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The Bad Girl

1971. Riley Madison is always looking over her shoulder. And always running. From poverty, from abuse, from a childhood snuffed out by a junkie mother, and a violent past marginally kept at bay. This twenty-two-year-old New Yorker lives in her less than perfect world where her only friend is a cat, and when not self-medicating with Twinkies, Oreos and cigarettes, she works at a Times Square sex emporium servicing anyone who can pay. Not because she wants to. But because she has to if she aims to stay one step ahead of the dangerous underworld that sees her as nothing more than prey. Prey whose internal armor is about to be tested in ways she never imagined when her life once again spirals out of control.

Survival in the animal world is a simple concept. Survival in the human world is not.

 

Critical Praise


RIVETING. A powerfully haunting story that will grab you from the get-go and never let up.” —Midwest Review

MAY BE HER FIRST . . . but L. Donsky-Levine’s debut novella of lost souls living half-lives amidst the bustle of New York City in the 1970s, is so beautifully crafted, so seamlessly seasoned with unforgettable characters and a storyline that delivers on all levels, readers will be begging for more.” —Readers’ Favorite

Read Excerpt

ONE

BY ALL ACCOUNTS, Samson was a most unusual cat. And quite rare. That said, he would not be the sort of being you would regularly see wandering the streets of New York City, or any city for that matter, in his silky-smooth mahogany coat—a feature indicative of his superior Havana Brown breeding—for the simple reason that he was royalty. King of the heap. A purebred endowed with what he considered not just a few majestic physical qualities, but an intelligence level to match.

Oh yes, over the course of his many lives (eight at last count), he had come to realize that his extraordinary mind far outshined the majority of felines out there. It was a statement he did not make lightly, but knew it was never more so true every time he looked over at those four other cats roaming the inside of Girl’s apartment. That is, of course, if “cats” was, in fact, the appropriate classification for these particular mongrels of inconsistent lines and undesirable color; who remained a constant source of irritation to Samson, and far too talkative for his punctilious beastly taste.

Simply put, in his mind, they were beyond help. And ultimately they would never survive. Not when they had yet to learn the basics of the human world: the rules of socializing, the inappropriateness of whining for one’s food (a major no-no), and how to keep the kitty litter perfectly spotless. And if he could somehow get rid of them without casting a suspicious eye his way . . . naturally, he would. Oh yes, he would indeed. Truth be told, Samson was never consulted before they made their unwelcome arrival. One by one, Girl had plucked them from whatever disastrous situation had befallen them and brought them into her life. Just as she did for him when his previous master, whether by design or ignorance, left him outside and unable to fend off the bombarding confusion that the extraneous world threw at him, so he mistakenly ran away.

Yes, Girl had saved him from a certain death. Which was why Samson loved her, was devoted to her as much as any feline could be, and more than likely the reason why they had stayed together for what seemed like a very long time. How long, exactly, the cat couldn’t formulate into numbers because he, like all cats, was unable to quantify time. He could only see its stamp in the accumulating dust, in the growth of Girl’s short, brown wavy hair, in the new lines creasing her face, and when he situated himself by the window. The evidence of it was there all around the city. The way it moved, the way it breathed in response to the changing seasons; these were his barometers.

And just as oddly in all that passage of time, never once did anyone come to visit Girl. Other than Mean Mustache Man (“Douchebag” to Girl) when something needed fixing around the apartment; which somehow in his mind did not truly count. No, no one ever dropped by to talk with her or make her laugh as he knew other humans did with each other. And this, to Samson, felt wrong. Very sadly wrong, he thought now as he watched her sitting widely on the couch, fixated on the book wedged in her lap and mechanically flipping pages with one hand, while stuffing brown glutinous things into her mouth with the other. This brought a look of contentment to her face. It was a look he did not wish to disturb for anything. But because he sensed that it was right about now that she should be leaving the apartment to go to wherever she went every day—a place he suspected was important—and instead was just sitting there stuffing her face; Samson felt he had to do something.

But what? wondered the cat, licking his whiskers, looking around a tad perplexed. Jump in her lap, perhaps? Now, that would get her attention alright; he smiled his best cat smile. But he did not like the idea of landing smack dab in the middle of all those brown things. That would be way too messy. He did, however, fancy the idea of doing what he did best: make mischief. The discreet kind, of course.

So with a very quiet and very soft breath, Samson angled his sleek body away from the wall where he had been sprawled out on the floor. Now in motion, he turned to see if, by chance, she had lifted her head or perhaps noticed the skim of fur or the whip of tail as he scampered along the kitchen tabletop, counter-to-counter, leaping with the ease of an acrobat. But if she did, he saw no sign of it, for she was still in the same position, still oblivious to him and the other fur-balls running amok in the closet with their usual ill-mannered display of antics.

However, the instant the glass crashed to the floor and her booming voice screeched across the apartment to where he now sat perched on the small table by the sink, his green eyes glowing hard into hers like a thief caught in the act—a thief who would have gladly laughed if he physically could—he knew, ah yes, he knew, his job was done.

Extracting herself from the couch, Girl tossed the bedding to the side in a confused pile next to the stack of newspapers and magazines that were scattered on the floor. Then she trudged slowly across the room to survey the damage: an empty coffee mug lying on the floor at her feet in a jagged pile of wreckage.

“Coward,” she grumbled to the silence, reaching with a huff behind the refrigerator for the broom and dustpan while the rest of the fur crew immediately hustled over to see what all the commotion was about. And once they realized it had nothing whatsoever to do with food, once they saw her angry face, off they went in a vanishing flash—inside the closet, behind the upholstered chairs, next to the wobbly bookshelf Girl had confiscated from a dumpster where her voluminous library of dusty books now made its home. Anywhere they could find. But since this apartment does not have much in the way of furnishings, thought Samson with a grim expression, glancing left, glancing right, then up at the chipping paint etched from floor to ceiling, those places for us cats and cockroaches to hide, are sadly far and few between.

Peeking out from under the couch, Samson also saw that the cleanup was complete. That Girl next spun into her routine. One that took her around the room in a sort of helter-skelter motion, checking the bowls on the floor to make sure there was enough cat food to last the day, securing the iron bars on the windows, ramming on her coat and hat, scooping up the backpack sitting on the floor; all before taking that final look around, and all before disappearing out the door.

To the windowsill Samson raced. Curling up into a seamless ball, he waited there for what seemed like eternity for Girl to reappear. And just as she came into his line of vision, so did Mean Mustache Man. Samson could see them talking on the steps. He could see their faces corkscrewed to a pinch while their jerking fingers pointed sharply at each other and the air. Now what this was all about? He could only imagine.