He stared through the smoke and noise at the blurred reflection in the mirror on the wall, the short distance between where he sat and where he looked seemed to shrink and grow as he thought, as he tried to remember. There was something in that gap, there had to be something.
He was working in the Public Defender’s office, as an investigator. There were only a few options for someone with a C.J. degree that had decided at the last-minute that being a cop wasn’t for him. Instead of putting the bad guys in jail, something that didn’t seem to work anyway, he decided to help keep innocent people out of it. That didn’t really seem work out all that well either. He split most of his work day reviewing files, looking for evidence that wasn’t there or had been obviously mishandled, and interviewing witnesses that couldn’t tell him much or had obviously been coerced; any of them with solid information either wound up changing their stories or sometimes addresses. He was starting to think the whole thing was rigged to begin with. He just hadn’t figured out by who.
“Figure that one out and you’ll be rich, or probably just dead,” someone had once said. Who was it that told him? When?
It was another case. Another file, just like the all the others. A piece of bad evidence that had led him out here to talk to yet another of those squirrely witnesses. Out here in the cold and damp of a stormy night. Out here to the slums where the immigrants were pigeon holed in crappy bug infested apartments, located on crappy crime ridden streets; maybe after a generations or two of penance for the sin of not being from around here they’d be allowed to live somewhere where the smell could be described without resorting to the word malevolent. He hated being down here, especially at night.
Tonight, the moon was a cartoonish sliver hanging in the sky. A jagged cut just barely visible through the billowing smoke plumes of the entirely too close, yet legally distant industrial park. He was never sure what they made there, but they were at it twenty-four seven; from the look of the surrounding neighborhood he thought, maybe they manufactured more immigrants. The people who braved the rain skulked along the poorly lit streets nearly invisible as he drove up towards what he assumed would turn out to be some god forsaken sweatshop.
When he arrived he showed his credentials and was let through the gate by a guard with a cheap uniform and a bad accent. He he found where was told to park, got out of his car opened his umbrella against the rain and walked across the lot towards building four. This was where the witness should be on break, according to the phone conversation they had a few hours ago. It didn’t matter much to him if she showed or not, he wasn’t paid for overtime and the sooner he got this over with the sooner he could get home where it was warm.
He reached the building and rummaged through his pockets. He had written the witnesses name down in his notebook, which he managed to leave in the car. He stood there, staring at the door, debating whether to go back for it when something struck him.
A searing pain in his arm followed by another in his chest. It was a heart attack, had to be. He looked there wasn’t any blood on him. He gasped for air, his lungs filled with fire, he fell to his knees. He clawed at the air, at the two green lights. The lights peered at him. A face, he couldn’t quite make out. Some thing sharp and wicked reached out and touched his forehead. He could barely make out his own face in a window contorted with pain. Lights flashed, his vision blurred. Something exploded.
“Jerry… hello… Jerry…” Janice waved her hands in his face, the motion breaking the mirrors spell.
Jerry looked at her, up and down in the neon light several times. His vision began to clear but his head was throbbing, the incessant beat of the music in the club wasn’t helping much. It had all started with that case, that night at the industrial park. What industrial park? Where was it? What case? What city had that been? When had that been? The more he thought about it the harder it was to remember.
Janice straightened her short skirt and took up the stool next to him at the bar. “You were lost in there for a minute there,” she motioned at the mirror across from them, “you see what you were looking for, babe?”
“How long have we known each other Jan?” He stirred his martini, the swizzle had three olives on it, he always got them with extra olives when he was meeting up with Janice. He pinched the bridge of his nose his head, slowly started to feel normal.
“Seems like forever to me,” she said teasing her hair in the mirror.
“Yeah, forever, seem about right. Seems exactly right. We’ve known each other for as long as I can remember, been chasing each other around bars and bedrooms the whole time.” Jerry closed his eyes in a long blink and ran his hand through his hair. “Funny thing is, I can’t remember meeting you Jan.”
“What are you talking about Jerry?” She reached over and took the olive laden spear from his hand and ispected professionally. “That’s just silly, you’re pulling my leg.”
“I don’t see it. I can picture a time when I didn’t know you, and then there’s now when I know you. What I can’t see is the moment when that changed. I can’t picture finding out your name, or introducing myself. That’s not all that’s missing either.”
She carefully plucked the olives from the swizzle, and placed one carefully in her mouth. She chewed it thoughtfully for a moment and then swallowed. “I think you’ve been working too hard, and you and I need to go somewhere quiet where you can relax.”
Jerry stared at his drink as she plopped the remaining olives back into it. “Yeah, working too hard. You know I don’t remember telling you what it is I do for a living.”
“Well,” she said standing up, “I’m going to powder my nose. You go ahead and finish your drink and then we can go back to your place and you can tell me about yourself all over again.” She brushed his shoulder with her hand and walked off towards the lady’s room.
Jerry watched her go and smiled. He might be losing his mind but at least she’d stand by him, at least for tonight. He turned toward his drink and there, floating in it were the olives. Staring at him like eyes, almost glowing in the bar’s neons.
Janice adjusted her make up in the mirror, and patted her hair to make sure it was still all in its proper place. She was worried about Jerry; she’d seen him in a bad state before, but never like this. No matter, she’d get him alone and she was sure she’d be able to make him feel right as rain by morning.
She winked at her reflection, dropped her lipstick into her purse and took a deep breath. Putting on a new smile, Janice sauntered back out towards the bar.
She got there in time to see the bartender cleaning up a broken martini glass, nearby two olives sat in a pool of liquor. She ran outside and looked up and down the empty street. Jerry was nowhere to be seen.
She reached into her purse, slowly took out her phone, and dialed.
“We may have a small problem,” she said before the person on the other end said hello. “We should meet and discuss it in person.”
TELL SOMEONE YOU WERE HERE