Stomp Fights Sewer Gators in a Manhattan Speakeasy
Under the streets is where the real nightlife happens
Greetings, my fellow fiction-aficionados!
Today, I’m very excited to bring you.
Jonathan writes— the wonderfully irreverent world of an emotionally vulnerable sasquatch who roams and heists in search of human contact.
Today, he brings us one of the many brilliant short stories following his loveable sasquatch character, Stomp.
It’s Prohibition, 1931. Booze still flows like rainwater. Under the pavement, jazz trios of river otters and salty bartender rats mingle in a Manhattan cantina with smugglers, drifters, and the bullet-riddled bodies washed out through the pipes to the Hudson.
Some come for the beer. Some for escape.
One comes to seek any sign of a herd.
1931 - Manhattan, New York
A child dragged through the rain by his mother along 47th passed a sewer grate and saw a sliver of light and heard the jazz. The boy bent and stuck his eye down and was plunged into chaos. He gasped.
A mustachioed otter with a toothpick in its mouth leaned against a thick rusted pipe gushing rainwater and ripped at a high-glossed saxophone. A lizard in a fitted pinstripe suit played a funky tribal rhythm on a flute made of driftwood spackled with holes. A fat rat in dark glasses in the corner smacked a Campbell’s can bongo with its claws, keeping the beat.
“Mommy, there’s a jazz rat! Jazz rat, mommy!”
She grabbed his ear and twisted. “The stories on you. And last week it was a seagull smoking cigarettes on the beach. Daddy’s gonna hear about this.”
She dragged him through the night bustle and he screamed:
“But mommy, loo—”
She yanked his hand and the last thing the boy saw was a beaver in a little gangster hat snorting a line of opium off the backside of an otter maid in lipstick.
A single drop fell from the sewer grate down, down, glistening liquid that burst between the seats of two possums who played checkers on a pizza box. A raccoon in a little flapper outfit and blond wig sharpened its nails with a file. At the far end, a fat lump slumped over the bar, a grey seal down from Nova Scotia. A smog of cigarette smoke cloaked every being and seated at the center of the bar in buckskin pants was the 700-pound he-squatch staring into a tin tankard of beer.
“We’ve all disappeared.”
Stomp whispered at the liter of beer in his paw. His eyes were hooded in exhaustion. The heavy low smolder in his chest was washed over by the gleeful chaos and the tires that swished through puddles on the Manhattan street above. A steady leaking drip-drap from the street smacked cold down his back.
“Bartender.” Stomp raised a finger. “The street is leaking, bartender.”
The bartender was a mouse-rat crossbreed named Gizmo. Gizmo washed glasses in the gushing moisture of a scalding steam vent. Gizmo sold one-ounce bottles of corn liquor from a still in his granddaddy’s rat nest. It wasn’t the only type of dealings to be had down here in the dark.
The tunnel was pitch dark on either end, illuminated by a string of lanterns hung on thick, rough rope across the brick sewer wall. A tumbling stream of rain runoff poured past the bar through the echoing tunnel, in through the light and out through the dark towards the Hudson River. In this crevasse, this indented underground glen, a busted steam pipe from the Con Edison Steam Company spread warmth throughout the chamber. Unknown to the world above, this pocket of vented steam had been warming the buttocks of Fantastical drinkers since 1882.
A frenzied rat waiter wearing a busboy outfit ran up and down the cavern with billows and huffed out any pockets of noxious fumes while muttering:
“Oh, Stew, poor Stew, gotta tap the keg, Stew, gotta sweep, Stew, gotta watch for snakes, Stew…”
The patrons sat with their backs to the stream current in torn-out horse buggy benches from the 1880s, hunched over a bar that was a behemoth cast iron pipe. They faced into a lantern-lit wall covered in yellowed newspaper clippings from the 1870s that read stories like:
EX-TAMMANY CHIEF WM. M. TWEED DEAD IN JAIL
Moaning echos – like a pod of whales - rattled the pipes and echoed through the tunnel. Mounds of shimmering golden scales dipped and dove through the current, like porpoises at the shore. It was a pod of sewer goldfish, full-grown. One of them raised its great glittering back and stopped along the cement ledge. A big friendly eye rolled around and squinted up at Stomp at the bar. A trio of chittering river rats tumbled off the goldfish’s back. One of them turned and nodded thanks and tossed a handful of cat food in the water.
“We got a body!” shouted a river otter.
A bobbing lump in suspenders floated out of the streaming darkness. The current rolled it over and revealed the gun belt and an overcoat shredded by bullets. A team of diver rats scurried off the ledge and onto the body. They chattered as they stripped the victim efficiently of bullets, wallet, and jewelry before the carcass floated on to the Hudson.
Up, up, up above on the street, shrill duck honks of the cars passed by and headlights swung over the grates. Stomp looked up and saw the shadow of humans. He felt the music shiver off the pipe and reverberate back through his sweated, dank layers of fur. He tasted the sweet smoke clung in his nostrils. A trolley car passed over and a swirl of debris bucked up in the wind and dove down the sewer pipe. A theatre advert fell upon the current like a stamp and began to bob along and melt under. Stomp smashed down his giant paw and plucked it up. He pulled out the poster and unraveled it on the bar, dripping wet.
“No debris on my bah,” Gizmo the mouserat sneezed out in a thick East Jersey accent.
Stomp ignored him and smoothed the flyer out.
“I’ll cut you awf!”
The mouserat wore a little sharpened splinter on its waist and would stab at patrons who got too drunk. Stomp gazed down at the soaked poster with a heading:
Beneath the caption was a black and white photograph of a captive unicorn. Its feet were tethered to chains and its horn sawed off at the base.
“Dey do dat so dey don’t got mo more spirit.”
Stomp looked down next to him. It was a wharf mouse, sitting on a matchbox seat, dressed from head to toe in an early 1800s Napoleon French soldier outfit. The mouse was sucking on a giant martini olive that rested next to a cocktail thimble and spittling juice all over the bar.
The mouse stopped and wiped its chin. “I said, ‘They chains them so they breaks their spirits’.”
Stomp knew it was a wharf mouse by the tiny splinters in its feet and the smell of bay salt. Stomp downed his beer and slid forward the enormous tankard. He looked down at the fine print on the poster bottom.
MANHATTAN FREAK SHOW
MADE POSSIBLE BY BARNABY BROTHERS, FANTASTICAL HUNTERS
Stomp let the poster lay in front of him and dry on the steam-warmed pipe bar. Every time Stomp lifted his mug, the little mouse lifted his thimble and took a sip. Stomp wiped his mouth. The mouse wiped its mouth.
“Youse is a big fat sad fella, aren’t you, Big Wanderer?”
The mouse spat everywhere when it talked. Stomp tried to shift his seat over. The little rambler banged down his thimble tankard.
He wiped his chin and threw up three fingers, like getting another drink was an expectation, not an ask. A weasel with an eyepatch leaned down and whispered to the mouse and shifted its eyes up to Stomp.
“No, he is not a gun for hire. We’re having a drink together.”
Stomp looked down. “We’re not having a drink together.”
The weasel muttered something and its gold tooth sparkled. Two more weasels gathered and smirked at the wharf mouse as they whispered.
“I said ‘not for hire’!” The Napoleon mouse hopped up on the bar. “My best friend and I are having a drink!”
“We’re not best friends.” Stomp looked around uncomfortably. “And please stop spitting on me.”
“Yes, best friends, uh huh, so watch out, weasel.” The mouse nodded its head wildly and the weasels drifted off.
The mouse stared up at Stomp with big, expectant eyes. Stomp looked down. The mouse’s chompy front teeth flashed open. He waved and his eyes squinted shut when he grinned.
A gurgle revved up into a whirlpool behind them, and a tsunami wave of rainwater splashed down over the bar. The jazz band played on through it. The thick grimy scales of a trio of sewer gators slithered up over the sewer ledge, spanking their tails and flinging water up over the bar. Stomp hunched his shoulders up and the little wharf mouse stood up visibly shaking:
“Son of a rooster, I hate these trafficking sewer gators!”
The gators passed behind Stomp, wary of something bigger than them. The wharf mouse did a feisty jig and shook his fist and then put his fist in his mouth and bit it. The gators sat on the three stools directly to Stomp’s right. Stomp stared down amused at the little rage factory getting emotional over three sewer gators.
The mouse paced circles around the matchbox and Gizmo brought him another thimble cocktail with another obscenely too-big olive. Stomp thought to ask how the little mouse was going to drink the thing but couldn’t bring himself to care. The mouse worked himself into a larger frenzy. The gators were paying no mind. They lit cigars and talked business over a bottle of Glentaucher’s.
Stomp exhaled a breath that blew a cloud of mist onto the gritted mirror behind the bar. His feet were sore. He’d caught word from a one-legged mink in a Catskills pubstump of a ‘squatch herd camped somewhere on the coast. He’d wandered down immediately and been chased through the night off a potato farm in Schenectady. Apparently, farmers don’t take kindly to Bigfeet digging up their potatoes with their toes and midnight munching.
Now he sat underground in a city with many lights but no clarity.
Stew the muttering busmouse started at one end of the bar and slowly, painstakingly, shoved a refilled tankard of sewer beer across the pipe. Stomp waited patiently.
“Oh Stew, poor Stew. Gotta give the ‘squatch his beer, Stew. Don’t spill the beer, Stew. Don’t let the ‘squatch smell your fear, Stew…”
The rat stopped when the tankard stopped in front of Stomp and fled down the bar.
“Obliged.” Stomp nodded.
“You better pay up right tonight.” Gizmo Bartender dusted his hands. “Stinkprowler.”
Stomp’s fur stood up. He imagined himself wandering into the forest, finding the perfect tree. Then sawing for days and days, callousing his wonderful paws to cut down this tree. Then breaking the perfect branch from this tree. Then further causing sores to his wonderful paws to whittle that perfect branch into a hand-grooved, flat-ended fly swatter. Then taking this heavy handmade forest-made swatter, and spanking Gizmo Bartender into the wall like a horsefly.
The shifty bartender rat positioned his back to Stomp and whispered with the gators, who looked over. Stomp took a long sip from his beer and looked for exits, then tried to recall if he had any pointy or explody or pointy explody things in his satchel. Stomp suddenly addressed the wharf mouse.
“Why did you say it like that?”
The fella looked up with its mouth completely wrapped over the thimble olive, sucking the liquor up through the olive. Stomp cringed. The mouse stopped slurping.
“You said ‘trafficking’ about…” Stomp nodded his head sideways.
“Oh, thems.” The mouse kept slurping. “They traffics fantasticals.”
“What does that mean?”
Stomp knew what it meant. He was already staring down at the poster unicorn with its horn cut off, prostituted as a circus horse. The little dock roamer stood teetering on one foot on the matchbox, testing his drunkenness.
“I’m a smuggler by trade.”
The mouse danced a little jig. Stomp supposed this was the Napoleon mouse’s smuggler jig. It wasn’t a terrible smuggler’s jig.
“What do you smuggle?”
“Oh.” The mouse took a big slurp and sucked the pimiento out of the olive. “Everything but what thems smuggle.”
“They. You mean ‘everything but what they smuggle.”
“Yes, like I said—thems.”
The more Stomp looked over, the more he felt like they were plotting. Maybe it was 16 hours now without a good pie, or the 200-mile trot through farm crops at 4 a.m. to reach the city limits. Maybe it was the bartender giving him salt, or the herd that was adrift in the ether, like all the others.
Maybe these sewer gators were just actually plotting.
“Oh, Stew, oh, Stew, oh, Stew…” The busmouse came teetering by balancing a pile of tuna can dishes. “Lookit you, poor Stew, you gone and done it…”
“We gaht anotha body!”
Most of the bar kept to their drinks. The gators talked with fixed snarls and brooding eyes. The team of scavenger rats squeaked and jumped out onto the body and looted any remaining dignity.
Stomp drank on.
“Big Wanderer, I ain’t seen many of you – do you got family?”
Stomp looked down. “Can’t say.”
“I heared of some of you on the coast this spring from a one-legged mink. Didn’t seen none, doh.”
Stomp closed his eyes gently, felt the exhaustion mingled with the smoldering ember that stirred his chest.
“Mm.” He grunted and nodded slow. “Mmhm.”
The wharf mouse stared at the gators and bit his fist. He stomped his feet on the big pipe until Gizmo the suspicious beerslinger noticed.
“No jigging on the pipes!”
“Tell me how they do it, little wharf mouse.” Stomp was full-eyes-opened. “What do these gator fellas do?”
“The name’s Docksy Wharf Mouse, not ‘little wharf mouse’.”
“Your name is Docksy.”
“Of course it is. Please continue.”
The smuggler stood and danced its smuggler’s jig. “My family makes an honest living stealing bullets and sardines from the ships down at the port.”
“Yes, of course.” Stomp summoned the mouse with a couple fingers. “Carry on.”
“Some nights them gators are out drifting in the current, keeping eyes open for orphans and what gets lost in the water. And…”
Docksy trembled. The Zamvuberant mouse tapped one finger on the unicorn on the circus poster. Stomp had already made up his mind. He stretched long and yawned.
He crossed his hands over his head and cracked his knuckles, made a few more gibberish noises for good measure.
AHG-AGHHHH-ARKARKARK. COCKAROOOOO. He gyrated his head like a rabid thing. ARK. ARK. ARK.
The raccoon in the wig stopped filing its nails. The lizards playing checkers shook their heads and moved their pizza box further down the bar. The drunk seal lifted its head and barked:
“I resent that!”
“You might want to follow them.” Stomp nodded the raccoon lady toward the lizards. “It’s gonna get feisty.”
“Hun.” It was the voice of a thousand cigarettes and lost dreams. “Ain’t nothing surprises me anymore.”
A heavy claw slapped down on Stomp’s back. Stomp turned. The three gators in pinstripe suits stood behind him in their gangster hats. One of them right behind breathed heavily on his back. Stomp looked them up and down.
“You fellas look awful goofy in those human clothes.” Stomp smoothed his hair tuft back, ready to deliver the best putdown ever. “Bet your moms like you better naked.”
“Oh, snap!” Docksy did an idiot’s jig and the band kept playing.
The gator with its claw on Stomp’s back was grinning at him, a big, crooked devil smile.
“My friends here think you’d look great stuffed in a museum.” The snaggletooth leaned in close. “Or in chains.”
“Hm, what’s your name?” Stomp patted the gator on the head. “Probably ‘Drowner’ or like…’Scalyhineybutt’.”
“Oh, snap!” went Docksy in the background.
The gator laughed. “You can call me Croaker. Scalyhineybutt is my brother.”
One of the other gators nodded sheepishly. “Hello.”
Stomp tightened his burlap bag all the way against his chest. He smashed the crude mug against his lips and ripped down the sew brew.
He wiped the foam from his lips. “Well, if there’s more, you’d better call the whole party.”
Croaker’s whistle ran right past the house band and met the water and seemed to sink right under it, into the churn. The current was still filled with bobbing bottles and clumps of manure, but suddenly there were surfacing tails and snouts.
Gizmo Bartender yelled, “hey! We’re at capacity!”
Six more sewer crocs came up over the ledge and now it was Stomp against nine. Docksy ran behind a saltshaker. His Napoleon hat peeked up over and he peered around the side, sucking on his olive garnish.
Stomp sighed. He would get many boo boos from this. He turned his head and…
His headbutt caught Croaker in the snout. Stomp felt one of its teeth break off and lodge in his face. The gator fell back in the river. Stomp felt tears and pressed his tender nose.
“Ow ow ow ow ow.”
Then they were upon him.
A mass of tails and scales undulated in waves. They climbed, bit, and strangled. Stomp struggled silently without a bellow or a yell. His arms were constricted against his sides. Claustrophobic. He was pressed against the cast iron pipe. Claustrophobic. A gator had its claws over his eyes. Couldn’t see. He stretched outward. Couldn’t move. A pair of teeth bit into his shoulderblade.
A quick grunt and he flexed out and put his fingers up between the gator’s teeth and ripped him over his shoulder. He had a slim window amidst the bodies. He bounced his knee up once.
The gator was dazed. Stomp had his legs free, eyes still covered by a pair of claws trying to pull them out. It was time for a punt.
Stomp reared back and
That’s the sound of a six-foot reptile being kicked up through the sewer grate onto a New York City street. The grate clanged down behind it. Bystanders screamed. Tires squealed. The gator lay steaming and broken on 49th and 8th.
There was an incredulous pause and a dramatic, cinematic gator scream of existential despair:
“Brother, no! Scalyhineybutttttt!”
Stomp staggered up and down the bar draped in a costume of live gator. The band played faster. Bar patrons hadn’t left – they’d only moved up onto the pipe running along the ceiling to watch from above. He got his hands on two more skulls and smashed them together. He held another head under the bursting steam vent and a pile of tin can dishes smashed down.
Stomp was spent.
The broiling runoff churn looked inviting through the claws wrapped over his eyes. Another pair of teeth tore a chunk out of his side. He caught a glimpse of the wet circus poster. He’d had enough. If he could drag the rest out to the river with him, he could bonk them to death or drown in peace. He found a pair of jaws between his hands and pulled them open, open, open, until…
The gator’s brains glooped out onto the bar table. Busmouse Stew ran across the bar with a cleaning rag.
“Oh, poor Stew, look at you, Stew, cleaning up brains again. Now you’ve gone and done it, Stew…”
Stomp staggered up and down the ledge space, terrorizing patrons with gators on his back. The morbid public service announcer, so eager in their proclamations, rang out again:
“We gaht anotha bo—”
Violent desperate infant cries echoed in the cavern space.
“Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah!”
“We gaht a…a baby!”
Streaming and swirling from the darkness on a tin trashcan lid came a screaming infant.
Everything at the bar stopped but Stomp. He still staggered up and down the bar with sew-gators coiled around his limbs, exhausted, and all he could see was something so precious that raindrop tears plopped out of his eyes mid-brawl.
The window of was slim, just thirty feet before the child was gone into the dark tunnel that swirled violently toward the Hudson. The gators were completely transfixed. They snapped their heads over, hanging off Stomp like praying mantises. One of them licked its lips and jumped from Stomp into the current.
“No, you don’t.”
Stomp grabbed its tail and swung the creature against the pipe like a shotput. The other gators flew off after the child.
“NO. BABY MEAT. FOR YOU!”
Stomp bellowed and dived in. They thrashed and climbed over each other, speeding downstream into the black tunnel.
“Rah! R-rah! Raht-raht-raht.”
Stomp was tumbling in the current. His fur scraped against the stone bottom and dragged along. A full body clung to him still, taking short, sporadic bites out of his ribs.
Bubbles streamed from his mouth and he turned in the current and let his full weight sink on top of the gator’s head. The rough reptile skin skidded along with him then he felt the creature’s head cave under his weight. Stomp felt the prickles of teeth embedded in his back. He surged up and surfaced. He felt nothing. He grabbed. He felt nothing. He grasped. And he felt his paw clamped around the trashcan lid and heard the light living weight of new life. It was in the palm of his hand, surging and bobbing.
He held on.
He tensed and awaited the bite of jagged teeth. Only one remained – Croaker. Stomp held both arms around the swirling trash can lid and floated with it, and in the brown dank gloom a pair of slitted yellow eyes faded and receded. The water grew cooler as the channel deepened. The rumble of an outlet was ahead. The baby screamed.
Stomp lost consciousness.
The stars were a blanket of dust speckled on a ceiling that never wished to be swept. The recently completed Chrysler Building and Empire State Building watched silently over the city and glowed from within. They observed like great giants of architecture that traveled lands on steel feet until they found home in a skyline and stood still to rest.
The river was calm and glinted midnight blue. Dozens of docks poked out from the bottom of Manhattan Island like uncombed porcupine quills. A current eddied and swirled along, pacing itself through the river without a care where it ended up. A trash barge burped out its low horn in the light fog.
And faded back into the night.
Way off, horns hummed in the streets like distant summer night bugs. The lights of Broadway creeped up the walls of buildings before grasping their fingertips to the sky and evaporating. Here, a shadowed and matted lump of immobile darkness clung to a float, and swirled slowly with the leaves and the things that came awake in the night. The warm-cheeked creature on the trashcan lid whimpered, and the duo passed slowly beneath the undercarriage of a bridge.
A gull landed on the trashcan lid. It cocked its head, moving, moving, checking out this cargo bundled only in a potato sack. The gull took off and flew, now carrying news from the Buttermilk Channel of Manhattan.
A limp furred arm raised from the water and waved in thanks, and fell back against the lid, clinging for life.
It was distant at first, the belligerent squeaking.
“Big Wanderer! Ehhhhhh, Big Wanderer fella!”
The slow-swirling lump carried on, like a bag of buoyant trash. The barge was catching up at its slow crawl and men under night lights by the railing pointed at the objects in the water.
Docksy the wharf mouse ran along the shoreline and searched for an opening. The drifting breathing debris was way out, and it swirled about Governors Island and dragged on past, like an uprooted tree washed downstream and spent of energy after a storm. At the last dock on the lowest tip of Lower Manhattan, the little mouse pulled his Napoleon hat down over his eyes and stomped his feet in defeat. As if to answer, the low foghorn hummed across the water and Docksy heard one last shrill cough of a baby’s cry.
Then there was a great exhale across the water, like the sigh of a tired beast, and then silence.
The thud whirled Docksy around. A maelstrom gust of tangled wings flurried about his face. Scratching bird claws gave him only a moment to think about what it’d be like to get sucked down a seagull windpipe and dissolve slowly in a vat of a stomach acid with some boardwalk fries.
“Be gone, shorebird! Ah’ll kill you!”
The flurry stopped and Docksy, cowering face down on the dock, looked up. The mottled seagull that had stopped on the trashcan lid was here now, bent forward with its tail in Docky’s face. The seagull looked back and bobbed its head.
The gull stomped one foot.
The gull looked back again with an angry stare. “Mert mer!”
“Oh, of course. You wants me to get on.”
Docksy scurried up the gull’s back. The gull flapped its wings twice and—
“Wait, wait, wait.” Docksy tugged hard on the gull’s head feathers. “We’re gonna need help.”
The seagull shrugged. “Meert mer mer.”
“To the Whitehall Terminal, please.” Docksy aggressively patted the seagull’s head. “You get your friends and I’ll get mine.”
It stabbed him all over. It was gritty. It felt like laying on a bed of marbles. A gray fog lay over his eyes. Each rhythmic lapping wave in the pre-dawn caused a little clink against the rocks. A bell clanged lazily in the fog. He was submerged in exhaustion, and there was sand in his butt.
It suddenly felt like the whole ocean was being fluffed with a pillow. Wings flapped all over his body and face and the squeaks of a hundred rodents filled his ears. He waved an arm with his eyes.
“Narg. Gerroff, please.” He waved blindly. “I’ll eatchu feathers, tastybird.”
He heard the trashcan lid float being dragged away from him over coarse stone.
“Narrr.” A swirling light ate his eyeballs. He opened one blood-caked eye.
He was washed up on the tiny stone-mounded shore of a lighthouse.
“They’s humans that live in there,” he heard. “Shepherd types.”
He was surrounded by fluffy white shapes mert-merring and skittering paw-footed shapes squeaking and squawking in a still wonderful 4 a.m. moon. They were dressed funky – the little squeakers wore soldier’s costumes and pirate outfits. The smuggler mice.
The lighthouse was a rich rust-red on a shoreline that must have been fifty feet wide. Its light shone out over the dim surface, a reflection accompanied by the natural light of the moon. A mottled brown-white gull, bigger than the others, strutted up to the huge oaken red-painted door at the lighthouse base.
The gull tapped a pattern with its beak. A rustling came from within. The door swung open. A man in long johns swung a lantern down to his feet.
“Meert mer.” The gull gestured at the lapping shore. “Meert!”
“Okay, let’s not get all worked up now.”
“What is it, Arthur?”
Two other bodies shuffled about inside. “It’s a little feathered fella in distress, Marvin. Oh boy. Oh no.”
Arthur saw the lump on the shore, like a bag of washed-up rubbage. He rushed out. Two other men in long johns and white undershirts spilled out behind him. One of them gasped.
“It’s a baby put out to trash!”
Two of them grabbed Stomp’s arms and dragged him over the big, square lumpy chunks of concrete and sandstone. His burlap satchel dragged behind around his waist. The smuggler mice stood silently on the bank, each one holding a bandage or a bite of French fry. Two of them held a glass baby bottle between them, like two men would carry a piano out of a house.
“I’ve never seen a big fantastic critter like this, George.”
“A Manitoban ‘squatch. I never in my life…let’s hope he’s not gone.”
“Get ‘im inside. Looks like a crew of sew-gator got ‘im.”
Semi-conscious Stomp was inebriated with the loud smell of kerosene and a localized warmth that burst all over his body. One of the men rubbed him down with a blanket. The mice left their bandages and French fries by the door and climbed on the backs of the gulls, The big rust door whumped closed. Then they turned and flew off, save for one mouse and one gull that stayed behind. An overwhelming electric ripple ran up the sides of Stomp’s nostrils and down his throat deep into his belly.
“Here you go, big one. Have some of this nice, hard-salted ship biscuit.”
“Did the baby thing live?”
The man patted Stomp’s arm. “The little one sleeps.”
Stomp rolled over, with biscuits crumbled in his mouth, and heard himself speaking from a distance.
“We’re all disappeared.”
“Cute stinker sewer baby.”
Docksy did a celebratory idiot’s jig on the rough floor. Then he picked up the baby’s eyelid and let it fall back down. The little one slept soundly bundled in a dry rough spun wool horse blanket.
“Camouflaged eyes,” said Arthur the Light Keeper.
All three men stood bent with their hands knees and peered into the baby’s face. “I can’t believe ‘e didn’t drown. Must have drunk more water than a nautilus.”
The morning was soaked in gentle breezes and sun rays that wrapped their arms around the lower New York Bay. Plates smeared with biscuit crumbles and cod grease sat empty on the table. A pot steamed with hot black coffee.
“Lookit the way its skin changes color with the room!”
“We can’t take him to an orphanage, Arthur. The Barnabys would find him. Turn him into a sideshow.”
Docksy scribbled notes on a sliver of cardboard with a tiny piece of charcoal, still fully dressed in a Napoleon costume. “Lotta work to raise a magic harbor baby, fellas. Lucky for youses, you’ve met a contact in the port.”
Docksy ripped off the paper and tucked it under a mug. “Bill of soivice for bandages, transport, and emotional suffering.” He hopped down from the table and strode towards the door. “We’ll deliver powdered formula on Mondays. We accept olives for payment. Black or green. Have payment OR ELSE.”
The Light Keeper swung open the door for the smuggler mouse. “On your way now, wharf mouse.” He peered out at the calm New York harbor. “Leave the big one rest.”
Docksy swaggered to the seagull, who nestled silently with eyes closed on a slab of concrete. He stopped and looked up atop the lighthouse, next to the lightless dormant beacon. The bandage-wrapped mass of salt-caked fur sat cross-legged on a light-tender’s platform. A breeze slipped through its thick hair with a light stir. Docksy climbed aboard the gull.
Two powerful flaps and they were gone, back to the hustle of the piers.
Atop the lighthouse, Stomp sat with his burlap satchel on his lap. He rummaged in the bag and removed a 1680s London brass spyglass. It was brilliant and calm with shoreline on three sides. To the west, the clarity of Staten Island was crisp in the looking glass. Up north, the Manhattan skyline was still and regal. He scanned slow, inch by inch, every cove in the coast.
His fur was clumped dark where the blood had dried. The gator teeth submerged in the thick layer of blubber on his torso were left in – they would work their way out. The deep gashes furrowed around his eyes would close up. The cracked ribs, they would heal, too.
The wound that could not heal was the shoreline, where his heavy eyes scanned, and found no sign of a herd.
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