This month’s prompt – Random Fiasco*
It was early, an hour before I had to go onstage. I stood in the lounge trying to work up the nerve to approach my husband. He was in his cups again. Slumped down on a stool at the far end of the bar. Since he was fresh out of the big house and without a dime to his name, those cups of his were all on my tab. It was getting so Sal the barman couldn’t look me in the eye anymore, his cheeks burning with second-hand shame on account of my husband. The bum, the lush, the ex-con. Harry.
I took a cigarette from my purse, and fumbled for a matchbook. A meaty paw shoved itself into my eyeline, a lit match at the ready. I smelled bacon.
“You’ve come a long way, baby,” the voice attached to the hand said. McConigal. I said nothing and refused to turn my head to look at him. I did take the light, which encouraged him to keep talking, “Last I saw you, you was fan-dancing in a boardwalk cooch-show for nickels.”
“Yeah, and last I saw of you, you were squealing at a judge and getting my husband locked up.” I probably shouldn’t have said that, but he’d riled me. Him just being there was enough to do that.
“Well, Harry shouldn’ta got hisself caught, now should he? Besides, he’s out now. No harm, no foul.”
I glared at him. He tried on a smile that didn’t fit. The man was so oily I half-expected his face to slide right off and land somewhere just above his belt. I’d pulled myself up by my garter straps these past years, but the cop who’d put Harry away had treaded water, adding nothing but a fresh layer of oil and blubber to the scum that he was.
I turned away, walked to the bar and grabbed Harry under the oxters. We shambled out on deck together. I was hoping that the fresh air would sober him up some. I didn’t want him to see McConigal. I didn’t know what kind of game the cop was playing showing up here, and I didn’t want to find out.
I knew that part of Harry resented the way my life had changed while he’d been away. Mostly that he felt he’d had no part in it. Which wasn’t his fault. He’d been banged up a long time, and now he was having trouble adjusting to life on the outside. He’d gone from cramped quarters in the poky to the deck of this casino ship, the S.S. Rex, three miles out in Santa Monica bay. Adrift in endless ocean and sky.
I watched him, leaning on the guardrail, smoking, squinting back across the bay, and wondered how it was that I’d felt closer to him when he was away than I did now with him right here beside me.
It was his letters that did it. Made me fall in love with him all over again. Made me better myself. Took me from the boardwalk out into the bay. I still have them, every one. Tucked in a hat box in my cabin. I’d made a sachet out of a piece of one of his old shirts, filled it with sandalwood shavings, and put it in there too. Opening that box was like inhaling him, the old him. This new version smelled like rum and cigarettes. He’d lost weight in prison, gone wiry like a whippet. His eyes had an odd look to them too, like he was forever focused on the horizon. Anything in the foreground, even me, was in a kind of blind spot for him now.
And it was all McConigal’s fault. That bastard could have turned a blind eye to Harry. His cons hurt no-one that didn’t need to learn a lesson about greed in the first place. Harry was careful, too. Never took a mark for more than they could afford to lose. Trouble was, those who had money to lose howled loudly in the right ears once their embarrassment turned into rage. That was the only part Harry hadn’t thought through. McConigal took Harry down after a sharp decline in donations to the police benevolent fund. Turned out they’d been working the same marks, from different angles. That round, the badge won.
I heard a door slam shut behind us, and heavy footsteps moving across the deck. I didn’t need to turn around to know who it was.
“Nice view.” McConigal boomed, all bluster.
Beside me, I could feel Harry tense up. He spat over the rail.
“I come out here to see how you was, Harry.” McConigal said.
I made to say something, but Harry grabbed my arm to stop me. He turned around and grinned at McConigal, “Why, everything’s just peachy, Officer.”
“Detective.” McConigal corrected him.
“I help you get that promotion?” Harry asked, all wide-eyed wonder.
“Big case.” McConigal shrugged. “I figure I oughta thank you for it. Lemme buy you a drink.” He walked over and stood beside us, hand extended for a shake. The fool.
“Sure.” Harry said. He reached out, took McConigal’s hand, gripped it tightly, then pivoted and slung the fat man over the rail and into the drink.
McConigal wasn’t so great at treading water after all. Harry put an arm around my shoulder and we watched as the thrashing below us slowed and stopped, and the waters went quiet once more.
Harry lit a couple cigarettes and passed me one. I took it and leaned into him.
Somehow, he didn’t smell of rum anymore, and he never did again.
*This month, we rolled dice to choose from Fiasco playsets and to find our story scenarios.
The rolls for this story were:
Playset: (5) Los Angeles 1939, Film Noir
Relationship: (4) Romance (6) Current spouses
Needs: (2) To get even (1) With the lousy cop who burned you
Location: (4) Bay City (2) Gambling Ship S.S.Rex, three miles out in Santa Monica bay
Object: (6) Sentimental (3) Box of old love letters, with a scented sachet