In his hand, the matchbook was a curious thing, brand new, emblazoned with a cheap ink-stamped logo from his dry cleaners. Why a book of matches? Durante had no idea. He struck a match and lit the last cigarette from his pack, leaving the empty box in the middle of his otherwise desolate desk.
Through the frosted interior window, he could see the gauzy outline of Gingger’s jet black hair. The office at Pier 76 probably hadn’t been renovated in its 85 years. It still had the original 1950’s charm. The old wires that snake around the molding dated back to the late 1990s. Durante wasn’t sure anything traveled through those wires. He often thought of cutting them to test his theory, but he’d hate to be wrong. So he never has. They hang like old dead vines, friends to the empty pipes and crumbling wood walls.
After seven years on the job, Durante still doesn’t know the slightest thing about uncle Dane’s business, but it never really bothered him. Today he has bigger problems. Gingger was about to cross over. The longest any of them had stuck around was the first girl; she lasted two years. But Durante had made a mistake with her.
Gingger was on month seven and getting restless. She might have imagined the job to be more glamorous, rubbing shoulders with uncle Dane, getting to see the inside of his much-photographed silver Geely limo, and somehow getting her hands on some little piece of the billions of dollars worth of goods processed through customs racks. Durante knows that he trumped up the gig when she interviewed. Perhaps he didn’t mention how mundane the day to day is. Most of it lands in his lap. He passes it right along to the girls. Right now, his girl is Gingger.
Gingger was smart, he could tell, probably smarter than him, and that’s what made him nervous around her. She said she lived in District 11, but her paycheck cleared a credit union in District 10. He’d never seen her apartment. She always insisted on the luxe SROs near the Financial Towers in District 09. Durante didn’t care. The clerk saw his business card, and mistakenly asked if it was on the company account the first time there. He’s been charging it to the company three nights a week for four months straight. He didn’t care if they fired him. He wished he learned that trick years ago – it would have saved him thousands. He’s sick of this dead-end job. No one tells him anything. “The less you know, the better…”
His office door rattled open, Gingger swept in without knocking, just as she had since day one. “The ISLE PRIDE is set, and the manifests all check out.” She dropped a stack of thin, brittle papers clipped with a tracker. “Our readers are all down again. I’m not going to walk back to the C-Rack for a simple time punch.”
Durante looked up smoke swirling around his head – he had never been good with machines, and he was too scared to ask Dane’s operations manager to come back and fix them every time they went down. He didn’t know if the girls broke them, or if they were just shitty machines. He wouldn’t put it past Dane for buying the cheapest ones on the market, but that wasn’t the issue. Durante couldn’t help but remember the time the operations jerk made a scene in front of Alice. The machine wasn’t even plugged in, probably hadn’t been for days, no one noticed. Durante didn’t give a shit about the machine, not working. Walking across the docks to the customs rack to swipe the paper-trackers was the only reason he had to leave the office all night. Alice had only been there three weeks, the fastest Durante had ever worked it, and he was about to seal the deal. After the operations lug left, the rest of the day was a mess. Durante couldn’t even look Alice in the eye; he became a stuttering 13-year-old.
Alice didn’t show up the next day and never came back to work. Durante tried to set-up a chance encounter by staking out her address. She lived in District 12, and an STRC cop found him sleeping in his car at 10 am — asked him to leave. He never even saw Alice come or go. Maybe she had given him a fake address.
The collar on Durante’s shirt was biting into his neck, but he didn’t want to flinch. It’s hard to pinpoint when it started. He realized very slowly that power came with the clothes, and he has now made a habit of dressing the part. Dressing up is worth the razing he gets from Dane’s dock hands and the paper-jockeys at the C-Rack. In this office, he’s a king to an audience of two.
Gingger upped the ante on him, though. To her interview, Gingger wore a simple sweater and slacks. Durante had just had his shoes shined that morning and made a point of propping them up on the desk and casually blowing a piece of lint off the toe. Then on her first day, Gingger charged through the door in a tan trench-coat which swirled off her shoulders like a matador and gracefully floated to the coat rack in the corner. Underneath, she was wearing a pin-tight a-line skirt and heels with the sharpest starched white shirt Durante had ever seen. From that point forward, it was a battle, one that he’s been losing lately. He felt like she could tell when he wore the same shirt twice in a week – even his dry cleaner suggested he slow down, he was over-laundering.
Durante flipped the matchbook between his fingers. “I’ll take them over. I could use a walk.” Durante scooped up the stack of manifests in the tracker clip. “When I get back, let’s ditch and grab a bite. I reserved a room at Freshotel” Gingger’s face was a cold, hard mask. At times Durante thought she might have had some of her facial muscles rewired with microSENS, so she could turn off emotion to avoid unwanted reactions. He’d heard about high-end work that actor’s got which could be programmed. But he knew she couldn’t afford those. He joked about it once, but she started crying and made a big to-do about the fact that she’d never had any Wetwork.
Tonight she’s all business. “When you get back, if I’m still here, you can tell me about the Scrubbers you promised to buy me.” Durante tried to hide his shaking hands by casually grabbing his coat off the rack. He knew this wasn’t a threat. She meant it. “I’ve just about got it set up. Top of the line, next year’s tech, Dane got me in touch with a guy,” he lied. Two weeks previous, as he felt Gingger pulling away, he suggested buying her some Scrubbers. He thought she’d turn him down, that she didn’t like Wetwork. He could have sworn the idea would repulse her, but she seemed to love him more just for offering. Instead, she looked deeply into his eyes, a tear formed in hers. “Really? That would be the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.” He sincerely couldn’t tell if she was lying to him or not. But he didn’t want to let on, and he didn’t want to let her go. He figured a gift like this, and she’d have to stick around for at least a year. But Scrubbers, he didn’t have that kind of money, those were Tiffany-class Wetwork. He lied about talking to Dane. The most he’d ever said to uncle Dane was hello as he fumbled through a thank you for giving him the job.
Gingger had a way of putting her body in between Durante and something that he wanted – usually a door, as it was now. She could make her thin muscular body look like a formidable barricade in platform heels, then with the slightest muscle shift, appear to be a vulnerable schoolgirl. It was control. Durante was jealous. She wasn’t giving an inch today. As he tried to squeeze past, she allowed her breast to brush his arm and whispered in his ear. “Hurry back.”
The cigarette was still burning in his lips as we whisked out the office door onto the catwalk, 75 dizzying feet above the warehouse floor. He was lucky, it usually takes ten minutes for the freight elevator to climb to the top, but tonight, it was sitting ready for him. Turk, the freight-operator had his feet propped up on an empty crate watching a micro-projection of a soap from Ribba’s early days, somehow Durante had never heard of it. Turk was old-school. He never left the elevator but was always sharply dressed in a second-hand suit, proud. He had claws, which dated him – claws were the height of thug-tech when Durante was born, but no one had spliced digits since titanium-honeycomb printing swept the market in the thirties.
The elevator was the old kind you can drive trucks into. Hydraulic-chain-suspension, very very slow. Durante knows that Turk doesn’t like him. “Dane’s gonna be by tonight, make sure your shift is tight.” Turk barked smugly. Durante forgot he had a cigarette in his mouth and checked his pockets for a new pack. He’s out. Turk flashed him an imperceptible lip-point toward the cigarette burning in Durante’s mouth. Durante blinked out of it, “did he say he wanted to see me?” “He didn’t say shit to me. I just know he’s coming, and he don’t want to wait around for the elevator to go up and down.” “Then why were you at the top?” “Gingger called to tell me you’d be coming down.”
© 2013 Zachary Mortensen | 001.001.01 “Elevator Down”
The Gatecrashers Series 01