Current and forthcoming titles from RUDOS AND RUBES

* A Loud Humming Sound Came From Above

by Johnny Strike

A Loud Humming Sound Came From Above

Jackie Grisman glanced at gray water as the plane came in for its landing at SFO. Fog was everywhere and he imagined the plane crashing and how that would take care of everything. But it landed okay despite some rumbles and bumps that made the lady next to him grab her seat handle. He stayed put while passengers stood, grappled with overhead bags, and lined up to wait for their release. He waited till even the stragglers got their extra luggage down and moved off. Then, alone, he left the plane and walked the jetway into the cold terminal.

Jackie went to the baggage carousel and spotted his bag right away. He grabbed it, walked out of the airport and waited in line for a taxi. He got into a Yellow cab and told the driver to take him to the Holiday Inn on Van Ness. The hotel had 26 floors and would make a good jump if he lost his nerve to actually go out on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Right before the taxi reached the checkout booth the driver turned around, grinned and asked Jackie how he was doing. Jackie thought the guy had a face like a cartoon drawing of a hoodlum. In the rear view mirror he introduced himself as Crazy Tony and laughed. Jackie looked out the window hoping that the cabbie would just shut up and drive. He was about to say something along those lines when he saw that the ID picture on the visor was not the man driving the cab. After a moment of panic, he calmed himself down.

“Excuse me driver. Mister Hell-er-man is it?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you Sidney Hellerman?”

“I could be. What’s your name?”

“Jackie A. Grisman.”

The driver snorted and looked into the rear view mirror, dark eyes searching and gloating at the same time. Jackie looked away at an empty field as they moved down 101 toward San Francisco. Maybe he was borrowing the cab to make a few extra bucks, Jackie reasoned.

“Why ya wanna go to the Holiday?” the driver asked. “That one is inna very blah neighborhood. Lots of airlines put their crews up there. Been a couple of jumpers there too. Is it the price?”

Was this guy psychic? Jackie wondered. Or was his mention of jumpers a weird coincidence?

“Listen buddy,” the driver continued as they slowed in freeway traffic. “I know a place you could stay for the same price but it’s like a friggin’ palace, inna good neighborhood too. Friend of mine owns it and only takes guests that he likes. He’d take you, though, on my say so.”

Jackie was intrigued. “Why would you recommend me? You don’t even know me.”

The cabbie didn’t say anything, busy now, moving from lane to lane and cursing other drivers.

“Well, I’m a good judge of character” he said, stopped again. “And I say that you’re a guy with character but with a problem too. I’d like to help. And then maybe you can help me too sometime.”

Here it comes, Jackie thought. But the driver didn’t add anything except, “So would you maybe like a look? Can’t hurt to look.”

Against his better judgment but curious too, Jackie went along with it. He asked the name of the hotel and the cabbie said it didn’t have one. And there was that laugh again, but this time friendlier.

The rest of the ride consisted of Jackie asking questions about the hotel and Crazy Tony answering his inquiries in a way that told him little. He did drop that it was “enchanted,” then changed that to “enchanting.” He mentioned that some famous people had stayed there but he couldn’t remember names. Finally, they pulled in front of an attractive yet slightly foreboding black and gray Victorian on a quiet street full of trees and front yards.

Crazy Tony was out of the cab and opening the door and smiling. “Come on and take a look. It don’t hurt to look.”

Oh alright, Jackie thought in a sudden devil-may-care mood.

He got out and looked around. “Just go in,” Crazy Tony called, heading for the trunk. “It’s always open.” The cabbie opened the trunk and hoisted Jackie’s suitcase on his back like a sailor. The door was open, but it was dark inside and Jackie stood still, waiting for his eyes to adjust. He was startled for a moment when he felt something brush the back of his neck. But there wasn’t anything there. Now he heard voices from another room. Gradually, he could make out the space: the furnishings were from a couple of centuries past, and this gave him a sensation of having traveled back in time. Pinpoints of light came from somewhere in the back, giving the room more definition.

Crazy Tony was suddenly standing there, expressionless. “Come on Mister Grisman, let me show you a room.”