by James Rowe
The Sicilian Dragon - Chapter 2 draft
The Sicilian Dragon - Chapter 2
New York USA - present day.
The glare of the low winter sun bounced off incalculable windows. It reflected harshly into the eyes of the commuters hustling along the sidewalk. Heads down they were focused on their own lives, oblivious to those around them.
"Rush hour" thought Jack. Even after living in his adopted country's unofficial capital city for over a decade he had not got used to the way that the simplest of journeys could take so long. And how people could be so ignorant. An orchestra of conversations in differing languages washed over him as people spoke into the phones that may as well have been surgically grafted to their ears. Jack grunted as a guy in a blue Jets baseball cap barged past. Another thing he struggled to adjust to.
The sun was a con. The reality was that February in New York was still bitterly cold and Jack had the collar of his overcoat turned up to block out the biting wind. His height meant he could see his destination, the tall building on the junction ahead. It was just one of many that seemed to stretch upwards seeking light in the man-made jungle Jack now called home.
Jack fought through the tide of bodies until he stood opposite the hotel. Sipping the lukewarm coffee from his takeout mug he watched as the liveried doors were opened for guests by the uniformed bellboys. When a guest arrived, stepping from chauffeur driven cars with heavy cases, a member of staff dutifully carried them up the entrance steps, with the outcome usually a discrete passing of bank notes.
Jack stood still as the sea of people washed around him, nudging him as he watched. He looked for the tell-tale signs that would lead to him continuing down the street and putting this out of his mind. The invitation had intrigued him. His curiosity was piqued by the unsigned note on expensive paper that had been hand delivered to his loft apartment two mornings ago.
Slid under the door it had simply contained a location, a number, date and time, along with an unusual picture in the top right corner of a cross with a snake wrapped around it. It wasn't so much the invitation, but that it was addressed to him. He had taken great care to ensure his anonymity amongst a city of millions and the fact he had been tracked down caused him concern. And piqued his interest.
Jack's gripped the pistol in his left pocket. It gave a measure of reassurance against the unknown. The overcoat provided a dual purpose of providing protection against the biting chill whilst also disguising his muscular frame and his little extras. The familiar feel of the Glock sidearm comforted him. Crossing the road Jack was assuming that the number was that of a room. His pulse quickened slightly as nervous energy began to fill his body and he took a few deep breaths to quieten the feeling. He welcomed the adrenaline but knew his actions over the upcoming minutes would need his mind to be in control, not his body.
As he approached the front doors of the hotel, he noticed all the details which convinced those using its facilities to part with hundreds of dollars for the privilege of a bed. The carpet was thick under his boots, the years spent in uniform meant he had never felt comfortable in shoes. The plants that guarded the entrance were luscious and well cared for and the brass on the doors had been polished to a shine.
The bellboy duly opened the heavy door as Jack approached. Jack thanked him and was rewarded with a nod and a well-spoken "Welcome to the Paradise sir". The foyer matched the exterior. Marble floors, understated artwork and dark brown leather settees with a handful of guests relaxing. Professional men in dark, well-tailored business suits enjoying an early drink as they read newspapers and a trio of expensively clothed women chatting quietly.
Although relatively new, Jacks clothing was on a different league with the other patrons. Feeling self-conscious he crossed the expanse of the foyer. Avoiding eye contact with the attractive blonde receptionist he made his way towards the bank of lifts where he joined a young couple who were clutching bags with the names of the latest fashion stores. Their arms entangled, they whispered and giggled as they waited for the next lift. Jack continued past the couple and pushed open the door to the emergency staircase. Dull concrete and steel met him as he began a steady climb up to the 32nd floor.
Despite being nearly forty Jack was as fit as someone half his age. A legacy of his time spent in the Royal Marines where he had risen through the ranks. The habits that had been instilled in him during those formative years were ingrained. Regular runs and a makeshift home gym maintained a body that was toned and muscular.
Barely out of breath Jack reached the 31st floor. He cracked the door leading to a long corridor. Doors were staggered on each side, more original paintings hung on the walls between them. The closest door Jack saw was numbered 315. A quick inspection revealed that the numbers ran consecutively down one side before returning up the opposite wall. Finding room 319 Jack looked up, imagining the floor above. If it matched the level, he was on there was a staircase at each end of a corridor that contained ten rooms.
A door opened behind him, causing Jack to turn quickly, coming face to face with a petite Latino cleaning lady. Her trolley was piled with clean white towels whilst shelves under we're stocked with various bottles and cans of cleaning solutions. The startled employee uttered a heavily accented "Sorry Sir" before using a master key to open the next room. Jack caught the room door before it swung shut. "Err, excuse me, my wife is at the bar downstairs and has our key. I've left my camera in my room, any chance you could open it?" Nodding towards the room he had been stood outside he produced a ten dollar note hoping it might help the cleaners decision making.
"Of course, Sir" said the cleaner, moving past Jack and slotting her card into the hole on the door. The lock blinked green and she pushed the door open. Jack gave her the note and walked into the room. The bed had been freshly made and the minibar restocked. Jack removed a bottle of sparkling water, avoiding the alcoholic alternatives. Twisting the lid, he took a deep swallow. He made his way to the bed and sat next to the phone. Using a napkin to pick up the receiver he used a courtesy pen to punch the numbers to get a direct line to the room immediately above him.
Within two rings the phone was answered. The male voice on the other end was well spoken. "Hello? Is that you Mr Bishop? Or should I call you Zulu? Jack was impressed. Whoever was on the other end of the phone had done his homework. His service nickname, although not exactly a secret, was confidential enough that few outside the military knew it.
"Who is asking?" Jack replied?
"A friend who has an offer for you. You're obviously close by, why don't you give me twenty minutes of your time to see if you're interested. If you're not I assure you, you will leave as you arrived. If I wanted to do you a mischief, I've had plenty of opportunities"
Jack thought for a moment. "Nothing ventured" he eventually replied. Replacing the handset, he pocketed the napkin and pen before picking up the bottle of water. Glancing both ways as he left the room. He saw no sign of the cleaner. Walking back to the stair well he had used earlier he took the final flight up to the next floor.
The corridor he entered was identical in every detail to the one he had just left except for the door numbers and some differing expensive artwork hung on the walls. Jack noted that the hotels he frequented would not be so trusting of its clientele and would have ensured it was more securely attached.
Approaching the door Jack again felt for the handgun. Gripping it in his pocket he knocked the beech coloured door. It opened almost immediately. A large black male was silhouetted against the light streaming in through the window which made up the far wall of the hotel room. In his early twenties his neck looked to be the same size as one of Jacks thighs. Jack knew the sort. He had seen them in every military base he had worked in. And he had worked in a few. Fast track to size through juicing. He handed Juicer the invite, careful to keep enough distance between him and the unofficial doorman.
Juicer simply took the piece of paper and backed into the room. Jack followed. Sat in an armchair facing him was a grey-haired man. Dressed immaculately down to the cravat and matching handkerchief. Jack guessed he was aged around sixty but wouldn't have been surprised to learn he was ten years older.
"Welcome Mr Bishop. My name is Harrington". The voice was the one Jack had spoken to a few minutes earlier. "As I said, I have a proposal for you, something that calls upon your rare and significant talents."
"Oh?", Jack answered.
Harrington paused, as if for effect. "Mr Bishop....I would like you to help me recover something I have lost".