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Time to Go (fiction)

June 23, 2013

Another short story inspired by a photo, and this time the photo is from LuLumière, who graciously gave me permission to use her photo as inspiration. She takes amazing photos of Paris—many in black and white with a dramatic contrast of dark and light. This photo in particular made me think of noir movies and stories. Please take the time to check out her wonderful blog.
 

Noir photo, copyright LuLumiere

Of course they’re waiting for me. At least the glass in the door allows me to see his hatted silhouette in my office, backlit by the lights on the street through the window behind him. At least the glass in the door allows me to be more prepared, not like the complete surprise an all-wooden door would leave me.

Fight or flight? For surely it could easily be a fight with fists or words or the butt end of a pistol handle to avoid the noise of a shot. My feet decide before my brain, spinning me around to walk back toward the stairs, the elevators far too slow right now.

I yank open the door to the stairwell, but there’s another guy, a guy built like a cinder block wall, and he shoves my frozen body backward, catches me before I hit the carpet, such quick reflexes for a man of his wallness. It’s the ones you can’t see who are the most dangerous.

My dignity dives as Mr. Wall drags me back to my office, tosses me to the floor like luggage after arriving home from a long trip, and I get to see Mr. Fedora more clearly, plus a new guy I didn’t detect earlier, a guy with a face of intelligent menace, as if while eating his eggs and toast every morning, he hatches a new plan to take over another block of houses on his way to conquering the entire city.

“So you’re the snoop,” Mr. Fedora says. “Did you really think we’d never catch you?”

“I was hoping that, yeah.”

He smirks. “You probably got away with it for a little while, not sure how long you were watching before we caught on. But we caught on, all right. You see a face enough, you start getting curious.”

He’s right. Too many of them, only one of me. It’d be nice to have a team behind me.

“Who are you working for?” Mr. Fedora asks.

I simply stare back, which earns me Mr. Wall’s fist saying hi to my face and him grunting, “Mind your manners. Answer him.”

“No can do.” Leave it up to them to decide which of his instructions I’m referring to, the meager payback of a downed man.

“You know a little bit about Mr. Webber by now,” Mr. Intelligent Menace says, his palm patting a folder on my desk. “But we also know a good bit about you.” Palm up, he gestures to my filing cabinet, poor thing was defiled with a busted lock and opened drawers, which are now empty, and the contents are probably in the trunk of their car. “Enough to interest our judicial system. I wonder if a judge would look kindly upon your repeated invasions of privacy over many years?”

“If they’re open minded, they’d look beyond it. For the greater good, that is.”

“Greater good,” Mr. Intelligent Menace repeats and laughs, which spreads to Mr. Fedora and then to Mr. Wall, what a grateful audience.

“So you’re a do-gooder, huh?” Mr. Fedora says as his laughter dissipates like smoke. “I don’t think so. I think you’re just a guy out for a buck. Same as all of us. Save yourself some pain. Tell us who hired you to spy on Mr. Webber.”

I appreciate how the light from the store signs on the street outside streams through the window and illuminates one side of their faces. Half in light, half in shadows. If my camera were with me, I might ask if I could take their picture. But they appreciate neither the light nor my silence. Mr. Fedora nods to Mr. Wall, who kicks at my stomach, forcing the air out of me, and his fists knock down on me as if I’m a door of opportunity he’s desperately trying to open.

I curl up on my side, fetal position, my hands interlocked behind my head and put my forearms in front my face for some protection. How could I tell these goons that their boss’s own son hired me? The one who enjoyed the wealth of dear old dad’s nefarious activities of theft, illegal gambling, and computer hacking (that’s just a few pages), but at some point developed a distaste for the more vicious crimes and, while battling terminal cancer, began to desire unburdening his soul of knowing his dad would keep racking up victims—unless he was stopped. And so, Junior Webber approached me with a job that was dangerous as hell but paid astronomically well. Junior picked me over the cops because he worried his mission would’ve been leaked through corrupted gaps in the system. With his terminal cancer and brutal chemo, he worried less about his own safety and more for his wife and two kids. I was a safer alternative. A guy who’s livelihood depends on close observation, hiding in shadows, and being trusted to protect my client’s identity. So, while Mr. Wall’s fists keep knocking on me, I imagine the line of ants I had watched one time I ate lunch on a park bench and had dropped a dollop of my chicken salad sandwich, which these ants had discovered and were taking away, bit by bit, in enviable teamwork.

Eventually, Mr. Wall’s arms and legs get tired and the knocking stops.

“No dice, huh?” Mr. Fedora says. “Not this time, at least. Don’t forget that we’re watching you. And don’t forget if you try to come out with anything about Mr. Webber’s businesses, we’ll unleash all the goodies in your past.”

The three march out like victors, Mr. Intelligent Menace carrying the folder with my notes on Mr. Webber.

I stretch out on the floor for a while, wondering why I chose to be a private investigator rather than, say, an entomologist or a barista. Sure, both jobs carry a risk to your health, but much less than my current profession. A change is needed. A big change. And quick. As quick as my foggy brain and bruised body could manage. First things first. I take a slug from the bottle of Scotch in my desk drawer that the goons graciously left me. Also left behind is the envelope, containing eight grand, that was taped to the back of the filing cabinet. And they didn’t break into my old Ford, so my digital camera is still in its bag.

If my arm could’ve managed it, I would’ve patted myself on the back for always parking several blocks from Claire’s apartment and walking in a complicated, circuitous route to her building. Since Mr. Webber’s minions are following me, there’s a good chance they don’t know about her, which is a huge relief.

Claire isn’t happy about being woken up, and her grumpiness turns to concern when she sees my sorry, beat-up state. “What the hell happened?” she asks and heads to the bathroom for a washcloth.

“You don’t need to know the details. What’s important is that I’m leaving town, and I want you to come with me.”

Her squinched-up face shows the gears turning as she tries to work out an image of assailants beating the stuffing out of me, mixed with the image of us zooming out of town, giving rise to her questions: “But go where? What’re we going to do?”

“We can do anything. And we can go anywhere. Anywhere you like, as long as it’s far from here.”

She knows this is from danger. She’s told me lots of times she doesn’t like my job. But I’ve never seen myself as middle management. When she’s finished cleaning my face with the washcloth, she smokes a cigarette to think it all over. The glowing end of the cig looks feeble, like it yearns to be something much larger.

Then, holding her cigarette to the side, she looks at me, shooting me with a pained expression. “I can’t, babe. I just can’t leave. This is my home. This is what I know. I can’t leave it all at the drop of a hat like you can.”

My mouth opens, almost letting out words of argument, words to try to persuade her to change her mind. But my brain rolls over what she meant by home. Not necessarily her apartment, but her friends. Her very close friends she’s known much longer than the year we’ve been dating. Friends who are like family to her. It’s no use to try to persuade her, so I kiss her, tell her I love her, tell her I’ll call and write her.

I drive out of the city alone, after easily losing the car that was tailing me, chuckling at the thought of Misters Wall, Fedora, and Intelligent Menace in the car that was supposed to be following me and yelling at each other, assigning blame for losing me. I settle into this highway knifing through the suburbs, and I remember something I had read in a newspaper or saw on TV. A call-out for fire spotters in national parks. The deal is that you live in a tower and watch the landscape all around you through binoculars for smoke dancing suggestively, as if under the spell of a snake charmer, and then you raise the alarm about an impending forest fire to call in the troops with water and axes. It’s job far away from Mr. Webber’s reach. And it would leave lots of time to think and write down what I’ve seen of Mr. Webber’s activities.

After my fire-spotting tour is over, I could make copies of my report and send them with photos to Junior and a few newspapers, maybe the FBI. Send them anonymously, that is. Enough material to get them interested, a spark behind their eyes that would hopefully grow in intensity and the need to confirm my allegations.

And after that? A new city, maybe a small town and a job slinging burgers in a diner, with enough time off to make new friends and write detective fiction loosely based on my cases, but with not enough details to link them back to me. Using a pen name, of course.

 


Photo copyright LuLumière
Story copyright Dave Williams

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2013 10:31 pm

    Dig the twist and unraveling of events. You find yourself all alone and the only choice you got is to disappear. Make a new start from nowhere with nothing…

  2. June 23, 2013 11:18 pm

    Wonderful to read your story, Zooky World! Great work. So glad that my photograph inspired you to write! Have a great day 🙂

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