Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Redemption or Bust - Let’s Get Ready to Rumble...
I lay still and quiet and waited for the rest of the story but Marisa didn't say another word.
She pulled herself in closer to me and nestled her head against my shoulder. Her fingers continued to glide up and down my side.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. She smelled of the beach, of salt and sweat and suntan lotion. The ocean wind was still in her hair. I never smelled anything better.
I was still waiting for her to spill it when her fingers stopped moving and her breaths started coming slow and easy.
A truck rumbled by the motel and shook the lamp on the night table and the pictures on the wall. The Harley that followed shook them some more.
By the time the chopper's lean, mean growl faded out I'd made up my mind to let Marisa sleep for the both of us. I wanted her refreshed and alert when she told me what the hell I was getting into.
It wasn't drugs. I saw no obvious track marks anywhere on her body, no shakes or shivers, and she'd been in my continuous sight for longer than your average addict can go without a fix.
She wasn't bruised and I noticed no signs of recent healing.
Her ring finger was as tanned and smooth as the other nine and the only ring she wore was on the second toe of her left foot.
I added it all up and came up with not enough. The sum total of what I didn't know about her would fill an airplane hangar.
What I did know was that my shoulder and entire arm was dead asleep beneath her body and I didn't care. I was happy to take the pain and tingling to have her there with me. This was right up there with comfortable silences.
The warmth of her body next to mine put the kibosh on my critical thinking abilities and I fell asleep a happy man.
I was alone in the bed when I woke up some time later. Marisa's spot was still warm and I could still smell her scent on the sheets but she wasn't there. She was not sitting at the table and the bathroom light was not on. Her swimsuit was still on the floor right where she left it.
I called out her name and got out of bed. I grumbled and cursed as I stubbed my toe on the table and shuffled over to the window to let some morning light into the room.
It didn't get any brighter when I drew the blinds because it was still night.
People were talking right outside the door.
I moved off to the side of the window and took a peek.
Marisa was standing with her back to the door. She looked good in my shorts and t-shirt. From my angle at the window I couldn't see who she was talking to but I heard a man's voice and it didn't sound like they were old pals remembering the good times.
I went to my duffel bag and hunted up a pair of jeans and formed a plan of action as I wriggled into them. I left the gun in the bag but grabbed my blackjack before turning back to the door.
When my bare toes crashed into the table leg --again-- I couldn't squelch the profanity. The air went blue with involuntary invective. I hobbled over to the door.
I heard Marisa shout, “No!” and then there was quiet.
I yanked the door open, blackjack at the ready.
The fist that smashed into my face seemed as big as a bowling ball. The force of the blow jacked me up and sent me hurtling backwards into my pal the table.
The table resisted but I got the last laugh by shattering it on my way to the floor.
Marisa started hollering, a little in English and a lot in Spanish, as I lay there in the wreckage trying to spot the Big Dipper in the sea of stars floating around my head.
She yelped and then went silent.
I was up and back out the door in seconds.
The target was bald, big, and wide. I was seeing too much red to process much else. I missed with a hard right but a left uppercut hit the mark. Teeth clattered on impact but the big guy shook it off and rabbit punched me back to the ground.
“Stay down, hero,” he growled.
I made a manful effort to disobey but my legs wouldn't play ball.
“Good boy,” he said as he leaned in close enough for me to feel his breath hot on my face.
He tossed me into the room and shut the door.
The pressure of something hard and icy against my face woke me up. The cold was a burning center of white hot pain surrounded by itchy numbness.
I flinched and tried to sit up on the bed but a pair of strong hands had a hold of my shoulders and kept me down.
I croaked out Marisa's name.
“Relax, tough guy,” said a familiar voice. “This is for your own good.”
I opened my eye-- the one I could get to open-- and took a look around.
Marisa was nowhere in sight.
The woman with the dreadlocks from the motel office was standing over me with her hands on my shoulders.
She shushed me before I could get the question out.
“Relax, man. You wanna see out of that eye later today? Suck it up and let this man work.
This man's work involved some kind of very cold device being held against my face, high up on the cheek. The hand holding the device was brown and gnarled and skeletal.
“This is Santo, said the woman. “He used to be my cut man. Best in the business.”
“Your cut man?”
“Spent half my life in the ring. Don't look so surprised. There's more women in the fight game than anyone thinks.”
“Got any pointers for next time?”
“Yeah, hon. Don't lead with your face. Now shut up and let Santo help you.”
I shut up and did as I was told.
The ice cold device made sense now. It was an enswell --a metal weight boxing trainers kept on ice to keep the swelling down. I like to watch the fights as much as the next guy and I always thought that thing looked like it'd hurt when some guy jammed it against your battered face. I wasn't wrong.
“You're all right, champ,” said Santo. He sounded like someone used his vocal chords to plow a rocky field. “You got good bones.” He removed the enswell and probed my cheek, just under the eye, with his fingers. “Should be in pieces but it's not. Good bones.”
Santo laughed and reapplied the enswell. “Don't you worry. You're gonna be as pretty as ever once this heals up.”
The woman laughed too. It was turning into a real party.
After a while Santo took the enswell off of me again and slipped an arm beneath my shoulders.
“Okey,” he croaked. “Sit your ass up for me. Give us a hand, willya, Evangeline?”
The dreadlocked woman came back to the bed and the two of them got me sitting up.
“I appreciate you fixing me up, Santo,” I said as he stood and began to collect his things.
He was as skinny as I thought he'd be. The red bowling shirt he had on had room for two more of him in it. He wore a big handlebar mustache and knew how to carry it off.
“Not a problem,” he said. He pushed his glasses up off of his nose and nodded.
“Concussion?” asked Evangeline.
Santo leaned down and peered into my eyes, both of which were open. I had to hand it to him. The man was good at his job.
“I'm thinking no,” he said. “Got a headache, champ?”
I did, but not enough to mention it.
“See more than one me or Evangeline in here?”
“I see one of each of you, Santo.”
“Good,” he said. He handed me a plastic baggie with some ice in it. “Keep icing that cheek. Ten minutes on, ten minutes off. Got it?”
Santo gathered up his equipment, dropped it all into a black leather valise that went out of style in the '50s. “Good bones,” he said and with that he made his exit.
When I looked up Evangeline was standing next to the bed with my open wallet in her hand.
“You could've told me you were a detective, Mr. Jacob Tunner.”
“It's Jake. And you didn't ask.”
She shot me a look and leafed through the rest of my wallet.
“I don't suppose anyone called the police?”
“Right,” I said. I hopped off the bed and managed to stand straight and only teetered a little bit.
“Where do you think you're going?” asked Evangeline. She dropped my wallet on the bed. “Gonna go chase that girl? Marisa?”
“You know her?”
She laughed and started for the door. “I know everybody 'round here, man.”
“You know who grabbed her then?”
Evangeline stopped just outside the room. “You get yourself cleaned up and come to the office. We'll talk there.”
I fished a tee-shirt out of my duffel bag and shrugged into it. Easier said than done. I hurt in a dozen places between knees and shoulders and my face was a pounding mass of ache.
“No time to talk,” I said. I pulled my gun and holster out of my bag. Getting into the shoulder rig was almost as much fun as putting on that shirt.
Evangeline didn't blink as I checked the clip and holstered the weapon.
“You're out of your territory, man,” she argued. “Do you even know where to start?”
“I'm going to do what I do best. Detect. Detective, remember?”
She got real quiet.
“By the way,” I said, “you didn't answer my question. “You know who grabbed her, don't you?”
She stared at me for what felt like two weeks. When she spoke it was in a hushed tone that didn't sound like it got a lot of use.
“You sure you wanna do this?”
It was a fair question.
“She passed the dead arm test,” I muttered as I stepped into my shoes and knelt to tie them.
“You're a God damn fool.”
“Most likely. Now tell me who has her.”
“You're the detective. Detect.” She looked around the room. “Maybe she left you a note.” She put a hand out to head off my retort. “You know where I'll be if you decide to come and talk.”
I stood and listened as her footsteps faded away.
I pulled on a denim button-down shirt to cover the shoulder rig and was about to swagger out of the room when I happened to look over at the desk.
The complementary motel note pad was in plain sight, right on the desktop, and there was writing on the top sheet.
CABIN D, BOG ISLAND. M.
Marisa must have scribbled it down while I was asleep.
I have three variants in my sleep repertoire. There's regular sleep, which means I'm more or less up between catnaps until morning. Drunk Sleep is even more fitful and unsatisfying. The third sleep, though, Drunk and Just Got Laid Sleep, is the king of all sleep. There could be a New Orleans funeral band in the room with me and I wouldn't yawn and turn over.
CABIN D, BOG ISLAND. M.
I snatched the pad off of the desk and stormed out the door.
Evangeline was sitting in one of the wicker chairs in the rain forest when I thundered into the office.
A pair of shot glasses sat ready and waiting on a little table next to her.
“You could have just told me there was a note,” I growled.
“You didn't ask.”
She gestured to an empty chair. I took a load off.
The office smelled of clove cigarettes and old coffee. A small metal fan on the corner of the desk circulated the stale air around the room.
“Where the hell is Bog Island?”
She retrieved an unmarked bottle of of something clear from under the table and grinned at me as she poured two shots.
We toasted with silence and drank. Licorice-flavored liquid ran like Greek fire down my throat and into my belly.
“Aguardiente, my friend,” she said. “Fire water.”
I grimaced and put my glass down. “Good name.”
She nodded and we sat there in silence. The first birds of the morning were up and at it outside the windows.
“Bog Island?” I asked.
We went to the desk and she dug a dog-eared road atlas out of the drawer.
“It's not really an island,” she explained as she opened the atlas to the right page. She pointed to the peninsula on the far right side of the page. “We're here in Caravan Bay, on the east coast of the peninsula.” She moved her finger to the west side. “Bog Island is here, on the lake side of the panhandle, jutting out and surrounded by water on three sides. Bog Island. A bad name for a beautiful place.”
I studied the map. Bog Island seemed easy enough to get to. Forty minutes by car.
“Here,” she said. She plucked a picture postcard out of a rack on the desk and slid it in front of me.
It looked like a nice place. Big lake. Trees. Hills out in the distance.
“There's a bunch of cabins out there. No streets, no real addresses, just letters on the cabins.”
“Who owns Cabin D?”
I repeated my question and got the same answer.
Evangeline toyed with the pages of the atlas and refused to meet my stare.
She cut me off while I was asking a third time.
“I've already told you too much,” she said.
I put the postcard back in the rack and thanked her for the hooch. “I guess I'm gonna find out the hard way.”
I was almost out the door when she gave me the name.
“Reubens,” she said. “His name is Reubens.”
Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.