Friday, September 4, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 154 - Michael Moreci

BLURRED LINES - MICHAEL MORECI

The hotel lobby was dimly lit with marble floors that sounded with every hard-soled step. It boasted an upscale modernity, a façade of class, though Logue understood that the young, busty women in short dresses were not the wives of the affluent men they accompanied. Logue had seen a lot over the years, and the one thing he understood, clearly, was that money certainly could not buy integrity.

Simon, Logue’s ‘partner’, stepped in behind him, bringing a frigid blast of Windy City air into the lobby. Simon stomped his feet and rubbed snowflakes out his hair while a young blonde cuddled closer to the man she was sitting next to.

“How do people live in this city?” Simon asked in a pitch that reverberated off the twenty-foot ceiling. “That goddamn wind goes right through your bones.”

Had Logue been interested in sharing anything about his personal life with Simon, he would’ve told him that he’d been born and raised in Chicago, and that he planned on returning. Soon. Instead, he told Simon to stay put while he checked the two of them in.

As Logue stood at the counter, he couldn’t help but notice the hotel clerk observing Simon. His eyes continuously flashed over Logue’s shoulder, thinking what, Logue couldn’t venture to guess. The kid stuck out, pacing the lobby, rolling an unlit cigarette between his fingers, eyeing every woman that passed by. He was loud without saying a word. Logue, even before he became a true professional, always stuck to one simple principle: never give anything to be remembered by. Blend in with the your milieu while you’re there, and be a ghost when you leave. Before they left Pittsburgh, Logue told Simon to dress business casual. Yet there the kid was, treading the lobby of one of Chicago’s finest hotels, his displacement glaring.

“Mr. Anderson, I’m very sorry,” the clerk said, focusing on Logue, “but I have no reservation listed for you in our system.”

“Nothing for David Anderson? Two single rooms adjacent to one another?”

The clerk swallowed hard. Even though Logue was dressed for the businessman’s role, nothing could disguise his stature, which was suited more for a meat-packing plant than a boardroom. He had big, broad shoulders, enormous mitts and a solid, square jaw. “That’s fine. Let’s just make a new reservation then.”

“Absolutely, sir,” the clerk said nervously, in a way that made Logue suspicious. He knew the clerk had more bad news to deliver, but was afraid to do so. He stood punching keys at his computer for another minute, stalling, before he continued: “The problem, sir, is that we don’t have any single rooms left. In fact, all we have is a suite.”

Logue let out a deep breath and leaned in over the counter. “Just one suite?”

“Yes, sir, I’m sorry. The convention.”

“I know all about the convention, that’s why we’re here. That’s why I made reservations.”

“Let me go and get a manager for you, sir, perhaps he can—”

Logue shook him off, trying to be as amicable as possible. The last thing he wanted was to cause a scene. “That won’t be necessary. We’ll take the suite.”

The clerk apologized again and went back to punching his keys. Just as he was finishing the reservation, Simon came over and stood next to Logue.

“Here is your room key, sir, and I’ve also marked you down to receive a complimentary dinner and a morning amenities package.”

Simon snatched the key from the clerk’s hand as he was extending it to Logue.

“Well, shit,” Simon said. “I can’t even imagine how dinner in a joint like this must be.”

And that sealed the deal. Now they were pegged: the two guys who didn’t belong.

Logue thanked the clerk and led Simon toward the elevator.

“Aren’t we gonna get dinner?” Simon asked.

“No,” Logue replied as the reflective brass elevator doors slid open. “We’re not going to get dinner. Not here.”

As Logue took a step towards the elevator, Simon grabbed him by the crook of his arm; he was stronger than Logue had given him credit for.

“Look, I know you’re an old-timer set in your ways, but Griffin said I’d be in on this job. That’s why I’m here, right? That means I get a say. And I say we’re having dinner.”

Trying not to show much effort, Logue swallowed Simon’s hand in his own and removed it from his arm.

“You’re here to be tested,” Logue said, enunciating each word. “But, I suppose we could both use a good meal. Let’s go up stairs first, get cleaned up, and see about getting you some clothes that are more...appropriate.”

After washing his face and laying down with a warm, moist towel over his eyes, Logue dialed the front desk and procured a house dinner jacket that fit Simon well enough. At the restaurant, they were seated near the floor to ceiling windows that lined the front of the hotel; while Simon went on about not understanding the menu, Logue stared outside, watching people as they passed. Like Simon, they were young, still emboldened by youth and, most of all, painfully—or, perhaps, blissfully—unaware of so many things.

“I’ve never even heard of most of this stuff, and I sure can’t pronounce it.”

Logue reached across the table and snagged the menu from Simon’s hands. “I’ll order for both of us.”

After a period of silence, the server came to take their orders. He was a middle-aged man with thinning hair, a svelte frame, and a forced smile; he knew his wines and cuisines; he spoke with clear enunciation. Cynically, Logue saw his behavior as nothing more than a series of gestures. He knew that when the black coat came off, so did the forced etiquette. Yet that the line between who this man was and what he did would eventually blur, if it hadn’t already. That’s just the way things work. We do what we do—we are what we do—no matter how right or wrong it felt.

“So what’s the job?” Simon snapped once the waiter strode away from the table. Logue could tell he’d been bottling up his anticipation since Pittsburgh. “Who’s our mark?”

Logue removed the glasses he’d worn to read the menu and put them in his shirt pocket. “Why do you want to know?” he asked.

“Because I’m in on this, too, remember? I’d like to know what the plan is, get an idea of what’s going on before we knock somebody off.”

Without making a show of it, Logue searched for reactions on the faces of the people surrounding him. He assumed that in the melodic din of the restaurant it would be hard to pull out what Simon had said. Still, it was reckless. Griffin had told Logue all about this before he left for Chicago—Simon talked far, far too much. Griffin had only given him one job thus far, and apparently the kid had been reliving his embellished conquest to anyone with a working set of ears.

“You’ll know what you need to know, when you need to know it,” Logue said, as he shifted his focus back to Simon, the expression on his face now severely tightened. “In the meantime, I’d be very cautious of the things I say—especially in public places.”

With his mouth closed, Simon ran his tongue along the inner portion of his mouth, extending his cheeks and lower lip as if he had a mouthful of chaw.

“Listen, Logue, I’m not here to learn from you. Don’t think your role is to keep me in check or show me how things are done—I do things my own way, and if you don’t like it, that’s too bad.”

Logue glanced back outside; there were people walking arm in arm, huddled together as the snow began to fall. Taxicab headlights glimmered in curbside puddles, and Logue was reminded how much he missed certain things. Maybe he was softening in his old age; maybe the people around him were beginning to realize that.

“All right,” Logue said, returning his attention, leaning in close to Simon. “The job is tonight, down in an abandoned warehouse just a few miles from here. The setup is a bit non-traditional, somewhat hard to explain. I’ll give you the full details when we get there. Good enough?”

Simon swallowed hard. After a day’s worth of being ignored, he hadn’t expected Logue to be so direct, or that the job would come without warning. “I’m ready,” Simon said.

Being a former Chicagoan, Logue knew exactly where he was headed. He drove north on Halsted then west on Fulton, down to where all the meat and fish docks and warehouses were. From dawn until mid-afternoon, this area bustled with butchers, restaurateurs, and anyone who knew the city well enough to enter one of the anonymous, brick façade markets. Logue reminisced on all the spots he once frequented, long ago; he watched it all pass by through the windshield, obscured by snowflakes that melted to tiny droplets upon impact.

They continued west, over to where the surroundings became more abandoned, more desolate. The potholed streets revealed the original brick roads beneath the pavement; the warehouses were completely black, very few of them possessing a window that hadn’t, at least partially, been knocked out. Nobody really came here much—not even the homeless searching for shelter or the graffiti artists looking for a fresh canvas.

The warehouse Logue pulled up to was constructed, seemingly, of charred brick. It had a rickety metal fire escape running up its side and two large wooden doors on its front.

Logue killed the engine and popped the trunk. He pushed open the driver’s side door and was about to get out when he felt Simon’s hand grab his wrist. Logue looked at Simon, whose face was awash with suspicion.

“You sure this is the place?” Simon asked.

Logue smiled. “Let’s go.”

In the trunk, there were two bags, and in each bag was one flashlight, and one gun. Logue reached for his bag in the rear of the trunk; as he pulled it into the trunk’s dim overhead light, he realized the zipper was open, slightly.

“Were you in my bag?” Logue asked.

Simon paused, looked at the bag, at the zipper, then back at Logue. “Oh, yeah, earlier when we stopped to get gas in Indiana. Just wanted to, you know, make sure everything was all right.”

Logue nodded, masking the thoughts forming in his mind, then slammed the trunk shut.

“So, this guy, he’s just meeting us here?” Simon asked, as they walked along the cracked and cragged road, adjacent a set of twisted railroad tracks. They were heading toward a dock that slouched on its lot, the last building before the train yards began.

“He’s under the impression this is a meeting. A negotiation of sorts. Don’t talk and get him thinking it’s otherwise.”

Simon exhaled deeply and shook his head. “You know, I get that you don’t like me, Logue. And I get why, too.”

“Is that right?”

“I’m competition. Your upgrade, essentially.”

“Simon, this isn’t the NBA. You don’t need to be in peak physical condition to do what we do. You need to be, for one thing, willing; for another, professional. You understand?”

“Yeah, I keep hearing that from you, over and over. Like being a professional is the only thing that you are, like—”

“Enough, there he is.”

Standing in front of rolling metal door was a man in a black trench coat, his lapels pulled up to his ears. He was smoking a cigarette, the flickering ember the only nearby light. Logue approached him without hesitation, his hand extended as he drew near.

“Mr. Broxton,” Logue said, receiving the man’s hand, ”it’s pleasure to see you again. Been a long time.”

“Yeah, well, they don’t send you home too much, do they?”

Logue paused, momentarily, before introducing Simon. Simon stuck out his hand, but Broxton only reached up to his cigarette, clipping it between the V of his fore and middle fingers.

Broxton was a slightly overweight man with a doughy face. Everything there appeared to be holding on only tentatively; his eyes sagged, his cheeks hung loose, and the skin below his chin seemed damn near elastic.

“So,” Broxton said, “how’s it been with the kid?”

Logue looked at Simon, nodding slightly. “It’s like Griffin says: he talks too goddamn much.”

Broxton looked over at Simon, blew a visible plume of smoke into the air, then stood, contemplating. “All right then,” he said, then took a step away from Simon as Logue raised his gun and pulled the trigger.

The gun clicked, hollow. The chamber was empty. Now Logue knew why it’d felt so light, this small .22 he was unaccustomed to using.

“You dumb old fucking man,” Simon chortled as he pulled his gun. “You know, you did this to yourself. Maybe if you treated me with more respect, I could’ve helped you out a little bit; maybe I could show some mercy. Instead, I’m going to take my time with you. Put one if your knee first, make you squirm in pain for a bit. Then I’ll—”

A gunshot rang. Simon stopped talking then dropped to the ground.

Logue looked over to Broxton, who was lowering his gun, his cigarette hanging from his mouth.

“You’re right. Kid never shuts the fuck up.”

Logue looked down at Simon. He was dead, and soon his body would be as cold as the ground. Logue felt pity in that moment; here the kid was, one minute thinking he had things all figured out, then catching a bullet the next. But then again, he could very well be in the Simon’s position right now.

“Simon rigged my gun; you knew, you were going to let him kill me.”

“Look, Logue, don’t take it personally. One of you two had to go. Griffin thought you might be getting a little soft, that you were losing your edge. But you were ready as ever to put a pair of slugs in the kid’s chest. Obviously, Griffin’s concerns were unfounded. You still got it.”

Logue gave one more glance at Simon and realized that, had his gun contained bullets, he would’ve shot Broxton dead, just for being part of this twisted stunt.

“Yeah, well, we do what we do.”

BIO: Michael Moreci’s debut graphic novel, Quarantine, will be released with Insomnia publications in 2010. His shorter comic work has appeared (or is forthcoming) in FutureQuake, Something Wicked, Accent UK’s Victorianaanthology, and Insomnia’s Layer Zero: Survival anthology. He's also a prose fiction writer and a freelance journalist; his work has been published in the Huffington Post, North Shore, In These Times, After Hours, and Keep Going. Michael currently lives in Chicago with his wife and dog. You can contact him via his website, Michael Moreci.

11 comments:

Paul Brazill said...

Great shot of noir!

Joyce said...

Cold and dark--just perfect!

Michael Moreci said...

Hey, thanks to you both!

Cormac Brown said...

Nice!

Chris said...

Well played, sir, but I wonder if this story would have had to be set sometime in the near past? That stretch of Fulton, and that whole area in general, is teeming with high-end restaurants, performance-loft spaces, and hole-in-the-wall hipster bars. It's a very weird sight...this stretch they very much looks like murders happen all the time, but now you see these 20-something girls in high heels and short skirts tottering around drunkenly and whistling for cabs.

Excellent story, thanks for sharing!

Michael Moreci said...

Very true, Chris. I definitely took some creative license in rendering the Fulton Streer Market scene as I remember it from what it was (which isn't too long ago). I can't say the "improvements" have done much for the area's character--which, since you know it, I'm sure you understand what I mean.

Thanks for the comment, though. Glad you enjoyed.

PATTI said...

GREAT STORY LOVED THE END!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael. The hotel scene was a great vehicle for character identification. The difference between the brash youngster and the smooth veteran amplified by surroundings in a luxury hotel. Fascinating to read, and it heightened tension--knowing this is all going to go wrong. Soon.

Congratulations on your Spinetingler nomination.
Anonymous-9
anonwrite9@gmail.com

Naomi Johnson said...

Well done, Michael. Congratulations on your Spinetingler nomination.

Michael Moreci said...

Naomi and Anonymous, thank you both, that means a lot to me. I extend the same congratulations to you, Anonymous. You wrote a dynamite story--very well done.

Michael Moreci said...

Naomi and Anonymous, thank you both, it means a lot to me. And Anonymous, congratulations to you as well, you wrote a dynamite story.