New Constantinople was a hypnotic city. The wide avenues lined with muted yellow street lights, mixed with the sounds of distorted classical music seeping out of hidden speakers had a mind numbing effect. Around every corner another theater awning strived to reach out over the street. The amount of hotels was staggering, far too many for what the city had need for. But each one was ornately crafted with unique architecture, golden accents, stone carvings and an overly dressed doorman; complete with rows of gold and silver buttons down their jackets. Street cars screeched down the middle of the streets. The taut metal wires overhead glowed white as each streetcar passed by. Showers of sparks rained down in the wake of the passing transportation. The people that crowded the sidewalks were an interesting group. The tourists were easy to pick out; Their eyes constantly looking upwards, losing themselves in the lights and the nonsensical webs of electrical wires that caged them to the ground. But the locals were just as easy to notice. Everyone was wrapped in the finest clothing they had. The men were forced to walk upright and straight by their tight well tailored suits. The women wore sparkling gowns, with fur wrapped around their necks. It all seemed ridiculous considering how hot it was. But Jackson got the impression that these women would pick up groceries in fur and the men would mow the lawn in a three piece suit and hat. The unadulterated decadence gave the city a sickly sweet feel. Flowery perfume fought with the smell of exhaust. Make up designed for white women, caked to the cheeks of dark skinned women. The men were covered in a sheen a mixture of sweat and hair products. Jackson looked away and down at his feet. The jeep moved slowly down the streets, far slower than it was actually capable of. That and the lack of speed limit signs gave Jackson the impression that he was being taken on a city tour. Jackson continued to stare at the floor of the jeep. He kept the man sitting next to him in his peripheral vision. The two men in the front of the jeep remained motionless during the entire trip. They were statutes, cold stone without emotion. They were an intimidating presence to say the least. The man next to Jackson though was much more animated, animated compared to the other two. He apparently was the one hired to make Jackson feel welcome, while the other two were hired to remind Jackson that he was there for business. “So Mr. Lark, what do you think of our city?” The man next to Jackson asked. Jackson shrugged his shoulders at the question before answering: “It sure isn’t Chicago or Rome, but it’s alright.” “I’ve never been to those cities. They must be truly amazing for you to find New Constantinople lacking in comparison.” “You don’t say.” Jackson said with a sideways glance followed by another shrug of the shoulders. “They ain’t bad.”
The conversation died quickly afterwards and the only noise remaining was the clattering of the jeep’s engine, the dull wobble of the broadcasted music outside and the screech of distant streetcars. Any more noise than that would’ve been annoying Jackson thought. The jeep came to a stop in front of one of the many hotels of the city. “Here we are Mr. Lark. Here’s your key, someone will come tomorrow morning to pick you up. Until then, I suggest the hotels lounge for entertainment. It’s very nice.” The man next to Jackson said. “I don’t know, I was thinking about taking a stroll down the streets, see what I can find.” The man’s face washed over with nervousness. “I assure you Mr. Lark the lounge is the top of the line in New Constantinople. You will not find another place with…” Jackson raised his hand to pause the man. “I get it, I’ll be a good little boy and stay put. Have a goodnight fellas.” Jackson grabbed his duffle bag and the key and stepped out of the jeep. The jeep roared away immediately after Jackson had cleared. The vehicle cruised out of sight with a speed that hadn’t been present during the trip to the hotel. Jackson smiled as he turned away and towards the hotel. The hotel was a majestic building. It had a wide entrance, with blue carpeted stairs and silver plated handrails. A doorman stood guard in the middle of the entrance casting smiles and greetings to all who entered and pleasant farewells to those who left. The front sign was narrow and black and stretched up 6 stories. At the top a small diagonal rectangle extended from the rest of the sign and in fat white letters said “hotel” then stretching down vertically the rest of the sign said in tall skinny letters sans serif “Americana”. “Subtle” Jackson said to himself as he entered the hotel. The amount of grandeur inside was of no surprise. The floors were polished marble. A massive chandelier covered in crystals and silver curls hung above the lobby. The light coming from it was intense and casted strange circular shadows across the floor. A large oak desk sat at the far wall with a pair of attendants behind it. They wore similar smiles as the doorman out front. Jackson walked past them without even a glance and headed towards the stairwell that led to his room. He looked down at the key that had been given to him. A shiny silver key hung from a small plaque with the number “212” engraved in it. Jackson climbed the stairs until he reached the hallway that contained the door to his hotel room. Jackson slid the key into the lock and entered the room. The room was large and well furnished. A polished wood table sat in the middle of the room, a pair of stairs led down to a sitting area with a pair of cushioned seats and a small sofa. A radio sat on a ornately carved wooden table between the chairs. Opposite the sitting area was a massive bed. Two closets stood on either side of the bed. Jackson stepped into the room and dropped his duffle bag by the large
table. On the table was a bouquet of blue flowers that Jackson ignored at first. Underneath the bouquet was a letter. The letter was written in the same pristine handwriting that covered another letter in Jackson’s possession. “Dear Mr. Lark, I hope your trip was enjoyable and safe. I have taken the liberty of providing you some fresh clothes for your arrival. Tomorrow while we meet I’ll have someone clean and press the clothes that you have brought with you. Please leave them out on the table for them. Also, feel free to enjoy the Hotel Americana’s lounge and other amenities. All expenses will be covered including your bar tab. I look forward to meeting you in person tomorrow, we have much to discuss. Sincerely,
Jésus Patricio Jackson set the letter back down. That’s when he noticed the blue flowers in the bouquet. They had bright blue petals with dark bluish purple centers. They were simple and out of place in the sea of decadence Jackson had seen so far. Jackson looked away quickly and with a flash of his hand sent the flowers sailing across the room until the hit the far wall with a delicate sound. Memories of fields filled with the same flower washed over him as he kept his eyes shut tight. The silhouette of a pretty baker’s daughter with the blue petals falling around her danced in Jackson’s mind. His fist closed tightly into a fist as he fought to put the memories away. “Damn it Collette, stay gone.” Jackson said to himself. A loud piercing ring suddenly sounded in the room. It was enough to snap Jackson out of the trance he had fallen into. He looked around trying to find the source of the ring. In the sitting area a phone that Jackson hadn’t noticed before shook slightly as the bells inside chimed quickly and violently. Jackson crossed the room and picked up the phone. “Hello?” “Hello Mr. Lark. This is the front desk, we were told to call you and let you know that the main entertainment will be beginning in an hour in the lounge. We have a table reserved for you.” “Thank you. I’ll be down shortly, but give my table away I won’t be sitting there.” “Certainly, good bye Mr. Lark.” Jackson placed the phone receiver back on it’s holster and moved into the bed area to get changed.
Within a few minutes Jackson had changed from his sweat soaked clothes and into a pair of black slacks and another white dress shirt. He skipped the jacket and vest. He slipped on a pair of shiny black shoes and began the trip down to the lounge. The lounge was wide and expansive. More than a dozen tables each fitted with a candle and four chairs dotted the floor. A massive stage covered in carved scenes of actors, singers, angels and florets covered the front of it. Along the side wall a solid looking bar stretched the length of the room. A pair of bartenders in white shirts, black vests and small ties took orders. Jackson walked to the bar and grabbed one of the tender’s attention. “Brandy, on the rocks.” Jackson said. “Add a whiskey sour to that order barkeep.” A familiar voice said. Jackson turned to see Etta Joy approaching the bar. Her flight attire had been transformed into a skinny black gown covered in sequins. Her hair still had the short wave it did before, but a red flower now accessorized it. The color of the flower matched the red of Etta’s lips and a smoky grey covered her eyelids. Soft blush kissed her cheeks and a golden necklace holding a ruby pendant dangled above her pushed up breasts. Jackson nodded at the bartender who was waiting for confirmation on the order. “I did say I’d buy you a drink didn’t I?” “Good to see you have a memory that lasts more than an hour.” Etta said as she took a seat next to Jackson. “You clean up pretty good Ms. Joy.” “Now, how do you know I’m not a Mrs. And don’t say it’s because I’m not wearing a ring, that’s just silly.” “Because I don’t know a man in the world who’d let his wife walk around dressed like that and not be glued to her side like a loyal mutt.” “Good point Jack. Anyways, I wish I could say you cleaned up well, but I’d be a liar then.” Etta said, obviously not impressed with the casual attire Jackson was in. “Well you know what they say about the clothes making the man.” “Are you saying that you’re a dirty man?” “These clothes aren’t dirty, but let’s just say I don’t spend a lot of time in these sorts of fancy places.” “Fair enough.”
“So, you were saying earlier that this place is exactly on the up and up.” “Well, I’m sure you’ve noticed all the glitz and glamour. But I’m guessing that your little guide didn’t take you over to the west side of the city.” “No, he didn’t, should he have?” “Not if he didn’t want you doubted the great and wonderful Patricio.” “I doubt everyone.” “A little jaded are we? That’s probably for the best. There’s just a lot of strange things happening around here. People are ending up dead, the poor people over on the west side are getting restless. There’s talk of ghosts in the jungle.” “Ghosts?” “Metaphorically of course. People who aren’t too happy with Patricio living out in the wild, sabotaging the workings of this place. Of course the big cats always have an excuse of why the mail isn’t delivered on time, why the street cars are down for a day, why the markets are closed in the middle of the day and so on.” “You seem pretty loose with this information Ms. Etta.” “Well you hear things you know. Plus you’re the first American I’ve seen here that didn’t stumble onto this place and thought the beaches were nice for tanning. Call me a silly patriot but I’d choose a complete stranger from America than my best friend here.” “I’m just here to do a job, and leave. This isn’t my sort of climate.” “If I were you, I’d get that job done quick and get out of here. This place is all show, it’s easy to get lost in it.” “Well, I’m good at what I do. I don’t imagine I’ll be here long.” “And what is this something that you’re so good at?” “A lot of somethings.” The two shared a smile and a teasing glance. Their conversation was cut short as the house lights dimmed and everyone’s attention went towards the stage. Slowly the blue curtain that had been covering most of the stage separated like a flower opening and out stepped a sun kissed beauty. Her long black hair was pinned up in an intricate weaving of hair and ribbon. A white gown that hugged her body flowed from her neck down to the floor. Her face was adorned with a soft polite smile and dark glistening eyes. Her full cheeks were a enticing contrast to the straight angles of her nose and
chin. A soft applause grew out of the audience as she took her place in front of the sole microphone stand. A spotlight engulfed her in smoke filled brilliance as an invisible band began to play. A gentle piano was joined with a muted trumpet and soft strikes on a snare drum. The singer’s chest expanded as she drew in breath. “Never treat me sweet and gentle, the way he should.” The singer began. Her voice was low and raspy. Each word trilled and echoed out into the room. Her hands rose from her side and danced chest level on every note. “My poor heart, is sentimental.” She continued on. Jackson’s eyes were fixed on her. Every move she made pulled on his skin. The tiny hairs on his ear rose to see what his eyes were. His jaw set tightly as his teeth clenched against each other. “and it’s not made out of wood.” Jackson looked away for a second to see Etta just as transfixed as he was on the singer. But past her at the other end of the bar, a man with his hat set low stared at Jackson, ignoring the spell of the singer. Jackson looked away to see another man sitting at one of the tables, a scar running down the side of his face, his eyes sitting sideways towards Jackson. “What do you say we head back to my room and you can tell me a little more about what you know, or maybe something else.” Jackson whispered into Etta’s ear. She looked at him with a playful grin then cocked her head instructing him to lead the way. Jackson offered his arm to her and they casually strolled out of the lounge towards his room. For hours afterwards certain noises would mix with knowing giggles from Jackson’s neighbors. “I got it bad, and that ain’t good.”