Saturday, March 21, 2009

Crossroads by Keta Diablo

Frank passed through the doors of four billiard halls and left the last one with the disappointing thought the night would be a bust. In all the nameless faces he’d encountered in the last three hours, not one resembled Rand, not from memory or from the picture in his shirt pocket. He pulled the large metal door open and entered the fifth.

Paddy’s Place was a sanctuary for an eclectic mix of wayward vagabonds, slumlords, and tattooed motor heads. A handful of Goth disciples and prostitutes who hoped to turn a quick twenty, were interspersed among the crowd. Dark and smoky, a long, mahogany bar anchored the room with scattered tables and chairs reaching all the way back to the dark corners of the rundown structure. Neon beer signs flashed against the yellow wall over the bar, fluorescent pink, white and a brilliant cerulean blue.

Frank took a stool at the bar and checked out the exits. Two existed, the front door he entered through and another in back at the end of a darkened hallway. Several doors were ajar in the corridor, a restroom, he imagined, and another that possibly led to a cellar or a basement. The overall atmosphere loomed eerily creepy, even after Frank’s first shot of whisky.

A woman approached wearing fishnet stockings and a tight, black leather miniskirt. A long, gold chain hung from her neck, lost somewhere in the valley of her ample cleavage pushing through the low, v-neck black leather vest. Her eye shadow was blue and her eyes ebony, matching her mass of wild hair.

“Buy a lady a drink?” she asked.

Frank nodded her into the stool next to him. He had no intention of advancing beyond the drink, but maybe she had some information about Rand.

“You look a little out of place here.” She pulled a cigarette from her small bag and lit it. “First time?”

Frank gave her a nod. “Yep, I’m staying down the street at a hotel and needed a drink.”

The bartender placed two drinks on the bar, one for him and one for the hooker. The man seemed to take particular interest in his presence. His features were refined, his hair long and his mannerisms effeminate. A chill snaked down Frank’s spine before an image surfaced of a man dressed in billowing silk in a dimly lit room. In the vision, makeup masked his face and the long, stringy hair had been neatly coifed. A transvestite maybe, Frank thought. His inner eye nudged his brain in an attempt to transmit another vision, but like the one several days ago, it faded faster than vapors from a Turkish sauna.

It wasn’t often he could connect with his inner spirit while in a conscious state. Surrounded by interference―casual conversation, body movement, and the muted strains from the juke box―it didn’t surprise him. Something about the bartender left him discomfited. He didn’t feel physically threatened, but warning bells went off in his head nonetheless. A dark aura emanated from the woman-like creature when he picked up the ten-dollar bill and placed the change on the bar.

The prostitute pulled him from his reverie. “How about we take these drinks back to that room you mentioned and I tuck you in for the night?”

Fuck me for the night, you mean. “Thanks,” Frank said, “but I’ve got an early plane to catch. Maybe another time.”

About to show her the picture of Rand, a young, dark-haired man bounced down the hallway with a tray of glasses. He walked behind the bar and stacked them on three rows of shelves. The black-leather lady had already moved on to a muscular guy in a tank top and denim jeans seated to her right. Frank lowered his head and waited for the busboy to finish stacking the glasses, hoping to get a peek at his face before he left the room again. Déjà vu tore through him. He resembled the kid in the picture Emily gave him, but he had to see his eyes and he’d know for sure. If it was Rand, he hoped he didn’t recognize him, not until he found out what the damn fool was up to.

His break came when the boy turned and spoke to the bartender about bringing up another tray in ten minutes. Familiarity rang in his voice. It was Quinn’s boy, all right, and why in hell was he working in this dump?

Another character caught Frank’s attention, a barrel-chested, tall drink of a man with long, greasy hair and a thick, handlebar mustache. The man’s dark eyes pinned him from across the room. He stood in the shadows in back, curiously intent on what was happening around the bar. Frank dragged his gaze from Rand and ordered another drink. Before Rand scurried out from behind the bar, he nodded at the man across the room and ducked into the corridor again. The kid knew the man; there could be no doubt about that.

Frank’s tense muscles relaxed. At least Rand was alive, although he agreed with Emily. Something noxious was in the air. He felt it all the way down to his toes. He slapped a five on the bar for his drink, slid from the stool, and walked out the front door.

The alley behind the bar loomed dreary and dismal, marked by a foggy mist that had settled in. He leaned against the brick wall in back of Paddy’s Place and waited. After closing, Rand would walk through that back door and meander home. Wherever home was. Frank would wait all night if need be, but one way or the other he would find out where he lived. His hand drifted to his pants’ pocket. Everything was still there, the black hood, the gun, and the trusty little martial arts weapon. The effect of what he planned to do would be lost if Rand recognized him.

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