Blue Night, Blue City
by Bertil Falk
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Harry realized that he should leave as fast as possible, but without hurry. Fast without hurry! He was on the verge of leaving, when he saw a movement. What if the man was alive? Yes, he breathed; vaguely, but he breathed. For a moment comparable with an eternity, Harry considered what to do.
He left the container. He vaulted over the wall back to the street, took out his cell phone, which he only used in an emergency, called the paramedics, gave them the facts and ended the call. He did not wait for them to arrive.
He slipped into the shadows of the city. To him, from now on, the container was a contaminated place to avoid. It was a pity, for he had made many a find in that container. As far as the ill-treated man was concerned, he could not care less. The man and his fate were none of his business. He had done his duty as a fellow man.
He heard a church clock striking one o’clock and mixed with that the sirens of the paramedics and the police. The night was still young on its inexorable way into the dawn and he had not yet achieved the night’s aim: at least ten bottles, fifteen refundable tins, and some extra kind of thing, whatever that might be, but it was almost always something that most nights supplied him with.
There was no money in battered men in containers, and right now there were just a few tins and bottles in his knapsack. He walked back to embankment.
“Harry,” a voice called out and he recognized George. He was badly dressed and had probably no place to go.
“What is it, George?”
“I’m freezing. I want to buy one of your overcoats.”
“Can you afford it?”
George fumbled in his pockets. His right hand came up with something that looked like a bundle of banknotes.
“Robbed a bank?”
As George got closer, Harry saw that only the top of the bundle consisted of banknotes.
“I give you fifty,” George said and breathed a hot air of alcohol into Harry’s face.
“It’s a deal, George,” Harry said, pulled off his knapsack and wriggled out of one of his overcoats.
The business transaction was over within a few seconds and George put on his new acquisition. “I don’t believe in God,” George murmured, “someone may bless you anyhow. I wouldn’t have stood the rest of the night without an overcoat. But you,” he said almost accusingly to Harry, “you’re always loaded with things people need.”
“And you’re the one always loaded up with spirits,” Harry said with a thin smile.
Harry watched the godforsaken old inebriate lumbering away along the embankment. Harry was pleased. Even this night, he had hit that extra kind of a thing like a jackpot. He looked forward to another afternoon at the bank next day. He felt elated and walked towards the quay in front of Grand Hotel, where the ferryboats were berthed.
The litterbins along the quay had not yet been plundered. When he retraced his steps and passed by the hotel, seven more bottles and eleven more tins were rattling in his knapsack. He exchanged a few words about the weather with the uniformed doorkeeper outside the hotel until a taxi from the airport brought new customers, customers who could afford rooms.
Then he walked back along the embankment to the bridge and went down the stone steps. She was there now, huddled up like a fetus inside her sleeping bag, her face hidden. A freshly used syringe revealed that she had obtained what she wanted. Harry guessed that she had gone with a customer and then the pimp had supplied her.
Around her sleeping bag were things, a cola bottle, a lamp, a matchbox, a used condom, things that had not been there more than an hour before. From the small movements of the sleeping bag, he knew that she was breathing. He took out the doggy bag from his knapsack and put some of the food in a carry bag which he placed beside her. Poor Liza, her days were most probably numbered.
With a strange feeling of alarm, he looked about, but nothing seemed to be wrong. He walked up to the embankment, where the newspaperwoman stood with her kick-sled. There was a fresh bruise on her left temple. Her husband had beaten her again. The newspapers had not arrived yet, so they talked about the weather, the cold, everyday things, the world, the disasters, about everything except what they both were thinking of.
After twenty minutes, the lorry came with the newspapers. Harry got his copy, the lorry went on and the paper-woman began her well-defined round.
It was about time that Harry go to his own place. He walked to the other side of the bridge, went behind an old maple tree by the wall and climbed up a few meters till he reached an opening in the stone wall. He crept inside and was in his den.
He ate his herring with great relish. He read the newspaper: another catastrophe on the other side of the world, disasters in Asia, a greedy CEO in court, murders, and so on, no news, just the same as usual.
The strange feeling of alarm still lingered. Something he had seen at Liza’s place. He drank a cup of lukewarm coffee from his vacuum flask and thought of his former life and his former wife. Then he turned to the best thing of the night, reading. When he heard the church clock striking five, he put aside Tales of Yoruba Gods and Heroes. Before he fell asleep, he once more had that feeling of alarm.
He was still asleep when the winter sun stuck up above the horizon and the shops and the banks opened. When he got up, it was almost noon. He fried two eggs and a few slices of bacon on his portable spirit stove. He looked down and, seeing the coast was clear, climbed down the tree trunk.
He went over to Liza’s place. Her sleeping bag was empty. The food he had given her was gone. The bottle and the matchbox were gone. The lamp and the used condom were still there. The alarm screamed in his head.
The traffic was hectic on the embankment. He got money for his return bottles and refundable tins. He went to the branch of his bank and deposited the night’s income as he had done every day for the past fifteen years, ever since his wife had left him for his boss at the publishing house and he had lost his job.
Everything they had owned had been in her name. He had vowed that he would have his revenge. Now, fifteen years later, when he was a rich man, he had gotten accustomed to his life and was not able to leave it. And when it came to revenge, he could not care less.
The evening tabloids screamed the usual sensations. Woman found murdered. What did that have to do with him? Nothing! And the bird-lovers cared for the ice-bound swans; none of his business. He had lost the motivation for just about everything. But the sense of alarm was still there.
At 5 o’clock in the evening, he had a meal at the Salvation Army. At 6 o’clock he went back to his den and slept until 10:00. At about 11:30 pm, he began the usual search.
Just after midnight, he crossed the moonlit square and went down into the by-lane. He saw it immediately, or he rather did not see it at all. There was no rusty lady’s cycle standing aslant against the wall. His alarm rang worse than ever!
He knocked at the door. An old woman he never before had seen opened and looked disapprovingly at him.
“Where’s Laura,” he asked.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Harry, a friend of Laura. Where is she?”
“Hm! So you don’t know. She’s dead. She was killed last night. Found dead beside her bike. It’s all in the evening tabloids.” She went back into the kitchen and returned with a tabloid. “You can have it,” she said and closed the door.
Harry read the story and to his mind came recollections: a cola bottle, a lamp, a matchbox, a condom, of course, unconsciously, he had recognized the small lamp, for it had been a cycle lamp, battery-powered.
He found Liza. She was dead too. And by her side, the cycle lamp and the empty syringe. Its contents had killed her, and she had bought the drugs with Laura’s money. The used condom was gone. Strange.
Dutiful as always, Harry took out his emergency cell phone. Then he walked away along the embankment. He kicked the first empty bottle he found and saw it describe a curve in the air and miss a swan on the ice. Harry knew for certain that he would not earn a single coin this night.
“So what?” he said aloud.
A policeman came over to him. “Hello, Harry, did you call the paramedics?”
“Who else does decent things in this big city?” Harry replied. It had taken him many years to find a kitchen back door where he was welcomed and given a doggy bag. In that sense as in every sense he was back on square... was it one or two? Harry was not sure.
At that moment, the moon passed into the clouds and suddenly the lights of the blue city sparkled like multicolored jewels.
Copyright © 2012 by Bertil Falk