Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 161 - Naomi Johnson


Jack awakened in a cold sweat, half sitting up. His back was killing him but that wasn't what had blasted him from deep slumber. There had been a dream. He'd been terrified, but the dream was fading so fast that already he could not remember what had frightened him so badly. He hadn't had a nightmare in years. He rubbed one trembling hand across his face, felt dampness against his scalp. Some bogeyman dream, he guessed, just go back to sleep. And although his rapidly thumping heart had already begun a gradual descent to normal, the forgotten dream left a residue of fear in his gut, a cold knot of unidentifiable anxiety.

He looked down at his sleeping wife, her dark hair fanned across the pillow. God, she was still a beauty. Classy, too. She had everything, Jack sometimes thought, and yet the truth was she deserved better. She wasn't happy with him anymore, butthen ten years of marriage, two kids, and life in the public eye will take a toll. Still she was hanging in there, keeping the facade intact. And he hadn't been the best of husbands, as his father never failed to inform him. As if she felt Jack's scrutiny, her eyelids flickered and she muttered, “Everything all right?”

“Fine. Go back to sleep for a while. It's only,” he looked at the alarm clock on the nightstand, “four o'clock. I'm going to get up, go over my speech.” He paused, anxiety nibbling at him as the knot in his belly tightened. “Maybe I'll call the kids. Make sure they're all right.”

“At four a.m.? Besides, if they weren't all right, you'd be the first to know. I'll call them when I get up.” And she rolled away, giving him a glimpse of one pretty, bare shoulder before she pulled the covers over her head.

He rose, and went into the bathroom, cleaned his teeth and took a shower. Afterward, he wiped the steam from the mirror and examined his face. He would to wait to shave, he decided, until the last minute. He didn't have a heavy beard but acouple of years ago he had learned a lesson about appearing clean-shaven on television. Nowadays he never knew when there was going to be a television camera focused on him. When he shrugged into his robe, he felt a sharp pain rip the length of his spine, taking his breath away. He'd better call the doc for a shot or two. No, wait, Jacobson wasn't here. Jack had forgotten where he was for a moment.

Fort Worth. Fucking Hotel Texas. Never mind, he'd fly home tonight and God help these bastard oilmen and cattle ranchers and mealy-mouthed good ol' boys if they didn't see things his way. They thought they had him in their sights, but Jack wasn't about to be easy prey for them. And if this visit wasn't enough to set matters straight, maybe he'd send his little brother down here to look things over, do a little digging in Texas closets. That would start some fireworks all right. The knot in Jack's stomach tightened, shifted, and dread suddenly filled his throat like an oily rag. He tried again to remember the dream. No use, it was gone. Just theemotional memory of the forgotten nightmare, he supposed.

He filled a water glass from the tap and swallowed three of the pink pills. Even wearing the back brace, today was going to be a struggle if he didn't get those Procaine shots. He padded back through the bedroom and into the living area of the hotel suite. Jack started when he saw O'Donnell, his most trusted assistant, was already there. O'Donnell looked up from his place on the sofa. A dim table lamp shed a glow over the papers in his hands.

“Ken, what are you doing here so early?”

“Couldn't sleep, sir.” O'Donnell rose to his feet, tugging off his horn-rimmed glasses. “This place gives me the itch.”

“It's a nice hotel,” Jack pointed out. “The best in Fort Worth.”

“Not the hotel. Texas. The people. Jumped-up rednecks who think it's all about money.”

“It is about money, Ken. It's always about money.” Jack eased down onto one of the straight-backed chairs.

“You know what I mean, sir.”

“Unfortunately I do. Ken, I'm going to have to have something for my back today. More shots. Could you arrange that for me?”

“Certainly. And you should know there's already a crowd forming outside for your speech, sir.”

“Is that right? This early? So maybe not everyone here would like to nail my hide to a wall.”

O'Donnell's smile was wry. “Only the ones who don't have money. Here's the schedule for today, revised yet again.”

Jack accepted the paper from O'Donnell and scanned it. “Speech, breakfast, etc, etc. Thirteen minute flight from here to Dallas, is that right? I could get my shots onthe plane, otherwise I don't see any openings before dinner unless I cancel something.”

“I wouldn't suggest it, sir. Dallas is where the Big Money is. And Big Money is easily offended.”

“Then make sure I get the shots. I have to be sharp today. I have to make certain Dallas remembers me.”

O'Donnell grinned and reached for the telephone. “Dallas will never forget you, Mr. President.”

BIO: This story came out of a classroom exercise in which the writers had to use a book title as a writing prompt. The title Naomi used was Seth Harwood's JACK WAKES UP. Naomi is a retired financial analyst who spends too much time envying the product of other writers and not enough time writing.


Al Tucher said...

I'm a little embarrassed at how long it took me to catch on, but it still gripped me all the way.

Christopher Grant said...


Don't worry. You weren't alone in getting to the party slow.

The Fort Worth paragraph finally cemented it for me, as to the identity of Jack.

But, as you said, it gripped me, too, all the way.

So much dread from the very beginning and when you understand who Jack is, you understand the dread.

Naomi's back and better than ever.

Anonymous said...

I'm right in there with the previous readers commmets. Outstanding Naomi!

Paul D Brazill said...

yep, I was a slow coach too! Great story. great writer.

Unknown said...

I loved the way this humanized someone who has been dehumanized by historical hero worship. We don't think of figures like JFK as normal, frail, worried human beings anymore, we see them only as our icons. Until you catch on to the fact that Jack is who he is, this could be any man, nervously preparing to face an uncertain day. Well done.

sea minor said...

a lovely idea for a story. to take on such a moment of history was brave, but what you've done with it is excellent. makes the president very human - something we don't always remember when thinking of an icon. well played.