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4.27.2005

 
I was going to write about all the indecision in my life, and my directionless future, but I didn't do it soon enough. When it kicks around in my head for a couple of days it gets stale, and I start to hate it. So instead, here is a story:

When she walked in the door a cold wind danced in, licked the back of the chair, skirted the lamp, and made love to the papers on my desk. Her eyes melted me from across the room like a furnace, but at the same time chilled me to the marrow. Their powder blue settled on my brow like a cool hand in a fever dream. I knew she was running from something. She had that rabbit in the headlights look that shudders and pleads for life in the same breath. She saw something all around her that spoke of fear.

I sat back slowly, trying to keep my composure. I pulled a fresh cigarette from the silver case and tapped it in a slow blues rhythm on the cover. I kissed it with flame and took a long drag. The smoke drifted around me like a sad Turkish dance as I exhaled. It might as well have been a funeral dirge, marching me to the end of a long day. She moved into the dim light of the room like it was the holy sanctuary of the eternally damned. The play of shadow and light turned her features into every Rembrandt masterpiece ever imagined. Her dress threw her body into relief. I remembered curves like that from all the foggy mountain roads I’ve never walked. She had me, boy. She had Icarused me, and my wings were melting.

She sat in the green leather chair and lit her own cigarette. I already had that rock in my stomach that meant trouble was knocking. If I hadn’t had a nightcap or two I would have jumped straight out of my skin when she spoke.

"If you don’t help me I’ll be dead by dawn," she said.

Her voice was a horse whisper that held every hand that had ever touched her, every tear she had lost to a bathroom mirror in a whiskey glass on the strip. I poured myself another belt of scotch and leaned back in my chair on the way to the grave. I let the smoky flavor of the single malt mingle with the tobacco smoke on my tongue before I gave her an answer.

"You seen one sunrise you seen ‘em all," I drawled, cold as the Hudson in March. "But if the next one means that much to you I could sure use the scratch."

She slipped a tattered photo out of her purse and slid it across the Oak desert between us. I took my time picking it up. I wanted to watch her hands move, see if they shook, or if they moved as sweet and soft as her lips. I stamped out my cigarette in the gilt ashtray near my drink. Looking around at all the second hand junk handed down to me by retired vaudevillians, payments for spying on their girls or finding their lost lives, I meant my promise to her. I really could use the cash. This place was like a tomb of the forgotten era of a million drunken prohibitionists; every stick of furniture soaked through with sorrow and loss.

I turned the picture over and stared into the face of every brick built tough guy I had ever known. He had all the makings of an eel that had come to enjoy the taste of blood. His eyes were the Hell in her Heaven. I almost made a move for my gun on sheer instinct. The frozen steel was the only thing keeping me from that guy’s meat locker, and he was just the type of guy who would have one for just such a purpose. I could almost smell the violence on him; he wore it like a smile.

It took the better part of a minute for the lights to come on. I knew him, or of him at least. He was a cheap hustler who had broken the right man to get ahead, stumbled headlong into a world of corruption and power on a trail of blood with the right name. It spelled trouble for her and pain for me. I knew right then that she wasn’t the only one who was going to miss the dawn. I had never wanted to see the sun more. I took another look at the office, laid the guys picture between us like a mediator for a contract signed in blood, then finished off my scotch.

"So, tell me the story," I said, the last breath floated out on the air of a crusader’s crypt.

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