Hard Up! A Tale of Champion CityJ. Walt Layne / Actions & Adventure / Mystery & Detective
FROM THE PEN OF J. WALT LAYNE
A Tale from Champion City
by J. Walt Layne
Published by Pro Se Press
Part of the SINGLE SHOTS SIGNATURE line
This book is a work of fiction. All of the characters in this publication are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. No part or whole of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the permission in writing of the publisher.
Copyright © 2015 J. Walt Layne
All rights reserved.
It was after midnight when I cruised into Champion City. I’d left Santa Monica thirty-nine hours before and had stopped twice on my way across the country, to piss in Pueblo, Colorado and to buy smokes and eat a bite at the Flying Wheel in Davenport, Iowa. Needless to say, I was dragging.
I’d come to Champion City to cool it. One of the west coast outfits had a beef with an associate of mine and that associate had wound up watching the grunion run from under the sand. A couple of their heavies planted him a hundred and fifty yards from where I’d been playing bed sheet bingo with some outfit cat’s old lady. That was life in insurance fraud.
I was in my skivvies drinking coffee and admiring how good this broad- we’ll call her Pam- looked in my half buttoned shirt, bent over the stove making my eggs benedict, when the detectives knocked on the door. They insisted on coming in to ask a bunch of stupid and misleading questions. We didn’t have any answers and explained that we’d gone to bed early but hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep, they skulked around a bit and took off.
As soon as they left, Pam gave me one for the road and I wheeled out of there like a rocket sled on rails. I didn’t look back. I knew hindsight would only lead two places - dead on account of the dame, or San Quentin on account of my now dead associate. He and I weren’t that close. I was considering whether Pam El Dora was worth ending up in a box. Ix nay on that number also, so I kept on driving.
The rain was letting up as I pulled into the Motorway Inn, an anonymous and impersonal little motel that had a near full lot and a vacancy sign. I took a spot near the back and turned off the engine. I looked around the lot and there wasn’t anything moving in the amber glow of the sodium lights. I got out and made a bee line for the door under a sputtering neon sign that noisily buzzed - OFFICE.
Inside I rang the bell for service, as prompted by a card taped to the tiled counter. Less then a minute later the clerk appeared from around a corner where the pulsing glow of a television backlit the darkness. He moved slowly and deliberately as if every step took a separate thought. He smiled a little and when he leaned over to get the register I saw the cauliflower on his left ear. He handled the heavy register with ease, sinewy muscle was still evident on his wiry frame.
He didn’t ask any questions, just pointed to where I needed to sign. The room was ten dollars a night. I laid out the sawbuck and he put it in the till. He wrote out the receipt and slid the key to room 15 across the counter.
I handed him a fifty, “If I get any phone calls or visitors, you call my room before you tell them anything?”
He nodded, “I’ll help you, I ain’t no waste. They treats me like I’m a waste cause I can’t fight no more. They let you kill yourself just to hear them call out your name, then forget you soon as it’s over.”
I nodded, “You ain’t no waste. Just remember, you call me before you send anybody my way or put any calls through.”
He nodded and held up the fifty.
I heeled out of there and went to my car. I drove around the side and found the room. I parked between a twenty-foot Rent a Truck and a flatbed loaded with hay. I took my bag off the back seat and pulled my piece out of the glove box and stuffed it in my waistband. I hoped I wouldn’t need it but hope hadn’t got me a lot of places.
The sky opened up as I crossed the parking lot. I held my bag over my head as I fumbled the key into the lock. I turned it and the door opened fast under my weight. I fell into the room as the downpour became a torrent.
I shuffled out of my wet clothes, wiped down my piece with a dry towel, and put it away. I got in the shower and soaked my head for a while. The hot water washed away forty hours of road stink, guilt, and more than a little musk of Pam. I wondered if I’d get to stir that soup again but was pretty sure that dish was no longer on the menu.
I turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. While I toweled off I thought about my associate, or ex-associate, now crab bait. He’d been a good man. I haven’t often had occasion to say that about many guys in my line, but Jack Benson had been better than most. Honest, loyal to a fault, a family man- Jeanie would take it hard when she learned the truth, so would the kids.
I checked the lock on the door and lay down on the bed. I reached over to the chair and pulled Roscoe out of my bag. I jacked a round into the chamber and let the hammer down slow. Roscoe was a Colt 1911, a good reliable gun, but I didn’t trust the push safety, the grip safety, or the thumb safety enough to leave it cocked and locked under my pillow. With the hammer down, it was perfectly safe. I slipped it under the pillow and closed my eyes.
I didn’t open them again until after dark the following evening. I’d slept almost eighteen hours. I sat up on the edge of the bed and suddenly felt my blood run cold. I was anxious and disoriented. Something just didn’t fit, my bag was still in the chair near the bed. The TV was off, but there was something off plumb. I looked around the room and everything was as it should be, but it felt like something was different. I felt like someone had just been there, or was still there. I went to the bed and reached under my pillow.
I flipped the pillow out of the way and saw my heater’s handgrip sticking out from the space between the end of the mattress and the headboard. I grabbed it and drew it out of there.
I was shaking like a dog shitting tacks. I had to get a hold of myself, especially if there was something up.
I got dressed quick and jammed the heater into my waistband. I pulled a jacket from my bag and shook it out. I was trying to clear my mind, when something moved outside.
I went to the window quick and peeked out through the crack in the drapes.
Nothing, not even a leaf was blowing around. I stood back from the curtain and drew my gun, cocking the hammer and clicking off the safety.
I unlocked the door slowly and opened it a crack. Nothing again, so I opened the door and stepped out. I looked left and right across the lot and didn’t see anything. I patted my pocket to make sure I had my key and then let the door shut quietly behind me.
I darted quickly across the walk and into the sea of cars. I sneaked through a couple of rows and paused to listen.
Silence except for cars passing on the street.
I started to move across the aisle to the next row of cars when I heard hard soled shoes scrape on the asphalt. I pulled up short careful not to scrape my own soles on the pavement. I listened as intently as I could but, with my heart thumping in my ears, it was difficult.
After a couple of minutes of more or less quiet, I started to relax. I sank back against the car behind me and sighed. I drew in a breath and was about to stand up when I heard the soles scrape again. This time, it was closer.
I flattened out and rolled under the pickup truck across from me. I looked around, trying to see those shoes. I listened again and heard nothing above the din of the traffic out on the street. It wasn’t long until I had my self believing I had imagined the whole thing.
Then I heard it again. Ka-tap, ka-tap, ka-tap, followed by a shuffling slide after every few steps, like someone was walking up and down between the rows of cars. Then I distinctly heard it coming from another direction off in the distance. This guy must have been heavier, because the sound of his shoes wasn’t as resonant.
This went on for the better part of fifteen minutes before the sounds of their steps finally converged. A couple of rows away and I heard muffled voices that I barely made out-
“Didja find that car?” This one must have been the muscle, he didn’t sound too bright anyhow.
“No, but I think there’s an Olds back there by the fence,” the other one said, as if directing the dull one to go check it out.
“Olds, you ain’t lookin’ for no Olds, you’re lookin’ for a Hudson.” maybe I had those guys confused; maybe this was the smart one after all.
“Hudson? You mean like the Commodore, my mother had one of them.” the other one said, thinking he’d figured it out.
“No, Joe, Mr. Morris said it was a Hornet, like the racecar.” the thick one said, slowly like for the other one to catch up to.
“Okay, I got it.” they were quiet a minute and then he says, “Is that it back there?’
It was quiet another minute and then the thick one came off with, “Let’s check it out, if not we’ll put it in the hotel room. The broad