Friday, April 8, 2016

# 99 Easy Street, Part Eleven. Louis Shalako.


...just about emasculated him with that kick.





Louis Shalako


“Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God.”

He had a naked girl in his arms, and she was crying. She’d thrown one punch and a good kick, which had come very close to temporarily emasculating him.

“Mark, Mark, you son of a bitch. You scared the hell out of me.”

He laughed at that.

She was wet and warm as he held her. Splashing around in the tub, making waves as she stood to get out, her own noises had covered his approach. His entry, his preoccupation, had covered her noises. That part was easy enough. The real question was why she had ever come back.

She looked up, and he kissed her gently. He reached for his one and only towel. The room smelled of clean girl, stirring a few memories to go along with it. At least one of those memories was fairly recent.

“I’m sorry.” He grinned down at her as she stepped back and began to dry herself.

He wanted to laugh, you sort of couldn’t help it, but maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. It’s just that he was very happy for some reason…it’s like he couldn’t quite believe it for some reason.

Half the building must have heard that scream.

She was unabashed by his gaze. People often behaved differently when naked, preferring privacy or even complete darkness for the sexual act for example. She was very natural and unaffected. It was like they were five years old, she was his sister and their mother was giving them a bath.

He had nothing but curiosity at this point. Appreciation, maybe.

What in the hell did she see in the hapless loser otherwise known as Mark Jones?

There were certain questions that you really didn’t want to ask.

Amy tossed her hair, looking for a brush but all he had was a black nylon comb. Hopefully she wouldn’t have too much trouble with tangles. His own hair was short and it usually didn’t need much.

“Damn. I could use a shower myself.”

“Go ahead. I saw some coffee out there earlier—”

Shit. Mark was torn. Duke was coming back, and yet he didn’t quite know when, either. With Duke, you never would know. He had a way of getting side-tracked. He would turn up when you saw the whites of his eyes and not much sooner.

They were pecking away at each other’s lips. Everything was all smiles.

“Yeah, why not. Uh…that’s the only towel.”

Reluctantly, he let her go.

With a smirk, she took off the towel which she had wrapped around herself, tucking the last end in just above her left breast to hold it in place.

It made a short, shapeless and yet enchanting short dress in faded green terrycloth. It was all his now, still damp and smelling of her.

They stood there looking at each other for a minute.

Her purse and her shoes were there. Picking her jeans, blouse and underwear off of the coat-hook on the back of the door, she opened it again and headed off down the hall as a slightly-shy Mark undid his own jeans and kicked off his shoes.

Her scream came almost immediately. He almost tripped on his own pant-legs as he stumbled and bolted down the hall, yanking the jeans back up as he went.

# 99 Easy Street.

***

Amy was in the end of the hallway, backing up.

“I’m terribly sorry about that, young lady.”

Without a word, Amy turned. Ducking under Mark’s half-raised arm, she headed back towards the bathroom and her clothes. A slightly-bemused Detective O’Hara stood there with a sardonic grin on his face.

“Jesus, H. Christ. You people sure don’t waste a whole hell of a lot of time, do you?”

Mark almost lost it. His face flushed and the fists bunched up on their own.

What in the hell was he doing there?

“Sorry, Mister Jones. Two things. You know, you and the lady should maybe lock your door once in a while—”

Mark heaved a sigh. She—or he—must have forgotten to hit the latch-button.

“Okay. Shit.” That was a good answer.

“The other thing. I was thinking about your problem—and you seem like a pretty good guy. Albeit one facing certain challenges.”

“Yes, sir.” Mark’s face was set in stone, as it occurred to him that the ashtray might still have a roach or two in it.

The cops probably knew every God-damned thing about this neighbourhood, this building, and everyone in it.

Paranoia, to be sure…and yet it could also be true.

“So what I did, Mark, was to grab one of Olivetti’s keys. They’re in a rack in his office. Each one had a tag with the building name and address. The apartment number’s on it. There were one or two or three of each key, as you might expect. He’s got some vacant units and you don’t always get the keys back, either. Anyways, Mark, I got the lab boys to make a copy for me. Apartment three-oh-one. I remembered that from your statement, right? I told them I needed it to check another address, blah-blah-blah. They don’t ask too many questions, and if anyone asks, I’ll just say I lost it or something and shrug it off. It was a dead-end lead. That’s it. You’d be surprised by how well that works sometimes when people don’t really care all that much to begin with…”

Mark stood there with his mouth hanging open.

O’Hara grinned.

“Your door was locked, actually—I lied about that part. But I didn’t hear anything in here and I wanted to see if the bloody thing even worked.”

“Thank you. I mean. Holy, shit.”

The bathroom door opened and a calm and dignified young woman, ignoring a long look from the detective, passed between them and then took the better of their two shitty chairs. 

She looked young, fresh and inviting. Amy was barefoot, bellbottomed and bra-less under the thin cotton blouse in a bright and cheerful floral print. Opening her purse, she pulled out a lip-stick and began applying it with a small, round makeup mirror.

“Anyways, Mark, I want you to promise me something.”

“Ah—I suppose.”

“I want you to go to social services and tell them what’s up, okay?” He gave Mark a slip of paper with the address of the nearest office on it. “You’d never guess it to look at me. But I’m a big fan of the trumpet.”

His eyes were sad and tired, with a glint of intelligence in there as well.

“Hah?”

“Tell them about your cheque, Mark. Tell them your landlord’s dead, he’s got your cheque, and I’m thinking they might even issue a replacement. Tell them what’s going on. Mention my name and say I thought it would be a good idea to go in. Don’t be afraid to pour your little heart out, okay? The worst they can say is no, right?”

Mark nodded.

“Sure. Absolutely.”

The detective stuck his hand out. Mark found himself shaking hands with a pig, if one could believe it, and even meaning it on some level. Cops were human too, apparently.

“I’m not a big believer in luck, Mister Jones. Thermodynamics, maybe. Physical chemistry, maybe. Things will work out. What’s your name, young lady?”

“Amy.”

"You're very beautiful. Amy. Never be ashamed of that."
“You’re very beautiful, Amy. Never be ashamed of that.” He gave Mark a quick and genuine grin. “So. Maybe things aren’t so bad after all, eh?”

He nodded in a kind of benediction.

“Well, enjoy the rest of your day.”

He turned and headed for the door before Mark even thought to say thank you.

By the time he did, it was too late anyways.

“Who was that, Mark?”

She still had the hint of a blush on her cheeks, and a rueful, humorous set to her mouth. A steely glitter was visible in her eyes and his own glance might best be directed elsewhere. He moved to the window, waiting to see the guy come out.

“That was Detective O’Hara. A friend—I guess.”

Either that or it was some kind of a trap. He stared out the window, now realizing the significance of the tired blue sedan sitting at the curb. He’d been sheltered for a long time. 

His instincts weren’t very good these days. O’Hara finally made it down the stairs and into the street.

The car fired up and drove away after a long pause.

This is not a trap—one very dark thought.

The fire escape outside of the front window began to heave and shake with someone coming down. The cat appeared, leapt in, and scurried for the bedroom. It had taken up habitual quarters on the shelves of his headboard, at least when he was sleeping. He’d broken down and picked up a couple of tins of cheap cat food and it was finally official, at least until someone told him differently. If the cat had an owner, he could always give them any leftover food and to hell with it. Mark had this crazy idea that that wasn’t very likely to happen.

“Oh, God, what now?”

Amy was just sorting through the remains of a day-old newspaper he’d found on the bus. It must be way out of date by now. There hadn’t been much in it, a lot of killings, kitchen fires, traffic accident with loss of life—but nothing that really pertained to him.

“Hey.” Duke stuck his head in the window and had a quick look.

He slithered in, face-down and crawling in on his arms and hands.

He stood, dusting himself off.

“Holy shit, man. Did you guys know there are cops in the building?”

The last thing he expected was to be laughed at. Amy threw the sports section at him.

Worse, Mark still had the rest of the story to tell.

***

Mark was just getting to the good part—the scary part, when some fresh and hellish racket erupted in the hallway.

“Largo al factotum della città.
Presto a bottega che l'alba è già.
Ah, che bel vivere, che bel piacere
per un barbiere di qualità! di qualità!”

Clunks, bumps and thuds underlined in fine counterpoint the roar and whine of a powerful industrial vacuum cleaner. The singing continued.

“Ah, bravo Figaro!
Bravo, bravissimo!
Fortunatissimo per verità!”
“Pronto a far tutto,
la notte e il giorno
sempre d'intorno in giro sta.
Miglior cuccagna per un barbiere,
vita più nobile, no, non si da.”

“What in the hell is that?”

Duke looked amused.

“Why—that’s Sylvio, the singing superintendent.” His eyebrows rose, as if to say, don’t you know nothing?

Amy, hand over her mouth, did her best. A small squeal if delight, disgust and amusement, all in equal parts, still escaped. She gave Mark a look.

“He’s not half bad, actually.”

They laughed when he said that, but it was true enough. There were a lot of talented, if slightly frustrated people in the world who might have done other things, possibly even better things, with their lives.

In that sense, he was one of the lucky ones. Mark Jones got to do what he wanted.

"Rasori e pettini
lancette e forbici,
al mio comando
tutto qui sta.
V'è la risorsa,
poi, del mestiere
colla donnetta... col cavaliere...”

“Oh, my. God, Mark.”

“It’s all right, Amy. Why, I have it on good authority that this is a clean, quiet, and professionally-managed building.”

Duke snorted.

“Yeah. Well. Poor old Sylvio only rears his ugly head about once a week. For about an hour and a half if you’re lucky, so if you want anything, now would be a very good time to ask.”

They were just burning a big fattie and Mark looked askance. Blue smoke hung at mid-level in the room, heading in every direction except, unfortunately, the direction of the windows.

His voice was low.

“I don’t know, Duke. I think I’ll hold off on that one—” He couldn’t think of anything in particular anyways.

“Well, shit, Mark.” Amy was all set to give him a gentle swipe upside of the head. “So what happened.”

“Yeah. Anyways, Olivetti’s dead. Shot, dead centre, right square in the forehead.” Even Duke was impressed, sitting up and looking around quickly for his beer. “I found the body. I went to his freaking office, looking for a key and the rest of my money.”

“Olivetti’s dead?” Duke eyebrows rose in disbelief. “Holy.”

Mark sighed.

“Shit. I don’t know when I’ll see that now, Duke.”

Duke nodded. Mark would have to owe him the ten bucks.

Mark could have used one of them beers himself, but Duke was clearly nursing it.

“Oh, my God.” Amy stared at him and Duke nodded.

“That’s no joke.”

“No, it ain’t. And of course the pigs grabbed me right on the spot. They put me through the third degree...again. Shit.”

With Amy on his left, and Mark kind of standing and addressing them from in front of the bedroom door, he wanted to go over and put his arm around her.

“So that’s why I haven’t been around much lately. Steady on, girl. They know I didn’t do it. He was killed around the same time I was playing, practicing really, in the square. At least that’s what O’Hara said.”

Her eyebrows rose.

"Shit! Did you guys know there are cops in the building?"
“The cop that was here?”

Duke goggled at them.

“He came here?”

“You were in the square? What square, what the hell are you talking about?” This from Amy.

Mark nodded soberly.

“I was playing my horn in the park. Duke. The guy went to all the trouble of getting me a key—now that Olivetti’s dead and everything’s evidence. His estate will be in escrow. I’m not sure if that’s the right word or whatever, but you guys know what I mean.” He swallowed. 

“He gave me the address to social services and told me to drop his name at the door. Remember the other day when we’d just smoked a couple and I told you that I’d had enough?”

“Yeah.”

“Remember that I told you that I smelled a shit-load of pot in the halls and you said I was just being paranoid?”

“Uh, yeah.” Duke could sort of see where this was going but he might as well let the man say it. “I suppose so, Dude. But look, uh, you’re hardly the only one stinking up the halls.”

“I don’t think I was being paranoid at all. I think I was just being practical, and the fact that cops can get keys—or kick doors in and come walking into people’s homes, any time they want, sort of makes my point for me.”

“And, buddy, old buddy, old pal? What are we getting at here.”

“Now, Duke. Now, I’m paranoid.”

Mark went over and stood by Amy, hip to her shoulder and dangling an arm over her back and around her shoulders as best he could. He leaned in and gave her a gentle kiss on the top of the head. He was trying to tell her something.

He was trying to tell Duke a little something too.

“Aw.” She nailed it with that one. “What square, incidentally?”

“I went to the square. I played my horn.”

“Ah.” What?

Mark grinned.

“I played the horn in Washington Square.”

Photo by Nevilley, (Wiki.)
“Okay.”

She exchanged a glance with Duke.

Duke bit his lip. It had actually been a pretty good rap session so far and these two were clearly in love. He wondered how long it would take for them to figure all that shit out.

It made a weird kind of sense so far, although a lot was going unsaid.

Mark lightened up the mood with a quick grin.

“Say, does anybody have a watch around here?”

“Oh. Yes. I do.” Amy peeled back the billowing sleeve of her gypsy blouse and checked the time. “It’s ten to three.”

“This boy’s got an idea.” The more insecure people were, the more likely they were to seize upon some external cause.

Mark didn’t want to be like that.

Mark grinned at his new buddy, left hand on Any’s shoulder.

“Yeah—I could sure use a beer, and I also earned a couple of bucks the other day—with my horn no less, and it’s high time we did something about that whole cheeseburgers with the lady friend sort of a gig.”

Duke nodded, considering the implications. Amy pulled her purse open, as this was just the sort of anecdotal data she was looking for when she finally went to write up her dissertation. 

It went towards the state of mind and certain environmental factors for the lifelong bachelor-male.

Poor Mark. Such a sweet guy. He was considerate, very intelligent, polite and thoughtful. He was struggling against the most adverse circumstances certainly she had ever heard of, although not unaware that some people faced challenges.

This was all so up-close and personal.

She was getting some pretty good material.

He wasn’t bad in bed, either.


(End of Part Eleven.)


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