It was either Tuesday or Wednesday. The days were running together and I’d lost track. I’d been sleeping heavy but it wasn’t good sleep. I was tired. I felt lousy. I opened an eye and focused on the clock on the wall of my office. The hands weren’t moving.
I stood, felt my chair groan and my head pound, and shuffled over to shake the clock back to life. It felt light. I turned it around. The battery was gone. I figured my landlady must have taken it. She liked to help herself to things like that on account of my being a month behind. For all I knew, she’d walked in, saw me passed out, took the battery, flipped me the bird, and left. She was that kind of lady.
I told her a week before, I said, “Mrs. Planto. If I had money, you’d get the money. But I don’t have it. I’m down to my last roll of toilet paper, even. I mean it.” And you don’t know nothing until you’ve had to take a massive crap and been worried about only using a few squares. I don’t want to get all deep and say it changes a man, because it’s just toilet paper, but it does make a man think about what he’s doing wrong. It does make a man think about making some changes.
I opened the curtain. It was dark outside. My two shit-box jalopies sat there, busy not making me money. My neon orange sign shone down from the roof. “Clyde’s Car Rentals/Notary Service,” it flashed to anyone who passed by. Not mentioned on the sign were several other services I offered, including the tracking of deadbeats and the intimidation of lowlifes.
That was my passion, what I was best at. Following people. Seeing the look on their face when I came out of the shadows. It didn’t matter what they did. They could be stealing shampoo of the maid’s cart. I just loved catching ‘em. Once upon a time, when I was a hotel dick, I got paid for it.
I was about to lock up and get a two-cent taco when a car pulled up. Its headlights sliced the dark. It looked a little out of control, going too fast. I thought it might plow into my office, which isn’t much of an office, just a rusted Airstream at the end of a parking lot. The car, a nice, new ‘34 Packard, stopped and slid forwards a few feet on the gravel. Its front wheels grazed the concrete block I used as a barrier.
I thought about saying I was closed, because people that show up at night are usually desperate and light on cash. I had a guy in once. He said he wanted to rent the Studebaker. So, I said, “OK, big spender, step inside.” He walked in, cool as the Pacific, handed me a piece of paper with a stick figure on it, and said that was his driver’s license. I crumpled it up, threw it in his face, and said, “Beat it, pinhead.” Well, he got angry. And then I got angry and it turned into a real dustup. I knocked out a tooth. Fucker stabbed me in the leg with my own fountain pen. Took the pen, left me with a limp. Still, I wasn’t about to turn away a customer.
Leaning against the doorjamb, I watched and waited for somebody to get out. The lights made it hard to see. “You need a car?” I said, stepping into the night. “I’m just about to close up.”
The engine continued to murmur, but nobody got out. I started to get a bad feeling. I’d been ripped off before. Of course I had no scratch to steal, but this guy didn’t know that. I reached behind me for the door handle. I kept a gun in my top drawer, under a stack of bills I had no intention of paying. I started to ease back inside, when the car’s rear door opened and a woman got out. She almost tripped on the gravel. Her high heels twisted under her.
“Can I help you?” I said. She was tall and wore a yellow dress that matched her hair. Walking toward me in front of the car’s headlights, she looked like a ghoul, a specter. The light went right through her. Not just her dress, but through her body. I could see everything. Her lungs, her heart, her stomach. Everything was empty.
“The notary,” she said, like she was ordering her favorite sandwich, like she already knew me.
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