HELLO AMERICA!─The humming light from the bowed streetlamp cut the night like a dull blade and covered the lonely parking lot with long, lingering, brown shadows. It was underneath his auburn haze of Hollywood that Jonathan Harris followed his fate. The man in front of him, in a dyed blue suit, worn at the shoulders by the weight of the world, was a few yards ahead, limping up and down in wretched footfalls toward something hunched in the distance.
The man didn’t look like Jerry Winslow, whose life Jonathan had destroyed a couple months prior in his column. In fact, the man whose sallow skin was drenched tan in the light didn’t look of the human form. He seemed on a different path, of a different time zone. He seemed to be wandering into the thick, black barricade of twilight that shrunk as it surrounded him on all sides, a dead-end that would extinguish both lives. Jonathan strained to get a glimpse at the man’s wilting features, but the stubborn guide never gave him the satisfaction of glancing back. It was as if the man knew in a sure bet that Jonathan was still behind, obeying his every weary step.
Jonathan Harris was not a coward. He wasn’t a saint either. It wasn’t as though he would help a man in need or desperation. It was the delicate thread of curiosity that pulled Jonathan along. He placed himself in these precarious predicaments that anyone with an ounce of common sense would have wisely avoided. A Negro in the middle of the night trailing a white man in the shady corner of the city. How did he end up here? At any moment Jonathan could have split the scene as the vibrating buzz of the lamppost thundered in his heavy ears. Jet out!
A stray thought suddenly sped through his mind. Reporter’s instincts know that when things get too dicey you should turn away. Life is not worth risking. You’re not a hero; you’re not a cop. You’re simply a man with a pen. Maybe it was Della’s raspy voice that chatted these pearls of wisdom in rapid, strung-out sentences. She often nagged him in times of danger – the worst possible times to nag; what the hell did she know? However, in the end, she was his only beacon of reason. It was because of her that he made it this far in Los Angeles. How he missed those round ocean eyes.
Jonathan refocused on the man he was pursuing. His twisted gait, painful to behold was getting away, dragged along by an aggressive current of urgency. The man began to dissolve into the hasty mist ahead. He had better step it up. The biggest story of his career could slip away in the dark. At a heart’s skip, Jonathan leaped forth, running uncomfortably in his snug, black tuxedo, as the gravel below his fancy soles crunched in exhaling intensity.
Underneath another streetlamp, holding still a pale circle, the man paced towards a dirt-green Buick, crouched thin in the far end of the lot. Like a tomcat beaten down by the heat, the car pinged and purred in its solitude, resting resignedly for someone to come along and end its misery. Jonathan could see everything now as the impulsive, June fog magically lifted from this one beam of light.
The man swerved clumsily around the rear of the Buick and stroked its bruised panel as if to say “I’m back; everything’s gonna be alright now. Jonathan is here.” Then he flipped something shiny out of his packet. A switchblade? No, his keys. He jiggled a few bones and inserted one into the lock. A click. And the trunk lid popped a right angle, releasing an instant gasp of gray smolder. Jonathan’s accelerated steps crunched more of the pavement and steadily approached the man in the nearing distance, whose obscure face was blocked by the flat, dented cover of the trunk. The man bent over like a broken bow, dug inside the darkness to get something.
The whole scene, so calm and slow in its execution, made Jonathan’s conscience take a leap. A deserted parking lot. A betrayed, desperate stranger. And the man was going to give him something that he always wanted. An abrupt fear blanketed his stone face. You could have split there, Jonathan! You could have turned away and head back to the party inside the warm hotel suite, where Della and Robert and all your confidants were waiting for you! Don’t you see – there were moments when you could have escaped. Life is filled with tiny holes in history – pockets of time like trap doors underneath a stage – that you could have slipped through and faced another day. You gotta know when to go! But then, Jonathan mused to breathe bravely into his thumping lungs, if I did, I would have missed the action. I wouldn’t have gotten my applause, my standing ovation. No, he argued against all logic, I was meant to be here, at this lonely moment, in this forgotten cul de sac somewhere in Tinseltown.
His footsteps slowed, then ceased. Jonathan Harris reached his destiny. The man surfaced from the trunk’s shadow, lugged a menacing, black briefcase from the abyss and swung it sturdily to his side. The initials “JW” glimmered in the flickering, fickle light. The lid slammed down, smashing the night into accented echoes.
Think about what had brought you here, Jonathan, these moments that had made up your life. See the many trap doors through which you could have escaped?