Her name was Sylvia and she had walked through the front doors of the hotel on an early sunny morning just a few days after he had spent the after hours with Swede’s clan conversation over the phone about the extended stay of those matched pair of star struck blonds. She came toting a pair of world weary valises that might have in a previous era had stickers from every port of call that destiny and fate had ignominiously bounced them around to. An all too world-wise womanly expression defaulted to the designation of professional ‘waif’ holding sway over otherwise matchless magazine worthy facial features. The same picture as painted from a distance also suggesting a default sentiment of constant humiliation and surrender before the toll booth to life. Those well-worn kit leather suitcases dragged in ironically reflecting similar surface damage. A lingering aura taken from afar hinting at an age old screenplay of continual disappointments and lifelong dissatisfaction’s endured as being ‘necessary’ on a journey to the endless. Honey to a host of ‘flies’ posing as the perfect ‘someone’ as culled from an endless supply of ‘poor bastards’ disastrously seeking out, “‘Her, and her alone!”, as an improbable cure to counter their own living Hell of endless mortal oblivion. The fleeting attraction always defaulting to a short sweet empty promise of wet warm instant paradise found between the juncture of her legs. The vantage point of the mezzanine above afforded Harris a magnificent simulation of a ‘tried and true’ Hollywood artifice of movie art where external light bathes the starlet from behind illuminating her immortality before the fatal irony of an old hotel’s emblematic terrazzo.
He had hesitantly started up one of those brainless conversations of ‘much ado about nothing’ half an hour later in the hotel’s inadequate fiction of a coffee shop. The exhaustion of a journey from her last post of the unknown finding her in a relatively passive state of tolerant accommodation to ‘chit chat’. Those initial inquisitive rhetorical cue cards that prompted a neutral topic of the wonders of California weather now blissfully discarded, Harris gathered scant bits and pieces from her of an experience of life that promised little more than a future replay of past events. She had worked as a waitress, a singer, an actress and as an unconscionable thief unwittingly preying upon family head of household by virtue illicit romantic interludes. The brief rundown taken from a partial list of other sordid affairs hinted at only in a few words here and there. To a more objective third party observer this impossible speech more significant of practice and rote memorization than an evidentially supportive reality. By now, Harris was sitting at the same Formica ‘two-spot‘ wondering what he would have to ‘pay’ for her an unexpected soliloquy? The seance terminated by the call of much needed rest, she excused herself leaving him pondering the fact of both her unexpected presence and the check. Something was happening to him as their seemed to be an opening in his body armor that was now afflicting him in a way of unwanted sexual attractions. The emotional musk of females as of late precipitously clouding up his head. Perhaps the absence of the ‘firewall’ of alcohol had unmasked previously repressed unsatisfied desires? “The present tense of his newly unburdened existence needed no extra baggage“, he thought. Women invariably became a burden. Yet they also remained an enigmatic answer to a question he had often thought? But the hint of an answer always coming at the most awkward of times.
Rolf and Ben, Inge’s sons had set up a meeting for that afternoon at a small place off Figueroa by the convention center. No one had been tugging on the hook at the ‘bait’ and they wanted to rethink the possibilities of scenarios pumping Harris in the process. Harris was sporting the required dark glasses and short sleeved sports shirt and khaki ‘chinos’ pressed and washed and recently at a local neighborhood resale shop acquired in an attempt to blend in within a better part of town. The pain from the swelling in his legs had diminished somewhat with his abandonment of the drink but the weariness he ascribed from the ongoing effects of the cancer was ever an issue. The meeting had been short, one of the boys across the street looking casually disinterested from afar as an observation post to take in any possible ‘interested parties‘ that might unexpectedly show up. Since the blonds had extended their stay they had checked the background of the publicity agent the girls had been overheard to mention named Morris and found he was not a ruse but an actuality. There were some other candidates in the hotel that fit the profile for possible abduction but without those ‘above average’ qualities that Hollywood ever seemed to be willing to devour. Harris was asked to continue to keep his eyes open and they would keep an eye on things format he outside. If anything started to go down from their end they would be in touch ‘muy pronto‘! On the way back down the avenue slightly limping along Harris poured over his own impressions of the meeting. It was evident that he was considered a ‘weak vessel’ by them at best. What they knew of his failure to warn his uncle was academic. It was as much a combination of his being recognized as an penitent alcoholic as that ever fashionable generational attitude prevalent among those young that those of his vintage,’ “past it!” Given the chosen vocation of the boys it was evident that they new that it was their job alone to take an active hand at the behest of those of Harris’ generation that for better or worse had clawed their way up to the top with the privilege of being able to push the buttons. To them, he was merely an instrument to employ in the field and improvise around if need be. That long lingering self-image of his own youthful calling as a ‘fire eating‘ Marine sat in a similar position of laying down the law on behalf of the powers that be felt bruised by his conclusions. He was old and washed up. And he didn’t like the fact that they were right. A burden that the drink had unconsciously lifted from his shoulders when he had fully embraced it. He looked longingly down at the Stillwell as he passed Grand Avenue. Hanks would be charging up for the night ahead of self-ascribed high rollers and hobos. It hurt inside to feel this way and simultaneously feel the siren’s call!
It was past eight when he approached the hotel. The weakness of his legs had left him staggering precariously trying to miss rolling into some innocent pedestrian unlucky enough to be heading in the opposite direction down the sidewalk. The mind seemed to still be functional in this flailing body of Indian rubber. It was amazing to him on an intellectual level how only three Wild Turkey’s had laid him so low. “Or that was before, that motorcycle bought a few rounds for the house?“, he slurred to himself. “Shit!“, he spat out with the required angry sibilance on the first consonant to attempt repudiation on his own lack of self-control. A sense of confusion standing before the night magistrate of his own internal mental court hit him like a sledge hammer. “You’re honor, I just don’t know what to say . . . I’m guilty as charged?“, he replied imagining his own paltry defense or lack of same. What was he going to do now? He had proved everyone right! He was a ‘loose cannon‘, a drunk, a ‘washout’! Everything else was pretense. He didn’t even know is he could believe that had seen what he had said he had? Maybe he had picked it up in some alcoholic haze in recollection of a movie of the past? The remnants of Swede’s face, the bottom portion half covered by a gray green institutional mourning shroud. That had been real! He stumbled forth on the pavement head bent groping his way though the impossible thicket of his worst fears coming home to roost when he nearly collided dead on with someone. Sylvia stood an inch or two directly before him eyes wide and hands up in the arrest of a defensive catch. “Harris . . .!“, she said recovering her own surprise sarcastically, “I didn’t expect to run in to that soon.” “Are you all right?” “Jeeez . . . I’m so sorry . . . I . . . uh . . . didn’t mean to ram into you, sorry, sorry.” Harris slurred feeling the size of a matchbook cover. The wistful hollows of those soulful moonlit eyes looking into his own sent him almost reeling onto the pavement as if his his heart had been speared by a fisherman’s gaff. Her arm that had spared him the pavement’s hard kiss was amazingly strong. “Let’s get you inside before you pass out.”, she said matter of factly.
When he regained consciousness he was in her room laying to the side of the bed with her on its other edge curled up with back to him. He noted with some small measure of relief that both were fully clothed. He had no idea what floor of the hotel he was in but it looked as equally dismal as his own except her belongs were strewn about and not his. He tried to raise up as carefully as he could without disturbing her but he was too weak for the effort to succeed. His eyes focused over to the back of her neck in the dimness of the outside light cast about the room. He could feel the slight sensation of her breath against him in symphony with an even slighter heartbeat. He felt himself perversely stirring a bit which each wave and he turned towards the window to refocus himself into a more polite state of mind. The base of her hair showed some gray. This close up it was evident that she was older than he had first surmised. Her body trembled a little bit as if reverberating from some dream inspired detonation. “Was this a strange dream of his own?”, he thought feeling as if he was floating on a cheap plastic air mattress in a vast ocean of whiskey. “What a crazy dream!”, he mused. He lay there unmoving going in and out of awareness as he stared up at the patterns of light and shadow shifting into endless patterns. With a sudden start she shifted a bit and stirred from her fetal curl to sit with her head cradled in both hands looking over at his bulk for a brief instant before heavily rising to make a few unsteady steps towards the ‘john’ the door snapping shut behind her. “Are you OK?”, her distant voice echoed dully from behind the baffle of the closed door. Challenged by this unexpected situation and the decorum of the need for a reply he said, “Yes.” He tried rising up for a moment in a second attempt of escape from this situation as the muffled toilet flushed before the bathroom door flung open. She stood there a bit bleary eyed in the door frame leaning a bit her clothes rumpled a button or two left asunder. The silence reigning between them. “I wouldn’t let a dog die in that kind of situation.“, she said in answer to his silence. “Would you like a drink?” she followed walling to the half finished bottle on the table across from the bed. “I know that I sure need one.” she replied resignedly to herself. Harris had managed to get himself up into a sitting position. “What time is it?” he countered. “Beats me.” she replied looking towards the window, “It looks like lo Mr Sun is coming to work now.” She looked over at him and said, “Lie back and get some rest if you need to . . . I’ve got to go out and there is nothing left that’s worse stealing around here“, she said casually. “Just make sure to flip the lock when you leave.” Harris settled back into a defeated curl and after a few minutes heard the room’s door close shut as she left.
The brightness of the blue sky hurt Harris’s eyes as he walked unsteadily to the corner for some coffee. he had managed to avoid the temptation of another drink by exiting her place a few minutes after he left. He was beyond embarrassment at this point but there was a question mark of the events of the end of the night that needed resolution in the uncustomary kindness he had been the beneficiary of. What was she about? She was too easy with her hospitality to be a good-hearted Midwestern ‘school marm‘ displaced by the vagaries of modern existence. He knew that right up front. Was she a working girl with a long standing union card from too many years in the club? He put his hand on his wallet and despite the affront of misjudgment checked to see if his bankroll was intact. It was clear from his visual accounting that she hadn’t collected for her services, . . . not yet. He felt the eyes of Swede’s sister burning into him in the chapel transformed into reproach. His sins were mounting up fast and he knew he was on the Grim Reaper’s Rolodex. A stab of fear unexpectedly struck him as he wondered were the twin blonds still in evidence at the hotel? He stopped at Kafe Korner and got an extra large in a Styrofoam cup and sat down to gather himself to the task to see if he had failed yet again. The day was progressing in the usual manner for everyone around him. The junkies stood restless on the corner of their side of skid row. Old bums pushing pathetic brown paper bag loads of offal stacked high in purloined shopping carts. Chinese merchants stood before their shops kiddie corner smoothing their wares on headless mannequins. Regular squares and geographically misinformed tourists wandered to and fro. Harris took another sip and raised his head and was startles to see a gang banging street hoodlum type accoutered in shades and bandanna observing him. It was the Hispanic kid from the lineup. He wiped the spilled coffee off of his hands and bodily made the decision to walk over to confront him. He crossed the street half expecting his observer to casually walk off before hi arrival but the kid keep watching his approach with an aire of mild indifference. “You know who I am . . . don’t you?“, said Harris as he stood before the arrogant young ‘chido‘.”Yeah, you’re that fucking old ‘batto’. “You were at Swede’s funeral!“, Harris quickly countered. “And you are the ‘chingas harina’ with the big ‘nariz’ that’s counting out his seconds on a broken watch.” What the fuck are you talking to me cabrone?“, the young man tossed. “Maybe I don’t appreciate the constant company?“, Harris shot back with equal venom. The gang banger looked for an instant past him back across the street at the two blondes passing down the block obliviously enraptured in some frivolously animated conversation. “Later loser“, he said to Harris as he took off on the other side of the street keeping close watch on them.
Harris walked for a while heading south steering clear of the obvious obstructions of beggars and winos. He felt a sense of being displaced for one reason of another from his hotel. The place had become his nightmare wrecking any illusions of life on the sunny West Coast that had propelled him out here. It was obvious that he had lost any sense of pride in himself in equal measure to amount of disappointment that he felt about himself at having his illusions blown away by the reality of this situation. Whatever way he decided to handle things from here on out he had to abandon any sense of salvation from moral judgement. “It just was what it was.” He had to accept the veneer of kindness with the same level of suspended disbelief, or its opposite, as a coin toss. The past was dead and his cover was blown and that was that. He felt that he would just walk into the back of the hotel go to his room and get his Colt, and then go back downstairs and beat the shit out of any employee or spook who looked like he knew something and get the goddamn thing done once and for all. If he caught a bullet then so much the better for an agreeably peaceful resolution. If he saw that fucking gray suited cartoon abortion roaming around the hallways he would just blow the fucking thing back to Hell.