UP IN ARMSJanuary 2, 2019
Hard rain falling on the sidewalk woke Lester Spikowitz from sound, whiskey-induced sleep. He slowly opened his eyes as his eyelids became unglued from his bloodshot eyeballs. A hazy pale gray light shone through the ground level window. He ran his fuzzy-feeling tongue around his parched lips and brought a wad of phlegm from the back of his throat, swirled it around in his mouth, and then swallowed it with a loud gulp. Groggily he raised up on his elbows and looked out the window and watched feet shielded by various rain attire walk by. His temples pounding, he groaned and collapsed back on his pillow. The aromas of pomade, whiskey, sweat, and vomit wafted up from the filthy pillowcase. He cupped his hands over his ears trying to silence the sounds of jackhammers that were drilling into his head. He watched a roach cross the ceiling a few feet above his head, and then rolled onto his side, leaned over the edge of the mattress and looked at his brother, Henry, who was asleep and snoring loudly on the lower bunk. He then lowered his legs over the edge of his mattress and jumped down to the floor, landing with a thud amidst empty whiskey bottles, waded cigarette packages, empty potato chip bags, and tattered pornographic magazines.
Henry stirred, belched, scratched his hairy, rotund belly, and then resumed snoring.
Lester staggered across the room, kicking trash out of the way with every step, and went into the bathroom. He dropped his boxers and sat on the cracked, pee-stained porcelain toilet seat. The air that entered his nostrils carried the mixed odors of urine, mold, and Lysol spray. He dug into his left nostril with his index finger and pulled out a clump of snot. He wiped it on the wall next to the toilet, finished his business, pulled up his boxers and went to the sink. Written in fire red lipstick on the broken mirror attached to the medicine cabinet above it were the words, “Lola. The Arms. Noon.” In the sink was a tube of lipstick.
With his fat, swollen, scaly feet propped up on the table, Henry bit into the large mushy, brown banana, taking a chunk of it into his mouth. He formed it into a mashed glob in his mouth and then swallowed it whole. He then picked up a carton of milk, squeezed the pour spout open, and put it to his nose and sniffed. The slightly curdled smell rose up from the milk. He put his mouth to the spout, tilted his head back and drank the last of the milk in the carton. He tossed the empty carton at the overflowing wastebasket where it bounced off and landed on the floor on top of a rotten head of lettuce. He then ate the last of the banana and threw the peel into a large pot caked with dried homemade vegetable soup resting on top of other dishes, pots, and pans piled in the kitchenette sink.
Banging the upside down toaster on the sink counter, scattering bread crumbs on the pile of dishes and onto the floor, Lester said, “I don’t see what I did last night as all that terrible.” He righted the toaster and plugged it back in. After putting two slices of stale bread dotted with spots of blue mold into the toaster he pushed the bar to lower them into the toaster. He stared at the toaster for a few minutes and when it didn’t begin to generate heat, he unplugged it and threw it across the room where it crashed into the back side of a broken television set.
“You shouldn’t have taken the dame’s lipstick,” Henry said as he picked at a scab on his knee.
“Your sticky fingers are going to get you, or maybe both of us, in real trouble some day.”
Lester plopped down in the green tattered lawn chair at the table. “I thought being sent to juvie and then reform school for shoplifting when I was a teenager was real trouble.”
“Nah, that was kid stuff.”
“How ’bout the six times I’ve been in county lockup for petty larceny?”
“Nope. You were just stealing as a hobby.”
“What about the six years I spent in prison for grand larceny?”
“Having spent eight years in the joint myself, I admit that was pretty close, but last night you stole lipstick from a dame who thanks to your big mouth knows we have those diamonds we stole from Jersey Jack hidden away. She seemed like the kind of dame who might have an unnatural interest in where we got them.”
Lester poked his finger into the brown, soft peel of another banana that was lying on the table. “Speaking of diamonds, couldn’t we cash just one in so that we could buy some food instead of digging it out of the dumpsters?”
Henry placed his feet on the floor. “I was thinking about doing just that. This Lola seemed mighty interested in acquiring one or two. I’m taking along a couple of them to show them to her. Now, get cleaned up, she’s expecting us. Make sure to wash your pits. You stink. And don’t forget to bring the lipstick so that you can give it back to her.”
“What do I say to her when I give it back?”
“She didn’t really seem all that bright. Just tell her you have a compulsion to take things that don’t belong to you.”
Lester shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “She makes my legs go wobbly just looking at her. I’m not sure I could say that. I’m kinda hoping she likes me.”
Henry snatched the banana from under Lester’s prodding fingers and threw it at him, hitting him in the face. “Just tell her you’re a mental defective. She’ll understand.”
The doorman let them in.
The wood and glass in the lobby of the Rosewood Arms glistened. Long rectangular mirrors in heavy gilded frames lined the walls. Polished oblong walnut library tables below the mirrors held bronze Oriental figures, women with fans and men wearing bamboo hats. Four-foot cobalt blue porcelain vases with elaborate bouquets of fresh orchids, irises, long-stemmed white roses, and sprigs of baby’s breath, stood on the floor in every corner. The ceiling was a mosaic done with Spanish tiles of nymphs around a pool. The air was thick with the scent of the flowers and the artificial fragrance of an exotic perfume.
“It’s like a rich man’s whorehouse waiting room in here,” Lester whispered into Henry’s ear.
Henry elbowed him in the ribs. “Shut up.”
Lester tucked a loose hem of his wrinkled blue shirt into his faded brown Dockers and Henry pulled his bright red t-shirt with a small hole over his left nipple down over the lower portion of his exposed belly.
A concierge in a dark blue velvet jacket and a matching tie standing behind a counter with an ornately designed gold painted wooden rose on its front signaled for them to come to the stand.
“We’re the Spikowitz brothers, here to see Lola,” Henry said.
The concierge eyed them both suspiciously, and then picked up the phone and pushed a number on the keypad. “There are some, er, um, gentlemen here to see you Miss Lola. They say they’re brothers.” He placed the phone on its cradle. He looked at his polished, manicured fingernails and said, “You may go up to see Miss Lola. Floor nine, apartment 912.”
Before getting on the elevator, Lester stood in front of a mirror and ran his hand over his pomade ladened hair. “How do I look?”
Henry rolled his eyes. “Like George Clooney before he had plastic surgery.”
“I never knew he had plastic surgery,” Lester said.
The elevator chimed and the door opened. Henry grabbed Lester by the arm and pulled him in. Henry pushed the button and they rode silently to floor nine. On the ninth floor the door opened to a broad hallway with a plush light gray carpet. Gleaming white doors with polished silver doorknobs and rose shaped silver knockers lined the hall. Hung on the burgundy walls, brass sconces cast a soft glow that gave the appearance of fog. The cool air was scented with lavender.
They walked softly, hesitantly down the hallway, noting the small brass number on each door.
“Geez, this place reeks of class. It’s hard to believe that the Lola we met last night at that dive bar lives in this joint.” Lester said. “But she did know a lot about diamonds.”
“All dames know a lot about diamonds,” Henry said.
At the door to apartment 912, the brothers stood there for a minute before Henry used the rose knocker to knock on the door.
Lola opened the door. She was dressed in a tight leopard skin print dress that had a split up the side of her left leg. Huge disco ball-like earrings hung from her earlobes. Her bleach blonde hair was stacked on top of her head beehive style. The strong smell of an exotic perfume wafted from her.
“Yuz guys were sure snockered last night,” she said. “I didn’t think you’d remember me or where I lived.”
“Nobody could ever forget you, Lola,” Lester said with a childish grin.
She patted his face. “Ain’t you sweet.”
Lester’s face turned a bright red.
“I brought a couple diamonds for you to look at,” Henry said.
As if suddenly noticing him, she said, “I’m forgettin’ my manners. Come in.”
Henry walked in, followed by Lester. She closed the door and led them into the living room.
Except for the gilded statues of stallions reared up on their hind legs that stood on marble pedestals and paintings of horses that hung on every wall, everything in the room was white.
“You must like horses,” Henry said.
“Oh, I do,” she said. “I go to the track every Saturday.” She pointed to the large white leather sofa. “Take a load off and I’ll pour us some drinks.”
As Lola opened doors in the wall revealing a home bar, Lester sat down close to his brother. He whispered into Henry’s ear. “She has the hots for me.”
“Your breath smells like bowl cleaner.”
“I needed mouthwash.”
Pouring whiskey over small cubes of ice into crystal whiskey glasses, Lola said, “So, yuz guys never said how you got your mitts on some diamonds.”
“We’re just lucky that way,” Henry said.
She carried the whiskey to them on a small crystal tray and held it out to them. “No offense, but yuz two don’t really look like the lucky types. If it weren’t for me buyin’ the drinks last night the bartender would have thrown yuz out on your ears.”
The two men each took their drink. Lester quickly guzzled his down.
Lola sat in an overstuffed chair across from them. She crossed her long, shapely legs, and jiggled her red spiked heel on her left foot as she took a sip of her whiskey.
“Can I see them?” she said.
Henry gulped down his whiskey. “Sure. Do you mind if I use your john first?”
“No, make yerself at home. The guest bathroom is the first door down the hallway to the right.”
Henry placed his glass on the coffee table and went to the bathroom. It was all glass and chrome. The toilet was made from highly polished chrome. He lowered his pants and boxers and sat down. On the third hard grunt the small bag with the two diamonds fell out of his butt. He stood up and pulled up his boxers and pants and then fished the diamonds out of the toilet.
At least I learned something while I was in prison, he thought as he fished the diamonds out of the toilet. He took the diamonds out of the bag and stuffed the bag in his pocket. He then returned to the living room.
Lola was sitting on the sofa next to Lester. She had one arm around him, one leg draped over his knees and was twirling a strand of his hair with her finger. There were lipstick imprints on his cheeks and smudged on his lips. Seeing Henry, she said, “Ain’t he a livin’ doll? He swiped my lipstick last night to remember me by.” She held up the tube of lipstick.
Lester’s eyes were glazed over.
“Here’s the diamonds,” Henry said, holding them out in the palm of his hand.
Lola uncurled herself from around Lester and stood up. She leaned over, looking closely at the diamonds. “Those are some pretty rocks,” she said. “Don’t you wash your hands? They smell like shit.”
Henry withdrew his hand and rubbed it on his t-shirt. “What about the diamonds?”
“I don’t have the kind of dough it would take to buy them, but my benefactor would be very interested in them,” Lola said.
“Your benefactor?” Henry said.
“The guy who got me off the streets and set me up in this swell joint. His name is Jack Romano. Most people know of him as Jersey Jack. I think you’ve heard of him. He said he was lookin’ for two losers like yuz guys who took his diamonds the way this clown just told me you did.” She waved dismissively toward Lester.
Lester smiled weakly.
“Why does it rain so much in this city?” Lester said.
Henry stuck his head out of the large wood crate and peered down the alleyway. Rain poured down. A small stream ran down the middle of the alley carrying bits of trash. Rats sat along the rim of the overflowing dumpster, their red glassy eyes gleaming. In the dim light cast by the streetlamp, elongated shadows were cast on the pavement, stretching toward the crate the brothers were in.
Henry pulled his head in and sat back against a side of the crate.“I’m sure Jersey Jack is looking for us now. We can’t even go back to that shit hole we live in because of you. I should just take the diamonds and leave you here to drown in this rain. Why did you open your trap and tell that dizzy dame where we got the diamonds?”
“I thought she liked me. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but not many dames do.”
Lester dangled one of Lola’s earrings from his fingertips. “I hope Jersey Jack appreciates that we didn’t hurt Lola when we tied her up.”
Henry grabbed the earring and threw it out of the crate. It rolled out of the alley and onto the sidewalk. Light from the streetlamp reflected from its shiny surface. He pulled a brown leather briefcase that was sitting beside him into his lap and opened it. Inside there were three baggies filled with diamonds. “We need to unload these and get out of the country.”
There was a sudden hard knock on the top of the crate. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere. Come out of there with the diamonds or we start shootin’ and turn that crate into your coffin.”
“I guess Lola told on us,” Lester said.
Henry closed the briefcase. “You think?”
The brothers crawled out of the crate.
Standing just a little over four foot tall, Jersey Jack dangled Lola’s earring from the barrel of his machine gun he had aimed at the brothers. He was wearing a dark gray fedora with a matching raincoat. Two men, also aiming machine guns at the brothers, flanked Jersey Jack.
“Hand the briefcase over,” Jersey Jack said to Henry.
Henry handed it to one of the men who held his hand out.
“Raise them arms as high as they’ll go,” Jersey Jack said. “Reach for heaven.”
“You have to understand my situation. I have nothing. I eat trash. I have a brother who’s a moron,” Henry said as he stretched his arms high above his head. “Stealing your diamonds seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Lester waved his hand. “Um, Jersey Jack, could you please tell Lola I’m sorry I took her earring?”
Standing at the pearly gates, Lester said, “I can’t believe he shot us.”
Henry poked his finger in one of the many bullet holes in his t-shirt. “I can.”