Mac takes the big step. The forbidden one, never done before. He goes to the other Coney Island.
It looks the same, very similar, only inverted. When he pauses in the door to this Coney Island, one block toward the river from his Coney Island, the bar stands to the left, not right. Here the patrons sit and face west. Their left arms are nearest the door. It is their left shoulders they look over to espy Mac. The faces are familiar, yet not. He's unable to speak the name of any man here, and how can that be? So close?
The decor is identical, even the waterstains in the ceiling, almost. It seems obvious the same contractor built this establishment, in the same era, with the same stock of materials. A darkhaired man who could be Paletello's first cousin stands the register, a dull, mildly skeptical gaze upon Mac.
When he sits down there is an immediate uneasiness, as though some sign stuck on his back indicates he belongs in the other place.
"Hey. How y'all."
"Can we help you?"
"I, uh. . .just, I'll get a burger. Just stopping in for a bite."
"We're out of buns. Have you ever been in here before?"
"Naw, sure haven't. Know it's kind of funny, drive down this street a hundred times a day, but I've never been inside here."
"I didn't think so."
"How about a dog? Hot dog. Any old way would be fine with me. Kind of hungry here." Mac points to a guy's plate
a few seats down. They have hot dog buns for sure.
"Well, I'll tell you what," Paletello's double says. "I've had my eye out for the sanitation inspector. We're not supposed to be selling food on account of a little kitchen situation back here."
"He's got a hot dog."
"I never sold him a hot dog. I gave him something to eat because he's a friend of mine."
"Can't you give me one?"
"How could I? I don't know you."
Mac quickly remedies the situation, announcing his name to all present. "If you're wondering where you've seen me before, it was on the news, last Tuesday." Blank stares all around. "The Reverend Sarah. You know, when everyone was trying to find her body? I was the one who did. They interviewed me on television."
"Doctor Sarah. The minister on the southside. . ?"
"Oh. That whitehaired lady? I think I heard about something along those lines. You found her?"
"Yep. On my way fishing."
"Was they looking for her or her body? At first? I was under the impression she was thought missing to begin with."
"Yeah. Me too. It was really an accident. Finding her, I mean."
"But you just said you were hunting her like everybody else?"
"Well, yeah, I uh . . ." The eyes. Every set of eyes in the place is upon him. "You got coffee?"
A long sigh from the proprietor. "Cawf-fee. Hmm. Naw. Aint got none." And right there, in front of Mac and all the eyes, the guy with the unfinished hot dog raises a stained coffee cup. Mac watches. The proprietor very slowly turns behind the counter and lifts a glass pot from a burner. Very deliberately he walks to the same empty cup and pours.
"Joe," the proprietor says. Mac is puzzled. "What this is, is Joe. That's what we call it."
"Well, okay. I'll have some, um . . . Joe."
What follows is not laughter, but sound with elements of distant hilarity. "Joe!! Joe!!" Repeated up and down the counter, echoes bouncing off the tile. Contorted faces, laden with moisture and redness and dry tears. "He called it Joe!! "
Before long Mac is scrambling over himself to get out of that alternate universe. It is as if he has just escaped some uncomfortable dream, or finished talking to a disturbing machine. But, outside in the air, on the same sidewalk he's always walked on, shame lingers. He can't go back to the original Coney Island, not after betraying them.
He decides to check into a new corner bar down DeSiard where he'd made a delivery. But on the way he has to pass the old Coney Island, so he scoots quickly to the opposite sidewalk. From a safe distance, there's Paletello and Martin and some of the regulars. No Ret, no Kelly. That may be Gayle beside Martin, and Mac feels the urge to cross back over, but fights it. No one notices him passing by.
He brushes into someone, startling himself. Smells of beer and urine. The figure moves away hastily. Mac pauses, hands in pocket. "Hey Jimmy Lee." There is no return greeting, just one eye steady upon him and the other eye slightly askew. And the gaping nostril.
Mac says nothing more, still paused. Jimmy Lee has a toothpick in his mouth, unhinged by anything save the natural adhesive of dried lips. Jimmy Lee is staring at him, an almost smirking look, as if he knows exactly what Mac is up to. Of which Mac himself is clueless. Mac steps on, heels tapping on the concrete in eerie isolation along the untrafficked street.
Two blocks down he is at the bar. He turns; Jimmy Lee gazes still. From inside the doorway he waits until Jimmy Lee finally crosses DeSiard to the Coney Isle. Mac turns into the dark interior.
The bar is decorated with replica antiques representing no common decade or era. Around the edges of the natural stained board floor are ill-scraped plaster patches, overlooked nagging reminders from the fifties or sixties. Two of the tables are occupied; some four or five other single denizens negotiate bar stools. Mac has in the past spotted uniforms from nearby St Francis step off the sidewalk, giggling, but no nurses seem to be here tonight.
Before he takes the bar he re-checks his billfold. He orders the cheapest draft and drinks very slowly. He's one stool down from two men talking. Before long, he brings up the Reverend Sarah. It doesn't get much comment until he reveals his role in finding her. There are reluctant handshakes, a few mild congratulations. He tells his story, each detail lapsing into silence. Not a lot of curiosity here.
He finishes his draft, doesn't order another. At one table near the door three college-ageds receive a series of pitchers, finding much humor in their rate of consumption. A knock on the door: pizza delivery. After some arguing over the loss of a quarter beneath the table, one of the college boys writes a check and they dig in. The barkeep looks unamused. He comes out from behind the bar and goes to the table. Mac waits for the showdown. The barkeep returns, laughing, with a slice of his own.
The pizza smells good.
Mac leaves. He wanders a few alleyways, ones too small to drive. (Besides, there's no gas in the Fury.) Down the unlit passages he finds nothing remarkable, opting for a moment to watch the half-dark moon looming over the highest floor of the hospital. The room windows remind him of a dispatch switchboard, different lights on and off.
In the block of Grammont near St John an unsuspected voice at his feet rattles him, knocking him off-balance, as if his muscles had leaped ahead of their attached bones. Scary moments pass before he recovers, making out an old black man on knees at the base of a wall, surrounded by a small fortress of garbage cans. In the dim alley-light Mac sees that the trunk of the man's body rests upon a dolly, the wooden kind used in older service garages.
The man owns no legs. He will not look precisely at Mac's face, and Mac begins to wonder if he is blind. He is asking for money. Mac, unlike himself, even to himself, asks "Why should I give you money?" There comes no story, no excuse. "Cause I need. You got it, whitefolks." Mac sees a tattered brown suit, dangling pants legs baggy and soiled from being caught by dolly wheels.
Mac looks around. No one in sight. "The Reverend Sarah ever help you out?"
"Ain't no woman, preacher or not, ever hep me, not even a blowjob. Got any spare coins?" Mac considers, then takes the meager change from the draft and drops it in the alley. The old man is forced to wheel several feet to retrieve it. He propels himself by wooden blocks strapped with loose leather to his hands.
"Thanks, motherfucker." He counts the change, slides it into his coat pocket. "What you waiting for, whitefolks?" Mac is looking around the alley. He sees the brief flash of a taxi cab crossing the alley mouth down St John, nothing else.
He begins to kick the man. At first silence, just the dull impact of his shoes, then a piteous howling. Mac kicks a few times more. The old man has come off the dolly and is unable to move on the concrete. Mac stands, watching, incredulous, as if the two of them were in another world altogether from the one he has known. Among howls the old man is pleading for Mac to kick him some more. "Come on, motherfucker---Ahhh---kick the shit out of me. Ain't have far to go."
Mac looks both ways down the alley, runs the shorter distance as screams echo off the brick walls, running, and at the open street he doubles over, breathing, the overwhelming insistent drum of his heart against ribs.