Friday, August 12, 2011
FICTION: Another Day In The Light By Jonathan Howell
Los Angeles sunshine is different than other sunshine. It pierces through smog and reflects off of dirty white concrete to create an inescapable brightness. This super light combines with dry heat and dirty air to make Los Angeles uncomfortable for Vincent. He squinted as he stepped off the bus into Los Angeles’s questionable Koreatown.
A black Mercedes across the street had been following the bus. It had two equally uncomfortable occupants. The inescapable brightness had entered and heated their vehicle to create an atmosphere well known to many Angelenos. But they were still professionals. This light and heat did not disrupt their duties. They paid constant attention to Vincent and his every move.
Vincent stepped off the bus and rolled his cowboy boot heel on the bright sidewalk. He regained his balance as his eyes adjusted to the light. He was hungry and looked around for food. Only small dark restaurants with unfamiliar names lined the street. His eyes locked in on a fast food burger place.
Vincent started his usual pace with no sign of urgency. He picked up a local paper and scanned the headlines on the way. There was the usual overseas conflict and a natural disaster. One headline stuck out to him: “Contractor missing after embezzling over a million from school district.” He tucked the paper under his arm and waited in line.
The smell of salt and grease pierced Vince’s nostrils. Meanwhile, the black Mercedes with its watchful occupants parked at a spot just close enough to the restaurant to see Vince’s every move.
Vincent ordered a double meat burger, fries, and a coke. He surveyed the dining area for a seat but instead spotted a familiar face. Tara was seated near a window, picking at the remainder of her food. She didn't look up or even acknowledge Vincent’s presence as he sat at a booth directly across from her.
“Well hello there stranger,” Tara called out to Vincent without looking up from her meal.
“Well hello to you too,” Vincent replied trying to hold back a smile.
“You know you are out of your league here and it’s already pretty crowded,” Tara said, looking up at Vincent this time. “In fact you are a liability. I knew which bus you were on and it didn't take long to figure out where you would get food.”
“Yeah, yeah. Alright, you know me better than anyone. It doesn't surprise that you know where I am at.” He paused for a moment. “Listen, maybe we can work together on this?” Vincent said. This time he couldn't hold back the smile.
“Yeah right, I’ll never make that mistake again. It doesn't matter anyway cause I’ve done all the leg work and I am about to collect my finder’s fee,” Tara said, not smiling.
She got out of her booth and walked and sat directly across from Vince. “Besides, we never worked together well anyway,” she said as she reached for one of his fries. Her hand lingered as it selected the largest one.
“This might be different and you won’t have to split your fee with me,” Vincent replied. He took a bite of his burger and grabbed a handful of frys. The frys tasted different but he dismissed it as he was too focused on Tara.
“Then why are you here?” Tara asked. This time a corner of her mouth move to smile. Vincent thought he was getting through to her.
“Um, I’m looking for the money cause . . . Father . . . ” Vincent’s words were slurring and objects in his vision began to trail with the movement of his head. “Shit” Vincent managed to mutter before his head dropped to the table. His last thought was the bitter taste in his mouth and Tara’s smile.
“Sleep well, sucker,” Tara said as she moved about of the booth.
“Hey you can’t sleep here,” called out a short fast food worker.
Vincent awoke with French fries stuck to his face and a little ketchup by his ear. Still groggy, he looked down at his watch. Only an hour had passed since Tara put something in my frys, Vincent thought. He looked outside and saw an empty parking lot. He took out the Los Angeles bus schedule from his pocket and left for the nearest bus station.
One of the disadvantages of being Vincent is his fear of driving. Although this fear doesn't interrupt his life that much in New York or San Francisco, it makes life in Los Angeles difficult. Los Angeles hates public transportation. Maybe it has to do with the light that permeates everything except underground subway stations. Maybe Angelenos need transportation that puts them in the light. So instead they opt for a network of buses. Slow buses that smell like burnt rubber and shuttle its less fortunate inhabitants around.
Vincent was on one of these buses headed straight down Venice Blvd. As the bus made its final stop, Vincent walked off toward the beach. He moved past the midget performers and weightlifting Michael Jackson impersonators. A homeless looking beach bum was lying in the sand with his eyes closed. Vincent was headed right for him.
“Hey Nick, Wake up,” Vincent called out to the bum. Vincent then opened up his bag and threw down a pack of cigarettes and bottle of whisky.
“Yah Yah, I’m awake. Where you been?” replied the bum. He opened the back of cigarettes and fished one out. “Got a light?”
“I’ve been busy.” Vincent said, as he pulled out his lighter and lit the bum’s cigarette. “I need some information on that school contractor money that’s gone missing.”
“You too eh? Everyone’s been here already. Father Dominic, Tara, and now you. In fact, Father Dominic caught up to Tara and tried to take her out of the race. Last I heard she was in an ambulance somewhere probably going to holy cross.”
Vincent’s face froze. “What happened to her?”
“Some guys followed her from a fast food joint - they beat her up real good cause they figured she was here for the money too,” the bum said.
“Where’s father Dominic now?” Vincent asked.
“I assume he is on his way to get the money.”
“And where’s that?” Vincent asked.
“Wouldn't you like to know?”
Vincent dropped a twenty dollar bill on the ground. “I want to know,” he replied.
The bum chuckled a bit and then settled into comfortable smile. “I usually get paid more than this. Father Dominic gave me my kid’s college tuition.”
“You don’t have any kids,” Vince said not smiling.
“Alright, I can’t say no to an old friend. The money is at a house in the Valley. Here, I’ll write down the address for you.” The bum took out a brand new smart phone and began pressing buttons and flipping through menus. Vincent never understood the methods of these new age informants. Nick, the beach bum, was a professional in a world of information and connected to a network of other informants like him. They sold hyper local street news without having to do the messy work of acting on it. Cops, private dicks, crooks, and thieves were all customers.
The bum tore some of the paper bag around the whiskey bottle and scribbled an address onto it. “Don't ask me which bus will take you there.”
Vincent turned left and started walking down a tree lined street with large front yards and larger homes. There were no sounds, no birds, no wind, and no rustling. No movement of any kind. Vincent felt like he was inside a photograph. The third house on his left had a large Black SUV parked out front which was familiar to Vincent.
Vincent made his way down the street to the house. He could see the front door was slightly ajar. The house was as still as the neighborhood. He made his way through the foyer and into a kitchen area. A view outside the window into the backyard showed two men standing over a body. One of the men was wearing a priest collar and all black. He looked older with a goatee peppered with gray hairs. The other man was a much larger and clearly spent some time in the gym. He was wearing a basic black suit, white shirt and black tie.
Vincent watched as the priest gestured at the larger man to pick up a nearby briefcase. They started moving across the backyard toward a gate that led to the front.
Vincent moved out of the kitchen keeping his body slightly crouched to avoid any detection. He slipped out the front door and across the front yard, hiding behind a corner of the house that the priest and larger man would have to pass before getting to the black SUV. He crouched behind a row of shrubs and plants.
The large man passed Vincent without noticing him. The priest followed behind the large man. In one seamless motion, Vincent reached out slid one arm around the priest and his other hand held a knife under the priest’s throat.
The large man slowly turned around after seeing movement in the periphery of his vision. He stooped and looked at Vincent holding the priest and using him as a shield.
The priest smiled. He leaned his head back to ease the knife’s pressure on his throat. “Oh Vince, I knew you were in town but I thought your girlfriend took care of you. Anyway, you are outnumbered, so why don't you just run away and we will give you a 10 second head start.”
Vincent, ignoring the priest, spoke to the large man. “I don't want the money. I just want to talk to Father Dominic. There should be one million in the case. Take the money and get out of here.”
The priest’s facial expression changed. He called out to the large man, “Get out your gun and shoot this bastard in the head! Shoot him now!”
The large man remained motionless. Only his eyes moved back and forth between Vincent and the priest.
“What are you waiting for? Kill this mother fucker,” the priest shouted.
The large man took his left hand and moved it towards his pocket. Vincent did not say a word. He tightened his grip on the priest as he watched the large man. A hand emerged holding keys. The man turned around with the briefcase. Vince and the priest watched as the he walked to the SUV without saying a word.
“What are you doing Vince? You are letting the money just go?” the priest asked.
“You are the job, Dominic. Your boss sent me because you are out of control.”
“I’m out of control? I’m the only who gets things done over there!”
Vincent didn’t know what he meant and didn’t care. Getting an explanation was not his job. He moved the knife horizontally across the priest’s throat and held him steady for a few seconds until the struggling ceased. The priest’s body fell to the ground.
By now, the light of Los Angeles had given way to dusk. A red light circled the perimeter of the sky and focused on a purple center. Vincent could see a few clouds through the trees which now moved with a slight wind. He made his way back to a bus stop and looked at his map for a route to Holy Cross Hospital.