Scott D. Pomfret
A six-story rectangle of gray concrete and shaded glass
stands where the Towahannoc River used to run through Hebron's
warehouse district. A century back, the building employed nine
hundred people. It churned out wooden clocks and a man could
raise a family on what he made there. Fifty years ago, it was
watches. Forty years back, the factory shut down. All the jobs
went to Taiwan faster than a gook on a scooter. Donít let the
door hit you on the ass on the way out.
In the Seventies, when they started busing in South Boston,
Billy Vigor moved to Hebron to avoid the apocalypse. He took a
long-term lease on the east wing of the vacant
former flagship of
the Towahannoc Watch, the first tenant in a decade. Billy slung
a chain link fence around the parking lot, zapped the perimeter
with electricity and razorwire, stocked his shelves, and put a
sign up outside: Billy Vigor's Surplus and Supply, the Safest
Spot in the Free World.
The place looks like a penitentiary, flood-lit with power
Billy steals from the grid.
His outfit is part
Army-Navy surplus, and part home security. On the former factory
floor, uniforms and fatigues hang suspended like sides of beef
in a meat locker. Rows upon rows of firearms are racked behind
glass. Stacks of devices and scopes and nightvision goggles and
global positioning units are stacked every which way.
Many of the windows of the Towahannoc Watch building have
been broken and patched. The old loading dock is a mess of tags,
some fresh, some faded. Shattered glass glitters in the parking
lot. On Billyís end of the building -- thereís six floors of
subsidized Section 8 housing on the west side -- a clock tower
rises three stories above the roof. It houses four clocks, one
facing each direction. The Roman numerals that marked the hours
were ten feet high. Each minute hand was forty feet long and
weighed 800 pounds. No two faces ever show the same time.
Billy has made a killing post-9/11. Heís welcome in the
office of four-term mayor Angelo Cicilline any day of the week.
Sissy (as heís been known since elementary school) thinks
Billyís an upstanding citizen. That assessment is not hurt by
Billyís generous campaign contributions. Billy is the kind of
homosexual that anyone would like.
Detective Seann MacPhail likes Billy in particular. He likes
him for a sixteen-year-old murder. Itís a cold case. There was a
defunct gay bar called the Chain Male, and a Jewish stiff, and a
murder weapon gone AWOL. Macís got no personal beef, but it eats
at him that Billyís still out on the street.
Mac gets no end of guff from the brass about pursuing the
case. It takes some serious cojones to move against Sissyís
friends. And it doesnít help that the stiff was a scumbag. A
lawyer for cons. A guy who worked the unions and greased city
hall to get Billy his building permit. Maybe a fag besides.
"Who would you rather have alive?" other cops ask Mac when he
wonít let it die. "Billy or the Jew?"
Billy Vigor's Surplus and Supply
is a favorite among the cops. Billy stocks some standard issue
equipment, but most of what he sells is designed -- as Billy
Vigor puts it -- "to help even the odds out on the street." If
you buy something from Billy, he wishes you luck, but he doesn't
want to hear a whisper about your plans and you canít be a
stickler about serial numbers.
Just after Labor Day, Macís down at Tinoís having some
pops. Heís not thinking about his cold case. Heís thinking about
Toni V. Mac has a thing
for Toni. Most girls are interchangeable. You had one, you had
them all. Like it was all one fucking girl. But what
makes Toni different is the addictions. Sheís addicted to
everything not nailed down. Booze, drugs, gambling -- itís all
in her past, but sheís so
much an addict that she has overdosed even on the
dimestore/checkout-counter self-help books. She chokes down two
a day, from finance to spiritual awareness to thin thighs in
thirty days, written by first-name gurus with strange degrees
from weird institutes and jacket photographs that send warning
bells off in Mac's head. He used to fund them stuffed and hidden
under mattresses and in sofa cushions and at the bottoms of
closets among the winter shoes, white soft cover books in cheap
printings with garish promises and accusational titles, from
which Mac sometimes got a clue as to Toniís next complaint about
them, their relationship, or life in general.
In his spare time over the past few weeks, Mac has been
stalking Toni. He doesnít mean any harm by it. He drops by after
work, or he parks a squad car outside her apartment all night
long. Or calls her and doesnít say a word. Nothing scary or out
there. He just wants to teach Toni a lesson. He canít understand
how she can possibly think about dumping him. She dump
him. Like sheís some hot shit and heís nobody in this town.
Just another stiff whoís Dad used to work for Towahannoc Watch.
Things have gone downhill since Sissy took over.
Macís about to order another beer, when
Billy Vigor the fat fuck
"Speak of the devil," Mac mutters. "I was just thinking about
fucking your wife."
Billy and Toni had married in í75. They divorced a year
later, and were still best of friends.
Billy says, "I been looking for you, Mac."
"You forget how good her pussy smells, Billy?"
"How come you donít like me, Mac?"
"Kind of a questionís that? I love you, Billy. The way I love
spiders and rats and cockroaches." He slaps his hand down on the
bar and his glass jumps.
"Whaddou I have to do to get you to like me?"
"Kill yourself. Why donít you try that, Billy? I think Iíd
like you better dead."
"Whatíre you drinking?"
Billy signals Tino to bring Mac another beer.
Mac sighs. Nothing a guy said to this scum-sucking
fudgepacker got him angry. Billy doesnít even give a shit that
Macís fucking his wife. Billyís without the basic emotions, flat
as a picture on a page. Which drives Mac fucking cuckoo. Nothing
gets his goat more than a man without passion, without
animation. The amorphous and stubborn and passive are anathema
to him. The worst of the worst. How many times in his career had
Mac wanted to kill not the murderers and the rapists, but the
sniveling snitches, the passive cowering sneaks who were hard to
pin down, hammering jelly to the wall? They let themselves get
kicked like dogs but never change their ways. These are the
dangerous people, these are the people who will stab you in the
back. World a better place without them.
Billy and Tino talk it up. Billy doesnít care that people
like Tino make a mint laughing at him behind his back. He talks
about the Sox, and the new tax hike, and whatever happened to
summer, and when there seems to be nothing left to talk about
they talk about the Festival of Hours. The Festival is Sissyís
work. Bigger than First Night. Bigger than St. Paddyís. They
have fires in the river, and a parade of boats, and costumes,
and music, and cotton candy, and it is all supposed to tempt
people off the interstate and into Hebronís downtown to
celebrate the cityís heritage as the place where time began.
Sissy went all out. They actually dug a new channel for the
Towahannoc River to re-route it through a part of town better
suited for the Festivalís crowds.
"Festival doesnít suck," Tino says. "For business, I mean."
Billy says, "Not from where Iím at. All the folks are up at
the festival. No sense in evening opening my doors. And more
fools they all are, far as Iím concerned. They should be fuckiní
afraid. They should be coming down and stocking up. You just
never know whatís going to go down at Festival. Osama.
Housebreaks. People got to be prepared."
Billyís got a lot of "th" in every "s" that comes out of his
mouth. Tino just nods and polishes glass.
"Speaking of," Billy says. He turns to Mac. "I gotta tip for
Billy says heís got suspicions about a sale heís just made.
It seems a kid came in, just eighteen years old. He was looking
for a shotgun. Didnít say what he was up to, but Billyís got
suspicions itís no good. He says Mac should look into it. Might
get a promotion out of it.
"Kidís name," he says, "is Lot Bates. I got the info in the
Mac fixes Billy with a stare. Billyís not known for having
scruples about the business he does. Maybe heís got an ax to
grind. Maybe Billy tried to get down this kidís pants and got
"All that suspicion didnít stop you from making a sale, did
"Well, I didnít sell him any ammo."
"Youíre a fuckiní sweetheart."
"Kid gives me the creeps, Mac," Billy admits.
"I know that feeling."
Billy seizes Macís arm. Mac hauls off as if to smack him.
"Donít you ever put your faggot hands on me, Billy!"
"You gotta help me, Mac. Itís bad, you know. Thereís a
difference between mean and evil. You know it and I know it.
Meaníll get theirs in time, but evil needs putting down, because
each time evil is not put down when it should be, it grows
stronger. You gotta put this down, Mac. Kidís evil, Iím telling
you. Nowís the time."
"You only got a couple of days, Mac."
"Gonna turn into a pumpkin?"
"Whatever the kidís up to, itís going down at the Festival of
Hours," Billy says. "Thatís the word I get." Billy slips a note
across the bar. Itís folded sixteen times, written in words
Billy might have wrote himself. Itís a threat. He says itís from
"Two days," Billy repeats.
Mac takes a long pull on his long-neck.
"I got all my life, Billy."
Itís more than a few drinks later that Tino kicks Mac out.
Hebron is hushed and quiet. Mac feels sorry for himself. Mac
feels as if heís the only one keeping watch. A hundred years
ago, when he was a kid, he might have left Hebron like everyone
else. But guys like Mac donít run away. He has a sense of
destiny. Things to accomplish. He has spent his whole life
looking out for that moment when his time will come. Everything
else is just entertainment. Passing time.
Because heís not ready to get behind the wheel, Mac walks to
the place where the Towahannocís two branches converge. At that
crooked divide, the river is all elbows and awkward. The
currents are all wrong and the interstate passes at angles on
the overpass overhead. To change the course of the Towahannoc,
they had gutted houses and sunken streets. Even split old
neighborhoods into two. Where the river used to run -- by the
Towahannoc Watch building, right next to Billy Vigorís -- they
put up Section 8 subsidized housing. Thereís nothing but dry
winds down by Billy Vigorís, replacing the water that had once
run there. Around the
riverís new course, they built parks and walkways that lead
straight to Sissyís City Hall.
Mac stands on a span over the river. He looks down at the
place where the Towahannoc funnels into the new riverbed they
built for it. The river is a stew, broken by tree limbs and
shopping carts mired on the banks or caught in the current. Cold
air skims a mist off the water. He hardly knows the river any
more. What kind of arrogance does it take to move a river
from its God-given course? Sissy must think heís going to live
forever, never have to pay the price.
Mac wonders if what was drowned under the riverís new course
still carries on under the riverís surface. A shadow world. That
says to anyone who would looks: Here is the way life was
supposed to have been.
Always the same river, Mac thinks. But never the same
Mac canít swim, but he imagines he can breathe water. What
was it that Toni used to say? Ideal man breathes through his
ears and has a twelve-inch tongue? Mac wonders if sheís is up
for fucking tonight. He glances over toward the looming shadow
of the old headquarters of Hebron Time Co., where Toniís got a
state-subsidized apartment that Sissy fixed for her to keep.
Fixed by Billy Vigor no doubt. It gets Macís goat that Toni lets
that faggot provide for her. It gets his goat that he canít give
A car approaches and slows. Macís hands shift to his badge
and weapon. This is not fear, he tells himself. He almost wants
someone to try to fuck with him tonight.
The car overshoots him. Itís a 97 Buick Regal. Instinctually,
Mac notes the plate number and matches it against the time on
Thereís the crunch of gears, a flash of white light from the
carís rear. It backs up. A jowly face looks out the driverís
window. Father Twomey. Returning from some night errand. Heís
likely lonely. These must be bad hours to be a priest.
Strange, Mac thinks. In a city of two hundred thousand
people, the one driving this late would be one I know, who knows
me. Or maybe not so strange. The city shrinks at night. The
population gets smaller. It's just me, Tino, a host of crooks,
and the priest. Mac feels himself part of a conspiracy.
"Get in," the priest says.
Mac does not immediately accept the invitation. His eyes are
down the road. A convoy of State Police cars appears, one after
another, whooshing out of the dark and silence at 60 miles an
hour, a low throb or whisper as they pass without siren or
flashing lights, so that they appear unnaturally quiet, people
who can keep a secret.
"Get in," the priest repeats.
He does not ask what Macís doing out here late. He explains
that heís been called out to Lower Hebron to perform the
sacrament of the sick. He jokes, "I think itís the third time
this month that Mrs. Walsh has been dying."
Mac thinks: I like a priest whoís got a sense of humor.
He thinks: Why is the priest not more careful with decorum
when he is around me? Why am I exempted from priest-like
political correctness? Was this honesty on the priestís part?
Was that what honesty was, the absence of decorum? The ruder,
the blunter, the less circumspect, the more honest he was with
The longer Mac thinks about it, the more the lack of decorum
seems like a lack of respect.
You think too much, he tells himself.
Mac asks, "You got a kid in your parish named Lot Bates?"
"Sure," the priest says.
"Father was Jewish. Quiet kid. Tough what he went through.
Iíve always felt a pull to minister to that family. Isnít that
"Weíve all got a calling, Father. Whatíd the kid go through?"
"You said the kid went through something."
"Oh. Yeah. Didnít you know?" He mentions the murder sixteen
Mac stiffens, and the priest is keen to his surprise.
"Didnít you know that, Mac?"
Thereís a clenched fist in Macís belly. His dickís hard for
this news. Heís angry at the priest for making this connection
before he had.
"I know," the priest allows. "Sore spot. You guys never
solved that one?"
"Thatís not the half of it," Mac says.
The priest looks discomfited. "What do you mean?"
The priest falls into silence. They come to a traffic light.
The pavement is unaccountably wet, though Mac does not remember
its having rained.
The lights of Billy Vigor's compound cast the clock factory
in a shroud of darkness. The lights on the tower wink red.
"I heard it from someone up in Sissyís office," the priest
offers. His tone is almost apologetic, as if he feels he has to
explain that he has come to the information legitimately.
Mac thinks: Maybe the priestís personal knowledge is
innocent. Or at least, equally culpable. Which is the most most
of us can hope to shoot for. Iíll know in due time. I will know
more than this priest knows. I will know every detail. I will
crawl around the scene on my hands and knees and review
ballistics reports until my eyes burn.
The priest observes, "Things on your mind, Mac."
Old school, Mac thinks approvingly. Heís not trying to
pry. He knows that each of us has our burdens. He is not part of
this broader culture of vomiting up all your secrets on reality
TV, eyes on you all the time, cameras in your shower, and
doctors looking up your ass with klieg lights, and some how it
comes out you donít know anyone any more, even though you know
you been up their pooper with a microscope.
"If ever you need to talk ..." the priest starts to say.
"Donít ruin a good thing, padre."
"Nothing wrong with that," he says. "Doesnít make you a bad
guy to want to put it all aside, to admit itís got you shaken a
Macís thoughts are cold. The burning pique at being bested by
the priest has left him. Inside his head it is all cold ashes.
Dusty. Lunar. He wants the priest to shut his yap.
"You know Billy Vigor?"
"Everyone knows you got it in for him."
Mac is surprised. He had not known that everybody knew he had
it in for Billy.
"Hey," the priest says. "I saw Toni V. at Mass last
Sunday -- she was asking after you."
Mac misses having Toniís body in his bed. He misses her brown
skin. Wet pussy. He misses her fiercely. Last thing Toni said to
him was, "Youíre a real bastard, Mac. And your dickís small."
She said, "Your timeís gonna come, too, Mac. Just you wait."
Mac checks the kid out. Confirms the priestís intelligence:
Lot Bates is indeed the second son of the Jew. He was two years
old when his Daddy killed, and he has moved back to Hebron just
in the last two months, staying with an aunt from the Catholic
side of the family.
Mac questions principles, teachers, coaches and neighbors.
They say the same thing as the priest: quiet kid. They donít
know him much.
Typical lazy-ass civilians, all of them, pulling salaries,
but doing slipshod work. Mac puts in seventy-minute hours to get
done what needs doing, while these bums clutch their crotches
and coffee cups and wait to pull down pensions that will be as
fat as Macís.
Mac catches up to the kid on the street. Bates is dressed in
jailhouse sneaks with Velcro ties, a pair of pocket-free jeans,
and a white long-sleeved T-shirt. His head is shaved to the bone
and heís got a patch growing beneath his lower lip. If Mac had
been his father, he would have made the kid shave and give him
money to buy himself some decent clothes. From the way the kid
carries himself, Mac guesses his handshake is weak, clammy,
untaught. His face is gaunt, his body pocked with shadow,
dimples, and knobs. His dark eyes are slow. No one would ever
mistake this kid for Beaver Cleaver. But thatís fine with Mac.
Pure is for Corn Flakes boxes. Mac lives in the real world.
Mac flashes the badge and drills through a list of usual
questions. Bates responds in a weird tick-tock, like heís
working out a poem in his head. Mac gets
a steady stream of no's,
until Mac asks what plans Bates has got for the Festival.
The kidís hesitation is no more than a quarter-second, but
Mac closes in for the kill.
"What is it?"
Bates shakes his head.
The kid denies everything, denies the very hesitation that
set Mac off, until Mac, too, questions whether he detected
anything it all. Bates reminds me of me, Mac thinks. Chip off
the old block. There is something terrible and uncompromising
reflected in the boyís eyes. He felt like he was in the presence
of an ally.
"You got a gun?" Mac asks.
After a second, the kid says, "Yeah."
"You got a clue how to use it?"
Mac says, "Donít so anything I wouldnít do."
Late in the morning of the Festival of Hours, Mac wakes alone
in bed. He has a sense that time is short. That todayís the day
it all comes to a head. Drop your cocks and grab your socks.
Fifteen years on the force and it all comes down to
today, when heíll get called on, tested, and have to show what
heís got in his scrotum. Amen. Prove heís different than the
average round of man.
Itís an all-hands-on-deck day for the Hebron PD, but Mac
skips the post he is assigned and stakes out Lot Batesís house
instead. The brassíll thank him later.
Just before dusk, the kid comes out. On foot. A trench coat
flapping at his ankles. Plenty of room for just about anything
you might like to hide beneath.
Mac follows at a blockís distance until the crowds force him
closer. So close, it feels like Bates is in Mac. He has become
an extra floating rib, a vestigial bone, subsumed in Macís
flesh, part of him.
Flesh of my flesh. A kid like me.
Mac thinks: I am on to you, Bates. I see it as you see it.
I know what youíre thinking. I know what youíve got hidden
underneath that coat. He doesnít intercept the kid,
doesnít frisk him. Mac lets justice happen as it was supposed
to. Thy will be done, as Father Twomey puts it every Sunday.
Tourists and gapers surround them. Booths have been set up to
hawk everything under the sun. The city has removed the garbage
bins from the street, so that no one has a place to hide a bomb.
In every window, there are clocks taped to the glass, paper
hands turned to every which hour. Father Time costumes have been
dusted off from New Year's and recycled.
Macís phone rings and itís Billy and he wants to know if Mac
has taken care of "our" problem.
Mac says, "How the fuck'd you get my private number, you
pervert," and he hangs up.
At the end of the block, Tinoís eldest son is dressed in
dark shoes, dark clothes, and a top hat. Some kids watch
as he folds tiny sheets of paper into roses, penguins, silvery
fish, plump strawberries. When his folds are finished, Tinoís
son brings the flattened paper to his mouth and gives the paper
a short puff of breath, of life, and they fatten up from flat.
He flips the origami at some lucky brat and takes tips in his
top hat. Most of the kids are clamoring for prizes, any prizes,
but Tinoís son seems to choose which children get what on a
calculus only he can figure out.
Bates stands a moment
at the fringe of this crowd, watching Tinoís son do his magic.
Mac watches Bates watch Tinoís son. He wonders if Bates expects
to win a prize. He wonders for a moment if Tinoís son might also
be in on the plan, and the origami fold contain a secret
message. Mac wonders whether Billy set him up. Mac
thinks: heís probably got a retail paradise down there at the
Time Company this evening, because he knows the whole Hebron PD
is working the Festival. Modified firearms. Tasers. Child porn.
Maybe even drugs, who knows what Billy would stoop to?
Batesís hand worries the space under the trench coat. The
striking of the clock in the tower of the Towahannoc Watch is a
regular, thready pulse. Mac gets a weird sense that
someone else is present with them. A third person, who is
watching Mac watch the boy. Watching coldly and clinically.
Watching, just as when sometimes Mac steps outside of himself, a
second person cleaved off the first, a rock-hard, flint of a
person, like a fleck of gravel in the eye, a small ungenerous
person, who observes and judges and occasionally provides
contemptuous, offhand direction, as if to pretend the second
person were not also going to be the ultimate judge of
consequence of the first.
When the Towahannoc Watch tower clock reaches its hundredth
stroke, suddenly all the clocks in the city, from Father
Twomeyís to City Hall, join in. New Age orchestral music plays
loudly from hundreds of speakers that have been mounted in
trees. The effect is
gothic, grotesque. Mac can almost feel the palpable hunger of
each and every godless soul around him for a bit of ritual and
drama in their lives.
Across the way, a little child with a brass voice dances on
the curb. Her hair is drawn up in a marble tie. The girl looks
carefully both ways for traffic and crosses the street. She
comes up and measures Mac's face, so full of confidence he canít
"Hi!" she blurts. Then she skips away, thrilled with her own
daring, three times on the left foot, one on the right, briefly
tottering with both blue sandals on the curb.
Bates darts from the magic show and muscles his way through
the crowd to the riverís edge. The crowds are four-people thick
along the railing. Beneath the rail, at a ten-foot drop, runs
the new river that Sissy made. In its current, at fifteen-foot
intervals, pyres have been built in big black metal kettle drums
mounted in the channel. Upriver, a black boat peopled with
dignitaries dressed in black goes from pyre to pyre with
long-handled torches. Sissy is aboard, and Twomey, and Billy
The people in the boat light the pyres. Soon, a series of
flames dots the Towahannoc behind the boat. Another boat comes
from the Towahannocís other tributary and falls into line behind
the first boat, where the two tributaries converge. The
second boat is loaded with
wood to stoke the fires, which will burn all night.
In the wake of the boats, the Hebron High Swim team leaps
into the Towahannoc from the 14th Street bridge. They are
laughing and drunk, and when they drag themselves to shore,
their boxers cling to their little boy asses which are lit
bright by the fires.
Bates is poised at the rail as if he, too, will leap over
into the river when Sissyís boat passes. His face is alive with
the shadow of flame. In a parade on the street behind
Mac, there are pretty lithe girls in tights and batons, the kind
Mac would never have asked out on dates in high school.
He turns his head.
When he turns back, he finds Bates had made a hole in the
crowd, and has disappeared down a short gangway to a floating
dock on the riverís edge. Mac runs to the rail. He flashes the
badge, pushes aside a mother and child. He is worried he has
lost the boy, failed the test.
Below the rail at which Mac stands is a dock floating in the
river. The dock rides low in the water on account of the crowd
on it. Sissyís boat is approaching the dock.
Bates elbows through the crowd on the dock as if he plans to
welcome Sissy and Twomey and Billy Vigor home. Someone catches
the bow line. Billy Vigor is on the port side near the dock.
Sissy stands behind him, a full head taller but half as wide.
Toni V, who Mac sees for the first time, is also in the boat.
She taps Billy on the shoulder and whispers in his ear, and
Father Twomey touches her shoulder and leans close as if he,
too, would like to hear.
The boat glides close and is arrested by the bow line pulled
taut. Billy straddles a foot-wide stretch of open water and one
foot on the dock.
Batesís trench coat falls open. Mac find his Glock in
his hand. He raises, aims, and fires three times. Strokes on a
Bates shoves. Billy topples into the churning water between
the dock and boat. Toni shrieks. Fireworks explode overhead.
Sparklers rain down. The shadow of flames in the river pyres
seem to pat Bates down, and there is no shotgun under the kidís
coat, no weapon at all.
Fuck me, Mac thinks. He matches the tableau against the
time showing on the clocktower and makes a mental note for a
report he will never turn in.
Time stops. Faces are ghost-white under the light of
explosions overhead. The second boat comes even with the first.
It is filled with muscled men all in black. Loads of stacked,
split wood. Toni V. has never looked more beautiful. Mac vaults
the rail, breaks the waterís surface just in front of the second
boatís bow. His lungs no the water. A hundred courses, but just
one destiny. His passage has come exactly on schedule. Donít let
the door smack your ass on the way out.
Scott D. Pomfret is co-author of the Romentics-brand
line of romance novels for gay men (http://www.romentics.com).
He also writes short stories that have been selected for
publication in Post Road, New Delta Review,
Genre Magazine, Freshmen: Best New Gay Voices, and
many other magazines and anthologies. Alyson Books' Friction
series of the
year's best erotica routinely includes Pomfret's erotic stories,
one of which also will appear in Best Gay Erotica 2005 (Cleis
Press). Pomfret is looking for a publisher for his collection of
short fiction, Until the Sugar Is Caramel, and his newly
completed novel, Only Say the Word. Pomfret lives in