CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: NYPD 5th Precinct – Chinatown
On the day Keekee Kaufman was admitted to Bellevue after throwing herself off the Triboro Bridge, she had an email waiting for her in her inbox. It was from an old boyfriend, the one who got away. Ralphie Muzatti was just as crazy as she was, but Keekee had always loved him more than anything. She knew one day that Ralphie would realize they were meant for one another, and she told herself that as soon as Ralphie decided he loved her too, Keekee would drop everything to be with him again. And even though Ralphie did make that decision to love her, Keekee Kaufman did not check her email that day. Instead, she got into one last argument with Thomas Mueller and then proceeded to make her way to the East River.
The day John Galloway crashed his car in the middle of the Holland Tunnel, accidentally killing his wife Edith, was the same day he also saved a life. From his office window he witnessed a man collapse on Pearl Street. The man had a sudden heart failure; not only did he fall onto the sidewalk, but he also tumbled down a stairwell. John called for an ambulance before running outside and he waited until help arrived. He only spent an hour in the hospital that afternoon, just long enough to make sure the man was okay, but during that time Edith Galloway had dropped by John’s office unannounced. She came by to confess to her husband her affair with the comic store clerk, but that she planned on ending it with Jesse Classen as soon as the art exhibition was over that evening. But John was not at his office, so Edith did not get the chance to tell him everything about the mistakes she had made. And by the time John finally saw her that night Edith was already too drunk to admit anything to her husband.
The day Thomas Mueller fell, there were no warning signs at all. There was nothing that would have prevented him from hitting the bottom. He would have had to look back over his entire lifespan in order to find the signs he needed to save himself. Quite literally, he had to look as far back as the day he and his brother were born.
There was a voice. It echoed off empty walls, a bare room. It was only saying one word, turning the word itself into a question. “Leyland?” Was it questioning the word’s authenticity? Questioning its very existence? “Leyland?”
Tommy opened his eyes. He was right: it was an empty room. There was a table. Two chairs. Two people. That was it. Tommy was seated in one of the hard, wooden chairs, still dressed as the Empire State Building. Across the table in the other chair was a police officer. His nametag read: Const. B. R. AVERY. Tommy couldn’t believe it; it was almost too stupid to be true.
“Good to see you finally coming around,” the officer said. “You took quite a hit there.” Avery was an older man, with the kind of police mustache that’s to be expected after years on the force.
Tommy was still a little out of it though. “What? Where am I?” He realized he was missing the top of his costume. The tip of the skyscraper.
“I’m sorry for putting you here in the interrogation room. You’ll notice you’re not handcuffed. This building fills up pretty fast on Halloween night, so we sometimes have to put the non-felons wherever we can.”
“Non-felons?” Slowly, the memory of throwing a punch at Patrick started to come back to him. As did the memory of hitting the floor with his own face. He rubbed his jaw. With his tongue, he could feel where his tooth should have been.
“Yeah, you lost your front tooth there. And your nose is broken. But no major damage inflicted.” Tommy felt the bandages on his nose, crusted from dry blood. Avery sorted through some papers that were laid out in front of him and he clicked the pen in his hand excitedly, as if trying to break a world record. “I’ve just got a couple of questions for you Leyland. Well one major one, really.”
“Why do you keep calling me that?”
“Leyland. You keep calling me Leyland.” Tommy didn’t notice before that the inside of his mouth was cut. He licked the blood from his teeth. The warm metallic taste reminded him of the time he got into a fistfight back in high school. He remembered Patrick Kohn sticking up for him that day.
“Would you prefer Mr. Mueller? I’m sorry, but I don’t enjoy being so formal. Never have.”
Tommy looked around for some kind of clue. If it was a practical joke, there would have to be a hidden camera somewhere in the room. If he was caught in the middle of a dream, then there would have to be something like a leprechaun, or maybe the floor would be made entirely out of marbles. But it was nothing more than a simple police interrogation room, almost exactly like any he’d seen in the movies. And there was only himself and Constable B. R. Avery and two chairs and a table. As a last resort, he looked at his own hands and was baffled by the dark ink on his thumb and index finger. “Am I in trouble here? Am I being arrested?”
“Your friend in the dragon costume isn’t pressing any charges.” Avery jotted something down on one of the papers.
“It’s a frog. He was wearing a frog costume.”
“Well, the file says dragon. But it’s not really that important.”
“If you want to know why I beat the shit out of a good friend of mine, I’ll tell you.”
“Sounds like you got knocked in the head harder than we thought. Your friend is fine. And he’s already been released. It’s you who received the worst of it.”
“What? You let him go? But he tried to kill me! He almost burned my apartment building to the ground!”
“If you’d like to file a case for a separate incident, be my guest. But Patrick Kohn is not pressing any charges himself.”
“Charges? For what?”
“Well, for tonight’s altercation and for the break-in at his warehouse.”
Tommy didn’t have anything to say. He knew that any squirming in his seat was certain to be interpreted as a sign of guilt, but he couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t believe Patrick would rat him out like that.
“But I do have something to ask you.”
“Well if it’s an autograph you want, I only sign books.”
“Uh huh. No, the reason I’ve got you here with me is because we ran your prints, and they belong to one Leyland Mueller.”
Tommy swished some more fresh blood between his teeth.
“But according to all the files we could pull, Leyland Mueller died fifteen years ago.” Constable Avery rose from his seat and leaned in closer to Tommy. “Now, can you tell me why your fingerprints would match those of a dead man?”
“Leyland Mueller was my twin brother. My name is Tommy.”
Avery huffed. “Right. But twins wouldn’t share the same prints, would they?”
“I don’t know how that works. You tell me.”
“Trust me. That’s how it works.”
It was another hour before Tommy was released from the station. As he was led through the halls towards Elizabeth Street, Tommy noted all of the other ghosts, spirits and specters that had been detained and were waiting for their names to be called. He didn’t feel all that different from any of them at that moment: haunting a world they were only temporarily part of.
Kate, Jesse and Patrick were all waiting for Tommy outside; the Nurse, the Hero and the Frog. Jesse handed him the lid for his costume. Tommy took it and continued walking towards the Canal Street Station without another word.
There was no serious damage to Tommy’s building and all those who had been temporarily homeless were allowed back inside that morning. He had only a vague recollection of spending the afternoon drinking on his couch before heading out to meet his friends at the Temple Bar. The smell of smoke hit him as soon as he opened his door. Tommy ignored the stench, picking up the phone. It was hard to dial the numbers in his bulky costume, but he was determined.
It was still just eleven o’clock in Seattle when his mother answered. “Hello?”
“Thomas! It’s been a while since we heard from you. How is everything? Have you seen Patrick yet? Has he called you?” Doris Mueller could never ask one question without asking three or four.
And Tommy could never answer any of his mother’s questions without putting her on the spot first. Both of them were annoyed by the routine, but neither avoided it. “Mom, did you ever mix me and Leyland up when we were kids?”
“Leyland and I. I can’t believe I’m still correcting your grammar. You’re the writer, not me.”
Tommy breathed heavily through his nostrils. He didn’t say a word since he knew his mother would just answer the question anyway.
She said, “You were identical twins, Thomas. Everybody confused the two of you at some point. I don’t know why you both insisted on having the same haircut. But a mother can always tell.”
“No mom. I mean, did you ever completely lose track of who was who? Maybe you put us down somewhere and forgot?”
Doris Mueller went silent for a long moment. Tommy heard something heavy on the other end of the phone, like a book falling. Or a heart dropping.
Tommy looked out his window, but all he saw was that plain brick wall glowing faintly from the street light. It was all he ever saw, but he still felt disappointed; as though he expected something more at that moment. “Mom?”
“When the two of you were just babies, you wore different colored wristbands so we could tell you apart. But they were getting so tight, you were both crying. So I took them off. It was while I was giving you both a bath. I turned away for just a moment; I think your father was calling to me from the other end of the house. I remember…it was only for a moment. When I turned back, I’d forgotten. I didn’t know who was who. But Thomas…I didn’t think it would be a big deal.”
“You didn’t think? Jesus, mom. It’s a pretty fucking big deal!”
“What’s happened Thomas?”
“Put the pieces together mom. I’m Leyland. I always have been. That’s Tommy lying somewhere at the bottom of the Pacific! Why wouldn’t you have gotten our fingerprints taken?”
“I…I didn’t think that would make a difference. Because you were twins.”
“Well, apparently it makes a whole shitload of difference. There’s a grave in Seattle with my name on it! I dedicated my first book to him. I dedicated a book to myself! Can you understand the difference it makes now?”
“Thomas, please do not yell at me.”
“I’m sorry mom, but I’ve run out of people in New York to yell at.”
Doris went silent again. She seemed to be thinking about all of the signposts along the way, but one life can have far too many to keep track of. “When you boys were first born, when Leyland was just a baby, he had always fixated on that plate in the kitchen. We had one plate for every state, but he never took his eyes off the one that said New York. I think he loved that big red apple on it.”
“But that was me, mom,” Tommy said. “It was me who loved that plate.”
“Thomas…I’m sorry. If it means anything right now, I’m sorry.”
Tommy hung up the phone. He knew he should’ve said something more but whatever it might have been certainly would not have helped any. He sunk onto his bed and considered the repercussions of it all. The weight of his soul had never been so heavy. So straining. Although it was his brother who had died in that plane crash, Tommy could not help but think it was himself lying there at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Everything he had accomplished as Thomas Mueller was a lie of sorts. Tommy had never actually graduated from high school. Tommy had never written one single book. It wasn’t Tommy who had made out with Jenny Duncan in the seventh grade; it was Leyland Mueller. God, he thought. He hated that name so very much. And now it was his own.
He forced himself off the bed, now cursing his decision for a Halloween costume. Maybe it was that unusual moment of clarity that led Tommy across the room to his dresser. Perhaps it was the lucid truth of it all that made him reach to the very back of his sock drawer, his fingers hunting for something long forgotten. From a weathered cardboard mailing box he removed a tiny stack of photographs taken the day he and his best friends arrived in New York. These were pictures of Manhattan’s most recognizable structures – the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron, Madison Square Garden and the World Trade Center. Upon Tommy’s insistence, the four of them zigzagged everywhere that day: the Guggenheim; the Chelsea Hotel; the old wooden escalators at Macy’s; Times Square; Katz’s Delicatessen; the Apollo Theater; the Empire Diner; Morningside Park; and the Alamo cube. The colors were still so vivid in the photos. His friends thought it strange at the time that Tommy would be capturing so many of the city’s landmarks. After all, the four of them had moved to Manhattan; they weren’t tourists. The buildings would be there every day for the rest of their lives. But Tommy continued to snap away until there was only one shot left on the camera. He tossed it to a man passing by, and asked him to take a photo of the four of them. This was the object Tommy intended to find in his sock drawer. He knew exactly where it was. The picture of Tommy Mueller, Patrick Kohn, Kate Prince and Jesse Classen standing outside a store on the Bowery that sold cash registers. They all had their arms around one another and their mouths hung open awkwardly, caught in a moment of extraordinary celebration. Jesse’s eyes were closed. All of their dreams were concrete, obvious, and entirely possible. Tommy could still recall the feeling of Patrick’s corduroy blazer rubbing against the palm of his hand.
And when a heavy tear rolled down his cheek, Tommy knew exactly what the photo had meant to him. Sometimes he missed the things from his childhood that he would never get back. Playing on the street with his brother. Running around with tree-branch guns. Learning to ride his bike with no hands. Their father teaching them how to spit off the overpass. When he awkwardly called a girl for the first time. His friends had always said that they’d never known Leyland Mueller, but it was Tommy who they had never really known. And it was true. Tommy sometimes caught himself yearning for a return to Seattle, just to be around everything he felt from his childhood. He was always too afraid to admit it, even to himself. As big as he dreamed, Tommy Mueller never truly thought the life he’d made for himself was possible.
Tommy placed that one photo on his desk and shoved the rest of the glossy pictures of buildings deep into the sock drawer where they came from. Turning back to the brick wall through the window, Tommy decided that if he was not actually the man he believed he was, he had a second chance to fix his mistakes. Some of the mistakes really didn’t matter all that much anymore. Some mistakes would be easy to fix, some not so. Some could be rewritten entirely in his mind. And so he wrote.