A Noir Christmas Tale
By Tipp Hex
Light seeped from the open doorway, the red neon from the Club Noir and its garish Christmas lights trickling over the wet pavement like blood from an open wound. An arterial thumping pounded inside my head, an echo of the heavy music beat that was pumping out into the street. I took the small and old Leica M9 rangefinder camera I carried everywhere from my coat and captured the scene. Another one for the scrapbook of my life.
I swallowed. This really wasn’t how I’d envisaged meeting her.
Twenty-five years had since passed, and the memory, an almost photographic image, still remained in my thick skull in over-saturated colour. Any real colour photograph would have faded away to blessed sepia. Instead, that damned woman was still there in my head. I paused and stared into the blackness of my shadow as the memories flooded back.
I was twelve. Standing, staring in dumb-struck awe as she’d moved languidly through a sunbeam piercing the gloom of the school corridor, an angel dancing amongst the dust-motes in the light.
That little bastard Cupid, wielding not a bow and arrow but a heavy piece of 2x4 wood studded with rusty nails had whacked me directly over the head. I’d discovered girls.
But of course I was way too young. She, being thirteen and a whole year older, was a real woman, not a child.. It was obvious I didn’t stand a hope in hell. I would be sentenced to five long school years of tragic pathetic attempts to prove I even existed to her, all the while attempting to not go, as they say, blind.
But that was then. I put away the camera I always carried and patted the cold steel of the thirty-eight holstered against my chest. Something else I always carried and which was now the thing closest to my heart.
I looked at my watch, a battered Seiko Dive Master. It was nine pm and it was time. Yet I was suddenly twelve years old again. All that awkwardness flooded back. Trying to speak, to impress. Gurgling in a hormonal strangled daze to say something, anything, as she wafted by my invisibility. I had always been invisible to her I relaized. But it wouldn’t be like that again, not tonight. I took a deep breath, shook my head clear of past ghosts and walked inside.
The atmosphere was a fetid wave, blasting away the night's coldness but not my darkness of spirit. I stood there trying to recognise faces from the past. But the ghosts of my memory had aged beyond recognition. This was the first school re-union I’d come to and it would probably be the last, especially after I’d done what I’d come here to do.
A figure, a woman, detached itself from the crowd and came over. She was a sophisticated brunette with calm, confident eyes and a drink in her hand. But the drink wasn’t for me.
“Hi! Oh do come in, don’t be shy, you're here for the re-union? I’m Sue, Sue Jackson, left in ’78, what year were you in?”
“Well, I left in 76 ...”
“Oh, I was in third year then, you look familiar … Jack, Jack Spalding, right?”
I tried to hide my surprise and embarrassment because I didn’t recognise her or her name.
“Yes, Jack Spalding,” I held out my hand and she took it with a firm grip, “you’ve got a good memory, I’m impressed.”
“Don’t be,” she shrugged, giving my hand an extra squeeze before releasing almost reluctantly.
“I’ve been studying the school mug shots and I’d recognise you anywhere, you haven’t changed all that much. Here, take this, everyone has one, they’re name cards, in case anyone forgets.”
Her eyes sparkled with amusement as she pinned my name-tag to my jacket while I despertaly searched my memory to find any trace of the young third-year girl standing next to me. Then she sighed.
“You really don’t remember me, do you?”
“You don’t, do you?
Being wrong footed is something I hate and shrugged helplessly. It had been a long time since I’d felt myself blush.
“I’m really sorry, but did we, erm, know each other, back then?”
Sue shook her head, and stared at her drink. An awkward silence was forming and I began to look around for an escape.
“No, not really … but I had an awfully huge crush on you back then.”
“A crush!” Sue repeated, grinning. “You were Head Boy, and I thought you were the best thing since sliced bread. Used to try and provoke you. Anything to get your attention I guess.”
I closed my eyes and the image of a skinny girl pestering the life out of me began to swim up from the depths. My embarrassment deepened as I finally remembered... I hadn’t been very kind to her at the time. I'd dismissed her, brushing away her attempts to talk. To be friends.
“No, I’m sorry, you’re right, I don’t remember your name, but I do
remember you now”. I shook my head. “I must have seemed a real bastard back then.”
“Yes you were. I really hated you for a while afterwards as well, but I know it’s not your fault, we were kids after all, and I was, what? All of three years too young for you.” Sue’s sudden and
infectious laugh broke the awkwardness and I found myself beginning to relax. But I remembered I still had a job to do.
“Childhood crushes eh?” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Here’s to them!” Sue raised her glass. “You’re still not too bad looking you know. I mean for your age. I can see the hint of a paunch, but not too bad overall.”
I patted my stomach ruefully. “Well thanks, and I have to say - and without a word of flattery - you do look fantastic.”
“Why thank you …” Sue’s eyes twinkled over the rim of her glass as she took a sip.
“You married?” I asked.
“Yes,very happily.” But somehow she didn’t sound as though she believed it.
“I’m glad.” I said, “Kids?”
“No, and you?”
“No, not now and no kids.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“These things happen, my job just got in the way.”
Before Sue could ask awkward questions, I asked her if she had seen Fiona.
“Ahh, the lovely Fiona, all the boys had a crush on her I think, didn’t they?” she said, giving me a knowing look. “Oh no, not you to? Is THAT why you want to find her?”
“No, no not treally. But you’re right, I did have a crush on her, I guess very boy did, but that was a long time ago.”
“FIONA! Someone here wants to see you!”
I closed my eyes for a second, I really didn’t want the whole damned room alerted to what I had to do, but it was too late. And there she was. Walking towards me with that familiar swing to her hips, looking just as damned attractive now as she had back then. My gun felt tight against my chest. Or perhaps the tightness was in my heart? Shit.
“Oh hello, yes, it's Jack Spalding isn’t it?”
Her perfume invaded my lungs and teased out the remnants of forgotten emotions. Hurt and longing swam up and grabbed my throat. I forced them back down into the depths, into the past, where they belonged. No room for sentimentality. Not now.
I nodded, my throat dry. Then she smiled that smile - half mocking, half seductive. She hadn’t changed a bit.
“Jack, you know something? I always thought you were going to ask me out, but you never did, such a shame,” she said, all in honeyed tones, but darker and even more seductive than I could remember. She leaned forward to kiss my cheek, her hand upon my chest.
It was then that her hand froze and her eyes locked onto mine. I guess the shape and feel of the gun beneath my jacket was unmistakable. I didn’t return the kiss. She stepped slowly back, looking at me quizzically.
“Jack? Why are you wearing that?” Then she turned in alarm towards Sue, “He’s got a gun…”
“What?” Sue’s eyes widened.
I really didn’t want to do it this way, but now I had no choice. I reached inside my jacket as both Sue and Fiona's eyes went wide. But I didn't touch the gun. Instead I pulled out my wallet and flicked it open. Fiona’s eyes widened even further as she saw the badge glinting inside the leather. In the same moment, she turned to escape. That's when I drew my gun, aiming it at a point right between the shoulder blades of her beautiful but retreating back.
“Don’t! Don’t make me shoot, stay where you are! It’s over Fiona…”
She stopped dead in her tracks.
Then she turned, her eyes flickered rapidly between the badge in my wallet and my face. She was a cool one.Calculating the odds, weighing the chances. Then her body relaxed as the tension burst and she collapsed in a sullen heap. I took her arms, turned her around and snapped on the cuffs behind her back.
Sue was staring open mouthed, but within an instant, she had composed herself.
“No wonder your wife left you. What has Fiona done? And why do this here? Now. At our re-union?” Anger and shock had replaced the sparkle I saw earlier in her eyes.
“Yeah, I’m not to happy about it either Sue, believe me. But she’s been on the run for years. This re-union, well, she was the Queen of our high-school after all, and when this invitation came through I just had a hunch she couldn’t miss it. Whatever the risk.” I was gabbling. It was suddenly important to me that Sue understood.
Fiona meanwhile had began twisting around to free herself.
“Let me go Jack, you can do it, just say I wasn’t here… Sue, help me!”
I almost let her go right there and then. Almost. But I knew how she used that soft and so-sincere aura of vulnerability to entrap her victims. I wasn’t buying. Not this time. Maybe the jury would.
“I’ve chased you longer than you’ll ever know Fiona – you don’t know how sorry I am that it’s ended this way.”
“Yeah, right. You’re one real bastard, Jack”
“Yeah, I know.”
I started to leave, but Sue stopped me in the entrance.
I turned towards Sue.
“Look, I’m sorry I spoiled the evening Sue…” I shrugged hopelessly, while meaning every word.
Sue stared at me, hard, for three long heartbeats. Then she reached into her purse and gave me a card with her number. And then she quickly kissed me on the cheek.
“Merry Christmas Jack. Call me. That is, when you’r free. Maybe you can buy me a drink and we can catch up on what we've missed…”
And with that, she turned and left, her scent lingering in my brain. From my pocket I pulled out my camera and deleted the image of the club I'd taken before I'd entered. I realized it was time to put the past away. After all, as I dragged Fiona out into the dank night and her date with a judge, I knew I had my own date to think about.