The Patrolman (2) - Chapter I: The Patrolman (Part II)
The confrontation seemed to last just a few seconds.
Noah didn’t remember how they’d gotten up here, but it was a lot more safer.
The revolvers and shotguns had been blasting away when the girl stepped past him and tore open the door of the Bank Manager’s office. ‘Quick,’ she yelled. ‘Get the door.’
He exploded inside the room. Breathless, sweat streaking down his forehead like rain on a tin roof. His hands were shaking. Closing the door, he cranked the handle up in one swift movement. ‘The key,’ he said. ‘Where is it?’
The girl blinked. ‘It’s in the drawer,’ she said. The tone was of the higher pitch, indicating a question as opposed to a statement. It didn’t exactly fill him with confidence.
A bullet pinged off the wooden rung just outside.
No time to quabble.
He realized there was a leather-bound bag in his hand. He tossed it on the desk and ‘rounded it and began tearing out drawers. One by one, the office resembled a newspaper printer’s with each one tossed. He looked up. The girl seemed paralyzed now. ‘Christ . . .’ she whispered. She said it over and over. The green carpet looked like it’d been snowed on.
She’ll survive, just find the damn key.
The volley of gunshots continued. Bullets howled into windows and smashed them down below. Shotgun booms overlapped one another. The cacophony of metal on metal, the noise of exploding, splintering wood, made the both of them wince. It sounded like they were tearing the building down, brick by brick. It was the sound of an overflowing bloodbath, that was for sure.
He glimpsed the girl. Her shoulders rattled like she was being physically shaken by a poltergeist on Benzedrine.
Finding two keys in an envelope, he figured they must be important. He ran ‘round the desk and tried them both. The first one was two small. Number two – bingo. Second time’s the charm. He locked it and left it in the door. The other one fell deep into his pocket.
Breathe, he told himself.
He slumped against the door and closed his eyes. He took three quick breaths into his lungs and filled them with air. His heart rate slow down to the point it seemed like all blood had stopped circulating through it altogether. Okey, he thought. He’d take a few moments to compose himself and get familiar with his new surroundings and chart a course of action. He opened his eyes and pinched a cigarette, tapping it against the back of his hand.
The air inside the office was cool. Long and spacious, he figured it ought to occupy a solid width of the building’s entire second floor. In the center of the room was a davenport desk on thick cabriole legs with his bag on it. For that kind of desk, it was extremely large and extremely ugly to look at. There was a clock on the wall. From a bank of dark oak drawers, a small wooden fan kicked the dust and dispersed it around the room. The dust, which affected his allergies and the sound of shooting, made him feel rather nauseous.
Daylight streamed in from the other side where there were two big windows. He moved over and leant on the glass. He had a perfect vantage point over North Harper Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. Opposite was Lorenzo’s Barberie – one of those ground-floor barbershops with a white and red awning and a dirty welcome carpet. Civilians were hiding in stores and more pigs had pulled up in paddy wagons. He couldn’t have picked a better room to hole up in – though a fire escape to the roof wouldn’t have gone amiss. If only I had me a rifle to keep ‘em out.
But he did have the girl. He checked the clock on the wall and took out his gun.
He lifted the window up and let a warning shot ricochet off the sidewalk.
A flock of pigeons took to the sky.
The cops ducked for cover.
Before he realized it himself, Noah was doing his best impression of Bogart as Roy Earle: ‘You got until eleven to get me outta here or I kill the girl.’
The officers blinked at him.
He fired another shot for good measure and dropped the window and yanked the latch. It gave them all something to think about.
Noah paced around the room the way a man does with a lot on his mind. He remembered his cigarette and continued to pack the tobacco into it. Feeling around in his pocket, his thumb struck a sharp edge.
The other key.
He fished it out and held it in front of the girl: ‘What does this open?’ he asked.
After a few minutes, silence sang throughout the building. There wasn’t so much as a stir now.
Noah was out of breath. He rubbed the nape of his neck and compartmentalized.
The wall clock read 10:32 now.
Ben Franklin’s picture was askew. A plethora of bills and receipts strewn across the already-littered floor.
The safe door was wide open and the leather-bound bag on the desk was now a damn sight heavier. Noah had counted it twice and the girl, who watched him count it, had agreed both times. Inside was $63,220.00.
Neither of them had seen that kind of money before.
The girl was sitting in a corner. The poltergeist who’d given her the shakes had taken a walk but Noah couldn’t help but pity her. Taking secret furtive glances, he added up his impressions of her.
Her hair was a blueish shade of black. They were soft, natural-looking curls that were blunt-cut to maybe one, maybe one-half inches below her shoulders. The long bob on her crown was parted on the right and just long enough to form a curl at the temple. It had been swept behind her ears, exposing the clear, beautiful line of her jaw.
The blueish-green eyes were wide apart. Her skin was incredibly fair and bore no trace of makeup. It was full of blemishes and unmistakably British by race. The cheekbones were high and complemented a small, attractive mouth.
But the lips weren’t pursed in a smile right now and the skin around her eyes was dark and swollen. The puffiness had come from crying. Noah hadn’t realized, he was too self-absorbed at the moment to notice what was happening just in front of him. He was quite certain she hadn’t made a sound. She was full of emotions that he couldn’t place or empathize with.
He found himself staring at her after a while.
She suddenly met his gaze: ‘Can I trouble you for a cigarette?’ she asked.
‘Sure,’ he said, tossing two packs at her: a book of matches and a bent-up pack of Morley’s.
She slid one in her mouth.
The girl wore a blouse of white silk which was practically see-through. He could make out the two small circles inside it.
She drew her forearms together, striking the match. The valley between her breasts deepened and she bunched up her knees.
He couldn’t take his eyes off her.
Beautiful women like that always belong to someone else.
The voice of his mother exclaimed in his head: assumptions are something you make and they’re almost always wrong.
She drew the smoke deeply into her lungs and gave a little sigh. It exhaled through her lips and nostrils and she took it out of her mouth. There was a wedding band on the fourth finger. She sensed his eyes on her, ‘I’m June,’ she said.
Noah swallowed and touched his neck again.
Shifting uncomfortably, ‘Noah,’ he said.
She gestured, ‘What are you gonna do with all that?’
He got up and cast his eyes on the money and it made him feel better for it: ‘Try an’ to do some good,’ he said.
‘Certainly, ma’am. We got a plan to redistribute it – give it to the ones that need it most.’
‘Does that include yourselves?’
There was a touch of venom in her voice.
Noah didn’t like it and stopped touching his neck: ‘Have you seen the hobo encampment, the one down by the L.A. River?’
‘Can’t say I get down there much.’
‘Didn’t think you would have,’ he said.
‘What are you suggesting?’
He gave her a tight-lipped smirk. ‘Your kind, raised on silver spoons an’ all that. Privileged types.’
She ground the Morley out on the floor which struck him as a strange thing to do. ‘Noah,’ she said. ‘You don’t know the first thing about me so do yourself a favor.’
Silence. Their brief flurry of conversation was over and she was now furious with him. He was sorry but it wouldn’t matter to her. Maybe she ought to be angry. Still, he thought, not harm in trying.
She glared at him.
‘The encampment,’ he said. ‘You know they call it the Jungle?’
‘I didn’t actually. Why they call it that?’
‘It ain’t the nicest place to live and it’s very dangerous.’
She was watching him, as though trying to work out if he was up to something. After a long, bittersweet moment, she seemed to make her mind up about him. ‘Right,’ she said.
‘We’ll do some good with this money, we have a duty to the people who need us.’
‘And duty gave you the right to kill other people?’
Yeah, she’s still sore. Noah folded his arms and shuffled his feet, the blunt comments made him uncomfortable. She was a woman who didn’t mind kicking the men in her life in the teeth once in a while: ‘Things weren’t meant to shake out that way.’
‘I’ll say,’ June said and huffed gray smoke.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Today wasn’t meant to happen like this. I was meant to be leaving this sorry dump.’
Noah felt his eyes widen and fought the urge to curse. ‘Sorry to hear that, ma’am.’
He held out his hand. She looked at it for a moment and then at him and then took it. ‘You make yourself comfortable, we might be here for some time,’ he said.
The empty chair was facing her. She fell into it gratefully. ‘Can I ask you something?’ she said.
‘Did you mean what you said, to them?’
Of course he didn’t, but he couldn’t tell her that.
‘You can trust me,’ he responded finally.
He lifted the money bag off the table and dropped it next to hers. ‘I trust you to keep an eye on it.’
She looked between him and the money: ‘Sure,’ she said.
Only yards away, something clattered heavily to the floor. The clang echoed throughout the vacant building and betrayed its position. Noah stepped in front of June and whipped the revolver at the source of the sound and held it there. Everyone held their breath and waited.
‘Who is it?’ she whispered.
A rustling. It moved closer, like a slight scuffling of the shoes. It was that goddamned cop.
Noah fired three times through the door.