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dancefever.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2019

DANCE FEVER

by

Greg Smith

 

Bronx, NY. 1978. On the floor, in the cold dark of the cavernous basement, we twenty or so patrons sat, our wrists lightly bound. Shadows, cast by our captors in the focused disco lights above, shined through the four-foot, steel mesh-covered  gap between the sunken dance floor and the bar  level and  played out a drama on the foundation wall before us. Speculation as to what the shadows were up to and why this hip, new club had been invaded by armed men ran rampant. Each of us called out what he or she believed gave the best chance of getting out alive.

Then came the execution: a fat figure with bushy hair got seated center stage flanked by four standing men.  He gestured, pleaded with his hands. Powerful klieg lights projected fine shadows of sweat spraying from his agitating head. A deafening gunshot silenced us as the fat man keeled backward leaving legs akimbo.  Some of our group insisted our ordeal had ended.

But the sound of the door to our basement prison opening chilled our hope. We hushed; our group fear stank like old meat. The footsteps of two or more men descended.  Strong hands loosed me of my bonds. They knew I was a police department detective, having taken my gun and badge hours ago. I cursed my hot date for insisting we ride from Greenwich Village to 231st Street and Morris Avenue to dance at Plato’s Cave. She’d heard John Travolta was a regular on Thursdays. Gun muzzles prodded my back so up the stairs I went.

 

They stood me on the dance floor, a man behind me on either side.  After hours in dimness, the bright lights blinded me but at least it was warm. I raised a hand to shield my eyes. The hand got roughly taken down. Blinking against the glare, I made out six figures up on the upper level. At least two held shotguns.  Blood stained the steps leading up to them.

“Brown, Detective Sergeant,” said a rough voice. “We’re here on business. We could be here all night. Those people downstairs, we got nothing against them. But they have to keep it together. That’s where you come in. You’re to keep them orderly. It’s in their interest. It’s in your interest.”

It figured to be the shorter, stouter man looking to get me on his side. 

“It could get messy.  Can we arrange bathroom visits?”

“No.”

“What about the women?”

“No. It can’t be helped. That’s it. Take him down.”

Muzzles reappeared in my back so downstairs I went.

 

“What’s it like up there?” asked my date.

“What’re they doing?” called a man.

“What’re they going to do?” cried a woman.

I spoke soothingly, “They’re in charge. As long as they’re there there’s nothing we can do.”

The New York barrage came at me: “Who are they?” “What do they want?”  “They’ve got no right!” “How long are they staying?” “What are they waiting for?” “Who the fuck do they think they are?”

I had already loosed myself from the retied bonds. They were flimsy. It wouldn’t take long for others to get free. The men upstairs knew that.

“I’ve got to piss,” said my date.

“Me, too!”

“Me, too!

“Yeah, and me.”

“Do it in your pants. It’s the only way.”

“And if I have to poop?”

“Same thing. So don’t.”

“No fucking way.”

“Hey, why did they choose you to go upstairs?” called a guy across the group.

“Yeh, who are you?” Chimed in his neighbor.

“That’s right, who are you?”

“Yea, I mean, who the fuck are you?”

“Yeah!”

“Yeah!”

“Yeah!”

If I told them I was PD it would make things worse. This crowd would want action.  I kept silent.

“Are they even still up there?”

“Yeah, look at the shadows. There’s nothing.”

“You can see their heads,” I countered.

“Where?”

I pointed. “There. That ridge line is their heads.”

“You’re free,” the faraway woman shrieked.

“Yea,” said the guy. “What’s with that?”

“Are you with them?”

“You’re one of them.”

“That’s it. He’s one of them!”

“Or he’s working with them. What did they promise you?”

“He’s saving himself and letting us die!”

“Bastard.”

“Asshole.”

“Cocksucker.”

The faraway guy had apparently freed himself because he sprinted across and threw himself at me.  I stiff-armed him, sending him into a cartwheel over me.

One by one all the hostages popped up free from their bonds. They crowded me; I rose. The men and women shouted curses and snarled. They mobbed up closer and closer until I was backed into a corner.

“You’re all free now!” I shouted.  “Every single one of you is free. You can do whatever you want to do. You can go upstairs if you believe there are no men with guns waiting to pick you off. Go on. It’s nice up there. It’s warm and light.  You can get drinks and use the toilet. Go on, pal. You first.”

The crowd quieted and focused on the man. His anger left him and he trembled. “It’s not so bad down here. I can wait.”

A woman said, “I can hold on. Maybe I got to go, I just go.”

“Yeah,” grumbled my date. A wave of “yeahs” and “okays” filtered through the mob. Then like automatons each prisoner shuffled back to his or her original  spot and sat. I returned to my place. We all quietly watched the shadow players pull two tables together and start up, what looked to me, a card game.


Greg likes the grit so check out the site The New York Crimes, nycrimelimericksandbeyond.com, for lots of down and dirty fun freebies. All for your enjoyment.



It's well known that an artist becomes more popular by dying, so our pal Steve Cartwright is typing his bio with one hand while pummeling his head with a frozen mackerel with the other. Stop, Steve! Death by mackerel is no way to go! He (Steve, not the mackerel) has a collection of spooky toons, Suddenly Halloween!, available at Amazon.com.    He's done art for several magazines, newspapers, websites, commercial and governmental clients, books, and scribbling - but mostly drooling - on tavern napkins. He also creates art pro bono for several animal rescue groups. He was awarded the 2004 James Award for his cover art for Champagne Shivers. He recently illustrated the Cimarron Review, Stories for Children, and Still Crazy magazine covers. Take a gander ( or a goose ) at his online gallery: www.angelfire.com/sc2/cartoonsbycartwright . And please hurry with your response - that mackerel's killin' your pal, Steve Cartwright.

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