The Royale by Larry Flewin

I’m a writer. It’s what I do for a living. Got a desk, a chair, a typewriter and a sink. A crummy one room hole on top of a bar. I watch the place when it’s closed, and in return I get to drink myself stupid in between paragraphs. Used to be a copywriter, and a damn good one, too. Seems you can’t get pissed and write at the same time, or so they said.

Haven’t shaved in a week, haven’t washed for two, got this damn article for a rag across town to finish. Deadline was last Monday, but I pleaded a coupla extra days to finish my research. That’s a laugh. I close my eyes and imagine my research assistant wiggling her tight little ass all over town for me. Right after she slaps my face for about the millionth time, I snap out of it and start punching out some money on the old Royale.
You work for yourself when you write. It doesn’t pay well, you don’t have many friends, and the few you do usually need bail money. But more than that, it’s all about the one big story, the one big money maker that’ll sell like hot cakes and see you on easy street for the rest of your life. We all know we have one in us, or we think we do, and we’ll drink ourselves to death trying to prove it.

I was miserable and feeling sorry for myself, as usual. I’d just blown my last quarter on a steak sandwich and pie, so now it was back to the hole and another night in solitary. Just me and the Royale. And the rain didn’t help much. More of that light misty crap that froze you to the bone.
And it didn’t seem to matter much which way I went, either. Maybe that was it. Same bricks, same mortar, same damned doors. Except for this one, the yellow one. Could have been the back door to hell for all I knew, except for tonight. It had a stiff in front of it. The one I tripped over.

Son of a bitch. I got up off of him, cursing a blue streak. Kicked him the ribs.
“Hey, asshole, what the hell’s your problem.”
He shifted him off his side and onto his back. The big red bloodstain in the middle of his chest wasn’t hard to miss. I dropped to my knees beside him, staring at the blotch as it began to widen under the power of the rain. Not to say that I was surprised, but the dead aren’t something you meet every day. I leaned over his face and looked into his eyes, half expecting them to blink or something. Nothing. I couldn’t hear a breath, and he felt cold even on this warm night.

I coulda left him, and now that I think on it I probably should have. But right at that moment my last shred of decency somehow came out of its shell. Maybe it was the steak coming back up, or maybe I was scared of dead people, but the urge to do something grabbed like a dog on a rat. Shook me up something awful, and all I could think of was go for help.

The door refused to answer my kicks and my curses, nor did anyone else for that matter. I coulda killed him myself ten times over and still no takers. Figures. There never really is a cop around when you need one. Every writer knows that cliché. I mean I musta covered six blocks after that, but not a soul to be seen. What, did people melt in the rain or something? Trouble was my new friend had the same problem.

I got back, after what seemed like forever, only to find him melted away too. Damn. l coulda sworn he was stiffed right out in front of me, cold as the grave, and dead as a doornail. And that big red stain. A blind man could have seen that. Big as a dinner plate and ruby red. So where did he go. I didn’t wait to find out.

It wasn’t until I sat down the next afternoon, to crank out my next meal, that I realized I had no more meals. I had managed to drink my way out of most of the in baskets around town. And the few that still put up with me were starving themselves. Another form of writer’s block. I wasn’t about to go thirsty, but a liquid lunch could only take you so far. I had to have something on paper to get paper.

I don’t suppose Hemmingway ever looked out his window and cursed the world. But I did, a lot. Usually at night and never sober. It’s different during the day. There’s a helluva lot goes on out there, none of it paying attention to the idiot with the open mouth. The idiot who can see, in the daylight, that he has a helluva a view. Including a yellow door that eats dead bodies at midnight. And that’s when this all started.

I raced back to the Royale and shoved the back of Chinese menu into the rollers.
It had all the elements. A man on the run, a stiff, a door, and a dark and stormy night. What editor wouldn’t cough up for a fresh idea with a local twist? And if I was really lucky, and really sober, maybe a desk and chair to go with it. It was still the only game in town as far as I was concerned, and I wanted back in. Bad enough to sell my soul if it came to that. And I was the only one with an angle that just might just be enough.

Menu’s littered the floor as I cursed the ribbon through her first thousand words. For the first time in months I was on a roll. Not fuelled by booze, or driven by hunger, but fired by enthusiasm and spirit. Damn but it felt good. Hunt and peck was a deadly slow way to type but the words were starting to fly off the page again.

It was dark by the time we were done and no amount of window gazing could go make her go any further. There was nothing else to say or do no delectus corpi’s, no nothing. Until the next day.

When god or nature or whomever it is that watches over you boots you in the ass, they mean well. At least in my case they did. I was up at the crack of dawn, stone cold sober and raring to go. Hadn’t seen a sunrise since I could remember when. And I couldn’t get over the amount of life living outside my window. Noisy as hell, and all in a hurry to get somewhere. And that somewhere included my mystery door.

I watched in silence as a parade of suits came and went for most of the morning. Snappy dressers all of them, and armed with suitcases, a smile and a secret knock. A knock that opened up on my mystery, drew them in, and spit them out only a short time later. Again, and again, and again, until I lost count. Not that it mattered much, but it was enough to fuel the imagination, and another thousand words of wit and wisdom. I had visions of offices dancing in my head.

But what did matter was the reason behind all this. What in the hell were they doing all day, and why. I watched that damn door for a whole week, and still the same parade. It started ragging on me, not knowing. It was the old missing piece of the puzzle cliché. I had everything else figured out, or least invented enough, to get me in a coupla doors. What I really needed now was something to wrap it all up nice and neat with, something to grab an editors attention.

Which is why I found myself outside that door the very next day, cleaned, pressed, and ready to roll. It was a simple enough plan, waltz in like I owned the place and give it the once over twice. At best I’d waltz out again, and at worst all they would was throw me out. Just another guy who got lost.

Smoking was one of those vices that had a multitude of uses. It calmed the nerves, kept my hands busy, and gave me that certain air of innocence. I spent an hour flicking butts into the street before getting up enough courage to do what came next. After case #14 came, knocked, and went his way, it was my turn. The door opened, I stepped in, and there it was. A one room cubbyhole with a desk, a chair, a sink, and a little old lady behind the typewriter.

“May I help you?”
“Uh yeah, uh…..yeah”
“Do you work here? I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”
“Uh, yeah I do. I’m, uh, here to, uh, pick up one of the cases. You know, for                      delivery. I’m kinda new. It’s my, uh, first day y’know.”
“Really. I’m not expecting anyone new today. You’re not on the list are you?                     What’s your name? Can I have your name please and I’ll just check.”
“Oh Mr. Farnsworth.” She half turned to query the closed door behind her.
“Yes?” came a muffled reply
“Are you expecting someone new today? I’ve a gentleman here who’s asking.”
“Yeah, some guy named Baldwin. Sean Baldwin.”
“Are you Mister Baldwin by any chance?”
“Uh, yeah, actually I am. Call me Al.”
“Very well, Al, please take that case, that one over there, by the door. You can                  work the Northeast for today, until we can figure…..”
Bingo. Hello writer’s cramp.
“Okay, thanks. I’ll uh, be seein’ ya. Bye.”
Like candy from a baby. I turned, picked up the case, and yanked open the door. Two steps and it was Pulitzer prize time.
I froze.
“You’re not Baldwin. Who the hell are…..?”
I ran…..
“Come back here, you!”
…right into the arms of the law.
“Hey buddy, watch it. Where do you think you’re going?”
“Officer, arrest that man!”
“But I swear it, officer, it’s the truth.”
“And who do you work for again.”
“No one, I’m independent. I’m working on a story.”
“Uh huh. No one. And you steal cases for no one.”
“I didn’t steal it. I was gonna bring it back, honest. I just wanted to know what, that’s all.”
“Know what, that you’re an idiot?”
“Whatever for,” queried a puzzled Farnsworth. “It’s not valuable or anything. It’s just a sample case.”
“It’s worth dying for, that’s what for.”
“Excuse me?”
“Coupla weeks back, some shmuck bought it right outside your door. I was there, I know.”
“Whaddaya mean you know. No one else knows about that.”
“He does.”
“No he don’t. Mr. Farnsworth here is a respected businessman. He’s clean. Got nothing to do with Johnny B?”
“Johnny B?”

“Yeah. It was one of his boys got dumped here last week. Right after the Connery hit. Word goes out but nobody knows nothing, nobody says nothing. Johnny B’s pissed. Got a lotta people asking a lotta questions. And then you show up outta nowhere.”

“But I told ya. I live across the street. I can prove it. I got my writing and everything.”
“But you don’t work for nobody. Said so yourself. Got no money. No one knows who you are.”
“Shut up. Let’s go…”

The slamming of steel on steel echoed down the concrete canyon like pistol shots, all but overwhelming the clack of the keys. I pressed harder and faster. I had it all figured it out now, but I was running out of time. The murmur of voices and the shuffling of feet faded away, but I didn’t care. I had what was coming to me, and it was finally down on paper. Easy street was on its way.

“Hey you, get your ass out here. It’s time.
“No wait, not yet, I just gotta finish this. I figured it out. I figured out how to….”
“Door’s open. You got 20 left minutes is all and then it’s back to the hole.”
“But I know how it ends. I got it all figured. I know what was in the case, how the body comes into play.”
“Yeah so, didn’t do you any good last time.”

But I wasn’t paying any attention. I’m a writer. I’ve got a desk, a chair, a typewriter, and a sink. A crummy one room hole……..

The End