© 2002, Jack H. Tyler
[Please note, if you missed the intro page, that this story is rated M for language and violence]
Monday, 8:34 PM, Monterey, California
“I’m sorry to have kept you so late, Richard.”
“It’s all right, Mr. Durant,” the uniformed security guard replied, searching for the right key on his overloaded ring. “Sitting and watching isn’t that hard.”
“Thank you for the lie, Richard,” the older man said with a smile, “but I know you have a family waiting. I promise to have this material completed tomorrow, and you can leave at quitting time.”
This was why everyone loved Robert Durant. He had, during his life, moved from cute through handsome and into distinguished in a seamless transition even as success had dogged his every step. Despite this, he remained witty and gracious. Now, as the fifty-six year old manager of the city’s main Bank of America branch thanked and apologized to a lowly security guard, he made the thousand-dollar suit he wore look good.
Richard found the key, opened the front door, and held it as Durant stepped out onto Alvarado Street.
“Walk you to your car?” the older man offered.
“No, sir,” the guard answered. “You know I have to check all the locks after everyone leaves.”
“It’s late, Richard. I’ll vouch for you. You need to get home to that sweet little girl of yours.”
“It won’t take long, sir. Anyway, those are the rules.”
“All right. Have a good evening, what’s left of it.”
“You too, sir.”
Durant turned toward the parking structure that filled the block from Franklin to Del Monte and, hearing the key turn in the lock behind him, started on the short walk to his car.
Alvarado Street was clean, bright, a welcome haven for the tourists who flocked in from all over the world, even now, in early November. The air was still pleasant, the rain was yet to arrive, and the street was filled with strolling couples and bustling families, all wide-eyed with wonder over city streets so clean and safe.
It hadn’t always been like this. He could easily remember the Alvarado Street of his youth, the main street of a dying fishing village, a dingy street of quiet misery populated by men who struggled to wrench a living from the sea when none was there to be had. They knew no other trade, and had no other choice.
The Monterey of Durant’s youth was grimy, home to greasy spoon diners serving coronary sausage and triple-bypass eggs with coffee strong enough to get up and walk. The closer to the wharves, the more mature the entertainment became, giving way quickly to card rooms, bars, and hotel rooms rented by the hour.
Most of these diversions were frequented by soldiers from nearby Fort Ord; few of the struggling fishermen could afford them. The town of Durant’s childhood had consisted of the Burger Deluxe, when he could afford it, served sizzling at the relatively clean Sherrie’s over on Tyler Street, movies, changed once a week, at the State Theater, where tennis shoes stuck to a cola-coated floor like a sheet of flypaper, and comic books read for free at the nameless magazine shop at 374 Alvarado, well up from the waterfront. Pop owned the place. Of Portuguese descent like so many of the old-timers, Pop’s smelly cigar was always making fresh contributions to the blue cloud surrounding him. To this day, Durant couldn’t smell cigar smoke without being transported in an instant to the days of his youth.
Pop ran a card room in the back room, and occasionally Durant would chat with his dealer, Kay, or K., whatever. A heavyset woman with a life story that spanned continents and consisted of a long series of barroom brawls, narrow escapes, and stupid men, he could listen to her talk for hours, and sometimes had. He wondered what their fates had been as he entered the parking garage.
Even this had once been one of those no-tell hotels; Kay had lived here when its name was the Fremont. While he was away at U.C. Berkeley getting the education that had led to his resounding success, Monterey had changed herself into a cosmopolitan destination for jet-setters and two-week-a-year family vacationers alike. He had returned to a town he had never seen.
He got off the elevator at the third level. He always parked up here, keeping his Lexus away from the tourists with their banging doors and careless children. He didn’t dislike them. He just liked his car.
Fumbling with the key ring, he clicked on the alarm disable switch, and as the car chirped, he thought he heard a sound off to his left, a shoe scuffing on pavement maybe. He saw no one, but thought nothing of it. Someone had probably gotten into his own car and was no longer visible. Funny the door didn’t close, though. Then he heard another sound, this one closer, a gritty sound like a foot being carefully lifted from a sandy surface. He stopped this time, and looked again. He still saw no one.
He considered calling out, but thought better of it. It was probably a local getting off late, just as he was; catering to thousands of tourists was a full time job. He shrugged off his caution and walked on to his car.
As he put his hand on the door handle, his lower right side exploded in a pain like he had never imagined. The breath rushed from his body in an involuntary grunt, and he fell against the side of the car. With a force of will he wouldn’t have believed he possessed, he turned to see what had happened.
Just for an instant, he saw a woman’s face, small features, brown hair, thirty-something, and then she leaned back away from him to drive her foot into the side of his knee. It bent sharply backward, and as he fell to his back, he held up his briefcase like a shield. He saw for the first time the long knife coated with his blood that she held in her hand as she kicked the briefcase away from him.
Her foot continued on over him, coming down beside his face, and she spun 180° to drop her knee on his forehead. Before he could even think about what to do, she drove the knife down between his ribs, puncturing the lung, and the pain redoubled, rising beyond the point of bearability. As the knife flashed into him over and over again, the pain peaked, then began to fade, along with sight and sound, until nothing was left, not even darkness . . .