Friday, April 1, 2016

# 99 Easy Street, Part Three. Louis Shalako.



Jorge Ryan, (Wiki.)




Louis Shalako



Amy was an anthropologist and graduate of the New School, whatever the hell that meant.

She was conducting a study of life-long bachelors, which must have had its dangers.

Uncomfortably aware of a slight erection, he listened intently, trying not to give too much away to a perfect stranger. All he had to do was to get through the next three minutes.

Coming across as wooden or scared was understandable enough, but of course she had no idea of what she was really asking.

“I mean, really, it won’t take up too much of your time—”

Mark had taken exactly one bite of a hamburger, his first as a free man in over four years. He was salivating like Pavlov’s dog, and then there was this girl.

She was sitting across the table and smiling at him. Something tore inside of him when he realized that in another time, another place, another man’s life perhaps, he might have asked her out.

This was going to end badly. Hell, it already had.

“Sure. Ask away.”

“Okay. There’s a little more to it, as it’s necessary to assess a subject’s environment as well. As you can imagine, we need quite a lot of information in order to draw any proper conclusions.”

Ah, the environment. That was a big word these days, what with Silent Spring.

Time and Newsweek were all over it. All those pesticides. All them dead birds and female alligators when there should have been a few males…forty-nine percent or whatever.

“Sure, whatever you want. Ah—” He was about to tell her he wasn’t working.

Why not just wait until she asks.

“Please, your lunch is getting cold.”

He made to speak and she held up a hand.

He grinned.

“You can have a couple of fries if you want.” His stomach grumbled loudly at that exact instance.

If she heard it, she took no notice.

Mark took a little bite, studying her frankly as she flipped to a fresh sheet. Her handwriting was neat, tidy, and vertical—what that said about her he wasn’t quite sure, but it was certainly nice.

“I have to admit, I was kind of dying of hunger.”

He could almost read it upside down, as she carefully put the date, the time and the title right up top.

“Your name?”

“Mark Jones.”

“Age?”

“I’m thirty-four.”

Her lips pursed unconsciously as she put that down.

“And what’s your occupation, Mark?” She was thoroughly professional, which was an interesting touch in someone so young.

Her crystalline blue eyes came up from the page.

“Uh. Huh. Well, I play the trumpet. At least, I try.” He tried a disarming grin around the looming hamburger bun. “I had to hock my saxophone a few years ago and never got it back.”

There was a strange moment when she thought he was joking. It was nothing he hadn’t seen before, so he plunged on as she bit her lip and wrote that down too. The nice thing about the horn case was that he had squeezed in a couple of cheap mouth organs, a pretty good harmonica and a cheap flute, his first instrument in high school. He’d supported himself, at least, for quite a few years with his music.

He stopped for a bite to let her decide if he was joking, lying, or whether she had properly understood him.

"When you advertise a sextuplet, you'd better deliver." - Mark Jones.
It turned out she liked jazz, and she had understood him. He watched her write that down, upside down.

She’d even heard of the Vic Muscadello Quartet, but none of the other bands he’d been with. She looked a bit impressed when he told her he could also play one or two other instruments. 

Her smile was really something when he told her that none of the groups he was in had ever really gone anywhere.

“You know, when you advertise a sextuplet, you’d better deliver…”

She laughed out loud and he began to feel better about things.

The fact was that times had changed, and rock and roll was here to stay.

***

“Okay, so I know this is nuts.” Standing on a platform of metal rods or bars, forty feet above the pavement was rather scary. “I really mean that.”

She was interested in his home life. Having given an inch, she was taking a mile and he wondered a little about that.

He wasn’t afraid of heights, exactly—not until now, that was, but he extended a hand into the hallway and she clambered out. This was so much worse, the two of them hanging in space. 

Her weight was substantial enough, even at a hundred and ten pounds or so that the platform swayed under their feet. She would never be able to do this in high heels—that was for sure.

It would not do to fall off from there, and he carefully led her across the narrow walkway. 

This was somehow worse as the steps down were placed close to the wall and the walkways had to go around them.

“Okay, hang on and be careful.”

Mark picked his way down the stairs, even more rickety than the platform, down to his own level.

There was a moment of panic when the window wouldn’t move at first try, and then it went up with a clunk. The surge of relief was immediate.

“You’re such a silly.” She had her hand on the back of his hip, and he turned.

“Okay, hold this up for me.” Dropping to his knees, he scrabbled in across the sloped concrete window ledge, coming up on his knees on the dusty wooden floor.

Taking the window now, he jammed it further up and held onto her upper arm with the other hand as she clambered in, perhaps a little more gracefully than him. Her scent washed past and over and into him, and he marveled at his freedom as much as his luck. Her body was warm, firm and gently rounded under the cashmere sweater.

Thank you, universe.

Thank you.

***

“I told you.”

“Yeah, you weren’t kidding.”

Spreading his parka on the floor, roughly where a couch would go, she sat on one end cross-legged. He went into the bedroom where his suitcase stood just inside the door. The sides weren’t very smooth but it might be okay for her to write on. It would keep it up off the floor.

“Aw.”

Fuck that is one nice cat.
When he came out after putting his leftover fries in the refrigerator, (carried home in his pocket), she was petting a scrawny cat. White, black and tawny in places, it was barely more than a kitten and showing a lot of nerve.

“What’s his name?”

“Oh, God, I don’t know. That’s not my cat.”

“It just came in the window.”

Mark grinned.

“Yeah, this is his turf and he just wants to know what’s going on.”

The thing had to be from somewhere in the building. There was no way down to the ground, except via the stairs and the lobby.

She was still petting it, and it was all right. It might even be helpful. He sat down on the hooded end of his coat, lumpy at best, but better than sitting on bare floorboards. Amy was young, cute as a button and so far she just seemed very friendly. She seemed very open and oddly fearless. It was attractive, certainly for a man ruled by fear for so long, and he was curious if everybody on the outside was like that or maybe it was just her.

The cat slid off her lap and put its paws on his leg.

He couldn’t help himself, reaching for the thing and picking it up. Mark brought the thing up to his face, and it touched him on the nose with a paw.

“Huh. Little bugger. Where do you come from, eh?” Most likely somewhere in the building.

It had a place to go, and would wander off when it had a mind to. He gave the thing a kiss on the top of the head, and it purred like crazy at all the attention.

Amy was ready to go with the pen and the paper.

“Okay. You just moved in and you don’t have any furniture? Where’s your stuff?” She looked around, as when Mark said his place was totally barren, she hadn’t quite believed him.

She had been wondering what that meant, exactly.

Mark considered. Sooner or later she was going to ask. Also, the thought that this could ever lead anywhere was ludicrous in the extreme.

He might as well be honest with her.

Mark held the cat across his chest, then got it to simmer down in his lap, purring and kneading at his leg with tiny, sharp little claws, its eyes half closed and totally relaxed.

“Yeah. Well. It’s kind of a long story…”

***

He was walking down the street, minding his own business when they picked him up. The tires squawked under braking, they slewed to a halt. They jumped out and grabbed him.

He was from New York, and they didn’t much like big-city boys around there. The cops hated him right from the start. He had no idea of what their problem was.

Mark sure as hell wasn’t doing anything wrong. He had a gig downtown and had gotten off the train, expecting to meet the rest of the boys at the hotel. It was only a few blocks or he might have taken a cab. Sometimes they traveled together, but this was a new gig for him. He would be playing with them for the first time, trying out to see if they liked his style. They needed a horn-man and that was all he really knew.

The Dave Dorset Five, but if they liked him, it would be the Six.

They had the same agent he did, and that was all it took sometimes. Someone got sick, or quit, or in that particular case, bedded the wrong woman. The phone rang and then you were working again.

When the cops started asking a lot of questions, he got a bit uptight. He hadn’t done anything wrong, although they found his draft deferral suspicious in the extreme. He was a bit old for the army, and then there was the medical history. They were asking all the wrong questions. 

They refused to believe a single word he said, in which case, why ask the questions in the first place?

Aw.
Telling them that might have been a mistake.

When they started asking questions about some missing girl, that was when he lost it and punched out a police sergeant.

Mark was such a pussycat, at least in their assessment. What with the horn and the flashy suit and the crazy black and white saddle-shoes, they didn’t even have him in cuffs. They were going to railroad him straight into jail, clear the case on his back, and he had no idea of who they meant or what they were talking about. It was just him, slouched on a hard maple chair and these three big-bellied, good old boys thinking he would cave without much trouble. He was out of the chair and on the sergeant, catching them flat-footed.

“And so what happened then?”

“I was lucky.” His face was hard and tight, just as always when he tried to talk about it. “My doctor testified that I was paranoid and delusional, dangerous and out of control when I wasn’t taking my meds. Anyways, we copped a plea, and there wasn’t much, ah, doubt that I did it, right? And then, they sent me off to the state hospital until such time as it was deemed fit for me to return to life. Which, coincidentally, exactly corresponds to the sentence—I didn’t even get time off for good behaviour.”

Mark had done something he wouldn’t have thought himself capable of.

“Did what?”

“I busted his nose.” He grinned in spite of his better nature.

And yet it probably had been better—better than being cooped up with hardened criminals, rapists, killers and homosexuals. His mind needed a wrench to stop it from drifting too far along that road. Bellevue was for crazy people, and anyone else lucky enough to get in there.

Bellevue was for the dangerous, the desperate, the delusional.

“What about the girl?”

“Huh?” Maybe he hadn’t been paying attention.

“The one that disappeared?”

He shrugged.

“Oh, God. How the hell would I know? She might have turned up, for all I know. In which case why were they even talking to me? Looking back, I mean. They were happy enough to keep it all about assault on a peace officer.” It was all water under the bridge at this point. “It’s not like I get the papers from Schenectady. Bellevue’s in Rochester, basically.”

“So. Uh. Getting back to the point, you’re thirty-four and you’ve never been married. Do you think you ever will, ah, meet the person of your dreams and you know, sort of settle down?”

The cat got up and walked over to the window but didn’t go out. It turned and looked at them, sat and began fastidiously licking itself. Thoroughly.

“Oh, God. I don’t know.” He heaved a deep sigh. “Once I realized there was something different about me, and that I wasn’t ever going to have any kind of a normal life…”

Licking his lips, eyes on the window as if there was anything other than the top stories of other anonymous buildings out there, he hesitated before going on. He turned and looked at her soberly.

“I mean, what do I have to offer? For any sort of respectable woman?” He rolled his eyes around, indicating the empty room. “I mean, shit. It wasn’t always this bad—I’ve had jobs and stuff, and at one time my career seemed to be going somewhere.”

“And?”

“There’s more? Yeah, I guess there is. Well. Hmn. I guess I would say that I didn’t want to inflict that—inflict myself, on anyone that I really cared about—”

That’s when the tears began to flow.

“Aw.”


(End of Part Three.)


If the reader enjoys serial fiction or even just sexy robots, here is a master link to The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue, our first serial.



Here is a link to Part One of # 99 Easy Street, an online serial in the pulp/noir mystery genre. - See more at: http://shalakopublishing.blogspot.ca/2016/04/99-easy-street-ongoing-serial-by-louis.html#sthash.2g1bwDWP.dpuf


And here's Part One.



Here is a link to Part One of # 99 Easy Street, an online serial in the pulp/noir mystery genre. - See more at: http://shalakopublishing.blogspot.ca/2016/04/99-easy-street-ongoing-serial-by-louis.html#sthash.2g1bwDWP.dpuf





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