I hadn’t been to the office in months. The air is heavy with the stale thickness of pigeons and dried gobs of their shit stick to the floor. Swollen wood moves on creaking hinges as I unlock the old office and smell the old ink and cracked leather.
Everything is covered in sheets: a floral pattern that wrenches my heart when I look at it. The has slipped a coffee brown arm out of the sheet-like a burlesque dancer.
I think back to the last time we sat together, Louise and I. No sheets, no mouse piss reek, sun shining through the windows, and Benny Goodman on the turntable. It was a few months after our meeting at Nancy’s. Neither Louise nor I could say who decided to stick with who, but we both agreed we liked the company. She told me about her family and I told her about the war. I helped her reconnect with her brother. She helped me through the sleepless nights.
We decided to go into business together one night in July. It was one of those nights when the sun hangs long as a scorching orange inferno. I sat sweating over case notes and Louise had a hand of those damn Tarot cards in front of her. As a joke, I asked if she could give me a few leads. She exhaled through her nose without looking up, a small sound of good humour, and indulged me.
I thought about that moment after she was gone. I lay awake under the same floral sheets that clung to my old office furniture without her cool hands to soothe me from a nightmare. Maybe if I kept my trap shut and did my job the way I was supposed to she wouldn’t have dealt those cards. Maybe if she hadn't she'd be alive today.
I run my hand across the faded black letters on the back of the frosted glass set into the door. I can still make out the name she picked, All Seeing Investigations.
“We don’t miss a thing.”
I mutter our motto into the still air and wipe my fingers across my tired eyes. “Great gag Slate, missed a damn big one when it counted.” I swallow and tell myself the burning in my eyes is from the dust. I make my way toward the ghost in the corner, what was once my post at All Seeing Investigations. I whip the sheet off my desk with a magician’s flourish and sneeze as I reach for the bottom drawer. It sticks but I see what I came here hoping for. The bottle is more full than I thought. The whiskey slides any more memories from the past back to the basement of my brain. Outside rain sloshes against the windows.
* * *
I had to go, I knew I did. Even from this height, I thought I could see an ant line of cops marching down the block. Harry told me twenty-four hours; I wouldn’t put it past him to pull a fast one and come early. I remember the desperation in his face as he stood over me. I promise myself for the third time that I'll get moving, get a head start on Harry and his squad of head busters. But I needed a plan, and that’s what I did whenever I sat at my desk. I planned.
Hogan probably knew a few guys with tight lips and open arms if I could scrape enough together for rent. Hell, maybe I could work it off. Each drawer I opened looking for scraps of cash only furthered my heartbreak, nothing but mouse turds and newspaper. The last drawer is right in front of me. I open it and feel my blood freeze. I try to slam it closed but it sticks at a cockeyed angle and I’m left sitting in the reek of oil. My old Webley dwarfed the loose bullets rolling around its bulbous body. I shut my eyes against it like a child warding off the devil in the middle of midnight.
For a brief moment, a memory surfaces through the whiskey buzz and I smell gun oil again, this time I hear waves lapping against the shore. I screw my eyes tighter and feel a tooth grind into my knuckle, waiting to hear the shot.
My door slams then and I jump out of my skin. I can only sit, dumbstruck that I haven’t moved from my desk. Distantly I can hear my conscience scolding me. The air feels heavy. Was someone watching me? A black figure obscured in the frosted glass? or had I finally been reduced to jumping at shadows?
Fatigue grips me in a bear hug and I close my eyes, ready to surrender to it. Let Harry come, what do I care? I swear I hear her soft exhale in the silent office. My eyes fly open, and the skin on my neck tightens. Louise is sitting on the couch across the room. Her brunette curls pick up the pool of exposed leather she’s sitting on. The face of an angel.
My toe hits the desk leg. The whiskey bottle does a drunken sway on the tabletop. It shatters on the floor, glass shards polluting the last quarter of the bottle on the ground. Pigeon shadows race across the frosted glass. Their wings sputter hollow applause.
“SHIT!” I scream. Angrier at my own stupid imaginings than my wanton carelessness. “WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!” I scream at the empty sofa.
I hear thumps, convincing myself I'm imagining them. The rhythmic muffled thumps persist until I have no choice but to pay attention. Was it morse? I try to discern a pattern but the dashes weren’t long enough. My swallow makes a soft clack in the dry air. I speak her name, feeling like I'm damning myself all over again.
“Louise?” my voice a papery rattle. dread grips my stomach and rolls it in greasy circles. The thumps close in.
“Aw come on- this, this isn’t right. I’m not the one who deserves to be haunted!” The words were out before I thought to say them but once they come they sound as right as the rain drilling against the windows.
I don't deserve this.
“Should be Harry, not me. You know me. Harry left us, remember?” The thumps stop and I have enough time to wonder if I’ve appeased whatever I'm talking to. Something from beyond the veil, or simply the rattling water pipes.
A shimmer of movement shows a person at my door. The doorknob starts turning. My heart slams against my chest and I can’t stop the image of her that my mind conjures. The look in her eyes before the barrel rests on her forehead. The way the blast sounded like artillery fire. How he stared off after.
I couldn’t bear seeing that on the other side of the door. I couldn’t bear seeing it ever again. I take a step backward as my overtaxed mind grasps for meaning.
The door swings open, and I hold my breath.