Ch. 31 – Big Pictures and Cocktail Lounges (4)

Final Fugue_Ithaka O._horizontal

Table of Contents

Jump to the Prelude

Gus Shevlin, finally, stood in front of Zach. He’d appeared in the shape of an aged, stereotypical mobster wearing a fedora and a long overcoat, in the middle of the guestbook Lisa’s memory.

Shevlin, with his booming baritone voice, as always.

Shevlin, with his exaggerated gestures, as always.

Shevlin, with his back turned toward Zach, but nevertheless, completely recognizable.

Zach breathed shallowly, deliberately. This was the only way he knew how to breathe at this moment. If not this, he might not have breathed at all, so absorbed was he in the appearance of his enemy.

Equally deliberately, and slowly, Zach approached Shevlin. He wasn’t worried that Shevlin would leave or that any of the hotel workers would stop him. All of them were part of the guestbook Lisa’s memory. And as the double had pointed out, that Lisa was fond of Zach. Granted, to be precise, she was fond of the double; but so far, her fondness seemed to apply to Zach as well. Otherwise, why would she have swallowed Zach to get him here at all?

While Zach approached Shevlin, Shevlin made no attempts to move away from the front desk.

On the contrary: the unknown concierge and Shevlin repeated the same conversation, as if Lisa wanted Zach to hear this snippet loud and clear.

“Could you confirm your name please?”

“Gus Shevlin. That’s right, that’s my name.”

“Could you confirm your name please?”

“Gus Shevlin. That’s right, that’s my name.”

Once close enough, Zach lifted his arm. Softly, but without hesitation, he tapped on Shevlin’s shoulder.

Shevlin turned around.

How bizarre, to see Big Blond Babyface, so old, maybe seventy or eighty. The man had lived a long life. He was smiling.

That smile made Zach feel ice cold. His heart seemed to slow down. Something clogged up in his chest.

Gus Shevlin smiled in Lisa’s memory because he’d been confident, even in his death. Had this man thought he was never going to be punished? Had he faced any consequences in his beforelife? Any at all?

“Do you recognize me?” Zach said.

His voice sounded calm. He wasn’t nervous. He wasn’t shaken. He wasn’t even angry. What he felt was ice-cold fury, the kind that didn’t burst outward, but rather, froze one’s innards—froze it so bitterly that one could do otherworldly cruel things to the person who’d triggered that fury.

“Do I recognize you?” Gus Shevlin said cheerfully. “No, I do not.”

“That cannot be,” Zach said. “You can’t possibly not remember me.”

“Why not? I don’t know any of you.” Gus Shevlin looked around the lobby full of valets, reapers, lawyers, and hotel guests. “Why should I know any of you?”

Zach looked around, following Shevlin’s gaze. Everyone in the lobby suddenly stopped moving. They looked back at Zach. Some faces were a blur. Others had clear facial features or partial features.

Of course. These were all people in Lisa’s memory, not “real.” Shevlin was no exception. Lisa had no way of knowing whom Shevlin had known, or any of these people had known.

Then, there was no point in getting angry at this Gus Shevlin. Whether Zach felt ice cold or burned with rage, that didn’t matter. This Shevlin had no idea what he’d done to Zach. This Shevlin hadn’t done anything to Zach.

Nevertheless, there had to be a link between this Shevlin and the Shevlin who’d ordered Zach’s murder, just like there was a link between Zach and his double. They weren’t identical people, yet there had to be something that made them, well, them, instead of anyone else.

Shevlin’s smile, for example. Lisa hadn’t just made that up. The default expression of the average dead person was blank, sad, or angry—but not smiling. Shevlin’s distinct expression must have left an impression on Lisa. He’d been sufficiently differentiated from other people to be more than a blur.

Maybe, that which made a specific person that specific person was the simple fact that said person identified himself or herself as said person.

Person. Person. Person.

The word circled in Zach’s mind.

Zach was Zach because he thought he was Zach. Shevlin was Shevlin because he thought he was Shevlin.

And if Zach could recognize this Shevlin as Shevlin, others would recognize him as such too. They had to. Otherwise, Shevlin wasn’t Shevlin anymore…

“You have to come with me,” Zach said.

“I do?” Shevlin said, still cheerful.

“Yes.”

“Where to?”

“To my hotel,” Zach said.

“Oh? Isn’t this a hotel?”

“It is. There’s a different one.”

Shevlin’s eyes twinkled. “Yes, a different hotel. I’ve heard of it. I’ve heard of many different hotels. The world is full of hotels. But I thought I couldn’t get to any of them.”

“You can.” Zach wanted to believe so. “I just came from one.”

“You did?”

“Yes.”

“And you want to take me with you?”

“Yes.”

“Why, I’m honored. I’m so bored here. I always say the same thing over and over again. I don’t know why. No one here knows why they do what they do.”

This man didn’t doubt that Zach meant well. In fact, his immediate trust in Zach’s good intentions made Zach feel slightly bad.

Then, Shevlin said, “But… I’ve never left them before.” His eyes still twinkled, but he glanced around worriedly at the static reapers, lawyers, and dead people.

“Don’t worry. There are people like them over there too,” Zach said.

“Oh?”

“It won’t be that big of a change for you. It’s a different version of this hotel.”

The twinkling in Shevlin’s eyes vanished. “Oh. Those are the different hotels you’re talking about.”

The disappointment in Shevlin’s voice perplexed Zach.

“I thought you were interested in those different hotels,” Zach said.

“Not those,” Shevlin said. “Not another one with them.”

He waved off his general surroundings. The many people in the lobby began moving again. No one paid attention to Zach and Shevlin.

“I want to go elsewhere,” Shevlin said. “Don’t you know a way to elsewhere?”

“The hotel I come from is elsewhere.”

“I thought you just said it’s just a different version.”

“Yes. A different version. It is different.”

“It isn’t different enough.”

Zach hadn’t expected this.

“Come to think of it, you look exactly like the piano man in there,” Shevlin said. “You just changed your clothes to pretend like you’re different from him.”

“I’m pretending nothing,” Zach said. “I am not that guy who’s playing in there.”

“You look exactly the same.”

“That’s about the only similarity we have.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Look, do you want to go elsewhere or not?”

“I do.”

“Then what do you have to lose if you follow me and the hotel I come from isn’t different enough for you? All you have to do is come back here. Or go elsewhere from my hotel. People leave the hotel all the time.”

Shevlin stared at Zach. “Now you’re lying.”

“I’m not,” Zach said. “What makes you say that?”

“People never leave the hotel,” Shevlin said with the indignation of a child who knew best. “Those are just legends. Myths. Everyone here stays here.”

“What do you mean? These guests must leave at some point.”

“What do you mean? These guests are supposed to leave, but they never get to that point.”

Now Zach understood. These people in Lisa’s memory of the hotel were trapped in one particular moment. There was no “other” moment. The hypothetical “next” moment in which the guests got to leave the island never came. That was why Shevlin was so eager to visit other places.

“Well, there you go,” Zach said. “Maybe that’s different enough for you then, that the guests at my hotel leave the island all the time.”

“I am a guest.”

“You are.”

“I am a guest here. Will I be a guest there?”

“Of course. You’re not a reaper, you’re not a lawyer, and you don’t work at that hotel.”

The twinkle in Shevlin’s eyes returned. He grabbed Zach’s arm.

“I want to come with you,” Shevlin said. “Can I do that? Just like that?”

“I want it so,” Zach said. “I want it so, Lisa.”

He looked around, at the lobby, at its ceiling with the sun, the moon, and the stars. Was it his desperation, or were the celestial bodies on the ceiling really revolving around him and Shevlin?

Excited, Shevlin followed Zach’s gaze. The ceiling turned faster and faster, and when Shevlin stamped his feet like a little delighted boy, Zach could tell, he wasn’t imagining this.

Zach grabbed Shevlin’s arm too. Although they stood on the firmly static ground, he worried that if they didn’t anchor to each other, they’d lose each other in the visual whirlwind.

How odd, to be touching the person who looked like his enemy in old age, an age that Zach had never reached. This Shevlin showed no resistance to Zach’s touch. None. He was a giant, old, babyfaced man without any woes except for sheer boredom. A hollow vessel. An impression, not the substance.

But no one else knew that this one was an empty shell. Once the people at Zach’s hotel saw this man, they’d have to follow protocol and accommodate him. They’d ask him the same question the concierge here kept asking: “Could you confirm your name please?”

And Shevlin would answer, “Gus Shevlin. That’s right, that’s my name.”

Except, there’d be no entry that said “Gus Shevlin.” Charlie would find it odd. Ask for the reapers. The lawyers. There’d be none assigned to the shell.

It was hotel protocol not to let guests wander about before checking in. There’d be panic. Who brought this man here? How did he get here if no one brought him?

A guest without memories, they’d think. But since Shevlin knew his name, they’d look for the case file. And in that case file, details about his sins and virtues were written. That file was the object Zach wanted.

The lawyers and reapers of the memory hotel, along with the guests, blurred at centrifuge speed to create a dull gray barrier around Zach and Shevlin.

The stars, the moon, and the sun moved so rapidly that they formed lines rather than dots.

Quicker, ever quicker, the firmament and the lobby turned and turned…

© 2022 Ithaka O.

All rights reserved.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author.


error: