Saturday, April 2, 2016

# 99 Easy Street, Part Four. Louis Shalako.

 



Louis Shalako



How the hell they went from there to sex was a mystery, and yet there they were, naked on top of a thin layer of clothes, cuddling under the parka when someone knocked at the door. 

Mark had cried, and she had held him…and somehow that was enough.

“Oh!” That must be Olivetti.

Mark clambered to his feet. He just had time for pants and a shirt. Amy was mostly there so he went over and opened the door.

Duke brushed past him with a couple of tall brown bottles of something, held by the neck in one hand.

“Hey, man, I got some good ganja…oh, hey.” Stopping dead in his tracks, eyebrows rising, he took in the empty room with the girl sitting on a coat in the middle of it. “Sativa. Real Hawaiian.”

The cat got up smartly and went over to rub itself on Duke’s ankle.

“Wow.” With a nod at the lady, he gave Mark an appraising look. “Holy. Shit. You don’t waste much time, do you?”

Plopping his arse down on the right-side window ledge, Duke put the two bottles down and cracked the caps. He held one up for Mark, and took a long gulp of his own.

“Ah, Duke—” Mark took the bottle.

“Maybe you and the lady could share, ‘cause I only brought the two.”

Mark hadn’t had a drink of any sort in over four years.

He took a quick sip before anybody changed their mind.

We’ll think about this later.

We can lay awake all night long and worry all about it.

“Ah, Duke, this is Amy. Amy, this is Duke.”

He closed the door, standing there for a moment, rather enjoying the fact that he was acquiring friends and acquaintances at an alarming rate. That was the one thing he would never have predicted.

Remembering the McDonald’s cup in the kitchen, Mark went in and quickly rinsed it out.

He took a little over half the bottle. Amy could drink the rest out of the cup, with drops of lukewarm water still on it.

He had a couple of paper towels, and a little clean water wouldn’t hurt. He laid that out to dry and went back to the living room.

The damned cat, having followed him in, followed him right back out.

“I didn’t know you had a cat.”

There were a million things Duke didn’t know about him.

“Oh, you mean it’s not yours?”

Duke snorted, raising his bottle.

“Ah.”

Mark gave Amy the glass of foamy beer, already warming up in their hands.

“Thank you.” She took a tentative sip of Old Milwaukee.

Mark was in the midst of a good long pull.

“So. Has he told you about the dead hooker in the bathroom yet?” Boy, that Duke was such an innocent, going by the eyes and the expression.

Stinging foam poured out of Mark’s nostrils as Amy’s hand flew up to her mouth. Her laugh was infectious, but there was this questioning look on her face. Staring, she sought out some confirmation or explanation of what would normally be an unusual remark.

Something about his expression must have convinced her.

Still laughing, she took a quick sip and put the glass down as Duke pulled the makings out of his shirt pocket.

“Now there’s story I want to hear.”

Mark’s face flamed beet red. Sooner or later, it would have to come up anyways—surely she must read the papers. It was only a matter of time before she put two and two together.

Could the world have forgotten him so quickly?

***

“Oh, my God.”

Mark had settled down beside her again, the beer working well on a stomach that was not all that full to begin with.

Duke licked the glue strip and gave the joint an extra lick to slow down the burn.

His battered chrome Zippo snapped and flared and the distinctive aroma of the fuel permeated the room. Outside, clouds came over outside and took away the sun.

She put her hand on Mark’s knee.

“Oh, you poor guy. You’re just not having any luck at all.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” They shared a quick smile.

Slowly, her hand retracted and she went for her own beer as Duke leaned forwards and Mark was confronted with decision-time.

“Uh—jeez.” He took it anyways, taking a quick hit, noting an acrid, almost salty flavour.

“That’s the best herb you’re ever going to smoke, man.”

“Yeah, like I’m ever going to know the difference.” It came out just right and they both laughed.

“Has he mentioned that he’s been locked up since 1966?”

Amy gasped, and Mark just shook his head, giving Duke a sickly grin.

"Has he mentioned the dead hooker in the bathroom yet?"
“Honestly, it’s really not as bad as all that—”

She wasn’t so sure, apparently, as Duke snickered quietly in that coyote fashion of his.

Mark hastily passed it off to Amy, holding the smoke in the way Duke had. He monitored his body for any sudden sensations. This was one of the dangers of the outside world—and he had allowed himself to be sucked in all too easily. He let out the smoke, wondering when something would begin to happen. He’d been playing a role, acting, and holding it all in for far too long.

Life was like smoke. Sooner or later it would all have to come out.

There was a long silence as Amy puffed at it, short little inhalations. She had clearly done this before.

Duke leaned in and took it back. Those humorous black eyes centred up on Mark.

“Well?”

“Hmn.”

Duke considered this response as Amy rubbed the cat’s belly.

“You know what? You got to get some music in here, man.”

“Shit! I got to get some keys for the place. Olivetti owes me the rest of my cheque. It would be nice to get some groceries in here. I could really use, uh, a bed. I don’t even have a cup, a plate, or a knife and fork.” Mark explained to Amy that the welfare people had given him half a cheque for April and all of May in advance.

He was paying seventy-five bucks a month, and Olivetti owed him quite a bit of money.

“Aw. What a dink, man.” Duke scowled. “The fucking Establishment, eh.”

Duke nodded thoughtfully.

“Yeah, we need to do something about that. Anyways, I know where you can get a bed cheap. They’ll give credit to anybody these days.”

“Oh, man, I don’t know about that…” Shit, here came the damned joint again.

“No, seriously. They love guys like you—my buddy works there. We’ll set you right up. What do you say?”

***

Amy had suddenly remembered an appointment. Their interview wasn’t even half over and Mark knew it.

Suddenly shy with someone he’d just been very intimate with, they clung to each other in the doorway as Duke sat there on the window-ledge, nursing the last half-inch of his beer. She was having trouble meeting his eyes.

“Give me your phone number.”

She hesitated for some reason he didn’t understand. 

Surely this wasn’t over—surely she wasn’t that easy, just a quick fling and she was gone.

Her mind was made up. It struck him that she was extremely bright. It was one thing to think about it, but this one was quick.

She tore a corner off of her writing pad and scribbled it for him. One more kiss and she was gone. He watched until she turned the corner to go down. So, that was it then.

Shit. What the hell just happened there?

Dead hookers in bathtubs, missing welfare cheques, apartments with no furniture…sleeping on some anonymous stranger’s hand-me-down coat, as cats came in open windows and strange dope-dealers came strolling in and plopped their strange asses down on strange window-ledges.

I guess I can see your point, lady…

Still.

What a crying fucking shame.

“So, man. Want to go look at them beds?”

Mark sighed.

“Yeah, what the hell. Two miracles in one day, I don’t know. It just seems like a lot to ask for.” The other thing was the smell, which he’d sort of forgotten.

Pot, apparently, smelled like someone was burning wet autumn leaves and it tended to linger. 

It was going to take forever to clear out, and there was some paranoia regarding landlords showing up when least expected.

Right about now would be nice. It would also be disaster. He was already conflicted enough. 

The last thing he’d ever considered was having some really nice girlfriend. What was he supposed to do, tie her up and hypnotize the girl?

It was all academic at this point.

Lunch hadn’t gone very far and he was hungry again. He didn’t have any money, and he had no idea of when Olivetti would get back to him. So far, the man hadn’t shown up at the door. 

Mark had been shitting razorblades for weeks, wondering if they were really going to let him out. He could do with a lot less stress in his life. He could use about a week’s worth of sleep and then some sort of substantial win in the numbers game.

“Look. Olivetti’s office is a few blocks over. If we can maybe stop by there, ah…sure, why not.”

Mark must have been in a fairly good mood, drained as he was. He’d never smoked pot before, and there was some fear about going out in public.

“Sure, why the hell not? You got nothing to lose, my man.”

“Duke, if you don’t mind me asking, do you work somewhere? What do you do for a living?”

“Oh, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Wheeling and dealing—you know.”

Mark didn’t know, and that was the problem. One of many.

“I have my ways.”

So few people had ever shown him any real kindness. There was always more to it than that.

There were always strings attached.

The thoughts that Duke must want something were a bit troubling, and then there was Amy.

He’d read all about the sexual revolution of course, and then there was the whole hippie thing.

He’d seen a few of them on the street. It was kind of impressive to see people going around barefoot in the Big Apple. Mark could never do that. There were many uncertainties in life, this was not one of them. One look at the bottoms of their feet as they stood around on street corners, especially the girls, was enough to convince. They were not only unshaven, unkempt, dirty and smelly, but possibly mentally unbalanced. Coming from someone like him, that might be a bit harsh.

Clearly the world had changed and he wasn’t too sure how he felt about that. He was a stranger in an even stranger land these days.

Four years was a long time to spend on the inside. Time stood still in there, and yet it rolled on for the outside world. It had turned him into a fish in a barrel—he would be all too easily shot, when you thought about it.


(End of Part Four.)


The reader may enjoy some of these other Louis Shalako books and stories on Google Play. We have something up for free at all times, incidentally, on pretty much every retail site.

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