Two months to the day after Thanksgiving, Miss Grace Yunqué, of East Elmhurst, Queens, rose late on her day off, fixed herself brunch, then boarded the westbound M60 bus at 23rd Avenue.
She preferred taking the bus whenever she could. The subways saved time, but were fraught with risk. Despite a heavy police presence underground at key times and terminals, the cop coverage tended to thin out to nothingness towards the outer boroughs, and unless there was someone with a badge and gun on the platform with her, she simply didn’t feel safe on the subways any more.
Besides, the bus was fast, thanks to the Mayor’s enforcement of bus-only lanes across major bridges. And it was comfortable. Miss Grace Yunqué had no idea which kind of bus she rode along the M60 route (a slightly older Orion VII Next Generation semi-low floor hybrid electric built by Daimler Commercial Buses), but it was quite good. She had seen much, much worse in her day.
As usual, the bus looped north through LaGuardia International Airport, meandering by the Marine Air Terminal on Bowery Bay, before settling down for its long westward cruise along Astoria Boulevard. As the bus arced out across the Robert Kennedy Bridge spanning the Hell Gate section of the East River, she looked down upon Wards and Randalls Islands far below, dusted with snow. She was mentally planning her own route. While her main business of the day was routine (a followup visit to Dr. Lazar regarding her condition), the stop she planned to make afterwards was anything but.
Miss Grace Yunqué was a homely, portly Latina of Peruvian descent in her late fifties who was starting to feel gravity’s pull more acutely. Her arches were falling, her heels ached at night, and her ass seemed to spread wider with each passing year. Her husband was dead, her children grown and struggling with families of their own. What little brightness there was in her life came from her grand-nephew José, and her Pomeranian, Hector.
Still, it wasn’t all bad. She had worked for years keeping the books of a small firm that made spare parts for servicing city buses. The benefits were good, and she had her late husband’s small pension coming in as well, which she diligently invested in TIPS, inflation-protected bonds that had been adjusted for the extended period of low rates following the crash. Miss Grace Yunqué did not know when the city’s fortunes would take a turn for the better, but she intended to have a toe in the water when they did. She believed the city would rise again—someday, perhaps not even in her lifetime, but someday—and she wanted to have something to bequeath to her darling little niňo José.
Which was why she was heading into Manhattan this morning, to report the goings-on she’d been seeing in the company’s financial statements for months now. She knew fraud when she saw it, and she intended to cash in by reporting it.
If all went according to plan. The list of things that could go wrong and make life very ugly and perhaps even short for her was long. Thinking about that threatened to aggravate her condition, and she began the series of relaxation exercises Dr. Lazar had taught her.
By the time she alighted from the bus at 106th and Broadway in Manhattan, she was feeling better, although a slightly anxious tingle remained stubbornly in the back of her mind. She walked stiffly, turning the collar of her coat up against the scything wind, along the block and a half to Riverside Drive. She would ride the M5 Limited downtown. There was no way she would ride the M104 bus, infamous throughout the city as a rolling freak barge, upon which legions of the insane rode aimlessly up and down Broadway. And there was no way she was going underground, especially not on her day off.
She was lucky; the bus (a much older C40LF from New Flyer Industries running on compressed natural gas) was less than two blocks away when she reached the stop. There were no protective kiosks along Riverside Drive (she figured the people who lived on it were rich enough to stop the city from erecting them), and the January wind coming across the Hudson River was merciless.
It was slower going in Manhattan. The M5 route took it eastward along West 72nd Street to Broadway, where it joined the slow southbound trudge of traffic to the merry-go-round of Columbus Circle, from whence it chugged down Central Park South to Fifth Avenue (how sad the Plaza looked, she thought, all barricaded against the throngs of homeless people who had built one of the city’s biggest shantytowns here), where it turned southward again, stopping briefly in front of the long-closed Bergdorf-Goodman flagship store before making the long final leg downtown to South Ferry.
The session in Dr. Lazar’s midtown office was uneventful. Fortified with a renewed prescription and Dr. Lazar’s infectious good cheer, she boarded the crosstown M57 bus (an articulated Nova LFS hybrid) for a (free!) ride west, towards the Hudson River.
Her nerve began to flag as she stood outside the station amongst the rows of prowl cars, beaten-up taxicabs, and ugly three-wheeled ATVs parked at a rakish angle that clearly marked the block as a Cop Shop. Still, she had chosen this precinct to be the one furthest from her own, at least on a map. No one she knew worked here; certainly no one she knew could afford to live here. She straightened her back, cinched her coat collar up under her chin, and strode purposefully inside. Miss Grace Yunqué was not a quitter.
The inside of the station (she would reflect later) was a good approximation of her idea of Hell. The floors and walls were a horrid shade of institutional green, the air was rank with a dozen unidentifiable odors, everyone wearing a uniform looked haggard and miserable, and the rest (they must be the criminals!) looked no different from the homeless on the street. She began to reconsider her decision to come here.
No one seemed the slightest bit interested in her, and she could not seem to find the right officer to speak with, despite asking in English and Spanish. She wandered through the precinct unnoticed and unmonitored. No one cared. Eventually she found herself standing in the doorway of what appeared to be a run-down gym. Two raggedy-looking men in leather and combat boots, their badges and guns hanging loosely from their clothing, lay sprawled on the incline benches, watching HGTV on an old cathode-ray TV hanging precariously from the ceiling near a window (through which she could discern the sort of illegal, jerry-rigged cable hookup common in her own neighborhood). Neither cop paid her any attention at all. She approached them with caution, for she noticed that despite their languor, each kept a hand near his pistol. She stopped when she was close enough to read their police IDs, one of which said Liesl, the other Turse. The clean-cut mug shots on their photo IDs looked nothing like the mangy cops who wore them. When she asked them, neither one of them even turned to look at her. Neither even blinked. Her uneasiness was growing, and that threatened her condition. She moved quietly back outside.
At last she was told with whom she should speak. She was directed to a tiny office at the far end of a room full of more scruffy-looking cops (didn’t anyone shave or get haircuts anymore?), several of whom were standing around the fattest, ugliest, most slovenly-looking man she had ever seen, who was talking loudly with his mouth full, freely spilling pieces of whatever he was eating down his shirtfront. He was the only one wearing a tie. She skirted him widely and knocked on the door of the tiny office behind him, to which was tacked a homemade business card that read:
Detective Sixto Santiago CAB Group One NYPD
Upon being bade entry, her anxiety abated somewhat. The policeman sitting behind the desk was a handsome, dark-skinned Latino (Peruvian?), with broad shoulders and large hands. He was clean-shaven and neatly dressed, with a freshly razored haircut. She hoped her José would grow into as fine-looking a specimen as this man someday. He gestured for her to sit, and addressed her in good clear Spanish.
Something was bothering him, she could tell. He seemed hemmed in by the towering piles of paper on his desk and the shelves behind him, but it was more than that. His blasé efficiency seemed carefully orchestrated, his disciplined demeanor (not once did he look up from his computer at her) put on. Miss Grace Yunqué discerned a heaviness of soul in the policeman, a weary resignation and cynicism so unfortunately common to young men today. It was the times they lived in, she wanted to tell him. Don’t let it bring you down. There’s hope, there’s always hope, she yearned to say. She longed to mother him, to hold his big callused hands and tell him everything would be all right.
This mood disintegrated the moment she mentioned the man who had directed her to this office. The policeman’s large hands froze in midair above his keyboard. The man’s eyes (oh, big brown eyes like her little niňo!) grabbed onto hers and held them in a fiery clutch. Slowly and deliberately, he put his hands on the desk and levered his massive upper body over them towards her (grande, mi calidad, she thought, a weight lifter for sure!) in a manner that was anything but friendly. She felt her pulse rising and sweat prickling her scalp. Bad signs for her condition. She tried to affect a nonchalance she did not feel.
“él pareció no diferente que los demás, como estos en el gimnasio,” she said meekly, withering under the detective’s pitiless glare. Her voice was weakening, her knees trembled. She was well into the danger zone now, she knew, but there was nowhere to hide.
“Describe him,” growled the cop, who now seemed to her less hero, more thug. She pressed her legs together and flexed her toes, trying desperately to keep her mind off her condition.
“He looked like a bum,” she managed, “or an NYU student. He said you were definitely the man I should see.”
The clash of expressions now fighting for control of the detective’s face was frightening to her. His jaws clenched, he bared his teeth, and snorted loudly through his nostrils like an enraged bull. He terrified her. And this triggered her condition.
Miss Grace Yunqué suffered from Psychogenic Urination Disorder, or PUD (“Don’t worry, Grace,” Dr. Lazar had assured his jittery patient, “Together, you and me, we’ll beat this thing!”). In her particular case, sudden stress caused her to urinate, copiously. Which she now did, in a darkening downpour from her stockings into her shoes, and thence outward in a spreading puddle on the office floor. The harder she tried to constrict the flow, the greater it became, and adding to her degradation, the asparagus omelette she’d made for herself earlier now betrayed her, filling the room with a brute-force putrescence.
As unnerved as she was, she was appalled by the bizarre nature of what the big detective did next: drawing himself to his full six-and-change height, he cocked his arms, his biceps straining the sleeves of his jacket, balled his hands into huge hard fists and screamed, “MORE!!!”