On a day like today, Patterson Reece was kicking it hard into high gear.
Face it: life as bike messenger in Chicago wasn’t worth a shit. The chump lawyers who wrote the crap he carried were, as far as was concerned, worse than the Family Law Court Judges who kept threatening him, hounding his ass for the child support he owed his ex. He was either a payment behind or one day away from a 30 day stretch in The Cook County Detention Facility on South State.
He couldn’t keep track of it all and he’d had a pounding headache for the past two weeks. And since she was calling the CPS every day looking for more money, it was only a matter of time before he was back inside. Fuck her. He should never have tapped that five years ago in Aspen and for Patterson it’s been one freakin’ regret trip after another.
Now speeding down Diversey toward Halston, he had in his courier bag his salvation: a $400 super rush express NOW NOW NOW delivery job that would bring his payments current, keep him free for another month and give him some beer money.
At Diversey he turned sharp right onto Clark and let it all out. Superior Court was 3 miles dead ahead, it was 4:11 pm and he could make the filing just in time, with a little to spare. Enough for the $500 bonus which would make this day a score bonus even the Chicago Black Hawks could appreciate.
He barreled down the center lane now, not too much traffic, ripping down the clean asphalt which was only going to last for another mile or so before it turned into a ripped-up construction job site for some sewer bullshit.
God Damn! Fucking Anheuser-Busch truck pulls in front of him, and now he’s in the construction zone and traffic is starting to slow. He can’t hit the sidewalks – too many police – his head is pounding now with a vengeance and as he scans the lanes and traffic, he sees ahead of him on the back of the Busch truck a scene he knew so well in Aspen.
The sounds of the traffic, horns, wind and whistles fades into silence. He could only see the panorama ahead.
White slopes against a deep blue sky, a new snowfall trail. It is right in front of him. Untouched, waiting for the right moment to reveal its secrets to the lonely high mountain skier… the evergreens are heavy with fresh snow, and there is a wisp of snow trail, so fine, so delicate, so barely visible coming off the mountain wind-side.
The panel is a photographic marvel, clear, shimmering in the gritty surroundings, a perfect escape hatch there on the back of a beer delivery truck in the middle of rush hour in Chicago. Patterson cannot take his eyes off it. He cannot escape.
The tires screeched, the smash sounds of metal on metal exploded to a deafening level. The truck had come to an abrupt stop but Patterson Reece, still in the picture, unable or unwilling to come back to the real world, plowed into the back of the truck at around 45 miles an hour.
By the time the crowds cleared and the Chicago PD had secured the area, it wasn’t much of a crime scene. In fact, all they found was a terribly mangled courier bike and an empty courier bag. The back of the truck showed no signs of the horrific impact, but the picture on the truck had changed. Been altered.
It clearly showed the magnificent mountain panorama, the fresh snow on the evergreens… but now it included the image of a lonely skier, shooting powder, far, far down the mountain.
It was a bright new day. The sun was high in the sky, the air clear, crisp and a slight but steady breeze kept Algorithm’s blonde hair loose and hard to control.
It really didn’t matter. She had been tormented all morning by the worst sort of collection agencies trying to scare her into paying their obscene interest and penalty crap and she had a bruise on her cheek where her boyfriend smacked her at 6am in a semi-drunken grab at her and her shoulder bag as she was heading out the door. It really hurt now.
And her life sucked at the moment, too, and that didn’t help. Directionless, rolling with the punches, bouncing between food service and hair salon jobs was taking it’s toll, just like her father had said. But today was the worst she had felt in a long time.
She was on 19th Street now, walking quickly into the wind, heading for another job interview that probably wouldn’t amount to shit. She turned the corner onto Howard Road and next to the coffeeshop she usually picked up a black coffee at, she stopped.
The coffeeshop was there alright, but next door in a small space that had been vacant for a few years was a new shop. A yarn Store. Really weird place for it, too. In fact, it had no business being in this part of town. Checks Cashed, QuickPawn, Dollar Store… Yarn Shop??
But someone had polished and cleaned the windows to an unearthly shine, and looking into the glass was as if there was no glass there at all. And there wasn’t anything in the store: just a table, a side lamp and a wall with a picture of Times Square hung right in the middle. There were three posters, big ones, placed against the glass facing out: a travel poster, a poster of The Tower of London and a poster for the Travel Channel with an impossibly good looking guy in a blue blazer.
Algorithm was startled, caught her breath. He held in his extended hand a tray of beautiful cocktails, and his feet were planted on the deck of a boat, a yatch, so magnificently white against the deepest blue water around it that it couldn’t be real. His other hand held the railing and steadied him, so his eyes, dark and perfectly set against a tanned, rugged face, gently peered ahead, into her eyes, then into and through her soul, deeper and more profound than anything she had ever felt.
The glass shimmered, became fluid, almost watery with small ripples, and she reached out her hand to take a cocktail from the tray. When her hand met the glass storefront, it slipped smoothly through and she was able to take the cocktail glass and stepped effortlessly, silently, into the glass as she reached for a napkin on the tray.
The traffic on Howard Street never even slowed down as a small white cocktail napkin floated gently to the sidewalk.
Belzoni stood at the threshold, squinting into the dark interior.
It said barber shop, it had a peppermint-stick sign out front, it had all the right stuff inside, too, like a pair of matching barber chairs and such, all the things necessary to pass for a reasonably established barbershop.
He needed a shave. A haircut. Something to give him a lift up from the depressing, pounded-down, shabby wreck he had become. The downward spiral of his life was accelerating like a whirlpool drain outing dirty bathwater.
The windows were a bit foggy, not dirty with dirt, just foggy with age like an old pair of eyes that can’t quite get the far walls to focus in clearly. But from where he stood, cupping his hands around his eyes and peering into the small two barber-chair shop, it looked like a functional barbershop, ready to have it’s next head to trim, taper, fade and powder.
This time Belzoni knocked a little bit harder. They had been getting progressively louder, at least the last three had, but this one was loud. No doubt about it. Loud enough to cause the few folks standing on the crosswalk up the street to turn their heads and stare down the sidewalk at him.
He didn’t care. He had for years; in fact he’d been the blade of grass that was the first to sway with the rest, fitting in, always fitting in, growing old, grey, weathered and beaten by fitting the fuck in. But today he just didn’t give a god damn.
No answer. He looked around, did a cursory walk across the face of the storefront, and headed directly down the three steps that led from the street to the sidewalk. He stopped at the top of the steps, mid-stride. The sun on this impossibly glorious morning was telephone pole high, just heating the air slightly, and the noise and bustle of traffic and delivery folks on the main drag around the corner was starting to be noticeable. He turned, looked directly into the fogged barber shop storefront and saw his reflection - crystal clear against a smokey glass background.
He stared back at the image – was it him? The laws of light and refraction and mirrors were a-shimmer. He walked back towards the storefront very slowly, carefully retracing his steps, closer to the image in the glass. It moved like him, it mirrored his movements as a mirror should, but the image staring back at him, looking right into his eyes… was that of a teenager, and Belzoni was in his mid 60’s.
He drew closer to the glass and rested his forehead on his cupped hands while looking directly into the main barbershop. He could see the counters on his left with mirrors, powder, razors and glass jars of combs, and the barber chairs in front of the mirrors. There was a worn rug runner separating the imposing barber chairs on his left from the row of comfortable red leather and chrome seating that framed the room on the far wall to the right.
Belzoni scanned the room carefully, picking out the details, noting the colors, smelling the oldness, the worn paper and yellowed magazines and the faintly sweet and intoxicating smell of cheap shaving crème and barbersol wash. He belonged here. He was home, and he and the image in the glass silently, effortlessly merged and faded into one, then into empty space, erased from the present.
A glorious Saturday morning in May, 1895. The shop is empty. The front door opens and Strauss strides in, his huge handlebar mustache twirling between his fingers.
“Belzoni!! Belzoni!! Business!! A shave, a trim and a twirl… “