The exit door opened into a pitch black even darker than the lobby, it seeped across the threshold and over my shoes. Ric, his Zippo extended arm's length in front of him, was the lead man. He stepped into the void beyond the exit door. Light flooded the landing -- things scurried into the shadows.
We entered the narrow stairway. I followed close behind Ric, one hand on his shoulder. The wooden railing had rotted away so I slid the left hand along the greasy particle board wall. Harleigh two steps behind me held his sputtering disposable above our heads; three elongated shadow men in a Balinese puppet show tumbling down an invisible hill.
"Are you sure this is the right place?" said Harleigh, abandoning the spent Bic. It clattered down the steps in front of us. Seconds later Ric stepped on it cracking the plastic case open like the carapace of an overlarge bug. The smell of lighter fluid followed.
"This is the place, of that I'm absolutely sure." Ric said. "I was here before... it was a long time ago ...
the lights worked then."
I started counting, fourteen steps interrupted by landings, five minutes into our descent. The only sound in addition to six erratic footfalls was the regular drip of water into puddles beyond the corona of Ric's lighter. The wholesome yellow glow of the Zippo was our dog star on a voyage to God knows where; Mr. Lounge our navigator through the Cimmerian night.
Eventually the stairs ended. It was then we first heard the sax, sweet, low and far away ... Harlem Nocturne. The siren notes drew us on through the claustrophobic corridor like Calypso herself was blowing them.
"Man that cat can wail!" said Harleigh in ersatz hip speak.
"Word." I said, from a place decades in the future.
Ric flipped off the Zippo. The three of us stood transfixed, sensory deprived in the subterranean hallway. High, clear, ascending arpeggios, reverberated down the hall, ricocheted, and washed back over us.
Then the sax plumbed the low notes near the bend before the bell, lingered long on a radioactive low B which rolled up from the concrete beneath my feet fusing my 'Gold Toes' to my 'wing tips.'
In front of us a door opened. Surreal sapphire light spilled out into the dark ... with it came the tinkling of ice on glass -- followed by the faintest scent of juniper.
|"Dial 'L' for Lounge" Chapter 4|