(excerpt 9. If you missed the previous installment, scroll down the blog to catch up)
The lobby of the hotel where I would be staying was very rustic. The scuffed and scarred wood floors looked to be a couple hundred years old. The walls were made of knotty pine paneling. A stuffed moose head hung over the reception desk. A polar bear played show tunes on the piano against the wall to the right. He paused momentarily, dipped a large ladle into the punch bowl on top of the piano and poured it into a glass and offered it to me.
I waved it off as I said, “No thank you.”
I walked up to the counter and rang the brass bell that sat next to the antique brass lamp.
“Good evening, sir,” the clerk greeted me.
“I'd like to check in.”
“Parker. Say, where's Trader Jack's?”
“Did you say Trader Jack's?” His face turned white and he looked around nervously.
“Yeah. I'm supposed to meet someone there.”
“I'd stay away from that place if I was you, mister.”
“Well you ain't me. Can you just tell me where it is?”
“Walk outside and turn left. Head up the street toward the mountains. You'll see it about two blocks up on the left. Look for the noose hanging from the awning.”
“Thanks,” I said as I flipped a gold coin toward him.
I walked out the door and followed the clerk's instructions. I turned left and proceeded up the wooden sidewalk. There were no streets or buildings, just the boardwalk which was enveloped in a tunnel of fog and mist. I'd never experienced such utter quiet. I could hear my heart pound inside my chest. “How will I know when I've gone two blocks,” I wondered aloud. My voice echoed in the emptiness. “I guess I'll have to look for the noose.” Again, I heard my words repeated long after I'd uttered them.
I proceeded along the walkway, searching for signs of life. I could no longer hear my heartbeat, as the creaking of the wood planks beneath each step drowned out that audible evidence that I was, in fact, alive. I contemplated the din generated by my traipsing treads, and as I did, I began to float, like an astronaut in zero gravity. I glided onward through the fog tunnel; everything behind me grew ever darker and a bright light, diffused by the water vapor shroud, led me onward. I felt sense of peace and calm.
The guiding glow ahead of me disappeared, and everything was now bathed in a flat, dull light. Still moving forward, I slowly twirled around, looking to my right, then behind me, then back in the direction I was gliding. As I came around full-circle, there it was: a large saloon with a noose hanging from the awning. A large wooden sign which hung above the front door depicted a man with a fur hat handing forth a dead animal and receiving back a bag of money.
As I walked through the front door I was blasted by loud music as a bottled crashed against the wall six inches from my face. Pretty girls in low-cut dresses stood against the wall to the left, underneath the balcony. They smiled and batted their eyelashes at me. A short man in a fedora stood on the balcony above them. He eyeballed me as I strode through the door. I returned the visual scrutiny. I walked over to the bar and ordered a shot of whiskey. No sooner had I sat down on the stool and picked up the glass when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I put the glass down and whirled around to see the short man in the fedora staring me in the eye. I turned back around to face the bar. I could see his reflection above the liquor bottles that sat on the shelf in front of the mirror behind the bar. The fans which hung down from the thirty foot ceiling thumped rhythmically in the background.
“You the one who left the note in my pocket?” I asked.
“I'm the one,” he replied.
“I appreciate you not robbing me.”
“You might want to hold your feelings of gratitude in abeyance until you finish the assignment I have for you.”
“Assignment? I have a job to report to tomorrow. Sorry, old friend, but I can't help you.”
“You'll work something out.”
“I told you, I'm not available.”
“Lord Bartholomew has your parents. He's holding them in his mansion.”
“What!” I pictured my mother's face. Her eyes were dark and sullen; her mouth was turned down at the corners. She and dad were sitting on a cold cement bench in a dark cell. They were tired and hungry and scared.
“He says he'll release them if you'll do a job for him.”
“What's the job?” I said with a soft surrender. I knew I had to do it. I'd learned through experience not to go against Bartholomew; he was well-funded, powerful and ruthless.
I was much younger then, given to rash decisions and brash comments. I'd just finished a particularly grueling mission when Bartholomew insisted I do him a favor. Perhaps in hindsight I might have been a little more diplomatic.
“Take your favor and shove it!” was my response.
I jumped in my space cruiser and headed for home. When I got to our beach house, I hurried through the door to our bedroom, eager to hold my blonde bride. The note on the dresser called to me.
I warned you not to go up against me.
Don't bother looking. You'll never find her.
Maybe in hindsight I should have taken his advice, but who could just walk away from the holder of his heart? I found her mutilated body in a dumpster.
The short man in the fedora handed me the agenda, which I slipped into my pocket. I downed my whiskey and got up to leave. Bullets splintered the wooden doorjamb on either side of me as I sauntered to the exit. I didn't look back. As I walked out into the fog, I briefly considered returning to my room to get a good night's rest. No, I can rest on the way, I told myself. Besides, the sooner I do this the sooner my parents will be freed.