We were not the first to leave nor the last out of the loft.
Downstairs, out of the elevator, Manny turned right and I followed. The man at the station greeted him with, “Good morning, Mr. Davenport!” and Manny returned it with the same inflection and the man’s name. The booth in the back was the entrance to a large storage, a duplex with hundreds of lithograph reproductions and some original paintings.
The man bent down and handed him a box, from which Manny took out its contents and placed most of the postcard size flyers into his backpack. The rest he held in his hands. We made a left out of the building and a right when we got to Houston Street. I asked, “Is it safe to talk now?”
My words flew out of my mouth, exposing my excitement to be part of his world. “What are you into? Why did Cindy think I bought in? Is she your woman?”
“No, you’re my woman, at least to them. I knew you’d eventually find me so I had to provide you a cover.”
“Why do they want me dead?”
“Not them personally but there’s a reward out on your head.”
We walked Houston, heading east.
“Why? I had nothing to do with what happened on the campus.” He slowed to stare at me. I continued, “I asked for your help in one thing and next thing I know a building is burning.”
We reached Second Avenue and a rush of people moved across us in all directions. Manny didn’t address what I said. “You showing up almost messed up this operation. But you and Edwin played it well.” He half-handed a flyer to a young man who stopped. “If you want a print of this, it’s ten dollars. Take this flyer to the address listed.”
The young man said, “No thank you.” Manny gave him the flyer and we continued walking.
“What exactly is the operation? Is it dangerous?”
“Yes, very. Now that you’ve covered this part of my story, I need you to stay away unless I call you.”
“What? Why?”
“What did you see last night?”
“Drugs. Orgies.”
He cut in. “Yes and that’s not your scene. You sleep with one you must sleep with one more to be accepted. From there you can stay in that box or try to get deeper. The only way to do so is to sleep with many more...”
“How deep are you in?”
“This is my third year in.”
“I want in.”
“Aren’t you a virgin?”
“I’m not a virgin.” I punched him on his right arm. He laughed and stopped to go into his sales pitch. The woman gave him the ten dollars. He thanked her, signed the flyer and gave it to her. “Is this what you do all day?”
“Is something wrong with it?”
“No. I just never knew this side of your life. What percentage of sales do you get?”
He slowed to stare at me again and handed me a flyer. I looked at the postcard flyer and still did not make the connection. “This is my art. Each week I try to finish a new piece. I walk around and try to sell one hundred copies of it a day.”
“One hundred?”
“Yes, and I get one hundred percent. The four of us bought the building together, and whoever raises the capital, only through sales of their own work, can buy the others out.”
“Doesn’t that type of competition breed jealousy, animosity?”
“Not if you buy in.” He paused and waited for me to question. “Plus, we have been buying property together for years. There are hundreds of us.”
“One thousand dollars a day?”
“I take a day off here and there, and don’t always get to one hundred sales each day.”
“When do you get a chance to paint?”
“After I sell at least one hundred copies, I end my day and work if I want. If I can’t sell five hundred copies of a piece a week, why go on to work on the next piece?”
I had never looked into his eyes this much. I saw an innocence I had never. I loved the way he had slowly built his hair like a crown, a fortress of spikes dangling around his face. “Am I your woman? Am I supposed to sleep with your friends?”
“No. You were not supposed to go to Edwin. When did you become so compliant?” Amidst a short laugh, he put his arm behind my neck, across my shoulders. “Go home when we reach 42nd. You’ve covered me enough. I appreciate it.”
“What, I’m the jealous woman?”
“It’s the best story in the world. You came looking for me and you didn’t like what you saw.” He laughed again, removing his arm as he made another sale.
“As long as you’re honest with me, I have no reason to be jealous. Is Cindy your woman?”
“She wants to be but I only met her a few weeks ago.”
“Semester is just ending. How long have you been in this loft?”
“For almost a year. This school year, my classes were mainly studio, and didn’t require attendance.”
“No wonder I couldn’t find you on campus. Are you going up for your graduation?”
“Is Cindy your woman?”
He laughed. “Do you mean if I’ve had sex with her?” I didn’t answer. “I told you what the operation is. You’re my woman but this is not the place for you, if you can’t flow. And, I’d prefer you not to.”
“Why? You’re jealous?”
“No. It’s just that this is not an operation where you can jump in and jump out. People will get suspicious, and feel their identities have been compromised. There will be consequences.”
“Is Cindy your woman?”
“OK, after we sell a hundred copies. Take the Metro-North home with me. I want you to meet my parents.”
His loud laugh shielded him from the incredulous notion. “We’re back to this again! Your family will not approve of me. That’s why I have never gone to meet them. Have you even told them about me?”
My silence must have made him think I agreed with his assessment. I calculated a counter. “Have you told your family about me?”
“Yes, right after I met you your freshman year.” My silence meant my mind went into the future, of our life together, and he read it perfectly. He said, “This thing between us, it’s not just you who feels this way. But I know what my life is like.”
We didn’t talk much the rest of the way. He sold five prints by the time we reached East 42nd Street. “I’m going to turn here and head to Grand Central.” I paused so he could say something, ask me to stay, or express an emotion. But he was the master of the stoic demeanor. “Give me a flyer so I can get in tonight.”
“Ten dollars.”
“I don’t give credit.” I fake stepped toward him like I would pop him one. He laughed, signed a flyer and handed it to me. “I really don’t give credit.”
“I don’t either but you owe me.”
He pulled me to him and said, “You gotta kiss me to make it look good. Chances are we’re being watched.” We had slow-kissed before but never this out in the open, under the sunlight, on a crowded street. We kissed, the way people do when they were about to cry. As it ended, we hugged and he whispered, “Don’t come back to the loft!”