Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Going on Instinct

"Oh, God, I think he's seen me," Cati said. "Look, he's coming over here. I don't know, Henri. Ask the fella whatever you want. I don't know if it's going to make a difference now."

Thelonius forced himself to sit upright, his paranoid instincts forced him to quickly search the cramped studio apartment for … well … he didn’t know exactly what. He realized that he had been checking the surfaces for bugs, half expecting to find a swarm of the black crawly things massing out from beneath his ice box.

Once he had assured himself that he was indeed back in his apartment, he then realized that he was more than a little hungry, and thirsty. He rummaged through his cabinets and ice box, devouring the last remnants of bread, cheese, and pickles he found stashed away. He chased the meager meal down with what seemed like quarts of water.

Sated, he briefly thought of lying down and resting. No – he had to talk to Henri and Cati before the memories of what happened began to fade. He picked up the telephone, dialing first Henri’s shop and then Cati’s residence in an attempt to contact someone and warn them.

But would they believe him? Surely Henri would. The man must have experienced something similar the previous evening.

Thelonius tapped his foot anxiously against the dusty wooden floor as he waited for someone to answer the phone.

But no one did, not at Henri’s shop. Fine, he’d try Cati – her number was in the phone book. Three, four, five rings – Thelonius had just pulled the phone from his ear when he heard a tinny voice. “Hello?”

“Yes, hello. This is Thelonius Jones. I need to speak to Miss Predoviciu.”

Closer to his ear now, the voice was deeper and feminine; gruff, though, tired. “Miss has gone out for the evening.”

There was a dull metallic scrape in the kitchen. A pot had settled in a cabinet – perhaps, or perhaps something had shifted it. The sound would certainly have come from the cabinet next to the sink, for Thelonius didn’t have many pots and pans. But hadn’t he just checked in there?

“Vill you leave a message?” inquired Cati’s proxy, who was apparently of Transylvanian origin – or from one of those numerous Eastern European nationalities jockeying for their own state. Predoviciu – was that a Romanian name?

The pot shifted again. “Please wait just a second,” Thelonius replied.

He moved to the kitchen. Standing behind the cabinet door, he peeked inside. Nothing: two pots were stacked in a pan. They must have had been disturbed by his tired foragings. They must have, but Thel couldn't take his eye off the kitchen as he returned to the phone.

“Hello. Do you vant to leave a message?” repeated the voice.

Thelonius glanced sidelong at the cabinet speaking a bit distractedly, “Uh……I mean could you tell me where she has gone, if you do not mind. I am a friend of hers, and I have an important message I must relay to her as soon as possible.” Hopefully the housekeeper would reveal where Cati had gone. Thel suspected that the flapper was out at one of the various speakeasies about town.

Magda detected the hints of stress and sincerity in Thelonius' words; she recalled eavesdropping on some of the miss's phone calls and hearing the reporter's name; she was tired and annoyed. She sighed. "Miss went to SoHo."

There was silence. As if she had just committed a calculated sin for some greater purpose.

"Thank you, that's all I need," Thelonius finally replied. And it was. He was there in thirty minutes.

Cati would have taken a cab, so there would be no car to search for – as if that'd work. Thelonius would have to follow his instincts here. Those strange talents that were both cultivated and somehow innate all the way to his bones; Thelonius knew he could trust his nose. He parked the Nash behind one of the more up-and-up clubs, near a cluster of luxury autos. A Bugatti, a custom-bodied Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, a '24 Hispano-Suiza. A couple of young men in drivers' uniforms leaned casually against the Rolls. One of them let the driver's side door bear his weight as he leaned back and gazed skyward. He was that car's driver. The other man had, then, driven the cabriolet. The Bugatti had been driven by its owner most likely – after all, if you're going to have someone else at the wheel, why get a Bugatti? These were the sorts of things that instinct could reveal.

He went into the street. The upper crust was about. A tux and a night gown stepped into the Palace. No, not Cati's style; she might have had the money but probably didn't have the interest. Three women with bobbed hair and feathered headbands crossed the street onto Thelonius' block, and proceeded around the corner. Probably off to The Teepee Club, a gimmicky flapper dance hall. That was more Cati's speed, Thelonius thought. But too obvious; The Teepee Club was a fad, it'd be gone in a year. Where else was there? The Cellar. One block away. There was watery jazz, it catered to the upper class, there was booze in the basement. Its owner was in on an informal consortium of liquor vendors who had come to agreements with both the mob and the police. In exchange for monetary gifts, both authorities kept out of The Cellar. This much was an appreciated fact in the underworld currents. The establishment's special mixture of seediness, safety, and class would have attracted Miss Predoviciu. Perfect.

The bouncer was an old acquaintance, an informant from the voodoo case six months ago. He was more credulous of Thelonius than Thelonius had been of him – invisible bullets, indeed! – and so it was only too easy for the reporter to gain entry. He stepped inside the foyer, but before Thelonius could take in the dining and dancing arrangements of the main hall, he was jostled by a man in a leather coat and a cap. And shocked – when the man's elbow brushed his own, there was a brief flash. No, not like a flash of light, more like a flashing-out of reality: a quick flash-forward of the consciousness into the next moment with none of the normal seamlessness of the usual experience of time. When the reporter looked behind him, the man was out the door and in the street. He was short, dark-haired, thick, sweaty.

He jogged outside. The man had gotten into the driver's seat of a cab and was already pulling out. Thelonius had to resign himself to memorizing the license plate: NY 1923 153-512.

He went into the basement level, and immediately made out Henri's form, standing out in the best of ways, even in this crowd. Beside him, standing, was none other than Cati.

Thelonius began to move across the tearoom floor towards the groups, but he saw a third figure moving towards them. He paused, wisely taking the opportunity to assess the situation before interrupting. The man was tall, blondish, dressed all in grey. His clothing was cut in almost harsh lines that suited the man and made him seem statuesque, like a piece of architecture, a component of the skyline.

The man stepped directly up to the pair, as if homing in on them. Henri and Cati had only a moment to prepare themselves.

"Good evening, miss," he greeted Cati, and then turned his attention to Henri. "Sir." With no bashfulness, he examined Cati. "You look just stunning in that dress, would you care to step upstairs with me for a dance?"

Cati glanced about nervously, searching for her answer in the crowd. She caught sight of yet another familiar face near the stairs: Thelonius. His presence was slightly reassuring. But strange – how had he too come to this place at just the right moment? The blonde man put her ill at ease . . . but her allies were all around, and she was in a crowd.

(I by Teresa. II by Dan and dsolomon. III by dsolomon.)