I was there the day that Twiggy Chevaliér killed a waiter in room 517 of the Alexis Hotel. The sound of the gunshots was muffled by the wall and a paisley divan cushion which the cops found in the alley dumpster below the window of 517 later that evening along with the bellhop who’d brought up the room service order; a bottle of Pernot and four deviled eggs.
The Tuesday edition of the Times wrote up the whole thing, calling the bellhop a hapless son of Oaxaca. My dad says he was probably involved with drug-running or something, otherwise why’d somebody off him. The kid’s guts and the cushion’s were both exposed to the November air by a caliber that didn’t seem large enough to have taken off the arm missing from the body. Dad said the ballistics report was probably real interesting on that one over breakfast on Tuesday. Mom kept wringing her hands.
“At your work!” She shuddered and squinted some tears out. Then she fumbled the orange juice she was pouring for dad, her hands shaking like the needle of a seismograph. Finally she just sat down and started fingering her rosary and looking off into the back yard.
Dad used to be a cop and he was still friends with a bunch of guys in the 10th precinct. There were scorch marks on the pillow, indicating the murderer had used it as a silencer. I mused out loud over my Wheaties. “But, though, maybe the kid was trying to just fight ‘em off with whatever he could grab, like the pillow.”
At which Mom had sighed heavily, and Dad had tilted his head to the side and and widened his eyes with all the significance I needed to understand his meaning. Son, what you’re saying is totally plausible. It’s also upsetting your mother and the Federal Bank of Daddio will totally nationalize your allowance if you keep it up.
Either way, the sound had still been loud enough for us to hear in the other room. We had been playing Indian poker, some of the other night staff and me. And we’d been drinking. Tony Reece had picked the room since he knew what was vacant.
“Who’s next door?” Dale had wanted to know.
“Just some partiers, man. Dudes.” I don’t remember even asking him afterward if he’d seen the guys. The lead detective smelled like salami and Brut and looked vaguely like Alex Rodriguez. The cops grilled us all.
“You ever heard a gunshot before son?”
It wasn’t like we killed somebody, but this guy was treating us like crap cause they’d found some weed on Billy and our manager told him we weren’t supposed to be in there.
“No I haven’t dad.” That’s how I responded in my mind.
In real life I said “No sir.” Meekly.
Which in retrospect wasn’t true since I’d gone trap shooting with my old man once at my uncle’s cabin in the Cascades over Christmas when I was in jr. high. But that night, I knew I’d never heard a gunshot. Not like that. Not in the wilderness of Real Life. I don’t know if anybody else there had either. From the look on Rick’s face his knowledge of the subject was based purely on Die Hard, The Terminator and The Godfather like me. We all knew what it was instantly. It sounded like hell on wheels. I went all tingly.
Dale had a hard time with it, harder than I did, hearing about the kid in the dumpster and stuff. Anyway he wrote for the school paper. He was good with words and I remember reading something he wrote about that night once. I think it was a page from his journal that had got torn out and left in the back seat of his car. Some night driving back from Tacoma I found it crumpled up underneath an old copy of The Stranger and started reading it, half-stoned. It stuck with me. Haunted me’s more like it.
“That shot was a chord that resonated like a droning bell. The bitter charcoal howl of chaos. I saw the spires of control toppling in slow motion. The room was filled with that humming which is deep inside of lawlessness. And a great stillness fell.”