And it was a good punch — knocked a tooth out of Edgar’s mouth. As luck would have it, a photographer managed to capture the exact moment the tooth was shooting out of Edgar’s lower gum. This photograph, rendered in sepia and enlarged, would later adorn Edgar’s study wall, proof that he, too, had lived the life; but that was small compensation for the missing tooth, which no one saw again once it had left the photographer’s frame.
Edgar’s provocative statements were, as it turns out, unfounded: no evidence existed to suggest that Baudelaire had written Paris Spleen as a prose-poetic response to the Book of Malachi. Edgar himself, if pressed, might have admitted he was only trying to be contentious; but Coco, who by this point was drunker than anyone had seen him and twice as aggressive, needed no further baiting. The resulting punch, a good solid crack of retaliation born from years of resentment — this was not the first time the two scholars had exchanged blows, though these had, until now, consisted only of ill-spirited words — soon acquired mythical status. “That was the first time we ever saw Coco stand up for himself like a man,” Crop Wilmer will tell you even now. “Before that day, anyone would’ve told you Coco was a faggot. And he was a faggot, creamy as they come. But after that punch, Coco was a manly faggot. Nobody ever saw the guy so mad before or since. It was like his life was gearing up towards that one good punch. Nobody screws with him now.”
“I can’t really say what happened at first,” is what you’d get from Oliver Hollyhock. “I don’t know who started it, or who said what. All I remember is the sound of that punch. What a hit. Suddenly the whole room went pianissimo,” Oliver is learning music theory these days, “and you could only hear Edgar moaning and retching blood and mumbling something about his fucking tooth. Coco just left. He was out of there in a second and we didn’t see him for a few weeks.”
“He was sitting in his little apartment for a month, that Coco,” you might hear Donovan Glassy say. “Couldn’t believe he hadn’t been summoned by the cops. And that drove him insane for a while. I visited the guy twice when he was in that state. Wouldn’t leave his apartment, wouldn’t apologize to Edgar Lozenge. Just sat around and listened to Liszt. Nobody likes Liszt. Nobody. But Coco does and he was playing the same goddam music for days on end, thinking about who knows what. And all the while, expecting the police to call on him and charge him with assault or something.”
Crop Wilmer: “You can’t expect even a manly faggot to be manly all the time. Instead of moving on, it sounds like he dragged the whole thing out way too long. It was ridiculous, but hey. Homosexuals.”
The photographer, one Patrick “Juicy” O’Neal, helped Edgar up off the floor.
“Someone look for this man’s tooth.”
“I took at picture of a flying tooth. This man is missing a chomper.”
“Everyone stay where you are,” a helpful woman said, name of Clarissa Greggs, swaying on her heels a little tipsy. “Everyone try not to step on the missing tooth.”
They looked around. They looked under the tables, in people’s pockets — you never know where the thing might’ve landed — but it was no use. The tooth had vanished. Meanwhile the Juicy the photographer and Edgar Lozenge were mumbling to each other. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay. But my tooth, man.”
“We’ll find your tooth, and they’ll drill it right back in your mouth.”
“The good thing is, that was a bad tooth. Cavities and so forth. This may be a blessing in disguise.”
“Glad you’re thinking that way.”
Someone said, “Where did Coco go?”
At once the search for the tooth stopped and the question was: where the hell had Coco gone? People searched under the tables, so forth, then the whole thing seemed a big absurd and the party resumed. Edgar stood against a wall sipping on fruit punch served in a banana-shaped glass. A young woman with enormous eyes (of the clearest blue Edgar had ever seen, oh my God, those eyes) came up to him with a flirtatious hello-there smile. “That was a nasty blow you got landed there,” she said.
“Thank you,” was all Edgar could think to reply. “You are?”
She whispered into his ear, her lips rubbing against his earlobe: “I am the one whose arrival they foretold in the Book.”
“We are Legion.”
At that, the young woman (with those oh-my-God eyes, perfect white around clearest blue around an unsettling black) walked off to pour herself a new martini. Edgar shrugged, felt around in his mouth for the missing tooth, and found a nugget of gold there. He pocketed it and that was that.