WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?! …….. PIET MONDRIAN, chapter 11
The address, for the prostitute, was on the edge of the red light district, just off the Nieuwmarkt which was dominated with a big open square---and used as a parking lot---with the Waag set in a corner.
The Waag---in English, the Weigh House---had been built, in 1488, as part of the city's wall; it was one of the three entrance gates and called St. Anthony's Port. In 1617, The Waag became the new weighing house for the commercial trade replacing the one at the Dam which could no longer service the growing needs of commerce. Scales, at the time, were complicated and expensive, not to mention that no two were quite the same in their weighing accuracy. But that didn't matter when everyone weighed their items on the same scale. It had also been the building where, on the upper floors, the guilds had their offices. One of them, the masons, decorated both the outside walls and the interior. Another was St. Luke's guild which was for artists. At the top, of the building, was the surgeon's guild and occupied the theatrum anatomicum. It was there, in 1632, that Rembrandt painted the "Anatomical Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp." The Waag was now being used as the Jewish Historical Museum.
Shortly, I found her street---which was labeled as a steeg or alley---only with a little trouble and effort. This section was one of the first installments to the building of the city of "Amsteldam," the name would evolve into "Amsterdam." It was like a labyrinth of streets and alleys that took their direction from the canals that criss-crossed the area. I found the name Scarlet had indicated I should look for, De Vries---no name could be more generic in Holland than that or Jansen; it was a toss-up---and rang the bell. I waited a few seconds and rang again. Several seconds passed before I heard a click and the door came ajar. I pushed it until it was fully opened and looked up at the narrow and steep steps. Damn, the older the building, the steeper the steps.
It reminded me of something I had read titled, "Berlin Stories," written by Christopher Isherwood, during the late twenties. A movie, "Cabaret," one of my two favorite musicals---the other being, "Yankee Doodle Dandy"--- had been based on the story collection. The first one begins at the Hoek-of-Holland where the ferries from English' ports dock. A young Englishman boards a train bound for Berlin. Sitting across from him, in his compartment, is an "unidentified older national." They engage in conversation. At one point, the young man asked the older one, "Where are you coming from?" The other man answers, "Amsterdam." The young one says, "I have always wanted to visit the city." To which the other replies, "Don't bother. You must fear for your life because of the bicycle riders; the canals smell something awful; and the stairways are like ladders," or words to that effect. I had read the stories during my first visit and, when I reflected on the description, I thought to myself: Nothing has changed. That's nice!
But I was getting older and with each year the stairs seemed to get more steep. But I had been told that they were trying to do something about the odor from the canals.
I began the climb. When I got to the second level, the exertion had been enough that I was nearly gasping for breath and maybe that's why I hadn't seen the sucker punch. I hadn't noticed the open door when I reached the short hallway that led to the next floor up. Suddenly, I was doubled over and my hands went as in a reflex to my abdomen but before I could even emit a groan I saw stars and then an unrush of excruciating pain. I felt myself in flight. Reeling backwards and wishing I was somewhere else. The next sensation was the loss of balance and then weightlessness and I could feel myself tumbling down, down, down and finally coming to a sudden and unexpected stop. I laid there moaning and wondering what possible agony I could expect to follow. I heard someone on the stairs. I didn't dare open my eyes. I would play dead. People always took pity on the dead. Didn't they? Damn, the pain. I wish I was dead! My balls would never be the same. Shit! There goes my love life, was all I could think. But I got off that subject and began to assess how much damage had been done. I was in misery, no doubt about that, but, aside from the excruciating twangs of pain emitting from my loins, I could not feel any sharp and unrelenting jolts coming from any broken bones.
Ever so slowly, like a lifetime it seemed, the sounds of someone hectoring away at me broke through to my consciousness. The verbal jabs sounded female. Do angels use four letter words? I wondered. There was an Irish prosody in the phrasing though what filtered into my brain was the series of crass expressions not fit for a seaman. Curiously, I opened an eye. Sure did look like a female. A least there were tits as big as balloons that were bouncing like water filled ones as she continued her oral rage. When she saw the opened eye, she seemed to cock her right leg and as she was drawing it back I screamed, "Hey, PEACE!" as I instinctively cupped my hands over my balls fearing for the repeat performance of her welcoming. I followed that with, "Hold it! ...Okay?...just...hold it!" She seemed to hesitate. That was a good sign; and it gave me a chance to throw in a little more commentary. "What...the...fuck...is...this...all about?...Shit!...What's goin' on?"
"What are you? You sound like a fuckin' yankee!"
"That's me!...But...I don't know...about...(cough, cough)...the fucking part. Those days...damn, it hurts...those days may be over..."
"What do you want with me?" That was a good sign. At least she had uncocked her leg at the knee joint and seemed to be a bit more receptive to an exchange of conversation.
"Hey, I...just...came to...talk...about diamonds...."
"Who sent you?" Was the sharp reply.
Shit, what was her name? The one with the pert nose in wary eyes ... it was only 12 hours ago, but my mind had been disengaged and nothing was penetrating it but the feeling of pain. And more pain, I might add. "Ah, I...talked with...her...at the...Okshoofd...last night..."
"Yeah, that's...it! Scarlet. She said...she would call..."
"Ya, she did...I think I have mistaken you for someone else---"
"Lucky...him!" With that, she offered to help me up. It wasn't an easy task. I hurt all over. Some places more than others. The tumble down the stairs had an effect on both my shoulders, one hip and my back wasn't feeling really up to snuff either. I let out with a litany of moans with each new position I assumed. They came more pronounced with every step I took as I hobbled up the stairs leaning on the small woman that was supporting me. How could someone so petite do so much painful damage? Another mystery to add to my list of mysteries.
We reached the open door and got inside. She helped me to an overstuffed chair and I sank into it like I was falling into a swimming pool. I closed my eyes and groaned some more. I was getting good at the groaning; it was coming to me as naturally as breathing came to me. All and all, I preferred breathing to groaning. The deep inarticulate sounds were coming from some unknown place deep inside of me. God! did I hurt. Now that some rational sense of being was returning, it occurred to me that the hurt was not only physical, but I suspected a goodly measure of the pain was the hurt to my pride. Finally, I asked the...lady? She was no lady, she was a goddamn pain making machine ... I asked her, "Where...the fuck...(cough)...did you...learn to...do this?"
"A girl's gotta protect herself."
"Hey...I dig...But protection is...one thing...maiming...something else." This seemed to please her and she chortled like a little girl and in an Irish way; she certainly was no De Vries. I didn't even consider laughing along with her. It would only hurt some more to laugh. I needed a cigarette. I picked up my arm which was draped over the arm of the chair and she immediately went on guard and spit out, "What are you doing?"
I answered, "I need a smoke!"
"Smoking is bad for you! You shouldn't smoke." Her tone sounded like a nun lecturing a group of teenage boys about masturbating.
"Yeah...I've heard...but, right now...at the moment...living don't seem...too good for me...either...Thanks...to you."
"Ya, so sorry...and all that. Okay, go ahead and have your fag."
I got out my pouch and tried to adjust both arms so I could hold the paper and perform the task. The whole exercise produced only more pain and a rolled cylinder that looked like it had been in a train accident. I didn't even have the energy to pinch off the scraggly ends. But the result was smokable. I got my lighter out and fired up. I inhaled the black tobacco smoke deeply into my lungs and started to cough again. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, that didn't feel good. More coughing followed. I looked up and saw her staring at the gold plated Dunhill. I quickly pocketed it. I was in no physical condition to defend my property rights. It could be hers for the taking...Hell, all she had to do was ask.
Minutes passed. My breathing became more regular. The nicotine was having an effect. The pain in my loins was no longer a fire but more like a too-hot-to-touch metal surface of a car that had been sitting under the Kansas sun all day. When I had composed myself to some reasonable degree, I said, "Ah...could we...start at the beginning---"
"Fine with me!"
"Good. I talked to ... Scarlet, yeah, Scarlet, last night. She said you knew someone offering diamonds for sale. She said she would call you and gave me your address---"
She interrupted at that point with, "What's your name?"
"What? Oh! Yeah...sorry...my name. Hey, I'm forgetting my manners and all...Sorry. The name's Cord. Wes Cord."
"That's sorta like 'Bond! James Bond.'"
"Yeah, I guess, but James has more letters than Wes...anyway, about the diamonds---"
"I suppose I do owe you an explanation. Scarlet did say you would come by. And, about..." she glanced over at a clock sitting atop a small TV set and continued, "...five, six hours ago, someone did ring my bell. I let him in like I let you in. But two ass-holes came up to the room. They didn't so much as introduce themselves. They said they wanted to see the diamonds. Then didn't ask nicely. I asked them what was in it for me? They got testy with that. They said what was in it for me was that I wouldn't get hurt. I sort of tried to dance around the subject, but they only got more...more, should I say, insistent. Finally, the big one slapped me. See, you can see how it is all red..." I hadn't noticed, probably because of my own infirmities, "...Anyway, I finally explained to them that I had heard if from a john, you know, one of my clients? I only knew his first name, don't have a telephone number. Don't really know anything---"
"But, you have seen one of the diamonds?"
"Oh, yeah. Sure enough. The john showed it to me last week. It got my attention. I'm no diamond expert, but I know a piece of paste when I see it. This was no paste; it sparkled like, like..."
"The glitter on a strippers g-string---"
"Exactly...Just like that! I could see colors in it. All the colors of the rainbow and more." There was excitement in her eyes. I guess there must be something in what was on the t-shirt of the big titted blond at Mazzo's that read: Diamonds are a girl's best friend.
"So what happened to the bully boys?"
"They said they would be back; and I had better have information or ... they left the 'or' part unsaid. But from the hostile look in both sets of their eyes, I didn't think it good to ask them to spell it out. Know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I know what you mean. But why the did you translate all their hostility onto me?"
"They said they wanted the information fast. Like today. Like I thought they'd come back. I wasn't about to just let them have their way with me. I wasn't going down without a fight!"
"No, I guess you weren't. And like Í said before ... lucky them that they hadn't been at your door this time. But, listen, I don't know what's going on. Obviously you can't stay here. Put some things together and get out of here now. We can leave together ... if I can walk, that is. I'll figure something out."