Harris sat alone on his bed staring at the wall by the window absent mindedly listening to the street traffic sounds from far below. His guts were churning and he was feeling like having to take a crap more and more even though he wasn’t eating as much as he once had. Two days had past since he had run into the Swede. He had been drowning himself in cheap booze ever since at a place far afield called Hank’s Bar which had a bar that could have been reassembled from one back in the Midwest. The third week here was coming to a close and he would have to make a decision if he wanted to stay in this joint. The Stillwell hotel was many blocks far afield of any local neighborhood amenities and the prices were at least ten percent higher. He liked the legacy joint called the Original Pantry but their prices had skyrocketed to take advantage of the convention trade. The He didn’t know if the cancer would cooperate and work to the schedule that the doctors had suggested in their usual guarded way of insuring themselves from future indemnities. He didn’t care to be shipped out to some L.A. county hospice and left to rot in some state run underclass hell hole.
But, Swede’s story had opened his eyes, or tried to, that this place he was staying at had an deep underside that he preferred not to think about. A lot of little things he had been experiencing could be put together in some rather unsavory ways if he was on of those conspiracy nuts. This was Los Angeles, California after all! Land of the ‘nut cases‘ and ‘Tinsel Town‘ fame happy thespians. As far as he was concerned you could replace the ‘th‘ with a capital ‘L‘ and ship the whole bunch of them further west to Hollywood and Vine! Had Swede let the drink and this town get to him about what was without a doubt a tragic situation? Through history back to ancient times young girls had rung up a longstanding tab in terms of causing emotional distress to paternal authority figures. Swede’s story could all be some kind of post-adolescent bullshit cooked up by her friend who was helping the daughter cover some unwholesome activity that they were getting themselves into voluntarily. Harris took another swig. “Hell, they might both be swinging around a pole naked in some Las Vegas dive right now?“, he thought to himself. The other stuff about sensational 1940’s film noir unsolved murder victims and the affiliation with a couple of degenerates who may have come through these halls on their way to butchery’s hall of fame also didn’t float. Considering the number of ‘Victor Charlie’s‘ that he and Swede had put on ice, or more accurately, ‘left for the crows‘ totaled up to numbers way beyond that.
Swede, he could long recall though it had been eternity since they had said their goodbyes on the tarmac by the ‘Freedom birds‘ back to the ‘States‘ had been a stand up guy and not a ‘shammer‘. It killed him to see his old buddy chopped at the knees and tied for life in a ‘creeper‘. Worse yet, that he had suffered so at the hands of some V.A. medico quack! Still, it was the same old Swede ready to take what comes and spit it right back. Harris might have dismissed the whole episode to another old man being caught up by another tough break in lieu of a real life. That was but for one thing only. That they both had ‘diddybobbed‘ into that big ‘friggin‘ Christmas ornament ‘in-country‘ in IV Corps. Something that both of them had been sworn by local CIA ‘spook’s‘ to immediately forget under penalty of ‘reformat by God‘ and then shipped off to Travis AFB respectively un-together. Much as he’d liked to forget the whole damn business, he couldn’t put that one to rest. It had been a cold fucking winter of the heart since then. Pretty much nothing to come back home to in Peoria and even less up north by Lake Michigan coming in ever third or fourth in the then ‘Second City‘. He couldn’t tell if the disaster known as his own life was an act of the almighty or the unspoken universal law of Karma getting back at him for being to good at his job of soldiering? Certainly, his own government had proven that it might be so. Like the grooves of a record overplayed, Harris felt he had been worn down to a scratchy fuzzy approximation of himself by all this. All he wanted now was at best to enjoy a little recognition for having done something more than breath up more than his share of air. He didn’t need anymore lost causes or failed enterprises just some time on the calendar to enjoy a few more good highs before his eventual destination of name and rank incised in some government cemetery niche.
The Tiki’s bar had been kind of empty tonight as there was some kind of free food event, and maybe booze, being staged at Pershing Square that transformed a few of the faithful into the hopeful. Harris had is regular brand poured ‘neat‘ and was in his third shot chased with a tap bound brew. A bunch of college kid’s broke the suspense of another night of well-medicated disorganized memories that he was trying to avoid sorting out. His legs were hurting especially bad all day and since the ‘big blue‘ didn’t curve the right way from Main and Seventh to Hank’s Place by Grand street. He figured to abandon any longer treks for a day or two and just content himself in the general neighborhood. He maintained his thousand yard stare at the contents of the bottles lined up on three tiers all lit from behind with a seductively unearthly glow. “What happened to Amy?“, he heard ring out on the other side of the bar? Harris casually looked over for a moment and then sank back into his sentry post on the perimeter of the bar’s back wall. “Her dad called and said that the studio called and she didn’t show up for her audition?”, said one of the youthful ‘Barbie Doll‘ coiffed females. “I saw her the day before yesterday early in the morning on the Main’s mezzanine getting coffee with her agent.”, one of the soul patched boys offered. “She didn’t have an agent!“, Fashion Barbie exclaimed. Their conversation kept on as Harris looked down deep into the bottom of his glass and tried to tune it all out. “What was it with that place?“, he thought. He downed the remaining corner in his glass and flipped a twenty towards the reverse edge of the bar. “G-night Sylvia!“, he said hoarsely as he passed over the threshold into the night.
The lobby was empty as was usual this time of night and he limped over to the elevators without causing any stir at the front desk. He sat there waiting pushing the up button a couple of times without result. He hobbled over to the front desk but found no one. The trip back the the elevators were equally fruitlessly rewarded with another five minutes of waiting. He decided to head around to the left and through the service entrance to scare up some news about how he could get up to his room. Along the way he passed through the back of a large disused kitchen and finally into what once had been a janitorial area. Stacked along the corridor on a cart was a case what looked like a coffin in it’s overall dimensions. The incongruity of the box struck him funny as upon closer inspection he noted a hinged section in what appeared to be a very ‘un-casket-like‘ metal case. “What could that be used for . . . ?” he wondered. He put his hand upon its corner and felt a sudden vibration respond in kind from within which gave his such a start that he almost cried out aloud. “Could he be having some form of the DT’s?“, he wondered. His thoughts were cut short by the sounds of footsteps approaching from the back alley corridor. Harris stepped into the shadows of a recessed doorway of a side storeroom just in time to avoid the appearance of two light green jump suited men. One who was sporting dark tinted glasses wore a side cap with what appeared to be some form of indecipherable officer’s insignia. The other one stood at ease before the first one listening attentively. “This one goes to Edwards!“, the officer said placing his hand upon the gunmetal colored box. His subordinate instantly taking position behind the cart and pushing it out of side back towards the alley entrance.
Harris stood in the shadows waiting for the right moment to withdraw. He couldn’t believe what he just saw. He took off as quickly and as stealthily as his painful legs would let him. He opened each door a crack and kept his back to the wall as best he could in an effort to remain as invisible as possible. When he reached the lobby area he wasn’t sure that the desk clerk would be back or not but he backed out a a step or two attempting a ruse of having simply poked his head through the door without fully entering within. He turned back around and past by the still vacant front desk counter. The desk man unexpectedly met him by the elevators coming from the main entrance. Harris summoned his bravado, “When do a I get the use of an elevator around here?“, he ranted belaying his nervousness. “Elevator work, see!“, the deskman stabbing at the button in mid sentence. The doors opening in the next breath. “Well, it sure wasn’t five minutes ago!”, Harris gruffly complained. The desk clerk responded with a dirty looked that could only be translatable into the worst possible epithet far inferior to just ‘asshole‘ and summarily walked past Harris. “You go room now!” “Everything OK.“, the he spat over his shoulder and then disappeared behind the counter.
Harris waited and then went out the front door instead heading to the Tiki. Sylvia was just putting up the stools on the bar when he pushed passed the front door! She automatically responded without looking in that direction, “Sorry, we’re closed!” “Sylvia, do you have a phone, I need to call someone pronto!“, he said. “Did somebody die!?“, replied Sylvia giving him one of her notorious disbelieving looks. He looked at her not speaking with a sense of desperate anticipation to which she nodded to the end of the bar behind her. “Keep it brief.” she gruffly responded, “I gotta get home and feed my dog.” He limped rapidly over to the phone like a ‘Chester‘ from the old series “Gunsmoke.” As he retrieved the empty match cover from his pocket with Swedes’ phone number and dialed he wondered if he’d still be awake or dead drunk. After a few rings a crisp voice answered , “Hello?“. “Hello, Swede?“, he said, “We’ve gotta talk!“