“You keep looking at it any longer you might swim in it.”
Harry Morgan’s voice knocked me out of my trance, away from the dark liquid abyss I held in my hands.
“I can’t swim,” I answered, gulping down the whisky that tasted more like kerosene. I never really enjoyed the hard stuff. There were times, however, when I needed it, to get the haze and warmth quickly before I had to go to work. Harry was always there to supply, dependable Harry. He’d been doing this for ten years. Opened the joint shortly after returning from Korea in ’53. I needed cheap booze like a mosquito needed blood and Harry’s was the place. The bar was up on the hill near the waterfront, most of the regulars here came from the docks needing a little libation to rest their bodies and souls.
“Don’t look so hot today,” Harry said leaning against the bar table.
“Just living in my head,” I answered. I always told him that when he saw me looking down at my drink like some alien examining alcohol for the first time.
“What the hell you day dreaming for?”
“No reason. Just like doing it.”
“Ain’t you gonna see Lily tonight?”
Now my eyes sparkled. They always did when her name was mentioned.
“Yeah. Got something to take care of first, though.”
“Last time I saw her, maybe six months ago. You brought her here, first time a dame with class ever crossed those doors. Course both of ya were pissed drunk, but she still had class stumbling everywhere.”
Lily claims to not remember that night. Me, clear as fucking crystal. I tend to remember drunken nights better than sober ones. She and I had some dinner over on Mission street, cocktails on Filmore. Lily wanted to keep the night going and I wasn’t gonna stop her. I mentioned Harry’s and off we went. The waterfront was the one place in the city she never explored. When we entered she shook the place, knocking the normal dull mood into a cocked hat. People there that night remembered her, and it made me feel, at the time, that much better about being with her.
I stood up and put a five and four singles on the bar top. “Always generous,” Harry said. I took my hat, gave my goodbyes to him and left.
The night air was chilly and the damn Chrysler took forever to heat up. Keep telling myself to trade up. I drove up Fourth Street towards Crescent Avenue. Traffic was light on Tuesdays. I checked my watch, 9:20. I parked the car next to the Sherwood Hotel. The meters stopped running at this time, so free parking. I entered the hotel and planted a seat on the lobby sofa. A few guests were in the place, paying me no mind. I scanned the place, not much going on. Took a newspaper that laid next to me and thumbed through it.
Twenty minutes later I spotted him. Grey suit and hat, brown briefcase in hand and black glasses. His face looked long, I could see the bags in his eyes. Busy man tonight. He fetched his key from the desk, which was my cue to follow him. We squeezed into the elevator and rode up to the seventh floor. The whole time the man kept his eyes on the number display, ignoring me. I noticed his fingers fiddled with the handle on the case.
We got out together. I kept a distance of six paces between us. I rummaged through my pockets pretending to search for my room key. Kept up my ruse as I neared the man, who just got the door to his room opened. Saw my chance.
I shoved his back with my shoulder, sending him tumbling down. He smacked his face on the floor hard, his glasses and hat falling off. I slammed the door shut and withdrew my magnum from the holster. I aimed the heavy black steel at him. The look on his face showed he didn’t need his glasses to know what was gonna happen next.
“Who-who are you?” he said still lying on the floor.
“The briefcase. Give it to me.”
His hand reached slowly, trembling, for the case; his eyes stayed on the gun. I kept still, my hand steady on the little piss-ant in front of me. The man grabbed the briefcase and flung it at my feet.
“On your feet. Against the wall, now!”
He did as he was told. The man had his hands up, shaking with each step until his back was pressed on the wall.
“Who gave you this?” I said holding up the briefcase.
“I-I think you know.”
“You’re right, but I want to hear it from you.”
A knock came at the door. I kept my position, not flinching. “Go and open it,” I said to him. The man clinched his jaw, his breathing became heavier. Another knock at the door.
“Better answer it,” I said. I moved closer to him and grabbed his collar, the man needed a little encouragement. I moved him to the door and prodded his back with the gun. I hid behind the corner of the entranceway when the door opened.
“Frank,” said the voice. I just snickered.
“Frank, what’s wrong?” Footsteps coming towards me.
I shoved the gun in Lily’s face. She let out a gasp.
“Surprised, hon,” I said. “Missed me?”
“Why-why are you-Frank..Frank what’s happening?”
“Frank’s in the same boat as you. Take the money and run? That’s the plan, right. The money I helped get for you. For us.”
“Please- please don’t,” Lily said. “I can explain…”
Funny, I really couldn’t hear her voice anymore. Just a mouth flapping air, flapping and flapping.
There was a time when I did love her and would’ve done anything for her. That money, that was my love, all of it, for her.
I pulled the trigger. Simple as that.