Ghosts of Chicago

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photograph by @coco_liu

 

When Morton awoke, he couldn’t recall what his profoundly dark and airless dream had been about, but the panic lingered. Sunlight streamed through the window of his dingy hotel room in Chicago, where he sat upright in bed, covered in sweat, and gasping for air like a newborn.

He continued to lie there for a while, trying to calm his shaken nerves. To focus, he sent his mind back to why he was there in the first place. He was hired by a man named Edgar Marks. The job was simple, he was told: Morton would tail a man whom Marks suspected of having an affair with his wife, send a report each day, and at the end of the week an envelope containing a pre-arranged sum of cash would be left in Morton’s P.O. Box. Something about Marks’ demeanor raised his sense of suspicion, which in his experience, is a feeling worthy of attention. He felt that the wife wasn’t the real story, it was too generic, possibly a red herring, and that Marks had some other agenda. But a job was a job, and so he didn’t press the issue.

After getting a description of the man, Morton was told he worked on Michigan Ave. The hotel where Morton eventually selected to stay was where the man supposedly would rendezvous with his mistress, making it a logical base for operations.

Morton took no notes during this meeting as he had an excellent memory. Names, numbers, places – he always had a talent for recall. And this came in very hand in his line of work as a private investigator. He didn’t waste valuable time writing down notes in the field and could aptly think on his feet, almost like his memories were tangible objects spread out across a table. He need only pick one up and turn it around in his head, examining all facets and angles. It was just how his mind worked.

He left his room and walked the hallway before rounding a corner. To his surprise, there was a group of about 10 people and a tour guide, a young man who walked backwards in front of the group. Morton noticed his jacket, a black satin affair with “Ghosts of Chicago Tours” embroidered in blood red.

“And like I said earlier, here on the 7th floor is where most of the encounters are reported,” he told the rapt audience. They were so focused that they barely gave Morton enough room to slide by.

“There’s several types of hauntings, ok? The most common are residual hauntings. Those spirits don’t really interact with us; they basically just repeat the same actions like a tape that gets played over and over. Well, nobody uses tapes anymore, so think of it like hitting ‘replay’ on the YouTube video!” The group laughed politely.

“Fucking tourists,” he thought to himself. As he stepped onto the elevator at the end of the corridor he could hear more canned laughter at another of the guide’s jokes, probably told on every single tour, as recycled and threadbare as the shabby carpet underfoot.

“I like literally felt a cold draft a few seconds ago!” on excited guest exclaimed enthusiastically.

“Yeah, that was your money being ripped from your wallet, idiot,” Morton muttered as the elevator doors shut.

If the hotel rooms and halls had seen better days, nobody had bothered to tell the lobby, which was immaculately kept up in its original art deco style: marble floors and columns, gold light fixtures, and high-backed red leather chairs for weary travelers. No sign of his target however.

Still foggy from a troubled sleep, Morton spaced out and stared at the floor; the silver train car he boarded after leaving the hotel rattled along elevated tracks, suspended above the city streets. His trance was broken by a young child and her mother seated across and to the left from him. The mother was tending to a missed button on the girl’s shirt, while the girl squirmed restlessly.

“What’s the name of this train?”

“It’s called the loop, honey.”

“Why’s it called that?”

“Because it just goes round and round the center of the city.”

“What happens if we don’t get off? Do we go round and round forever?”

“Hold still please, we’re getting off at the next stop so let’s get ready,” said her mother with a touch of impatience.

Morton liked how the girl thought, even if it wasn’t technically how the trains ran. Being able to look ahead like that seemed advanced for her age. He smiled kindly, trying to appear as non-threatening as he could, but the girl did not notice him at all. He had no children but perhaps someday he told himself.

Soon he arrived at the Randolph/Wabash station where he transferred to the ‘heel-toe express’ and walked the short distance to Michigan Ave., a wide boulevard with the city on one side and the lake on the other. It was a weekday morning, and the nearly cloudless sky was cobalt blue. Cool, dry, air paired nicely with the early autumn sun. Facing south, the buildings on his right stretched right off into the distance like a giant, imposing, wall. To his left was just sky above Lake Michigan which, for practical purpose of size, might as well be the ocean. It was like being caught between two worlds: the expanse of open, Midwestern space and the claustrophobic density of the city.

Then he saw him – the man he was hired to tail. His back was to Morton and he was dressed in a black overcoat over a suit and wore a dark, wide-brimmed hat. He did not seem to notice he had been spotted.

For several blocks the man strolled casually until he came to the intersection with Jackson, where the man turned right and dramatically picked up his pace as he rounded the corner and out of view.

“Shit,” thought Morton. “Has he seen me?”

Faster now, he rounded the corner to see the just tails of the man’s coat slink into an alley. Morton pursued, intent on getting more tangible info for his daily report before the man disappeared completely.

Stepping into the alley, the drone of the traffic was muted, creating an unusual sense of stillness. There was no sign of the man, but a door about 50 feet away slowly swung shut, betraying the man’s escape route.

“Let’s see where you’re running to,” he thought as he cautiously approached the rusted metal door. There was a buzzer next to the door but no sign or anything indicating what was inside. The noise of the city was gone from Morton’s ears. All he heard was the rush of blood in his ears and his pounding heartbeat as he surveyed the door. Something about it felt oddly familiar. But there was no time for that now. He stepped inside.

Morton’s eyes had barely adjusted to the dim light of the stairwell inside when he saw the glint of a silver revolver. A flash blinded him, or maybe it was the pain in his chest as the bullet punched through him. He heard the echoes of the gunshot long after crumpling to the floor as breath and blood escaped his body. He did not, however, hear the final crack of the gun before all went black.

When Morton awoke, he couldn’t recall what his profoundly dark and airless dream had been about, but the panic lingered. Sunlight streamed through the window of his dingy hotel room in Chicago, where he sat upright in bed, covered in sweat, and gasping for air like a newborn.

###

 

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