The November Featured Writer is Jack Halliday
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I suppose I fell in love with her the first time I saw her.
The flight had been uneventful and the rental was actually ready on time. It was the right model and everything. A lanky fellow with bad skin and oily black hair greeted me. He slid the contract my way and I signed it dutifully, forced a smile and began the half-hour drive to the hotel.
The number 801 was inked prominently on the plastic room key-card. I snatched it up, tapped it a few times against my five-o’clock-shadowed chin and sidestepped a too-eager hotel employee looking for a tip from me for allowing him the privilege of doing something slower than I could.
Although I had been here many times, I never could get used to the pictures decorating the hallway. Black and white, yet just as interesting as if they had recently captured some newly discovered wonder of the world this very morning.
Time had marched on and thousands of gallons of water had poured into the Niagara River in a sort of inarticulate wedding serenade to the nameless and faceless copulating couples who had begun their marital journeys on the Canadian side of this famous little town. It had worked its magic for us too.
I lay on the bed, remembering.
She always loved the wax museum. It absolutely amazed her, the craftsmanship of the entire affair. How she used to marvel at the rich and famous, captured by wax and tool! They were frozen in time and place, for the entertainment of seeking and searching eyes that would never actually view their flesh and blood counterparts. I felt her elbow in my ribs the evening she asked me when I thought we’d be looking at her likeness. We both had a great big laugh over that one.
I learned long ago how to ignore demands of any kind from anyone. My father had taught me that.
“A man’s attention comes at a price,” he used to bark. “And that price varies with the worth of the man.”
Needless to say, he considered himself “priceless” and very rarely let anyone capture his full attention for any appreciable length of time.
It was arguably the greatest and most fulfilling month of my entire young life. Yes, I was young then. We shared a bond unlike any we would ever have with any other person. And yet, for different reasons, neither of us even knew each other’s real names.
The air was getting cooler now and the crowds were beginning to thin out some, but I couldn’t seem to find the energy to get up and go on back to the room. That room, with its manacling memories, was my master. It had been that way since the day I’d found the note.
Just like a scene from a movie, she’d left a pale pink envelope on my pillow just before she left town without so much as even a hint of a warning.
I’d gone out for a local paper and planned on reading it over a cup of coffee in the room. I knew she’d be out until late because of her work. When I opened the door, there it was, the note center stage on the bed that had been carefully made by the early morning cleaning crew. I quickly scanned the room for any hint of her lingering presence. There was none except for the faint aroma of perfume on the envelope and the lipstick-kiss on its underside. Not only the air in my lungs, but the energy of my entire life itself seemed to sigh out of me as I lay back on her pillow, snatched up the letter and then began to read its contents.
I considered the idea of a conspiracy theory preposterous of course, but also found it difficult to believe that she would deliberately concoct such a tale. What possible motive would she have? And why share the information with me? But, as I said, I could think of absolutely no reason why anyone would want to wish her physical harm. No one could possibly want to destroy such beauty.
I was a prisoner in self-imposed isolation from life and really living it. I only lived for August. One month that brought love into my heart, and, eventually, murder. Here I was some sixty years later, still stubbornly stuck in the past, clutching at a memory as ethereal as the smoke from the dying embers of my cigarette.
Sixty years ago I went on with my life, matured and mated, and took on all the trappings of life as it’s normally supposed to be lived. But always, in the inner recesses of my mind, the contents of that note remained. And the name.
“Sal Lombino,” she’d written. “If anyone is ever involved in any violence toward me, it will be him.”
In getting on with my life, I learned the trade and did my part in the family concern without too much anxiety over her. Almost a decade passed, without even a hint of her suspicions and fears having even a remote possibility of being fulfilled. The beautiful woman lived her life separately from mine, still alive.
Although we no longer saw each other, there was no bitterness on either of our parts, as far as I knew. I had kept abreast of the important facts of her life, including her failed marriages and work success. But for the most part, she drifted into the background of my mind as I sought to live my life without her, pouring all of my energy into “making it” according to the common definition of the term in corporate America.
The various stories were so conflicted that I eventually hired my own private investigator, to no avail, it seemed. The contents of her note now stood out in bold relief in the very forefront of my mind.
I began to do my own investigating, primarily into the life and times of Sal Lombino. It wasn’t long before I finally had enough material to connect the dots in a series of events and innuendos that did, in fact, involve his business and political associates. I came to the very sad and sobering conclusion that she had, indeed, died at the hands of someone in Sal’s employ.
It’s difficult to describe the process that takes you out of your comfort zone and catapults you into another life altogether. But it happens, usually without your permission. At least that was my experience.
I knew that I had to acquire retribution for her and closure. I couldn’t live with the thought of such beauty cut down and destroyed. And I knew that that meant I would become involved in a degree of violence I’d previously known only from motion pictures and television dramas.
Sal Lombino was completely alone in the imposing domicile. He wore a satin smoking jacket, a ring on every finger and a gold chain around his flabby neck, sparkling as it lay nestled among his graying chest hair. His salt-and-pepper hair was a close-cropped crew cut. As he stood to greet me, he resembled a crude caricature of a Hollywood agent.
He opened a cigar box next to his desk blotter and lifted one of Cuba’s finest out and toward me. I declined, his smile faded and he motioned for me to sit down.
He went slack-jawed, eyes wide and instantly bereft of either anger or attempted intimidation. A halo of smoke and the odor of cordite surrounded him like the spray from the Falls you feel as you pass under them on one of the scenic boat tours.
And then I knew I could return to the present, at least for one more year.
The hotel corridor was cool and quiet and I nodded with appreciation at the black and white photos on display in the hallway as I wheeled my suitcase to the elevator. Yet another blast of air conditioning greeted me as the doors opened and I approached the registration area of the hotel’s well-appointed foyer.
Her eyes twinkled as she said, “Have a wonderful day, Mr. Lombino, Jr.”
Jack Halliday is a published author, optioned screenwriter, multiple contest winner & finalist and consulting producer, based in the Midwest. His stories have appeared in Hardboiled Magazine as well as several digital anthologies. His first fiction book, Kawanga/Swan Song and Other Mystery Stories, was published by Wildside Press as their “12th Mystery Double.” His new noir mystery novel, The Big Bluff, will be out soon.
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