“The Burning Pit,” I said to Jaye,”is that a new restaurant? Some fondu thing?” Although I honestly couldn’t imagine people going out for fondu under these conditions.
“Hell, no!,” Jaye chortled a bit. “Gotta do something with the bodies, right? Medical supplies are low, murders are up, a certain number of people die every day in the city under the best conditions. Wouldn’t be nice to dump them in the river. Can’t leave them cluttering up the street. The birds won’t even eat them because they like live prey. So, the city dug a pit in Sheep Meadow. In the middle, away from the trees. They have a funeral pyre going. Got some prisoners manning it. Nobody would volunteer. Nobody would even do it for money. Anyhow, it’s kind of…festive and wild up there. What goes on at this corner is nothing compared to a night at the Burning Pit.”
“I think we’ll pass,” I said. I was actually appalled at the idea, and I was appalled that this nice rat snack seller considered a funeral pyre to be a good time.
Jaye looked at me coldly. “The rules have changed, folks. Catch up.” She turned away from us to look for other hungry citizens.
Mike and I made little shrugs at each other and crossed the street to the uptown side. The merry makers around us weren’t that clean, for the most part, but they all lurched away from Mike, muttering and glaring and grabbing their noses. Honestly, it was embarrassing to be with him. Mike seemed to shrink several inches. He looked at me apologetically and I tried to make myself walk closer to him.
“What do we do, now?,” he asked. “We’ve eaten rat. Well, YOU’VE eaten rat. We’ve picked up some local color. I have giant bird shit all over me. Can we go home? Please?”
“We haven’t really gotten that much information, You just want to go take a shower.”
“That’s the damned truth. I don’t think it’s outrageous, either, to want to rid myself of a coating of bird shit. Birds carry diseases. There is a new thing, BIRD FLU. You heard that rat woman say there is no medicine.” Mike began to look pale. He wagged his eyebrows at me beseechingly. He started to cough a little.
“OK, damnit, let’s go back. I can’t take this shit.”
“YOU have no idea about shit,” Mike wailed.
We started across 8th. Ave. Jaywalking was becoming a way of life, with no cars around. I actually liked that part of all this. We were almost to the Show World, Live Girls, Couples Welcome sign when a fight boiled out of the front door and onto the sidewalk.
“Wonder if we know anybody in that?,” Mike wondered, “Since we do know virtually the entire staff.”
The first thing I noticed about the fight was that many of the participants were dressed in white. Since doctors had been a current topic of conversation, I briefly thought that maybe a group of them had deserted St. Luke’s Hospital and come downtown for a night of head-clearing debauchery. Then I saw the crew cuts, then I spotted an anchor tattooed on an arm that was reared back for a punch.
“Oh, shit,” I said, “this might be about Trish.” We broke into a run.
As we reached Show World, Kat and Kate came pounding out the front door in bikinis and heels, and they launched themselves onto various sailor backs. They each pounded away with both fists like they were two year olds throwing temper tantrums, but they were hitting pretty damned hard. One man spun like a mechanical bull and slung Kat into the brick wall of the building. Kate gave one more really hard punch to her guy’s ear, dismounted, and ran to check Kat. That left bouncers versus sailors. The bouncers were meaner, but the sailors were younger and madder. I spotted Trish’s head bobbing around in the crowd. She was shouting, but she looked OK, not hurt or anything.
Not wanting to get our blocks knocked off, we skirted the roiling fight and went to Kat and Kate.
“Are you hurt?” I had to yell at them to be heard above the screaming men.
“We are fine,” bellowed Kate. “GET TRISH! Those guys are trying to drag her away! God, Mike, you stink!”
I turned back to the fight. I sure didn’t see how we could rescue Trish. The white sailor suits were showing streaks of blood. People were going to get badly hurt, and soon.
During my moment of indecision, who should stalk out of Show World but Bob Hogan. Kat and Kate had been right. He was a regular. Bob pulled a big-ass handgun out of his tacky sports coat. The crowd that had gathered to watch the fight spotted the gun and scattered. Bob smiled and raised his big gun.