The Patrolman (2) - Chapter I: The Patrolman (Part I)
By J. A. Stapleton
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At exactly 10:00 a.m., when the woman stopped to catch her breath, there was a thundering in her ears. It was like an airplane taking off. She swallowed. She looked at the newspaper poster in the kiosk. It read: SPRING STREET SLAYERS’ HQ DISCOVERED BY LAPD – ‘Swift Justice Shall Follow’ Assures Chief & District Attorney.
June Hartsfield thought about the mother she heard on the radio the other morning, the one who saw it happen. It sounded like a truly awful affair. The woman told KNX listeners that she just happened to be out with her daughter – her baby in a pushchair. The next thing bullets flying left, right, and center. A gun store owner and a police officer had been killed.
When one hears about shocking things close to home they can’t help but compartmentalize, to put themselves in another’s shoes. How would I have reacted? Hartsfield thought. She thought about her daughter, Deborah, just eighteen months old. The Hartsfields’ last attempt at saving their marriage. What would she have done to protect her baby in that kind of situation?
A round-faced man in a blue Hawaiian shirt emerged from behind the poster board. ‘Morning,’ he said. He had an accent she couldn’t place. Haiti? Monaco? She wouldn’t dream of asking, though she’d been going to him every day for the past year.
‘Morning,’ said Hartsfield, taking her purse out.
‘Please,’ She put five cents in his hand and took one from the bottom. She never took one from the top – the kind of people who touch them and all: ‘See ya tomorrow.’
‘Take care, ma’am,’ he said, beaming. ‘Orevwa.’
She smiled back at him.
Really ought to get his name, say ‘bye to him when I go.
As she headed down the street, she started to feel tense.
Hartsfield always felt anxious after a heavy night’s drinking, it was standard for her. But that Sunday it was practically unbearable. The night before, she’d caught up with some girlfriends at a cocktail bar on La Cienega. Saturday was her only day off and she certainly deserved a drink. The girls got blotto, danced, they batted some oddball sailors off around close. Afterward they rode a cab home to Inglewood.
When Hartsfield opened her eyes that morning, she knew she was going to be late to work. She drifted off on the bus, ended up a mile and a half from her stop. La Brea to La Jolla was a thirty-minute walk with a hangover. Collecting the newspaper en-route was just one of her duties.
It was too much for a Sunday.
She was meant to start at ten pronto.
She gave the Tribune a look. There were five sub-columns, anything from: ‘City Springs To Attention’ to ‘Tokyo Desperate As Peace Talks Collapse’.
Lately it’s all bad news.
When she looked up from it, she was already at the entrance.
June Hartsfield thought the Hollywood Bank & Financial Trust building was a bastard amalgamation of architecture. It was a mixture of American internationalist and European gothic architecture. It was a blend of two styles that just didn’t go together. The outside was flat and rectangular and bleak-looking. The stars and stripes flew from the rooftop, purple drapes half obscured the bay windows. There were four windows and four pillars, which were flat against the structure, reaching up to the second floor. They weren’t real – just a design element to produce some grand-looking effect.
Hartsfield loped up the steps and went inside.
Hartsfield’s ‘office’ wasn’t exactly the nicest one there.
Starkly old-fashioned, bounded on all sides by filing cabinets and boxes brimming with loose files. The walls were stained brown with years of smoke. It looked like a storage closet. She was almost certain that’s what it used to be – a janitor’s cupboard. She’d bet a month’s pay on it.
She looked queasy as she entered. Moving past the large bank of forty-nine dark oak office drawers, her eyes darted about, looking for any indication of disturbance. Nothing had been touched. Everything was in its proper place. She quickly examined the drawers, it was categorized in alphabetical order. Not one loose file. It was how she’d left it Friday.
Setting her bag down on the desk, she took a moment for herself – feeling completely exhausted. Hartsfield hated her boss, her office, the long hours she worked and the certainty that she would never be up for promotion again. In fact, she hated almost every element of her mundane existence. When she was a girl, all she wanted was to be up on the stage – something that never happened. She wanted everyone’s eyes on her. Here, she was getting forgotten.
Still, she had a family who she loved. And that love sustained her as much as it can anyone.
She longed for a new direction.
Hartsfield felt a chill.
This fucking room.
Damp and rot had to be checked for monthly, then exterminated – more things to take care of, an addition to her daily duties. It was a job she had to tend to after-hours with no overtime. No point taking your coat off, June. Unless you want to be sick for the holidays. She thought about it. Maybe she could get out of dinner with her husband’s parents if she was sick.
Hartsfield dropped the coat.
The door swung open. A blast of fresh, clean air slapped her in the face. The Deputy was standing there.
Raymond Seymour was the Bank Manager’s latest hire. He was in his early twenties and weedy and talked with a lisp. He wore spectacles and had one of those faces you want to break. ‘Mr. Reiner will see you in his office,’ he said. ‘Immediately.’
Perfect, Hartsfield thought. Absolutely perfect.
She glared at him and he glared back. He almost always got awkward whenever she got close to him.
She pushed the chair back with her legs and grabbed her bag.
‘Is that necessary?’ he asked.
‘Fuck off,’ she said.
He frowned and reluctantly stepped aside.
She made her way up the stairs.
Seymour waited at the bottom, excited by her. He observed the skirt, one of those black pencil skirts. It bulged over her narrow, but not thin waist.
On the second floor, Hartsfield sensed his eyes on her. She didn’t dare look back. Her stomach turned.
The Office of the Bank Manager.
Hartsfield waited at the door. She lowered her shoulders and closed her eyes and let three deep breaths fill her lungs. She waited for her heart rate slow a tad. Okay, she thought, keep it brief with this creep. She knocked: it sounded feverish, hesitant.
‘Enter,’ a male voice said.
Howard Reiner was a portly man with a receding hairline and a Hitler ‘stash. He was the sort of person who would argue with you. He was the kind that’d say the toothbrush, as it was called, was a style of mustache stolen from Charlie Chaplin and that by keeping one he was reclaiming it from the Nazis. Not that anyone gave a fuck. He sat back and reached for his pipe and began filling it thoughtfully.
Behind him was a glum-looking portrait of Benjamin Franklin, the words ‘A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned’ on a gold placard beneath. Reiner’s shirt looked like it was about to explode, sending the plastic buttons pinging through the wall. Mr. Reiner didn’t look up when his ‘part-time’ filing clerk who worked six days a week for him, who occasionally deposited the cash, came into the room. The eyes of Benjamin Franklin followed her in.
‘Close the door,’ he said.
June Hartsfield shut it quietly behind her.
Reiner pulled a matchbook out of his drawer.
She lowered her eyes, moving to the chair across the desk from him. As she went to sit, he said: ‘You’re seven minutes late,’ daring her to sit.
Still he refused to look at her.
‘Sorry, sir,’ she said, ‘There was a line at the newspaper stand.’
There was a rasping, the pipe seemed to be taking a lot of matches to get going.
She looked through the smoke clouds into the shrewd brown eyes. When it was lit, the smoke subsided and rushed out of his nostrils thinly. Hartsfield realized the eyes were watching her now, intently. What was coming? Was he going to force himself on her again? Or just reprimand her?
‘How do you feel, June?’
That was unexpected.
‘Working here. How do you feel, would you say you take pleasure in the workings of finance?’
This again? He was up to something. Talking about money had got him going the last time.
She remembered the gray, rainy day.
It was two days after her thirty-fifth birthday – her husband had taken her and the children to Catalina Island that week-end. They left the baby with a neighbor.
When she returned the following Monday, the office was filled with smoke. Reiner was mumbling words like outflow and collateral. He promised to promote her, to put her in charge of the new accounts desk which mean less hours and better pay.
He jested, said if someone had the key, they could start a whole new life with what was inside. ‘Of course I keep it nearby,’ he said. ‘If anyone’s getting out of this place, it’s gonna be me.’
She feigned amusement. He ought to sack the bank off and work stand-up.
He handed her the key.
‘Go on,’ he said, ‘Take a look for yourself.’
It was a test of some sorts.
Hartsfield unlocked it and opened the door.
‘Look,’ he said.
She swept a glance.
‘No,’ he said, ‘Really look inside.’
Hartsfield bent over, saw dollar bills wrapped in thousand-dollar denominations stacked to the roof of it. She felt him coming up behind her. Pressing against her . . . a stiffness. He said it was an honor to work for the bank. Said she was unproven, said there was a way to make that possible.
June Hartsfield ran out the office and went straight home.
Afterward, when the invites to the after-work drinks and staff retirement parties stopped, Hartsfield heard Reiner begging another female employee to keep her mouth shut. He told the girl to stop and smell the roses. Her silence bought her the new accounts desk, week-ends off and a marginal increase in pay.
Hartsfield drafted her letter of resignation. She kept the envelope in her bag at all times. If he touched her again, she’d hand it to him.
Following last night’s drinks, the ruckus with the rowdy, raunchy sailors, Hartsfield decided to hand it to him today.
‘June?’ the voice pulled her back to the present.
Mr. Reiner was now standing in front of her, half sitting on the desk. His arms flexed under his shirt. There wasn’t an ounce of muscle on him. ‘Is something the matter?’ he asked, the tone one of impatience than concern.
‘Not at all,’ Hartsfield groaned. Suddenly she strode toward him. ‘There’s a matter we need to address.’ She went into her bag and withdrew the envelope. She shoved it into his hands with such force, she hoped he’d get a papercut from it.
Reiner gazed at it in disbelief, sensing what it held. He turned it over and over, refusing to acknowledge it. She had a hold over him. His voice was businesslike, cold: ‘Certainly, June. But there’s something else I wish to say first, I . . .’
Downstairs, Raymond Seymour stood patiently, observing the three women working quietly at the desks in front of him.
This was his first job. He was proud to work here. The Hollywood Bank & Financial Trust had catered to native Angelenos and the film colony for the last forty years – it didn’t discriminate. If you worked hard, they’d invest your earnings for you, boasting some enticing interest rates.
The building was erected in 1889, situated at 8235 Santa Monica Boulevard – before it became known as one of the major east-west thoroughfares in the county. The building was taken over by the Trust in 1900 and converted into a bank less than a year later. Owing to the time of construction, the bank had a beautifully furnished entrance, a lushly adorned interior that could have been the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel. It was still more or less the same.
The desks were made of the finest ornate oak. Stone busts of the famous faces of finance: Morris, Morgan, and Hollins, stood every few meters apart. Chandeliers glistened overhead, with two sets of three fans circulating warm air. The floor was of a smoky blue marble and yet, he had wondered how the directors had afforded such furnishings. It was a bank after all – not the L.A. County Art Museum. Had some skimming occurred over the years? It wasn’t his place to question, but to serve. But of course it had.
‘Mr. Seymour?’ one of the women said.
He looked up, spotting four gentlemen move swiftly through the entrance doors. ‘Not now,’ he said. ‘Wait there.’
The three ladies were separated by wooden partitions. It was the Manager’s idea to reduce typical woman’s chatter. The three women respectively managed Enquiries, Savings & Checking, and the New Accounts desks.
They watched and waited, exchanging cross words. . . Talking to new customers ain’t his job. . . Who does he think he is?. . . The Deputy’s off again – stealing our credit. They kept the volume to a minimum, sneering through fake smiles as Seymour crossed the room to an exceptionally tall, wiry man in a raincoat and brown and white spats.
Seymour said something to him, the man shot a glance over at the three ladies. He nodded, then Seymour turned ‘round. He was walking back to them, soon Seymour broke into a run.
Hartsfield pulled back, something’s wrong.
Reiner stiffened, slipping the letter back into the envelope. He was unmoving.
‘This really can’t wait,’ she said.
His eyes looked through his lenses resentfully into her big brown ones. She was in the habit of hurting his pride – after all he did for her. He stuck the pipe in his mouth and moved away, defeated.
The door nearly came off its hinges, Deputy Seymour stood there, looking rather pathetic.
‘Can’t you see I’m in a meeting, Raymond?’
‘Yes, sir – sorry, sir. It’s just . . . some gentlemen, they require your assistance downstairs.’
‘Christ, can’t you talk to anyone? Tell them I’ll be--’
A shotgun blast slapped a period on the end of his sentence.
‘We’re getting robbed,’ Seymour exclaimed.
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I really liked your voice in
I really liked your voice in this - just the little details you include that are still minimal but paint a picture. The way you describe the lameness of the "fake" gothic architecture, "a man who would argue with you", etc - witty but not obtrusive and helps the narrative flow along.
I'm still figuring out how to read collections and I figure this is part of a longer story, so I can't comment on plot too much, but like I said you're a really efficient writer with regards to prose. it almost has a noir-like feel, like one of those hard-boiled detective genres.
Nice atmosphere-buildng too. Describing small, cramped spaces is always a good way to build a claustrophobic feeling.
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