Tuesday, October 23, 2012


The elevator doors open with a forceful ding announcing to the lone man inside that he has reached the 216th floor. He swallows nervously and steps out into the hallway, his shoes clacking and echoing noisily on the italian marble, reverberating up into the mahogany and ivory lined rafters far above him. The heavy bronze doors shut behind him as if reminding him that he has an appointment and that he better not be late.

He clacks down the hallway and swallows nervously, straightening his tie and brushing the raindrops off of his jacket. As far as he knows the 216th floor should be the same size as all the rest of the floors. But it doesn’t feel that way. The hallway stretched on long and dark and smelling of amber and musk. When he finally reaches the door at the end he knocks gently on the redwood paneling.

“Yes, yes, the door is open!”

He pulls down the heavy bronze latch and walks inside.

The office is like a cathedral. Columns wrapped in carvings of vines and snakes and half naked woman run the length of the office toward the wide lancet windows looking out over the city. A thick carpet depicting some ancient Indian epic flows down towards the massive desk, an edifice of marble and granite like some primeval benben stone that the city is built on. And in many ways, the city is built on it. Blueprints are approved on that desk for new neighborhoods and skyscrapers. New laws are signed with that heavy, black fountain pen and sent to the mayor’s office.

“Rodney.” The disembodied voice comes from the high backed alligator skin chair that is facing out towards the windows, overlooking the city. “You’re late, boy.”

And the chair turns and there sits the man. The man who may very well be the most powerful man in the city. Possibly even the whole west coast. After all, he controls the main port points for all the bootlegging coming down from Canada through Seattle and from Mexico up through San Francisco. They call him Old Bailey, though Rodney may be the only one who catches the irony of the name itself.

“Why don’t you take a seat.” And even though there is not the slightest hint of a hard edge to his voice there is also no denying that it is an order, not a suggestion, and Rodney obeys as quickly as he can.

“You’re probably wondering why I callled you here today.” Old Bailey says and Rodney is about to actually answer the man but Old Bailey just keeps pushing on as if he doesn’t hear Rodney’s mumbled start of an answer. “Seems to me that you’re making some of the boys... uneasy.”

And Rodney waits a bit to make sure Old Bailey is done. The old man raises an eyebrow at him as if waiting for him to respond and so finally he does, “Oh, er, right. Sorry. I, uh, didn’t mean to, that is, er, I’m not sure...”

“Relax, kid.” He rings a bell on his desk. “What’ll you have? Coffee? Tea? Cognac?”

“Er, a bit of water perhaps?” Rodney sits at the very edge of his seat.

“Cognac it is.” And a side panel opens and a woman with dark skin and an ivory white suit steps in.

“We’ll be taking two cognacs, Jane. Thank you.” And as she steps back and the panel closes he turns and winks to Rodney, “Jane’s the best.”

“Ah, yes.” Rodney smiles apologetically, “Er, good servants can be hard to find.”

“Ha! Servant nothing!” And Old Bailey laughs as he lights the end of his cigar. “Jane’s my accountant and body guard. Only reason she’s acting as teaboy today is cause Trevor’s been out the last week with a cold.”

“Oh, er, good.” Rodney fails to hide his shock, “Er, excuse me for asking sir, but a woman for a body guard. I mean, that is. Is it entirely safe?”

“The safest.” Jane says as she’s appears behind Rodney and places the two glasses of Cognac on the table. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an important call to place to the mayor’s office.”

And Jane disappears just like that as Old Bailey whistles through his teeth, “She’s a keeper that one. Now, Rodney, I have to tell you. This is my third meeting with you this week and it’s not often I meet with people over and over like this. I feel like I’m starten to get to know you.”

And he pauses and Rodney decides this must be the place where he says something and so he says, “Sure” only to get the dirtiest look from Old Bailey.

“The problem is I don’t get you son. Why do you make everyone so uncomfortable?” He turns and lights a cigar, “I mean, I really don’t get it. I mean sure, you’ve got a couple of nervous ticks but who doesn’t in our line of work.”

And Rodney squirms in his seat like an eight year old in sunday school. He’s not sure but he doesn’t like the way the conversation is turning. Rodney places his hands on the edge of the desk. The look he gets from Old Bailey sends them right back to his lap. Then the sides of his chair. Then resting on his legs. He even starts to try and put them into his pockets but gives up and drops them back into his lap and his thumbs start the fidgeting again.

“Rodeny.” Old Bailey sighes, smoke seething through his teeth. “I’ve decided that maybe you should take some time off from family work.”

“W-what?” Rodney stammers, “But, but I can’t. I mean, why?”

“Because I told you, that’s why! Don’t make this about you Rodeny.” He puts the cigar down where it curls a viny tendril of smoke up to the dark vaults of the office. “The fact is, we’re getting too loud again. Cops can be bought, no mistake about that. But they can only turn their eyes so much before people will start fussing.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t follow.” Rodney looks down as if not following is his fault.

“See, people will let us get away with a certain amount of racketereering and bootlegging as long as it doesn’t affect them.” He draws from the cigar again making the end glow cherry red. “And cops will let us get away with as much as we want long as people don’t know that they are doing it. Or so long as people don’t care. It’s when people don’t feel safe enough with complacency that they start to demand civil reform and federal investigative committees and stuff like that. Trust me, kid. I’ve seen it all.”

“But what does this have to do with me.” Rodney looks down at his fingers as he asks.

“You’re not the only one I want to lie low for a while. I’m shutting down half of the San Francisco racket next week. Yellow Jack aint gonna be happy about it but that moonshine can sit in chinatown for a while without going bad. And we’ll buy it from him when we have some breathing room again.” And then as if catching himself he plucks the cigar from his mouth, “I shouldn’t even be telling you any of that. Maybe that’s it.”

“What is, sir?” Rodney looks up expectantly.

“Maybe that’s why no one likes to be around you. You’ve got one of em faces.” And he sticks the cigar back in drawing it till its nearly catching fire on the tip, “Those faces people just wanna tell stuff to. Hmmm, do you think that’s it?”

“Er, maybe.” Rodney hopes the uncertainty doesn’t carry through too much.

“Maybe.” And Old Bailey rolls the cigar around in his mouth as if testing the idea on his tongue. “Well, anyway, whatever the reason. Your thing, it’s what’s made you number two on my list of people who need to take a break. Go back to your day job. Maybe get a girl.”

“Sure.” And this time the uncertainty can’t be held back. “Um, is it alright if I ask a question?”

“Ask away!” Old Bailey says sucking at the cigar and blowing smoke rings.

“When will I come back?” Rodney tries not to sound too eager.

“Oh, the cops probably just need a couple of weeks for this new detective to wear himself out.” Old Bailey finishes the cigar and roughly grinds the stub into an elaborate crystal ash tray with a picture of a woman on it, “You like that? It’s the Greek goddess Pomona. Goddess of plenty.”

Rodney glances over at the naked image of the woman surrounded by apple branches and wheat fields.

“Yip, now they knew how to live, the Greeks!” Old Bailey cackles as he pours himself another drink, “They didn’t care about no excess or things like that. They drank and sang and danced naked around bonfires under the stars. And did other things out there too.”

“Oh?” Rodney has stopped paying attention again, his mind caught up by a whole other train of thought, “Like what?”

“Well, what do you think!” Old Bailey slams the glass down, “Women! Naked women! What else would they be doing! Anyway, unless you have some other questions you can go. I have another appointment.”

Rodney stands up as if in a trance, his mind still piecing things together. He walks hesitantly toward the door and pulls open the redwood with the heavy bronze handle and then stops. He knows he shouldn’t. He knows he should just keep walking. He knows he shouldn’t turn around and say it but he does anyway.

“Roman.” And Old Bailey scowls up at him with a questioning look. “Pomona. She was a Roman goddess.”

“Out!” Old Bailey barks and the door shuts just in time before the glass breaks on the redwood paneling.

Outside in the hallway that leads back to the elevator, Rodney is unsure of what he should do next. He hesitates in the dark. He knows he should walk down the hallway to the elevator and go back downstairs. But something keeps him.

“I knew you were stupid but I didn’t figure you had a death wish.” He turns and sees Jane standing in the dark of the hallway, a cigarette in her mouth.

“Oh, I, er, yeah, that was probably stupid.” He says looking down.

“What’s the matter? Never talked with a black woman before?” She asks, one perfectly manicured eyebrow raising as she blows a smoke ring to the ceiling.

“What, er, no, I mean, that is.” And he stammers backing up slightly as Jane places one ivory stiletto in front of the other advancing towards him, and he falls backward as he trips over the thick carpet.

Jane scowls as she stands over him, hands on her hips, shaking her head, “I don’t understand why you’re still working for the family, Rodney. You’ve got no spine. You’re completely incompetent with any kind of weapon. And yet you’re sulking about having to leave.”

“I wasn’t sulking.” Rodney swallows as he gets back up. “I was thinking.”

“About what?” Jane puts the cigarette out and crosses her arms.

“About what I should do next.” Rodney looks down at his hands as if the answer will be there, “He said to go back to my job. But I’ve never really had a job before working for the family.”

“The poor troubles and trevails of the entitled, advantaged, and high born.” She sighs, “Listen. Rodney. You can go and be and do whatever the hell you want now. You’re completely free! So, go! Do! Live! Dream something and then do it! I mean, when you were a kid what did you always want to be when you grew up?”

“A fireman.” Rodney mumbled and then looks up, “Or maybe a journalist I suppose.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way but I’m not sure if you’ve got the spine to run into burning buildings.” Jane shakes her head.

“I know.” Rodeny sighs into the darkened silence.

“But journalist. Now, there’s something. All you need is paper and a typewriter.” Jane steps forward and places a cool hand against Rodney’s cheek. “You have a chance, Rodney. A chance to leave all this behind and make something decent and good of yourself. A chance many people would kill to have.”

And then she proceeds to slap him hard through the face, “So don’t fuck it up!”

“Ow! Okay.” Rodney holds his burning cheek as he walks to the heavy doors and pushes the elevator button.

“And I’ll be watching you, Rodney.” She calls from the dark hallway behind him as he gets into the lift. “With a smile. And a gun in my hands. Remember that.”

“I will.” Rodney mumbles as he gets inside and then turns suddenly as he hears Jane’s sure steady voice.

This when the various God had urg'd in vain,
He straight assum'd his native form again;
Such, and so bright an aspect now he bears,
As when thro' clouds th' emerging sun appears,
And thence exerting his refulgent ray,
Dispels the darkness, and reveals the day.”

And as Rodney hears Jane’s last words he mumbles to himself, “Ovid. The Metamorphoses. Book fourteen.”

And then the heavy bronze doors of the elevator rattle shut and Rodney is trapped inside the gilded mahogany and velvet box as it rattles and shakes its way down from the 216th floor down to the lobby and the cab waiting in the rain to take him to the Weekly’s headquarters and to turn in his first piece of his new life as a journalist. Or so Rodney thought. What happened instead was that as he stepped out of the elevator a car proceeded to smash through the glass front doors and skid across the lobby, knocking over plants and urns and doormen in the process.

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