The first chapter of a novel I’ll never complete
Subtly, Tammy squirms in the front seat––she fidgets, unbuckles then buckles her seatbelt, loudens the flamenco-guitar-music’s volume and softens it after every couple street lights––all with a singular twitch of calmness. I am not getting paid enough for this and keep my eyes on the road.
The kid begs for a stop––for food, in particular. No, she says. No she does not really want the food at her dad’s hotel. She then also wants to put something or other on something with her brush or something, and wants to freshen up before she sees him. I do not listen to the middle. She is talkative in spurts and my hearing span can’t be bothered.
I drive 40 down a smooth and humble road and am humored by Tammy’s juvenile naiveté––she expects me to give her my full attention and to be fed. Hah.
I pull into an IHOP on Boylston Street with a full tank. This is taking too long––for a relatively easy case, especially. I’ve allowed my own hunger to get to m
Parked and leaving the car, I notice how Tammy walks with a stiffness. Huh. We make our way through the entrance and to our table; the temperature change from natural heat to air conditioning gives me goosebumps.
“Table for two, I’m guessing, name please?” says a male waiter with excited eyes.
“Yes, for Black.” I respond with eye contact. Lucky he assumed correctly.
“Thanks, just one moment, please.”
I feel the hairs on my skin spike up as the diner smells more and morel like eggs Benedict. I’m hungry. Hollandaise sauce is my muse.
It’s afternoon––4ish––deducing this not because I checked my iPhone, but because of the awkward number of people present. Ahead, to the right, and behind me, families of two, three, and four are spread across the diner. The trio is in front––two parents and a child, all small, brunette, chubby. Behind me’s a woman, forties I’m assuming, wearing trying-to-be-sexy red nail polish. Tammy sits on a chair in the waiting area and taps her right heel up and down and up and down rapidly. She bites her nails. Ouch.
We are escorted to the––booth, please––and for the next whole hour, Tammy says nothing.
As plates come and go, one, two, three, I openly ask her about the marks on her face. They look painful and resemble geography. The mark on her forehead––a dark, purply ooze––resembles the state of Florida, while the one on her left cheek looks like Kenya. International bruises, hah. I’ve eaten too much.
Tammy doesn’t respond to the questions, one, two, three.
I notice how the girl shivers and collapses when I how-did-you-get-them her. She grows silent––not even making noise while fiddling with the cutlery––fists her hand, and after some minutes, replies that they are nothing. Then back to silence.
I glance at them one more time, give her a look of fake satisfaction, motion for the waiter with my right hand and gulp down the too-expensive orange juice with my left.
Nothing, she says. Kid gets a paid-for breakfast and can’t even give a proper response back to a question, to me. Manners gone. She’d ought to watch it, appreciate this. I give her some slack though––who knows where she’d been. And t’was a good salmon bagel.
Check paid for, we look left and right before crossing the street, her fingers still nervous, shaking. I stop walking to see if she will too––natural human response. No, she just keeps pushing to the car. Kind of funny, kind of sad. Kid must be one of those crazies. But don’t worry, I think for her, it won’t be much longer.
I open the passenger door––say something? — then hop into mine. We air-condition (and now Top-Summer-Hits) our way through thick Bostonian traffic and humidity. 5 pm, damn it.
Seven minutes later and my foot almost snoozes on the pedal. Red lights and I get comfy with each other. Tammy sits in silence, unmoving, like a vegetable. She’s hyper and serene. I wonder about her appearance––her spotted purple-ness, the hurt.
“So, how’d you like that breakfast?”
She shrugs and stares at the vehicles in front. Her waffle was barely touched.
“Well, at least you’re going home now, though, huh?”
“Mhm,” she responds, fiddling with her cuticles, “yeah. Thank you.” Tammy’s bold, shoulder-length, and layered black hair contrasts sharply with her soft-looking skin and reserved aura. Interesting.
Miles later and the hotel lobby looks more machine-like than it had previously. The sun is going down.
I valet the car in front––please, don’t adjust the seat, thanks––and escort the kid inside.
The plaza level smells fruity and cardboard-like. A wooden seating area greets those who walk in right away, that is , after the many doormen with plastic grins do.
Extra precaution must be taken to avoid tripping over foot rests, chair legs, throw pillows as we trek deeper into the lobby. An urge to rearrange this audacious setting starts to form. I clear my throat.
Tammy follows behind me, walking slowly and somewhat hesitantly around the not-so-welcoming sight, past the Concierge and its shiny bells, towards the entrance of the elevators.
We keep walking as I look at the inherited Rolex on my right wrist and notice a 5:15 pm. Good timing––for a case with delay, I tell myself. This type of stuff has got to be followed through.
Waiting for us in front of the elevators and sitting on the stairs is, alas, my client: a short, chubby-looking man of about 45. He wears clean white jeans and a fresh white polo. Too white. It hurts.
The guy’s shoes are a loud gray shade, with white potential. My OCD tingles.
“Detective Black,” he says with tempered anger and annoyance, “I did not know you were one for tardies.”
“An hour later, Mr. Roobys, seems only generous for finding a kid––your kid––in such a state.” We both accidentally, and obviously, look at Tammy, who is standing tall yet looking so short.
She resembles a french fry now––thin and limp.
“Well, I’ll be sure to clean her up, Detective Black. She will soon look as good as new…fresh, youthful again. Ah, yes, the good old days. You know I was quite a catch, you know. Huh.”
Mr. Roobys glances down at his laces then back up again. He looks instantly paler. And continues:
“Anyway, I don’t want to trouble you anymore. And I’m sure you are a busy man. Definitely a smart one. Yes, a smart one. Thank you again.”
The man wraps his hand over Tammy’s shoulder and the kid remains emotionless. Not loving nor hostile. A vegetable. Fried. Grey. Like his shoes. His shoes, not matching. An off-white color. They’re not right.
Finally, I give him what I give every client: a friendly, poised “no, thank you, sir. I’m glad I could be of service”––my favorite part––as he hands me a check with his free hand. His other one is wrapped around Tammy’s shoulder, appearing soft, but Tammy squints.
I inhale deeply, adjust my posture, and turn away, walking faster, faster, faster, and resist the urge of going back and questioning him. Cases usually don’t make me itch. Emotional involvement d0es.
But there was something about this guy, this, his shoes, her, Tammy’s Florida bruise, and squinting eyes, all resonating in my head more clearly with every step I take towards the exit.
Blake, your job is done, I tell myself. Take your check and go home.
A detective is machine. Brain. I am very good at my job.
Damn it, go already. I evade the displeasing seating area, return to the revolving doors, and am unanimously told “good-bye, sir, thank you” by many young doormen. The check in my hand is bold, confident. Signed.
I smell cardboard and fruit once again––now is the time to order a taxi and leave. I’m hesitant though. This is ridiculous.
As I am about to go finally exit through the lobby doors, I turn my head one final time towards the elevators.
Tammy and Mr. Roobys are already gone. That was fast.
The valet resides right in front; I reach for my ticket. And reach for my ticket again.
Check my other jean pocket and then the small one on my chest. Nothing, nothing except Burt’s Bees lip balm, my cell, a new check, an overstuffed-with-change wallet––I should really not keep these coins––and Wrigley’s 5 gun. Damn it. Where the hell is it.
Maybe it dropped somewhere back in the hotel. The doormen give me confused looks and my stomach raves for food again. I make my way back through the hotel lobby, towards the stairs by the elevators, and notice red wine, perfume, small talk by couples gathering around the piano in the right corner. I need this damn stub already.
The stairs’ red velvet covering is Hollywood-like. But ticketless. I walk around the area’s perimeter. I focus on the open spaces, then on the closed. I check down the stairs, on the side of the corridors….maybe, maybe. Nothing. Shit.
A man does not get away with a lost stub. My father’s mantra, hah––the guy always took extra precaution. He used to always lose them. Drove my mom crazy.
I reach for my iPhone, dial in its passcode, and am about to call a cab for myself. I’ll return tomorrow, I think. Too tired and too hungry to deal with this. Fettuccine sounds good.
The elevator suddenly sounds––a quick ding––then says “Plaza Level” in a feminine voice, monotonously. Out of curiosity, I look up from my cell. This is the only time I’ve actually witnessed the lifts in use.
Its doors open. In stands, and out comes, a cluster of variety. A small old woman, squeezing her nose as if smelling something terrible. A tall brown man, blue suit, date-ready, I presume. A kid, Tammy’s age, maybe younger. A short, white-wearing-yet-mismatched man with droopy eyes, imbalanced––a Mr. Roobys.
I do a double take. Hadn’t he already went up?
I look at the time on my cell’s screen––6:32 pm. Too early to be this unstable. An odd site.
As the people leave the elevator one by one I notice Mr. Rooby’s walk, with a stiffness. Like one of those mummies in the movies. He is the last one out and I can’t bring myself to look away. What a sight. So proper before yet so seemingly broken now. A shame and a wonder.
I spot a ticket stub in the now-empty but closing-any-second-now lift. My eyes widen. Could that be mine? Why the hell would it be––if it is mine––in there?
Glancing Mr. Roobys a useless smile, and rushing into the lift, the doors close for me and only me. I press the STOP button and the elevator remains unmoving.
I reach down to grab it, noticing handwriting on the time-stamped side.
Black. Press 5. T. is what I decipher from the sloppiness of it. Damn it, but I can go escape this hotel now. I have my valet ticket and crave a night of decaffeinated black tea, a non-fiction autobiography, pasta, game shows.
But what if someone else can’t. What if Tammy can’t.
Screw it, I press the button with the 5 on it. If this is from Tammy, and she’s in trouble, Tammy with the bruises on her face, Tammy with the mummy dad, how could I walk away? Even my homemade pasta sauce would not be a suitable enough of an excuse.
6:37. I’m gonna miss Jeopardy.
A quick ride to the fifth floor allows me to leave the elevator. With only the first step out and into the hallway I realize how alcoholic the elevator had smelled. Vodka permeated. Grey Goose, or Finlandia. Preferably the latter.
The floor is barren, artless, colorless––a different dimension from that of the plaza level’s Roarin’ Twenties throwback. One small maroon-and-lime green hallway, with 5 rooms on each side and an ice closet, is all I see.
What are you thinking, Tammy?
I begin walking down the hallway, room by room, analyzing and absorbing everything I can. Two rooms are “Do Not Disturb” while one is a “Service Please.” The remaining two are neutral. I attempt the one with the semi-inviting sign.
The door unlocks with ease. Luck, chance, or this is a potentially horrible idea, Black, I tell myself. I am not sticking to basic protocol and clench my fists.
Dead-smack in the middle of the room I see Tammy––smudged mascara and chipped nail polish, black layered and uneven hair––distracted, rocking back and forth and back and forth on a stool.
She gives me a hopeless glance and I notice her bloodshot eyes. Not squinting. Wide. Unblinking. Chills.
She looks at me and does not look away. I step inside and ignore the fright, curiosity, and bewilderment that are running down my spine.
I tuck the ticket in my shirt pocket, close the door behind me, and inhale.
The world atlas on her skin has gotten bigger, more detailed.