The black Tata bacteriophage SUV rolled through the chain link gate that groaned on its steel wheels back across the pavement to magnetically lock again. The hum of electricity settled over the guards in the little shack who went back to their card game. The SUV drove three blocks down the street and turned left into an alley and stopped. Inside, the blond officer riding shotgun turned and looked at the VIP in the back seat. “You okay to get out here?”
The VIP twitched the corner of his mouth at the officer and looked out the window. He snorted.
“Fine,” the officer said. “We’ll wait for an hour. After that you’re on your own. You got the address?”
“Of course.” The VIP opened his door and paused. “If you’re gone when I come back, I’ll make sure that your next assignment involves rabid animals and raw meat suits.” He exited the truck and closed his door.
“Prick,” the officer said.
The VIP adjusted his coat and rolled his neck. “I can’t believe I had to come here.” He walked away from the SUV.
The apartment was cramped but spacious for the Well. Few people had two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and a living room for only two occupants. This was luxury in a prison setting. The VIP stood in the open doorway, his dark glasses rendering him impassive. “Nice place, Frank. You’re looking we --- good.”
The man holding the doorknob was scowling. Frank wasn’t happy-go-lucky, even in the best of circumstances, and his reactions to unannounced guests were rarely civil. “So?”
The VIP didn’t move. “Can I come in?”
Frank stood back behind the door and looked at the floor. The VIP came in and waited for the sound of the latch. He took off his glasses and slid them into his coat pocket. The dining room table was strewn with books and papers and the second chair was piled with more. Otherwise the apartment was Spartan, the furniture functionally comfortable. “Frank,” he said.
“I don’t want to be here any more than you want me to be. It’s important.”
“You’d come to gloat if you had the urge,” Frank said.
The VIP bristled. “It suits me to have you in the Well with all the other sex offenders, predators and perverts, but this is official business.”
“The Lassiter girl.”
“No,” Frank said. “Absolutely not.”
“Her parents are demanding an investigation. He’s powerful. She has connections, too. He’ll be grateful for the closure an investigation can provide.” The VIP sighed and put his hands on his hips. “I need your help.”
Frank turned and left the living room for the kitchen. The VIP clenched and unclenched his fists, could hear the clink of ice in two glasses and the gentle gurgle of liquid being poured. He was close to calling out when Frank came back with two glasses half-filled with a brown liquor and ice. He held one out to the VIP.
“French bourbon,” Frank said. “Illegal in the States.” He sipped at his glass and looked over it at the VIP. “You gonna do anything about this, Jurgens? You gonna take that away from me, too?”
Jurgens was impassive.
“Why me? There’re others who can do this here. Paxon, for one.”
“Paxon’s an idiot. So’s Alves and so is Farmer,” Jurgens said. “You’re the one the commissioner wants on the job.” Frank didn’t move. Jurgens stared at him.
“Because Senator Lassiter insisted.” Jurgens sat down on the sofa, set his drink on the coffee table and crossed his arms.
“Bullshit,” Frank said.
“Lassiter specifically asked for you after he saw you on the list of inmates,” Jurgens said. “He remembered you from the Sparkit business.”
Frank drained his glass and the ice clinked in the bottom. His eyes scrunched into narrow slits. He huffed and went back to the kitchen. Jurgens heard more liquor being poured and reached for his own drink; one sip then another and a long draught. Frank had come back to the living room and stared at Jurgens.
“What are you promising, then?”
It seemed obvious to open sex clubs and brothels in the federal prisons made of former arts districts, especially since the government only monitored the outside walls, but no one had created one on the scale of Red Bettie’s in any of the other Wells across the country. Tourists from the city eventually found the ratholes and tunnels that led to the sex trade in the Well. Despite strict moral imperatives being tightly imposed Out There, the illicit trade was ignored by the government. Everyone involved made money and then spent it.
Red Bettie’s was full of dark corners and dimly lit tables. The pulse of the music complemented the whirling, flashing yellow, purple and white spotlights splashing across the glass dance floor. Frank waved at Danny as he passed the bar. Danny pointed toward the back wall of the club where the offices were. He smiled at the bartender and made his way through the grinding, sweating bodies to a door guarded by the black-suited gorilla who put out one giant paw to stop him.
Frank signed. “What?”
“No entry,” the gorilla signed back. “Boss order.”
“No entry. Boss order. Wait.”
Frank turned away from the gorilla. Fuming, he fished out his cell phone and pushed one button, then listened. No answer. He slapped the phone shut and looked at it angrily. It went back into his pants pocket.
The gorilla stood impassive at the door and frowned at Frank, who nodded back and went to the bar. Danny put a glass with two fingers of bourbon and three ice cubes down in front of him and walked away. The dance music throbbed in his chest as he sipped his drink.
Danny came back with a fresh drink and a slip of paper folded in half for Frank. “From her,” Danny said, walking away to the other end of the bar.
Frank opened the note, read it then crumpled it up and dropped it into the ashtray on the bar. He drained the fresh drink and waited.
“Sorry, Frank,” Bettie said. “It was business that couldn’t be interrupted. An ambassador from the east.” They were in her office, a small closet at the back of the club with room enough for a medium-sized desk and three chairs. The walls were painted a bone-white color to make up for the lack of natural light and to allow photos of natural wonders to function as decoration. There was an ancient laptop, closed, and a picture of Frank on the desk.
He hugged her tighter, stroked her hair. “It’s okay, gorgeous” he said. “I understand.”
“What’s the matter?” Bettie pulled back. She put her hands on his chest and asked the question again with her eyes. Frank turned away from her. Bettie hit him in the shoulder. “Tell me.”
When he was done explaining Jurgens’ visit, he still couldn’t look Bettie in the eye. “He said that Senator Lassiter would get us out of here, that we could live Out There. We could start over, Bettie. We could have a life in regular society.”
“You took the case.”
Frank didn’t answer.
“You did, didn’t you?” Bettie clenched and unclenched her small fists and tried to control her breathing. She tried counting to ten, made it to six. “Goddamn it, Frank!”
Frank stood up a little straighter. “I’m doing this for us, Bettie.”
“Bullshit,” she said.
“I know it sounds insane; I know I promised I’d never do this kind of work again; I know I said I’d kill Jurgens if I ever saw him again…”
Bettie just looked at him with her cold blue eyes. She was rigid, straight and unforgiving. “You said a lot of things you apparently didn’t mean,” she said.
“Get out. Get your stuff and go. I never want to see you again.”
“What? You don’t really mean that ---“
She opened the door and the gorilla came into the room. “Basil,” she said, “escort Mr. Townshend to our apartment where he can gather his things. He has one hour to get out. Make sure you get his key.”
Basil, the gorilla, signed at Frank: “Now.”
Frank had one duffel bag worth of clothes and left everything else behind. Basil, to add insult to injury, shoved Frank through the front door of the apartment building and onto the sidewalk. He looked backward and up toward the apartment, sighed and began walking.
Ten blocks later, Frank stopped at a coffeehouse and plopped at a table with a Texas Mountain Latte to consider his options, which were slim. He sipped the coffee and was surprised when the barista came over and handed him a phone. The barista shrugged at the unasked question and went back to the heaving, hissing La Marzocco at the bar. Curious, Frank put the phone to his ear.
“Don’t believe everything Jurgens told you.”
Deeper the Well continues in Part II
©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
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