Miriam had already found her way down to the main passage at the base of the wall. She waited for me to climb down carefully as an old man like me should. You know even a short fall could be my last act.
When I was finally down there, I saw her looking down the main passage: a road to nowhere. There wasn’t a light to be seen or a sound to be heard in that direction.
“Where to?” I asked her with the high hope she was hiding a bar somewhere down in that lifeless tunnel.
She gestured down into the dark. “Let’s go this way.”
“Is there anything down that way?”
She smiled, “Oh there’s plenty.”
“Like?” This dame was like the Hoover Dam with all the water she was holding back.
“You’ll find out soon won’t you?”
“I’m guessing I will.” There was a faint smile across her lips. It was probably the only size they would allow underground.
“So Miriam would I be a chump to ask why a dollface like yours is still running around down here?” And then it happened; the pitch black consumed us. There was no light, no air and barely just the sound of our feet crunching along the soot and garbage on the path. If it wasn’t for the sound of our voices, I would have told you we had both vanished into the thick air.
“Why not leave, you mean? I tried a couple of times. But poppa’s grip was always stronger.” Her footsteps stopped. “Where’s that lighter?”
“We’re stopping here? I can’t see a thing.”
“Of course you can’t. You’re eyes aren’t used to it yet. Mine are. Give me the lighter.” I quickly fished the thing out of my pocket and fumbled around in the dark for her hand. She knew exactly where to find mine. I could feel just how soft her skin was when it brushed against my palm. Then in that complete darkness a small glow came from the flame of my lighter. She lit my cigarette first like a true gentleman and then hers. The little bits of light that found her face had a field day with it. Even the deep shadows around her cheeks couldn’t diminish the glow of her skin.
“Thanks,” I said. The light disappeared and quickly darkness fell again.
“So don’t you want to ask me about my brother?” I heard her exhale deeply.
“Not right now. I want to know more about you? Were you born down here.”
She laughed, “Heavens no! I was born on 68th Street before Poppa took us down here.”
“And what drove him to do all this?”
“Do you want my version or his version of the story?”
There was always two: “Give me yours.”
“Well he’ll tell you it’s because he was through with people treating each other like animals. War and poverty and injustice. He kept saying he wanted to create a society of equality and order away from the life of greed on the surface.”
“And you’ll tell me…?”
“Poppa started losing things. He lost his mind in the war. Saw too much. Lost too many friends. And when that happened he lost his position at the college and couldn’t support us. So then he took us down here and then he went and lost his wife.”
“Did she leave him?”
“She died. Not long after we came here. We were still trying to find a place to settle and make our home, going from one corner of this pit to another scavenging for food. We would meet these wayward hobos and poppa would them under his wing and tell them his grand plans to build an underground city of justice and hope. And there was mother just going right along with it. Like there wasn’t anything at all wrong with his mind. She was so devoted to him that she never once questioned him for subjecting our family to this way of life. She just quietly followed along without complaint. One day she was out scouting the tunnels with me. We were looking for a spot where we could get electricity and we crossed a train track. I kept walking on, but I realized my mother was not following behind. I ran back but I couldn’t see her very well, my eyes hadn’t adjusted yet. Her leg was caught on the tracks but I had no idea. Either that or it was suicide. An end to the shameful hell her life had become. She never called out to me. Then I heard the train barreling through and finally her screams. That was truly the end for poppa. After mother died he put everything he had into building this society. Now he’s got his army of lost souls falling for his bunk philosophies.”
I focussed my eyes on the slow dying ember of her cigarette as she took a giant inhale. “And you’re not one of them?”
Then the exhale. “No. I could never find my place down here. I was always looking to get out and a couple times I did.”
“What brought you back?”
“Trouble. Somehow it always found me up there. The only place I’m truly safe is down here. That’s until I’m stupid enough to give it a try on the surface again.”
I let a little silence seep in to the conversation so I could quietly finish off my cigarette. I knew a dame like her had a long sad story. You could just tell by the way she carried herself with those two big chips on her perfectly beautiful shoulders.
Suddenly the darkess began to swirl all around me. It was still boiling down there and the closeness of the passageway was starting to wear on me. My hand felt for a wall to lean back on for support.
Her eyes were so well-trained that she could see me do it, “You tired?”
“I’m still hot and a little thirsty again.”
”That’s what happens when you’re down in hell.” She finished off her cigarette and put it out on the ground with a swish of her foot.
Since I had found the wall I could try and get my head back into the case. “Now tell me about your brother and who do you think might want to murder him.”
“Poppa’s prize? I can’t think of person down here who didn’t love him.”
”How about you?”
”He was my brother and even though poppa gave all of his love to him, Joseph was good to me. Listen, you can get it outta your head that I killed him. If I had, you can be damn sure I’d take the credit.” She wrapped her hand around my arm and lifted me up off the wall. ”I may be a couple of unsavory things but a liar isn’t one of them.” I noticed she didn’t say murderer. My gut believed her though. Maybe it was her dark beauty blinding me but her words sounded awfully real.
”Who might want him dead then?”
”I can’t answer that.” I heard her the footsteps first and then I felt her entire body dragging me in tow. ”But I’m going to take you to someone who might be able to help.”