The man on the other side of the door

This is a place of unremarkable geometry, of hand hewn beams and reclaimed cabinets, of cotton curtains and poplin tablecloths.There are stout lines built around her silly feminine froth. You might savvy her girlish moods: the bright New Orleans yellow in the hallway, or maybe the baby doll figurines on the bookcase. But don’t forget, this is my home, and it is a place of unremarkable cruelties. 

There are stains in my study that look like ketchup, but are not. There are sudden movements that turn on all the security lights.There is a smell that is barely masked by the nine dollar dirt that feeds her windowsill herbs.

I’ve heard all these sounds before, but this one is closer, and I know why. There is a man on the other side of the door, limping, wet from the chase. He beats on the glass with the heel of his hand. I turn on the porch light because I know. I’ve been expecting him for twenty years, back from a time when my life was fraying. He took the left road and I took the right. I don’t want to see him now — for us to see each other, really — but his t-shirt is torn from armpit to belly, and I swore to him. He is older now, of course he is, but his eyes still show his fury, and mine have turned soft and careless. 

Richard,” was the only word he had to say, and I knew it was time.

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Boys

Our pale naked chests caught the moonlight. We were primitive mammals, drinking from her pool. Unsentimental, there were no aftermaths to consider, no consequences to chasten our arousals. Freely belligerent, we scraped the raw off mountains and ran roughshod over untidy hearts. We did not care. We were boys.

We cured ourselves with thought and shame, and retreated from Pan’s doom. But not all; some joined his legion and drink still from the pool, naked boys in aged skin.

The only thing to do

From the Paris Review, by Dan Piepenbring

“The creative impulse is such a fragile thing, but we have to create now. We owe it to ourselves to do the work. I want to encourage you. If you aspire to write, put aside all the niceties and sureties about what art should be and write something that makes the scales fall from our eyes. Forget the tired axioms about showing and telling, about sense of place—any possible obstruction—and write to destroy complacency, to rattle people, to help people, first and foremost yourself. Lodge your ideas like glass shards in the minds of everyone who would have you believe there’s no hope. And read, as often and as violently as you can. If you have friends, as I do, who tacitly believe that it’s too much of a chore to read a book, just one fucking book, from start to finish, smash every LCD they own. This is an opportunity. There’s too much at stake now to pretend that everything is okay.”

Sea Legs: Chapter 4

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A big thanks to Anderson Ryle and K’lee for adding some spice and mystery to the story. A quick review/synopsis can be found at https://obzervashunal.com/2016/06/29/a-sea-legs-synopsis-whats-it-all-about/. Contributions are still welcome… just add a few sentences or paragraphs in our respective comments, along with your name and site address. (Photo by K’lee)

***

I lit up my cigarette and stepped out of the phone booth. Heavy clouds blanketed the moon, and I welcomed the darkness. I swung my camera up, ready to shoot. As rotten as the whole thing felt, I wasn’t going to miss a chance to get the pictures. Maybe this whole job was wrong and the pictures were worthless, or maybe it was exactly as I’d been told and it would just be getting paid to catch another cheating husband, but maybe these pictures were worth a damn sight more than that.

Lorre and the woman were in a bedroom on the second floor. They weren’t making it easy for me, but luckily there was a pergola that I was able to climb onto. When I had made it to the top, I paused to catch my breath. From the pergola, it was a small scramble onto the roof. I positioned myself just below the window and tapped out my cigarette on the shingles, letting the butt roll into the gutter. There was a single lamp on the bedside nightstand; it was bright enough to cast a golden light over the two lovers. Lovers, whatever the hell that meant. I checked my pocket for the colt revolver, and then went to work.

I took a few establishing shots of the bedroom: bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice, and a record on the turntable. Then Lorre had his clothes off, and I had a great shot of the woman’s face. Money. I snapped off three photos. The girl was tan, and had long, curly blonde hair. She was pretty in the way that your high school prom queen was pretty, but she didn’t have the freckles that had been spinning around inside my brain all night.

I waited for the scene to change, and sure enough it did. The woman pulled a pair of handcuffs out of her purse, and before long she was cuffed to the bedpost. During the first job I took doing this kind of work, my dick was hard from the first picture to the last. After a couple hundred, the old boy won’t so much as raise his head. I snapped off some more photographs as Lorre moved in behind her. I was burning through film like I was back in Okinawa feeding ammo into machine guns. I opened my Brownie, ripped out one film canister, and slammed in a second. My fingers worked like mad to keep up with the scene unfolding in front of me. At last there was a lull in the action, and Lorre unlocked the cuffs. I snapped a few more pictures as the woman poured two glasses of champagne.

After a few minutes, Lorre opened the drawer of the nightstand and pulled out a blindfold. The woman smiled as he wrapped it around her eyes and tied it tight. Then he pulled back the picture hanging over the bed to reveal an iron safe. I readied my camera and unloaded as he twisted the dial to enter the combination. He swung the safe door open and reached inside. I quickly replaced the film once again with a fresh canister. He pulled out a white bag of powder, closed the safe, and returned the picture to its place. He dipped his finger in the powder as he moved himself behind the woman. He rubbed the powder on her gums, and I had a perfect view.

It didn’t take long for them to snort half of the bag of coke straight off the nightstand, her blindfold removed and forgotten in the corner. I took pictures of the whole thing. After a while, Lorre started to come onto her again. They twisted the sheets for a moment, and then it was his turn to be handcuffed to the bed. She locked him in the cuffs, and slid on top. Her grind was slow, Lorre let out a moan, and even the old boy perked up for a minute as she worked. Eventually her paced quickened, and his moans grew louder.

Then, quite suddenly, the scene changed again. I couldn’t see what happened at first, but the moaning stopped, the woman lifted herself off of the bed, and then she placed two fingers gently on his throat. My camera was firing and it took me a minute to realize that Lorre’s body had gone completely limp. Overdose? Heart attack? I didn’t know, but it didn’t look good. I kept firing. The woman slipped her dress back on, and picked up the two glasses of champagne. She finished hers in a single swallow, but she took his half empty glass and strode confidently to the window. I saw her heading towards me and ducked to the side just in time. Her left hand threw the window open, and she pitched the last of Lorre’s champagne out onto the roof, just past my face. She hadn’t seen me.

After she closed the window, I steeled my nerves enough to look inside again. She was just leaving the bedroom, purse in hand. I quickly opened the window and stepped inside the house. The music was still running in the turntable, covering my noise. I snapped a few pictures of the scene, and then checked Lorre’s pulse. Nothing. The man with the silver spoon up his ass had died on me. I bolted back out the window, and scrambled down the pergola as fast as I could, twisting my ankle slightly on the landing. I cursed as I tried to run across to my Buick, slowing to a limp as I reached it.

I already had the pictures, and Lorre wasn’t getting any deader, so I didn’t see a rush in calling the cops. I wanted to find out who this woman was, who had hired her, and what her end game was. She pulled out of the driveway in Lorre’s car, I followed it to a parking garage where she ditched it, then followed the cab she took downtown. She switched cabs, amateur; switching cabs only works if the tail doesn’t see you get out. This cab took her to the west side of the city, and dropped her off at a street corner. I watched which way she was walking, drove past her and parked down an alley. Then I walked towards her; I could see her face, but she wasn’t looking at me.

Want a cigarette?” I asked.

No,” she said curtly, and kept walking, her face turned away from mine.

I want to talk to you,” I said, falling into stride. “I want to talk to you about our mutual acquaintance, Paul Lorre.”

She stopped dead in her tracks.

Cigarette?” I asked again. (Anderson Ryle – https://AndersonRyle.wordpress.com)

***

He should have been back five minutes ago- no, ten minutes ago. He told me he could handle this, could get to the motel incognito, get the evidence, and be back here ten minutes ago. Something could have gone wrong. The girl- she may have- no, Noah promised me she’s a pro, an ‘A-lister’ is what he called her.

Mr. Carlisle with his fancy camera and appalling manners, promised me he’s a pro too and he’s already- . I could get to the boat- consider the situation a lost cause and have Noah take us… where? Where can I go on this god-forsaken planet and truly put all this behind me?

It’s your fault, Paul. It’s your fault for not- . You’re just like Marco and Teddy, but without Marco’s old-world inheritance or Teddy’s financial smarts. Charming, that’s what you were when we met two years ago by the pool of the Midas’ Touch in San Tropez. You didn’t have two Buffalo nickels to rub together and still promised me the world through those dazzling teeth and sparking green eyes.

Damn if I didn’t fall for it, take you in, and take care of you and your mountain of gambling debts. You must have seen a woman like me coming from a mile away. You knew exactly what to say, when to sugarcoat, and when to turn up the sincerity. Pitch perfect player; that was you all day and all night.

Now you think you’ve scored again. You believe you’ve got me mindlessly taking care of the home front while you squiff about in a motel with your- . Damn it, Carlisle, where the hell are you? Looks like I’d better call Noah after all. If I can’t leave town yet, I might as well make sure all my money is well spent. (K’lee – https://obzervashunal.com)

***

She was cold, I’ll give her that. There was none of the desperate seduction you usually get when a dame is caught with her hands in a very large cookie jar. Her smile was as phony as my gold watch.

How do you know Paul Lorre?” I asked. “Professionally or was it just social?”

She looked bored, like someone waiting for a taxi or a slow bartender. “Paul and I go way back,” she said. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

Let me tell you something. I’m a photographer, honey. And I have a cop friend who loves my pictures. He says I snap the damnedest shots… they’re so interesting, he says. Black and white, mostly, but sometimes a lot of white. As in powder. And guess what, Snow White? I think you and your way-back friend Paul had a short-term friendship. Very sort-term. Kind of a pay-as-you-go plan.”

She shrugged and still seemed uninterested. “You think you’re the first tin-star with a camera? You think I don’t know who you are? Sure, you took some shots. I hope you got my good side, by the way. You ever hear of baby powder? Paul was into that. He liked it when I rubbed him down.”

Up his nose? That’s new. My cop friend will get a chuckle out of that.”

Whatever you think, Carlisle. Me, I treat my friends good, they treat me good. Mutual friendship. I don’t suppose you know what that is, do you, Mr. Photographer? I already called the cops and told them that poor Paul died in my arms. Died from a broken heart, even. He told me his wife was leaving him, but she warned him first, that she was going to drain every nickle out of him. Poor boy needed a lawyer, so he came to me. Sure, things got a little crazy, but he was shattered.”

So you’re his lawyer now?”

She nodded. “Lawyer, friend, advisor. Paul Lorre was a wealthy man. Did you know his wife cheated on him on his own boat? Sea Legs, he called it. Not just a boat, but a yacht. It was his toy. A very expensive toy, and she used it against him and ruined his toy. He wanted my advice, and I gave it to him.”

The pictures clearly show that,” I said.

You’re an idiot,” she snapped. “We’re talking attorney-client privilege. Those famous pictures of yours don’t count for nothing but illegal interference between a lawyer and her client. They’d be tossed out of court faster than your P.I. license. You get the picture, Carlisle?”

I wasn’t sure I did. It sounded like a scam. A lawyer?

I’ll make you a deal,” she said, and brushed herself against my shoulder. “You meet me at the pier tomorrow night. Pier 17. Look for Sea Legs. It’s the shiniest boat there. Maybe we can work out a deal. Make everyone happy.”

Except for my client,” I said. “Mrs. Lorre.”

Eight o’clock tomorrow night. Think your conscience can untie the knots by then? If you’re not there, you’ll never see me again. And that wouldn’t be in your best interest, Carlisle. Trust me on that one.” (Steve)

Sea Legs: Chapter 3

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My friend and writing partner K’lee was good enough to write a synopsis of the tale so far, and it’s available at https://obzervashunal.com/2016/06/29/a-sea-legs-synopsis-whats-it-all-about. It’s an ongoing story that’s open to anyone who wants to jump in. We still don’t know where it’s going, but that’s half the fun. Add a few sentences or paragraphs in our respective comments, along with your name and site address, and you’re in! (Photo by K’lee)

***

She’s crazy. I knew it the day I met her. I mean, what kind of woman gives a schmo like me a hundred thousand bucks to go out and find women to be ‘nice’ to their husbands. Yeah, funny how I said husbands, ’cause I’ve done this crap twice now. Two husbands, two divorces, and now she’s got this Mr. Carlisle with his fancy Brownie and not so fancy Buick, heading over to the Mondrian to catch –
I could tell him; warn him. Get him to see he’s being played like a fiddle with one loose string. But, then what? He’d start asking me all kinds of questions and I’m already in too deep, taken too much of Mattie’s moolah to get out now. He might be the kind of private dick to go right back to the source and tell her what I-
I just gotta stick it out; this one last job, then I’m out the door.  I’ll tell Mattie she can keep her money. No amount is worth all this stress,, the danger. Hell, I wanna be here to see my kids grow up, get into good schools, marry, have good lives. and I won’t if I keep playing with the fire that is Mathilda Von Sette.  (K’leehttps://obzervashunal.com)

***

You might be surprised how many men walk the streets, broken down to their bones. They carry their skin like useless baggage, their hearts crumpled, their heads a stew of dwindling bank balances and confused cravings.

Some call them gold-diggers, or the old stand-by, femmes fatales. Those words don’t do them justice. They’re women who drink the marrow out of men for pleasure and then toss away the rinds. Every man’s known at least one; they know how to field-dress a man’s self-respect and reputation, and they know where to bury the hide.

I was looking at one now, but I knew it. They’re not always beautiful, but they’re cunning and have at least one attribute that some men can’t live without: long silky legs, or full lips, a smile that melts the grip on your wallet. Or a voice like the devil’s mistress, a rush of smoke and honey. That was her: Corrine. Lorre was a dead man before he unbuttoned his collar for her, but the chump didn’t know it. They never do.

She arched her eyebrows when I offered her a smoke. My own heart thudded a little when I chased it with my Zippo, mesmerized by the curl of her lip.

I don’t dance, sailor,” she said. “You don’t look like you know the right steps. Not in those shoes.” She laughed.

I can foxtrot,” I said. “And I do that really well.”

Well bully for you. Thanks for the smoke, mac, but I’m waiting on a friend.”

A dancer, I bet.”

That’s none of your never-mind. You need to hit the bricks before he gets here. He’s temperamental about the company I keep.”

I’m a big boy,” I said. “I can take care of myself.” I looked into her eyes, and they were diamond chips, polished and blue. “What kind of a chimp makes a lady wait around for a ride? Your friend a cabby? I’ll tip him a fin to get lost. I can give you a lift. Might not be a Cadillac, but it’s got wheels.”

I don’t think so, sailor.”

I shrugged. “Your loss, sweetheart.” I flicked my smoke towards the gutter. “Another time, maybe.”

I doubt it,” she said.

I don’t,” I said, and padded off liked a cat. (Steve)

To be continued….

Sea Legs: Chapter 2

One of the rules of the gumshoe business is this: don’t let personal feelings get in the way of a clean job. I followed Paul Lorre to his house. It was a straightforward drive, down privileged streets lined with pencil-thin sidewalks. My Buick was as out of place as a wart on Susan Hayward. If he saw me, that was good. Over-confidence is every sap’s downfall. I didn’t know Lorre, only by reputation, and I didn’t like him. He had that monied attitude that put the sour in my belly. But I pushed that aside. I wasn’t paid to like him.

He lived on Upper Riverside, in a neighborhood loaded with swells and their chunky Edwardians. The houses hung fat shadows over everything like they were supposed to. Lorre made his money after the War, turning land into gold through some tidy alchemy that most chumps don’t understand. He had a knack for it, and it was barely this side of legal. I didn’t dislike him for his money; I disliked him because he wore it on his face, all the time. The clever man with a sneer, a man who thought he owned the world, or the prettiest piece of it.

Lorre wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t surprised. He parked his Nash in the driveway, and escorted his sugar-baby to the front door without a qualm. She was just another rich man’s entitlement. My camera was loaded, but something felt off. Way off. It felt too easy.

Another rule of the gumshoe business is this: trust your gut; if it feels wrong, it probably is. (Steve)

Was there more to this case than just exposing Lorre as another lying, cheating son of a bitch? Just for a moment, I heard that little voice in my head, agree with my rarely wrong gut. I put down the camera and decided to dig a little deeper into both the beautiful woman who hired me and Lorre. (Alexis https://atribeuntangled.com)

***

He was the Golden Boy who tried his best to keep me from throwing myself from the roof of the building. And then the Gin won out over the foggy future prospect of a police pension and I found myself on the outside, broke but free from all the bullshit the city bosses shoveled downhill to cops who did the job. Golden Boy had a wife and three kids and kept his shoes shined. He stayed and I managed to get out before all the pinches with busted lips and the mugshots with turbans caught up with me.

Carlisle. How’s the kids?” The phone booth stunk and something slippery and dark was on the floor.

Shithead. You only call me when you want something. The kids have all had birthdays since the last time I heard from you. She may be knocked up again. I need to make sergeant, soon.”
Golden Boy was working burglary now. On his way up the Inspector’s ladder from missing persons. But he had access to the card files and knew every clerk downstairs in records. If there was anything I needed to know he could find it. If he didn’t get caught… (Mike Fullerhttps://mikefullerauthor.com)

Bastard. He wasn’t going to pass on an opportunity to make me feel shitty for not remembering his kids birthdays. All part and parcel for squeezing a few extra greenbacks out of me for a job. “You’ll make sergeant, get sergeant’s pay, and still take an arm and a leg from me for every call, you son of a bitch. At least your intuition’s still on point. I do need a favor.” I whistled out the nervous breath I’d been trying to hold back. “You hereby have my permission to verbally lay me out after I tell you who it is I’m scouting and why.” (K’lee (https://obzervational.com

***

Join K’lee (https://obzervational.com) and me in the adventure. Add a few sentences or paragraphs in our respective comments, along with your name and site address, and you’re in! No prior gumshoe experience is necessary.

Sea Legs: 6.24.06

Day one of our story was a success, and K’lee and I are pleased with how Sea Legs is progressing. We had a few contributors to our on-the-fly story, and we’re grateful how well it’s been received. Some major talent out there… the authors’ names and websites have been added accordingly. Please check them out!

I’ll pick the story up tomorrow and see where it goes from there. No one knows, not even its originators, and that’s part of the fun. Jump in if you like.

I’ll keep each post fresh with that day’s additions rather than updating the entire story. They’ll be dated for freshness. And we would like to sincerely thank everyone who’s been  following Sea Legs so far, and, of course, to our contributors.

And so today’s installment:

***

I kissed her hard. She wasn’t expecting it, and one of her words got caught in my throat. It was ‘no’.

I don’t know what kind of girl you think I am, Mr. Carlisle, but that’s not it. Do you want the job or not? You’re just a name on a scrap of paper to me.”

I thought about it. Sure, I made a mistake about the kiss, but who could blame me? That splash of freckles on her shoulders, and that windswept hair, the color of spilled bourbon; they were distractions. Looking at her, you’d never know she was a widow twice over and a soon-to-be divorcée . She kept the gunpowder makeup to a minimum, and her legs were a mile long. She had lousy taste in men, and I went ahead and proved it. Did I want the job? Did the pope want a hat?

Sure. I need the dough up front, though. Expenses and incidentals.”

I don’t pay for your whiskey and whores,” she said. Her voice was as flat as a stick of gum.

Film for the Brownie, and gas for the Buick,” I said. “Gas isn’t cheap, and neither is shoe leather.”

I’ve seen your shoes. I’m not impressed. A hundred now, a hundred when I get the pictures. Quality pictures. Pictures that show everyone he’s a son-of-a-bitch.”

My specialty,” I said.

That’s what the scrap of paper said. When can you start?”

I thought about it. It was an easy job, and I could do it in my sleep. But she might be a complication. Those legs and that hair. That splash of freckles on her shoulders. “Tomorrow,” I said, and she handed me the envelope. (Steve)

I took the envelope, and as I walked away, I could see the flash of anger, mixed with emotion in her eyes, those freckles flushed a little with emotion. I knew she wanted to expose that son of a bitch, but exposing him meant facing the hurt of another failed marriage. (Alexis Rosehttps://atribeuntangled.com)

***

It was Gin, not whiskey and the pint was empty after the second swallow. Bitter and just a bit too cold. The other bottle was hiding behind the papers from the courthouse and the Colt.

Somehow I managed to avoid the ditch as I fumbled in the glove box but the revolver tumbled to the floorboard, ignored when my fingers found the smooth glass of the backup resting under a folded Esso roadmap.

Whiskey, my dear, is for old ladies,” I said to myself.

But the Gin only made the trip seem longer. More time to ponder on those damn freckles….

(Mike Fullerhttps://mikefullerauthor.com)

Is your Mr. Carlisle going to be a problem?”

No. W-What makes you say that? He kissed me is all. A man like him all but assures us success in this venture”, purred Mathilda, drawing a slim platinum cigarette case from her oversized Hermes bag. “You tell Mr. Ito everything is going according to the plan. In a week’s time, we’ll not only have his initial half mil, we’ll toss in a bonus quarter simply because we can.”

All right, Mattie”, sighed Jonah. I won’t arrive in San Francisco until Sunday. That gives you three days to solidify this thing, then-

Relax, honey”, Mathilda laughed, balancing her phone between her mink-clad shoulder and her diamond-studded right ear as she looked out over the nighttime sparkle of the Golden Gate Bridge from her suite’s bay windows. “Everything, and I do mean everything will be just fine.” (K’leehttps://obzervashunal.com)

I parked my car on the street across from the house; I had said that I’d start the job the next day, but there was no sense in showing up unprepared. A few minutes getting the lay of the land can go a long way towards a smooth operation. I pulled film out of a box in the back seat of the car. She has two dead husbands and she wants to ruin the third, I thought to myself as I jammed the film clumsily into the camera and took another swill of gin. Either she’s a gold digger, or she has the worst luck in husbands. I reached into my breast pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Cloves. Hell or high water, I always smoked cloves. And if those first two men were nudged into death a little early, she might also be one cold bitch. I fumbled the first cigarette onto the floorboard, but managed to get the second into my mouth. My zippo lighter flashed in the darkness. The hell if I care, I concluded, those damn legs won’t stop walking circles around my mind. Anderson Rylehttps://AndersonRyle.wordpress.com