“Right,” I answered, finishing off a scotch.
The succinct response pulled him back. Aamon repositioned himself on his side of the booth and set his glass down on the hardwood table with a thunk.
“Look, all I’m sayin’ is you might have another drink and try to relax for once. It won’t be long before you’re wading through shit so deep you won’t know which way’s up.”
A regular walked through the front door of Aamon’s Bar & Grill and took a seat at the bar. A junkie type, pale, shaky, sweating. His clothes we’re all but falling off, dirty as shit. I watched for a moment as he ordered whatever booze he felt would take the edge off until his next fix. I can’t say I understood the lifestyle. What in the hell would keep a man doing that to himself?
Aamon continued in lieu of a response, “What do you say? ‘Nother drink? On the house.”
I turned back to his expectant face. He was just staring, having frozen halfway to exiting the booth. His suit was sharp; pinstripes, always looked freshly cleaned and pressed. It was extravagant for a bar owner.
I nodded. “Sure.”
I eyed the last of the whiskey he’d left behind and resigned to drink it. Aam was making his way back with two drinks before I even had his glass set back down. He bobbed in and out of tables, dodged stumbling customers, and stepped over a chair without spilling a drop; that grin still plastered on a stiff jaw beneath a jet black mop. Idiot. What was he so damn happy for?
A glass of scotch hit the table and Aamon’s ass hit the seat.
“Friend of yours?” I lifted my glass and gestured in the junkie’s direction.
“We’re all friends here, Mike.”
I let out a humph and took a gulp as some of the night crowd shuffled in.
“That’s the problem, Aam. Friends are bad for business.”
He laughed. “Whose business is that?”
A rowdy crowd of rookies walked in right after, raising the volume in the bar about ten clicks. I checked my watch. 10 o’clock.
“Mine.” I slugged the rest of my free drink and Aam laughed again, more knowingly this time.
“You need another drink,” he decreed, snapping at the waitress he’d ogled earlier. She’d just finished serving a round to three heavy fellows, each with a platter of hot wings. I thought she carried herself well; looked like she’d have the nerve to break a fella’s hand if he took no for a three letter word. Her uniform, and everyone else’s, was a 1950’s style, striped grey and black. Laura O’Connell. That’s who she reminded me of. A high school girl that went missing. Her
parent’s gave me her senior photo to go on, Laura in a cheerleading outfit. It was almost identical to the one this young thing wore, only striped in pink and green. Missing persons’ don’t usually have happy endings. For Laura there was no ending at all. An open case, collecting dust on a shelf somewhere. Fuck it.
“Yes, Aamon?” She spoke blankly, reaching our table. Her nametag read ‘Prudence’.
“Would you grab our friend here another scotch, darling?” Aam eyed her coyly, sipping his whiskey.
“Yes, Aamon,” Prudence affirmed, then made for the bar. A notable detachment hung in the air around her words, like maybe she’d clocked out upstairs. Aamon watched her walked away again, then pulled a pack of Lucky Strikes from his suit jacket.
“The way I see it, Mike, is if you want to answer some questions, you got to go find them.” He lit a cigarette and passed me one. “The answers are always out there,” he stated, pointing outside, “but you know that better than anyone.”
I didn’t respond, just lit my cigarette and looked to the street. A cold rain had only just begun to pelt the street and roll down the booth’s cracked window. A figure in a hooded coat sat under a light-post across the road, unfazed and unmoving. The light above them flickered, dimmed, and faded their frame into obscurity. A glass set in front of me by a waitress on the fly spun my focus back to the table; a table I was now alone at. Aamon had stood and wandered off, as he did from time to time. He was always giving advice when I didn’t need any but sometimes I’d listen.
A bar fight had already broken out. I watched on as some smart mouth punk got dealt a heavy hand by a brute with an adrenaline problem. You’d think this kind of behavior would send people running but not here, not where I was. I slammed my drink in one go and stood from the booth. A fair amount of people watched me walk to the door despite the boxing match going on. The last thing I heard before stepping into the rain was the sound of a wine bottle shattering. Over what, or who, I didn’t know.
The air outside was cool, but wet, and the concrete all around, overbearing. I looked for the hooded drifter across the street but they had gone. I walked the sidewalk home, slipping between scaffolding and construction cones as steam filled the street from open sewer grates.
Silence. The only thing to hear was the echoing click of my shoes against pavement and the hollow taps of raindrops against my hat. Loneliness. Not a figure walked past and yet I was in the Damned Metropolis. True, I saw others, but always from afar. None seemed to be right where I was at any given time. Not even the light was with me. As soon as I’d reach a streetlamp, its yellow glow would click off and instead shine upward into a starless sky. Once I’d gone, it would return to illuminate the ground.
There were streets, car parks, and garages, but as far as I knew, no one drove anywhere, except when they did. Everything was in walking distance and if it wasn’t, you didn’t need to go there. My home, and office, was within ten blocks of every eatery, bar, and smoke shop I needed. The convenience was unparalleled, but hollow. Only five minutes from my front door, I stepped onto a block that had gone untouched by rain. Streams searching for drains in the street would even travel uphill if it meant they’d skirt the area. Bone dry. I fished out a cigarette and lit it while I had the opportunity, exhaling a cloud of thick blue-grey.
And there I stood, on the corner of Who-Gives-a-Shit and Main, when I heard a distant argument. It sounded like it was coming from the alleyway just ahead, past a derelict bakery complete with boarded up windows. The argument wasn’t unusual. Hell, that’s all people did around here. What was unusual was the manner in which one party spoke. I couldn’t always
make out the words but I’d heard a man and a woman, could’ve been a mugging. She sounded surprised to be in such a situation, with such an angry person. He sounded adamant, violent, ready to kill and kill again. Predictably, I’d made no more than three steps in that direction when the first gunshot rang. A second later, two more. End of argument.
If I had a stack of paperwork on my desk, I’d have considered walking on. But with nothing but my thoughts waiting for me at home, I rounded the corner into the alley to see what had happened. An impossibly long and narrow corridor laid ahead, miles long, and with a scarcely believable exit. In the middle, a neon sign hung as the only light in a pitch black hall of dumpsters, rats, and alley cats. I hauled on my Lucky Strike and made my first steps toward a body laying limp underneath it. I stepped over pipes, ages old food, garbage, and hypodermic needles. A dead man’s paradise. It took the rest of my cigarette before I reached her, a good six or seven-minute walk, and when I did, I found her face up, eyes wide open. Stillness: in her and in me. She wore clean, brightly colored clothes, pink with tints of green quickly turning red. Whoever the killer was, they didn’t want money. Her handbag was unopened. I knelt down to retrieve it, as well as an open letter from her hand. It read: “Go home.”
Her wallet, on the other hand, provided more information. Her name was Sarah Simmons. Address: 307 Carraway Drive, Freshfield, OK, Apartment 2B. A long way from home. Her money was intact and she didn’t have any drug paraphernalia, unless of course it had already been stolen. I stuffed her bag into my overcoat pocket and began to fold the letter back up, until I saw a return address. 67 FarAwayNorth Drive. Bingo. That’s a Hell address. I could’ve picked up, chosen to go sleep off my buzz, but it was early yet and I was reeled in.
I looked to the end of street and also checked the glowing sign above to find that it simply read “Shit” and pointed directly to a door beside me. In vain, I attempted to make my way out of the alley the way I’d entered. As fate would have it, the end of the alley only grew longer as I walked and, when I looked back, I’d made it no further than 10 feet from the door. Typical. So, I did the only thing left to do. I spun, stepped over that poor girl’s body, opened the door, and felt the crunch of an empty syringe underfoot as I stepped inside.