story description

"Hungering for a Retro world when men and martinis were strong ...

and women liked them that way."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chapter One -- Sanctuary --

A  wrong turn, a few blocks back, landed me in an unfamiliar neighborhood. There wasn't a soul around, and the traffic, which not five minutes before had been bumper to bumper, had vanished completely.
Boarded up pawn and package stores, an abandoned bodega, all with three stories of vacant apartments above, lined both sides of the block. On the corner was an empty eatery. A faded 'closed' sign hung askew inside the front door.  A giant neon pot in mid pour in the window, it's neon smashed,  advertised  ' Otto's Home of the Bottomless Cup'.  The charred remains of burned out taxi waited at the curb and a tireless bicycle with it's padlock and chain still attached lay in the gutter. The street sign, if there had ever been one, was missing. 
The weather changed with the scenery. Perfect, bright blue and cloudless turned to grey flannel, just before a tornado, oppressive. The air smelled electric.
" ... Go back the way you came" I told myself. " picking up my pace to near speed walk.
The first  bolt of vertical lighting crackled... hairs on the back of my neck  buzzed.  Thunder followed in seconds. The sky opened dumping horizontal rain. Rivulets ran in my eyes as I felt my way along the locked storefronts, fingers reading  Braille, the brick, ... the glass, the brick again.  A door ajar !
A vestibule to escape the deluge !
Inside smelled old ... derelict ... stale cigars, wet newspapers, urine. A bank of vandalized mail boxes, an overturned ash canister  were the only items I could make out in the near pitch black. The entrance was cramped maybe six feet square just big enough for the postman. Outside the rain came down in sheets.  
I fumbled for my cigarettes. The box was damp but the smokes were  dry -- the matches useless. "Damn !" I said to no one. "Wouldn't you know it."  
A flame  appeared in the darkness inches from my face, a lighter revealed another refugee seeking sanctuary from the storm. 
"Can I bum one, mine are beat ... some rain huh ?" said the stranger in a trench coat who had been standing  in the shadows.

"Dial 'L' for Lounge"  Chapter 1

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Chapter Two --The Appointment--

     We stood in the dark chain-sucking menthol cigarettes, waiting for the monsoon to stop. Neither of us spoke. The tattoo of the raindrops on the tin canopy outside was deafening.  Eventually the fumes  in that six by six pigeonhole were so dense you didn't need to light up ... you could just inhale.  
After what seemed like hours the stranger broke the spell. " Name's Ric but everybody calls me Mr. Lounge. Glad you could make it." He said.  
Ric pulled a full size retro telephone from his trench coat pocket. The end of the unconnected coil cord, dangled free.  "I'll give Harleigh a call" Ric said, dialing a single number on the enormous rotary phone. "I'll see what's keeping him."  
Now I had no idea what Ric meant by ' glad you could make it', or who Harleigh was ... but considering that I had wandered into a  town straight out of the Twilight Zone, Armageddon raged outside and I could hear a dialtone on the unplugged phone -- I just went with it. 
"Yeh, no problem ... I'm Trig, Trig Mixter" I said, stabbing my hand in his general direction. Ric's hand was ice cold -- his grip was like a vice. 
The rain stopped as though a faucet had been turned off.  Thunder rumbled far away. Harleigh appeared in the doorway and the sun came out. "No taxis in this part of town." Harleigh said. 
Mr. Lounge stuffed the five pound phone back into his trench coat. "Gentlemen" he said, holding the interior door of the vestibule open for Harleigh and me. "After you".

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chapter Three --The Lady or the Tiger--

The interior door closed behind us, heavy and resolute as lock down in a maximum security prison.  
Inside the lobby was an enhanced darkness ... suffocating, like moving between laundry lines hung with musty wool blankets. The tile floor was slick with something that a was glad I couldn't see. 
Harleigh flicked his bic. The lighter sputtered anemically -- on the third try the flame hissed to life lighting up the immediate area between Harleigh and me at chest level. I got a whiff of 'Old Spice', my father's brother Ralph came to mind.       
Harleigh was of average height, a good looking kid, twenty something,  His hair, was cut 'high and tight' former military, maybe.  The rock hard arm, which held the lighter, belonged to a power lifter. 
"Trig right?" he said, switching the bic to his left hand. We shook. Harleigh's hand, like Ric's was cold and his grip; bone crushing.  Three shakes, manly, but not too familiar. 
"Yup,  Trig Mixter." I said. 
Ric's lighter shot a six inch flame into the darkness on the far side of the room. "Zippo!" he explained, "Lights first time, every time." Dialing down his hand held flame thrower Ric held the blue light over his head illuminating the far end of the lobby.  Thread bare sofas lined both walls, separated by footed urns containing dead parlor palms. "This place must of been real nice back in the day", I said.  Soggy oriental carpet squished underfoot as we headed toward Ric and the Zippo. 
On the back wall were two carbon-copy  doors, the fancy kind with raised panels. Each identical door had panic hardware and an unlit exit sign above it. 
"The lady or the tiger, gentlemen?" Said Ric. His fedora hid his eyes but his smile was slightly unsettling. "Which door will it be?" 
"The right one." Harleigh said confidently. I was sure he was unaware of the reference." What do you think Trig ? "  
"The lady" I said, "definately the lady". 

"Dial 'L' for Lounge"  Chapter 3

Chapter Four -- Three Blind Men and a Lantern --

  Harleigh's lighter was nearly out of fuel -- the flame was shrinking fast. He moved with purpose toward the door which he had chosen and leaned hard onto the panic bar. We waited for the alarm. None came.
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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Chapter Five --Hello, I'm Randy--

"Hello stranger." Said the coat check girl, handing Ric a ticket to redeem his fedora on the way out. 

"Meet Sharon, boys" Ric carefully laid out three silver dollars on the counter." Sharon smiled, put the coins in the pocket of her apron and directed us to the podium, where she consulted the reservation book.  Holmes, Harleigh .....Mixter, Trig .... and of course Mr. Lounge.  She ticked off our names and hit the bell to summon the Maitresse D'.  Double doors upholstered in turquoise leatherette, trimmed in stainless with porthole windows opened simultaneously. 
She was spray painted into a glacier blue satin sarong. The drapery of her dress teased out every curve; each pleat terminating at the good bits.  Audacious twin peaks presided over cleavage deep as the Mariannis Trench. A plastic name tag over her heart read;  

Hello, I'm Randy 
"Short for Miranda" she said aware of our keen interest in her identification.  She smelled like lavender and warm sugar cookies. "Right this way boys, your tables' waiting." Her voice was deep, grade A maple syrup a 'Lyric Contralto' with a vocal range somewhere between F below middle C and my wedding vegetables. 
Randy turned;  gun - turret - tank.  Her hips swayed like an engraved invitation all the way to a table reserved for three directly under the sax players chin. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Chapter Six --Ginger, Cinnamon and Cloves--

Had I not been so absorbed in the bountiful stern of the S.S. Randy I might have noticed that Mr. Lounge was nowhere to be seen.  The man and his Zippo, who had led us safely through miles of dank subterranean corridors to the hippest gin joint I had ever seen, simply vanished. Harleigh must have had the very same thought. "I'm thinking he stopped off at the 'gents'", he offered as we took our seats.
Randy snapped her fingers -- a tray appeared. Our waitress, Ginger a tall cool redhead, also tightly wrapped in sapphire satin, dealt three triple-ply coasters with the skill of a Monte Carlo croupier. 
The paper goods were top shelf.  Napkins, coasters, box matches -- all custom. Turquoise with silver embossed letters read 'The Modern Lounge', I palmed the matches and slid them into my pocket. 
Ginger, our smokin' hot redhead, took a fast survey of the room, gave me a conspiratorial wink and replaced them.  
"The usual." she said, more statement than question. She didn't wait for our order.  The bartender was already putting the spears through our lime wedges. 
My eyes followed gorgeous Ginger  as she clicked away to fetch our drinks on sapphire satin spike heels. Of the half dozen spectacularly beautiful cocktail waitresses working the lounge, all satin, pointy toes, pearls and girdles, Ginger was the pick of the litter.
"Sapphire, tonic, extra lime" said Ginger leaning close to my ear ... she smelled like hot apple pie. 
"Perfect" I said, staring directly at her perky, lightly freckled knockers standing proud of their satin drapery. Ginger stretched over me to serve Harleigh's and Mr. Lounge's cocktails(also Sapphire and Tonic with extra lime) giving me plenty of time to drink in her spice -- cinnamon with a top note of clove. 
        As she turned to go she mouthed the words "Call Me." I heard them viscerally, mostly in my gentleman's area.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Chapter Seven -- Serge Trouserin --

The Master of Ceremonies tapped the microphone. The PA squealed. Some invisible sound tech wrestled the feedback and found the proper level. "Test Test Test"
The MC was an imposing man, six four or five, dressed in expensive evening clothes --  a midnight blue cut away tuxedo, Turkish style velvet slip-ons and a white rosebud in his lapel . His hair, which shone blue in the spotlight, was pomaded straight back. He had a lavish mustache, waxed into wide handlebars ending in impossible curlycues. He wore a fez. Tucked under the big man's arm was a small brindle dog with keen orange eyes. 
The house lights and the hubbub trailed off ... all but the high end laughter and the chucka, chucka, chucka, of stainless shakers filled with gin and ice drifted away. 
  "Welcome to the Modern Lounge all you lords and ladies ... all you cats and kittens." chanted the MC. "Serge Trouserin's the name ... gin and jazz's the game." 
  His voice was slow and dark as diesel as he caressed the mic and whispered intimately to the standing room only crowd. 
 "You've been waiting patiently for the main event, the headliner ... the piece de resistance. 
Your patience, lords and ladies is about to be richly rewarded ... 'cause Mr. Lounge is in the house." 
The crowd roared it's approval. Serge waited for the din to subside then continued, 
  "Mr. L. has brought us some 'new talent' ( air quotes ) recently 'recruited' ( air quotes ) "from topside." 
 The audience responded with the back bencher's cheer of  "here, here, here" and a generous round of applause. 
  "Mr Lounge, as always, is going to seduce us with his sultry sax ... tonight on stand up bass, that would be the 'doghouse' to all you hep cats ... Lords and ladies ... put your hands together for Mr. Trig Mixter.  On the drums," Serge Trouserin continued, "the one, the only Mr. Harleigh Holmes". 
Serge Trouserin snapped his fingers two and four, his velvet turned up toe tapped four on the floor.  

 "Without further ado and nothin' in your pockets ... I give you The Modern Lounge's favorite band ..... Mr. L and the 'Retro Rockets'."