For the next week we filmed every day, sometimes inside the pizza shop, sometimes on the streets or in various spots where the boys picked up tricks. We got some footage of the johns (which we would have to mask) and some of the cops hassling the kids (but never the upstanding citizens who were soliciting them). Jack, who worked from the pizza shop phone booth and not from the street, was often in the faces of the police, taunting them as they patrolled the area or scattered the younger boys. Jack was never their target because he didn't troll and he didn't seem to solicit. Instead, he took mysterious calls or left abruptly on obscure errands.
Stan continued to be a no show and I wondered if the police had picked him on some petty -- or maybe not so petty -- charge. Or maybe he was just laying low for some unknown reason. Whatever, the boys, especially Jack, didn't seem to miss him too much, and neither did I. Without his interference, we shot fast and got better footage; even some of the dimmer lights among the boys were talking and giving me a few usable quotes.
At the end of the week Jane said to me, "I think we have more than enough footage to do the job, don't you think, Aaron? I mean, how long is this thing going to be? I thought that originally you were planning about twenty minutes, but the way you have things sketched out here, it looks like an hour or more. That's not what Stephen is expecting."
"Well, it's just that I got a lot better stuff than I imagined when we started. After a kind of slow start, we are really rolling, don't you think?"
Jane looked at me. "I think we have more than enough, Aaron. What more are you looking for? We can't use all this film in a million years. Let's pack it in and start cutting it together."
"Maybe one more day...."
"One more, my ass. Get off it, Aaron." She threw down her clipboard and stalked out of the tiny office I shared with two other grad students.
Over the weekend we began reviewing the most recent developed footage. It was good, very good. Even the dubious Jane could see that Jack was a stand-out: the camera couldn't look at anything but his face.
"We could use some voice-over here, over this section showing the cars coming off the bridge. I could get Jack to come in and do some over-dubs."
"Over-dubs? I have him talking about that already. I'll just isolate those sound bites and we can use them with that footage. You don't need him to come in and repeat stuff, Aaron. He's not Meryl Streep."
"Maybe we should go out and get a couple more comments about...."
I turned away and began running some of the edited sections.
It was sometime around the middle of the next week when the weather turned bitterly cold as it only can in February, that short, brutal month. As I spent almost every waking moment of my day looking at film of the kids, I couldn't help but think about them, wondering how they were surviving? What had happened to Stan? How was Jack getting along?
Jane was planning a little Valentine's Day dinner for two at her apartment on Sunday. I knew she was buying me a present -- she and my mother had been on the phone cooking something up -- and I was uneasy at the speed at which this relationship was gearing back up into serious mode. It was my own fault, I admit: I needed Jane's expertise to finish my film and I didn't mind that she was also assuaging my intense recent horniness -- a condition I blamed on the tension I was under.
After one all-night session, I walked out and realized that I had neither eaten nor slept in about 48 hours. It was Friday morning and I was due at my parents' that evening and at Jane's on Sunday. I wasn't looking forward to either one. I thought about getting something to eat and headed toward a local place where you could get a full breakfast for about three bucks. Instead, I found myself on my way into the subway and back to the pizza shop.
I walked through the door and Nick behind the counter looked at me in surprise. The place was, as usual, empty. Except the side booth. Jack was sitting there, again as usual, but his face was down on the table, cradled in his folded arms. He seemed asleep.
He started and looked up. Someone -- I didn't have to think far to guess who -- had given him a good working over. He had a bruise on his left cheek and a split bottom lip. He was also holding his side again, as if someone had kicked him again there, repeatedly.
"Christ. What are you doing here?" He put his head down again.
I gestured to Nick. "Could I get some coffee over here? Two?"
"Haven't you had enough of this freak show?" Jack mumbled into his arms. "Why don't you go back to college?"
Nick brought the coffees over. He looked at me disapprovingly.
Jack lifted up his head and sniffed the coffee. He reached over, gingerly, and began pouring in sugar from the container.
"Hey, have a little coffee with your sugar there."
He gave me an exasperated look.
"So, what happened to you?"
"Will you keep your fucking voice down?" He glanced towards the counter. "Don't you know that Stan and fucking Nick are tight? That they are in shit together? Why do you think he let you film here? Why he lets me hang out here?"
"Sorry. I don't want to get you into any more trouble. Maybe I should go." I took out some bills to pay for the coffee.
"Wait. Maybe you can help me." He kept his voice low. "One of the little goons found my stash and told Stan about it. The little creep must have followed me and seen. If he'd come to me, I'd have shared some of it with him, but, no, he goes to Stan. And Stan gave him squat." He laughed bitterly. "You can see what Stan gave me."
"My fucking money! You don't think I was giving Stan everything, do you? Are you crazy? He knew I was holding out, but he didn't know where it was. Almost five hundred dollars! Gone with the fucking wind now." He sniffled and wiped at his face with the sleeve of the leather jacket.
"If you need money to get home, I can give it to you."
"Home?" he snorted. "I don't want go home! I needed that money for a pager and deposit on a place. I don't have to pay Stan for the 'privilege' of his business expertise. I'm going into business for myself, but I need some start-up capital. Now Stan's taken it and I'm back to fucking square one! He even took my goddamn watch." He showed me his empty wrist. "Fucking watch didn't work anyway."
"Maybe you should think about going home. Really, this is no place for you, Jack."
He smirked at me and shook his head. "Aaron, you're so lame! This is the perfect place for me. The only place for me, I guess."
He drank down his coffee and stared into space a while. Then he whispered, "Listen, after you leave here disappear. I mean go somewhere else and don't hang around here. Then meet me in front of CBGB in a half hour. When you see me, follow me, but not too close. Get it?"
"Sure, Jack. I get it."
"Do it if you really want to help me." He suddenly pushed my arm away. "I said, get the fuck out of here." He raised his voice and pushed me again. "No more filming! No more interviews! Leave me alone or I'll call the cops! Get the fuck out of here!"
Nick was looking over with interest.
"Sorry, kid, I won't bother you anymore." I threw down some money for the brew.
"Yeah, don't come around here anymore." He practically spat out the words. "And I don't give out freebies, so don't ask me again." He gave me a little smile.
Exactly thirty minutes later I saw Jack limp up the street and pause in front of the punk club. He saw me, but he looked away. Then he turned, heading down one of the side streets. I followed him through a warren of narrow streets and tenements. Finally, he dodged into an alley and stopped at a doorway. I caught up with him.
"I want to make sure nobody's here. Hang on." He ducked inside. A few minutes later he called down to me and I went up two flights.
"I want to get my shit before I get out of here for good." He was shoving a few pieces of clothing into a plastic bag. "Here, hold this." He pushed the bag into my hands.
The place was a maze of makeshift rooms, with mattresses, broken furniture, and trash strewn around. "Nice place, huh? We're thinking of turning it into condos and selling them for a million a shot."
Jack went into a smaller room at the back. It was a bit cleaner and more furnished: the bed actually had an old spread thrown over it. "This is the bridal suite. Pretty swell, right?"
"What are you looking for?"
"Some shit Stan owes me." He messed around in some bags and boxes. "Ah, ha!" He reached in and pulled out a paper shopping bag, pouring out a pile of square foil packets in all different colors.
"Halloween candy Stan distributes to all the good little boys." Jack began sorting them out. Some were labeled with names such as "Duran Duran" and "Disneyland" and "Anthrax."
"I'd take them all, except I don't want Stan to know any are missing right away." He shoved some wadded up newspaper at the bottom of the bag and spread some of the packets on top. "He'll notice, but not for a day or two. He's just that dumb. But by that time he won't be able to find me. I'll be far, far away, over the rainbow, as they say."
We made our way out of the squat and to the subway stop. "Well, Aaron, it's been real." Jack had been wincing all the way up the street. He seemed like he was waiting for me to say something. I wondered why he had wanted me along with him in the first place. He held out his hand. "Bye."
And that's when I said the words. I don't know why I said them, but they just came out. "Come to my place, at least for tonight. Then you can figure out where you're going from there."
He bit his lip and nodded. "Well... It would be nice to wash out some of my clothes. And have a shower. A really hot shower."
"No problem. I have a shower."
On the way up to my place, we stopped at the grocery and I bought some soda, more coffee, milk, a loaf of bread and peanut butter. I still hadn't eaten, so we also stopped at a deli and got a couple of corned beef sandwiches and a bag of bagels.
I put the food away as my guest inspected my apartment. He tossed his leather jacket on the sofa and kicked off his battered sneakers. I suddenly had the impression that he was casing the place for something to steal, but I put it out of my mind.
"What's this? A computer?" He was fingering the little Macintosh on my desk.
"Yes. I'll show you how it works later. I got it used, but it serves the purpose."
He grinned. "Which is? Rocket science?"
"Word processing. I write up my outlines and scripts. That's the printer. It has some games on it, too. And you can draw pictures."
"Cool." He moved the mouse around on its little pad. Then he looked at me. "Don't worry, Aaron, I won't rip it off while you're asleep."
I turned away, a bit embarrassed.
"Where's the shower? And the laundry room?"
I pointed him to my minuscule bathroom. "Here's some towels, soap, shampoo, the works. Should be plenty of hot water at this time of day. Give me your clothes and anything else you want washed. The laundry room is two floors down. I'll put the stuff in while you're getting cleaned up. Then you can have something to eat."
He held out the plastic bag and dumped out some socks, an extra pair of jockey shorts, and two t-shirts. "I'm traveling with a minimum of luggage this trip." He pulled off his sweatshirt and threw it on the pile, then his t-shirt. His left side was a mass of bruises, both from his previous injury and Stan's additions. "Doesn't look too good, but it doesn't feel bad," he lied, touching his side lightly. "I guess I'm lucky he didn't split me in half. He does have a knife, you know. I saw him use it on a guy. Didn't kill him, but he could have."
He unbuttoned his jeans and added them to the pile, then began to pull down his boxers.
"Ah, just throw them out from the bathroom."
He looked up. "No problem. Jesus," he mumbled to himself. "The man acts like he's never seen a dick before -- maybe he hasn't. Jesus." He tossed the shorts out the door. "Okay, now?" I heard the water turn on.
I gathered up the clothes in my basket and took them down to the laundry room. Everything looked pretty grimy, so I put in plenty of powder and set it for "Heavy." Then I went back and made myself a bagel and some more coffee. I ate the bagel and read the "Times," trying to figure out how I was going to explain my guest to Jane. I knew she would have my head for getting personally involved with a subject I was filming, especially this subject. But I felt I had little choice -- I couldn't leave the kid there to be injured even more -- or worse. If I could get his full name and where he lived out of him, then I could contact the police, or his parents. Or I could convince him to go home on his own, rather than 'going into business' for himself. I couldn't imagine anything more foolhardy. Or dangerous.
Ten minutes later he was still in there. The shower was running full blast.
"Are you alive in there? Or are you planning to use up all the water in Manhattan?"
"Okay, I'm ready." He stuck his head out the door. "Hey, I found this toothbrush in the drawer. It's still in the package. Can I have it?"
"Sure. Of course."
"Thanks. I have one, but it's pretty... well, awful. Stan never brushes his teeth. It's disgusting."
I heard the water running in the sink and he was in there quite a while still. My tiny bathroom must have seemed like real luxury after that warehouse. I shuddered, trying to imagine living there in the dead of winter. My crummy apartment, my kitchenette, my bed with its electric blanket suddenly felt safe and secure in a way it never had before.
Jack finally emerged and I realized that he'd used my razor and shaved the soft stubble off his face. His skin was pink and shiny and his hair wet and clean-smelling. He was smiling contentedly, a big towel wrapped around him.
"This is the warmest I've felt in weeks. Really."
I put a freshly toasted bagel down in front of him and he ate it, chewing reflectively. His eyes were deep green, ringed around the pupils with golden flecks.
"So, tell me the truth. Did your father really break your ribs?"
He stopped chewing and swallowed. "Yeah, that part's true. It was right before Thanksgiving and he was celebrating a little early. He got drunk and I got in the way. He probably didn't even know he was doing it. I took the first punch and then he kicked me a couple of times because I was blocking his way. I lay there for a while. I don't know where my mom was at this point, probably cowering in the bedroom. Eventually I got up, put on my shoes and my jacket, and left. But I forgot it was cold out and didn't even take a pair of gloves or anything. That's how fast I left."
"Where were you going to go?"
He shrugged. "Some friend's house. I'd gone there before to get away from my old man. Only I didn't make it that far. I must have passed out on the street, because when I woke up this guy I knew was shaking me."
I put another bagel in the toaster.
"This guy was somebody I'd bought some weed from a couple of times. And some other stuff, too. Some 'ludes and a little snort. And I did a couple things with him when I didn't have enough money for the drugs. Nothing radical, but sex stuff. So, he picked me up and took me back to his place and I was kind of a fucking mess. Every time I breathed it felt like knives were sticking in me. The guy claimed he'd been a medic in the Army or something, so he taped my ribs up with duct tape. It might have been bullshit, but he seemed to know what he was doing."
I took out the bottle of milk and started to pour a glass for him. "Do you have juice or pop or something? Sometimes milk doesn't agree with me too well, you know? Especially if I'm kind of nervous."
I poured him a glass of orange juice and he drank it down. "My side really hurt. I mean, really fucking hurt. The guy says, 'I'll give you a little something and that should help the pain. But just a little.' So he comes back with some powder and I say, 'I don't need coke to get high! I need a goddamn Tylenol!' But he tells me to snort it up. Just a tiny bit. It'll make me feel better. So I did and the pain went away. It really did. I felt good. Euphoric. Like everything would be okay from now on now. Then I nodded off. I must have stayed there three or four days, mainly sleeping and snorting this guy's dope. One day he says, 'You going home?' And I say, 'Shit, no!' I was feeling cocky at this point. 'How about we go to New York?' And I think, Why the fuck not? If I stay around..."
He stopped short. He'd almost told me where he was from.
"If I stay in that town my old man will find me for sure and there'll be hell to pay. So, the next day I'm on a bus with this guy and we roll into the City. And who is waiting for us but...."
"Give that man first prize!" He set down the glass of juice and looked at me. "The guy handed me over to Stan in exchange for drugs. The guy was a junkie and a dealer and I was part of his payment. By that time I was also well on my way to... to being pretty fucked up myself."
"How long ago was that exactly?"
"Seems like forever, but really only since just after Thanksgiving. Seems impossible that a couple months ago I was in school and everything was... I guess 'normal' isn't the right word."
Normal. It didn't sound like his home life was what I would consider normal. But it was better than the life he was living now. "You know, Jack, it isn't too late to go back."
He laughed. "You mean that I'm not that far gone? Is that what you mean?"
"Well, to be frank, no. You aren't that far gone. Maybe you're on... something, but you're far from a hard-core drug user. And you're young. You'd be surprised how a person can bounce back from... from all sorts of things."
His voice went cold. "Fuck that! My parents would slap me into juvenile detention so fast my head would spin! Do you know what happens to faggots in Juvie, Aaron? Awful things. Worse things than even Stan!"
I patted his shoulder encouragingly. "But I'm sure you aren't really a 'faggot,' Jack. You're just doing what you need to do to survive."
Now he really laughed at me. "Who the fuck told you that? Some social worker? Shit! The sex was the only good part of the whole experience! Why do you think I want to go into business for myself? I'm a fucking natural!" He shook his head at my naïvete.
"Well." I didn't how to reply to that. I stood up and took the dishes to the sink.
"I'm really tired now. Do you think I could get some sleep?" He was shivering in the damp towel.
"Oh, sure. Let me get you a clean t-shirt and some shorts." I went into the bedroom, wondering if it was safe to leave him alone in my apartment for the evening. It was Friday and I was due at my parents' house on Long Island in a couple of hours. I couldn't very well call and tell them I was bringing a 16-year-old hustler along with me to Shabbes, if that was all right with them.
Jack followed me into the bedroom and flopped down on my bed. He was dragging his leather jacket behind him. He saw the control for the electric blanket on the bedstand and snapped it on. "Hey! Now this is the real deal!"
The last thing I was planning to do was give up my bed to this kid, even for a few hours. "You can sleep on the sofa. I'll get you another blanket."
"You must be fucking kidding, Aaron!" Suddenly he knelt on the bed and grabbed me firmly around the middle, tumbling me down on top of him. He was surprisingly strong for someone so scrawny-looking. We struggled around for few minutes until I realized that I wasn't fighting back very hard. He began kissing me hard. "Are you going to open your mouth or do I have to pry it open?" He fumbled with my shirt and then my pants. "This would go a lot easier on my ribs if you weren't like a dead weight on top of me."
"Oh, sorry," I heard myself saying.
He reached over and snagged something out of his jacket. I thought it was one of the foil packets from the warehouse, which I assumed contained drugs.
"I don't think so..."
"It's a condom, Aaron. Unless you have your own?"
"No, I... I don't..."
"Weren't you ever a Boy Scout? You know, be prepared?" He ripped the packet open with his teeth. "Free Clinic issue. Not exactly the best quality, but it'll do the job." Before I even knew what was happening, he had the thing on my cock and was spitting on it to wet it. "I don't suppose you have any decent lube, do you?"
I stared down at him. We were both naked and I was hard as a rock.
"I didn't think so," he sighed.
"Listen, Jack, you must be kidding if you think...."
"Shut up! If you're going to fuck me, Aaron, do it now!"
"But, I... I... can't!"
He pulled me down onto him. Into him. Our mouths met. Our bodies met. "For chrisake, Aaron, what are you waiting for?"
I looked at the clock and saw that was after 9:00 p.m.
"Shit. It's Friday night."
"I was due at my parents' for dinner hours ago."
"Oh, is that all. Just tell them you had something come up."
And then it did again.