Gator gets to the hotel earlier than he was expected. He waits outside where the rain has stopped and it has been dark now for a few hours. The street lights shine orange onto the sidewalks and it’s busier than usual. He watches the crowds of tourists go by, stopping to take pictures of the hotel shaped like a castle. He decided to go in and get it over with.
He walks into the hotel and nobody tries to stop him walking into the service elevator and into the underground tunnels of the large hotel. The basement is a different existence; with corridors that build a maze, extending beyond the ground floors of the hotel, past Sussex and reaching out into The Market underground. The corridors are narrow in some spots but wide enough in others to drive a golf cart through. The walls are dungeon-like and rough. Overhead are the bare pipes rushing sewage in one direction and water in the other. Along the walls are stacks of old furniture and big wooden crates from a long time ago. Gator hears voices coming down the corridors in a garbled language from an unseen crew of people. He follows the directions in the letter that was sent to him; listening to his own footsteps and the scurrying of the mice racing by the walls. He walks and walks and the turns in the halls disorient him. He doesn’t know how far he is from the elevator. He keeps going, not seeing anyone else but hearing voices bouncing off the walls. It’s just him and the mice that are scurrying as if they are following him. He catches his shadow on the wall and it frightens him for a moment. He’s so big he’s been ducking his head and arching his back and his shadow looks like the wall painting of a serpent.
Finally, he finds the office. It’s the size of a storage closet and probably should be one. Nobody is in it. There is one desk with a computer on it. On the surface of the desk is a big calendar and strewn around are papers and bolts with nuts and other screws. There are two chairs, one behind the desk and the other right by the door. Gator tries to sit down in the chair beside the door but he finds it too uncomfortable. He goes back into the hallway to stand by the door.
I hope I don’t wait long. I hope it’s worthwhile.
I hope it won’t be boring, like following his wife to some other guys house.
There are moments where it’s quiet in the underground complex and others where it’s loud. The echoes of machinery hum through the tunnels like the breath of a large beast in deep slumber. Prehistoric hibernation.
I’ll call Ramona in the morning to tell her I came anyway. She will be happy there’s something for me to do.
He keeps waiting and starts pacing around so his legs don’t hurt. He wonders who this Aramis is, and after making sure the coast is clear he returns to the man’s office. He looks over the papers, nothing that speaks to him. He opens the drawers in the desk and all except the top one is empty. Inside is a gun, along with some paper clips, pens, assorted office junk. Beneath it all are some more papers in a folder, but Gator doesn’t try to read them because he doesn’t want to touch the gun. He shuts the drawer and steps back into the hall. Something doesn’t feel right.
Nothing that day has felt quite right. Gator can’t remember waking up. And seeing that car crash feels like it happened weeks ago or inside of a dream. That gunfight too, in broad daylight. He wonders if he should just leave, all of these have been bad omens. He could come back tomorrow or another day, pretend like he hadn’t seen the envelope.
Around the corner turns Aramis. He’s wearing black work pants and boots with a white golf shirt tucked in. On his belt are a radio and a big ring of keys.
“Sir. How’re you? What can I do for you?”
“I’m looking for Aramis. My name is Frank I’m from the detective agency.”
“Ah yes, yes, please buddy come in, come in. Have a seat.”
Gator stays standing in the doorway while Aramis sits at the desk.
“Thanks for coming.” He puts his feet up onto the desk. “Is it still raining outside?”
“Yes, it is. I don’t think it will stop soon.”
“Better than snow! Can you believe we haven’t seen none yet?”
“No. It’s unusual. I don’t mind I don’t do well in the cold.”
“Haha yes, the cold it’s brutal.”
They stay in silence for a minute as if they had no business to discuss. Gator doesn’t like getting too friendly generally. He wants this to be quick. The sound of dead space makes him uncomfortable.
“Hmm yes, well it definitely will come. That’s what you can bet on living here. But anyways thanks for coming. I wasn’t sure when to expect you and see I work nights so I just can’t come see you during the day. Sit down please, sit!”
“I’m ok I prefer to stand.”
“Come on, please.”
Gator doesn’t say anything.
“Be my guest come on.”
“No. I, uh, I don’t think I fit in the chair it’s ok, I’m ok to stand don’t worry, it’s good, I can stretch my legs.”
“Ok buddy, no problem. You want a drink? Water?”
“No, I’m ok, thanks.”
“You sure? I have a little refrigerator under here. I have water, juice, I have beer if you want.”
Gator didn’t notice the mini-fridge when he was behind the desk. “No thanks, I don’t drink. I actually don’t have that much time; would you mind telling me about the note you sent us?”
“Ah yes of course. I don’t want to waste your time. I have to get back upstairs too in a bit, the action never stops around here. Always asking for more and more this old hotel. You know it might be haunted? Is what they say. Anyways, the job. The job, it isn’t hard. But, I think I need someone like you to do it.”
He opens the desk drawer and takes out the folder underneath the gun. It’s done in a way where he doesn’t try to hide the pistol. He puts the folder on the desk.
“Inside are photographs of a person I need you to follow.”
Gator takes the folder and opens it to see a picture of a young man with black wavy hair. It looks like a mug shot but less serious. Could be from an ID card. Another photo is of the same man, taken from a security camera. Lastly is a better photograph of the man, a close up of him while he’s out somewhere. He looks relaxed.
Gator keeps studying them, “is he fucking your wife?”
Aramis laughs from his gut. He really thought it was funny. “No, no Frank nothing that simple. Well, what I want you to do is simple. Just follow him, see where he goes, who he talks to. Try and find what kind of business he is in, how he makes his money. What he does for fun.”
Gator kept looking at the young man in the photograph. “For what?”
“That is nothing for you to worry about.”
“I mean if you kidnap this kid I might worry about it.”
“It’s nothing like that. My associates and I just need to know more about the fellow. It’s about business, as usual. No one will get hurt here. That’s what you investigators do right? Follow people? Figure things out?”
“Sort of. Ok look I can do this if you are willing to pay. It depends how long you want me to follow this guy. I would say two weeks minimum to figure out his habits. And I won’t be cheap, I would rather do other work than follow someone if I were to be honest with you.”
“Money won’t be a problem, just come drop off a bill. If you need to talk you can come find me here, I am here every night. From what I know this guy goes to the university, you might be able to start there.”
“Can I get a name at least?”
Although it had been raining all day the pavement was dry when Gator walked back to his minivan. The clouds were gone now and the moon was very far away.
He will start the case in the morning. For now, he will go home and rest and maybe feel normal in the morning. He drives off east and is the only car on the highway as the orange lights pass one by one by one by one overhead into the deep night.