Chapter 6

Written by: Linda Alley

 

Together they made a formidable duo, even to the unflappable Bogart. So when the short, sweaty one got up to slot a coin into the jukebox, Lawrence “The Legend” Bogart made his move.

 

Angling his barstool in the direction of the second black suit, Bogart sized him up. He was two heads taller than his companion with a chiselled face and shark eyes that were fixed at the TV screen hanging over the bar.

 

“Think they’ll make it to the finals?” Bogart asked.

 

Shark Eyes glanced in his direction, his upper lip curling as he took in Bogart’s green blazer and leather beret.

 

“Ask someone who cares,” he sneered, before sliding off his stool and striding off in the direction of the men’s room.

 

Not my finest segue, Bogart thought to himself.

 

Still, he’d got the information he was after. The suits were from out of town. Even those who didn’t know the difference between a pitcher and a shortstop had an opinion on next week’s game.

 

Shark Eye’s companion returned from the jukebox and squeezed himself onto his stool, his bulging belly jostling with his beer for a resting place on the bar top. The mellow tunes of Joe Henderson wafted across the room.

 

“Nice choice,” Bogart said. “You could have heard it live if you’d been here earlier.”

 

Beer Belly looked down at the saxophone between Bogart’s feet.

 

“You some kind of musician?”

 

They spent a few minutes talking about jazz, but when Bogart saw Shark Eyes coming up the basement stairs, he got to his feet.

 

“I’m gonna call it a night. Don’t happen to know a good hotel around here, do you?”

 

Beer Belly dug his hand into his pocket and handed him a dog-eared business card.

 

“The service is pretty shoddy but it’s clean and away from those infernal student clubs.”

 

Bogart thanked him and hurried outside before Shark Eyes came over. Getting into his car, he flipped the card over. Beer Belly was right. Hotel Arcadia was four blocks away, on the residential side of the student district. A three-storey eyesore situated between a kebab shop and a boarded-up nail salon.

 

Bogart parked on the opposite side of the road and waited. Watching the neon palm tree that flashed intermittently over the reception office, he fell into an almost meditative state. His mind wandered from Penny and Hubert’s uncharacteristic absence from Dante’s to the papers they’d shown him that day.

 

After an hour, Bogart’s growling stomach woke him from his reverie. He was just thinking about a quick dash to the kebab shop when a taxi pulled up in front of Bogart’s Chevrolet and Beer Belly climbed out. Alone.

 

As Beer Belly crossed the road and sauntered into the hotel reception. Bogart waited for the taxi to drive off, but it didn’t move. Before he could decide whether to stay in his car or follow his target, Beer Belly had left reception, something silver glinting in his hand. He crossed the courtyard, unlocking one of the rooms. Seconds later, he re-emerged, pulling on a black coat. 

 

After a quick return to reception, he crossed the street. Bogart slouched back his seat, but he needn’t have worried. Beer Belly had his eyes fixed on the taxi. Seconds later they were off again, heading in the direction of the restaurant quarter.

 

Bogart waited an extra five minutes and then strolled into Reception himself.

 

Tyres on asphalt screeched out from a speaker next to a potted Venus flytrap.  A pair of scuffed Converse sneakers rested on the countertop. And next to them sat a small silver key. Bogart crossed the room in three steps, whipped off his leather beret and carefully placed it over the key.

 

“Evening.”

 

There was an exasperated sigh from behind the computer. The car chase came to an abrupt halt. The Converse-clad feet dropped to the floor with a thud and a blond head reappeared in their place.

 

“Yes? Oh, it’s you. What do you want?”

 

Harold Weisfenning crossed his arms, his muscles bulging against his tight t-shirt. It was a pose he usually took when trying to impress a girl. But this time Bogart knew he was the stance of someone disturbed while getting paid to watch Netflix.

 

Bogart folded his own arms over the beret on the countertop, carefully sliding it away from Harold.

 

“Just passing by and thought I’d check out the price of your rooms. Got a couple of musician friends coming into town next month.”

 

“On the wall,” Harold said, waving an arm behind him, his eyes already back on the screen.

 

“Thanks.” The car chase drowned out the jangle of the key against its metal tag as it slid into Bogart’s pocket.

 

He grabbed his phone and took a quick photo of the price list on the wall for appearance’s sake before leaving Harold to his movie.

 

Sure enough, the key fitted into the lock of the door he’d seen Beer Belly enter. As he turned the handle, the moon suddenly came out from behind the clouds. Bogart glanced behind him. The courtyard was as bright as a stage, but there was no one in sight.

 

As the door swung open, he stepped into the room, stumbled and fell forward onto his face. Gasping with pain, Bogart sat up, reaching for his phone. In its luminous glow, he saw he’d tripped over an upturned coffee table. 

 

It wasn’t the only thing upturned. Drawers hung out of the dressing table and the contents of a suitcase spewed across the carpet. Someone had kicked in the door of the mini bar. Even the mattress on the bed had been torn from his cover. 

 

In the silence that followed, Bogart’s breath seemed unnaturally loud, coming out in short, ragged gasps. The fall had winded him, that’s all, he told himself, attempting to laugh. It came out like a wheeze.

 

Bogart staggered to his feet. And that’s when he heard it.

 

The cock of a pistol, just behind his left earlobe.

 

Comments

This is atmospheric. Beautifully paced. Characterisation on point. The hotel hotel, Beer Belly, the interactions between Bogart, Shark Eyes believable and I was there at the scene. I could smell each place and visualise everything that was going on. No redundancy of words to fill the space. Terrific storytelling.