Friday, April 1, 2016

# 99 Easy Street, an ongoing serial by Louis Shalako. Part Two.










Louis Shalako



It took a bit of nerve, but Mark came up with a plan. Pulling out his piece of metal, he lifted the right-hand window, and slid that under to keep it up. It was still unlatched from the other day.

Anyone who really wanted to, could have gotten in from the fire escape. When he was younger, they’d pulled the first floor ladders down against the springs by various means, the most impressive of which was the old yo-yo trick. A long stick with a short crook on the big end would also work if you could hook it onto the bottom rung. It might be a good time to relearn some of those boyish skills. Mark went back out into the hall. The apartment across from his was very quiet now, and he wondered if they worked or something. Hoping they weren’t asleep, he used the butt of his right hand to pound away at the window, pushing strongly upwards with the left hand. Bending his knees, he put his back into it but it just wouldn’t go. He was afraid to really go at it. He was totally new here. He had visions of popping off the top rail of the frame or cracking the glass or something.

Olivetti would hit him with fifty bucks in damages, (and probably never even fix it), and he hadn’t even moved in yet.

Shit.

On some kind of inspiration, Mark went down the hall, someone’s TV getting louder as he approached. He ducked into the stairwell and went up another flight, one set of noises fading while others got louder. There were four apartments up here too. Someone had done bacon and eggs that morning, and there were a couple of heavy smokers up here. They mostly all had TVs and radios going. There were cheerful voices behind one of the doors at the far end, and a mother scolding a child to his left. There was a breeze coming from somewhere, and he recalled seeing an open or missing window from the street. There was a quick left-right turn in the hallway where the floorplan butted up against something structural. There had to be a boiler down below and a chimney buried along in here somewhere.

The overhead hall lights were either burned out or maybe just turned off during the day. The glare at the end was almost blinding from inside the dim interior. There was a strip of thread-bare carpet, exposing yellow and peeling varnish on the maple floorboards along the edges. Finding the window fully open, propped up on a square maple stick of about three-quarters of an inch by sixteen or eighteen inches, he stuck his head out and had a look. If he knocked the stick out, he’d have some problems. The opening was only about two feet wide and maybe twenty inches tall.

The fire escape went on the level just below the window, a spidery network of slats and black-painted iron I-beams that theoretically kept ice and snow from building up. There were staircases both to right and left. Every apartment had their own way out, which was reassuring. Off to his right, he saw an open apartment window, white curtains billowing in and out. There were some potted plants on the platform. Technically it was an offence to obstruct a fire escape. A person was talking in there, and he had the impression they were on the phone. It was one half of a conversation.

He wasn’t going to hold that against anyone. He hated the system anyways. Making his way on soft steps, he went back down and tried to think it through again.

The deadbolt could be retracted, and when he flipped the button down, it would stay that way.

The knob, on the other hand, had a snap-latch, although the tongue was cut on an angle and theoretically, at least, it should be a lot easier to pick…maybe. But the door wouldn’t be locked anyways. The truth was, he wasn’t used to thinking for himself. He didn’t want to take a chance on an unlocked door…that was the real problem. It was a question of organizing his thoughts.

Mark had nothing to steal. Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing was purely academic.

If only he had another thin piece of metal. In all those pulpy old thrillers, people used a palette knife or something. It seemed to work in books, but now that he’d had a good look at one, he had his doubts.

If it was strictly necessary, he could get back in through the fire escape. Sooner or later someone would remark upon that for sure. You could only get away with that one so many times. If Duke was home, he could pester him for another lock-picking job. That would quickly get old.

That hamburger was really preying on his mind, and at this point in time, there wasn’t much to do around there. His real life would be out in the streets and he knew that much already.

Before leaving the apartment, he had to go to the bathroom.

It was either that or piss in an alley for the rest of his life.

After being locked in his room for ten or twelve hours a day, never even getting off the grounds for four long years, subject to endless piddling regulations, and some even more-piddling staff members, he was finding it surprisingly hard to leave.

If he was going to find Olivetti, it would be at the office, which theoretically, should be in the phone book. And it was a fucking Saturday, but you never knew.

This time, the bathtub was empty, for which he was glad. He stood looking at the bathtub as he peed.

They’d drained the water when they took the body out, leaving an ugly dark ring a good three inches tall around the perimeter.

He made a mental note to get some cleanser.

***

While the cops had fed him a stale cheese sandwich and a half-pint of milk, it was strictly as an afterthought and he thought he would just about die of hunger before they let him out. This wasn’t getting him anywhere.

He finally took his courage in both hands and left the place for a while.

He could look in the phone book and see if Olivetti lived even halfway close. There was a burger joint just up the street and that took priority. His head pounded and the sounds in his inner ears went squish-squish-squish with every foot-fall.

There was the dull ache of nausea, a sign of hunger gone on too long.

After four years on institutional food, the smell coming out of there was enough to knock your socks off. It was almost quiet compared to outside.

It all looked very clean, colourful, and modern. It was a study in retail efficiency.

He was pretty self-conscious, like he had a kick-me sign taped to the back of his coat. No one paid him a second look, for which he was grateful. As three or four people ahead of him came to the cashier and gave their orders to a pimply-faced kid speaking into a microphone, he had a chance to study the menu on the back wall and listen.

By the time it was his turn, he had a better idea of what to expect. Mark ordered a hamburger, French fries and a small soda.

“I hope you don’t mind.” He paid with a quarter and a nickel and a few pennies.

Pennies were next to useless and yet you had to have them.

“Thank you very much, sir. Enjoy your meal.” The kid slid him a tray lined with shiny paper, replete with specials and tear-off coupons.

He’d eat that in the store, at one of their cheap plastic and metal tables, bolted to the floor just like any other institution. He could walk home with the soda. By the feel of the disposable plastic cup, it would last him for a few days, possibly even weeks if he looked after it.

Noting a shiny metal dispenser, he took a half-inch thick stack of paper towels, which would also come in very handy. There was salt, and pepper, and condiments in slick plastic packets. 

Without any food at home, it was sort of pointless to grab more than he needed.

There was an empty table in the front corner by the window. If he was going to survive for any length of time, he’d better be a quick learner.

With a deep and heartfelt sigh of relief, he got rid of the coat, draping it over the next seat. 

The cheap, pale yellow cotton shirt was the best thing he owned, other than the suit.

From an image by Ramon F. Velasquez, (Wiki.)
He was as hungry as a bear and the smell was something that had to be experienced.

Mark had just taken his first bite when a young woman, who had been standing talking to someone at the other end of the row, turned and came towards him.

She was staring right into his eyes. His heart picked up in tempo. She was headed this way.

***

Swallowing quickly, he wiped his mouth to make sure there were no sesame seeds or mayonnaise stuck there. He looked up into a pair of impossibly-clear blue eyes, not quite believing it.

She really was speaking to him.

“I’m sorry?”

She dropped into the seat across from him, undeterred.

“I said, hi, I’m Amy. I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of questions.”

“Oh, uh. Sure. Ask me anything you like—”

Please, God, don’t ask me where I was yesterday, or two days ago. Anything but that. For the love of God, please don’t ask me who I am or what I’m doing here…

“What’s this about, anyways?”

Her smile was something to see.

“Well, thank you.” Putting her soft-sided leather case on a clear spot, she unzipped it and pulled out a sheaf of papers stapled together at the top left corner. “This really won’t take too long.”

She looked down at the top of some kind of form and her pen hit the page.

“Okay. What’s your name, address and phone number?”

“Uh—uh.”

Ah, what the hell.


(End of Part Two.)


Here is a link to Part One of # 99 Easy Street, an online serial in the pulp/noir mystery genre.

Thanks for reading.

Notes. I finished this novel some time in November, 2015. I submitted it to an agent, but I don’t think they’ll be getting back to me. The original plan was to submit it around for anything up to two years, but what the hell. I haven’t read it since, so it’s a lot of fun to rediscover the characters and the story. Since the book (60,000-words approx.) is already written, the real challenge is to find relatively good (free) pictures to go along with it. It’s not quite a comic book and it’s not exactly a novel. It’s illustrated pulp fiction, hearkening back to another time and place. It’s 1968 in America, and New York is the greatest city in the world. The world is a very different place for Mark, who, essentially, has just been released from a time capsule…also, I get to work with Bogie.

Music lovers may find the exterior shots oddly familiar. The story was inspired by the album cover from Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti album. The music is wrong for the story, as Mark plays jazz. The building itself is fascinating, for the glimpses through the windows that the cover art alludes to. It’s a real slice of urban life from a certain era. Anyways, Mark would certainly be aware of the music around him, and the psychedelic era was at its peak even though the jazz world was fading.

***


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