By Steven Johnson
“Honestly, D, it’s about as far from resembling the Chateau Marmont as Billy Jean’s basement,” Margot proclaimed as the ticking of the door alarm vibrated off her counterfeit earrings.
“Ain’t no need to be bringing Jean into all this, sugar plum,” Denault responded with the slightest tinge of annoyance lingering on his tongue. He peered over the dashboard, staring through the fluorescent lights of shame neatly arranged above the two-inch balconies of the motel. “It’ll have to do. Come on now.”
“It’s almost as if you’ve forgotten Venice all together, baby,” Margot said as Denault stepped outside to collect his luggage. “Do you not remember all the fun you and I used to have? The people, the music, the ice cream.”
“The dent you put in my leather,” Denault responded.
“Why must you always be so negative?” she asked him.
“Who was the one lifting your head ‘outta Pike’s loo, huh? The poor bastard who ain’t even got a word in the whole night cause’ your lily-white ass wouldn’t stop hammering ‘round lookin’ around for a brown bag, spilling your booze round like a goddamn hummingbird with a story to tell.”
“I never asked you to help me, Denault. I can handle my own business.”
“If the shoe fits, Margot.”
Stepping inside the burn out luxury motel, Margot couldn’t help but let the memories of better days seep into her head.
Meeting through the wine vines of friends alike, who rather preferred a glass of Jameson over a taste of Malbec any evening, Denault stumbled into the roaring of his partner Bonkowski’s speakeasy, only to unravel the veil of his demise. The loudness of the place: men gambling their inheritance over bottles of scotch, women dancing and singing as if the great war had been a figment of everyone’s imagination, schoolboys destroying their livers claiming the only vital source of life was the protein infused worm lingering at the bottom of Cuervo’s unmistakable mistake. Nothing could go south in a place so cold.
Peering behind the chapped lips of a community joyride, he saw her: a porcelain centerpiece enclosed by fictitious guards, for no one dared get too close. None but one. The shimmering of her dress ricocheted off hair of a Russian flag, reflecting oceanic eyes too deep to lurk in the shallows, only to bounce back into the eyes of a man who had no interest in kaleidoscopes.
“Can I buy you a drink?” Denault asked the woman as a single hair purposefully fell into his face.
She gazed upon him, scanning him from head to toe without moving her eyes. “I’m not sure. Can you?”
The sarcasm made Denault’s stomach turn. The woman knew her grammar. He let the feeling slide with a simple laugh.
“Well, I’ll be damned. Bonkowski finally hired some good lookin’ ones to livin’ up the joint. Tell me, how’d you wind up in the city of wind?”
“I haven’t the slightest clue as to what you’re referring to, Mr-”
“Denault Hayes,” he spoke with a smirk as his hand stretched to an unwelcomed handshake.
“Mr. Hayes, but I can assure you that what you are looking for isn’t at this table.”
“And what is it you think I’m lookin’ for?”
“The hole by the loo, of course. I’m sure it will suit you just fine.”
The hastiness portrayed by her tone only made Denault hunger for more. She spoke with such an affluent tongue, as if her trailer park upbringing never had a chance to slip through her pearly whites into Denault’s rustic, crimson molar.
“I think I found what I’m lookin’ for right here.”
She looked at him, mulling the question inside her head to which a choice would be born.
“The names Margot,” she said as she slowly sipped on a drink that she knew she would no longer have to pay for. “If I were you, I’d either grab a pen or a camera. Either one of those would last a tab bit longer.”
“I think I’ll grab a cab instead.”
Chicago lightening could not have dimmed the sound of the two. Stepping out into the civil war of the streets, Denault lit up a smoke, and he kept lighting it over and over again until all that was left was a murky filter and a pile of ashes that once resembled beauty.
“Did you see the paper, D?”
“What ‘bout it?” he asked.
A subtle thrill seeped its way through the walls of the motel into Margot’s voice, as if her excitement had to be slightly diminished in order to not spook her lover. “That French boy we met back at Cipriani’s last week. He’s on page six.”
“What’s that flower doin’ in the news?” he asked through the slits of his eyes.
“Denault Hayes! Don’t you dare call him that!”
Denault yanked the newspaper from Margot’s hands, her feeling the weightless crunch and him smelling the burning timber as his cigarette lingered too close to the printed words. “That’s what he is, love. Nothin’ but a Nancy boy.”
“Well, the other gentleman clutching his arm for dear life doesn’t seem to mind it at all,” Margot declared as she reclined to the far side of the lover’s nest. The sentence, formed from the same muscles she was born with, crept its way into her mind, knocking on a door that Margot always dreamed of opening but never found the fitting key. She imagined the French boy and the other soul, vaguely resembling the sickly appearance of the plague, nonetheless, wrapped into each other. A gleam could be spotted in the eyes of the two, even on the day-old black ink, if one knew where to look. Margot always knew where to look. The images that rushed through her mind were not that of happiness, but of jealousy. The kind of jealously perfectly blended in a witch’s cauldron, sorrow and grief being the final ingredients, along with a tuft of cat fur. She wanted what the lovers possessed, whether she chose to believe it or not. She wanted love.
“Your roof is leaking dear.” Denault shook her thigh as she was abducted from her fantasy.
“What was that?” she asked him.
The puzzled look upon his face was the last emotion to ever cross Margot’s eyes. The last emotion shown that was not anger. “I gotta’ meet Bonkowski by the harbor. Said he’s got a package waitin’ for me. Needs tendin’ to.”
“But it’s so late. I don’t even have time to put my face on.”
“You’re not comin’ with me.”
The tone of his voice planted Margot to the motel floor. Denault always went out late. Sometimes, she wandered if he would ever come back, destined to chase paper he never seemed to acquire. But for the strangest reason, a tear collided with the carpet just below Margot’s figure. An ocean for an ant, and an ocean for her.
“Why not?” she asked him without turning around.
“Can’t have you comin’ to this one, doll. No need for beauty at this place.”
“What’s life without beauty, D?” She turned to gaze into eyes fixed upon a gun.
“What’s death without beauty, Margot?”
A sense of panic blanketed Margot, one that made her far colder had she been left without it. “Why’ve you got that out, Denault?”
“Bonkowski said someone’s been actin up at the still. Told me I gotta’ handle it. Take the little shit off our payroll.”
“Don’t speak to me as if I was born yesterday. I’m not a barstool tramp you can sway with words.”
Margot had stepped an inch too close to Denault, for the veins protruding from his head pulsed violently, second by second, growing larger with every breath withheld. “What do you think you are then?” he asked her, undoubtedly knowing the outcome of his question.
Rage was not the word to describe Margot’s expression. Defeat was more suiting. Somehow, whether it be through the ears of the left angel or the eyes of the right devil, Denault always won.
“I’m coming with you. And not another word about it.”
There weren’t many places to hide in Chicago, not like the valley, but if one was to look close enough through the handcuffs of drunken men weaving through florescent street signs, one may find a small sector of peace. Peace bleeding chaos.
“Stay in the car.” Denault demanded.
“Cause’ I told you before. If you come, you stay put.” He slammed the door behind him.
Margot watched as he greeted his fellows with subtle head nods and piercing stares. The men surrounding the rat-infested harbor were planted to the ground in a half moon view. The most elite of Harvard’s alumni could not decipher the difference between the men and the statue of David. They stood still, icy breath escaping their mouths showing the only sign of life.
Resting in the center of these men was a piece of roadkill, or that was what Margot believed it to be at first. As a pool of blood reached for the gravel below, a man knelt, head resting the ground, trying to find comfort in his predicament. He could not have been older than twenty-five, his youth masked by the torment brought upon him. Margot watched as Bonkowski stepped up to Denault, whispering wiry words into his ear that made the hairs upon her neck stand and salute. Bonkowski handed him a slugger and stepped back for the showing.
No tears formed in Margot’s eyes, as they were all meant to be saved for the boy lying in the dust and a sole shimmer resting upon Denault’s face. Margot did have to look away, for the sound of colliding cars and mortar bombs could not hold a candle to that of breaking bones. Agony swarmed the air, making it difficult to breathe. Blood filled the lake bed, distracting the fish into bumping into each other. Pain had full control, the sixth sense that Margot knew too well, but could not bear to be submersed in.
She reached into the glove compartment of Denault’s car, having to wiggle the metallic latch in order to keep her hand steady. She knew Denault always kept a Winston in his mouth and one by his side, but she also knew he enjoyed the boastfulness of slight preparation. Small talk for later dinner parties. Stepping out of the junker, she set aim for her course.
Denault looked up as the car door squeaked shut. Smearing blood across his beading face to remove the hairs from his eyes.
“Margot, I told you to stay in the car,” he spoke to her with refrained rage out of embarrassment from his peers. “Get back in!”
She inched closer and closer to the poor boy, nearly lifeless, aching from limb to limb. Margot stood over him, just as a mother bird does as her child falls out of the nest. The metal felt raw on her skin but tender upon the forehead of the dying boy. No man nor woman could recall what was worse, the ringing of the eardrums or the shock pulsing through their veins. As soon as it had begun, it was over.
Margot felt the thick grip of Denault’s hand around her arm, pulling her from the scene and not caring that her head had befriended the dashboard as he shoved her back into his car. Through the aches, she felt relief. She had finally helped someone that was not her, for she had been a lost cause for some time now. She noticed the tomato like features upon Bonkowski’s face, growing redder by the second, bulgy fingers pointing in her direction. Watching the man fill with rage as Denault nodded frequently, eyes locked with the ground as if he had spotted a diamond amongst the rubble. Denault quickly turned and made his way back to the car. Not a moment later, all that was left of the scene were dust clouds and bird food slowly drifting down into Lake Michigan.
From Lake View all the way to Funks Grove, Denault drove. Not a word was spoken. There was nothing left to be said. Funny how three hours can feel like an eternity with the wrong crowd. Denault finally pulled the car over a mile off the street, out in the boonies of Illinois. Margot assumed the worn-down cabin resting in front of the car had been a hiding place for when the coppers decided an early morning Tuesday raid seemed like a valuable waste of time.
“Are we going on vacation, D?”
Denault did not respond to her. He only stared through the windshield, trying to wrap his head around his next move, wanting an easy checkmate.
“‘Cause if we are, this place simply won’t do. I’ll be picking splinters out of my nails for the next decade.”
“Get out of the car Margot.”
Not a trace of surprise could be found within Margot. She simply looked at her lover, digesting his every emotion portrayed upon a blank expression. A part of her felt deceived. The man that she gave her entire life to was now the man treating her no differently than a client. The bigger part of her felt sympathy. Forgetting the anger that she should have been holding, she knew what she had done. She knew who Denault was, and she knew what he would have to do on behalf of her actions. She knew this was the last time she would see her man’s cracked edges.
“From the bottom of my heart, D, I truly did love you.”
“Get out the car, Margot-”
“I mean it, love. I’ve always-”
“I said get out of the car-”
“Denault, I don’t care-”
“For God’s sake, get out of the goddamn car, Margot!” He slammed his fists upon the dashboard, revealing the best friend he chose to carry wrapped within his fingers. The gun made Margot’s lips curl as she held back a tsunami of tears.
“Love you, D,” she said through wounded dialect as she stepped out into the frosty chill of trees making homage to mother nature. “Always.” Margot took the scenery to heart, for she knew she would become part of it.
Margot faintly heard the slamming of Denault’s door as she was reminiscing her past experiences, love upon her shoulders, the adventures that made her life worth telling and all the untamed scenes in-between. She didn’t want it to end, but for what it was worth, she had made sure it was nothing short of exciting while it lasted. It was all worth it to her.
The drawback of a pistol is but the faintest of sounds. The slight anticipation before the world goes into complete disarray until the sounds settle back into the air. Margot closed her eyes, content with herself but longing for one final wish.
Denault stood behind her, shaking more violently than ever before. His face resembled a sink where a child had left the faucet running. He watched as the woman he ensnared stood before him, as beautiful as the day he had first seen her.
Whether it be from the saltiness of human tears or the destruction of lungs, he choked upon his words. “I’m sorry, Margot…mean it.”
Still, through hell fire into more flames, Margot smiled. “No, you’re not.”
It was supposed to snow later that week. Denault took an entire seven minutes to pull himself from the ground and back into his car, hoping that the white flakes falling from the sky would blanket the tracks he had left behind. As he drove back to the city, he peered into his rearview mirror. He could hear the cello playing. The radio wasn’t on and he was not humming. He looked forward and could hear the cello playing.