The Whore Of Babylon, A Memoir Part 5

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"When?" Rob asks.

"Now."

"Now? You're crazy; it's almost dark. You don't even know the city."

"I found a map. Remember that time we were going to go to Fisherman's Wharf but then you got sick?" I ask, and then continue on, not waiting for him to answer. "Well I found that map of the city we bought."

"Margot, don't," he warns. "Call the cops; let them handle it."



"I already did. They told me they'd fax Robyn's picture to S.F.P.D. and put out a BOLO."

"A BOLO?" Rob asks.

"It means be on the look out," I say.

"And?"

"And, that's it. That's all they'll do." I huff into the phone.

"What about Jenny's parents?" Rob asks.

"I spoke with Jenny's mother. She said she has no knowledge of where Robyn could be. Anyway, Jenny told me."

"Don't," Rob warns.

I know he hears the hopefulness in my voice. His 'don't' is as much for the action I am about to take as it is for my emotion.

"You're not going to stop me." I reach the door, yanking it open with my one free hand.

"Margot-"

I punch the 'end' b.u.t.ton and toss the phone on the couch, sprinting for the car, slamming the front door behind me.

The City is cold. It is just after seven and most of the commuters have gone home for the day. Although traffic on the bridge coming into San Francisco was relatively light, cars seem to jumble up as I stagger along Fremont Street making my way left onto Market. The electric Muni buses dominate the landscape, rus.h.i.+ng by with authority. I scan the streets looking for any sight of Robyn. The cold, windy air floods the car and I'm forced to roll up the window, sneaking alternate peeks at the streets and my map, which is difficult to read in the dusky evening. I don't know, really, what I am looking for; I see a spot on the map labeled Union Square and that seems as good a place as any to start.

But I make a wrong turn and then another one and suddenly, the city streets seem too narrow; the cars drive by too fast and some just park in the road for no reason at all. I am hot, sweating now, from nervousness. I catch the name of a street, Hayes, and a small sign that says: City Hall with an arrow angled towards the left. It is almost dark now and in my indecision about where to go I stop completely. The blare of an angry horn sounds behind me. I look in my rear view mirror to see the bead of sharp, bright lights. I speed up switching on my right turn indicator only to see that at the end of the block, the street ahead is one way the other way. Another halting block and traffic thins a bit. I look around and see several adult stores sandwiched together. A man whose clothing is nearly black with filth stumbles along the sidewalk. His hair is disheveled and as I drive past, he leers in my direction and I see that most of his teeth are missing. A s.h.i.+ver of disgust washes over my skin. I avert my eyes and turn quickly, noting the street: Turk. It is then I see her.

Up ahead a young girl. She is dressed in typical hooker garb. High heels and a mini skirt that is so short I can actually see part of her bottom, like two adjacent obscene smiles. She stamps out a cigarette and then turns facing the street. Her face is grotesquely painted and the only thing on her torso is a black bustier laced in red. She looks barely old enough to be out of elementary school. Not Robyn. Standing back from the edge of the sidewalk, she scans drivers of cars as they go by. She looks briefly in my direction and then away. She looks to be about Robyn's age. I nudge the car towards the curb and pop it into park, leaning over the pa.s.senger's side I quickly roll down the window.

"Excuse me," I say.

The girl's face turns in my direction and it is then I see her eyes. They are filled with the darkness of a blunt void. She is chewing gum and saunters over towards the car.

"Lookin' for a party?" she asks, plastering a fake smile onto her lips.

"I'm looking for a girl named Robyn," I say.

"You can call me Robyn," she says, advancing closer now.

Her perfume invades the car and I am peppered by tiers of a sweet, synthetic musk.

Her smile deepens as she props an elbow on the opened window, leaning over in an exaggerated motion, allowing me a full view of her small, juvenile b.r.e.a.s.t.s. Cheap red polish is chipping off her short fingernails.

"Ten dollars for a party," she says.

"No," I say shaking my head.

"I'm looking for my daughter. Her name is Robyn." I thrust out the photo of my daughter towards her.

Silence glimmers between us as the realization of what I am after creeps into her brain.

She backs away, and stiffens; the smile falls from her face.

"Get lost, lady," she spits out. Her voice is suddenly hot with contempt. Her eyes dart left and then right. She continues backing away from my car.

"She ran away," I bark, as this young, pathetic thing ebbs from my grasp.

"Get away from me," she says.

"How old are you?" I shout.

It is then I see fear in her face. She waves me off.

"Get the h.e.l.l outta here!" she yells, beginning to walk quickly away.

"Wait!" I yell.

I jerk open the car door, clambering out of the car. My heart pounds in my chest. Does this girl know something? Does she know Robyn? Did fate bring me to the one, single person in the entire city who knows where my daughter might be?

"Wait!" I shriek out again excitedly.

I am surprised by the frigid air in this city. Nothing at all like the stifling bog of heat in Pittsburg. I tear to the front of the car, still idling, watching the girl as she runs from my view, ducking into an alleyway thick with refuse. Before I even reach the sidewalk, she has escaped into the shadowy yaw of a doorway that leads to who knows where. I fight the web of panic that spreads over me.

I stand there a moment, frozen. To my right, another homeless soul approaches. He is about ten yards away. But even from this distance it seems I can already smell the sour stench of urine and vomit that precedes him. He is rambling to an invisible partner and I am suddenly afraid for my safety. When he sees me, his pace quickens. A bell of alarm rings in my ears. I whip around, heading back for the car door.

Across the street I spy a well dressed man who appears to be heading for an aqua-colored BMW so s.h.i.+ny and new it looks like it came from a showroom. I catch the license plate: BLU BOY. Our eyes meet and then he looks at the homeless man making a beeline towards me. Instead of his car, he chooses to walk in my direction and I am suddenly, unaccountably flooded with relief.

When the homeless man sees the man in the suit heading towards him, he makes an about face and begins heading the opposite way. As the well dressed stranger comes closer to me, I am struck by his appearance. He is dark complected and the word 'swarthy' registers in my mind. His suit is s.h.i.+ny, a grey sharkskin hue, double breasted that seems a little too dressy for this neck of the woods.

"Perdida?" he asks in a thick Spanish accent.

A slender, sinful black mustache curls as he gives me a cruel looking smile. I look backward in the direction of the retreating homeless man trying to conjure that old saying my mother used to recite. Something about the frying pan and the fire.

"I, um." The words stumble out of my mouth as I back towards to my car, the driver's door handle now pressing into my b.u.t.tock.

The man keeps coming, invading that imaginary social s.p.a.ce that society allows. I try swallowing but my mouth is suddenly as dry as sun-bleached bones. The air outside is freezing but I am not cold. The pads of my fingers are behind me, resting on the cool metal of my Corsica. He is now only inches from me. The heat from his body is oppressive. His eyes narrow to slits. He c.o.c.ks his head to the side, considering me.

"Jou don belong here lady," he says. His breath is sour and stinks of decay.

I instinctively hold my breath to keep from gagging.

"My daughter," I whisper in a blind panic. Tears spill from my eyes. I can feel my bottom lip trembling in fear.

"Jor daughter is not here," he says.

"Jou," he growls, "don belong here either," he repeats.

He presses his lower body to mine. Where his pocket is, I feel a hard, rectangular object. A gun? My heart leaps to my throat.

"Please," I plead.

We stand there a moment, his stare boring into me. The dark and cold engulf me now. His hand is on my cheek now. I pull back slightly in a reflexive jerk. In an oddly tender motion, he wipes away a tear with the back of his thumb then licks my tear from his skin.

"Jou go now," he says, winking. He backs away slightly. Enough for me to get my hand onto the handle of the car door behind me. Keeping my eyes on him I scoot into the safety of my car.

"Jou don' come back," he threatens.

I feel watched. As if the windows had eyes and all of San Francisco waits with a sullen antic.i.p.ation, my exit from this place.

I wrench the car into drive and speed away. I drive, reckless with emotion, sobbing as I think about my precious little girl entangled in such a gruesome world. How can I ever save her?

After what feels like hours but is probably only a few minutes, I somehow find my way back to the Bay Bridge and speed home; hopeless and without a plan.

August 29, 2002.

Sat.u.r.day morning.

I've been awake since three-thirty, fighting my churning stomach with antacids. After several hours of traipsing uselessly around my dirty kitchen, grinding my teeth and sipping tepid coffee, I decided to head to San Francisco again.

I left Rob snoring the morning away in the bedroom. He is still angry with me for my first trip to the City. Rob and I have become strangers, little atoms, bouncing off each other in our confined s.p.a.ce, the hovel we call home.

I have come here three additional times in the past week; trolling the streets, visiting various youth shelters as I locate them, surrendering pictures of my daughter to anyone willing to take a copy.

Pale sunlight diffuses the tired, dirty streets in lacy patterns; tufts of frosty air from a rigorous August wind lash my cheeks as I make my way towards the Diamond Youth Center on Central Avenue, just north of Fell St. The youth center is the last place I haven't yet visited that caters to the lost and neglected runaways in my search for Robyn.

Irrationally, my thoughts alight on visions of Bart Strong, the private investigator I hired to help me find Robyn. If I try hard enough, I can almost conjure up how it will be: he will call me and in a triumphant and manly voice, tell me that he has Robyn, safe and sound, sitting in his office and I can come pick her up anytime. I wipe away a mote of dirt that has flown into my eye with the heel of my hand and dispel my fantasy. Since our initial meeting we have had only minimal contact. I called him the day after my first visit to San Francisco, telling him of being threatened by the swarthy man in the business suit and the BMW with the license plate: BLU BOY. Bart said he was probably a pimp and my presence there wasn't good for business. He promised to do some checking to see if he could come up with any concrete information, pledging a phone call within the week.

Diamond Youth Center looks more like a teenage hangout than anything else. A girl with hair several colors of the rainbow leans against the brick wall by the doorway. She has several piercings along her ears and a large silver stud in her chin, just below her lower lip. She is wearing a short, tartan plaid skirt, and beneath the skirt, bright pink tights finished off by black military style boots. She is laughing and talking with a boy who looks barely old enough to be a teenager, dressed in what looks like camouflage garb, but is covered with large silver zippers sewn at all angles up and down the legs of the trousers. Both of them are smoking. On the other side of the doorway are a handful more kids in similar attire; I scan all the girls faces, realizing in an instant that Robyn is not among them.

Though my heart sinks, I draw in a resolute breath, opening the door to the youth center. Inside, I am greeted by a gentleman who looks like a throwback from the sixties. His long, gray hair falls in spirals along his shoulders. His skin is a light brown, like aged shoe leather. A small gold stud catches the light in his left earlobe. On his desk sits a phone and a couple of two-inch dirty white binders. On the floor, next to his desk is a large box filled with containers of deodorants, boxes of bar soaps, and toothpastes. Behind him, through an opened door, I can hear the noise of teenagers; music and voices, punctuated by occasional laughter. On my left, the entire wall is wallpapered by posters and pictures of missing boys and girls.

"You look a bit lost," he says with a sympathetic grin.

I give him a weak smile, my hand already plunged to the depths of my purse, retrieving another of the endless copies of Robyn's pictures.

"I'm looking for my daughter," I say and thrust the picture into his hands.

He gazes at the photograph for a couple of moments. When he looks up at me, I see a vale of compa.s.sion in his eyes.

"I'm sorry," he says, "I haven't seen her. But that doesn't mean anything. There are nearly two million homeless kids in the United States; five thousand or so in San Francisco alone. Are you local?"

I notice that he does not perfunctorily hand Robyn's picture back to me.

"From Pittsburg," I say.

He nods once. "I a.s.sume you've already contacted the police?" he asks.

"Yes," I look down. "They seemed to think Robyn was just hiding out at a friend's house for a few days." I look up and meet his gaze. "But it's been almost two weeks now."

"That's pretty common when you're talking teenagers. Do you know, did the cops enter her name into NCIC?"

I frown. "What's that?"

"National Crime Information Center. It has a missing persons file."

I shake my head. I have no idea.

Just then, a young man's voice erupts into an angry shout.

"Come on, man!" he yells, batting the air like a gorilla. He looks to be sixteen or seventeen. His long black hair is pulled back into a ponytail. His clothes are clean, but his jacket looks two sizes too big. He towers over a short woman, a nun in a black habit, her head adorned by a black wimple trimmed in white. She crosses her arms and draws in a breath; her shoulders seem to inflate. Her feet are bolted to the floor between the young man and the front door.

"Carlo, that is not acceptable," she counters. "You promised me you would study. I know you can ace that test if only you will try."

The man behind the desk chuckles. "That's our local 'Mother Teresa'," he says.

Carlo hunches his shoulders. He kicks at a spot on the floor, his face scowling. "Man," he says, glaring at the nun, "Lisa said I'm a real man," Carlo says, puffing out his chest. "She ain't gonna wait for me forever."

The man behind the desk leans towards me and whispers, "she's small, but tough. Think 'grandmother' on steroids. The kids love her."

The nun shakes her head at Carlo. "She can wait a few hours; at least until you've finished studying." She steps close to the boy and ribs him with an elbow. "Get on back in there," she says, reaching out and giving his shoulder a firm pat. "Real men keep their promises." She gives him a steady gaze.

Carlo reluctantly retreats into the back room.

"Sister Margaret?" says the man behind the desk.

Sister Margaret angles her head towards us and smiles. She walks to the desk and holds out her hand.

"h.e.l.lo," she says, smiling.

Her handshake is firm, though her hands are aged. Her doughy face, captured by the wimple, is the face of an old lady, except for her bright gray eyes. They glisten with an ebullient spirit.

"This is," says the man behind, the desk, "I'm sorry, I didn't get your name."

"Margot," I say, "Margot Skinner."

"Margot, this is Sister Margaret." He looks up at the nun. "Her daughter is missing." He hands the photograph of Robyn to Sister Margaret. She considers the picture a moment, and then returns her attention to me.

The Whore Of Babylon, A Memoir Part 5

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The Whore Of Babylon, A Memoir Part 5 summary

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