His nostrils are plugged up and in the bag of his throat is a thick sour taste. In his ears ring a steady high-pitched note and through the smoke he can see people moving past the intersection. He isn’t sure if they are coming towards him or away or if they are running or walking. He gets out of the van. No cars are coming down the street. There is no traffic at all. He doesn’t own a gun but right now he feels he should have one. The grocery store he was just in was now closed with a big metal gate shut down over its front. Gator tries to get his head right. He walks into the smoke and slows down when he thinks about other bombs. The smoke doesn’t stop rising but it isn’t obvious what exactly it is that is burning. The pavement? He starts hearing sirens and the ringing in his ears begins to calm down. The blood is what has his attention now. The smell is what’s clogging up his nostrils. There’s so much, everywhere, he can smell it coming off of the sidewalk and off the walls. It’s too much stimulation for his head.
The sirens begin to get louder and Gator thinks about what he looks like in the middle of the street sniffing at the air for blood. He goes back to his van, light headed from the smell. The sirens keep going but nobody has come yet. He wants to leave. What a mess. Now he has to wait to talk to someone and explains what he saw. He thinks about what he is going to tell them. He envisions the conversation, viewing it unfold from an impossible vantage point. Who he is, who the guy was, what he knew about him, why he was following him, about the client. He thinks about Aramis and the strange meeting underground, about Ramona and what she told him yesterday about the hotel. He begins to get paranoid and thinks about a set up, about crooked police and getting framed by a guy in a maintenance shirt. He puts the van in reverse but remembers he isn’t done with his job yet. He grabs his camera and hops back out. He takes a few pictures; the smoke, the apartment, the mess that could be seen once the thicker smoke has left. A lot of blood, blood and yellow stuff. He jumps back in his van and hits the gas until he can drive away on a side street.
His van zig-zags through the one way streets to the Olgatrail detective agency and Gator parks it beside the building hidden from view of the street. The building was ugly. It was not very tall, only seven stories, and the colour of brick was a mud brown. It was a perfect rectangle, except it lacked a sense of perfect symmetry. On the left half the building shared its foundation with an apartment building that was taller by at least five floors. On its right half the building was supported by six mighty square and white columns, similar to what you could find in an underground parking garage. Tenants parked in between the columns. The first floor of the building lacked a lobby or anything a regular office building would have in its entrance. It was merely a hallway with an elevator and a door beside it. The giant directory on the wall has the suite listed as the Olgatrail agency.
He still hears the sirens in the distance. He hurries inside with an eye on the street for anybody that’s following him. The office is empty and dark. He keeps the lights off and ignores all the papers and office supplies he accidently sweeps off a table when he walks by. He sits down on his office floor and then lays onto his side. He drifts asleep while wondering what the hell to do now.
The phone rings but he doesn’t answer. It takes him a while to remember where he is and what happened. He doesn’t know if it just started going off or if it’s been going on for some time now. He stays still. Gator lets it ring until it stops. He woke up on his belly, he must of flipped over without realizing. He feels just right, his heart beating so calm it’s hard to tell that it’s pumping at all. The room just the right temperature. He didn’t see a reason to get up at all. The phone kept ringing.
His memory starts to piece itself together and he remembered what happened earlier in the morning. The thought of who it might be calling puts a sinking feeling into his chest. He closes his eyes when the ringer stops and opens them again when it starts again seconds later. He pushes himself up off the floor and it feels unnatural. I should be on the floor with the dirt and dust, he thinks to himself. The phone keeps ringing but he doesn’t answer it right away. He walks over to the makeshift pantry Ramona made in the closet that they have their internet hooked up. It used to be a mess until his partner straightned it out and put in a mini fridge, a cabinet, a coffee machine and a electric kettle. He searches the cabinet and takes out a box of cookies and puts more than one into his mouth. He brings the package with him to his office, knocking a few things off tables and shelves as he walks by them.
The phone stops ringing when he sits down. He looks through the caller ID and sees the calls were from a blocked number. He puts more cookies in his mouth.
When the phone rings again he waits a couple rings before he answers.
- Olgatrail agency.
- It’s Ramona.
- Where were you? I was calling.
- I just got in. I was on the case I’m working on. Was working on.
- What happened?
- Did you hear anything about a bomb going off on Somerset this morning?
- No. What?
- The guy I was following. I saw him bow up, maybe, I don’t know, three hours ago.
- He blew up?
- He blew up right in front of me. I was waiting for him and he stepped onto the sidewalk and he-blew up. Exploded.
- I don’t know, Ramona.
There was a silence over the line. Gator was waiting for his partner to break the silence. He had nothing else to hell her. He eats another cookie.
- You talk to the cops?
- Felt strange. The whole thing. Didn’t trust them at the time.
- What do you mean?
- Felt like a set up. I don’t want to get roped into anything. I was only getting paid to follow him.
What do you think?
- Well, do you know why you were following him? What did the client want?
- Didn’t tell me. Just wanted a record of his movements. Where he went, who he talked to.
- Did you see anything?
- He stayed in his studio mostly. Looks like he has some errand boys that run out for him, get him groceries and what not. I snuck up to the window one night. Looked like a workshop, like an art studio. Looked like a bunch of sculptures around the room.
- Well. Go tell him what you saw. Tell him he blew up. That’s all you needed to do, right?
- Yeah. Seems fishy is all. I got out of there so I wouldn’t get framed or something.
- Well they can still come find you I guess, if they wanted to. I’m sure some body else saw what happened and saw you leave.
- I don’t trust it, Ramona.
- We need some money coming in, Frank…
- I know. I know.
Before going to the hotel Gator decides to eat lunch. There is a deli that caters to tourists in The Market. They have delicious sloppy joes. Gator has been thinking about the two he is going to eat all morning; thick bread buns with chunky red meat in between. Gushy tomato sauce. The accident this morning, or the explosion or whatever you want to call it, really raised his appetite in a way he isn’t proud of. A mouth-watering sensation creeped into his mind from somewhere else. His stomach had a painful sinking feeling. He is starving. He has been starving his whole life.
Walking into The Markets narrow bricked streets Gator notices a man on top of a milk crate talking through a mega phone. The voice sounded like it was coming from far away. It hung above the noise of the busy market but did not smother it completely. The man looked other-worldly. He was in what looked like rags but they looked thick and durable, like they could keep you warm through winter.
His voice, coming from someplace else as his lips barely moved - they quivered like a cowards -spoke calmly and prophetic.
What was not supposed to happen—happened.
What was to happen—has not passed.
What forces saved me? Was it good? Was it evil?
Two fresh and warm buns, puffy in appearance and fluffy in its texture, and in-between seasoned ground beef with a tomato sauce smothering; It’s what he needs right now. He eats them inside the deli standing up. He barely chews. A child looks at him in amazement and fear, but respect.
He’s satisfied for now. He can think calmly. He can think about Aramis and what to say to him. He has his surveillance log printed off and tucked into a red folder. Ramona helps him with the printer. He gets too frustrated and angry and she always worries one day he’ll turn violent against the machine.
Should be fine. His paranoia is inexplicable. He can’t think of a reason why-
he can think of a few scenarios actually. How likely are they?
1. He’s wronged a few people. It’s unavoidable in his line of work. He’s met with some shady clients; lawyers, managers, paranoid husbands and their suspicious wives. Some clients he couldn’t satisfy. Some results weren’t favourable to the other party, and maybe they didn’t forget who was involved.
2. Aramis set me up to be there. Made me follow the guy, set me up to be the patsy. Classic maneuvering and Gator fell for it. He hopes it isn’t this scenario just to save himself the embarrassment.
3. The police? He’s always stayed out of their way. A rival agency? There are none, at least that he knows of. He’s a dying breed of investigator. A walking dinosaur.
Who’s to tell? He can’t think of a reason why anyone would try to frame him. But how would he know the reason? He goes through the scenarios the best e can but the truth is that there are always blind spots or something you can’t account for.
His angle will be to get in and out, here’s what you asked for now give me what you owe.
Outside the deli the raggedy preacher is still on his milk crate continuing on with his paper-back philosophy. Outside the puddles are frozen and the sidewalk is peppered in salt. The weirdo is still on his box.
It sounded like he was coming to the conclusion of his speech. Gator must have missed its main thesis. It is festive on the street. Out of character for the type of town it is.
He walks up the wide-lane Government Street to the front of The Chateau Hotel and descends to the service corridors using the elevator behind the bell boy’s station.
It smells like an old church in the basement. It must be from the stacks of old furniture. The lights on the wall beam towards he ceiling so gator can barely see where he walks. The noises of moving wheels on laundry carts and food carts can be heard but he hasn’t seen anyone else yet. Gator remembers where to go but it feels like the walk takes longer than he recalls. The same office has the door open and inside Gator finds Aramis sitting across somebody else.
-Frank, come in
He steps over the threshold but stays by the door
-We were just talking about you
Gator hates hearing this
-Well here, you better read it because you wouldn’t believe it if I just told you
-I doubt that gator. I already know everything.
-Yeah? You know he’s dead? You see the news?
-Have you? There’s nothing on the news. It’s a slow news day. Some fire, some fluff pieces, politics as usual. Tell us what you saw, though. I have a hunch I know what it is. Did you lose him? He disappear? Into a cloud of smoke?
Gator didn’t like how it was going so far. He didn’t like there was a stranger here to listen to the debrief.
-Yeah, smoke. Smoke and fire. Guy exploded. He’s gone. Blood everywhere. Blood and yellow stuff. Look, here’s some pictures.
He throws the folder onto Aramis’ desk.
Aramis flips it open and looks at the pictures with a smirk. He places the written report on his desk. The stranger opposite Aramis looks completely non-threatening; a little pudgy man with a long coat. He hasn’t looked at Gator since he entered the room. And now that nobody is talking his silence is heavier.
-I take it you were worried? Gator?
-Look. I don’t know what you did to this guy. I don’t know why I was following him. I don’t want to. Here is my assignment. If it’s to your standards, send the cheque to my office.
He places a yellow invoice on the desk.
-Don’t worry Gator. This has nothing to do with you, nor does it have much to do with me. You won’t hear from me again.
He opens his desk drawer and Gator remembers the gun he saw there the first time he visited. Aramis pulls out an envelope and reaches across his desk to Gator.
- This was more than a fine job.
-I’ll have to take your word for it, I guess.
He takes the envelope and puts it in his breast pocket.
-Do me a favour, don’t refer me to your friends. I have a feeling there’s more to this hotel than I want to know and I’m old enough to leave it at that.
He leaves without waiting and walks the slippery street back to his parked van.
Gator notices that the roads seem darker on his drive home. The pavement itself was a deep black, like he was sliding along a void. He didn’t notice any cars around him nor any street lights. He could only see the deep black pavement and the beams shooting from his headlights in front of him. They didn’t illuminate anything, they just sort of lit up the dust, so Gator felt like he was driving at the bottom of the ocean.