Praise for Taming a Seahorse
“Irresistible!”—The Bergen Record
“A winner.”—The Chicago Tribune
About the Author
Date of Birth:September 17, 1932
Date of Death:January 18, 2010
Place of Birth:Springfield, Massachusetts
Place of Death:Cambridge, Massachusetts
Education:B.A. in English, Colby College, 1954; M.A., Ph. D. in English, Boston University, 1957, 1971
Read an Excerpt
I hadn’t had lunch with Patricia Utley since the last time the Red Sox won the pennant. That seems like another way to say never, but in fact it had been ten years. We were looking at the menu and sipping margaritas (on the rocks, salt) in a restaurant called Bogie’s on West 26th Street in Manhattan.
“Veal’s awfully good here,” Patricia said.
“So are the margaritas,” I said.
She smiled. “Margaritas are good everywhere.”
Ten years had made little impression on Patricia Utley. She was still small and blond and fine-boned. She still wore big black-rimmed round glasses. She still looked very good.
The waitress came and took our order and went away. She came back shortly with a second margarita for me. Patricia Utley still had most of hers left. It’s hard to make a margarita last and with each sip it becomes harder. I put my glass down, licked a little salt off my upper lip. No problem. I’d just leave it there a while and then I’d have another little sip.
“Have you found April yet?” I said.
“Steven has traced her to another call house on the West Side,” she said. “Ninety-sixth and Central Park West.” She gave me the address.
I turned the margarita glass slowly on the tablecloth with my right hand.
“Decent place?” I said.
“At the moment,” she said. “But only at the moment. When she gets a little used up she’ll be replaced and they’ll turn her out into some-thing a little less plush.”
“And when she gets used up there?” I said.
Patricia Utley nodded. “To something still less plush.”
I drank some of my margarita.
“Down and down I go,” I said. “Round and round I go.”
“She’ll be in a spin,” Patricia Utley said. “But she won’t be enjoying it.”
I had taken a bit larger sip than I’d intended. The margarita was gone. Probably if I had another one, I’d be able to think just what I should do about April Kyle. I nodded at the waitress. She brought me a new drink and one for Patricia Utley.
“Maybe I can talk with her a bit,” I said.
Patricia nodded. “It might help. Steven talked with her but it did no good. Whether she’ll respond to you I don’t know. You sent her to me.”
“I know,” I said. “Seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“I think it was. We made real progress with her. She had learned how to behave, maybe even had started to get some values.”
“And regular medical checks. No clap, no herpes.”
“There’s always whores,” Patricia said. “Always. And someone has always run them. That doesn’t mean that some ways aren’t better than others.”
The waitress came with our veal.
When she went away, I said, “I know. That’s why I sent her to you. She was going to be a whore, no matter what.”
“And my girls get fairly paid and they are not abused and they are free to leave.” She shrugged. “I never claimed it was Smith College.”
“No need to be defensive,” I said. “No one accused you of being Smith College.”
Patricia smiled. I finished my margarita before starting the veal. Sequence is important.
“Do you have a client in this affair?” Patricia said.
“No, I’m on spec,” I said.
“That was the same fee you got last time you were involved with April.”
I ate some veal. “Yum yum,” I said.
“Still sentimental,” Patricia said. “I thought age might have toughened you up a little.”
“You called me,” I said.
She smiled again. “And how will you proceed?” she said. She hadn’t touched her second drink.
“I’ll see her, reason with her. When that doesn’t work I’ll improvise. You going to drink that drink?”
“No,” she said. “Are you going to remind me of starving children somewhere?”
“Nope, I was going to warn you about scurvy.”
She took the margarita and put it in front of me.
“Save yourself,” she said.
I took a sip. It went surprisingly well with the veal. On the other hand, the fourth margarita goes surprisingly well with everything.
“She left you with no explanation,” I said.
“That’s right. Simply disappeared. Her room was cleaned out and she was gone. But no note, no phone call, no good-bye. When I called you I had no idea where she was.”
“Why would she leave you and go to another, ah, service? Money?”
“I don’t think so. I think she was seduced.”
“Patricia,” I said, “I don’t wish to be coarse, but she’s a whore. She’s been a whore since she was sixteen.”
“And now she’s twenty,” Patricia said, “and she’s still a whore. But whores do what they do for a lot of reasons, and I think April is in love with somebody that has her working there.”
Patricia Utley shrugged. “Sure,” she said, “for lack of a better word. My guess is that he’s really more of a recruiter.”
“Like for G.E. or Indiana U?”
“Yes. It’s done. You find that you don’t have a particular kind of girl in your stable, you shop around or you get hold of someone who’ll shop around, and he finds what you need: blond Miss America, exotic Latin, somebody who looks like Sophie Tucker, and he recruits her for you.”
“No, a lot of recruiting is done in lesbian bars. But in this case it’s a he.”
“What determines what kind of woman you want in your stable?” I said. “Customer demand?”
“Yes,” Patricia said.
“Do you recruit?”
“No. I don’t need to. My whores come because they’ve heard about my operation and because they want to work for me. Except the ones that are sent me by detectives from Boston.”
The waitress cleared our dishes. We ordered cheesecake for dessert. Patricia Utley ordered coffee. Not me. No point screwing up four margaritas.
“You were the best I could do,” I said. “All the other options she had were worse.”
Patricia Utley smiled. “Thanks,” she said.
The waitress came with the cheesecake. Mine had cherries on it. I remained calm. Normally cherry cheesecake makes my nostrils flare dramatically. I took a small, dignified bite. Control.
“Being someone’s whore is not an ideal option for anyone,” I said. “I notice for instance that you’re not. But ideal options aren’t something I have much to do with. Most of the time I’m shuttling between bad and worse.”
“With me she has choice,” Patricia said. “No one is coerced with me.”
“At least not by you. The world probably coerces them some.”
“I can’t help that,” Patricia Utley said.
“Me either,” I said. I had another bite of cherry cheesecake.
“But you keep trying,” she said.
“Else what’s a heaven for,” I said.
“And falling short.”
I shrugged. The discussion was distracting me from the cheesecake.
“But you keep doing it,” she said.
“April Kyle got a better deal out of life than she would have if I hadn’t been around,” I said. “I got her choices. It’s the best anyone gets. It’s all I’ll try to give her this time. If she’s where she’d rather be, then that’s where she ought to be.”
“Even if later on it will destroy her?”
“One day at a time,” I said. My cheesecake was gone. My pulse rate slowed. Patricia Utley paid the check.
On 26th Street we walked east. It was spring in New York, and the street litter was beginning to dry in the pale sun.
“Don’t underestimate the impact that her pimp has on her,” Patricia Utley said.
“If she has one.”
Patricia Utley looked at me almost sadly. “April has one,” she said. “In spite of everything, in spite of all they know to the contrary, whores want love. It’s not money that they whore for. It’s love, or the hope of it.”
“Why should they be different?”
“Because by the time they get to be twenty years old they have ample evidence that love is nonsense.”
“Put money in thy purse?”
“That’s some kind of quote,” Patricia Utley said, “but I don’t know from where. Yes. Of course, put money in thy purse.”
“You management types are all the same,” I said. “Anti-romantics.”
“But the whores aren’t,” Patricia said. “That may be the trick of it.”
“I’m not anti-romantic,” I said.
“You’re male,” she said. “You can afford it.” “If I were female would it lead me to whoredom?”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t think so.”
We reached Sixth Avenue. “So it’s not the whole trick.”
She was looking for a cab. “Maybe not.”
“Everyone wants love,” I said. “Not everyone whores.”
She gestured toward a cab. It zipped past us. “Shit,” she said. She looked for another one. Downtown a block two guys in tan raincoats flagged the next cab. She exhaled softly and turned and looked at me. Under her careful makeup I could see lines at her mouth and eyes. Natural light is tough. “I’m not a philosopher,” she said. “You don’t have to know how coal was made in order to mine it. But I think April’s future will be a lot brighter if you get her out of that call service, and to do that, I think you’re going to have to get her away from a pimp that she thinks loves her.”
“Pimps don’t love anybody,” I said.
“You know that. I know that. Whores don’t know that.”
“Did you always know that?” I said.
A cab angled across the traffic from the east side of Sixth Avenue and stopped.
“You want a ride uptown?” Patricia said. “No, thanks,” I said. “I like to walk. You going to answer my question?”
She said, “No,” and got in the cab. I closed the door behind her and the cab pulled back into the traffic.