Novel: Occult Adventure
In the red light district – call it a district but it’s only a street in the shadow of Wrigley Field – neon lights flash their announcements of girls, sexy girls, gorgeous girls, hot girls, cheap, fine, or the best. Lamps blink hearts and shapely bodies and cats with tails whipping back and forth. Music pounds at the doors and rolls out onto the sidewalk. Slinky music, music not for dancing but for seduction. Ladies in lingerie pose in the windows, women outside the clubs hug their furs around themselves and bat their lashes and flash coquettish smiles. The outside ones are the prettiest, the most lovely on the block; they have to be, to pull in the customers while wrapped in coats and hats and gloves. They’re also the most mysterious for it, their smiles the most knowing for it, their scarfs like veils in an Arabian Nights tale, hiding the loveliest of princesses.
One of these muffled beauties bites a thumbnail seductively, eyes directed towards a young man. A boy. Barely old enough to be here. She locks eyes with him and, unexpectedly, his face turns sour. He frowns, his eyes go dark, he sneers a little. The beauty understands immediately: a woman-hater. A revenge-seeker. Here to take out his frustration on a female – any female. A possible altercation. A probable domestic. She unfocuses from him and pretends she was looking past him at a gruff giant of a man just beyond.
The boy forgets her just as quickly as he noticed her. He’s here on business. He has an address. He has a grudge, and he’s ready to collect what’s due.
In between the lights and ladies he finds a nondescript door, out of place in the flashy gaudiness of the street. The original numbers long ago peeled away, a piece of paper taped crookedly beneath them: 11031 upstairs.
It’s his first source of misgiving. As if he expected something more professional. A plate embossed in gold numbering. He sways a bit as if drunk, but drunk on anger instead of liquor, hate instead of spirits. There’s a moment of clarity like white-hot lightning: he could turn back. But that’s all, and then it’s gone, and he opens the door and climbs the stairs.
The music is even louder inside. Ministry is pounding through the walls, the bass wrapping itself around the boy’s lungs, crawling into his stomach like a parasite having found a warm nesting center. A girl, naked above the waist, shoots out of a room and bumps into him. She apologizes, giggling, and rushes past him further down the hallway, forgetting to close the door, inside which is reds and purples and more half-clad women.
He’s infuriated by the encounter, both from her running into him and the laughter, idle chittering as if she knew him. He doesn’t realize – or want to realize – that he’s also hideously embarrassed.
The music changes to a song he doesn’t recognize, but whose cords are repetitive and grating on his nerves. It feeds his anger and gives him further incentive to continue down the corridor, following the path of the half-naked girl.
He finds 11031 by the number plates on the door. But the 0 and the 3 have fallen off, replaced by written numbers in black marker. As at the taped address downstairs, he halts again, and part of him – a wiser and yet more innocent part of him – wonders what he’s doing here. Then the door opens before him.
A woman stands there, not a girl but a woman with knowledge in her eyes. Knowledge of what, the boy wonders, and snarls inwardly at what his subconscious answers.
“He’s been waiting for you,” she says in a luxurious voice heavy with import. “Come in.”
He’s surprised, but feels no need to explain things to her. As she steps aside, he enters.
He’s momentarily blinded, the room far dimmer than the corridor, lighted only by candles. As his eyes adjust he’s thankful to see no garishness here, no pink velvet couches or lava lamps or dancing poles. The walls are dark but mildly brown, the floor hardwood with a spotless white rug laid over it. The furniture is sparse but plain and businesslike. The view puts him at ease. It’s more like…
Like what? Like you were expecting? What were you expecting?
Still, there are two more women reclining in the chairs, one sipping from a wineglass, the other painting her toenails. The latter makes him feel like he’s stumbled onto someplace private, like a schoolgirl’s bedroom. An absurd thought considering where in Chicago he was.
The woman who spoke to him closes the door, and at the moment it clicks shut the music stops entirely, not even the pounding of bass sounding through the walls or along the floor. Just a coincidence? No sound-proofing was that good.
“Please, make yourself at home,” the woman tells him. “I’ll fetch him.”
She exits into the next room and he hears muffled voices and more giggling. He doesn’t sit. The room is full of energy somehow even in the quiet, even in the dark. It is as if the music was still pounding away, but silently and unmoving. The two girls in the chairs don’t look at him. He’s not sure whether he should feel snubbed or relieved.
The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife is hung over the sofa. He inspects it for nearly ten minutes, not wanting to look at the girls. His mind is blank, almost hypnotized, trying to not think about leaving. Because he doesn’t want to leave but knows he should. There’s more giggling and some questionable moaning going on in the next room, and there’s no music to drown it out. Maybe this is the wrong room. After all, no one here should be expecting him. Definitely the wrong room. And what does it matter anyway? Who’s to say this would have worked, would have been what he needed, wanted?
He turns to leave, and still the girls stare at their wine glass and toes. How many coats of polish was that girl putting on those things?
A man is standing directly behind him, causing him to jump, startled.
“There you are,” the man says. He barely glances at the boy, but walks to the couch and sits, arms stretched out along the back. His skin is dark in the poor light, his hair clipped short, his eyes hard and mean but his lips set in a slight smile. One of the women, setting aside her wineglass, kneels on the floor beside him and begins to caress his left leg. The boy is both aroused ad angered by this action from a cheap whore.
“I think there’s some mistake,” he says through gritted teeth. “I didn’t call ahead or anything.”
“No one ever does,” the man says as if wounded by the fact. He gestures to an open chair. “Sit down.”
“I’m sorry. I’m clearly in the wrong place. I’ll – ”
“Sit down.” The man’s voice is suddenly harsh, sharp, biting. The boy looks at him, startled once again, and sees that the mans eyes are a stunning blue. How strange.
He has sat in the chair. He doesn’t remember crossing to it or the action of sitting in it. He looks at the man again and now his eyes are brown.
What just happened?