One Night

by James Fleming

While wandering screamingly maddeningly through the midnight mist by the Charles I realized I was being followed. I saw the dark trenchcoat and pulled down hat, hands in pockets, slouching, over my shoulder even as I picked up the pace. ``Got a light?'' The man said, or I thought he said. I turned around, it was a woman, long dark hair pulled back, once elfin features solid with age, hands out of pockets, black gloved, holding a cigarette. I fumbled in my coat, found some matches I got at a bar, took them out, hands shaking, lighting one, holding it out to her. She puffed it once, twice to light it, then handed it over to me. ``Smoke it'' she said, deadpan. I took it and smoked it, waiting for her to pull out another one for herself. She did not, but glanced behind nervously for signs of pursuit, but I saw nothing in the mist.

``Take this, get it to Jeanine, she'll know what to do with it.'' She held out a small box of chocolates. ``It's Valentine's day tomorrow, give her a thrill.'' She gave me the chocolates, turned at a sudden noise, hissed, then ran off, sensible shoes clattering softly in the psychedelic night. I smoked my cig, exotic aroma, stuffed the box in my coat, and continued on my way along the river admiring glowing ghostly city lights. The noise turned out to be a man in a beige camel hair trenchcoat, balding pate gleaming under the moon. I nodded, said ``Hello,'' and finished my cigarette, flicking the butt into the river. I even stopped, turned and faced him, watching the colors coalesce and change in his face, as he sweating and puffing came up to me, two inches shorter, looking up at me. ``It won't work you know,'' he fidgeted, eyes shifting around my face and dropping to his feet. ``Jeanine won't get it, you'd better give it to me. Really, its better... I'll take them.'' He held out his hand. I gave him my pack of Camels. ``The Fourth isn't what she used to be, she's slipping, getting shoddy. I'll report back that it wasn't your fault. Really.''

I nodded, darkly, conspiring with the night. ``I don't want any trouble, just tell them she was just doing her job. I don't want any trouble.''

He looked up at me, nodded, ``Okay,'' turned and retreated with my Camels, vanishing into the mist. I completed the bridge circuit and went back to my flat. Strange bums loomed at the entrance, begging for money. I gave them pocket change and half twisted empathetic smiles and went inside. The doorman greeted me and I nodded with big pupils and went upstairs. I pulled my door closed, turned on the red light, and went to develop the film. I casually tossed the box of chocolates on my bean bag by the TV and nearly bumped into Alex in the dark. He was standing there, holding the negatives, ugly as hell, boring into my face. I stepped back, ``Alex, what a surprise.''

His gruesomely ugly face gleamed down at mine, rheumy eyes, big bumpy nose with hairs, gnarled ears and razor cuts, cheap cologne, bad teeth, and smell of whisky. ``Don't fuck with me you little shit. Jeanine's dead and the heat's on me and I come and find THESE little babies in your fridge'' waving the negatives ``spill it now, and I won't kill you.'' His other hand jabbed a gun in my face and he pushed me down and stuck the barrel up my nose, hurting my nostril and I wanted a drink.

``Jeanine... jesus... uh Alex, look, I'm having a bad day... that acid I got is real clenchy, see, my hands are shaking...'' I looked at his hair ``...and ...and your hairpiece is crooked.''

Alex frowned and moved his gun hand up to his rug, head jerking up to look in the mirror. I kicked his crotch and kneed his ugly fucking face and left him bleeding on the floor. I took his gun and went to my bar and made us both drinks, lime crushed into glasses with tequila. I put a paper towel and a drink next to Alex on the floor. ``Put your head back, until the bleeding stops and use the towel. Drink the tequila.''

Alex got to a sitting position, fury in his eyes, clenched his nose with the towel and had the drink. Alex hated tequila. I drank mine.

I turned on my lava lamp, backlit with my blacklight and showed Alex the glyphs done in invisible ink on my walls. I put some light polka on the stereo and waited for his nose to stop bleeding. He glared at me.

I pointed the gun at him. ``Alex, don't be stupid, you know the score. Those negatives mean shit. Jeanine was probably killed by her pimp, she was holding out on him, big time. He probably found out. He owes money to the cartel for his pony, he gets crazy sometimes.''

I fished around in my freezer for some meth and snorted it freeform out of the container. Yummy burn.

``Some day, you're goin' to go too far, David.'' Alex was holding his head back. ``I came here to warn you, as a friend, and you kick me in the face.''

I grinned, sniffling at the meth, and cocked the gun.

Alex's eyes widened, ``Jesus, okay, here's the scoop. Jeanine was pushed onto the T last night, the tracks, onto the third rail. It was late at night, no witnesses. I was her supplier, she owed ME big time. Cambridge got a hold of this somehow, took me in, questioned me. God I think you broke my nose.''

I made another tequila, popped a valium with it, take the edge off the meth. ``My guess is her pimp probably spilled, get the heat off of him and onto you. Probably told them he was an old friend of hers, concerned about her habit. His name's Jonathan. Jonathan Miles. Now get out. Get the fuck out. I'm in a bad mood.''

Alex left and I turned up the stereo, polkadelic. Polkarific. Jesus, Jeanine, dead. Happy valentine's day, cutes. We'd shacked up together for about a year in '88. I started drinking, doin coke, slapping her around. She was goddamn great. College, parents, a horse on their farm back home. I took her down with me. Got her started on heroin. I broke it off after her overdose. Now she was dead.

Alex took the negatives. I'd have to get them back. Okay, clear my mind. Need a drink. I took a drink, and the chocolates, and strolled out into the night, blood pounding, sky hazy and pink in the city winter. Walking by the river, I left bums and doorman behind.

It was still Saturday night, Deirdre would be hosting one of her little parties in the south end, over by the channel. I walked and my breath blew out cozy and white puffy like clouds. Jeanine. Dammit.

I got to Deirdre's half frozen to death but not really minding. Big studio apartment, third floor in this old converted warehouse. Techno rave shit blared heavily. No polka. Young men and women in dressy overconscious casual attire mingled and chattered, danced, and snorted in the many little corners and nooks of her space. The men had longish hair that looked shiny and kind of wet. Model city. Deirdre loved beautiful people, and befriended them. Sweet pot and perfume and warm human smell pervaded the room. I spotted Deirdre, beautiful thirtyish woman, dark hair, brutally athletic, black belt in three disciplines, smart, and smiling. ``David! You look like hell! Come in, come in, stay awhile!'' She rushed over, looking at my eyes and smelling my breath and noting my complexion and level of overall muscle tension. She smiled quizzically. ``Okay, you've outdone me, but I can take a guess.'' She made a Romper Room mirror out of her hands and looked through them at me. ``I see Tequila... and LSD and... speed?''

I smiled gravely at her, reached into my coat pocket and handed her the chocolates.

``Godiva! You dear! You didn't have to. Let's go talk, tell momma what's bothering you.'' She led me to her bed, big japanese screens hiding it from the rest of the room. She struggled my coat off me, sat me up.

``Hey Deirdre. Uh, Alex came to my place, told me Jeanine's dead. Threatened me. A woman earlier this night gave me these, I think they have a message or stuff in them or something. I thought it might be something sneaky. Got any ideas?''

She frowned. ``Sorry to hear about Jeanine. Alex is an idiot. You say a woman gave you these? You didn't know her? She was sweet on you?''

``Yeah, she just handed me these by the river, kissed me, and charged off. A moment later a short bald guy came and tried to get them from me. He didn't know what they were, I gave him my cigarettes.''

``Well, let's take a look. I'm taking care of Steve's apartment downstairs. It's quiet there and he's got some lab equipment and a computer, and I can feed his cats. The party will have to wait.''

We left the party in a blur I hardly remember. I scored a hit of ecstacy off of some girl I knew, and washed it down with punch before we went.

to be continued...