Monday, September 24, 2012
Inspired by a scene in Delmer Daves' Dark Passage . . .
Do click that, if you will. It is the score to this which folliows, or there is nothing here . . .
Around about two in the morning, out in the city, in the fog, who really knows what time is? What time "it" is--well, that's just looking at the face of a clock, not into the hidden deep of that wide place where no hourglass or wristwatch can tell what the truest tense of your time is, the breadth and depth, the length of it; or how a person's thoughts may best tell it, whether in present, past or future--at two a.m. in the fog.
I'm sitting in a diner, one of those railroad cars they turn to the purpose. However they got it here without railroad tracks, how I got here, all I know, that's the way it is: here I am on Post street just up from Fillmore. On the radio some Hawaiian song is playing.
I've got a suit and tie on, but my shoes look like they've been for a walk in the Bay, and there's a 'five o'clock shadow' on my face, twice around the clock.
It's misting out. My felt hat is wet. It's off my head, on the table. The blue serge of my suit is damp, so it sparkles in the light. I was reaching for a napkin when the girl came stumbling in at the door; she went down, spread-eagle, face flat to the floor. I could've just sat staring at her, but I'm the curious type. So I get up; go over for a closer look. I'm the sole patron in the car, the guy behind the counter just stands there scratching at the back of his paper cap, wondering, waiting.
I heard a groan, so I knelt down at her head. "Miss," I said, "you drunk, or dropping dead, or . . ." She didn't move, so I put a hand to her shoulder blade--the blade, not the shoulder.
She jerked and rolled on her side to face me; she says, "Say! Not on the first date, buster." She slowly rolled back over.
The guy in the cap shared with me a shot of the wry eye, and then I said, "I could help you up."
She batted a hand toward me. "Leave me be."
"Fine. Nighty-nite then, Sister," I stood back to my feet. To the guy I said, "Sing her a lullaby, Mack. She might like that."
Oddly enough, she turned her face up, sneering a bit of a smile, with a trickle of blood running from the corner of her mouth; her cheek on that side was reddened, as if from a slap. She's pretty, 43 or 44. She smelled of gin. She sat up and said, "Moon of Manakoora." I looked at the diner guy as he came closer; he shrugged. Looking back down at her, I see she's pointing, "On the radio, ya dopes. Dorothy Lamour. That's my lullaby."
"Here," says the guy. "Let's get you up. This ain't a Pullman car, case you'd like to know."
"Nuts!" she said, pulling her arm away from his hand. "I can get myself up. Just bring me a cup of coffee." There was a chrome bar leading up the steps from the door. She had hold of that, and was managing to pull herself up.
I'm back at my table having a sip. She's standing up, still holding on, swaying some. The proprietor is handing her a napkin. "Here. Ya got blood on your chin."
She rips it from his hand, says, "Okay, doc. How long you give me to live?" She wipes the blood, looks at the napkin. Her eyes rise to mine, and they fix. She takes another look at the napkin and starts down the aisle. The napkin falls as her hands drop to my table. Now I'm fixed in that stare again. Her mascara has run some, but the penciled arcs at her brows are glamour magazine perfect. "Say!" she says, "If he comes in; if he finds me here, you'll stick up for me, won't you--you won't let him . . ."
"Sure, sure," I say, great hero that I am. "But you better sit down before you fall down." I don't worry about being original with my cliches. I always say, 'if the shoe fits wear it.' I stood up to help her into the opposite seat and this time she didn't pull away.
The man in a paper hat came with a glass of water, set it down in front of her. She looks up. "You Sammy?"
"That's me. Why?"
"It's on the sign, ain't it?"
"Say," he says. "You want I should call the cops?"
"No!" She turned from him to me. "Don't you do that. Leave it alone."
"Suit yourself," says he. "But I don't want any trouble in here."
A little blood was trickling again. I handed her a napkin. "Why, Sir Galahad!" she says. "How goddam gallant of you." She took it, dabbed her mouth a little.
"Who did it?" I asked.
The look she gave me was dark, hooded. She cracked a little smile. "You never saw that picture with Dorothy Lamour?"
"The one that song's from, ya dummy."
I shook out a match, looked at her, looked at her, and looked a bit longer at her, blew a stream of smoke over her glass of water, watched it undulate upward over the bulges in that thin coat she had on. She reached for my pack of cigarettes and shook one out. "Well?" she asks, waiting for a light. I tossed her the matches.
She took the cigarette to her lips and struck herself a light. "You're a real hard case, aren't you?" She blew that in smoke, right at my face.
"When it seems right," says me.
She tossed the matchbook down to the table; gave me a narrow look. "How come you ain't shaved?"
"Maybe I'm growing a beard."
"Or maybe you've been out on a bender."
What was this dame--some kind of clairvoyant? I asked her. "You got a crystal ball in your lap there? Or did you read it in my coffee grounds?"
"I can read it in your 90 proof breath, Buck."
"Ah . . . well, kinda looks now like I'm the one reading something from your past?" I nodded toward the door.
He was big, this bruiser coming in; his eyes slid around till they came to a stop on the back of this dame's head. One stride up the stairwell and three along the aisle; he was there, just behind her, his meaty mitt having landed on her upper arm. "Get up, Dolores. Let's go." She tried to jerk her arm from his grip but it was no good. He barked. "I said, let's go!"
Water was dripping from the brim of one of those over-sized fedoras. Never could figure what would make a big man think he needed a big hat like that. You figure that maybe in some big men, there's a small one trying to get out. I said, "Maybe you should let go of her."
"Shut up, shrimp." He showed me his teeth, ground them together to say, "This ain't your business."
"Stop it, Jake!" She was still trying to pull her arm back. "You're hurting me!"
"Stop it, Jake," I said. "You're hurting her." And that did it. He jerked his hand away to bring a finger toward my face. "I ain't tellin' you twice, bub."
"Well," I said. "I guess 'bub' is nicer than 'shrimp'."
"Oh, a wiseguy, eh?" His hand was balling into a fist. Sammy was halfway down the aisle, but he stopped, shouted:
"Say! I don't want no trouble in here. Take your Hell outside, Mister!"
When our nasty guest had turned his eyes back to me, he was looking into the bad end of some business that was mine: an Army issue Smith & Wesson .38. My elbow was steady on the table, the gun gleamed blue. I said, "Do like the man says, Jake. Take your Hell outside."
He turned to Sammy. "Hey! He's got a heater on me."
Sammy saw that and said, "Put that away!"
"When I'm done with it," I said.
"Do it!" says Dolores. "Shoot the dirty bastard. He's got it comin'."
"Shut up, slut!" He turned to me. "She ain't worth it. She's a whore. My whore. She works for me, see?"
I looked at Dolores for a second, then back at him. I said, "Kind of looks like the lady just quit the job on account of these lousy working conditions."
"Why, you . . ." his fist came up. I cocked the trigger.
"Now, wait a minute." He ran a hand over the front of his coat.
"That's too long," I said. "Try three seconds."
"She was holding back on me, see? Skimming off more than she had coming."
I said, "Take a look at what you got coming. Take a good look, because it might be coming sooner than you think."
He laughed between his grit teeth. He turned to Dolores. "Who is this chump? What are you to him, anyway?"
She didn't get to answer. I said, "I'm just the 'chump' that's going to drill one dumb gorilla full of holes, he don't turn around and walk out of here right now."
Slowly, his lips curled into a smile. "Maybe I don't believe you. Maybe I think you're just a lousy shrimp without the guts to put down that gun, and fight like a man."
"Maybe something else," I said.
"Could be I don't like being inconvenienced."
"Well, I'll show you some of that!" My gun went off just as his fist got cocked back for the punch. The shot went to his chest. Under the chin for the next, and out through the back of his head, clean as could be, seeing there must not have been much in there to get in the way.
"Jesus Christ!" Sammy looked down in horror. "You must'a killed him."
Taking my hat up off the table, I said, "Must have." I stood, put that on my head, pulled a fifty-cent piece from my pocket and sent it spinning on the table top. I was just about to the door when I heard the dame yell, "Hey! Wait a minute." I kept going; went down into the short stairwell, pushed against the door and stepped out to the street. The mist had turned to a light rain. I heard the sound of high heels clattering, and a shout, "Wait! Hey, wait!" Under the circumstances, that didn't seem feasible, though maybe I did slow down just a little.
Almost knocked me over when she collided, her hands coming to my arm, my waist. She was winded, but managed to say, "I got a place up around the corner."