THE DARK SIDE OF BROTHER

 

I am a good man, a normal man. I was raised a good Catholic. My parents sent me to a prep school run by intellectual Jesuits. I learned all of the basic subjects, received an elevated dose of theology, and besides that, by the time I left I could read Caesar and Cicero, Tacitus and Livy, Pliny and Virgil in the original Latin. I think I would have become a priest or a scholar, were it not for the example of my big brother, Liam, who was drafted into the army during Vietnam, and came out of it a big war hero, at least in our family which kept the flag flying high.

I am not a strange man, though I have been in strange places. To this day, I go to Church, I attend the Mass and take the Host. I remain a patriot, though the stories Liam told me, long after I had chosen to follow in his footsteps, have unraveled the certainty of my convictions. I no longer celebrate the 4th of July, I sit apart from the crowds and meditate; to me, the fireworks sound like guns and I wonder who is right and who is wrong.

But I am normal. Even though I have fallen off of the ship of conventions and struggled to keep my head above the dark waters of whole oceans we deny, which lurk and rage in our hearts, I remain connected to humanity, unlike those psychopaths who ride nations like black horses towards oblivion.

Reading was a bad habit which the Jesuits inflicted upon me, and I have not been able to cure myself of it. After leaving the brilliant, stunted lair of the priests, I kept on reading, I did not stop where I was meant to stop; like a car with broken brakes hurtling past a red light, I read Voltaire and Zola with their distrust of crosses; Blake who stood, hating churches, in his Garden of Love. I wandered through Dostoevskyís sick, seductive labyrinths, where appalling honesty prevailed over gracious appearances; and in Latin, turned to the perversions of the ancient Romans which our instructors had denied to us: Suetonius, and Procopius, pornographers of the powerful. I found the surrender to dark things fascinating. I continued going to Church, but what was once a path with walls on either side, was now a path frighteningly free of barriers, with no one but myself to keep me on it.

By the time I was ready to be a man, the war in Vietnam was already over. My father told me that with all the turmoil on the home front, we wouldnít be getting into a war for some time to come, and that being in the army from now on was going to be like being a guard dog tied to a tree in front of a house. "Youíll do a lot of barking, a lot of snarling, and nothing more. The burglars of the world will go to other houses. No one in their right mind will jump over the fence. From now on, the National Defense is going to be nothing more than a trade in weapons. Weíll make the helicopters, the machine guns, and the land mines, and send them on to people who are willing to fight." He made the military career sound useless, like parading, with a rifle, in front of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier; so that, in the end, I finally decided to sign up for a war that was going on, a war that would provide me with the opportunity to be a hero just like my brother. There was no jealousy or competition in this, only an obsession to emulate, my own version of the Imitation of Christ. God, how I loved Liam! He used to play with me on rainy days; he tolerated my childish games when I was bored and alone, though he was far too old for them, he came down like the God in the machine which the ancient playwrights used to rescue the doomed, and contorted his wise, sorrowful soul to the shape of my foolishness; on Christmas morning, he would sit with me for hours, before dawn, by the tree, as I waited for my parents to get up so that we could open our presents. Liam helped me to build my model tanks and airplanes, to figure out my puzzles once they became torments with hundreds of pieces; he let my toy soldiers win, and let me take back my bad moves in chess.

"A band of thugs killed this guy from Utah," my father read out of the newspaper one morning. "They were trying to rob his Momís purse, and when he stepped up to defend her, they stabbed him in the heart. What a beautiful city New York could beÖ"

That was when the epiphany occurred, though it had been building up for a while, thanks, in part, to Mr. Kennedy, the next-door neighbor who was a homicide detective, whose stories of police work had begun to work their way into my turbulent soul, tormented by altruism which sought a direction. "In New York City," I thought, "Vietnam isnít over. The war of crime is still raging. Instead of the Viet Cong, there are criminals. Instead of guerrillas in the jungle, there are robbers, murderers, arsonists, rapists, and drug-dealers, living right here amongst us, hidden behind unmarked doors, preying upon the innocent in the streets, on the trains and subway platforms, on stairwells, in elevators, in school yards. Somebody has to stop them!" More than a few times per week, I heard Mr. Kennedyís car drive off in the middle of the night, and I thought: "Someone else has just been murdered. In an hour or less, heíll be at the crime scene, looking for clues, initiating the hunt for the perpetrator." I wished I could be with him.

"Congratulations, son," my father told me after I graduated from the Police Academy. "I know you will make me proud, just like your brother." Liam, whose breath now perpetually smelled of alcohol, shook my hand, then could not restrain himself from giving me a gigantic bear hug. His eyes twinkled as I wanted them to: as they rarely did any longer.

"May the spirits of the Fenians protect you," he told me, adding: "Forget what theyíve told you about when to draw or not to draw your gun. Just keep it out all the time, it will make things easier." And everyone had a good laugh, including Mr. Kennedy, whoíd made sure to attend the launching of his protťgť.

*****

Of course, I had to pay my dues with the X Precinct, do some foot patrol and cruise around in the patrol car with a variety of partners, the first of whom seemed, to quote the Bible, as "wise as a serpent"; the last of whom seemed as ingenuous as George Tullen, a high-school classmate who believed that a bag we filled with chalk dust as a prank was actually a stash of coke, and went to the head priest about it. The first one took me under his wing like a father takes his son; the other clung to me like a child clings to his motherís skirt during a storm. All in all, the years on patrol went well, aside from the fact that I had to struggle with the specter of racism which reared up in my heart in the face of the obvious color barriers. We were like a white garrison in a black country. There were a lot of stares, lots of slurs thrown behind our backs, like "Pig" and "Whitey" and "White Bread Motherf**ker", there was hacking and spitting in the gutters, and crazy sermons from angry ladies about their sons, the government, police harassment and brutality, racist courts and jails. Although most of the people were happy, I think, to have police protection, there was also a lot of distrust and resentment, and it seemed that the mood of the neighborhood could change in a flash. One minute, pulling up in our police car with siren flashing, we would be greeted by grateful, impassioned bystanders, rushing up to us as though we were angels; the next minute, they would be calling us "pigs." One bad cop breaking a kidís knees for hanging out on a street corner is all it would take for our lives to go careening back into Hell. Bad cops always drag the good cops down with them.

I donít like racism. I was taught that it was wrong, but even more than that, I think an acute distaste for it runs in the blood of my Irish ancestors. Centuries of being oppressed and persecuted have turned fairness into a sacred thing for us, at least for those of us who have retained a vestige of the Celtic soul. When I felt racism growing in my heart, it made me sick. But when others despise you because of your race, because they have been branded by experiences that will not let them see an individual, the heartís natural defense is to strike back in kind, to hate them for hating you, to fight unfairness with unfairness. And soon, the souls of both sides are doing nothing more than firing indiscriminately into the crowd, with thoughts that keep them divided. Although the reality of the streets makes it impossible to be the cherub-variety liberal, pompously good from the cushions of his armchair, there is still the calling of truth, and the yearning of the human heart to stay clean, which pull you back from the edge of bigotry. I endured the pain of being despised, fought off the racism, and concentrated on being a competent footsoldier in the war against crime. I was neither Jesus nor Caesar. I survived, and I believe I made the world, where I was, a little better.

I carried out my share of arrests, cuffed enough suckers, hit a few legs with the stick, and cleared my beat of drug dealers who moved to other nearby spots, or waited till I was gone to move back in. Two shots were fired at me outside a bodega by an unseen assailant, leaving holes in the window. We found the casings from a .38, and thatís as far as the investigation got. (Thank God I didnít get hit, because I was coming out with donuts and coffee, and take my word for it, the worst ending a cop could have would be to die with a donut in his hand.) When I stayed on the beat, in spite of the "attempt", the people began to give me some respect. They didnít love me, but they put up with me, like a rhinoceros puts up with the bird who rides on his back, picking out the ticks and fleas. In all this time, I only drew my gun three times, and only used it once, on a bodega robber. We fired at each other from behind parked cars, making a mess of two vehicles, including one that had a bumper sticker that said "Jesus es el Amor", until he ran out of bullets, and put his hands up. Turns out the guy had carried out a string of local robberies, so that it was a good catch. I got decorated for it, though it was nothing like what Liam had done in Vietnam, when his platoon got left behind at the rendezvous site by panicked helicopters, and they had to fight their way out of the trap on foot, and also to endure a blast of friendly fire that presumed they were already dead and therefore aimed to turn the place where they were into a giant crater. But a lot more than the decoration, the thing I remember most from my years on the beat, was the day my partner and I responded to an emergency call about this little girl whoíd sunk under the water in the bathtub while her mother was having an argument with her ex-boyfriend, who was threatening her with violence. When we got to the scene, he was gone, and the girl was laid out on the floor without any sign of life in her, surrounded by the hysterical, wildly gesticulating mother, and the terrified neighbors. I worked the kid over for all I was worth, trying to get the water out of her lungs and get her going again with CPR. And you know, god dammit, that first-responder course was worth its weight in gold. The girl puked out a bunch of water and groaned, and her pain was the most beautiful thing to see, because the dead donít feel a thing. And then the ambulance came with the real professionals, and you know, she made it; and the way her mother hugged me when I came back a few days later just to visit and leave a present with her kid, because I had been so moved by it all, proved to me I was not wrong to fight off the beast of racism which never ceased to stalk me from within, but which I never surrendered to.

*****

Well, after that phase of my career, it was onwards and upwards, into the ranks of the detectives Ė the brains of the police. Not that there arenít brains at every level, but at the top, you have the experience, and the incredible resources and time-tried methods you need to put it all together: the high vantage point from which you can get the larger picture, and act on it. You are assigned to be the brains, and, as a result, every part of the body sends you its knowledge to work with. Itís like being promoted from Private, First Class, to Lieutenant, Captain, or Major. You canít help but be smart.

In those days, I kept a copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which Liam had given me when I joined the police force, on my desk. It had been given to me with affection and certainly a bit of mockery, the kind that draws brothers closer, for as we all knew even then, being a modern police detective is nothing at all like being Conan Doyleís famous cokehead crime-solver. No one these days murders others by means of cobras or exotic poisons placed into a lamp, and New York City crime scenes are not stately mansions replete with suspicious butlers, maids, and brooding travelers just back from Africa. The gore and pointlessness of what I saw in my new capacity, in a new, supposedly less stressful Precinct, was, at first shocking, and then depressing. It was as if the whole world had become disjointed, unfathomable, like a sadistic Dali painting, as though I had discovered a new race of human beings which did not share the anatomy of the rest of us. The sight of bodies with frozen eyes that did not see what we saw, heads and faces that were damaged, distorted, swollen, abused; brains, blood and vomit lying around in the aftermath of bullets, or beatings with blunt objects; screaming and sobbing voices in the other room, or on the other side of the street; walking in and out through the cobwebs of yellow police tape; apartments that used to be lived in sealed like archaeological discoveries against the intrusion of modern-day grave robbers; it was sickening, dehumanizing, light years from the joyful intellectual romps of Sherlock Holmes. There was rarely imagination and never brilliance in these crimes, only pathos, as when one surveys the debris of a crashed airplane with human body parts scattered amidst the metal. Although here, the bodies I came to seek revenge for were generally intact, the state of lifelessness imposed upon them appeared to me to be a form of mutilation: the fact that they could no longer speak, laugh, smile, dream of anything, hope for anything. I habitually crossed myself, as I had in church, whenever I saw them for the first time, and tried to tell myself that they were surely in a better place, now, than they had been before: surely alongside God in his Kingdom. Yet somehow it seemed to me to be a form of abuse that I should diminish the tragedy which had just occurred by imagining them to be in Heaven.

I hated myself for choosing this profession and considered withdrawing from it. But my familyís and my raceís long history of obstinacy rose up against the idea of quitting. Until, finally, after a while, I began to see the crime scene as the gift of angels Ė not the deed that had been done nor the human potential that had been degraded Ė but the scene, itself, which was a form of communication, a language written in blood, in pieces of paper found in desk drawers and pockets, in the knowledge of neighbors: words from God, Himself, telling me who to look for, and where; telling me how to right the universe. The gore, combined with little traces of humanity Ė a photograph of the deceased, joyous as they would never be again, a book sitting on a table that would never be finished, a dress hanging in a closet that would never again impress, food in the refrigerator which would not be eaten Ė it simultaneously inspired me to fight and whispered answers into my ear. I ceased to be repelled, except as was necessary to be motivated, and then I accepted the clues with gratitude. I became a kind of human hound dog, kneeling to the God of the Hunt, enamored of the scent of evil. When you were killed in my Precinct, you became a member of my family. Whoever did it, old or young, conscious or thoughtless, feet on the earth or lost on the moon - the moon of impulse where no action has a tomorrow - would not elude me. Like Simon Wiesenthal going after the Nazis, I would hunt down the transgressor to the end of time. My family would be avenged.

After a while, I won the reputation of being a first-rate crime-solver. Although I had nearly been torn in half, like paper, by my job when I first came to it, I was now referred to as "Unflappable Sean", by a colleague who liked outdated expressions. It stuck - perhaps because many thought that I, too, was outdated. I solved a lot of murders during this period of time, married, had two kids, Conan and Lily, and was finally divorced, because Mary couldnít stand the late-night phone calls and my sudden departures, and said "the smell of death" surrounded me. She wanted me to get another job, something bureaucratic and far removed from the heaviness of murder, paperwork of some kind; something I could be free of, without demons haunting me in the night. But that wasnít working for Liam, who felt so useless working at a computer after being a war hero, that his bitterness was now keeping him from those he loved, and turning him into a virtual hermit who would not answer phone calls or even open his door, though if you caught him coming back from work, he would force a smile onto his face and invite you to the local bar, where they knew him well. "Divorce isnít the worst thing that could happen to you," he told me. He knew. "Itís true Iíve lost a lot, but in the end, Vietnam and marriage donít mix. Now, I find, I donít have to struggle so hard to keep it all in. I can just be me. I donít have to pretend that Ďmeí doesnít contain someone else who they donít want to know; I donít have to pretend that I left that part behind in Vietnam, that somehow Iím over it, that Iím Daddy, and Husband, and thatís all I am, and all I have ever been since the dawn of time. I donít have to try to act like I never killed anybody, or never saw anybody die. Thereís no one to wake up, now, if I have a nightmare; no one to cry if I jump when I hear a firecracker. Do you know the time I hit the deck when we were at the park, and she was crying the whole Fourth of July? Besides," he added, taking another drink from the bartender, "Gloria was becoming too drab, too much of a Ďgoodie-goodie.í She used to wink at me, then she stopped, and just started knitting. That infernal knitting! For me, although I always considered myself to be a good Catholic, I also thought that the very least a woman could do for her man was to travel south every once in a while, if you know what I mean. Am I being too crude? When I tried to do the same for her, once, she told me, ĎLiam, donít! Itís weird, itís shameful!í Sorry, brother, blame it on the drink. Anyway, the point is, without her, Iím free to be alive again. Of course I miss the kids, but she told the judge I was a bad influence, and maybe she was right. At least I brought them into the world, I gave them a chance. We wonít run out of Irishmen in our times, will we?"

We hugged each other before we parted, both of us remembering how things used to be.

*****

When I received the call in my Precinct Office from a detective at the adjoining Precinct, a fresh cup of coffee had just been placed before me. As the expression went, "Give me a cup of coffee and nobody gets hurt."

"Yes, Jack, itís me," I answered, the light streaming in through my window, a day I was sure I could handle just outside, scratching at the glass.

Around me, in the office, my coworkers looked up from their desks. My face must have told them.

"Are you sure?" I asked. There was a long pause. "Iíll be right there," I said, the speed of lightning in my heart, but the stillness of the dead in my body. "Whatís wrong?" they asked, as I finally put the receiver down.

I stood up, cold as a stone, yet wet with tears. "My brotherís just been murdered," I told them.

*****

The crime scene was a rundown hotel in Chelsea, already attended by a bevy of police cars and ambulances. I wandered in from the sunny, brisk March day in a long white trenchcoat, flashed my ID to the clerk behind the desk, and again to the cop by the elevator on the floor.

"Maybe you better not look," Theo, the detective in charge, told me at the door to the room.

"Bullshit," I said. "Iím a pro, and Iím in on this."

"Youíre family," cautioned Theo.

"All the more reason," I said.

When I stepped into the room what I saw made me want to cry. There was Liam lying spread-eagled in the bed, his hands and feet bound to the bed, his naked body horribly bruised and battered, a ball-gag in his mouth, his throat slit, his genitals removed. "Damn!" I screamed, after the shock of seeing my heroic, valiant, loving brother in this unfamiliar pose, in this state of utter ruin in spite of all the beauty I remembered being in his soul. "Damn!" I screamed again, and in spite of being a professional, I fell to my knees at his bedside, weeping incoherently: "What have they done to you? What have they done to you? - What have you done to yourself?"

Theoís team gave me some time alone, then returned. I saw the men dusting for fingerprints, the photographs being taken, personal belongings being put into bags, and sealed.

"Weíre going to solve this," Theo told me.

"I want in on it," I said.

"Of course." Precinct lines are always crossed, for a million different reasons.

"The money and credit cards are gone," said a gloved detective, dropping Liamís precious, empty wallet into a plastic bag. I recognized it as the wallet from which heíd pulled out the money to pay for our drinks the last time I saw him alive.

"Donít take it personally," Theo told me, as I sat there, my face anguished and utterly confused. "This hotel is a frequent hook-up joint, whores and their johns use it all the time. Looks like Liam got into some S&M here, a bit of kink which was used as a front to pull off a robbery. Used to be, whores would steal your wallet and your pants while you were taking a shower, so you couldnít run after them when you came out. Nowadays, now that S&Mís become the rage, itís easier just to con you into playing ĎDomí and ĎSub.í Then, once youíre tied up, the hooker takes your valuables and leaves you behind." Again, Theo said: "Donít take it personally. Good people play these games, sometimes. Itís not a reflection on your brother. Wasnít he divorced? After divorce, thereís a tendency to cut loose, to experiment."

I was humiliated by my sobs, as much as by Liamís strange demise, and tried to summon heartlessness from within, but it is not as easy to summon it for someone you love as for someone who is a stranger, who you think will benefit from it. At last, I stood up and said: "Theo, this was a lot more than a robbery. Whoever did this is a savage. This was done by a heart filled with hate. By someone who is furious. By a man-hating bitch."

Theo agreed. "I donít think this case is going to be too long in solving, buddy. Whoever did this is out there, on the edge. With so many girls on crack, thereís going to be a lot of loose lips. Someoneís got to know, and theyíll cough up the bitch in no time, especially when weíve got the power to decide who we bust and who we cut slack to."

"Could be as easy as getting a phone number or an address from back at Liamís pad," said another detective, stating the obvious.

"I want to be the one who goes there," I said. "Iíll treat it right," I added, "just in case the killerís been there."

"Weíll send you some people," Theo agreed. "Do you have to clear it with your office first?"

"Thanks for reminding me," I said.

*****

Liam had lived in a stately brownstone, that seemed some remnant of the days of knights, with its massive, obsolete, castle-like stairway desecrated, now, by graffiti. "Bad Ass" said the spray paint. It should have said, "Camelot Ė one last shining spot."

I walked up the dark, empty stairs inside, that seemed like a body deserted by its soul, like the corpses I spent my life with, now, until I got to the familiar door, the one that had been barricaded against all who loved him for years. After ascertaining that it was properly locked, I opened it with a silent key that left me to suffer alone, and stepped inside.

The shades were drawn and it was as dark as a cave. I turned the lights on, which only made a slight improvement, as two of three of them were burned out. I passed by the shelves of books he used to read, about warriors and heroes of the past, and the tattered map of Vietnam hanging on his wall, which he had put back up after his divorce and on which he had written the words, "You win." In the refrigerator, there was meat defrosting, so that it was clear death hadnít been a part of Liamís plans last night, even if his commitment to life was on the wane. Suddenly overcome by the heaviness of it all, I drew the curtains open in this lonely room to let the light pour in; but I realized, it was the curtains in his soul that had needed to be drawn open, and that no one in the world could have done it after Vietnam, no matter how they tried. For some who are greatly sensitive, there is no option after oneís heart is cudgeled but to turn oneís back on God.

Struggling to stay focused as I wallowed in nostalgia, I wandered by Liamís desk, fearful to check its contents. This was my brother, how could I commit the sin of violating his diary, his papers? Of being a voyeur of his secret life, as I had been of the lives of others whose peculiarities crossed paths with my duty. But should I leave the excavation to utter strangers, to Theoís cops? I forced myself to continue. After what I had already seen, what was left in the world that could possibly disturb me? I opened a drawer and thanked Liam, from the bottom of my heart, for making it easy. Inside there was a folder filled with bodyrub/roleplaying advertisements from The Village Voice, print-outs from Craigslist ads for "erotic services", profiles from Bindme.com, and the phone numbers of BDSM dungeons, digital photos of nude women and more phone numbers. We were going to have a lot to work with, here.

"Sorry, Liam," I said, because the folder had clearly written on its front: If the owner of these materials is deceased - in respect of the dead - kindly dispose of this folderís contents without examining them. Every soul is entitled to its secrets, and whatever you think of me, you are no better. "Sorry, Liam," I said again. "But I need this stuff."

At that instant, Theoís forensic team came knocking on the door. I invited them in, and remembered that I still had to make phone calls to Gloria and to our dear mother.

*****

Of course, the funeral was a bust: unbearable mourning mixed with absurd pretenses, necessary for the children and for Mom, and for what few shreds of honor remained attached to the family name. There were the wise ones who knew, the ashamed elite of knowing; and the ignorant masses who were fed the necessary lie and wept with tears that were pure. Liam had been killed during a robbery, thatís all. Heads bowed in reverence to a good man, a war hero, who had survived the jungles of Vietnam only to perish in the streets of New York. Thankfully, as though God, Himself, had intervened, that very same week an aspiring Broadway actress was pushed in front of a train by a homeless man who was high on crack, which helped to keep my brotherís sordid end from making the front page, and thinned out the swarm of journalists who surged around the seedy hotel like vultures, hoping for a story no matter what the cost. Poor actress, but God bless her! And my motherís eyes were so bad that she spent her time listening to old records, anyway. We still kept up the old stereo from days gone by, with its vinyl relics of our beautiful life together, before wars and awakenings.

At the funeral, once more, I broke down. That was after Gloria told me, as the priest finished his speech: "they say the same thing, whether a man dies trying to put out a fire, or trying to score a whore. Thank God the Church allows divorce; imagine - in the old days I would have had to go through this as his wife." And I thought, my poor, dear brother, none know him so well as I! I know he was good, I know he was generous and loyal and brave, and that the heart that beat in his chest was beautiful, as beautiful as the Christmas tree we waited by in the darkness before the dawn. Now, those who know the truth about what happened, dare to despise him, as though his whole life could be defined by that one hotel room, that one awful night. None know him so well as I Ė and I do not know him at all!

As the dirt fell over the casket, after it had been lowered into the hole in the ground which seemed to be the mouth of the Devil opening wide, I clutched my face in agony, my tears on fire as they came through my eyes, my whole body convulsed, wracked by the joy Time had left behind. I could barely breathe, like an asthmatic in the middle of an attack. "I want to be buried next to him," I told the person who was standing beside me, who was not Mary, who would not subject the children to "the burial of a pervert", she said. There was no one to hold me except for those who had been deceived, no arms to take me in, to comfort me, no one who knew the truth who would forgive me for my grief! "My God," I thought, "in all the world I am alone! Utterly alone!" Is that how Liam had felt? Why hadnít he spoken to me, let me be a part of his life? Why hadnít he let childhood persist beyond childhood? Why hadnít he told me that something was wrong, that he needed help, a friend? But he couldnít; his upended life had found too strange a way to try to rise, and he could not share it with anyone who he loved.

*****

It seems the case should have been solved quickly, but somehow, the mystery dragged on. We interviewed the hotel employees and got the footage from their close-circuit cameras. But two key cameras, in this shoddy establishment, had no tape in them on the night of the murder, and all that we came up with were some grainy photos of a woman with blonde hair and sunglasses coming into the lobby about fifteen minutes after heíd gone up, and testimony, from the hotel employees, that they had seen her before, and that she came in every once in a while, and never stayed for long. Theo told them he could shut down the hotel as a haven of prostitution and drugs to try to work them for more information, but all that seemed to do was to produce a deluge of contradictory and distracting leads that were not leads at all.

Forensics diligently came up with five different sets of fingerprints from the room, which obviously had a high turnover rate, and was seldom cleaned, and poorly cleaned when it was. Unfortunately, they found no usable prints on the restraints which the killer had used to bind my brother. Most importantly, perhaps, they found a long, dark strand of womanís hair which was tangled up with one of the restraints, and got a DNA profile from it. But it wasnít on file in any of our archives, and was, therefore, only useful for positively identifying a suspect once we had apprehended one by other means.

Meantime, our footsoldiers hit the streets, and made phone calls to follow up on the ads found in Liamís folder, but his eyes were so much bigger than his mouth that it seemed they must interview the entire sexual underground of New York if they were to do justice to the wealth of material with which he had provided them. That is to say, it seems he had collected every sordid advertisement under the sun, more than he could possibly ever act upon, and, in fact, he seemed to be a pack rat of perverse possibilities, diluting the one that had done him in with literally hundreds of others. I hoped to narrow the field by taking on Liamís hard-drive, and scouring through his e-mails, but after the lab got past his multiple passwords, and opened up his electronic folders I found no smoking guns, there, no giveaways. Much of his correspondence, in fact, seems to have been deleted by a top-notch privacy protection program. This was going to be hard work. I began my hard work by visiting Lady Divaís Dungeon, five blocks to the north of the hotel where my brother had died.

*****

Lady Diva was a corpulent, madam-like woman who told me, right off: "Domination is not prostitution. It is a form of entertainment, and no sexual favors are exchanged." She bristled like a porcupine at my visit, because, obviously, she felt that I meant to threaten her. "Our girls do not go to hotels like that," she said, "and are, in fact, interesting and well-educated young ladies. Your killer sounds like a crack whore, who the victim probably picked up off the street."

"Your number is in his address book," I said. "It looks to me as if he had an appointment here, maybe three or four days before he was killed. Can you verify that?"

Agitated, and muttering something about a lawyer, she brought up the data on a computer screen, and told me: "He was here on February 27."

"Who did he see?" I asked.

"Flora," she said.

"I need to see her," I said.

Two hours later, Flora was produced. She was an attractive young thing, 19 years old it turned out, a Christian Japanese with a gorgeous body but a very immature face that seemed it needed a few more years to play the role of dominatrix convincingly. "He was a nice man," she said, breathing heavily and sweating. "We didnít have sex."

"Look," I told her, "this isnít about prostitution. I donít care if you had sex or not, nobodyís getting busted over sex today. In fact, Iím sorry if you didnít have sex. I only hope he enjoyed his last few days before he died."

Lady Diva looked over at Flora, sternly, silently warning her of a possible trap.

"I mean it," I said.

"Honest, we didnít have sex," said Flora. She went on to tell me that he spent one hour on February 27 being spanked, and ridiculed for the small size of his penis.

"It wasnít small," I protested. Iíd seen him change his clothes, and it struck me as something which I couldnít let slide. For Godís sakes, let the dead rest in peace!

"Itís just something I said," said Flora.

"A lot of our clients enjoy Humiliation," Lady Diva told me. "They find it very stimulating. They could have one that was nine inches long, and weíd still find fault with it, because thatís how we pay our bills."

I felt flustered and confused, but struggled to maintain my focus. "Was this the first time Liam came here?" I asked.

"No," answered Lady Diva, "he came a few times before, starting last October. But, as I understand it, he preferred ĎNo Exit.í"

"Whereís that?" I asked.

"On Walker Street," she told me. "It wasnít a one-time thing," she added. "It wasnít a mistake. Your crime victim was into this. Heíd tried it long before he showed up here and he wasnít about to stop."

I was grateful for the air outside on the street, for the superficial, busy world that carried on in total ignorance of the dark world below the parking lot, where Lady Divaís dungeon lay hidden. Taxi cabs, shoppers, a floristís shop, people coming out of the cigar store with lottery tickets Ė thank you world, for being so reassuringly superficial!

"Anything new?" I asked Theo, over the phone.

"Weíve got a list of all the phone numbers he was in contact with for the last six months," Theo told me. "His last call came from a stolen cell phone, which went missing the day before his murder. Weíre working on that. Aside from that, weíve got a few escort agencies, three dungeons, and a couple of freelancers pegged, who he seems to have had some kind of regular thing with. Interviews are pending."

"Any information on ĎNo Exití?" I asked him.

"Thatís one of the dungeons," Theo told me. "But his visits there stopped around October of last year."

******

Mistress Panther was a graying, vivacious black woman with strong arms, whose shrewd eyes seemed to miss nothing. She gave me a cool but polite reception, in the office of No Exit, a spacious S&M dungeon hidden behind an unobtrusive door in what appeared to be a warehouse, on a street that had no signs of life which lay just off the heart of Chinatown.

"Yes, he was a regular of ours," Mistress Panther told me. "A little frightening."

"Whyís that?" I asked, surprised, because, after all, he was the one who had been murdered, and these women were supposed to be on top.

"You could tell that he drank. He was polite when he came; he always was, or we would have called in security. But once he started to trance, the things he said! Finally, nobody wanted him. Only Roxy would take him."

"What did he say?" I demanded.

Mistress Panther shook her head. "Horrible things. About the war. Was he in Vietnam?"

"He was," I admitted.

"Horrible things. We didnít know if the medal he showed us was real or fake."

"It was real."

"They did a lot of terrible things in that war."

"He was fighting for our country," I said.

Mistress Panther looked at me with eyes that were wise, like a ship thatís broken and filled with water but has made it to the shore. "In my opinion, war is never justified. But if youíre going to fight, there should be some rules. Mercy is Godís intent. Take us, here. We beat the crap out of men because they want it, we whip them and cane them and flog them like we were the Inquisition, but we always have a safe word. If it gets to be too much for them, they say the word, and the beating stops."

"Always?" I asked her.

"Always," she replied firmly.

"And Ė and he liked to be beaten?" I asked incredulously.

"He loved it. He used to tell Mistress Koneko, who is our best flogger, ĎPaint me with your whip, paint me with my own blood, paint your anger and your pain onto the canvas of my white back, it is a desert without your rage.í He called her a Michelangelo of the whip."

" ĎFind the real me,í" Koneko added, sitting down beside us, an Asian woman with a striking presence, and a charisma twice her size. "He said: ĎChip away at the stone until you find the real me. Turn this formless piece of rock into art; with the chisel of your whip flake away everything that is false and unworthy, sculpt me into anything you wish; you will know better than I do what I should be.í He was very poetic. He was also very disturbed."

"Which is why you stopped seeing him?"

"I gave him tremendous thrashings," Koneko boasted. "But it wasnít enough. He wanted me to pretend I was a Vietnamese. He began to say racist things, because he wanted me to hit him harder. It was like he wanted me to kill him. But sometimes it looked like he wanted to break free of his bonds and to kill me. It wasnít healthy for either one of us."

I turned to Mistress Panther, bewildered. "We had enough of him," she told me gently. "But Roxy said she liked him, and could deal with him. So he became hers. He came about once a week, and sheíd session with him."

"Where is she?" I asked Mistress Panther. "Roxy? Iíd like to talk with her."

"She doesnít work here anymore," replied the headmistress.

"She was as crazy as he was," explained Koneko. "She was crazy white trash, so she got the axe."

"Not true," Mistress Panther objected. Then, facing me with carefully crafted serenity, she said: "We donít hire girls like that."

I waited for her to say something more.

"She was highly educated," Mistress Panther explained. "A college dropout, but only because she couldnít stand being in the classroom. She told me she suffered from a kind of mental claustrophobia, that she had a terrible fear of being boxed in by the limits of other peopleís minds, a terror of being brainwashed. She wanted to live with books underneath an open sky, to read Dostoevsky on the prairie. Thatís what she told me. She was so well-read, she could talk circles around the rest of us. She read Latin and Greek."

"She said she could read Latin and Greek," protested Koneko.

"I saw her reading a book once, in Greek. Some ancient thing; she said she loved the dead, it was the living who offended her."

Koneko remained unconvinced. She fidgeted with her hands as if reaching for a cigarette, but none was there.

"She liked challenges," Mistress Panther explained at last. "Thatís why she didnít balk when Liam came her way. She was raw, wildÖ"

"She was dangerous," Koneko added. "She didnít know how to use a whip, she was terribly inaccurate, and she didnít care. She made one of our best clients piss blood, from a caning that was off the mark. If he hadnít been too embarrassed, he could have sued us."

Mistress Panther silenced Koneko with a sharp sideways look, then said: "Technically, she was improving. It was her attitude that was the problem. A couple of times, she seemed to forget who she was or what she was doing. She drifted away, somewhere deep into her own mind: to some far-off place of incomplete revenge, to some terrible, unfinished business, to some loose end in her life that could only be tied up by forcing someone else to take her place. As a dominatrix you have to remain intensely grounded. The client can fade away into Ďsub spaceí, but you have to be present. You have to accept the contradiction that although you are there to dominate him, he is really, still the boss, and you are there to please him. You canít let the black leather and the whip get to your head, you canít start to think itís real."

"She threatened clients," blurted out Koneko, whose pride had no use for prudence. "After a couple of them came to us in tears, believing sheíd been on the verge of killing them, we had no choice but to let her go."

Stunned, I looked at them both. This world was still too new, too strange, too disconcerting to lose my beloved brother to. At long last, I asked Mistress Panther: "Do you think Roxy is capable of murder?"

Mistress Panther, disciplined enough to be a diplomat, said, "I have no reason to believe that; I simply think that she was incautious; and being a dominatrix, you have to be very alert. No drunk drivers behind the whip."

Koneko was less sure.

"Is it possible that she could have killed someone by accident?" I asked.

"Not likely," said Mistress Panther. "But Iím only speculating."

Not likely, for sure, I thought. Whoever had killed Liam had mutilated him and robbed him to boot.

The mistresses were not in touch with Roxy now, and I felt secure that they were in no way sheltering her. Although my brotherís case was still suffering from an overdose of leads waiting to be investigated, I felt as though I had taken a bold step forward with this interview. I collected a folder of photographs of Roxy and an envelope, in which she had sent Mistress Panther a letter after being fired, which might have been sealed with her saliva. If we could match the DNA from the saliva with the DNA from the hair sampleÖ The letter said: "Dear Cop-out Queen: Are we dommes or not? Are we Amazons or harem girls? I wish you werenít so slavish inside your spiked heels, because I came into this business in the first place because this world and I donít get along, and you wonít find me crapping around with Excel and Powerpoint. So now youíve kind of f**ked me over, because Iím a fringe girl without a job; so Lenore must stalk the white-throated gentlemen with her fangs. I hope youíre happy on your knees. Ė [Signed] The Dispossessed."

Things were getting better all the timeÖ

*****

Although Roxy was now my primary suspect, Theo thought it was still too soon to narrow the playing field to adhere to an exclusive hypothesis that might block out others. I agreed with him, but at this point, left the master plan to him so that I could concentrate on her. We passed her photo out to all the precincts, and had them begin to take it around with them as they canvassed hookers and BDSM players throughout the city. I also drove out to Bayside, Queens, where her parents still lived and suffered to talk about her.

"We havenít been in touch with her for the last two years," her mother anguished. "Sheís cut us off from her like an arm with gangrene. Like what they did to those soldiers in the Civil War. A bottle of whiskey and a saw. Such a cruel, cruel girl! She thinks we donít love her! She used to feed from my breast, and father here, assembled the Barbie mansion for her on Christmas morning, when it was all the rage and every little girl had to have one. It took the whole day."

"A brilliant kid," her father, a plumber and handyman who advertised in the local newspapers, told me. "She was like an astronaut who took off in a rocket to explore the galaxy. She never came back. I donít expect to see her again as long as I live. I just hope she found a habitable planet." There was something sad in his eyes and also troubled, as if he wanted to shed his skin like a snake that wants to start all over again, but canít. Because some lives have no rewind button.

"She went to St. Aloysius, and she had this thing about poetry and ancient history," continued the mother. "She was such a studious girl, but then she began to hang out with these kids who call themselves GothsÖ"

"I tried to warn her," said the father.

"And then she went to college, and everything looked so promising. But these Goth people. They followed her around. I donít know if they used drugs or all that crazy music got to their heads, but she just blew it off, I think a few of them dropped out at once; and the last few times we saw her she was angry, incredibly angry, and what did we ever do to her?"

"We gave her tons of love," said the father, who seemed to wince as he spoke the word "love."

I surveyed them for a moment, then I asked them if they knew what sheíd been up to after she dropped out of school.

They didnít. And I didnít deprive them of their ignorance. I just handed them my card, and told them that she was needed as a material witness in a criminal investigation. I made it seem like that was it, but of course, we put a stakeout on the house and a wiretap on the phone, because you never knowÖ

As I left the pleasant little home, in walking distance from a lake with geese, where they said she used to sit on a bench reading on weekend afternoons, I exchanged a final handshake with the father. The hand was strong and talented, but also burned with shame.

*****

When youíre on a case for a long time, it has a way of taking you over, and the rest of your life disappears. You vanish into your head and the world begins to whisper, itís like you were going deaf, and your ears now hear only what pertains to the case, which comes to you as a shout. You can stop living for days and weeks at a time this way, until something finally snaps you out of it and brings you back into your body, forces you to return to you, which at first seems unnatural and frightening. What brought me back to me was Liamís room, a room that I should have signed the papers to let go of, now that there was nobody left to pay the rent except for me, which I did on his behalf; and yet, I could not part with it, and kept coming back to it, again and again, to say good-bye. But I could never get that good-bye right. Like a singer who canít hit a note, nothing I could think or feel was enough to be enough. And so I hung on.

One night in his painful room, whose very dust had become sacred to me, watching a video cassette of some stupid science fiction movie which his eyes had once watched, which turned it into a golden thing, I broke down in a way I have never broken down before in my entire life. It was even worse than upon discovering his corpse, when shock had held the reins of my emotions and prevented me from dying outright, and at the funeral, when the public setting had inhibited me, and I had struggled with my tears like a man trying not to have diarrhea on the train. Here, there was nobody to watch, nobody to judge, nobody to trouble me with sympathy, there was only his room without him. Here, alone in the midst of all his dreams which had stopped growing, I fell off of the sofa, I wept like a baby, I prayed that Heaven was not an illusion, I begged God for mercy for him, for me, and for our family. I tried to talk to Liam, and I choked on my words. I thought I was about to die. At last, I asked him, "Why, Liam, for Godís sakes why? Why did you do this to yourself? Why did you demean yourself, why did you let yourself die in this way? Didnít you know you were my hero? My whole life, I have followed in your footsteps, I have walked after you on the bridge of honor, on the bridge of courage, towards a life I might be proud of. And now Ė here - the bridge has fallen into the river, and what am I to do?"

I didnít know that it was showing, but at work, next day, Ralph, who was my right-hand man at the Precinct, came up to me and said: "Sean. You need to take care of yourself." He handed me a card: Erica Livingstone: Psychotherapy: Grief Counseling & Identity Issues. It had a phone number on it. I looked up at Ralph.

"I donít need a psychologist for me," I said. "Iím fine, this is the nature of life. I just need to know what the hell was going on in my brotherís head."

"I understand," Ralph said. He pointed to the card. "Sheís the one."

Now I didnít like the idea of going to a counselor. Imagine, if every Irishman whoíd even been messed with in life went to see a psychologist, they wouldnít have enough couches for us all, theyíd have to sit us up in chairs and take a hundred of us at a time. Psychologistsí offices would be as crowded as movie theaters. We Irish are fighters, we help ourselves, and when life gets the better of us, we donít go to a damned psychologist, we go to a bottle. But in this case things were different. I wasnít going about me. I was going about LiamÖ

*****

"Itís not about me," I said, brushing off Dr. Livingstoneís desire to explore my grief. "Itís about Liam." Dr. Livingstone was a mature woman, who I realized, to my dismay, was not any older than I was, and was the kind of woman who I should be trying to date. No more the soft, white-skinned flowers of youth; my youth had ended in divorce. She had a kind of beauty that you could get used to, in a pinch, except that she pried too much, and nobody from a family as proud, yet as secretly unconventional, as mine, could afford to have such a person around.

"Please," she said. "I am a professional. I am trying to help you."

"The police department is paying for this," I said, "and I havenít come to squander their money. Iíd rather you see me as a car thatís got a broken muffler, than as a human being. All I need is for the muffler to be fixed. Now Iíll tell you exactly what thoughts correspond to my muffler. I am wondering why my brother became involved in the lifestyle that he did. He was my hero, my role model, the one person in the whole world who, it turns out, ever really loved me. I need to know if he was sick, if all this time I have been worshipping a pervert, a degenerate. God, please say something that will redeem him in my eyes! I want to love him without feeling ashamed of him! I need something in the universe to remain pure, I need something to aspire to, something to believe in. I know that Nietzsche wrote: ĎGod is Dead.í Now thereís an assassin if I ever heard one! But I can take that shot, yes, even that one. Dr. Livingstone, I can survive without God on a planet thatís doomed to become nothing but a frozen ball of ice, but I canít survive without Liam smiling and taking me by the hand to the ball field, I canít survive without him helping me do my homework, I canít survive without my big brother being my big brother. Do you understand what Iím trying to say?" Ashamed of myself, I wiped away a tear and warred against all the others that were trying to come out. "Can you fix the muffler?" I asked.

Dr. Livingstone regarded me for a moment with eyes that were also moist, although she saw dozens of wrecks per week. Thatís how affecting Liam was, even second-hand. She knew where the session ought to go, but she was not in charge. I was. For the time being, she could only help me by following.

"How do I make sense of it?" I demanded of her, like those headstrong ancients who used to seize the priestesses of Delphi by the hair, and command them to prophesize victory for their side. "How can you explain that a great and beautiful soul such as his, a war hero, a clever, courageous, loyal lion of a brother, could stoop to this? To crawling around naked while women beat him and humiliated him? And to pay them for it, two-hundred-plus dollars a crack? Help me to understand it! Please! Whatís it all about?!" Embarrassed by my outburst, I quickly attempted to withdraw into a shell, but Dr. Livingstone seemed unphased by my passion, and truly concerned to provide me with an answer.

"Do you know what the word idealization means?" she began.

"Please!" I told her. "Cop doesnít mean troglodyte."

"When we idealize someone," she told me, "it seems like the greatest form of flattery. We put them on a pedestal, we revere them. But, in the end, we also limit them. We prevent them from being human. We hold them to impossible standards. When we do that, we hurt them, because we force them to be who we want them to be and not who they really are; we deprive them of oxygen. We force them to be disingenuous, to hide and to be hypocrites, or else, because they do not want to let us down, to be abridged and stunted versions of themselves. When we idealize others, we hurt them by cramping the space they have to live in, and we almost always hurt ourselves, as well. Because, sooner or later, we are bound to find out that they are only human, like the rest of us. And when we do, the Heavens fall. We are left standing in an empty universe, with nothing left to believe in. We become disillusioned, bitter, lost. We suffer, and we make them suffer, by withdrawing from them because they did not meet the exaggerated conditions which we set for loving them. It is unfair to idealize others, Mr. Cooney."

For a moment, I said nothing, and Dr. Livingstone didnít either, because she was measuring the impact of what sheíd just told me.

At last, I replied, somewhat testily: "I never told Liam who he had to be."

She said: "But it disturbs you who he was."

"That part of him, yes. I donít understand it."

"Do you think you had to tell him it disturbed you? He could feel it. He knew he didnít have a chance to open up, that you wouldnít understand. He didnít want to damage the relationship. So he kept it to himself. He knew youíd placed him on a cloud he could never step down from."

"Look, I havenít come here to have a guilt trip laid on my head," I responded. "Things are bad enough as is. I just want to know why he did what he did. The muffler, god damn it! I just want you to fix the god-damned muffler!"

"You want to continue idealizing him."

"Thatís not your problem."

"Youíre right. Itís yours. What Iím trying to say," she said, fighting past my rising ire, "is that the key to working out your relation with your deceased brother is not to extract some explanation from me that will restore him to knighthood, or is it sainthood?, but lowering your expectations about who he was, and accepting him as an imperfect man. Imperfection does not exclude beauty; imperfection does not exclude greatness. Imperfection glorifies all the noble things of which we are still capable."

I knew what she was saying, but I am an obsessed man, and I donít care to overcome that trait because, in my line of work, itís needed. I had come here for some insight into the psychology of BDSM, and by hook or by crook I was going to get it. "Look," I said, "I understand you, and itís something I can think about." (That was to get her off my back.) "But what I really need to know, and please trust me when I say this, is whatís the lure? Whatís the hook? Why would a guy as brave and as manly as Liam Ė yes," I said, warding off a slight smile which she could not conceal, for she obviously felt her words had gone in one ear and come out the other: "why would such a man subject himself to the degradation of BDSM?"

She sat back in her chair for a moment, seemingly exploring options in her head. At last, she decided to give in. "BDSM is a complicated thing," she said. "I assume you want to concentrate on the aspect of FEMDOM, that is, where the woman dominates the man?"

I nodded. "What is it? A latent form of homosexuality?"

Dr. Livingstone smiled, and asked me, "Would that be bad?"

"Being gay? Doctor, weíre Catholics. Yeah, it would be bad!"

Again, she smiled. "You know, Mr. Cooney, homosexuality was very much in vogue among the ancient Greeks, and they were tremendous warriors."

"Yeah," I said, "good for them. So, is this some kind of homosexual thing, but without having to cross the line? Having the woman be the man, so you can be gay without being gay, if you know what I mean?"

"Homosexuality means two persons of the same sex sharing an erotic experience," the doctor told me. "If a woman and a man are involved, no matter what they do, no matter whoís on top or whoís on the bottom, itís not homosexual. Even if sheís wearing a strap-on. By definition, itís not homosexual." She regarded me for a while, noting my embarrassment. She wanted to say something more, and was searching for just the right words, but before she could find them, I pressed her yet again.

"What about Mom?" I asked.

She waited for me to continue.

"Is that what itís all about? If itís not gay? The spankings, the beatings, the commands? Grown men who want to stay a little boy? Turn Mom into a sexy, hot bitch, pardon my French, and live out the Oedipus Complex in a dungeon? Experience the thrill of incest without the radioactive fall-out? Play with me Mamma, Daddyís at work! God, Liam, what have you done, our dear Mother is off-limits; forgive me for sounding like the typical Irishman, but sheís our familyís very own version of the Virgin Mary! Was he that sick, god damn it?!"

"Easy," Dr. Livingstone told me, not out of anxiety, but because she saw me imploding from misperceptions, dying, like a hypochondriac, from an imaginary disease. "Some people in the scene do play Mommy/Boy, but itís a specialized form of play. Itís not what the majority of the scene is about."

"Sick bastards!"

"As Freud said, we donít make taboos out of things that no one wants to do. The fiercest prohibitions we erect around the things we covet most. And if you can break a taboo without hurting anyone, if you can pull it off in a fantasyÖ"

"Sick bastards!" I said, again, like a fireman throwing water over the flames.

" ĎMotherí is an overpowering archetype in our psyche," Dr. Livingstone informed me. "Do you understand?"

" ĎArchetypeí? Yes, of course I understand. I do read books in between donuts. ĎMother.í ĎFather.í ĎEmperor.í ĎEmpress.í ĎThe Wounded Healer.í ĎThe Outlaw.í ĎThe Judge.í ĎThe Wise Man.í ĎThe Martyr.í Archetypes: Models in our soul. Patterns that attract our individuality."

" ĎMotherí gets around," the doctor explained. "Sheís our first and strongest experience of love. She brings us into the world. She nurses us, holds us; when we are tiny, she is like the planet we live on. As time goes on, we learn that she has another love: father, who competes with us for her affection, and who is much more powerful than we are. And we learn that he has another way of loving her, a sensual, passionate way of loving her which is denied to us. This becomes especially complicated for the son, who is often left feeling marginalized by his more powerful competitor. Once he matures sexually, and is finally able to seek a woman of his own, he canít help but project onto her the Mother archetype, the ideal of all-encompassing love which he knew as a child, which does not replace his girlfriend or lover, but which becomes a part of her."

"So, are you telling me, that all of us who marry and have wives, and donít hide from life in the manner of priests, are vicariously having sex with our mother?" I exclaimed.

"Not at all, only that the women you make love to are, in your minds - but below the radar screen of your conscious awareness - hybrid beings: a mixture of the Old and the New, Mother and Wife, the Goddess and the Harlot. The one you lie on top of in the night is NOT your Mother, but she contains your Mother, because you will never let go of your Mother and need some place to put her; and because she is a woman, and all women are, in their latency, the Mother. ĎMamacita.í Thatís what the Spanish call their girlfriends. ĎLittle Mother.í There is no sin, this is how Nature formed our minds. In a typical BDSM session, the woman who controls you is a complex being: in this way, she is exotic, strange, permissible, yet she is also free to wield the archetype of Mother which universally belongs to the arsenal of all women."

God, I knew I was well-read, but this woman was putting my mind to the test. Or was it my heart? I sat there, for a while, wondering if this was true, or if she was only trying to manipulate me, somehow: spewing some kind of liberal propaganda to set me at peace with infamy. But I guess I must have looked satisfied, because, after a brief pause, she went on.

"Now that weíve got that off our chest," she said, smiling as though we had just crossed a river together, "I am able to inform you that the kind of men who enter the world of FEMDOM are usually highly-educated, upwardly mobile individuals of above-average intelligence. Many of them are highly successful in their careers and in every way proficient in fulfilling their social obligations as men."

"Keep it coming," I told her. This was the kind of stuff I needed to hear, for sure. Keep it coming, pull Liam out of the rubble.

"There are many reasons why such men are attracted to the world of BDSM as submissives. For some, it is a form of stress relief. The pressure of being on top in the workplace, of making decisions, being in command, being looked up to, or depended on, can become overwhelming. They need to escape from it, to find some place where they donít have to be top dog. They need some place where they can let go: where they can follow instead of lead, be passive instead of active, be controlled instead of controlling; some place where they can give up their mind to someone else and be taken for a ride: so good to get out of the driverís seat! Did your brother have a stressful job with lots of responsibility?"

"Keep on going," I said.

"Sometimes, men get into it because of guilt," Dr. Livingstone said, "because of something which theyíve done which they feel requires punishment. You see how religious penitents fast and beat themselves? In this way, the BDSM dervishes purify themselves from their sins, which may be actual sins or only reactions to internalized idealizations which they cannot live up to, to expectations they cannot fulfill. By subjecting themselves to corporal punishment, to the bite of the whip, to the crack of the cane, to bare-ass spanking, to electric shocks, to hot wax, and humiliation Ė hair-pulling, face-slapping, spitting, verbal abuse, even golden showers and brown showers Ė they pay back the moral debt they owe to God and Man. They do their time, as it were, in a prison of black leather. This aspect of BDSM especially emphasizes the ĎS &Mí Ė or the elements of sadism and masochism."

As I was letting all this sink in, Dr. Livingstone continued: "Closely related to the issue of guilt, is the issue of the fear of power. Many sensitive men fear the biological drives of manhood that they can detect inside themselves, bubbling like volcanic waters. They are afraid of their strength, their anger, their passion. The savagery with which we overcame the saber-toothed tiger still resides within us. When such men are bound with ropes or have their hands cuffed behind them or their feet shackled, or simply submit to the spell of Ďmental bondageí, they feel safer with their power. They are helpless, incapacitated, they know they will hurt no one. They will not impose their will, they will not override another human beingís feelings, they will not abuse, they will not rape. This corresponds to the ĎB & Dí aspect of BDSM Ė the elements of bondage and discipline, although the discipline can just as well refer back to the punishment motif. The act of submission to a powerful woman in this way, when it is combined with sex, also helps to reduce the stress which many men feel in taking the lead. Performance pressure, in other words. Although they are still performing, it no longer feels like they are the main act in center ring, the dancing Leipzig horses."

"And the dominance/submission?" I asked.

Dr. Livingstone looked at me.

"If BDSM stands for Bondage/Discipline/Sadism/Masochism, where does the dominant/submissive dynamic get credit?"

"That dynamic is represented, not only by the D/S in BDSM, in which the ĎDí doubles as ĎDisciplineí and ĎDominanceí, and the ĎSí doubles as ĎSadismí and ĎSubmissioní, but by the separate expression of D/s. ĎDominance/submissioní," she said. "There is BDSM which contains it all; and, for greater focus on the element of power exchange, there is D/s."

"Liam was never submissive," I told her, "he wouldnít let anyone bust his balls. I know how much injustice enraged him. Back in the day, he sent nearly a fifth of his income to Northern Irish Aid, to fight against the British bullying in Ireland."

"Wasnít he in the army?" Dr. Livingstone asked me.

"Sure. He was drafted, during the Vietnam War. And he went on to be a hero. He got a medal."

"The army is all about dominance and submission," Dr. Livingstone reminded me. "Stand at attention. ĎYes Sir!í Salute. Follow orders. Thereís the drill sergeant screaming in your face: ĎDrop and give me twenty!í KP: peel the potatoes. Polish your shoes and brass. Iron your uniform. ĎReady, aim, fire!í ĎYes Sir!í "

I didnít say a thing.

"Dominance and submission is a part of our daily lives. Everyoneís lives," she insisted. "Itís the lay of the land in the workplace, in the school, in the family, sometimes in race relations and class relations, and in international politics. Come on, Mr. Cooney. Itís everywhere. Not that Iím much of a fan of the ethologists Ė after all, modern psychology springs from very different sources, and surely our minds give us unique tools of self-creation Ė but good old D/s seems to be the way of the wolves, the monkeys, and the apes. Itís how they handle social relationships and streamline their own power struggles so that they can forge a viable collective life which gives them the strength of the many. Losers arenít banished or killed by the alpha, they are simply forced to submit through appropriate and recognized displays of surrender; and then, they are allowed to stay."

"Meaning?"

"That if we have inherited anything at all from the monkeys Ė you do believe in Darwin, donít you?"

"Iím Catholic, but as long as evolution comes from God and isnít meant to replace HimÖ"

"If we have inherited anything from the monkeys, at all," she continued, satisfied that she was not stepping on a theological land mine, "then it seems to me that itís possible that submission is a part of our biological repertoire for survival, and that much as we hate to lose, there must also be a part of us that enjoys submitting. And when the submission is eroticized, that must be especially so. But," she was quick to add, "this is only a thought. Iím not on board with Lorenz and Wilson at all, or Ardrey, maybe I shouldnít have even brought this up. But if it will help you to rethink the behavior of your brother, and to realize that it is not so out there as you thinkÖ"

"And Ė like Ė one or two times wasnít enough to get it?" I asked the doctor. "Why did he have to keep on coming back for more? Why did he have to make a habit of it? Why did he have to push the envelope?" I know I sounded stupid, but obsessed people, in their pursuit for extreme clarity, often do.

"A BDSM session is in no ways an exorcism," Dr. Livingstone replied. "Itís not a one-session fix. Itís something which, if it resonates with you, you keep coming back to. In fact, after youíve had a taste of it, depending on your experience, it could be hard to let go of. Next to its intensity, vanilla sex seems tame, even boring. Physically, the beatings and the mimicking of conditions of extreme danger induce the brain to release huge amounts of endorphins into the system, so that the sub, literally, ends up sky-high from the experience."

"Are you telling me that BDSM leads to some kind of chemical dependency?" I stammered. "That being beaten is like doing coke?"

"That wouldnít be an accurate or a fair way to characterize it," the doctor responded. "However, a level of excitement may be produced which it is hard to stay away from. Think of the daredevil, or the thrill seeker, who just canít keep off the rock face."

I shook my head, and sat there for a while, taking it all in. I was like a cup into which too much water has been poured, overflowing and making a mess. I became aware that Dr. Livingstone had not said a word for the past several minutes, and took a look at the clock on the wall. The session had already run ten minutes over. Feeling guilty, for having unfairly imposed myself upon her, I got up and offered her my hand. I was disappointed by the weak handshake she returned, which I felt was not because her soul lacked spirit, but because she was committed to not stepping out from behind her role as doctor. "Thanks," I told her, meaning thanks for the extra ten minutes.

"I think you should come back," she warned me, as I left. "You can make an appointment with my secretary."

"What youíve told me is helpful," I replied. "Iíll be back if I hear the muffler dragging on the street."

*****

What Dr. Livingstone told me was a big help, of course, but it was still hard to digest. When all your life you have thought of your brother as Spartacus, it is hard to suddenly reconceptualize him as Oscar Wilde.

No, it wasnít that bad. He was still heterosexual.

So what if the Greeks were great warriors?

Man and woman, by definition, is heterosexual. No matter whoís on top. Even with a strap-on.

Still, this wasnít the kind of thing that a good Catholic boy does. Nor a real man.

But he had a medal.

Can you be a man, then suddenly stop being a man? Is manhood a mountain you can fall off of? How much credit does a day of valor give you? Enough to counter years of crawling on your knees, being ridden like a pony by a woman?

It was all too intellectual. Too intellectual! It made sense in my head, but my heart was sullen, it wouldnít take my mindís hand. It wouldnít walk away from the shame.

Donít idealize! Itís not fair!

But who can live without God?

I had to find out for myself. I had to get my heart to agree with my mind.

*****

Stripping naked in front of Flora made me feel like a patient in the doctorís office. Once I had had a female doctor and I had been so embarrassed when she made me drop my pants so that she could check me out to see if I had a hernia. I felt foolish and exposed, now, as I stood before my first dominatrix in the dungeon playroom, but she seemed even more uncomfortable than I was.

"Youíve been very bad," she told me, with all the believability of a B-movie actress who has landed the job because she just slept with the casting director. "Get down on your knees."

I felt like an idiot.

She stuck out her foot. "Kiss my foot."

She was wearing really fine shoes, shiny, with impressive heels that lifted her into the air like a skyscraper.

"How does it feel?" she asked.

I didnít tell her that it felt ridiculous.

"Get up. Stand over there. Bend over."

I saw myself in a mirror, and was amazed by how white I was. "God, you need to spend more time in the sun," I thought. "You look so out-of-shape, so harmless."

I became aware of her hand striking my bare bottom. "Youíve been bad, very bad," she said. If I was a director, I would have said: Cut! Take Two! This time with feeling!

I watched her in the mirror, a really exquisite-looking girl who seemed to wish she was somewhere else, probably dancing at an Ďiní club with friends her own age. She was gorgeous, but I was like a turtle in a shell. I thought, turning my attention from her image in the mirror to my own: "God, Sean, is this really you? What the hell are you doing here? Standing naked with this girl in high-heels, being beaten on the ass? Imagine, if my colleagues could see me now!" I became aware of the girlís hand, still smacking my behind, and had to give her credit for that, if for nothing else. "Youíve got one strong hand," I told her. "Doesnít it hurt you? When I used to spank my kids, my hand would sting and even go numb. And I wasnít old-school, I just kept them in line."

"Iíve had a lot of practice," she said. And she added, "Youíre taking it well." She told me to straighten up and turn around, so that I could see my ass in the mirror. She wanted me to see how red it was to know that, even though I had barely felt it, she had done a good job. I could tell she was proud of herself.

The rest of the session was spent trying to appease the clock, she struggled to retain her interest. I kissed her feet again, took another spanking, and listened to her tell me that women were naturally superior to men, that we were born slaves and that it was good that men like me knew my place.

I went through the whole thing as if I were in a daze, and only became slightly excited near the end, when I noticed that she had a little cross on a chain hanging around her neck.

"So, how was it?" Lady Diva asked me, as I came out of the private chamber, fully-clothed and struggling not to appear diminished. Weíd gone through all the legal ramifications beforehand, and once she was sure I wasnít setting up a bust, sheíd given the green light for the session so as to keep on good terms with the police department, even though this was my own solitary undertaking. "Are you satisfied that you know how your brother felt, and why he was into this?" she asked.

I nodded, but only because she had been cooperative.

"Itís very normal," she said, "and itís a lot of fun. Why wouldnít he come here? They say variety is the spice of life. You can keep on looking up to him."

"Thanks," I told her, "Flora was wonderful." Iíd already said as much with the big tip I crammed into the envelope.

As I climbed up the dark stairs back into the familiar night-glow of the streetlights, I thought: "Yeah, I do understand my brother. This sucked big-time. It was nothing. 300 dollars down the drain. I would have had a better time watching a movie. No wonder he went looking for something more, something harder, something closer to the edge."

*****

Koneko was half the height and ten times the dominatrix of sweet Flora, who was nothing but a mouthful of sugar trying to be whiskey. Dressed in black leather, with a riding-crop in her hands, she refused to simulate any of the sessions sheíd given to my brother, because she said they were too intense and personal, and that if I hadnít fought in Vietnam and seen the things heíd seen, it wouldnít make any sense. Besides that, theyíd stopped sessioning with him for a reason.

"I respect your desire to understand what was going on in your brotherís mind," Mistress Panther told me, before turning me over to her best domme. "Youíll never know why he did what he did until you try it yourself."

Koneko, who flitted around the edges of Zen, though in other ways she was more like a mouse running around and around in the wheel of her war against her vulnerability, said: "You cannot understand any experience from the outside. To understand what love is, you must love; to understand what war is, you must fight. To know what water is, you must drink it and you must swim in it. You must become a fish."

Koneko, without a doubt, just like the fabled Zen Master, threw me off the bridge into the river. Except that it was a stream, instead of a river. I wanted something like Niagara Falls, and all I got was a shower. Blame it on her skill. She was a master of the riding-crop, and various incarnations of the whip, including a short, mean one that took little bites out of me and ran, and a huge one, like an anaconda that could fly and made the air hiss as it passed through the air. She had me naked and standing with my hands resting on the top of my head, and she flicked the whips, and hurled them at me from a distance with the precision of laser-guided missiles. Soon, my body was flinching, then writhing, and I began to let out gasps of air and finally groans. "Am I getting to you?" she asked with pleasure.

I didnít say a thing.

"Admit it," she said. "Youíll be so much stronger and freer if you do."

She laughed when I continued to cling to silence, except for the involuntary cries of pain which I could no longer stifle.

"Do you remember the safe word?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"What is it?"

"Uncle."

"You sure you donít need it?í

"I donít need it."

Once, the stinging pain, which finally came close to being unbearable, drew from me the cry of "Aunt!"

She didnít get it, till a minute later, then laughed gratefully and came over to pat my back. "Good pet," she said, truly relishing the moment. And that was the problem. She was such an expert, that there was no danger. She warmed me up to prepare my flesh before she hit me. When she did hit me, it was with such a profound knowledge of human anatomy that I knew I was completely safe; and she kept constantly checking in, giving me a break whenever my body seemed on the verge of falling victim to my pride, like the rearguard of Charlemagne when Roland would not blow the horn to call for help.

Amidst the peril which was lacking, there were enormous treasures. I liked her intensity, her flirtation with savagery, her commanding presence as she made the whips fly at me; her bold, little form lurking behind my pale white body which was writhing in the mirror, like a tigress playing with its prey; her eyes lit up like fires that were laughing, her sensuous finger nails digging into me, marking me like cats mark a scratch post; the way she grabbed and twisted parts of my body, to show me who was boss. "Look at your face," she said while her hands discomfited me. My face was agonized and ecstatic at the same time. "Turn around," she said. "Look at your back in the mirror." It was crimson red, a landscape utterly changed, crisscrossed by impressive welts that testified to the storm that had passed: the storm of a little woman who distrusted men so deeply, because of things that had happened to her in the past, that she had chosen to spend the rest of her life as a lion-tamer.

It was good, it was delicious in a way I didnít understand, because it should have been merely painful. But even so, as I said, it was under control, and that was what kept it from being life-saving. Koneko was a master. Like William Tell who shot the apple off of his sonís head, she could tie you up and take out her bow and arrows, and you would know that it was all going to turn out all right, that she would hit the apple on top of your head and not your head, and that you were going to put your clothes back on in an hour and emerge back onto the streets of New York like nothing had happened; nothing the shirt on your back couldnít hide. It was intense, it was exciting, but the tiger was still in a cage. It was an Apollonian experience, and I realized that what I wanted was a Dionysian one. I did not want the art, the craft, I wanted the wild, burning fire before it has been given a form.

"Wait a minute!" I thought as I left No Exit, following in my brotherís footsteps. "This is about Liam, not me! Surely, I have not enjoyed this! I am merely trying to discover what made him tick." And I realized, with horror, that Liam and I, who long ago had known each otherís thoughts so well that an imaginative friend once asked if we were telepathic, could never be strangers to one another, except through the machinations of dishonesty. With my own thoughts and feelings, I could follow his trail, I could follow it all the way to his lonely, incomprehensible demise.

Koneko had satisfied something dark inside him, or was it light? She had helped to contain the beast he did not want to be, to drive it back, to keep it down, and therefore she guarded the good man that he wished to be. She punished him for the past which had been forced upon him, purged the sins of Vietnam from his soul, lent her whip to his moral perfectionism. She let him beg God for forgiveness through her, she stood in the role of the avenging angel, torturing him in a purgatory that was also sensual; she was the ally of his ambition to imitate Christ, his Savior. And yet, she also failed him, because Liamís need for transformation was utterly real, and she was but the most realistic of players. My brother had needed something more than an enactment, and someone who was more than an actress, even if she was worthy of an Academy Award. Someone, sent by God, to bring him an experience as real as Vietnam: an experience as liberating as Vietnam was damning. Someone, like Roxy, who was crazy. Too crazy to work in a dungeon, which is, after all, a professional establishment. Someone crazy enough to be an instrument of God, to judge him and set him free, or execute him.

I staggered away from No Exit knowing, now, why my brother had needed to go one stop beyond, to the very edge of sanity, where danger changes an erotic game into a religious experience.

*****

"Weíve lost Roxyís trail," Theo told me at the meeting, over at his Precinct. "After getting bounced from No Exit and disappearing for a while, she was, apparently, pretty active over there on the West Side, where the hookers do their thing. On the drags where the johns go cruising by, and in the bars. She did straight whoring but specialized in kink. She got to be pretty well known."

"Did she have a pimp?" I asked.

"She worked with a couple of other girls, who represented themselves and looked out for each other. Frequently they worked in pairs, going to see a john together for back-up. There was Foxfire whoís the one we interviewed. The other went by the name of Malinche, and according to Foxfire, she shot her pimp in Chicago. She could very easily have been in on this. Both Roxy and Malinche havenít been seen since the murder. But no oneís sure if they disappeared before or after."

"What did you find out about Roxy?" I asked.

"Foxfire says the girl spent all her time reading books and popping pills. Sometimes, sheíd be sitting in the back of the bar, reading when she was supposed to be hooking up. Or in the bathroom where the light was better. The others would have to pick up her john for her."

"What was she reading?" I asked.

"Whatís the point of that question?" another detective asked.

"It was his brother," Theo said. "He wants to know everything. Youíd be the same." Turning back to me, he replied: "Shit with strange writing that the other girls thought was some kind of satanic script, but which, it turns out, was probably Greek. Medea and Ifijena by Europides."

"Iphigenia by Euripides," I said.

"Oh yeah, whatís that about?" one of the detectives asked me.

"About a girl who was murdered by her own father," I said. "He sacrificed her to the Gods so that the winds would start to blow again so that he could sail with his fleet to the war, in order to win glory for himself. Glory and gold. The other play was about a witch who was dumped by her man, after sheíd cut all her ties to home on account of him; in revenge, she killed their children, and rode away in a chariot."

"Heavy stuff."

"Where was Foxfire on the night of the murder?" I asked.

"She doesnít remember," said Theo.

I gave him a look.

"It seems to be true, Sean, you know these girls. Sheís a crack head, and in a daze to begin with. She spends her days smoking and sleeping, and comes out to look for johns when itís feeding time. Sheís completely disorganized, and completely believable, according to Ezzard. For her, the calendar might as well never have been invented; she goes out when itís dark and hides from the light, like Dracula."

"What does Foxfire know about the murder?" I asked.

"Nothing except what she heard from others. But she thinks Roxy and Malinche were in New Jersey at the time. No one wants to point a finger at those two, though a couple of hookers have told us that Malinche hates men with a passion, and canít make love to them unless sheís high. As for Roxy, she has the rap of being a crazy white girl whoís like Jekyll and Hyde. Sometimes withdrawn and weird, and other times absolutely nuts, like a wildcat in an alley."

"It seems like both girls may have a history of sexual abuse," a profiler told me. "Thatís consistent with the profile weíve constructed for the killer, or the killers, as it may be. Thereís a lot of abuse in the genesis of the BDSM scene," he went on to explain. "From the female side, a lot of FEMDOM is a reaction to sexual abuse by men, or, at the very least, to the disrespect, the implied threat, and the vulgarity of some of our less-enlightened brothers out there. Thatís why you see so many overweight dommes," he went on. "Not in the professional dungeons of course, but in the lifestyle. The use of obesity as a weapon against sexual predation - as a deterrent against lust and as a withdrawal from desirability - is well-known. The body becomes its own moat. A defensive layer of fat is interposed between oneself and the world. This phenomenon of blowing up Ė of Ďgoing to potí - can also result from the shattered self-esteem which is left in the wake of sexual abuse. Many victims feel Ďcontaminatedí, and not worthy of upkeep." Pausing, for a moment, to partake of a glass of water, the profiler continued: "Our killer, or killers, were experienced practitioners of FEMDOM, judging from the way Liam was tied, and from the first series of markings on his back, which correspond to a well-executed flogging. He must have been free when that flogging was delivered; it is only after he was tied down and gagged that the beating began to lose its focus and to become frenzied and indiscriminate, aimed at his chest, his neck, his arms, his knees, his abdomen, his head . And the whip was replaced by something sturdier, something more like a nightstick. Thatís when you can see a shift in the session, from the perpetratorís intention to satisfy her clientís masochism to the intention to satisfy her own sadism. Whether the intention was to kill and rob Liam from the start, or whether this murder began as a legitimate BDSM session in which things went too far, and the perpetrator therefore decided that the victim must be finished off so that he couldnít talk about it, itís hard to tell. Whatever the case, a tremendous amount of rage was present. The killer almost definitely has been abused by men, in some form or fashion, and this was payback, down to the final imitation of Lorena Bobbit."

"According to Foxfire," Theo told me, "Malinche knew that hooker who turned up in the marshes outside JFK two months ago. Since then, she kept playing that song over and over again, the one that goes: Love Is Blind. It will take over your mind. What you think is love is surely not, you need to elevate and findÖ"

"But Roxy had the domme skills, Malinche was just a common ho."

"So what, it was a tag team, then?" I asked.

"We donít know. But these two seem to be the players. Roxy had the long-term connection with your brother, and the girls all say that when she lost it she was a frightful thing to see. Malinche was raped by her uncle when she was a kid, and spent time in a foster home. She also had some bad scenes with her pimp out in the Windy City."

"So, are we closing in?" I asked.

"Weíre doing everything we should be doing," Theo assured me. "Weíve got surveillance up and running around all of Malincheís contacts in Chicago, and Roxyís, here, in New York. Weíve got interstate bulletins up, and tags on BDSM activity around the country. Weíve got the girlís old haunts, here, in New York, covered."

Another detective added: "Weíre working the forensic angle, but so far, no breakthroughs. That is to say, weíve got the strand of hair from the crime scene, but the letter that Roxy sent to Mistress Panther wasnít sealed with saliva, she made it stick with water. We checked the room that Foxfire shared with the suspects, and did all the usual stuff: looked for hair and dandruff in combs, hair in the garbage can, hair on the carpet, and we also collected fingerprints, to see if we could get either a print or DNA match; something to link the girls to the crime scene. But so far, we donít have any good news. One print is suggestive, but it was smudged. Weíve also got a partial match on a strand of hair, but it is only 50/50. Nothing we have to this point is persuasive."

I nodded, and accepted the silence of the room. After a while, tapping into something intuitive, which I felt God gave to me because I loved my brother, I told them: "Malincheís a lost soul. Whatever life has done to her, sheíll never recover from it. Roxy, on the other hand, is a good girl. But sheís got a terrible guard dog, like Cerberus, inside her. Sometimes she forgets that sheís Roxy, and becomes Cerberus. I think the girls have split up now. Youíll find Malinche in Chicago, looking for old friends. Sheís savage, but she alsoís scared. Roxy is highly intelligent, but something brave in her despises her intelligence. Sheís still in New York. Sheís like the ancient Irish, who were disgraced if their body was found with a wound in the back, evidence that theyíd been slain in flight. Whether she killed my brother, or only delivered him to Malinche - and whether her role in his death was deliberate or not Ė she lacks the discipline to lay low. Her existential angst is like a peacock that loves to strut around, showing its tail feathers. Sheís in love with her madness, like a singer whoís in love with her voice. Sheís addicted to shocking people by being different."

Everyone in the room looked at me as if I were some kind of guru, who might also have had one too many to drink.

"Weíll find her in New York," I told them. "Sheíll surface soon."

"Any strand of logic in this prediction?" the profiler asked me.

"Sometimes," I said, "you just know."

"Keep an open mind," Theo reminded me.

"An open mind is like a manhole without a cover," I told them, getting up to leave. How much easier life had been before I tried to have an open mind, back in the days when I called exploration sin.

*****

"Forgive me, Father, for I may have sinned."

I knelt in the confessional booth of a church that was not mine, one reputed to have a patient priest, unlike my priest, of whom the following story was told: a devout lady came one day into his booth to confess her sins, and told him how she had criticized her husband for taking too long in the bathroom, and criticized him for being too hard to please when he made a comment about his breakfast, and criticized him for not defending himself at work when the boss made some changes that were not to his advantage, and criticized him for coming home with the wrong part from the hardware store for a broken shower, and criticized his taste in television shows when she wanted to watch something else, until at last the priest interrupted her, and told her: "Mam, it is for people like you that mankind has invented categories. All of what you are saying can fairly be placed under the category of Ďcriticism of husband.í God will forgive you if you say no more and leave!"

The priest, here, on the other hand, was known to be a great listener, and even a conversationalist. Even more than that, he would not recognize my voice nor discern who I was from my issues.

"May have sinned?" the Father asked me.

"Yes, Father," I replied. "I donít know if I have sinned or not. I think I have."

"What have you done?" the priest asked me, in a voice that was curious and not eager to blame, even though his importance grew wherever there was a soul that faltered.

"Father, I am a policeman. In my effort to investigate a case, and to know it from the inside out, I have taken to going to BDSM establishments, where I am stripped naked and beaten by beautiful women. It is not exactly prostitution, but neither is it like sitting at Mass."

"I should say not."

"Is it a sin?"

"Are you married?"

"I am divorced."

"With children?"

"Yes."

"God stands even by broken families," he said. "He loves his sheep, lost in the hills."

"I was no good for them," I said.

"God loves you, the wife and the husband and the children, though the perfect form of their relationship has been shattered. He will continue to work for you."

"So, is it a sin, then?" I demanded. "To be seeing these women? Is it a perversion?"

"You say you are doing it in the line of duty?"

"I am, or at least I think I am."

"And will it lead to the apprehension of a criminal?"

"I believe it may. If not, it may, in my own mind, exonerate a great man who has fallen from grace. I want to honor him as I did before, to restore him to his pedestal. Not as an idol in opposition to God, but as a creature worthy of Godís love, and a brotherís love."

There was a moment of silence on the other side of the screen. Poor priests, how we trouble them Ė or do we make their lives worthwhile? At last, the Father said: "If it is in the line of duty, and its purpose is so high-minded as you have described it, then you may regard what you are doing as a sacrifice, rather than as a sin. After you attain your objective, will you cease going to these establishments?"

"I donít know Ė I hope so," I replied.

Again, there was a pause. Then the partially wise voice asked me: "What do you feel during these sessions? Is your mind focused on your work, or do you feel lust?"

"No," I said, "lust is for those who have the power. I feel something different."

"Do you feel pleasure?"

This time, the pause was on my end. At last, I said: "In a strange way, Father, I think I do. At least the last time. There was something so aesthetic about it, this beautiful woman dressed in black, my white body, naked, the whip carrying her soul to me. It was as if she were writing exquisite calligraphy on my flesh. I donít know if I felt pleasure, or merely enjoyed pain."

The priest said nothing.

"Father, am I sick?"

Still, the Father did not speak. I didnít either. Finally, he relented. "Many men," he said, at last, "will do anything to be in the company of a beautiful woman. They will work like slaves to win her, then endure terrible nagging at home to retain her. Perhaps you are merely willing to endure more than most. To spend one hour with a beautiful woman, you are willing to be whipped."

"Father, it is more than that," I said, wondering if he had chosen the priesthood because of the risk of running into such a woman. "There is something seductive about being hurt. About being helpless and in desperate danger. I donít understand it. Is it the way we find God? To place ourselves in situations where we need Him so desperately that we practically guarantee that we will meet him face-to-face?"

"God prefers to protect us by giving us common sense," he told me.

"Or is it all the martyrs we have been raised with?" I went on. "Saints crucified and burned alive, saints thrown to the lions, saints pierced with arrows and with lances, saints beaten to death, saints with sad faces dying of hunger, saints perishing of disease among the lepers, saints with agonized faces but halos shining on their heads. You have raised us to look up to those who suffer, and to revere torture and pain as paths to God. Perhaps, I have taken a step into this world, that I may follow our Savior and, in solidarity with him, experience the savage ecstasy of crucifixion."

"May God forgive you," the priest was quick to say.

"Father," I demanded, once more: "have I sinned?"

"Jesus and the martyred saints did not undergo torturous deaths because they found joy in pain, but because they believed in Man and God so sincerely that they would endure anything to serve them. Their suffering was an act of devotion, not of sensuality."

My side of the screen was quiet for a while. Then, again, I asked: "Father, have I sinned? Are you qualified to answer that question, or do you know no more than I?"

His side was silent for a while. And then he answered: "If what you are doing is required to solve a crime, it is not a sin. But if you are rejoicing in decadent pleasures under the guise of performing your duty, then that is a sin. This is what the church says."

"And is this what God says?"

"Complete your work," the priest urged, "and then, forsake those establishments for good. May God guide you and support you in this most dangerous territory." And he added, as he felt obliged to: "Go now, my son, and sin no more."

*****

Ho Town, as they called that strip of the west side, was a pretty blatant place, but at least it was far away from the tourist families taking photos in Times Square who every year bring millions of dollars of revenue to our city. There were girls out on the street, here, cynical and dressed to work, a gallery of flesh on display to cars cruising by, mainly from Jersey and the suburbs. Theyíd wait to be picked by a car which would indicate its choice by slowing down, then go out to meet it and negotiate by the rolled-down window. Depending on the outcome, theyíd jump into the car, or signal for a pimp to come over and close the deal, or else go back to take their place on the sidewalk. The bars were also jumping. "Thanks to Craigslist," Theo had told me in the morning, "vice teams can maintain their quotas by cruising the net, and sending in undercover, or setting up sting ops. Ho Town, here, isnít getting the resources it deserves."

The place was raw, dangerous on the ground, though probably less so in a car. I told Theo I was going to start hanging out here to look for Roxy, because this is where I believed she would make her comeback. In the meantime, I would try to work my way into the texture of this place, as a drinker, and as a john.

Theo warned me: "Sean, theyíll smell you out. Youíve been a detective for years. Youíre too straight."

Not as straight as you think, I thought. "This is where the action is," I told him. In truth, I wanted to begin cruising for BDSM action on the street, to follow Liam into the realm of the unknown and the utterly real, to escape the safety of the professional dungeon, and leave behind the fantasies for something that might be deadly. I couldnít not know what Liam had tried to do. I couldnít refuse to pick up the revolver men of his kind use to play roulette with thoughtless actions, and to place it to my own head.

In my first week there, I went out with two whores, and nearly got busted by an undercover cop, who apologized for coming close to blowing my cover. "Sorry, Sir," she said, after I showed her my badge and explained my mission. "It doesnít bring you down, to work in such a sleazy place?"

"Got to get the job done," I said.

I also witnessed a fight between two drunk men, a man with a knife against a man with a broken bottle. One guy was cut, and his friends rushed him away in a taxi cab before the police could arrive. I called in the info, but didnít expose myself as a cop.

Finally, I hooked up for my first BDSM session with a girl who said she could do fetishes. Her name was Ebony, and the session she gave me in a nearby hotel was as lacking in imagination as what she called herself. Sure, there was the role-reversal, "whitey pay for slavery" thing going on, but she whipped me as if she was dusting a porcelain vase, and you could tell she was afraid if she hit me too hard or insulted me too bad that I wouldnít tip her. She made poor, harmless Flora seem like Lara Croft. In this raw and wild place, there were a lot of girls who said they could domme, but in truth, they didnít have skills or any psychological insight, any sense of pacing, variation or surprise. There were no musicians of a manís suffering, only hacks. There were clueless girls, and then there were the mean ones who would hit you the same way they probably hit their kids back home.

In the end, it did begin to bring me down.

I saw what was happening, and tried to pull out of the nosedive before it was too late.

*****

I went to the theater with Marsha, only because Dr. Livingstone rejected my offer for a date. "I would be happy to have another session with you," she told me, "but I am a professional, and I do not date my clients."

She said this where I was waiting for her outside of her office with a bouquet of flowers.

"Iím not your client," I said.

"You should be," she replied.

"Iíd rather be your date."

"You need another session," she said, looking me over with concern.

"I need someone to talk to," I said. "Itís a lot to be on one manís mind."

"Of course it is," she says. "And I would be happy to talk to you. But as your therapist, not as your date."

"You seem knowledgeable enough to understand. I need empathy and guidance, not judgment, and I think youíre the one to help me find my way out of this labyrinth."

"Thank you. Did you lose my card? Would you like another? Believe me," she said, "itís for the best."

Just then, a car drove up, and a handsome man, graying at the temples, with an exuberance that was like a Tyson punch to the jaw of my illusions, called out her name: "Erica! Iím here!"

Plaintively, Dr. Livingstone held out her card to me. I took it because there was nothing else a polite man could do. "Bye," she said. "Hope to see you soon." And then the car door was closing, and they were driving away with total self-sufficiency, after the man first threw me a glance that revealed not even an iota of jealousy.

I stood there, lost, for a moment, then handed the bouquet of flowers to the next woman passing by. "Lovely day," I said.

Now I was sitting with Marsha in the movie theater. Craigslist is not only for setting up sting operations for johns.

It was a theater that specialized in art movies and Marsha was a junior high English teacher on the rebound, but her take on literature seemed like a bad coat of paint on the wall. The things she liked were the things her kids liked, and the classics didnít enthuse her. Her utter apathy for Homer and Virgil made me doubt, at once, that we could ever be a match.

The movie Iíd taken her to see was a historical classic, being given another run after being linked, by ads, to things that were going on in our own times: Ominous parallelsÖ a dire warning of what love of country, combined with gullibility, can do to the human heartÖ darkness that may yet rise from its graveÖ only those who know it still lives and breathes can resist itÖ Framed as a liberal enterprise, as an example of what to avoid, the old Nazi propaganda flick could make a comeback, even take center stage in the trendy theater that stood at the forefront of the progressive movement, here, in New York City. I felt utterly out of place, sitting amidst the kind of people who Iíd risked my life to protect, but who would probably despise me if they knew I was a cop.

"Leni Riefenstahl was a cinematic genius," a girl was telling a guy in the seats behind us, before the movie began. "She was a pioneer, one of the only women who could break into the chauvinistic Nazi circle. They didnít want her, at first, because women were supposed to be at home making babies for the Wehrmacht, but after they saw what she could doÖ"

"Triumph of the Will," Marsha read: large white letters on a black screen, just before the original version of the movie began to roll.

It was an incredible movie, absolutely stunning. You saw these eager, expectant crowds, beautiful people as in a biology textbook: excited kids getting ready for something, healthy young women with broad smiles and strong bodies, bursting with anticipation, men who had hope for the first time in years; then the image of a plane flying amidst billowing clouds, headed towards the awaiting throngs. Once more, Riefenstahl cut to the images of the crowd, then back again to the plane they were waiting for, coming from the Heavens, it seemed, from the realm of the Gods. And then, at last, the plane had landed, and the expectation as it sat on the runway was unbearable: until the door at the top of the plane opened, and there appeared Adolph Hitler, the savior of the German people; and the ecstasy could no longer be contained, but seized a thousand faces and a thousand bodies at once. It was as if an entire nation ceased to be bound by the flesh, or by the laws of physics, and suddenly was making love to a God.

And then, the movie went on to show wild, adoring crowds lining the streets, the madness of divine love in their eyes, saluting Hitler as he was driven past them, standing upright and invincible in his motorcar; and the masses of people shouting "Sieg Heil!" and "Heil Hitler!" in the jam-packed stadium at Nuremberg, which was draped with swastikas and adorned with giant eagles, and lit up in the dark night by beams from powerful spotlights aimed upwards at the heavens, enclosing the irrepressible political orgy in a vast spiritual space, lacking in substance, but overflowing with belief. "The cathedral of light," as Albert Speer once called the installation, was less a real setting than a masterpiece of illusions, but it was enough to change the course of history. As Yeats once wrote: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

Though my Jesuit upbringing has made my mind suspect in the eyes of many, the fact is that Marsha, with her liberal, secular education, seemed far less able to understand the forces at work than I. She had not read enough of God, nor the ancients, and irritated me horribly throughout the movie by interrupting it with superficial criticisms. "Crazy!" she said. "Sick! What a bunch of idiots, just like the Republicans!"

She had no inkling of how deep it went. She had, apparently, never read the lines by Jung, as he begged Humanity to look within, past the ideals that blind it to its own complexity, and therefore paralyze it in the face of its darkness: "We have no imagination for evil, but evil has us in its grip." Without self-knowledge, there is no self-defense; and without courage, there is no self-knowledge.

But even as Marsha bored me with her superficial laments, the movie suddenly slammed me like a wave with insight into my own twisted life: the life I had hoped to escape from by romancing her. I realized, in a flash, how deeply the concept of Dominance and Submission pervades human life, and how deceived we are by our ideals of the self, which will not permit us to see ourselves as we truly are. Here was a whole nation, believing it was in revolt against submission, a whole nation rising to dominance with the philosophy of Aryan supremacy and the massive outpourings of its factories, with its hordes of tanks and dive bombers, its fleets of U-boats and earth-storms of thundering artillery pieces, with its unstoppable armies of supermen, and its deliberate embrace of the Barbarian, its decisive smashing of the chains of conscience, and liberation from the "weakling faith" of Christianity. A nation risen from its knees, determined to rule the world. And yet, within this huge and daunting strength, this self-perception of sheer dominance, was absolute submission: submission to a leader, submission to a lie, submission to rage, which replaced service to God; submission to the judgment of flag-waving neighbors, submission to officers, whose clockwork armies were made of broken men forced to fit a mold, submission to orders which violated every principle of justice and concept of humanity with which Man is endowed by God.

Dr. Livingstone was right. D/s is everywhere, not only in the dungeon. It is in our daily lives, and it is there, standing by the gears which move history. A man, naked and alone in a dungeon, being beaten by a beautiful woman is not so twisted as the man who thinks himself unbowed, but kneels before unscrupulous leaders and is captured in an instant by inhumane thoughts. If he had only done his time in a BDSM dungeon, learned how alluring is the urge to submit, and learned to separate that urge from the politics of nations, and the seductiveness of ideologies which bind the minds of millions, he might have learned how to defend himself: how to limit his surrender to a dungeon and preserve his power to keep on fighting for a world that is free.

I also understood, as I watched the jubilant and reverent ghosts flitting about in the night of Leni Riefenstahlís film, how closely linked are the two: dominance and submission. They seem to belong to a single wheel spinning round and round, the one satiating or disgusting itself, and finally provoking its opposite as a reaction: submission generating dominance, dominance begetting submission, the whole process hidden underneath the conscious level of the mind, where things that disturb us, because we have never made peace with reality, rule us. The man who feels emasculated cannot separate the choice between war and peace from his own personal need to feel more a man. Often, to recover from the bad taste of submission, he must attempt to become the Dominant; but in so doing, hampered by the ignorance he has cultivated to protect his fragile sense of self, he may fall prey to even greater forms of submission.

"Are we going to stay to watch all the credits?" Marsha asked me. Most of the people in the movie theater were already up and walking up the aisles towards the exit. Marsha was standing above me, buttoning her coat, blocked by my legs from leaving.

Snapping out of my daze, I rose from the chair. "Letís go get a bite to eat," I said, eager to disguise how deeply the movie had affected me.

*****

Well, of course, Marsha and I did not last very long. She was too PC, and afraid of getting the dirt of truth on her ideologically white clothes. She was also a bit heavy in the gut and her eyes didnít shine enough. After being with the gorgeous women of the dungeons, and the fresh, dangerous girls of the street, a normal woman, with a normal build and a normal life, no longer sufficed to arouse me. I had been spoiled by the sleek and the untamed, by the women whose job was to contour their body and their behavior to the shape of a fantasy that could not be sustained, but which, while it lasted, could not be equaled. To live a life of drab continuity, or one of exciting sexual episodes, scattered like islands throughout the sea of oneís loneliness, no longer seemed any kind of contest. I realized I was being ruined. Adrenalin and Endorphins, like angels of death, had come to take me away from the human race. I had made a last desperate grasp for salvation, like a man being carried away by a raging river stretches his hands towards a low-hanging branch, dangling over the waters. But Dr. Livingstone had said no, and Marsha was too much like a cow, chewing in liberal pastures, saying all the right things without a spark of life.

Before I knew it, I found myself back on the streets of Ho Town. There, I met Sharon, a surprisingly together girl who was into "financial domination." When I told her that that was so much BS, and that being an "ATM pig" wasnít my idea of submission, she told me I was trying to "top from the bottom", and said, "You are really nothing but a dominant, trying to orchestrate your submission down to the last detail. Itís like a god-damned game of Simon Sez, with you saying, ĎSimon sez whip me, spank me, call me bitchÖ"

"I never ask for that."

"Itís you calling all the shots, Jerry." (Thatís the fake name I gave her.) "Itís all about you! Well, you dumb pr*ck; for your information, a real domme calls the shots, and a real sub puts her happiness above everything else. Heís like a f**king knight that does anything and everything he can to make her happy. Pleasing her is the center of his universe; itís not about him; itís not about finding some back way in to use her!"

She spoke with a lot of passion, and so, I gave her a try for a little while, but after taking her on two major shopping sprees and not getting anything more out of it than a deluge of insults which would have overwhelmed the most seasoned of self-haters, I finally called it quits.

"See," she said, as we terminated our relationship: "itís all about you!"

Not about me, I thought. About Liam. Or was it? It was getting harder to tell.

Then there was Annie, the Switch. She was another route to go by, but I quickly found out she wasnít the one for me, either. But you learn from them all. She gave me a thrashing after tying me up Ė the first time I ever let myself be tied. However, the ropes she used to bind my hands behind my back were so badly tied that I could have gotten free within a matter of seconds, and, in fact, I even wondered if they would fall off of their own accord before the session was over. I practically had to tense my muscles to keep them in place. My arms also interfered with the beating, which was done with a shoddy, old flogger, so that my arms, and not my back, ended up taking most of the hits. I thought, "Well, thatís another half-ass session," when, all of a sudden, Annie put down the flogger, untied my hands (I let her believe she had been needed to release me), and then begged me to beat her. "Look how bad I insulted you!" she said. "I insulted your manhood, I put you down so bad! Nowís your chance to get back! Nowís your chance to get even with me, and make me pay for what I said! Please, beat me, baby, itís what I deserve!"

And she put the flogger in my hand and turned around and bent over.

I was absolutely stunned. I realize that what she had done to me was only meant to pump me up, like a bull that is tormented before a bullfight, and that her true wish was to enrage me so that I could fulfill her own masochistic cravings.

That put me in a dilemma, because itís what she seemed to want, really badly, but I was raised never to strike a lady and even to feel that raising my voice to a woman was cowardly: a despicable act of bullying. Whatever they say about the drunken Irish, our mother was not one to put up with anyoneís bad humor, or to be the venting outlet of anyoneís frustrations, though she would comfort you for hours if you were sorrowful. She once told us, "Let angry men fight other angry men; damn the coward who hits a woman because heís afraid to take on a man." And those are the values that were instilled in us. I remember, to this day, how Liam punched a man who he saw kicking a dog, and that was only a dog. To touch one strand of hair on a womanís headÖ

"Beat me, please!" Annie implored. "Iím bad, so very bad, I need someone to keep me in line! Please hit me, or Iíll just keep on mouthing off, Iíll be such a god-damned bitch that someone will end up shooting me! You know how it is around here! Get me in line before it comes to that!"

She was convincing, not as a domme but as a sub, but I just didnít have it in me. I gave her a few token swats, as she kept imploring, "Harder! Harder!", intense disappointment in her voice.

At last I put the flogger down. "Annie, I canít," I said. "I just donít have it in me." Although I am sure I did, because we human beings have everything inside of us, from Jesusí halo to the Devilís horns, it was a line I was not willing to cross. Some lines break the man who crosses them.

As an apology of sorts, I gave Annie an enormous tip.

*****

As the case continued to drag on, my supervisors and colleagues began to grow anxious. By now it was well-known that I was spending a lot of time in Ho Town, and they felt I might be succumbing to vice more than contributing to the solution of a crime. They were understanding of the process I was going through, but concerned. One of my supervisors told me: "Look, Sean, this is getting out of hand. It could reflect badly on the police department."

"What could?"

"Sean, itís beginning to get around. Youíre spending way too much time with the publicans and sinners. We have a moral image to uphold. Weíre role models for thousands of kids, you see how they look up to us? Weíve got the Police Boys Club, the recruitment program... If weíre supposed to be the defenders of society, Sean, well, we canít go around breaking its laws."

I told my boss: "How did the Brits mess with the IRA, Dan? They infiltrated. How did they infiltrate? By doing everything the Provos did, including shooting British soldiers and members of the Northern Irish police force. There is an infiltration process going on here, Dan, and I wonít have a believable cover if Iím a john who wonít even go out with a hooker."

"Come on, Sean," my boss protested.

But I reminded him: "You know, Dan, how things were in the past. When I was working uptown, and there were a lot of cops on the take. You know all the coke that was getting seized and sold back on the street?"

"We all know that, Sean. And we know how you didnít get mixed up in it, and you didnít rat, either. The precinct commander told you, ĎLook the other way,í and thatís what you did, you followed orders. You made sure your own beat was clean, and that was about as high-minded a thing as the real world was ready for."

"Throughout my career, Iíve upheld the law like a religion," I told Dan.

He nodded. "Iím just telling you that some of us are becoming concerned. We all know how much you love Liam, but sometimes, love can obscure our judgment. Donít let love destroy you, Sean."

I thanked him, and said something about taking his words to heart. But I was like rain falling from the sky that wonít stop until itís fallen all the way.

My other supervisor was more direct. He told me that he thought the rest of my work load was going to pot, because I was spending every free hour I could get in Ho Town, or else working on my brotherís case with Theo, and letting my other cases slide. "Jesus Christ, Sean," he said, "here you are fixated on one case, may your brother rest in peace, and meanwhile, weíve got this rapist on the loose, and two murders to solve, the robbery at Wing Lukís, and this gay-bashing thing thatís got the limp-wrist crowd frothing at the mouth. Sean, we need your talent; weíve got newspapers on our backs, politicians, families; the phones are ringing off the hook; heads may roll. And there you are, sitting in a bar in Ho Town, and taking bitches to hotels."

It was only partly true what he said, that I was neglecting my other cases. In the gay-bashing case, for example Ė the one in which this well-liked transsexual who read poetry in clubs was beaten with a two-by-four - I actually felt myself harder at work than ever. In the past - I only realized now, in retrospect - I had never given 100% for a case like that: for gays, transsexuals, anybody of that nature, living on the fringe. Something in me felt they didnít deserve my help, that it was up to them to face the consequences of their actions, like those kids who jumped into the polar bear enclosure in the zoo in Brooklyn - God spare their souls and help their families, because, after all, they were just kids Ė but, I mean, if you swim in the polar bearís pool, what do you expect? The same with these gays, and these guys who try to be women, even to the point of taking hormones and growing breasts. What do they expect? They expose themselves to Armageddon by acting so queer. Some forms of nonconformity are tantamount to going out onto the gun range, and standing right next to the targets.

Now, however, for the first time in my life, I felt that I was finally able to work on a case like this: on behalf of this poor faggot who got beaten, this weird guy who tried so hard to be a girl that it nearly ended up killing him. Since my last case of this nature, working to solve a bias crime against gays, strangeness had been sanctified by Liam, and humanized by my imitation of Liam; I no longer despised a human being for being different. In fact, I realized that we are all peculiar in some form or fashion, and that normality may only be an act of concealing, or perhaps of repressing. Preciousness is not limited to Main Street. Affection and even love have a place on the side streets of the world, as well.

Thanks to my efforts, the case was solved; and I helped to bag the rapist, also.

I got the gay-bashers thinking of Liam, and the rapist thinking of my dear mother.

*****

She was so delicate, now, Mom; so much so that as I helped her to walk along the little path to Liamís gravestone I feared her bones might break. At last we arrived by the stone - simple and gray, with his name and the dates which enclosed his mortal life, and nothing more - in front of which she laid a beautiful bouquet of flowers. She then struggled, with my help, to kneel so that she might, after making the sign of the cross, begin to say the Rosary. Badly out of practice, I joined her. After it was over, none too soon, for I was nearly worn out by her tireless patience, which came from a motherís love, which not even a brotherís could match, I set up the little chair I had brought along, so that she might sit; and she stayed there for a long while just looking at the stone as though waiting for it to speak. For much of the time, I held a newspaper over her head to shelter her from the sun.

"Mothers ought not to outlast their children," she said at last. "Do you miss him, Sean?"

"Mother," I told her, "I have never felt so alone."

"A mother cannot take the place of a brother," she said.

I held her hand. "Mother, I love you dearly."

"Of course you do. But a mother cannot love you in the same way as a brother. She must stay behind while the young ones race like horses in their own world; she must become a stranger to their secrets, so that they learn how to be free. She wants to hold them close to her bosom forever, but she knows that her people need spirit, and she must give them room to develop it, for she is the guardian of Ireland, sworn to make another generation that will stand up for its rights. I let you go," she said, with distant, sad eyes, "but I never stopped loving you."

"We know that mother," I reassured her. "I know it. Liam knew it. Your love was always with us. We are the most blessed of men, to have had a mother such as you."

"Once, in my home, there were two beautiful lion cubs," she said, a trace of happiness in her eyes, that could not last for long. "I watched you playing, and said, as I watched my boys fighting imaginary battles on the floor, there are two great men. Liam would not let you be meek, Sean, nor would he break you. He would not let you be soft, nor would he bully you. He was there to open the door for you: the door to manhood. Only you could walk through it; he showed you how. With his own sorrowful life: with his courage that was misused, and his country which deserted him. I am proud of you son, and I am proud of the one who is gone. He was as much a father to you as your father, who was a good man, but treated affection as though it were not a manly thing."

And she hung her head, which made me fight back the tears, saying: "What a noble boy I raised, Sean!" And after a while: "A mother ought not to outlast her children." And I clung to her hand as tightly as I felt I could without breaking it.

And the tears began to stream down my face, as I stood there beside my mother who did not know the full story of how Liam had died, and who I prayed never would; and who did not know how far I had strayed from her earnest, simple vision of what was right and wrong, in order to follow in his footsteps and to prove that he was not a disgrace, by somehow finding, in myself, a reason for his bizarre actions which would make sense, and which would restore him to his throne. I needed a hero, as much as she needed a son.

If only mother knew how shameful and soiled I felt, more so because I was thrilled every time I broke free of the leash of angels! Every time I turned my back on God, to give myself to a beautiful, desperate woman! Or was I serving God in a way I did not know? Poor mother, she would have died instantly. I would have heard her heart crack, and seen her falling out of the chair it seemed she did not have the strength to rise from.

"One day, Iíll be buried right there, beside him," she told me, dreamily, with absolute assurance in her voice. "Not next to your father, but next to Liam."

I wiped my eyes.

"Sean," she asked, after a moment.

"Yes, mother?" I could taste salt from my tears on my tongue.

"When are you going to catch his killer?"

"Soon, mother," I said. "Soon."

"Are you sure, Sean?"

"Yes, mother," I told her. "Soon. Or may God take me."

"Not until after I am gone," she told me immediately, as though speaking, once more, to a young child, as though all those years had not passed and she was in her prime, and we were still in our happy home. "Youíre not to leave this earth before me, do you hear?" And she added, one last time: "A mother ought never to outlast her children."

*****

It was a hot night on the strip, seasons had changed, and the level of provocation had exploded, like crazy, obscene flowers blooming everywhere. "Wow, this place is getting out of hand," I thought, "vice squad is really getting lazy." The women, barely dressed, were all over the place, smiling and saying Ďhelloí, and I swear, the streets smelled like come.

I ran into Yolanda, aka Street Smarts, who Iíd been hounding for a while. We had an intimate and costly relationship going on, but she knew I was looking for something special, which she couldnít offer, but which she might be able to find for me, for a %: "a hot, young girl into BDSM who is just way out there, on the edge, willing to take it to the limit. Not just some angry whore, but somebody who can really work the whip, whoís got it all down. The psychological game as well as the physical one." I told her: "None of this is real for me, Yolanda, these girls are like in the elementary school of S & M, they donít know what theyíre doing, and nobody here has the skill and temperament to push the envelope." But I told her the girls in the dungeons were not the answer, either, because, "in the end, theyíre nothing but servants. They act like theyíre on the top, but in reality, theyíre the employees of the ones who are on the bottom. Itís fake domination, itís fake control. Itís all fake, Yolanda. Itís like being an actor in a play. I want it to be real. Thatís what he wanted, I know it, thatís where he went, and thatís where I have to go."

"What?" Yolanda asked me, not understanding.

"Nothing," I told her, returning to my charade.

"Are you sure you want this, baby?" she finally asked me. "I mean, you could end up with some crazy crackhead who shoots you in bed."

"The possibility is what makes it exciting," I said.

"Wow, be careful!" she warned me, giving me a kiss that felt like a dollar bill. "Youíre a good john, I donít want to throw you to the crocodiles."

But thatís what sheíd said last week. On this hot night when I met her at the corner, as weíd agreed, she came over and gave me a dazed hug; she was already high. "Hey, baby," she said, "I got a surprise for you. Thereís this girl, who they say is really good. Sheís like exactly what youíre looking for."

"Oh yeah?" I asked, surprised, because Iíd finally decided that Yolanda wasnít going to find me anybody, because she wanted to keep me to herself.

"I get $300, right, and she gets $300?"

"Sheís got to be good," I warned.

"Good or bad, I get $150. You put me through the work of finding her."

"Deal," I agreed. We shook hands on it. "Where is she?" I asked.

"Cross-town, downtown," Yolanda told me, "by the other river." She took out a cell phone, and I heard a girlís voice. Yolanda put it to my ear.

"Jerry?" the voice asked me.

"Yeah, thatís me."

"I donít do bullshit," the voice told me. "I donít play at this. You better think twice if you really want this, because once I get my hands on you, thereíll be no turning back."

"Sounds like what I want," I said.

"For real," she warned. "Iíll do whatever the f**k I please with you. I donít give a f**k whether itís what you want or not, this is about me. Do you still want it?"

"Whatís your name?" I asked.

"Iffy," she told me. "But to you itís ĎMistress.í"

"Yes, Mistress," I said, which put a smile on Yolandaís face. She found men who werenít in command amusing.

The girl gave me a corner and a time, and Yolanda, taking the phone back, said, "Give him a good beating, girl, I get paid according to how red you make his ass. But please leave a little bit of meat on the bone, so Iíll have something to come back to." Yolanda laughed, and snapped the cell phone shut.

I wondered, as I caught the taxi, if this is how Liam had felt on his last night, as he walked into a hotel in Chelsea, searching for the true meaning of surrender, the true meaning of lifeÖ

*****

I had had an excited, curious intuition, all along, that perhaps this girl might be Roxy, who I could finally lure to surface by means of my extravagant desires, circulated around on the street, just as Robin Hood was lured into a trap by the archery contest proclaimed by the Sheriff of Nottingham. But as I handed the bills over to the taxi driver, who might be among the last people to see me alive, I saw that the girl waiting for me on the corner was not at all like the photos of Roxy which I had spent hours looking at, wondering if I would ever have the chance to meet her.

I approached her, a girl of about fiveíseven, with exotic, extreme-dyed punk red hair, wild and frizzy like a lionís mane. She was wearing a black tank top and black slacks, and her eyes, if she had any, were hidden behind a pair of impenetrable shades. There was the tattoo of a scorpion on her right hand, and above her navel was a tattoo that said EARTH TO MAJOR TOM. She let me read it, and laughed in a dissolute voice that seemed to revel in its indecency. I thought of the books in Latin I had read after leaving the education of the Jesuits, books they had not given to us, such as The Lives of the Twelve Caesars by Suetonious, filled with tales of the madness of Caligula and Nero. What do you do when you have all the power in the world and it is not enough? What do you do when you have experienced every pleasure the earth has to offer, and grown tired of them? What crazed variation of the possible can you conjure up from the depths of your imagination to save you? How savagely must you attack the known to force it to yield something new to you; how brutally must you accost the acceptable to force it to yield something you can still respond to? Poor, Jesuits Ė they had given me too many tools with which to bury myself! Feeling as though I were one of the ancient Romans, shameless and lost, with no shred of decency left to hold me back, or even preserve my humanity, I came up to her and said simply: "Hi, Iím Jerry. Iffy?"

Lying at her feet was a black duffel bag. "Pick it up, bitch," she said.

"Whatís in it?" I asked.

"Carry it. Follow me. Are you coming, or are you nothing but talk?"

I followed her down a street, turned a corner, went down another block, then another street, and finally descended a flight of stairs leading to a basement on a block that was slummy , which set off every possible alarm that resides within the intuition. I made several attempts, during the walk, to talk to her, but the girl said little, except for: "Are you into doing this or not? You can still turn back. I donít need your money, either shut the f**k up and come with me, or else go home and look for somebody on craigslist, god damn it! This is for real! Are you in or are you out?"

She had a beautiful behind that moved sensually inside of her slacks as she led me on, and a waist like a guitar, as the lyrics say.

"Where the hell are we?" I demanded, as she led me into a raw space with nothing in it but pillars, exposed pipes and plumbing on the ceiling, and holes in the walls: some kind of abandoned shithole like youíd find in a gutted building, slated for demolition.

"This is my dungeon," she said. "Are you for real, or just a fake?"

I put the duffel bag down. "Look, if weíre going to session, I have to know where I am," I said. "Is this your place? Is this building even lived in?"

The stone-hard glasses regarded me for a moment, and then, at last, she said: "It belongs to Mr. G."

"What?" I asked. "The weatherman?"

At that, she laughed with genuine delight, and could barely stop. Then, finally, returning to us, she said, "G rents out the basement to loose cannons, like me. To street dommes. To top-girls without a dungeon. You like your dominatrixes raw? Unrestrained by the dungeon system? Well, this is our spot!"

My spirits soared. This is the kind of place that Roxy might turn up! I thought I may have stumbled upon her refuge! I thought of asking Iffy if she knew Roxy, but decided that it was too early to go there. "Pretty minimal," I said, referring to the setting.

"What more do you bastards deserve?" Iffy told me. She looked at her duffle bag lying on the floor, then said, "Whoever said you could put it down? Pick it up and put it over there."

I did. Looking around myself, heart pounding, feeling tremendous excitement but also an inhibiting dose of fear, I told her, "Look, before we begin, I have to see your eyes. I canít do this unless I see your eyes."

The frighteningly impersonal sunglasses regarded me. "Donít diminish the experience," she said.

"No, for real," I said. "Iíve got to see your eyes."

"What?" she laughed. "Do you really think you can know my soul by looking into my eyes? Do you really think you can tell what Iím capable of? Just from one look?"

I said nothing. My silence spoke on my behalf.

A big smile came to Iffyís face. "Fine," she said. "Ruin it. You said you wanted to play on the edge, and here you are, already retreating. TPE is more than you can stand in real life. Itís just a fantasy, between you and you, for when youíre sitting in front of the computer."

"TPE?" I asked.

"Total Power Exchange. What do you do, work for a corporation by day?" she demanded. "GodĖdamned control freak! Canít give it up, not even for an hour, can you?" Slowly, she removed the glasses.

The woman I saw exposed was sad, like a cake that has turned out badly, and cannot be served, even though everyone is sitting in the other room expecting it to arrive at any moment, still laughing and joking with no idea of the calamity that has transpired in the kitchen. The sorrow was mixed with embarrassment. Without her glasses, Iffy seemed ashamed of who she was, and of where she was. But soon enough, a look came into her eyes to take the place of the shades; it was as if her eyes, themselves, became the shades, blocking out all access to her soul, hiding who she was from prying eyes. She was, in spite of the lifestyle she had chosen, and her flair for attracting attention, a very private person. She was like those women in Africa who, though utterly naked, cover their face when they pass a stranger. "Well?" she demanded, at last. "Take it or leave it. This is the last time Iím going to act to appease you. Either give yourself completely to me, or leave." And once again, she asked, "Do you work for a corporation?"

"Letís do it," I said, driven forward by the same reckless impulse I felt Liam must have succumbed to on his final night on the earth. Or was it only that my fear of the girl had been diminished by the sorrow which I had forced her to reveal to me?

The girl stepped back, returned the glasses to her face, folded her arms, and regarded me. "Repeat after me," she said, when she was finally ready. "I, Jerry the Slave, surrender myself to Mistress Iffy, to be totally hers for the following hour and a half. I give myself to her to do whatever the hell she pleases with me, without limits. Tonight I will finally experience what I have been searching for all my life, I will go to the place of total submission and learn what it is to belong to another human being. I place my heart, my soul, and my very life in the hands of my Mistress."

I repeated after her, this frightening, dark pledge of allegiance, while the ruthless shades surveyed me.

"Take your clothes off," she said, after a while.

I started to.

"Wait!" she said. "Take them off like a man. Youíre taking them off like a pale priest whoís ashamed of his body, whoíd take a shower in his habit if he could."

She made me put my clothes back on, and take them off again. "Put your hands above your head," she said. "Like a prisoner. Thatís right. Youíre a prisoner, now. My prisoner. Or is it only a prisoner of your own twisted mind?" She ordered me to march around for a while, telling me all the time, "Did you vote for President Bush? Then, you must pay for Abu Ghraib!" At last, she told me to stop underneath a metal beam spanning a portion of the ceiling, and set up a crate behind me, on which she stood. "Lift up your arms!" she ordered. I did so, and felt a handcuff close about my wrist, then lock onto the beam. She shackled my other hand to the beam, as well, so that my hands were both, now, raised high above my head and cuffed to the tubing above me. How many times had I, as a police officer, snapped handcuffs around someoneís wrists, without ever experiencing the absolute sense of helplessness which they produced, the terrible sensuality of knowing that one is no longer in control, but belongs to someone else! That one has been defeated, captured, and is about to be flung down the throat of an overpowering system that is too gigantic to fight, to be tasted and digested by the beast, perhaps to disappear into its stomach forever! If one is fortunate, to experience the ecstasy God has given the animal to feel as it is being devoured, to compensate it for the savagery with which He has permeated the universe. What a turnaround from being a policeman! What a new position for me to be in, from riding in the front of the cop car, to riding in the back!

From the heavy black duffel bag I had carried into Mr. Gís basement, Iffy now extracted a long, highly functional metal bar with shackles on either end. She came back to me, and ordered me to spread my legs. "More." Then she adjusted the bar to the length that suited her, locked it in place, and attached the shackles to my ankles. I now stood before her, naked and exposed, my hands helplessly raised above my head, my feet spread wide apart.

She laughed, because now I was utterly in her power. My heart was pounding, my whole body was alive as it had never been before, caressed by the unknown quantity of the woman who was looking me over, the mystery woman to whom I had entrusted myself, as Liam had entrusted himself to his killer.

She smiled, she liked something that she saw in me. "Now," she said, "are you beginning to feel it? You are in my hands. There is no turning back. This is not a game," she added.

I breathed heavily. This one was good. She was believable.

Again, she stooped down to the black duffel bag, this time removing an impressive looking whip, something like Koneko had used on me in the dungeon.

"You know what this is?" she asked me.

"Yes," I said.

"What is it?"

"Itís a whip."

"It could get the attention of a bull," she told me. She smiled. Then she frowned. "You know what gets me about Mr. Gís basement?"

"No," I said.

"No mirrors. I wish you could see yourself. How pale you are. How helpless. Just hanging there, like a poor bastard on the cross. Not like Jesus, because youíre not like him at all. Maybe like one of those pirates who were crucified by Caesar. Or like the thieves who were hoisted up onto the crosses next to Jesus. Except that they were darker-skinned and more beautiful than you are. You are like a worm who should have been left under a rock. Scandinavian?" she asked me.

"Irish," I said.

"No big red nose," she laughed. "No whiskey on the breath. Donít f**k with me!"

"Thatís a stereotype," I said.

She laughed.

"Whatís so funny?" I demanded.

"Here you are, tied up like meat on a rack, and youíre telling me itís a stereotype!" And she laughed again. "Listen," she told me, "if I tell you Irishmen have tails and hooves, thatís how it is. If I tell you they all have a leprechaun in the closet, you say, Yes Mistress. Stereotype, my ass! Besides that," she said, "the Irish are fighters. They donít do this kind of crap, let a woman tie them up and beat their ass." She made me feel ashamed, and the shame turned my excitement into a roaring fire I could not restrain. It took over my genitals.

"You sub guys are amazing," she told me. "For you, being dissed is like a warm p*ssy. Iím going to love beating the hell out of you. Iíll beat you until your pleasure turns into despair." She kissed the whip in her hands, then walked slowly around me, occasionally unfurling the whip into the air and cracking the floor with it, so that I could get a sense of its power. "This isnít a toy," she told me. "This is a weapon." She disappeared behind my back, and remained hidden there, saying nothing. I could only hear her breathing. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, the blow came. I cried out in surprise.

Then another, before I could recover. "Hey, youíre supposed to warm my flesh up before you strike it!" I told her. "Otherwise, the damage will be too great!"

Her answer was another lash. "Really!" I cried out, protesting.

Again, I was answered by a blow, it struck me like a hurricane, with terrible conviction, and not the slightest trace of regret; I could not stifle a loud cry, which now contained more pain than surprise. The whip was not playing.

"Please," I said.

The whip struck again. "Do you have a wife at home," she asked me, "someone who might see the marks on your back?"

"Yes," I lied, hoping to end the punishment which was already becoming devastating.

"Two-timing pig!" she exclaimed, thrashing me four times with an incredible fury that I could not resist. I began to cry. "Those were for her!" she exclaimed. "These," she shouted, thrashing me four more times, "are for God!" And then, there was a break in the action, as she seemed to step back to survey the damage. "No longer will you deceive her," Iffy said. "These cuts will call attention to your infidelity, to your indecent prowling behind her back. If your family is ruined, it will also be saved."

"I was lying," I gasped, truly frightened and miserable, now, for this girl had already proven to be far more than I had bargained for. "Iím not married. Iím divorced. I just wanted you to stop."

At that, she beat me six times more, wild, fierce blows that fell on my back and neck, curled around to wound my flanks, and seemed to break one of my kidneys in half. "Please, you are too inaccurate!" I gasped. "At the very least, put a towel around my waist, I need protection!"

Three more lashes fell. "You donít lie to your Mistress!" she screamed. She was out of control, something was wrong with this girl. I sobbed, then fought against total collapse. Somehow, I needed to be proud of myself, even in the midst of this pitiful state, which was like a slippery floor on which nothing worthy can remain standing.

I heard her say some unintelligible words, and thought she might have begun to speak in tongues. "God help me," I thought, "a Pentecostal madwoman! What a disaster for an Irish Catholic!" I feared to ask her what she had said, but thought I might distract her from her ferocity if I managed to engage her in conversation; and so I did. "The words you spoke just now," I told her. "Very beautiful. What language are they in?"

"You liked them?" the voice behind me asked.

"Yes," I said. "They had a very beautiful sound. Like only a mouth that knew how to dance could speak them. There was power, and also something that sparkled, like sunlight on the sea."

"They come from the most beautiful of languages," she replied. "From the tongue of men who saw twice as much as we."

"What language?" I asked again.

"Ancient Greek," she said.

A wave of terror swept through my body.

"Euripides gave them to Medea," the girl told me. She repeated them in the original Greek, then said: No, it was not to be that you should scorn my love, and pleasantly live your life through, laughing at me. She came around to look at me, her sunglasses now raised to the top of her head, the whip, like the scepter of a queen, held firmly in her hand.

"My God!" I thought in horror, "itís Roxy! Iffy is Roxy! I didnít recognize her at first, sheís changed her appearance, her hair, her look! But that face, those eyes! Now, I see it! Now, too late, I see it!" And here I was, utterly immobilized, spread out before her like a piece of meat ready to be cut open, in the bowels of a deserted, or perhaps only uncaring, building, in the middle of a slum that the night had banished from the rest of the earth. There was nothing I could do or anyone could do for me, my life was in her hands until the dawn. I began to cry.

Gently, Iffy, which I realized was a nickname for Iphigenia, the tragic role model of her fall, caressed my face with the brutal whip, staring at me as she did so. It seemed she was trying to dry my tears with the same whip with which she had cut my back to shreds. "Is this real enough for you, baby?" she asked me.

"Yes," I nodded. "Oh yes, and thank you so much. I have never, truly, felt the meaning of submission, until now."

At that, Roxy only laughed, and retracted her gentleness. She stepped back, and as I watched in horror, she cocked her arm, and let loose with a savage blow to my ribs. "No!" I cried out. "Please! Not to the front of my body!" Again, she lashed me, and again. I was now quivering, red, and she seemed to feed on it. The more vulnerable and defenseless I seemed, the more she reveled in the experience, like a Maenad, drunk on power. Was this how Orpheus was ripped to pieces, his lyre broken on the rocks?

"Do you know," she asked me, "the most exciting moment I ever had in my life?"

"No," I asked her, wondering if she was about to talk about Liam.

"It was watching videos of the fights," she said. "My father had a whole collection of them, and when I saw Tyson, this amazing, invincible, beautiful caveman getting pummeled by another boxer, and falling in a daze to the canvas, exactly like all the other boxers who he had knocked out before it was his turn to fall; and when I saw him struggling to rise, uncoordinated and bloody and helpless, before the count of ten, I almost came right then and there. I had to stifle my cries of pleasure. And I knew, from that moment on, Slave Jerry, that that was it. For me, there could be nothing as beautiful as knocking out Tyson, as seeing this big monster of a man on his knees, crawling across the floor, trying to get up. And thatís what I decided to do with my life. To make a living out of knocking Tyson out." She made a fist, and said, "I donít have the power here." Then she shook the whip at me. "But here, I have it." And carefully, she touched the whip to my head. "And here. Ultimately, here is where my power lies. In this brain. This brain of yours. The brain of the human male, who cannot say no. The brain of the human male, by means of which the caveman is ensnared, and tricked into surrendering all his power, tricked into hanging naked in front of a woman with a whip. So Helen burned the topless towers of Ilion. They deserved to be burned." And Roxy took another step back, as though she could view me better from a distance, as she did so muttering the words: "Karmaís as slow as snail, but it always does come around. Yes, it always does come around."

I was in a lot of pain now, but my desire to live was in command, my agonized flesh had subsided to the background. I must, somehow, survive this session, I must not let Roxy know that I knew who she was, I must make myself seem to be the goose that lays the golden eggs, the kind of manipulable man who could be latched to her ambition for the long term, so that she would spare me to pay her bills, and to provide herself with a dependable target for satisfying her sadistic urges. I must survive this session, so that I could bring justice to Liam, and fulfill my promise to my mother. Although I stood here in utter shameful bondage, battered and disgraceful to the world, I must fight like a tiger from behind the faÁade of helplessness, to outlast this terrible woman and bind her as she had bound me.

"This is a wonderful session," I told her. "I think my stamina is wearing out, but Iíd like to continue another day. Do you think we could make this a regular thing?"

"Do you work for a corporation?" she asked me again.

I thought that if I said yes, that might provoke her to finish me off, since she seemed hostile to any manifestation of power; and so I told her: "I own my own little consulting company, I do well. Do you like to shop?"

At that, she laughed. She went over, once again, to the black duffel bag, and came back with a medicine vial. She opened it, and turned it upside down. "Empty," she said, in a scary, little girlís voice.

"What was in it?" I asked.

"My medicine," she said, continuing with the baby girl voice, that was like something from a horror movie. "For my schizophrenia. You see, thereís different meís," she told me. "Multiple meís. Thereís baby girl, so, so sweet." And then her eyes became angry, and she protectively put her hands over her crotch. "And thereís ĎLook Homeward Angelí, who just had her first period." And changing her voice, as she went from character to character, she said: "Then, thereís Iphigenia. Iphigenia at Aulis. I was supposed to marry Achilles, but Daddy cut my throat on the altar of Sacred Artemis. I could have run away, but I let him do it, because my blood was the only thing that could coax the wind out of the stillness, to carry his ships to Troy. And then, I became Iphigenia at Tauris. I sacrificed every shipwrecked sailor with a golden knife. Into every heart of a man, I plunged the blade of his own callousness. It was the command of she for whom I was falsely sacrificed, because she loved me. Like the tender hare who runs from the wolf." And hissing, she said, "This is Lenore, since no one gives a f**k about Iphigenia anymore or even knows who she is. Iphigenia at Tauris, updated. I stalk the Victorian gentlemen, who covet the best of both worlds, who want to rape virgins by night, and to ride in handsome carriages by day. I love the taste of hypocrisy on my fangs." And she laughed, and brushed the wild hair away from her face. "Peek-a-boo! I see you!" she said, again in that terrifying baby voice of hers. And she stared forlornly into the empty medicine vial. "All gone! Normal Me thinks I should refill the prescription. Crazy Me says donít be a Plain Jane." And reverting to her own impassioned, adult voice, she demanded: "Remember when Jack Kerouac said the ones he loved were the crazy ones, the ones mad to live who reminded him of fireworks going off in the night? Why the hell would I want to be normal, stupid bitch, cancer fodder, make babies for the beast? Iím not spreading my legs so a line of toy soldiers can walk out. Iím not giving girls to the rape machine. Iím not justifying another SUV. ĎOh Rose, thou art sick! The invisible worm that flies in the night in the howling storm has found out thy bed of crimson joy. And his dark secret love does thy life destroy.í Being f**ked up is noble, like Nathan Hale being hung," she concluded. Then, once more in the baby voice, she said: "All out of meds. Poor crazy baby. Nothing to stop her from beating up THE CREEP!í"

"Jesus!" I cried out, as the whip returned, like a ravenous predator who I mistakenly thought had had its fill. I started to speak to her, but I couldnít get words out, the punishment was so extreme.

"Beg for mercy!" she screamed to me.

"Mercy!" I cried out. "Mercy Mistress!"

"Braveheart said ĎFreedomí," she spat, and she hit me even harder, before she seemed to tire, more from emotion than from physical fatigue.

Once more I was shaking, I felt myself weak and in mortal danger.

She came up to me, now, and smiling tenderly, touched my private parts, which were no longer private. In the gentle warmth of her hands, I began to respond. The awful physical pain of the beating receded as the pleasure grew. Or better put, it remained, but did not interfere, it became a kind of spice flavoring my passion. Oh, I am mad! I thought. Surely as mad as her! I had hope, however, that she was softening, now, that her mercurial instability was coasting towards a safe resolution. Sometimes, surely, she must snap out of it before the damage was irreversible.

"Tell me what you are thinking," she commanded me, as she fondled me.

"Nothing," I told her. "I am only feeling, only reacting."

"Do you feel like a fool?" she asked me.

"No," I responded.

"You should," she said, a slight smile on her lips. She had the focus of a farmer feeling something in his field to know if it is ripe, and how much longer he should let it grow before picking it.

"Do you understand, now, how closely related to pleasure is pain?"

"Yes," I said, trying to guess the answer which she wished to hear.

"Do you understand what it is to be at a womanís mercy?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Do you understand what women have felt for centuries, living at the mercy of men?"

"Yes," I told her.

"Liar!" she told me. "This," she said, twisting my private parts, "is all that matters to you! As long as youíve got this hanging down from your groin, you wonít understand a thing! You open doors for ladies, then jump them from behind, like dogs! When the china shop is closed, a lot of chinaís broken." She looked at me for a while, then finally said, "Do you know why weeds are cut out of a garden?"

I began to shake. She saw it, and it pleased her. "Because they strangle the flowers," she said.

"I respect women," I told her.

She smiled. "After I am through with you, you will respect them even more." She reached down to her ankle, and lifted up one of the legs of her slacks as if to itch a mosquito bite; then suddenly there was a knife in her hand.

I shook with terror. Oh dear brother Liam, I am soon to be with you, in the country of the damned! I follow you, to the very end!

"Please," the other part of me begged her. "Donít!"

She smiled, and quoting Macbeth, said, "Is this a dagger I see before me?"

"Please," I said again.

She grabbed me by the balls, and held the knife to them as if to cut them off, looking intensely up at my face as she did so.

"No! No!" I begged her. "In the name of God, donít! Please donít!"

"Why do you need them?" she demanded. "To rape?"

"No! I swear I would never!"

"To make war?"

"No!"

"To pillage, to plunder?"

"No!"

"To strut over the earth, and piss all over it?"

"No! No!" I cried.

"Then for what?" she demanded.

"To Ė to defend," I said.

She laughed.

"To defend the weak and helpless."

She was still laughing.

"The innocentÖ"

She slapped me in the face, and said, "Enough." She slapped me twice more as I continued to plead. Then we looked each other in the eyes. Once more, her hand was on my member. She began to fondle me again. "We will orchestrate a magnificent concert of extremes," she told me. "We will bring you to ecstasy, to the pinnacle of lust, that you may feel one last time the passion of your gender. Then, as you cry out in the throes of orgasm, we will dismember you, we will cut off the offending pieces of your anatomy that have ruined the world a million times over. Your cry of pleasure shall be mixed with your cry of agony. Two rivers of feeling shall flow together, rushing towards your end. At the same time, the red of your blood shall mingle with the white of your semen, it will be beautiful, like the summer and the winter kissing."

"Please," I said, "donít! We can have a good time together. I like you. Iíll support you. Iíll be your patron, like Lorenzo de Medici, Iíll give you everything you need to be different. You canít rebel forever without a base. Iíll be that base. You canít sustain something so wild without a friend. Do you want to be an artist?"

"This is my art."

"Iíll support you."

"You are supporting me. Your body is the canvas on which I paint my life. Its history - you can read it in your cuts."

She continued fondling me. "Resist your animal urges," she told me, "restrain yourself from ecstasy; donít let yourself come, and you keep whatís down here. You will have proved that you can control yourself. But if you cannot, then, by God, the orgasm I give you shall destroy you!" And she continued to touch me with hands that seemed to belong to a woman who, though only a little over twenty, had a thousand years of experience. No one could resist her. Not the terror of death, nor the deadly ultimatum which she had given me, could crush the rising feelings of pleasure that rumbled and grew in my crotch, feelings which she could conjure from nothing, out of the night, like a magician; feelings which she could steal from under the very noses of the dragons of the mind, who could not guard my life, with reason, from the timeless mystery of her hands.

"Please, no!" I begged.

She told me, "If I see blood in your mouth, I will kill you." It was as if she could read my mind, for I had just thought of biting down on my tongue, as the ancient saints, to fight against the pleasure.

"Please!" I begged her once again. "Mercy, Mistress! Mercy!"

But she was not going to stop, and suddenly, I felt something more powerful than my individual life taking hold of my body and my voice, and I began to weep, but it was not fear which made me weep, but what fear had shaken loose. And I cried out mightily, sobbing with all the strength that comes from weakness, knowing that I was about to die a most terrible and shameful death: "Iím sorry! Iím sorry! Iím sorry for what weíve done! I give myself to you, like Jesus on the cross, I take upon the sins of my kind, I dedicate my life to you! To all the women who were ever raped or stoned. To all the women who wanted to dance and sing but were made to wear a black cloak. To all the women who wished to fly but were chained to the earth. To all the women who were hit by men they loved, and all the women who fell for lies. To all the women who were left alone to raise and rear a family. I take it upon myself to pay for what was done to you. To all of you who lie under the earth, beneath gravestones, having lived only half your life. To the dead, and to the sad, who deserve equal compensation. To Mother, who I loved but did not comfort enough in her times of sorrows. To Mary, whose troubles I chose to dismiss, until we could no longer live together. To you, Lily, for depriving you of a father. To all the hookers whose tragedies I flew over, looking for my brother; to all the bodies I took from without giving; to the flesh I dared to taste for nothing but money, to the pennies I threw at souls, for two hundred dollars is but a penny in Godís eyes. I beg you all for forgiveness, I accept, for all men, the sins of all time, for what we have done to you, may I be the one to pay and set things right, may men and women love each other from now on with a love that is true and rises higher than the waist!"

And by now, my whole body was shaking, and my eyes were like sightless crystals, and my lips were quivering, and I gasped with my last breaths on the earth: "Liam, dear Liam, I have not lost you, I have followed you to the end! I have followed your trail through the river and over the mountains, through fields of pure snow that cover the peaks of dirty places; I have found your goodness, your terrible guilt that comes from loving justice, and your desperation to meet God! Iíve saved my love for you by sinning! God bless the shame that has reunited us! I know now why you did it, and how you died. Soon weíll be together, as brothers should be!" And I shouted out to Roxy, as she must be on the verge of killing me: "Thank you, Roxy, for breaking me! I could never find God, because I did not know how to surrender! I prayed in the Church, but my knees lied. Though I gave lip service to humility, I did not submit to anything, I stood beneath skies filled with stars as though I owned them. Now, thanks to you, I know how to love God!" And I wept unabashed and joyful tears. Then I screamed in ecstasy, blinded by feelings that death is no stronger than; and I waited to feel the blade humiliate me, and then to die.

*****

Slowly, I regained awareness: a wounded and exhausted man dangling naked from a metal beam in a dilapidated basement in a dilapidated neighborhood that no one who knew me might find for days.

Roxy was there, covered with sweat, but quiet, now, sitting on a crate which she had placed in front of me, and looking at me, as though she were an art lover in a museum studying the cherry orchards of Van Gogh. At last, she told me in a nearly inaudible voice: "Thank you, Sean."

I wondered how she knew my name.

She showed me the wallet. "All your moneyís still there," she said, dropping it on the floor. Then, again, she said: "Thank you. For the first time in my life, I feel like more than a whore or a nut. Youíve made me to feel like a priestess."

"Why did you do it?" I asked her, at last.

She shook her head. "Liam was a good man, Sean."

"I know that."

"I didnít do it. If I had," she said, "you would be dead now. Why would I let you live? I could get away with this. It would be so easy."

"So then," I asked, "if not you, who?"

"I donít want to be a rat," she said.

"Liam was a beautiful man," I told her.

After a while, she said: "I know. He was so troubled. So hard to reach. He should have forgiven himself long before he came to me."

"Malinche?" I asked.

Roxy shook her head. "Sheís got a bad rap, but sheís not half that bad. The people she had trouble with in Chicago were out for her."

"So then, why did you two do a disappearing act after the crime?"

"We were sure to be suspects," she said. "We might not be able to prove our innocence. You know, Sean, how you SOBs plant evidence and stampede juries. We smelled a witch hunt, so we decided to lay low. We were in Jersey that night, tag-teaming a bored executive. You want the info on him?"

"Roxy," I told her. "If youíre going to save yourself, youíre going to have to cough up the culprit. Liam was a beautiful man," I told her again.

She didnít say a thing.

"And do you know, this isnít just a case of a man versus a woman: a john versus a whore. Thereís a woman on his side, too: our Mother. She wants to know that justice was done, Roxy, that society cared for her son enough to track down his killer. I told her by my brotherís grave, I swear, that Iíd find the one who did it."

Roxy sat there for a long while, then said, at last: "Irene did it."

"Irene?"

"Malincheís cousin. Her real name is Yesenia Ortiz. Malinche and me took her with us a couple of times, including one time to see Liam. Iím the one who showed her how to use the whip. I also taught her knife play. No," she said, following my eyes to the knife that was now lying beside her on the floor. "It wasnít this one. Go on, take it to the lab, youíll see. Hers was sharper."

For a moment, neither one of us spoke.

At last I asked her, "Why? Why did she do it?"

"Money. Rage. You know, your brother had a way of provoking dommes. It was because he wanted to push things to the edge. Irene went through a lot of the same crap that Malinche went through. Her anger was just as deep, but her brains didnít know how to hold the reins of her heart. Your brother and her, together, was a dangerous combination." Roxy added: "We didnít set up the gig, we had introduced the two previously; but they made the appointment on their own. If we hadnít been called off to JerseyÖ"

"God has worked his will," I said. "There is no use in going over what-ifís."

"Iím sorry," she said, sincerely. "About your brother."

Slowly, she got up. She showed me the medicine bottle. It was for an empty prescription of penicillin, from over a year ago. "Iím not really whacked like that," she said. "Itís part of my play, like the knife. I make the john think Iím f**king out of my mind, and that theyíre going to die. I make it so real that they go over the edge." Looking at my wounds, she admitted: "I do need practice with the whip, though. And I know, I have anger management issues. Well," she confessed, "I guess I am a little crazy, but Iím just not a complete psychotic, at least regarding the multiple-personality thing." In a little girl voice she said, "See? Iím just playing." She bent down in front of me, and began to remove the shackles from my feet. "Iím willing to go to see a shrink," she said, "if that will help. - By the way, am I going to jail, or do you want to wait until Iíve released you before you answer that?"

"Whereís Irene now?" I asked her, as Roxy mounted the crate, which she had dragged in front of me, so that she could unfasten my upraised hands from the beam.

"Chicago," she told me. "Malinche, youíve got to go easy on her, because Irene is her cousin. You know, there is the law and then there is loyalty. Nobody sells out their own."

"Where in Chicago?"

I was now completely free. "Oh, I really did miss," Roxy said, observing my battered body. "You know, there is this domme called Komeko, maybe you should try herÖ"

Once my clothes were back on, I told her, "Roxy, youíve got to come with me to the station."

She smiled weakly, and didnít put up a fight. "Please just donít cuff me," she said. "Iím not a switch."

*****

Well, I am glad to say, because she was the catalyst of a great change in me, that Roxyís story turned out to be true. Based on the information we obtained from her, we were able to focus our resources and to narrow our search, and I even flew out to Chicago to assist with the investigation. After two weeks, we caught up with Malinche and Irene. In keeping with Roxyís pleas, we managed to keep Malinche out of jail, though barely, because she had covered for her cousin. Irene, AKA Yesenia, got burned. It couldnít have happened any other way. "You seen one john, you seen Ďem all," she cursed, as we pushed her, hands cuffed behind her back, into the cage of the police car.

Mom couldnít believe that her son had been killed by a woman, but we sheltered her from the sordid details, and she said, "Well, some women are dangerous, I suppose, like Annie Oakley. She could shoot accurately while riding a horse at full speed. What a shame that Gloria stopped loving him." And mother thanked me, from the bottom of her heart, for procuring justice for her son, without ever knowing all the things I had stooped to to solve the case and to redeem my brother, nor how I had used a noble enterprise as an excuse to see how far I could fall without destroying myself. "You loved your brother," she told me, "and were loyal to his memory. That is a noble thing, my son." I was grateful for her assessment, even if it was based on knowing nothing. But perhaps she felt the truth on the other side of the knowledge that would have prevented her from seeing it.

Back at the department, things began to return to normal. Every now and then, I suffered from terrible moments of loneliness and nostalgia, thinking of the brother who I loved so much; but whenever I felt miserable, I found that laying a wreath beside his grave helped me to clear my soul of the unbearable pain, and to return to the world. I resumed my work and got back to solving crimes, as never before.

I took to dating again, and hope, one day, to find the nearly impossible hybrid form of woman who I long for, who will be able to be all things in one: the mermaid and the griffin, the geisha and the Amazon, the wife and the whore, the exotic and the familiar. I know that to find such a woman, I must be worthy of her, as strong and as tender, as deep and diverse, as is she. I can only be that way by remaining true to the night I overcame my fear.

*****

Of course, Roxy was too young for me, and lived on a completely different wavelength, she belonged to the world of clubs, and Goths, and heavy metal and magic (she actually tried to cast spells, with candles and prayers); but she was, in spite of all that, a beautiful person, garbed in behaviors and tastes I would once have called strange. But now, I realize that we are all strange, and that the only difference is that some of us are aware of what is inside of us and others are not. Those of us who are aware are able to cultivate our souls, and to grow fruit trees from the soil of who we are. Those of us who are not aware become righteous deserts. Always, it is those who live on the surface who cause the most damage; those who are sure they are normal and right, who destroy the world. It is the deep ones who the world despises, who pluck the secret of salvation from the mouth of the beast.

In my own case, I learned that Dominance and Submission are everywhere, surrounding us like the air we breathe, and that things are not always as they seem. We revere the ideal of Dominance, but kneel like slaves to falsehoods. We submit to corrupt leaders, but not to God. Not every collar is the same. Not every battle cry is brave. Not every act of bowing is a shame.

As friends, Roxy and I remained committed. We had shared, together, the most intense moment of our lives, and we honored that, and always would.

One day, some time after the episode which had changed our lives - for now she had learned to liberate her eccentricity from the pointless risk, and her uniqueness from the addiction to being different Ė we met in a church, here in New York, with beautiful stained glass windows and the images of angels and saints along the walls.

"Do you need all this to believe in God?" she asked me.

"I found God when I was naked and alone," I told her. "I was led before his throne by two angels. One of them was you, and the other was Liam."

"So why donít you give all this up, then?" she asked me.

After a while, I said: "Now that I have found God, I can find him everywhere. Even here. Here, in the Church," I added, "there is community. Being with others is a wonderful thing. I will not leave behind the history of my family, though I have found the truth far from where my family ever trod."

"Except for Liam," she said.

"Except for Liam," I agreed.

Roxy took my hand, but as a friend, not a lover, does.

In perfect harmony, my moment of needing to surrender had matched her moment of needing to conquer; each of us gave to the other what was missing from our lives; she gave me the weakness that she was running from, while I gave her the control that I had tired of. For one moment as cataclysmic as the Big Bang, we fit together like Yin and Yang and made the heavens whole. Thanks to me, she, the powerless and the abused, became a Goddess. Thanks to her, the man who was above God recovered the art of reverence. From what the world called perversion, sprang holy things.

True perversion, I have come to believe, is murdering people with the hammer of dollars; true perversion is slaves dropping bombs upon the free. True perversion is, as Blake said, binding, with briars, our joys and desires. Acts of self-discovery are not disgraceful, they are valiant. The world will only be saved once Man dares to be honest. Underneath paradise, watering it as a spring in the desert, is knowledge of the self.

When I stood beside Roxy, I felt pure, no longer corrupt, and it felt beautiful to be pure, to be cleansed of the perceptions that make everything in the world seem dirty and turn men into guilt-ridden wrecks who are imprisoned by their need to be redeemed.

"See how the light is shining in," I told her, as one of the stained-glass windows seemed to come to life, with the image of an angel bringing a cup of water to a world afflicted with thirst.

Moved by the synchronicity, Roxy put her arm around me and gave me a hug.

"Thank you, Roxy," I said, "for bringing water into my life."

"Thank you, Sean," she said, "for being thirsty."

 

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