I wrote this the other day just to get the old blood flowing back into my fingers.
The train muscled its way out of the station, bellowing a great fog into the air above it. He smoothed his suit, pulled on his gloves, and settled his hat. He turned to look at the faces of ghosts reflected inside the small panes of the passenger cars, but no one looked back at him. Good. Already he had forgotten the number of the train. He knew he had ridden a train once, maybe as a child, sure he had, but as for this particular train? No, probably not.
The platform around him was bursting at the seams. Crowded. People pressing their bodies into one another, desperate to escape the train; careening headlong to some place or another before shooting off again. He didn’t know where they were going and he didn’t care. He knew where he was going. If you asked him, though, he wouldn’t remember because he had never been there. He bounced the briefcase playfully in his hand as he drifted amongst the faceless mob marching into the city. Was he smiling? Unlikely. No one else was.
Surging towards pointless offices to slave at thankless jobs, he wondered if most of these people wanted a way out. He figured that if they did, if they truly wanted a way out of this, he could offer that service. He could in another life maybe. So many people. So much money just floating around out there; a guy could make a killing in this town. Maybe he’d visit one day.
He knew the quickest route to the hotel. It was in his head, he had known it for weeks. The easiest way to reach a place he would never be. Still he slid along inside the crowd, always following, never leading. They’d lose a man in a blue suit to a concrete tower on the left, cross a busy street and pick up a woman in a black skirt. They’d continue along without stopping, losing a few and pulling in more. They never looked him or anyone in the eye, it wasn’t worth it. They didn’t even know he was there. They never would. They might have an idea, a vague whisper of an idea, but they’d never know for sure. He could even be one of Those People and no one would know.
Over dinner one night, a man might tell his wife that Those People, They were everywhere these days. Paranoia was king of the blind. There could have been one in the taxi with him on the way home, even. Maybe he saw one in the tailors, out of the corner of his eye. He couldn’t be sure, though. No one could be sure, not totally sure, that they could spot a Red face in the swirling blur of city grey and the thumping bass line of life pulsing around them. It was all a mess. All of it. The city and the world outside.
The man ducked out of the crowd at a forgotten hotel and checked in under a name no one had ever heard. He remembered the number of steps to his room and he remembered the digits on the door, but was it this room in this hotel? Certainly it wasn’t in this city. He had never been to this city. But maybe he’d visit one day; he heard it was nice in the summer. He bet that it was. Up north, most places were. This city should be no exception.
He set his briefcase in a chair by the window that overlooked the street. He crossed the room and looked in the mirror; he smiled at the reflection. At the man who rented this room. He slowly swept the room with a device from his pocket. He took special care with the telephone and the lamp. He pulled pictures down from the wall to check behind them. Nothing. Off with the lights and onto the bed fully dressed, his hat slid down over his face for a nap. He remembered to set the alarm on his watch. He always remembered that.
Vivid dreams of nameless women drift around behind his eyes, gyrating slowly to lazy music played low on a busted stereo. Cigarette smoke circles in the black like bad ideas rising in the heat. Faces he’s doesn’t know flip by in an old photo album as a finger points them out, buzzing questions he never answered. Another drink. Why not? Two more, even. And on the rocks. He looks back at the album and a photo of a young man has gone missing. Across the table, a face he’s never seen smiles at him with teeth like a sailor. A man never forgets a thing like that.
The alarm in his watch goes off as it should. As the man knew it would. The light from the window is bright and warm, casting a shadow of his briefcase onto the colorless carpet. If he had ever been in this room at this moment, it would have been lovely. He checked his watch and sat up, smoothing his suit and returning his hat. These things mustn’t be forgotten. Order in the steady hum and thrum of chaos around him. It’s all a mess, it really is, but that doesn’t mean he has to be. He flattened his tie as he crossed the room quickly.
He opened the window, moved the chair back and set his briefcase on the floor. He pulled a small knife from his pocket and carefully cut a tiny hole in the screening, setting the piece he cut aside. He looked at his watch again. The watch was reliable. If he had anything to do today, he’d have plenty of time for a quick drink before it. He took a tumbler from the mini-bar and poured himself a belt of scotch. Just a small one. Besides, a man that’s spent all day on the river like he has is expected to drink a little. You can’t go fishing without a drink, you know? In the safety of the room, he smiled again.
He cleaned the glass and replaced the bottle of cheap scotch. He pulled the chair towards the window and reached down to turn his briefcase over. He remembered the combination to the lock and the clasps opened. Like music. Like clockwork. He removed the rifle and a bottle of glue. The rifle is in pieces, but that’s okay, he knows how to assemble it. A click and a snap, a little twist of the barrel; easiest thing in the world if you remember how to do it. He does of course; it’s just like riding a bike.
His watch again. He settled the rifle into his shoulder, and checked the sight. All very familiar. He nudged the barrel through the tiny hole in the screen and took a deep breath, breathing in the city around him. Breathing in the room that he never stayed in. If he never breathed again, would the room stay inside him? Maybe.
In a building across the street, the face from a photograph steps out onto the balcony of his apartment. Why shouldn’t he? The city is beautiful in the summer, everyone says so. The man yawned and raised his arms. A pitiful display for his final moments.
A terrible flash of light and a muffled crack. A splash of red painted the wall behind the balcony and the man across the street tumbled backwards out of view. His head struck the plate glass of the sliding door to the balcony, and the glass shattered against his weight and fell in heavy razored sheets around his body. The carpet inside the apartment was ruined. The whole thing was a mess. The stain would never come out. On her hands and knees, a maid would curse the dead man. So what if he had been one of Those People? She didn’t need this kind of hassle. Not from Them.
Placing the rifle at his feet, the man opened his bottle of glue, drawing back a bit from the smell. He fit the circle of screening into the slot and brushed the glue around the edges, sealing the hole. The window is closed and locked. Was it ever opened? Doubtful. The rifle disassembled and returned to the case. The chair placed back into the divots in the colorless carpet and the sheets on an unslept bed are smoothed by a man that was never there. He settled his hat and left the room. It really was a lovely room.
The girl at the front desk is not the same girl that checked him in, he would have remembered her, he never forgot a face. She reached across the counter and handed him the envelope that was left for him. Smiling, he slipped it into his inside coat pocket before merging with the bustling crowd filling the streets outside the hotel once again. They could be the same people from earlier, they might as well be. They probably are, winding down for a few hours only to crank it back up again tomorrow.
The man rode the wave of people back to the train platform, boarding a train with the rest of them, the number already forgotten. He looked out of the window as the train snarled away, puffing its white breath all around. No one made eye contact with the ghost behind the glass. Good. Very good. He took a quick look at the skyline before the thick steak of progress hid the top of the train.
Placing his briefcase on the seat beside him, the man fingered the envelope inside his coat pocket. He knew the figure bundled behind the yellow paper. How could he forget? Putting his hat over his face, he slumped in the seat. He smiled, not bad for a man that spent all day on the river. A man could make a killing in this town. Absolutely.
He slept on the train. He dreamt of the city. Maybe, just maybe, he would make the trip out sometime. After all, he heard it was beautiful in the summer. He may even take a train, why not?
Full of lies.
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