Day 261 – One-Twenty-Forth – Part 1

Word count: 2572

Rain spattered neon lights and a rumbling of rhythm beneath the samba streets. Far off the titillating trumpets and sexy saxophones calling out longs drones of love; the dead of the night is the sickly sweet delight of all that childhood dreamed of. Trickling down from the drainpipes, puddles form small lakes and streams meanwhile steam rises up from the subway and a taxi pulls up to the curb, lets a passenger in six inch heels and a skirt that only just covers her peach shaped behind. She trots out to pay the man and suddenly she disappears into a crowded bar with purple lights blaring at the door. Smokers socialising at the front, idolise her fleetingly before returning their gaze towards the end of the road.
The nights are long here. Spirits are as strong as the bottles that contain them and quick hands pass on substances not recommended by doctors and the law. Wild eyed women strut alongside their thick veined men, both entirely aware of their own surroundings. It is not the place to leave a back unprotected. Body guards lurk in suspicious dark corners like scarecrows. Drug addicts hound these city backwaters. Flaking skin and shadowy eyes, they spread like fire, passing the disease onwards until their own little flame dies to ember and ash.
Life is played and gambled at a hundred miles an hour. The dice is the currency; the thrill the reward. These streets are hardened by those who have lost. Winners walked over the bodies of those that came before them. No one looks down; no one cares. It is the way, it is the dream; liberation without law.

Ed inhaled the cigar, his throat crackled and he let out the smallest of coughs. His whisky stood by as an aid. He cleansed his mouth with its rich taste. Sitting alone at his table he watched all that mingled in his little kingdom. Fast women joined the conveyor belt by the bar. The same thing happened every night. Women would hop on, tempted by drugs or a quick one down the back alley. Some would return others wouldn’t: occasionally one would end up on the news. No questions asked, no names given.
No Hollywood lights; no glimmering glamour of sophistication. Now the place in the basement of Number Twenty-four, it rocked with repulsiveness. Marilyn Monroe look-a-likes blew sweet kisses in their white gowns and red cheeks at the top of the steps. Pretty blue dreams would be blasted into space in the time it took to get to the barman. Men in moustaches and two guns to every limb wandered in their fine leather jackets; poker for more than just money was played in secluded corners and it was more than just alcohol that made the floor sticky. Sweat poured off the barman and into the glasses he poured. His old wrinkly hands were blackened with work.
It was all Ed’s. He owned the filth and the grime; he owned the dirty money and the revolting women. The cowards in suits were his pawns, the barmen his bishops; the pimps his castles, the bouncers his knights. He had no queen. He needed no queen. In his mind he played the game. The pawns would attack, he’d lose some, gain some: no matter to him. His knights guarded the castles. They kept the money flowing, flowing like a waterfall. He liked to think himself the Black set. He was too smart to make the first move; always the assessor, the execution came only when absolute security was ascertained. No move that the enemy could make he couldn’t anticipate. He had it all aligned in his mind; the cops would come and come and come, but his defences would never break. Failure was the black cat he could never cross.
Ed signalled to the barman for another. No one but the barman knew who he was. The silent, invisible King, he made them all dance to his tune without them realising it. The poker playing loan sharks, the pimps; they were all cogs in his big, great plan. The money rolled in, they took their orders, their money, their lives: no questions asked, no answers questioned.
The barman came over and discreetly swiped Ed’s glass up, replacing it with a fresh one.
“Has the cherry picked up the ice cream?” he asked the barman softly, so that no one would hear.
“Not yet sir, would you like me to remind him?”
“Perhaps, perhaps. It is almost time after all.”
The barman lingered.
“How’s your wife?” Ed asked, “Has she left hospital yet?”
“A week now, sir. Recovery is going to take a while though.”
“Anything you need, anything you need,” he waved his hands to tell him to leave.
“Thank you sir,” the barman departed.
The cherry was never normally this late. There was time yet, however, but Ed was still concerned. He pointed to a man with a scrubby bearded and dark sunglass. He approached Ed immediately. Ed could see the concern etched on his face.
“Don’t worry, William, the boss is not unhappy with your work,” Ed referred to himself as if he were another person. Of course to William the boss was another person. “Please sit down. What would you like to drink?”
“Brandy, please,” his voice was shaking slightly. Ed was suspicious, was he guilty of something after all?
“How is your evening thus far?” Ed asked, signalling the barman to fetch a brandy for the man.
“Alright, you know. It’s been a slow start, sorry, but it’s just not the night, you know how it is.”
“I understand.”
The brandy arrived.
“I’ll get the boss the money, sir, please reassure him?”
“It is done. Is the brandy nice?”
William nervously knocked it back, “Wakes me up, at any rate.”
“Perhaps that is good, it will be a long night for you.”
William’s eye contact faltered, he had received the subtle warning and nodded.
“Tell me what you know of your brother?”
“My brother?”
“Yes, I understand he has not been here in several months.”
“We, we… Jimmy and I had a falling out. We haven’t spoken since March.”
“But you know where he lives, correct?”
William nodded.
“Interesting. Go by and speak to him tomorrow. I think it is time old wounds begin to heal. Brothers are hard to find and it is not wise to lose them.”
“But sir –”
“It matters not,” Ed implied for William to leave and adhere to his instructions.
William downed the rest of the brandy and left, returning to his corner. His hands immediately left his pockets when he reached safety. Ed noticed several notes in the pockets. He had been lied to. Punishment would be dealt when the ice cream had been taken care of. The cherry must be picked first, wherever the cherry might be.
Ed deliberated over another whisky and cigar. From his wallet he withdrew a crunched up piece of paper. Ironing it out with his hands, he took out his pen and began to write. His mind needed clearing. He needed to map it. On the paper he drew a square in the middle. That signified the ice cream. To the left he drew a circle, the cherry. Continuing, he then drew the tree, the sky, the river and the grass. The hill was somewhat involved, but perhaps only made sense of it all from another perspective. He would be at least useful to speak to. The others were more intensely related to the plot, though each of them did not know it. Ed had used mainly pawns for his missions, but this time he had planted a bishop – the cherry – to ensure that everything ran smoothly. The fate of the missions was too great to risk disaster at the hands of chancers, big-shots with small minds and those with more guns than brains.
The picture looked both pretty and complicate. The intricate relationships between the features were delicate. The tree would be dealt with tomorrow. The hill needed to be called in. The sky was already here, but he could wait. The river was slippery, the grass was everywhere; he would not take long to reel in and cut. Ed formed his hands into a triangle and rested his chin on it. How could this be done without instigating any fear, any suspicion? His soldiers were failing and he needed to know why and who was the weak link. Cherry could not be contacted until the very last moment. Ed signalled the barman to come over. A minute later he appeared.
“Yes, sir?”
“Whisky,” Ed handed the barman a twenty-dollar bill with a note on the underside.
The barman took it and returned to the bar. He mixed a whisky on the rocks and dialled a number from the public phone. The hill picked up and they spoke briefly. The barman returned with a whisky and a time.
“Twenty minutes, sir,” he placed the whisky in front of Ed.
So, Ed thought to himself, it was time to contact the grass. For this he need but only scan his surroundings. The grass was everywhere; he hands over every mission, every project and every monetary scheme. If he were not in this bar, his footprints would be.
It only took him a minute to spot. Lurking by the bar was a succulent girl in a short sparkly dress and long golden hair. She was oblivious to his stare. Presently, she was slamming shots down on the bar. Her legs were slimy with bronze spray tan and he her hair was damp with perspiration. Her hips wiggled hypnotically. Her six inch heels danced to some unknown rhythm.
Ed nodded at the barman and he instantly went over to the women and whispered in her ear. She looked around immediately and she caught Ed’s eye at once. Confused, she stepped up to him. Her eyeliner was smudged around her eyes; perhaps she had been crying at some point that night. Ed motioned for her to sit down.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“What’s it to you?”
She looked unnerved, a wise emotion for someone who had consumed so much alcohol.
“You must be twenty-six at most?”
“You shouldn’t have dropped out of college.”
Her brow furrowed, “How did you know?”
Ed gestured his hand towards his congregation, “My girl, not one of us are academics… of education at any rate. You seem the type to have studied but to have gotten somewhat lost along the way. Don’t be disappointed in yourself, aren’t we all lost after all?” He cleared his throat, “Now what will you be drinking?”
“Nothing, I’m fine.”
“Clearly. You must have quenched your thirst with all eight of those shots earlier. Now, what did you say your name was?”
“Mary, Mary. Such an innocent name. It suits you. You’re a friend of Quentin’s are you not?”
Mary’s face turned a shade of white, “He is an acquaintance.”
“Of course, of course. Quentin does not have friends, he has those he speaks to, those he needs. You are one he speaks to. Can you bring him here?”
“Because I am telling you to,” his friendly demeanour troughed.
“What if he won’t come?”
“He will.”
Mary extracted a phone from her handbag and dialled a number. It took Quentin the grass three rings to answer. After a short conversation Mary hung up.
“He’s coming.”
“Good. Now run along, anything you want will be waiting behind the bar. But do wash off your fake tan. It isn’t sophisticated at all.”
Mary scowled at him and returned to her position by the bar. Ed noticed that she ordered a double vodka and cola. Predictable.
The waiting game began. The grass would waltz in any moment now, closely followed by the hill. They must be allowed to see each other; Quentin worked better under pressure and the hill never lied when he knew that something big was going down.
In his pocket, his own phone rang. It was an unknown number.
“Hello Unknown Number,” as Ed always answered blocked calls.
“Don’t trust the river.”
“The river?” Ed was calm, pretending to be unaware of this description. Inside he was deeply concerned.
“Don’t trust the river. The hill knows more than he thinks, he hasn’t put the puzzle together.”
“Who is this?”
“The stars.”
Ed’s insides lurched, though he did not overtly show it. “I thank you, good sir.”
“Just returning the favour,” the stars hung up.
So, the entire game had changed. The stars was watching them all now and indeed knew more than Ed currently did. This worried him to an extent, but he felt relieved that the stars was on his side. He would need to redraw the map, though later. First he needed to hear what the hill and the river had to say. It was deeply troubling that the river could not be trusted, but again he had already suspected him to be fluctuating; he was not named so for his crystal blue transparency.
A man descended the steps into the bar. He was wearing a dirty white suit and a matching hat. His fatness and rotundness was greater than ever. Sweat patches had taken up residence under his arms and along his spine. He was out of breath from the stairs alone. A chain smoker, Quentin was sure to die within years if someone did not get their first.
Quentin spotted Ed immediately.
“Good evening,” Ed greeted Quentin.
“Yes please, dying of thirst.”
“Long journey?”
“Along the street. Too many stairs.”
“Keeping up the exercise regime, I see?”
“Yeah, the girlfriend tells me I need to. Keeps on tellin’ me I’m going to have a heart attack. I won’t hear the end of it until I gotta six pack… tell you it’s easier to get a six pack of beer.”
“Quite. And is that what you’ll be having?”
“Yeah, something light.”
The barman must have forethought the scenario and was already bringing one to Quentin.
“Jeez, that’s what you call service!”
“Do apologise to your friend Mary for bringing you here. I imagine that she has felt quite intimated tonight.”
“Intimidated? On this street? She should fucking well be used to that by now!”
“Language, Quentin, language.”
“Sorry, sorry.”
“How are you?”
“Thirsty,” he raised his own bottle of beer in cheers. Ed did not reciprocate.
“Tell me, Quentin, do you know why I have called you here?”
“No, not really to be honest. Everything’s running quite smoothly.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Ah, c’mon, I’d tell you if there was anything troubling…”
Ed’s gaze defaulted to the woman who had just appeared at the top of the stairs. Her body was encompassed in a beautiful red gown and her flowing brown hair shone in the moody light. Her legs carried the weight of her beauty effortlessly. The twinkle in her eyes shone out brighter than the sun.
Quentin had noticed that Ed was no longer looking at him and turned around in his chair. His face immediately went bright red. Ed’s plan was thus far working. He let the slightest smile escape his lips to signal to the hill that he had seen her. Quentin turned around to look at Ed.
“So, answer me this little question first, would you Quentin? Tell me what happens to the grass when it doesn’t rain?”

~ by S.G. Mark on June 24, 2012.

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