A View from the Street
The dank room smelled of smoke. Stirring from her slumber, she sighed, tumbling onto the floor in darkness again. The ugly lamp went out again. Slapping up the groin switch on the blue dude lamp numerous times to no avail, she pushed open the dusty curtains. Harsh mercury light flooded the room from the pole lamp in the parking lot. Another sigh. “I miss home. What happened?”
The question was rhetorical. Still there was life. It didn’t stop for anyone, least of all her. Quick shower allowed one of the few moments of pleasure. As the water streaming over her lean curves, she remembered. Then remembered why she ran. Now, it was all coming back. Would it be soon enough? At least the hot water is still on. That’s something.
The ratty off-white terry towel hung listlessly as she stroked her chocolate hair the requisite 100 times. Have to look beautiful for the masses even if they couldn’t care less. Beautiful, hah! Nothing around was beautiful. It was run down, decrepit, messy. It took effort to remember, to think and follow through. The list grew every day. Yet it was essential. Without it, nothing would change. Without it, her co-workers would find her here, stone cold; a shell to be buried and forgotten. I can’t let that happen. I won’t.
Throwing on a buttercream dress with red hearts that had seen better days, she left the room with her small leather clutch to head for the motel lobby. It was breakfast time, after all. The usual array of pastries, dry cereals and coffee greeted her when she entered.
“Another day, eh?” Clint commented from the front desk.
“Always. You ready?” A frown followed the words as the sugar was nowhere to be seen.
“Almost. Another transformer bushing broke. That’s why you woke up to no power.” He furrowed his thin brow almost covered in shaggy cinnamon hair.
The silent groan and vacant stare watched as he pointed out the plate glass to the enclosed parking lot beyond. “Jeffery slept in his car again. Police rolled him into a drug bust because he stepped out at the fool wrong time. I had to vouch that he was in the bleeding Honda all night.”
“And the sugar?” she gestured towards the happily steaming coffee pot as she nursed her own mug.
“Delayed. Did you get the letter?” His furrow suggested he didn’t think so but it said so on the tube.
Her eyes lit with a soft joy. “I did. I’m not lost anymore. Yes, it’s a struggle to remember how to be who you were destined to be, here in this.” She waved her hands, distaste on her lips. “Yet, I am making it. It’s the little things.”
“Like the keys?” Clint laughed, holding up two with the same label and ambassador stamp on them.
She scrunched her nose. “Don’t know why he keeps those.”
“Come on. To remind his favorite princess that details are important.” He tempered his grin. “That’s what he told me.”
“I was told, ‘Details are important.’ Then he hung them back up there. ‘Never remove them.’”
“You are doing so much better.”
“I believe in home. They want me back. I can’t go like this.” She drank to hide the welling tears.
“If they love you enough, it doesn’t matter.” He nodded, a soft smile stretching thin lips.
You don’t understand. If you did, you would know it’s because they love me that it matters. I have to be on again. I’m almost there.
Grabbing a cheese Danish, she crossed through the counter door, careful not to let it slap the trim. “Ready now.” She sat down beside him, ready to handle the usually influx of check outs and payments.
“When will the electrician get here?” she said an hour later.
“He’s already here. They’ve been working on it since three. I called in a favor.”
“How nice of you. So why did I get up in darkness?” She glared, chewing through a second donut.
He shrugged. “Everything will be done within time. Even you.” He rose, kissed her forehead before stepping up front. “I’m going to check on them.”
Alone, she stared at the square lobby with its fresh, new sofa, big screen TV bolted to the wall and food bar along the right wall. Sometimes, I wish it could go faster. Yet I fled. Speed is up to me now. Everything is up to me. I have to push through.
The day flowed as it wants as she pushed through. Clint strode back in with the electrician an hour later, carrying a clip board of items. “Problem solved. No one should be able to hit them with pot shots anymore.”
She shrugged, making a note of it. He paused to clean up the breakfast and produce the lunch items. Done with that he nodded, leaning on the counter. “Anything I should know?”
“Soon everything will change.” She grinned.
“You hope.” He grinned back, playfully.
“I know. I didn’t do this for nothing. There is a home for me. I am taking a journey. Yes, it’s a daily struggle to remember the little things. Yet I wake up to the dreary life I gave myself with my bad choices knowing that my choices now are right. It’s hard. There’s hope. I believe.”
“That’s why you are still here. You believe. No matter what, never let go. Never turn back.” He grinned, delighted.
She clutched the thin, ornately written tube. Its delicate red wax seal lifted from the top not broken. The sideways ES could still be traced if she wanted. “I won’t. I have these.” She rested it beside an old yellowing Gideon bible. These are my lifelines. They lead me home.
The day grew long. She sat tending to the guests checking in and out. Some were happy and cheerful. Brief anecdotes fell like rain. Bills filled the tip jar on the coffee bar. That always made the day good. Everyone else was the reason Jim sat down in the lobby.
“Morning, Jim,” she called as he sipped coffee, leaning back in a cowhide leather chair. He raised a hand and rose, the chair squealing in protest.
“Morning, princess. Your power out?”
A soft sigh exited before answering. “Yes. Yours?”
“Generator. You think I’ll let my stuff spoil because of fools?” He sat back down, sipping his coffee again.
The generator was a legendary story almost as amusing as the two keys. Jim was a retired Navy seal who arrived shortly after she had. He was a monthly at first, turning his run down room into a tiny apartment complete with micro-kitchen where the vanity was. No one seemed to care. Home improvement items wandered inside. Everyone though him filling his room with expensive stuff was amusing but foolish. He paid his rent so life moved on.
The night the bushings were shot out the first time, his room stood out like a light hole in a donut of darkness. Words were exchanged. Suddenly, Jim was down in the lobby every morning. The boss’s only comment, “It’s an even exchange. He keeps the generator. I get security for your shift now.”
Twice, he stopped arguments. Several fights halted prematurely. He even scared a would-be robber. That was the day she discovered he is a Seal. Still from the beginning he’d been cordial with her, even protective at times. He always knew when something happened.
“I heard the good news,” he commented from his seat when the lobby emptied.
“Oh?” Mock surprise echoed from her, as he was there when the courier arrived. She stepped from the counter to refill the coffee pots.
“When are you leaving?” He turned this time, sunlight making his scarred face grotesquely beautiful.
“Soon. I’m still waking up. I forgot so much. Regret so much too. I’m swimming laps again.”
He smiled as much as he could, a rare sight in itself.
“You want to see the letter?” she said picking up the foot long tube.
“Later. Incoming.” He turned away as the door beeped. The couple was frustrated. I hope it won’t be too bad. Glancing at the bible and the tube she knew it wouldn’t.
They hedged and griped. Towels, bedding, smells, and the radio were the usual problems. They expected Holiday Inn at $20 a night. That never happened. She shook her head as they left, hanging the key back on the wall rack behind her. “So.”
“Can you do a mile yet?” He asked without looking, his tone curious.
“Yes,” she grinned. “I can. The pool is the only thing well maintained here. All because you fought for the salt water system.”
“My gift to you, princess.” His voice sounded amused.
That’s my problem. It’s all coming back to me. Soon I will be ready.
Four o’clock came and Jim left as stealthy as he came. Clint has the night off so as he pushed out the door, someone else entered. She had looked away doing the final paperwork on the computer when a silky voice said her name. “Shelly, princess, you ready?”
Sitting up, she nodded. “Evening, boss.” Kind blue eyes waited, even as he squirmed, shifting the crispness of his chambray shirt away. He stroked his jet black beard. “You know princess; your speed could drive a man to drink.”
“It has,” she quipped back. “I’m sorry. Computer’s extra cranky today.”
“That’s ok. Go.” He waved a well-manicured hand. “I’ll fix it.”
She rose and began to walk out. “Your scroll?” He handed it to her, curiosity flickering in his eyes.
“Thanks. See you tomorrow.” He simply shook his curly head as he sat down.
Clint stood on the second floor walkway overlooking the pool with Jim.
“So what did it say?” he asked calmly.
“Her scroll?” Jim asked as he watched Shelly swim laps. He looked over at him, expressionless.
“To return home when she was ready. Didn’t you see it?” Jim walked towards the pop and ice machines. Clint followed, his brow furrowed. “That’s it? To me it looked Arabic.”
“To you, everything looks Arabic. It’s her business. Did you honestly solve the problem with the bushings or do I have to?” He took on a sour expression as he pumped loose change into the caged Coke® machine.
“It was a punk kid with a sniper rifle who got rounded up in last night’s bust. Rifle belongs to the police now. I have a picture.” Clint reached for his phone when Jim waved him off.
“Good to know,” Jim said with a gruff wave as he walked off with a Dasani.
Clint stared out at her one more time, shook his head. “What home would require that much swimming?” He mumbled before walking off himself. The day was far spent and time to go back to work beckoned. As he walked along the cracked concrete path, he looked out at the street. “Home is where you want it to be. If hers’ is waiting, then good. Mine is here for now.”
Inside his room, Jim scanned the various awards hanging on his wall. The core spoke volumes. “The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) James K. Iacomus, United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy while serving as a Reconnaissance Team Leader…” He blinked back tears, memories of the rocket fire, burning coastal village and gore. The turgid tang of blood gripped his senses as he dropped to his knees and breathed. At eyesight level a sign glared back. There are no enemies here now. The war is over. Time to fulfill the promise.
Exhaling, he drew himself back up, sat in his Corinthian leather recliner facing the 50in TV. Oceanography blathered on. Half paying attention, he dialed his cell.
“Spigot. You have 15 seconds.”
A smirk creased his lips. “Heated stream.”
“Who is speaking?” the deep craggy voice asked politely.
“Senior Chief Iacomus.”
“What can I do for you, Senior Chief?”
“I need the package returned to its place tonight. Mission is a go.” A determined smile replaced the blank expression.
“Understood. On its way now. Does this require confirmation?”
“No. Party will confirm when package is retrieved.”
“Is there—Senior Chief, a message tube has arrived for you. It is being forwarded to your location. Courier will be there within the hour.” Heightened breathing caught his attention.
“I will await it. Iacomus out.” He disconnected the phone, sliding it back into its faraday sack. He glanced into the cracked mirror, the only remnant of the filthy room he moved in six months ago.
Small hillocks rose in the reflection, angry gray before a large tilted plateau. That rolling flatness dropped sheer like a knife through cheese to azure waters below. Choppy whoop of the helo blanketed as he drew out with the team. A sparkle out of the corner of his eye drew attention. Motioning his team towards that direction, he ran, blinked, scrubbing his eyes. The spider web cracked mirror returned. Turning away, he grabbed a towel and headed for the shower.
Clint stared out the dirty bay window as CNN® chatter droned on. “You understand what’s happening to her?” He glanced at the man behind the counter who gave a tug at his jet black beard.
“I think you should ask her.” He moved from behind the counter without a sound. “Be kind about it.” He paused beside him. “What’s really eating you?”
“We sit in one the biggest cities in the world and yet it’s nothing but neo-punks, hipsters, vagrants and the various poor soul who thinks this is a Holiday Inn®.”
The man surveyed the tiled lobby, gesturing to the sea of packed cars beyond. “We make money. Does it really matter from whom? Everyone knows this is a safe place. It’s a hiding place like Neverland. You are hiding. Jim is hiding. Shelly is hiding. Even I am hiding. So why now? Do you want to leave too? Or is it just the depression that comes from knowing that you’ve stopped growing?” Keen blue eyes twinkled in the fluorescence.
A nondescript man with a message bag scowled as he pushed open the lobby door. Scanning the empty lobby he pivoted and stepped into Jim. Clint shot a gaze of surprise. “You’re late,” Jim growled.
“My GPS wouldn’t find this place.” The courier mumbled something else as Jim stared blank yet menacing. Slinking back into the lobby, Jim followed never more than inches away.
“No blood on the tile.” The boss grinned as he left, walking across Clint’s view of the parking lot.
“So…” Jim said annoyed.
Another message tube sealed with wax, stamped with the same ES appeared with a greenish note hanging from braided mint gold wire. It said, “Read first. Your choice.”
“Go.” Jim spoke as the tube was exchanged for a folder and a roll of cash. Clint turned back as Jim settled in his usual spot. “I’m pulling a double so–”
“Fine by me.”
Jim raised his hand, gesturing toward the window. Someone walked through the door strangely delighted. Pleasantries and money were exchanged as Jim listened, watching via the vast mirror above the TV. Tell-tale signs spoke loud and clear. Hunter meeting tonight. Again seeking what they ought not. He beheld the tube again, sighed and broke the seal. Salty air drenched his nostrils. A thin scroll splashed out along with eight ounces worth azure sea water into an adjacent Styrofoam cup. Gritty sapphire flecks sparkled as he unfurled it, reading white against brown.
“What we feared has come true. Yet it’s tempered with joy. There is a new royal house, Istan. He saved the king. Still her daughter failed. She can reset this. Otherwise, the new plan is in motion. Your choice.”
Jim glanced up at the mirror. Latino, short and wiry, way too happy to be in this rundown hotel. Eyes spoke drugs and they ruled this man. His waifish, tawdry dressed female companion in her ratty black wig as well. Her rumpled canvas bag spoke street walker if her tiny jean skirt and bustier didn’t shout it already. Clint handed them keys to the next room from the hunter. Makes things easy. A grotesque rictus of a smile widened the waifs’ eyes as she connected with him. Her client sprinted through the door dragging her. “She didn’t like my smile,” Jim spoke as he rose.
Clint shook his head hiding the laugh. “I swear you do that purposefully.”
Glancing at the rest of the scroll, it continued. “As to your query about the skull. It’s a worker class male. The king thanks you for your vigilance. Please continue to do so.” Below it read salutations to Shelly, so he rolled it back up, sliding it into the tube.
“Shelly’s in her room?”
“I believe so. Should be asleep.” Clint cast a curious, concerned expression. “Should I call her?”
“No, I show her in the morning. I’ll be back in an hour. I need to take care of something now.” Jim stared out the window into the blackness pinpricked by street lights. Emptiness held sway.
Clint shrugged, scrubbing his sable hair. “I’ll be here.”
Salty tang flooded Shelly’s nostrils as she squished sand between her toes. Hotel stood miles away lost in the vast sparkle of city lights behind her. Instead, the Pacific spread out as a soft, undulating cobalt sheet. Incessant roar of the breakers gripped her thoughts as she stared, yearning. “Am I ready to face them again? To explain why I swam off from the coronation?” She sighed at the night. Its silence neither mocked nor agreed. Trotting to the water’s edge, she let the sea course over her legs. Smooth silkiness quickened the desire within. “I can return home when I am ready.”
Closing her eyes and raising her arms, she reached inside to grasp something thought lost when a loud splash sprinkled her hair. The moment shattered, she focused her gaze upon the surprising seaweed tinted eyes staring back. A large fin hung limp to one side of his pronounced oval head, as rivulets poured down the hairless scales.
Gulping air herself, eyes widened at the noseless, earless face. A webbed hand rose, formed a ‘devils horns’ then a thumbs up. “I know. As much as I want to, I can’t.” She spoke in English. Shaking her head, she sucked in air. Short punctuated squeals echoed from her lips followed by a low sad groan peppered with whistles.
He wagged his head, face down, back and forth like a dog’s tail. Another message tube floated up bearing the two wave crest of House Natal. A burst of sound echoed from around him which to the untrained would sound like sad Scottish bagpipes. He chirped again, gestured to his Tā moko tattoo along the sides of his face and bleated.
Shelly chirped and bleated back, tears in her eyes. Why do I do this when I know I am not ready? Is it just fear? Flashing the ‘hang loose’ hand gesture, she watched him dive beneath the waves. Stumbling out of the ocean, she missed the lights from the cars behind the billboard just off Highway 1. They waited until she was back to her car before they deployed their harpoons, nets and other fishing gear.
Shelly glanced back from the car to the sea, noticing four burly men in scuba gear trotting into where she left. Worry crept in. Instead of leaving, she scoured the area for a vehicle. Beneath the tall billboard advertising Red Lobster and Santa Monica Surf training rested a truck still warm. The guard stared at what fitful stars twinkled in the night as she snuck around.
One explosive squeal into his ear collapsed him as if shot. Blood torrented from his nose and ears. Maroon rain peppered the sandy ground. Jack Daniel’s® still wrapped in a tan paper bag leaned against his slumped form, unopened. Duffels remained in the truck’s bed. Hauling them out, she dragged each of the three to her backseat, shoving them in as she kept an eye out of them returning.
Beneath the duffels rested several flares. A quick glance around revealed nothing new. Soft surf still lapped the shore. The savoy tang of salt, sea and fish tickled her nostrils forcing her to squint, blocking the flood of memories.
Tearing the bottle of Jack away, she showered generous amounts on the interior and engine until the empty bottle remained. Cast onto the body, she struck a flare and tossed it into the cab. Flames blotted out the stars. They drew attention to themselves from the incessant drivers on Highway 1. Pulling away, she sighed in disgust. “Why do they hunt us? We haven’t done anything to them.” Beside her, the message tube remained unopened.
Jim banged on the door next to the hunters hoping the room remained empty. A scrawny Latino opened the door as far as the chain allowed. “Que?”
Jim started silently, pointing inside before gesturing to his sidearm. The door shut them reopened. He pushed in, rapid Spanish tumbling from the man as he flexed his fingers. Jim paused, gave him a once over and sighed.
“Go get a Coke® or something to eat,” he remarked in Spanish as the man fidgeted, fear reeking from his scowl. “Otherwise…” He waved his arms outward.
More frustrated Spanish followed by raised arms as the Latino hustled out. Jim pounded the deadbolt behind him jamming a worn faded leather chair under the knob. Shoving the armoire detonated a thin layer of ancient dust yet revealed the service panel gracing every room but his. One swift kick spilt the panel, its jagged halves falling inward. Dusty clouds billowed outward.
Tugging a gas mask from the olive drab nylon duffle beside him, he slid it in place. Seconds later, an M7 CS gas grenade flew into the hole sans pin. Whistling a song to himself, he crouched down, wielding a standard issue flashlight in one hand while his dinged yet shiny M950A select fire pistol with factory foregrip swayed in his other.
The service hall smelt dank. Mold clung patchwork amongst the grime and rust. Metal pipes jutting from the floor served as barriers as he crept around to a point a few feet from the entryway. Muffled coughing rippled through the still foggy air. Resting his firing arm on a horizontal drain pipe, he shifted until an air duct shielded his torso. A volley of hollow points peppered the wall above him followed by protracted silence. A second straight line volley filled the air with snapping wood, shattered glass and several thuds. Silence reigned after as bronze 9mm casings scattered across the concrete.
Turning around he noticed movement in the room. Shaking his head, he pointed the weapon out the opening, letting go several controlled bursts. A single shot rang back, thunking into the wood above his head. Another discharge punched more casings on the floor. Their tell-tale ring masked by shocked grunts, shattered wood and a single thud. A short scream echoed before trailing off into the night.
Seconds flowed into minutes as Jim crouched besides the opening, listening to the silence. As he climbed out, the exterior window glass layered the faux cherry wood table beside it. Two Latinos lie prone on the sticky blood soaked carpet. One stared upward, holding a Coke® alone with a pistol.
Stashing the gear back in the duffle, Jim went to hoist it on his shoulder when the room phone rang. “What?” he barked.
“Why?” Clint asked, more startled.
“You want drug runners in the hotel? How about black market animal parts dealers?” He retorted, packing the gas mask back into its bag. “I’ll be down shortly to explain everything. You will need two mirrors, spare bedding, that spare length of carpet and window glass.”
“In God’s name, why?”
“Because of the aforementioned drug dealers and black market animal parts dealers. They didn’t like my suggestion.” He hung up the phone, wiping it down with a rag. Opening his own, he said, “Clean up.”
Moments later. “Johnson Sanitation, this is Albert,” he remarked with cheer.
“Code one. Iacomus reporting.” Jim said back, stoic.
“Understood. Need is…” a far less cheerful voice replied.
“Immediate. Blood and chemical disposal.”
Jim sighed as the call ended. The room was now ridden with holes at baseboard level. It wouldn’t be nearly as bad as the other room. Still, he needed to grab the merchandise before the cleaners came.
Groggy, Shelly stood before the busted window in black lace boy shorts and lacy black cami. “Why am I here?” She glared at Jim.
“Because I think it’s time. Time for you anyway. I know what you did.” He paused, gauging her response.
A deep frown twisted her pink lips. “It’s not that easy.” A wistful longing echoed in her words. Suddenly, her head jerked to him. Hands on hips, she stared intently. “How?”
“I got their gear. Apparently a call was made referencing an exploded truck of Highway 1? Know anything about that?” He smiled.
Blowing out a breath, she relaxed, looking away from his grotesque rictus. “You didn’t answer my first question.”
“This.” He dropped a non-descript key attached to a numbered paper ring. “I believe the body is there. More skulls in here.” He dropped a black duffle at her feet. “Oh your daughter isn’t princess anymore. Another has it now. Istan I believe.” He walked away softly, whistling again.
“You’re a bastard you know.” She hissed. “My father wouldn’t strip her of it in favor of a minor house.”
He held up the message tube. “I don’t know your world but the message disagrees.” Turning, he tosses it to her. “Sometimes I’m glad I love languages.”
He grinned again. “Goodbye, Shelly.”
She stared at his back as he strolled down the open breezeway. “That’s it?”
“Yes. Time to go home. Unless you want that other woman to sit on your throne.” He shouted as he continued walking.
Staring at the key and the bag, she sighed. Hoisting the bag on her shoulder she rain after him. He paused at his room door, amusement sparkling in his eyes. “The answer to the first question you know.” He tapped just above the patchwork of burn scars that ran from jaw to the remains of his ear. “Bond that cannot be broken.” He opened and shut the door, leaving her scowling and remembering.
Inside her room rested the unopened message tube. Curious, she broke the seal. The glass the note fell into smelt like home. So many memories, so much hope. Inhaling the salty, fishy smell, she clutched the note before reading it.
“My beloved daughter,
It is with a heavy heart I announce that I will be the last Natal in line for the throne for the foreseeable future. Since you departed, I allowed your daughter Aria to be princess ascendant following her entrance into womanhood three years ago. Six months ago, she failed to complete the requirements to become full princess. Siren Gwendolyn Cetus Istan did and is now Princess instead. This is not why I sent this via courier. A month ago, Princess Istan accused Aria before the White council of theft. Theft of a Golden Ticket.
This is not a plea to come home. You are always welcome. I miss you greatly. This is a plea to save your daughter. The council is turning against her. They still believe she is fit to rule yet they believe she did what she was accused of for her own personal gain. You know the consequences of that. Our search says the woman of whom the ticket was stolen from lives in Philadelphia. Prove it for me, please. If she does then you know the only solution. Let him handle it.
Vann Natal 199th monarch of Cetacea, Ruler of all Bauer and the red shield controls and regent of the seven seas.
Shelly stared at the note and groaned. “Why can it never be easy? I am just coming online. Now we must find this women or she’ll suffer my fate.” A soft tap at her window glass prompt a quick answer. Jim stood compassionate, holding what appeared to be a plane ticket. “You can’t swim to Philadelphia.”
“Damn it, Jim. I told you not do that! It’s unsettling.” She glared, hands on hips.
He blinked. “I knew long before you. It came in a dream of all things.” Her scowled remained fixed. “Take it. We have only weeks before the video launch, and her discovery of it.”
“You can’t kill her.” Shelly clutched her hands to her lips, fear flickering.
“Ok, but as I learned, siren rules are rigid. You propose another solution?” He stared into her pooling tears, his grimace even tighter.
“Yes; the truth. So we go together. Time to give her a view from the street.”