Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Hotel California by Reno Ong

Read by Warner Sallman

The victim missed the pool by a couple of feet – just enough to put the word suicide in doubt. An obese Vitruvian Man, sprawled across the gray concrete in all his pale magnificence. Was he meaning to meet his maker the way he came into the world – perhaps not with his tighty-whities on, but almost as bloody? Maybe he was just looking for a midnight dip. Maybe he just missed. He probably wasn’t that great at the jumping. God knows, with that figure, he wasn’t exactly the stuff of Olympic dreams. Shame, with the right regimen and dye of hair – crimson really did suit him – he might’ve passed for someone’s Prince Charming someday.

The police were there, or as there as they could ever be. They seemed to be settling in all right with their dime-store coffees and equatorial waistlines. They’d given up, but then again they didn’t seem like they were trying to begin with. “A jumper, Jimmy,” the black one with the paedophile mustache offered. “All there is to it.”

“John Doe?” I asked, trying to add something to tomorrow’s paper other than “fat man jumps to his death.” He nodded.

The only other people on scene were the Mexican – oh, sorry, Latino ­– family running the place. The wife looked disturbed, though not as if she hadn’t seen anything like this before; I’m sure she saw a lot worse in Juarez. The husband, who I guessed had a name like Mario, just looked annoyed. What a waste of a good customer. He didn’t really care for IDs so long as they paid in advance, and the guy had paid for a week’s worth. He could’ve been a permanent transient who was looking to stay there until the end of time – that would’ve paid for Pedro’s first year at a technical college.

Ah, Pedro, standing next to daddy with all the excitement in the world. This was probably the most riveting thing to have happened in his life since Taco Bell started using Doritos taco shells. This was the stuff of college applications. He’s scarred. He’s not just an immigrant story any more; he overcame a traumatic experience in his youth and still got good grades at that inner-city slum they call a high school. He’s probably going to Harvard now. Corporate job, the whole shebang. Might get himself a Prius someday and a white picket fence. The American Dream, papi.

The other officer, who happened to be a Latino living a different sort of American Dream, pointed me to a staircase and hallway leading to the propulsion site. Room 206. Yellowing, but clean enough. No real sign of dishevelment. The only hint of occupancy was a wad of cash on the table next to a brass money clip – which really raised the question, why even have a money clip if you’re going to roll your bills like a drug dealer? That and a trail of clothes leading to an open window that I scarcely believed Moby Dick down there fit through. A flannel shirt, fashionably tattered jeans and a tweed blazer that looked a bit too good for this part of town. I thanked my Latino man in blue and headed back with barely an idea of what to write.

I started the story off as any magnum opus would – with a blank page. An obituary? Maybe he was a great man, who knows; a visionary, the next Kafka, Einstein or Ron Jeremy, at the very least. “John Jameson, 43, known for such innovative erotic works like How I Fucked Your Mother, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Fucker and the Smurfs Gone Wild franchise, has died. To some, he will be remembered as the pioneer behind fap cam and video dildo, which have become industry standards today. But for the most part, he will be remembered for his 10-inch gentleman sausage, which has helped his 50 plus films – over a career spanning 20 years – gross more than $27 million.” Could make the front page in this part of town. Nah, it’d probably make the front page. It’s either that or “Septuagenarian Turns 80. Pictures Inside.” I might even bag myself a Pulitzer for my services. That, or I could finally start writing my four-part series on Mother Teresa’s work with anorexic penguins in Tierra del Fuego. But maybe another day.

No, there’s not much to work with; might just end up with a short notice in the community classifieds, incidentally the most profitable part of our noble operation: “For sale: Jabba the Hutt replica. Almost as good as new; near mint condition. Slight damage to crown. Price on request.” Screw it, I told myself; it’s getting late. I typed up a blurb for the crime blog, or something that looked suspiciously like a 13-year-old’s MySpace page, and left the office when the night editors were starting to trickle in. I said hi and bye to the one I could tolerate, and headed across the street to the sorry excuse for a neighbourhood bar that is Barry’s.

The glorious, wood-laden establishment was the brainchild of a baseball reporter at our periodical of some repute. Minor leagues, of course; covered the minor leagues for a minor paper of a minor town in the valley. The place was cleared out, which wasn’t surprising. With an average age of 62 and a constituency of geriatrics who remember Custer’s Last Stand, the community would expect silence at 9 p.m. on a Friday. Though, to be fair, the demographic is skewed between the dying and the barely-legals from Nebraska looking to make it big as actors in Hollywood.
Usual spot at the bar, usual drink, on a not-so-usual outing in which something actually happened in the middle of nowhere. Jack on the rocks. Why not? Cheap, barely a tenth of what I made that day. A golden-haired gal, maybe a woman a few years in, had sat beside me, or was sitting there to begin with – not that I noticed or that it mattered.

“Buy me a drink?” she chirped. Barely-legal? Check. Nebraska? Maybe not. Carolinas, maybe. Southern twang. Her face was O.K. and perhaps deserved a drink or two, but her body seemed immaculate at that time of night. Not that it was late, yet something about visiting dead bodies screamed of a late night – which I probably smelled of, the dead and a late night, that is.

“What about,” I offered, mustering what little charm I had left from the day, “we go back to my place?” She smiled at me like a first-time hooker with a heart of gold, or that girl from high school chemistry – who thought I was cute, and whom I thought was cute too, but really I thought I could’ve done much better

"Whatever he's having." She beckoned to the barkeep with equal measures of veiled rejection and delayed gratification, which certainly didn't make her any less attractive, but nor did it bring me any closer to concluding this longest of twilights.

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