by Josh Gray
Jap stood there, in the darkened doorway of the old Woodbine hotel, long since closed down, and waited. He was sweating. He felt around in his jacket for the knife he had brought with him. It was there. ‘For who though?’ he wondered, but quickly discarded that thought for another, ‘When?’
It was the start of winter and a fresh layer of snow had fallen and frozen, leaving the streets and sidewalks white and icy. Minor traffic and even fewer pedestrians were finding their way around the downtown area.
Jap shuffled in his shoes. A deluge of perspiration scaled its way along his limbs. He had over dressed, not knowing exactly how long he would be in the cold. How long this … thing, would take.
* * *
Clarice paid for the two packs of photographs by way of credit card. CLIX, the photo-developing store, had a 2-for-1 special this week before Christmas and Clarice had caught the sale on its final day.
She left the store, and began the walk down Gulliver Avenue. Her pace was one of immediacy but reticence as well. She balanced along the sidewalk, avoiding the icy patches as much as possible, nearly slipping once. ‘Damn this world’, she spoke to herself.
The street was littered in both debris and darkness as only a few of the street lamps were functioning properly. As she crossed an intersection, it began to snow again. There was no wind, and as the flakes of snow ran into the shards of light given by the working street lamps, Clarice wondered why beauty came when it did. But she was getting close now. The Fillion hotel was only 3 blocks past the Woodbine.
* * *
Jap stuck his tongue out, hoping a snowflake would find it. Several did, but the magic that that once brought was forever missing now. Much of the snow resting on his shoes was beginning to permeate both sock and foot, making this self-imposed waiting game a little more grating than he needed on this night.
‘Come on…’ he snapped to the air, darting his glances around the vicinity. Nothing. Men, yes, those there were, but not a single pair of panties anywhere. He was a coward and complacently satisfied in this truth. ‘Cowardice bleeds a path to a better set of odds. Odds more magnetic to my needs.’ Jap often proclaimed.
From experience Jap knew the boys feared the knife but he was in no way an imposing sort beside the fact, so he stuck with the panties in case a slip up ever occurred.
Besides, tonight he pined for the meal before the masterstroke with a heightened urgency, so a woman was the only way out. The field, this eve though, remained without any.
A lick of wind slipped inside the Woodbine’s doorway, circulating the alcove and slapping Jap upside the face. He felt trapped in the maelstrom and therefore became unable to take solace in the night’s endeavor. The outside factors were laying into him and leaving him unfocused and apathetic. Jap shucked superstition and just tallied it all up to unfortunate luck and an overexcited itch.
‘Enough.’ he subsided to himself, taking his thumb off the blade and tightening his face for the walk that lay ahead.
Jap moved out of the Woodbine’s shelter and began a trail to nowhere. ‘Maybe a drink at the Fillion?’ he all but confirmed.
* * *
Clarice’s fingers trickled around the surfaces of both packs of photos in her purse. She had told herself she wouldn’t look at any of them until all parties concerned were together, until they were all in the same room. The temptation to see how conclusive the photos were had been molesting her psyche since she had left CLIX.
All that the P.I. had told her was that her suspicions were palpable. ‘To what degree…?’ Clarice deliberated and took the piece of paper out from her purse. When they had met for the final time the P.I. had handed her the roll of film and a piece of paper, which on it was written, THE SPECIFICS-When: Monday nights, 8 to 10. Where: Fillion hotel.
That was it. ‘How much you want to know after this is up to you.’ The P.I. had warned her with tepid empathy. She wanted to know now.
‘Enough’ she decided and ducked into a slim alley between two stores, taking one of the packs of photos from her purse and, trembling, held it before her eyes.
* * *
‘A blank page……. Hasn’t happened in awhile.’ Jap resigned quietly under his breath, shaking his head. He knew this science to be so fallible but it always irked him a bit when the motions didn’t unfurl within his foresighted harmony. ‘Blame it on the weather.’ he smiled. It was hard to laugh, though, through the searing boredom of an empty effort. He seethed inside now at the indifference he had to feel, not having gotten a result.
Then he stopped in his tracks. The tip of a five-dollar bill was poking out of a small pile of snow he had come to and it flitted in the wind like some rodent extracting itself from a snare. ‘Fine.’ Jap thought, conceding that this would be the evening’s sullied compensation. He peeled it free from the snow and carefully placed it into his wallet while scoping out the street around him.
He saw the legs first. Then it all fell into place accordingly as he drank in the image before him. Across the street, barely lit by the moon’s glow, she stood. Somewhat hidden in between a pawnshop and a pet store, unveiled and on sale, she stood there for him. She wasn’t drinking or smoking, sucking on anything or anyone. ‘Odd.’ Jap admitted, ‘How had I missed her? Blame it on the weather.’ he avowed with some tenacity this time. It didn’t matter. Fruition was at hand. She was there now and forever. Jap returned his hand to the warmth of the coat pocket, secured the grip of the blade and crossed the street.
* * *
‘What a lovely time it was.’ Clarice reminisced as she looked adoringly at the picture of her and Monty on the deck of their beachside cottage in Fiji. She had grabbed the other pack of photos without thinking. The ones from their vacation only five months ago that, on this night, had no place in her heart. Or so she thought. Flipping through a few more, she put her one hand to her mouth and began to well up, choking a little on the tears that came. ‘Five months!’ she gasped incredulously. The paradise they had shared was now a thousand years away from the hell that she was about to evoke.
Clarice slammed the set of pictures back inside her purse. Fiddling for the other pack, she let the purse slip from her shoulder and drop to the ground. She crouched down to pick up that which had fallen out but lost her orientation as her head was ripped back violently by the hair.
* * *
‘She looks like a constellation.’ Jap thought, a little admiringly, staring warmly at Clarice as she lay there, flecked by bits of snow and a rivulet of blood that wended its way along her bare torso.
The struggle that had transpired was unexpected, very welcome, but had sapped so much out of him that Jap had to rest a little. He sat cross-legged by Clarice’s side, running the tip of the blade around her naval. ‘Man, she was heated up. A fighter.’
He looked himself over and tried to adjust his clothes as good as possible, noticing rips in several places and a fairly deep gash along his forearm. ‘Good for you, lady.’ Jap murmured. He rose and began cleaning the knife off with some paper found nearby. Strewn everywhere were the contents of Clarice’s purse, which Jap hadn’t acknowledged until now. Many things of no value to him, but upon seeing the photographs, with his voyeuristic bent, he gathered them up and placed them in the inside pocket of his jacket. He then saw the gun lying half in the shadow of a garbage can a few feet away. ‘What’s this then?’ Jap mused, holding the gun up to the moon. He knew exactly nothing about the singular distinctions of one handgun to another, always having used the blade. He leered at it a second longer, wiped it clean of any markings with a bit of his sleeve then dropped it in a snow bank knowing he’d never need it.
Jap let his gaze walk once more over the supine shape on the ground before him, almost wanting to see the tiniest sign of life. There was only the form and the dead fury that sat in her eyes. ‘This is over.’ Jap finalized stoically. ‘A drink.’ He remembered and left the confines he had created, aiming now for the Fillion hotel.
* * *
‘Beer and a gin-seven…please.’ Said Monty to the man tending bar. ‘And some
matches.’ Karen threw in, putting a smoke to her cracked lips. ‘No matches.’ Countered the bartender, ‘Lighter’s are 3 bucks.’
‘Fuck that’ Karen susurrated, tugging on Monty’s sleeve. Monty waved the bartender off and reassured Karen. ‘Hold on.’ He said and peered around the room. A man at a table in the corner was just lighting up so Monty made his way over there.
‘Can I get some fire from ya pal?’ Monty asked the man, waving his unlit cigarette in the air with a pleading etiquette.
‘Keep ‘em.’ Said the man, sliding the matchbox across the table to Monty.
* * *
‘Keep ‘em.’ Said Jap, sliding the matchbox to the man before him.
‘Thank you sir.’ The man smiled, and went back to his seat at the bar alongside the woman he was sitting with. Jap always wondered about the art of coupling. The buildup, the being, and the body therein were a fringed theory to him.
He reached into his inside pocket and took out the pack of pictures. His eyes waltzed through the bar in an act of assuaging surveillance, as the Fillion regulars skulked around, posing no threat in their oblivion.