By John Swan
Featuring John Swan
“Jezus H. How can she do that?”
“Practice,” Meg says matter-of-factly, watching the video monitor parked in a cracked bookshelf across from my desk.
I’m warming the squeaky-wheeled chair behind the desk, my head cranked sidewise for the action on screen. “Yeah but still…”
Meg’s barely listening. She’s less than matter-of-fact. Less, even, than bored. Meg’s attitude, her perfect ass gracing the bureau edge just right of my empty “in” tray, is one of frustration. Bordering on depression. We’re seeing all we’d hoped to see through the video recorder wired to the hotel room upstairs, but Meg throws back the heel of Heaven Heather Scotch I’ve poured her as if this is not a moment to savour. So far our blackmail scam’s been a bust.
“What’s with you?” I ask. “I mean, give the woman credit. Who’d have figured selling real-estate could make anyone so horny?”
“Well for starters, the guy on the bottom is her husband.”
“Okay, so there’s no point threatening to tell him. We take the story to the press.”
Meg shakes that off. “They’d never run it and she knows it. Sharon Meisels Real Estate is the busiest agency in the city. Big advertiser.” Meg turns her baby blues my way. “And forget the other two hard-ons. Before they go home they’ll be signing a lease for acres of empty downtown office space.”
I should be used to it by now, but I’m not. Meg learns more in one evening raising funds for the party machine and local charities than I ever did in my years as a cop. Maybe you know professional fundraisers as the minimum-wage losers who interrupt your dinner with a phone call every night, but the serious coin is turned at fancy-dress galas. Make a big donation and you may get to screw the flirty hostess of the charity ball. The hospital gets its new wing, the hostess gets her twenty per cent, and you get a tax deduction and your smiley face on the news channel as a public benefactor.
Meg trained as a model, and has gotten good at dressing up these affairs to seem more than what they are. I’d like to have her out of that game, but she has expensive tastes. Which is why I now focus my attention on the other two guys cavorting in the video monitor. “I don’t get it. Why wouldn’t we put the squeeze on them?”
“Because their big idea is to tap some economic development fund to open the world’s largest, downtown, indoor, miniature golf course. No money there, and never will be. Meisels will be banging somebody else to rent the same space within three months.”
There’s our problem. It’s tough to run the fuck-pad shakedown in a town where lawyers, sales agents and a relay of bank branch-managers make up the social and business elite. It’s starting to look like the only worthy targets around are the property developers and their city hall hacks who hustled public monies to restore this old, downtown hotel. The one with the basement office we’re sitting in right now, watching four contortionists through pinpoint video cameras and microphones we wired into the few select rooms on the twelfth floor during renovations, to catch said city elite with more than their hair down.
Understand, Meg pulled some favours to line me up this house-dick gig when she got wind of the developers’ plans. They took their money out up front, inflating estimates and diverting materials to other projects. Easy enough with me in charge of construction-site security. Money in the air then, enough to grease rooms full of politicos and still feed several Caribbean bank accounts. But you don’t shake down members of an organization like this unless you want to be in on the ground floor of their next project. Literally.
“We’ve still got those fifteen minutes of the mayor pulling his pud to the hotel porn channel,” I offer, hoping it might cheer Meg a touch.
“Who cares? Everyone knows already he’s a whack-off.” Meg slides her glass back to me for a refill. “Since Lewinsky, nobody gives a shit how some politician blows his chaff. Clinton ruined the entire public-official blackmail game.”
For sure. Seems the whole world’s in a footrace to hell these days. Closest Meg and I have been to a decent boodle was the TV evangelist, The Right Reverend Elliot T. Roberts. That had looked too perfect. Turned out it was. All these suburban saints like to go sinning in the core of a city next door and we had him at it. But instead of coughing up, Rev. Bob (the bastard) confessed to his wife. They repented together, on air, and announced plans to adopt the under-age street hustler Meg and I had hired to seduce the old billy-goat. Donations to his TV ministry have gone up ten per cent, if I believe the thank-you note he sent in reply to the stills we mailed him. We’re taping over his footage now.
“Wish you’d thought of all this before I put out for the video equipment. This pile of bricks won’t be open long enough to earn back the investment on gumshoe wages alone.” I pour for us both.
She smiles, leans back and gives me a peck on the forehead. “Quit worrying. The Royal Candu’s a landmark. No way city hall will ever let it close, even if they have to rent all the rooms themselves to keep it open. And I’ve got enough pull with the powers-that-be to keep you peeping through transoms till your arches collapse.” She picks up her glass. “Meantime, we’ll just have to think of something.”
So we go back to watching the video monitor. The thing that hooks me with Meg is I’m never quite sure what she’ll come up with next, or what I’m likely to do because I’m with her.
“You know, this stuff might have potential. There’s a guy in Montreal, Dick Thrill, might move this sort of product. Has a web-site.”
She looks back at me over her shoulder. “You’re kidding.”
“I know, I know. You should see him. Black goatee and moustache. Wrap around shades. Bald on top with the fringe down over his ears. Leans into the wind to look like he’s going places. Name’s a holdover from his days other side of the lens, before he married and got pudgy. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d guess the name’s made up.”
That earns a smile. “Who’s the clever-dick then?” she says. “But I don’t know. Our camera angles aren’t right. We’re set up to get faces and just enough of the action to establish what’s going on. Your Montreal guy will want close-ups. And look at how these bozos handle the finale. In the porno biz they’d pull out at the end, for the money shot.”
I throw back my drink. Who am I kidding? Savour doesn’t suit Heaven Heather. It isn’t anything like single malt. Probably bottled in Japan. “Suddenly you’re the expert?” I say. “Why don’t I call Dick in the morning? Can’t hurt to ask.”
Meg empties her glass again, shrugs. On the video monitor everyone is signing papers and toasting themselves with flutes of domestic champagne: an average business meeting if it weren’t four naked people dripping sweat. I turn the monitor off.
“Leave the recorder running,” Meg says. “Maybe we can make something out this.” She’s out the room before I can pull my hotel blazer on. Seems they don’t make uniforms in 3X.
I go downstairs and pass wind with Dink the aging doorman. Long as Dink can stay on his day-at-a-time program he gets to cadge tips hailing taxis and sending guests to out of the way clip-joints. Padded shoulders and epaulets hide Dink’s frailty. He leaves lifting the over-night bags to Richard or one of the other bellhops. “Share the wealth,” Dink always says, though there’s not been much of it to go round.
We compare memories of street life we’ve encountered, me once among the city’s finest, Dink formerly a test-tube sample of that street life, until I spot my main objective, Señor Curratore, stepping onto pavement for a smoke-break from his shop down the walk.
Señor may be the only sunbeam that shines on our old building, renting a sizeable chunk of ground-floor space for his large and fashionable beauty salon. He’s from the DR, but to call him a greaser would be impolite, inaccurate and get you a visit to the dentist taking a sub-let on the hotel’s second floor. Señor could not attract the tide of blue-rinse, sophisticate-queens that he does if they found him the teensiest bit oily. There’s a rumour he’s the illegitimate cousin of King Juan Carlos. No idea what fuels that.
I pull out a cigarette, wave it his way as I draw near. He lights me up. “You’ve been kicking-back to the desk clerk for hourly service in one of our best guest rooms,” I say.
He doesn’t ask how I know. “I admit it would be cheaper to lease by the month,” tobacco smoke trailing out his nose and mouth, “but each of my clients deserves only the finest. Clean sheets, fresh flowers and a mint on the pillow, always. For these services, I expect to pay.”
See what I mean? A born showman and class all the way. And if there’s any group has hold of a buck in this town it’s the gay crowd. They know ways to squeeze Sir John A. till his nose bleeds.
“But I will say I have been wondering how long before Mister Hotel Detective arrives at my door for his cut.”
That’s good; he knows how these things work. I pitch to his vanity.
“I’ll make it easy. Stop paying the desk clerk. From now on give me what you gave him, but you can earn that back. Guy with your talent can make out good.”
There’s a silence he wants me to fill with details. I tell him about the porno scam, offering a cut of sales if he lets us film his conquests. Strictly on the QT, of course, not to upset his clientele, but him in on it to subtly direct the action toward the cameras.
It’s my good deed for what’s becoming a pleasant day. The sun shines. Traffic is moderate. Only car backfire disturbs the pigeons shitting on bench-bums in the park nearby.
“The desk clerk, Anthony, he will be disappointed,” Señor says.
“Anthony’s been to Hotel Management School. He can move on if he doesn’t like it here.”
Señor pinches the coal from his thin cigar, turns to open his shop door.
“You’ll have to tell me sometime,” I say, “what you’ve got in there keeps you so busy.” I point my fag end toward his snug, chartreuse pants.
“Not to worry,” he smiles, hitching himself with his free hand. “Your cameras will not be disappointed.”
I butt out on the brick wall and head toward the hotel’s brass doors. Dink greets me halfway. “Qu—quick. Some–some–somebody’s been shot.” Dink collapses on the front steps, winded from his twenty-foot jog.
Inside, Anthony is trying his professional calm on a banshee maid. He’s got a hand on each of her shoulders, his mouth moving deliberately while his eyes dog me across the lobby. All elevators are at the twelfth floor. It’s where I go after calling one down. In the hallway to my left more maids and both bellhops smear fingerprints around the open door to room 1208. Guests should get this attention when they ask for fresh towels.
A woman in white sneakers, black stretch shorts and an oversized T-shirt that says “Canada’s Wonderland” on front, sits crying at the foot of the bed. Her ankles are bare. There’s a red sweatband round her head, another on the wrist to the hand holding a double-action .22 eight shot. Mostly good for plinking tin cans off fence posts, but deadly enough in close. I take out my handkerchief and gently remove the gun from her grip.
On the bed next to our jogger, two naked, leaking bodies approximate fellatio. Neither has a pulse. Curiosity slowly drags the hotel staff into the room. I order them back to the hallway and try the handle on the closed bathroom door. It’s locked.
“This is John Swan. Hotel security. It’s safe to come out now.”
“I don’t think so,” a female voice answers. “Not until we hear sirens and see a badge.”
“Anybody call the cops?” I ask the staff peering in from the hall. No answer. “Good. That’s my job. Richard, make sure nobody goes in or out. Use force if you have to, but I can’t see it’ll be necessary. Everyone in there is either scared or dead.” He starts a slow grin. “Don’t get full of yourself and thump any hotel guests like last time. The rest of you back to work, unless you’ve something useful for the police. Does anybody have anything to tell the police?”
Heads shake. I shoo the maids down the hallway, then ride the elevator to the basement, taking the murder weapon to my office. If anyone were monitoring my actions, they’d see me lock the gun in my desk drawer, and dial 911. Then they’d watch as I disconnect the video equipment and carry it from the room. They’d see me return to coil connecting cables out of sight behind the bookshelf. But there is no one to monitor my actions, so no one will have any reason to suspect the camera and microphone at the other end of the cables up in room 1208. They won’t even be noticed.
I head upstairs to greet the cops at the front door. I’ll take them up to 1208, then down to my office to turn over the murder weapon.
I can’t honestly say what Meg did after she left. No way I would know if she stopped to use a payphone in the hotel lobby, or on her route to wherever she went next. No way I would know without asking and I’m sure as hell not going to do that. But I do know she’s got a touch of promotional genius in her. Nothing will increase the demand for copies of that videotape, sitting in the recorder in the little-used cupboard down in the hotel basement hallway, like having the original introduced as evidence at a nice, juicy murder trial.
And if there’s a jealous housewife anywhere in this city, Meg’s the one would know.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (Fall 2001)
John Swan’s stories have been anthologized and published in literary journals ranging alphabetically from Blood & Aphorisms to Zygote. Another has appeared in Iced, the first anthology of Canadian hardboiled fiction, from Insomniac Press. A collection of his mystery stories, The Rouge Murders, was published by the Jasper Press in the summer of 1996 and Swan is currently working on his first novel, tentatively titled Sap. His spoof “Chiffon” was serialized in Prophile Magazine, and since made available as a chapbook. Swan lives in Hamilton, Ontario under a pseudonym, hosting Noir Night mystery reading events and developing his web-site, Murder Out There.