This fictional piece is a playful attempt at re-writing a scene from Notes From Underground in 1970s Los Angeles.
Los Angeles is a lonely place so I figured I’d pay Simon a visit. It had been over a year since we’d last spoken, but that’s life as a private eye. Always on the move, never enough time to just be yourself. I knocked three times and heard nothing, which wasn’t unusual, so I opened the door. It seemed Simon had found company: Raymond and Carl.
I entered the room inconspicuously, sticking as close to the walls as I could. Whether or not I like it, and I most certainly do like it, I need to be invisible. Hat down, sunglasses on, faceless, nameless, nonexistent. And yet, you’d think they’d be smart enough to notice me. A fly on the wall, processing every spoken word with cold calculation. I pulled out a notepad to write some things down but nothing came to mind. In between scribbles I looked their way. Nothing. Pure indifference. What fools. If only they knew. Or maybe they just wanted to bait me into their useless conversation and blow my cover. Finally, Simon turned my way and gave me a little wave, an acknowledgment but, more importantly, a message: he’s on to me.
I knew these men in my past life. Before I was a sleuth I was a man, you know. A boy. Went to school like everyone else, even laughed and cried on occasion. These fine gentlemen were right there with me. Though not so fine, I might add. Rough types, so it was no surprise now they were up to no good. In those days I was at their mercy. Not today. No, today they were at mine. Whatever it was they were up to I’d figure it out eventually. I always do.
Saltzman. That’s who they were talking about. Some sort of dinner plan with him. I never understood Saltzman. What was the appeal? Not too smart, not too funny––or at least not clever. And yet he walked around like he owned the place. Had I not been so deeply immersed in it all, so keenly aware of my surroundings, so in tune with the talk, I would have taken him for the sort of clown people laughed at and not with. Saltzman was the sort of schoolboy that was popular because they said so. My peripheral existence meant I never had to go along with the whole charade, laughing with him that is. The very idea of it repulses me even now. In fact, I hated Saltzman. Not because he was well liked, though that didn’t help, but because it was so plainly obvious to me that the two of us were no different. Only he was an egomaniac, his centrality a necessary condition for being. That sentence makes good sense if you know Saltzman, I assure you. The scorn he threw my way. What a disgusting little man he
Suddenly I internalized the gravity of the situation before me. What damage these men were capable of and how it all tied together one could only guess. This was a job that required action, bravery even. I slid my glasses down, removed my cap, and for good measure loaded the gun in my jacket pocket. Clasping my freshly lit cigarette I wondered who it was they planned to hurt. A woman, certainly a woman if they were anything like the boys I remembered from school. I couldn’t let them get away with it. It would have to be me or her. I inhaled deeply.
“Mind if I join you,” I muttered in my signature suave growl. “Haven’t seen the old pal in far too long.” A long pause followed. I pressed the cigarettes lit end to the white brick wall.
Simon fearfully snapped his head back. “Saltzman, you’re friends with Saltzman?”
“I just don’t remember you two talking, is all,” Simon continued. It was plainly obvious now that he was onto me. Surely the banality of their current conference could only last so long. If only I could get them to trust me.
“What am I doing, eh? I forgot how long it’s been. And here I am intruding without even saying hello. Of course, Simon, we talk quite often but Raymond and Carl, hell it’s been years hasn’t it. Here, have a cigarette.” I graciously extended my hand yet received blank stares. Sure, I despised both of them growing up, but they didn’t know that. Besides, who could reciprocate such a grudge for a peripheral man like myself?
“I don’t smoke, but thanks,” replied Raymond, waiting just long enough to embarrass me. Carl nodded in agreement.
“Hey, dinner’s on me. How ’bout that? Lost time doesn’t come without a cost.” Like any good shamus, I carried my words with gruff indifference.
“Free dinner never hurt nobody,” Carl snickered. I detected a foul sarcasm, or whatever you might call it. Pity, maybe? He wasn’t quite clever enough to mock me.
“Sure, why not. We’re meeting at Musso and Frank’s––5pm sharp, tomorrow,” Simon added. Through the corner of my eye I could see Raymond grinning. Quite an expensive dinner, I thought, but by the time I uncovered their plot I wouldn’t have to pay a dime.
“Gentleman. I will see you all then. And don’t tell Saltzman I’m coming, I’d like to show the old friend a surprise.” The ensuing awkward silence told me one thing and one thing only: they knew that I knew. But that’s how I like it.
I promptly put on my cap and exited the building. Back out to the streets of Los Angeles––the city that never sleeps! And with just my luck, and gentleman I assure you this is true, it began to rain.