Not in the mood to read? Here’s an “Audio-Visual” story I’m working on. Images are “placeholders”, but the story, voiceover, and effects are mine.
Carefully pushing antique wire framed eyeglasses up the narrow bridge of his nose, Leonard scoured the online estate sale listings. Selecting only the most upscale of neighborhoods, he perused photos of items until he found gold. Not just any gold, but liquid gold. Vintage liquor cabinets, bar carts, or wine cellars. Any of these would do. Making notes in a well-worn leather binder, he beamed with excitement at the possibilities that lay before him.
It was a peculiarly cool weekend in April that brought, to his delight, the advent of two simultaneous sales. Conveniently, they were happening within a mile from one another, and both offered magnificent potential.
He took his time as he dressed in his lucky shirt. A burgundy silk button down with small gold buttons. It had been a well-received gift years ago from an older wealthy woman in Vegas, with whom he’d had a sordid affair. That was a lifetime ago, but he still associated the shirt with good fortune. Looking into the mirror, he combed back his silver hair with a bit of Brylcreem. He smiled with pride, admiring his pompadour. At least he still had a full head of hair, unlike most men of his age. He had taken good care of himself, considering the set backs life had thrown his way.
The walk-up apartment was small, but tidy, and dimly lit. Leonard prefered low lighting, as it camouflaged the ever evolving lines on his face. He had been quite a handsome man in his prime. He liked to believe that his striking good looks had only gotten more “intense” with time. He picked up a bottle of his best French cologne, and dabbed a bit along his neck and wrists. Inhaling the rich fragrance, Leonard sighed with delight. The scent always took him back to his days in Paris. Picking up the leather binder, along with his keys, he headed out. Locking the door with a deep breath, he turned on his pointy leather boots, and quickly walked down the stairs. Along the avenue, a crisp breeze lifted his already tall pompadour to new heights. He liked the attention it attracted from the ladies passing by. He moved swiftly towards his destination, filled with sweet anticipation.
2799 Willow Avenue was the first stop. It was a delapidated old mansion. Apparently, the family had lived there for generations. However, a sudden tragedy had forced them to give up the property. Leonard entered the foyer, barely acknowledging the woman who greeted him. Making a beeline for the dining room, he headed straight for the majestic bar against the far wall. Dark mahogany carved wooden shelves stood fully stocked with various bottles and glassware. Leonard rudely pushed past a few fellow shoppers who were admiring a set of club chairs. He rushed behind the bar, with a cardboard box in hand, laid it on the bar counter, and started filling it with bottles. He did so methodically, shelf by shelf. When the box was full, he shouted out to whoever was listening, “box, box I need another box!” A couple of boxes were tossed in his direction, and he rapidly filled them with all of the remaining bottles on the shelves. Leaving it barren, only glassware and a few sundry items remained. At checkout he tried his best to be charming, and after some bargaining, got it all for a steal. Since he wanted to go on to the next sale, he asked if he could store the purchased items there until his return. The saleswoman noticeably rolled her eyes, mumbling, “of course Leonard, of course.” He smirked with satisfaction.
56 Hummingbird Drive turned out to be a much smaller home, but still very fine, and just waiting for his entrance. Again, Leonard rushed in, took a hard right, and went straight to the small bar by the fireplace. Not as grand as the first location, he still found about 14 bottles of alcohol, ranging from gin to a fine cognac, albeit slightly cloudy looking. He boxed these up, and took them to the check out. Again, he sweet talked the ladies, and paid a nominal price for the stash. He took the goods out the door, and headed back to the first location. At this point it was far too much to carry, so he called a cab, and waited outside with the 3 boxes of bottles.
Finally home, he lugged the boxes one by one up the stairs, and dragged them into his humble abode. Taking out the bottles, Leonard lined them up one by one, on the narrow kitchen counter, organizing them by types of liquor. He smiled with delight as he examined some of the rarer items he had scored. When he was finished, he picked up an old fashioned rotary phone and dialed. His hand trembled as he stuttered into the mouthpiece, “Hello, hello, Lucia? It’s me, Leonard. I’ve got a haul for you.” He paused, listening intently to the voice on the other end of the line. He ran his fingers thru his thick silver hair, smiling and closing his eyes. “Yes, yes, I got the white chartreuse you’ve been searching for.” He held is breath for her reaction, which was better than he had anticipated. He laughed out loud with excitement. “Yes, I’ll bring it downtown, along with the gins, some good ones, I think, as well as a fine bourbon. I did you proud, ma’am. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.” He hung up the phone and started whistling aloud as he sorted through the bottles, selecting 7 particular, and after a pause, adding an 8th. He placed them carefully into one of the smaller boxes, and headed out once again. Leonard rode in the cab down towards the avenues, the box of bottles next to him, secured by the seatbelt. It was getting dark by now, and the rain had started to fall. The streets shone black and slick ahead. As they reached the run down warehouse district, he yelled at the cabby to pull over in front of a dimly lit façade. On the dark wall, a tiny window appeared, lit with a soft red light. He paid the driver, got out, and carried the box up a few steps. At the window a woman’s face peered at him. She told him to come in, and suddenly a door opened.
As he entered, it was so dark, he could barely see. Soft music drifted from afar. As his vision adjusted, he saw the woman motion to him to follow her down a long corridor. They entered into a lounge with a long bar, lined with empty stools. A tall thin woman with a platinum bob, wearing a shimmering white velvet gown approached Leonard. As she got nearer, it was clear that she was much older than he had first thought. She reached out a well-manicured hand, “I’m Lucia. Finally we meet face to face. Let’s see what you’ve brought for me.” She peered into the box, and motioned him over to the bar. Reaching inside, she carefully unpacked the various bottles, and lined them up along the spotless counter. They sat side by side on the black leather barstools, and he waited patiently, as Lucia examined each bottle with a keen eye. As she traced a long fingenail over labels, it was evident that she was pleased. She gasped at the last bottle, the coveted white chartreuse. He smiled, “I told you, didn’t I?” “Yes, you did well, my friend. You will be compensated generously, and I will await your next delivery with eager anticipation.”
With that, she reached down into a small purse slung low around her slender hips, and pulled out a roll of cash. She discreetly counted out two thousand dollars, in hundred’s twice, then once again for good measure. She placed the rolled up bills in his outreached hand. He curled his fingers around the warm money, and tried to remain cool and collected, even though he was trembling with excitement. She took his arm and offered him a drink. “Perhaps a glass of champagne to celebrate the occasion?” Why not, he thought. After a pause, her eyes lit up as she caressed the rare liquor sitting in front of them, “perhaps we should share a thimble of the white chartreuse instead!” He agreed, and she called over to the barmaid to bring her a shot glass. She cautiously opened the beautiful vintage bottle and gingerly poured a minuscule amount of the pale yellow liquor. She lifted the glass towards Leonard’s lips, and he took a tiny sip, savoring the heady herbal flavors. She followed his lead, closing her eyes as she took a delicate taste, her full pink lips barely touching the glass. Suddenly, Leonard’s breath got caught in his throat, and she too began to gasp for air. Her eyes grew large with fright, and he stared back at her unable to speak.. Simultaneously, he slumped forward onto the bar face first, and Lucia slid elegantly down to the floor, a pile of velvet surrounding her body. The barmaid and another girl ran over, but it was too late. Both of the bodies lay there motionless and pale in the dim light. The barmaid picked up the bottle of white chartreuse, took a calculated whiff from the opening and gasped. A toxic fume caused her to choke. Apparently, it had been refilled with poison. In fact, shortly after this tragic happening, there was a report that the Willow Avenue estate owner had indeed poisoned his wife, shortly before killing himself. Although the source of the poison was never determined, it was strongly suspected that he had given her a toxic cocktail, moments before her sudden death.
Philadelphia. Circa 1989. Mid-January. Massive mounds of filthy, encrusted snow lined the slick streets. The air was numbingly cold. Valerie wished she had worn an extra pair of socks. Her feet were starting to feel the burn of the cold by now. Heading into the frigid wind, she pushed her thick scarf up over her mouth and nose, with an awkward mittened hand. Her eyes watered, and her nose was starting to run. Miserable. It was miserable. The depths of an East coast winter. The aftermath of the holidays. Dead and cold. Bitter and cruel. Monotone and lifeless.
Valerie had moved there 2 years earlier to take a job at a prestigious university library. It was really her first professional job, and she loved it. However, the pay was meager, since she was entry level, and there wasn’t much room for advancement in the near future. Needless to say, between her rent, bills and basics, she was always strapped for cash. In addition, she had a looming college loan to pay off, and it was already starting to accrue interest. Every Sunday she would scour the paper, looking for odd jobs to supplement her income. Occasionally, she would find a one-day gig cleaning someone’s closet, or doing housework. She even had a job painting apartments on weekends for a couple of months with an artist from Croatia (Yugoslavia). But these were all temporary, and inevitably she ended up back at square one over and over again.
This Sunday, she was on her way to interview for a job at a day spa. The ad said that they would train the right person to do massage. She thought this sounded perfect, since the hours were flexible and there were cash tips to be made as well. When she had called, the woman had sounded eager to meet her, and they had set up the interview for the same afternoon. She headed there with mixed feelings of curiosity, hope and a bit of trepidation. She had been walking for 15 minutes, which felt like an eternity in the frigid air. Finally, she could see the building ahead. It was located above a laundry mat, just like the woman had told her. She could see the delapidated building, with its grimy fluorescent lit laundry-mat glowing at street level. Dim lights were flickered in the upper windows.
As she crossed the street towards the address, she saw the small entryway. As the heavy door swiftly slammed with a vacuum seal, she welcomed the blast of hot air surrounding her. She pressed the ancient metal buzzer that said “Day Spa”. There was a static noise, and a woman’s garbled voice told her to come upstairs. The latch released, and she pushed open the second door to enter into the dingy hallway.
She suddenly felt broiling hot. Taking off her mittens and scarf, she stuffed them into her backpack, before heading up the rickety wooden stairway. A musty smell permeated the hall, along with a hint of Lisol. Once she reached the landing, with it’s faded and torn wallpapered hall, she saw a faded red door at the end of the hall that just said “spa” in small uneven vinyl blue letters. As she walked over, the door opened. A very young woman, maybe 18, looked her up and down. “Valerie?, You are here for job?”, she asked with a heavy eastern European accent. Valerie told her yes, and that she had an interview with Marie. The girl lead her into the waiting area, which was lit only by one tiny cheap looking table lamp. Next to the lamp was a lopsided miniature Christmas tree with strands of multi-color lights sloppily wrapped around it. There were a few holiday greeting cards under the tree and one awkwardly stuck between the branches. The young woman told Valerie her name was Irene, and that she would need to wait for the boss, Marie.
Valerie followed her through the waiting area, down a dreary hall, into a fluorescently lit laundry room, where there were a couple of other girls. One sat on the dryer, smoking a cigarette, and the other sat on a stool folding towels. They both looked tired, barely acknowledging her as she walked in. The one with the cigarette, glanced up long enough to give Valerie a dirty look, and proceeded to blow smoke in her direction with a hard stare. Irene, opened a mini-fridge in the corner and took out a can of Tab. She passed it to Valerie, and told her to sit down and wait until Marie came out. Valerie sat down, sipping her soda. She took her scarf from her backpack, and folded it slowly, wrapping her mittens inside of it. Mostly because she wanted to seem busy, and avoid eye contact with the other girls. The air was tense. The only sound was the dryer, and a small radio playing top 40 hits from the 80’s.
Finally, she heard a door open down the hall and footsteps, along with the sound of a man and woman talking and laughing. Then the front door opened and shut. She heard the sound of heavy heels on the wood floor, and looked up to see a stocky blonde woman, wearing a cowboy hat. Her shirt was unbuttoned to reveal an ample cleavage sprinkled with freckles. It was tucked into a pair of tightly belted high-waisted jeans. Everything was very snug, accentuating her curvaceous figure. She looked unnaturally tan, and this was set off by her frosted pink lipstick, and heavily lined sparkling blue eyes peering out from under the brim of the hat. Valerie got up and the woman laughed, and said, “Hi, I’m Marie, sorry you had to wait, but you know how it goes.” She smiled and flashed a smile revealing a diamond imbedded front tooth. Valerie reached into her backpack, and pulled out an envelope, handing it to Marie. “This is my resume.” She told her. Marie laughed loudly. “Honey, I don’t need that! Follow me, and lemme tell you about the job.”
Valerie followed her through the waiting area, down another darkened hallway. Marie’s clunky platform wooden clogs lead the way along the floorboards. She opened a door to the left and let Valerie into a windowless room, which was all white. There was a massage table in the middle, and a bamboo screen on the side. On another side table stood a container of Clubman talc, and a large bottle of generic baby oil. Marie hoisted herself up onto the massage table, letting her clogs fall loudly to the floor. She looked at Valerie seriously, “Okay honey, listen. This is a massage parlor. You gotta give a good massage. I could interview you, but what I need to know is can you give a decent massage. So, basically, what I’m saying, is, you gotta give me a massage, and then I’ll know if you can do the job. After you finish, I’ll give you one.”
Valerie felt like leaving, but it was so cold out, and what could it hurt to give this lady a massage anyhow. She quickly justified the odd interview request, deciding that it might be worth it if she could make some money here. Anyhow, Marie was already taking her shirt off. Then, she took off her hat, stuffing the shirt inside of it, and tossed to the far corner of the room. Next, she stood for a moment, swiftly unfastened the tooled leather belt, and peeled off the jeans, throwing them over the bamboo screen. She kept the high-cut shiny red panties and giant matching brassiere on. Valerie let out a barely audible sigh of relief. Marie climbed onto the table, flipping onto her stomach, saying, “okay sweetheart, go ahead, gimme all you got.” Valerie, pushed up her sweater sleeves, and reached for the baby oil. She warmed it between her hands and took a deep breath. She massaged Marie’s thick freckled shoulders and neck, being careful to move the bleached blonde hair out of the way. Beneath the hair was a large faded tattoo of a rabbit on rollerskates, with the name “Lou” beneath it. Valerie kneaded deeply and slowly over the dense upper back, being sure to take her time. Marie moaned, and said “Oh, yeah, baby. That’s what I’m talkin’ bout. Mmm hmmm, you know what? You’re a natural. I can tell. Can you just massage my legs a bit and then we can switch.”
Valerie, massaged her thighs, with long sweeping strokes, steering clear of the panty line area. Meanwhile, she asked Marie, “so, um, how does it work in here? I mean, what kind of massage do you offer clients. Do I have to learn Swedish, or other types? How do they pay?” Marie sighed. “Oh yeah, I practically forgot about the fact that you’re here about the job, I was gettin’ so relaxed up in here. Well, basically it’s up to you how much money you gonna make, you know.” Valerie asked what she meant. Marie laughed. “You know, some guys they like you to dress up like a nurse, or whatever, you know. You can say yes, or no. But, if you really wanna make the big money, you know what I mean, um, yeah you can do what you want. You know. I can’t tell you, ‘cause it’s really up to you, but you know what I’m sayin’.”
Marie let out a heavy smoker’s cough, saying, “You can stop now, it’s my turn, lemme show you how its’ done.” Valerie quickly answered, “no, thanks, it’s okay, I got it. I have to get going.” Marie smiled, “oh, yeah, well, baby, it’s your loss. Anyhow, if you want the job, you got it. And, did I mention it’s all cash? Yeah, honey, in this business you can walk out of here after every shift with a fat wallet if you play your cards right. You know what I mean. Alls you gotta pay out is a house fee flat, or do a 50/50 cut, the choice is yours. Most girls pay the house flat fee. You keep the rest. Tips are really up to how happy you make the client. You know what I mean.“ Winking a heavily lashed eye, she laughed boisterously, as she fluffed out her big blonde hair. Valerie, laughed too, and told her that she would think it over. Marie, got back into her outfit, adjusting the cowboy hat on her head. She climbed into her clogs and opened the door into the hall, allowing Valerie to exit first. As she walked into the hallway, the young girl who had answered the door, Irene, passed by, headed towards another massage room, followed by a client, a 60 something man, with a large protruding stomach and thinning hair. He had sunglasses on, which she found odd, considering how dark it was in this place. As they got to the waiting area, Marie excitedly whispered to her, “that guy there, well, you know who that is, right? He spends a shitload of cash up in here. He’s one of our top clients. We got plenty, honey. Politicians, cops, traders, rockstars, all kinds of famous rich guys. I’m telling you, kid, you can do real good in here. Might not look like much, but what you see ain’t always what is seems, you know. You think it over, and call me. You won’t regret it. I can guarantee it.”
Valerie thanked her, as she pulled on her down coat, and wrapping the scarf around her head. She grabbed the mittens out of the backpack, making sure she was well protected before heading down the hallway towards the stairs. She could see it was getting dark out already as she reached the foyer of the building. Exiting to the right, the frigid wind pelted her cheeks with icy rain. It was sleeting again. She stopped at a corner deli to get a coffee for her walk home. Her mind raced. She needed money and Marie had been convincing, but the girls there sure didn’t look like they were doing very well. She sipped her coffee as she walked as fast as possible along the slick sidewalks. Finally, she saw her street. The light shining from her brownstone entry had never looked more welcoming.
Opening up the door to her apartment, she smiled and looked around. She didn’t have much, but it was cozy and homey. She felt grateful as she flopped down on her second hand sofa. Her tabby cat, Pierre, came over and purred against her leg. She noticed the blinking light on the answering machine, and picked up her home phone to listen to the messages. One from her mother, the usual Sunday check in, and one from her boyfriend Nick. She smiled as she listened to his message. He said he wanted to come over later, and he would love to treat her to a relaxing massage.