On the way up, the Tom Waits song “Cold Cold Ground” was playing in the elevator. Not an elevator-music version of it, but the actual song. Even though I was by myself, the lift felt stuffy and cramped. The music made it more bearable.
When I reached the ninth floor, I stepped off and looked down the long, beige hallway for Apartment 903. It was to the left. I checked the gun in my pocket, a Browning Hi-Power Standard, then knocked on the door.
A short, round man with glasses answered.
“Hello?” he asked.
“Are you Frank Garson?”
“I believe I have something for you.”
“Oh,” he said. “Yes. Of course. Come in.”
I followed Frank in. He shut the door behind me. “Can I get you something to drink,” he asked.
“This isn’t a social call.”
“Yes. Of course. This is just… this is how you make your living. You’re working.”
He disappeared for a minute, leaving me standing alone in his living room. His couch looked comfortable, his chairs, too. The air was just right. That was the word for his life, comfortable. Any type of edge had been left at the elevator. It all made my throat feel tight.
When he came back, he had an envelope in his hand. He handed it to me like I was a dog with a disease. “It’s all there,” Frank said. “You can count it if you want.”
“I trust you. If it’s short, I know where you live.” He didn’t seem to know whether I was making a joke or a threat.
I took the Browning out of my pocket and showed it to him. “Do you know how to use one of these?”
“Is it much different than what I see in movies?”
“Pretty much the same, just louder. Don’t tilt it to try to look cool.”
He smiled. “I don’t try to look cool.”
I handed him the gun. He weighed it in his hand. The silence stretched between us. He must have felt like he had to say something. “I… I need it for protection…” His eyes wouldn’t meet mine. “I doubt… I hope I’ll never even use it.”
Sure. That’s why he needed an untraceable weapon. “You need anything else?” I asked.
“No. Thank you! You’ve been very helpful.”
He showed me out then locked his door behind me. Comfortably safe.
While I waited for the elevator, I wondered if I’d read a newspaper article about a jealous husband shooting his wife’s lover, or a quiet employee shooting up his office, or a down-on-his-luck loser robbing a bank.
I didn’t care one way or the other.
On the way down, there was more Tom Waits – “Trouble’s Braids.” Whoever the Building Manager was, they had taste.
The elevator was stuffy and cramped, but it felt more honest than comfort.
JOHN WEAGLY’s latest short story collection, A BUCKET OF BOOBS, is now available on Kindle. www.JohnWeagly.com