The Ocean Forest begins in the office of Frankie McKeller. Frankie is in the process of showing pictures to a longshoreman named Wilson. They are pictures confirming Wilson's wife is cheating on him. After the opening scene Wilson walks out the door and is never heard from again and Frankie goes onto his adventure in The Ocean Forest. It got me thinking, "whatever became of the longshoreman?"
So, here it is. For everyone who has been wondering....
Whatever Happened to Wilson?
By Troy D. Nooe
There are moments in a guy’s life when he has to start questioning things, when he has to take a hard look at where he’s at and what he is. Moments when a fellow has to gaze into the mirror and wonder how much of his life is bullshit. Clarence Wilson was at one such moment.
Two hours earlier he’d left the office of some low rent private eye in a daze. He’d paid Private Investigator, Frankie McKeller, to find out some information for him. Unfortunately for Wilson, the gumshoe had come through. McKeller had confirmed everything Wilson had suspected for months, everything he desperately wanted to be wrong about.
Now he was sitting alone at a table in Murray's Show Bar, a seedy stripper bar in the 400 block of East Baltimore Street, an area everyone in Baltimore simply referred to as "The Block". It was actually several blocks long and gentleman frequented it when they wanted to experience the sort of entertainment that wasn’t meant for mixed company. It was where a guy could go when he wanted to get an eye full of something he wasn’t likely to get from the nice girl he had waiting at home.
Wilson wasn’t at Murray's Show Bar for the jukebox music or the burlesque show. He hadn’t wandered down to The Block to see scantily clad ladies parade themselves across the stage. In fact, he barely noticed what was going on around him. He’d only ended up there because it was within walking distance from the private dick’s office.
His mind was elsewhere as he sat staring down at the manila folder of photographs he had received from the gumshoe. As he was sipping away at the National Bohemian beer in his hand, he couldn’t even make himself open the folder again for another look. There was no need. The images of the photographs contained in the folder, showing his wife's infidelity and liaison with another man, were burned into his memory. Wilson was certain he’d be seeing the images in his head for the rest of his life.
“Do you want to buy me a drink?” A voice interrupted his thoughts.
Standing in front of him was a little blonde whose breasts were about to spill out of a red satin bustier which looked to be about two sizes too small. She was only little by Wilson’s standards as he was a beefy guy who stood a solid six three and weighed in at around two sixty.
Her hair was blonde in the way hair gets when it’s soaked in peroxide on a regular basis and her face was drawn, painted to the hilt. It was hard to figure what she might look like under all the rouge and lipstick and without the blue club lights reflecting off her.
She appeared to be in her late twenties but Wilson guessed they were hard years judging by her face, the kind of years that dull the features of a pretty girl. Her breasts were full and heavy, pressed up against her garment, and she was slim for the most part, maybe a little thick in places but with pleasant curves and well proportioned. She was pretty in most every way a girl can be pretty but there was something about her that told Wilson she had been prettier not so long ago.
“I could go for a champagne cocktail,” she said.
Clarence still hadn’t responded. His mind was mush, flooded with an endless stream of thoughts he never imagined himself thinking. The girl looked nothing like his Delores but everything about her reminded him of his wife.
Tears were welling up in his eyes and his voice was caught somewhere in his throat. As much as he wanted to answer her, he couldn’t.
“Are you OK, mister?” The girl in the red bustier slipped into the chair beside him.
She said her name was Francine and she was one of the extra dancers at the Gayety Burlesque Theater, located across the street, and worked at Murray's Show Bar part time. It turns out she was from Baltimore's Pig Town neighborhood and had lived in the city all her life. The two sat talking, Clarence buying her drinks. Before he knew it he was spilling out his whole sorted story.
“You mean to tell me the whole time you were over there fighting she was back here with that other guy?”
Wilson nodded, slow and stiff, hardly believing it himself.
“That just ain’t right. What’s wrong with people? Ain’t they got no patriotism anymore?”
He threw back the rest of his beer and ordered two more drinks. Francine was going on about what a raw deal he’d gotten.
“You, a regular war hero and all, it just ain’t right.”
“We’ve been together since High School,” he added.
The dancer picked up the folder and gave Wilson a look, asking permission to see them without actually speaking. He gave her the OK.
Francine thumbed through the prints, taking her time, studying each one. The expression on her face was cold and stern as she perused the evidence. When she was finished she replaced the photographs and pushed the folder away.
“He ain’t all that special. I don’t know why she’s running around with that guy when she’s got a big handsome man like you at home.”
Clarence didn’t answer. He was still on the verge of tears and barely able to contain them.
“She’s a real piece of work if you ask me. I’d tell her a thing or two, I can tell you that much.”
“She’s my wife.”
“She’s a bimbo and somebody ought to fix her wagon.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
Francine laid a hand on his thigh, squeezing gently with her fingers.
Between the booze and the despair, her touch sent a strange wave of mixed
feelings through his body.
“What do you want to do?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” He began to get an idea of what he wanted to do at that moment but it didn’t have anything to do with his wife.
“If it was me I’d kill the bitch.”
“I’d rather kill him,” Wilson said with a shrug.
“So kill them both.”
“I’m serious, why not?”
Clarence tried to laugh it off.
“Does she have insurance?”
“Of course she does.”
“Well, there you have it then.”
“I have what?”
“You have everything you need. Go and kill the both of them and collect the insurance money. It’s a win-win situation.”
Wilson was giving her a funny look, trying to see the humor in her joke but coming up empty.
“All you need is a plan. That’s how people get caught, they don’t have plans.”
“Are you kidding?”
“Look, I have friends. I could help you with this.”
“What are you saying?”
“I know people. I can help you out.”
“Sweetheart, I don’t kid when it comes to opportunity.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, it’s not like I’m going to do this for nothing. I’m going to expect a cut of the insurance money.”
Clarence began stuttering and stammering, the reality of what she was saying setting in. He did his best to explain how he could never do anything like that to anyone, no matter how tempting it might be.
Francine reached in between her large breasts and produced a fountain pen. She slid a napkin toward her and jotted down a telephone number. When she gave it to Wilson she did by leaning in and giving him a kiss to the cheek while sliding the napkin into his shirt pocket.
“If you change your mind, call this number and ask for Francine,” she whispered in a sultry voice. “Like I said, I know people.”
Wilson went straight home from the Show Bar. Delores was out. He hid the photographs and fixed himself a bite to eat before turning in for the night, waiting for his wife to return. There would be no sleep for Clarence Wilson that night.
By the time his Delores came in he’d been tossing and turning for hours, his mind churning with images of her with the other man. He was lying on his side with his back to her but he could tell she was drunk by the way she stumbled about and giggled to herself, preparing for bed.
She climbed in beside him and he could feel her body settle in next to his. He could feel the heat of her on his back and hear the gentle rhythm of her breathing as she drifted off to sleep. All he could think of was what she had been up to all night. All he could see in his mind was the other man’s hands on her body.
Delores was still asleep when he dragged himself out of bed in the morning. He'd had nothing in the way of sleep and he'd spent the entire night imagining his beloved Delores with her lover. He'd been stewing in a way he'd never stewed before. The thoughts and images had poisoned his brain and consumed every fiber of him. There was nothing else he could allow to seep into his mind.
While shaving, the gnawing thought crept back into his head.
“So, kill the both of them,” he heard the blonde dancer's voice say. “I know people. I can help.”
When he was dressed and ready for work he stumbled out of the apartment and headed down the hall. Halfway down the hall was the community wall phone he shared with the other tenants of he apartment building. He stopped and stared at it.
It was like he was dreaming when he lifted the receiver and placed it to his ear, fumbling through his pocket for the crumpled beverage napkin. He couldn't feel his fingers in the rotary dialer as he slowly dialed in the phone number.
“Hello?” someone's voice said on the other end.
"Um, hello, is Francine there?"
"Hang on, I'll check."
"Hello, who's this?"
“Yeah, whose calling?”
“It's me, Clarence.”
“You're going to have to narrow it down, hon. I've known a lot of Clarences in my time.”
“He hesitated. “We met at Murray's Show Bar last night. You said you might be able to help me out with my little problem.”
“Your problem?” she asked, still unclear who he was.
“I was telling you about the problem I'm having with my wife.”
“Oh, sure, Clarence, I remember you now. You're the big guy that got all misty eyed.”
A wave of embarrassment flushed through his face and his words came out choked up. “I was a little upset yesterday but I was thinking about what you said.”
Francine gave a soft sigh. “Look, hon, you seem like a real nice fella. Why don't you just forget about all that nonsense? You don't want to go and do something you're going to regret later. I suggest you go and sit down with the little lady and hash it out. If your marriage is over, so be it. It's probably best for everybody involved.”
“I can't just let it go, Francine, not after what they did to me.”
Another sigh from Francine. “Why don't you just let it settle in your gut for a few days. You're not thinking clearly right now.”
“There's the insurance money,” he offered.
The line went quiet, before Francine finally spoke up. “Exactly how much money are we talking here?”
“Two thousand dollars.”
“That's a lot of dough.”
“I'm willing to spend all of it to get what I want,” he said in a sharp tone.
“Are you sure about this? Once you put something like this in motion there's no going back. The people I know don't give refunds.”
Wilson swallowed hard. “I know. I've been thinking about it all night and I want to do this.”
Francine's familiar sigh came again. “OK, if you're sure about this, meet me across the street from Murray's, in the Rathskeller restaurant, below the Gayety Burlesque Theater, at seven. I'll have a guy there to talk to you.”
“I'm as sure as I've ever been about anything.”
“Alright, then meet me at seven and bring a few hundred bucks, good faith money.”
“I'll be there.”
His day at work was long and torturous and he'd barely been able to keep his mind on his job enough to keep himself from being killed. Working the docks, unloading cargo ships arriving at the Baltimore Port, was dangerous business and not for the squeamish but he'd managed to make it through the day without incident.
He took the Trolley across town and arrived at the Rathskeller slightly before seven. He found Francine sitting at a table in the rear with a man. She was wearing a low cut velvet number with black fishnet stockings and heels. The guy was tall and thin with dark features and darker, serious eyes. He was in a Navy blue suit, a red silk tie and a gray fedora parked on the edge of the table.
Nobody greeted him as he sat down and the three just sat looking each other over.
“Did Francine tell you what I'm looking for?” Clarence finally asked, breaking the awkward silence.
“She said you had a problem that you needed taken care of,” the stranger replied, cool and calm.
“It's my wife, I found out she...”
The stranger cut him off. “I don't want all the gory details. The whys and whats ain't none of my concern. I just need a name and an address, maybe a photo if you got one.”
Wilson reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded 8x10 photograph. He carefully unfolded it and laid it in front of the dark stranger. It was a picture of his wife and her lover coming out of a motel and the neon sign was clear and in focus.
“That's where he takes her. They hang out in a little saloon around the corner before they...”
“Yeah, I know the joint. It's over in Dundalk.”
When the stranger asked him what his home address was, Wilson told him he lived on South Highland Avenue below Eastern, but he said, “I want them both taken care of there at the motel, not at my place."
“You want the wife and the boyfriend both taken care of?”
Wilson paused. “Yeah.”
“It's gonna cost. I get two hundred up front, another fifteen bills after the insurance pays off. Francine gets five bills for a finders fee. You got any problem with that?”
“And don't get any ideas about double crossing me after you get your hands on the insurance loot either. I'm not the kinda guy you want to cross. Besides, you wouldn't want Francine to go to the police station around the corner and start running her gums about some lug-head customer who was asking around about having his wife bumped off. It might not look so good to the cops.”
“You don't have to worry about me. You'll get your money, every penny of it.”
“When you looking to have it done?”
“The sooner the better.”
“She gonna see him tomorrow night?”
“Most likely, I imagine.”
“Well, then, that's that. If they show up tomorrow I'll handle it, if not, I'll go back the next night. I need my up front money and you can consider your problem taken care of.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“Isn't there anything you want to ask me?”
“In my business, I find the less everyone knows about each other is better for everybody in the long run.”
Wilson took out an envelope containing two hundred dollars and placed it on top of the black and white photograph. His stomach was doing somersaults and his mind was racing, a heavy sweat breaking out on his forehead.
Just like that.
The next day was worse than the one before and Wilson had a too close call with a half ton pallet of bagged coffee beans they were off loading from a South American freighter. After work, he made his way, on Eastern Avenue, to Haussner's, a crowded and respectable restaurant and lounge, like the stranger had suggested, establishing an alibi and making sure he was seen by as many people as possible.
He made sure to over order and kept asking questions to his waitress, hoping to make himself memorable, tipping her fat after he was done. After dinner he went to a neighborhood bar across the street and began buying drinks for anyone who'd let him.
By nine o'clock he was sporting a pretty good load and old thoughts began to invade his brain. Every dame in the place reminded him of Delores and he began thinking back to their early years together. He thought of their courtship and of their wedding, their honeymoon at Niagara Falls. He thought of lying in bed beside his young bride and he remembered the day he'd shipped off to war, the way they had kissed and hugged in the train station those last few moments together.
Other thoughts began to creep into his mind. He saw his pretty little wife frightened, terrified. He saw her lifeless body lying half dressed on a motel bed with bullet wound to the chest. He saw her on the floor with a knife in her gut. He saw her in a slip and stockings, tied to a chair while a demented killer towered over her preparing to snuff her out, once and for all.
Mostly, he saw her smile, the one he had missed so much while he was over seas.
It struck him like a ton of bricks, like one of those large skids of cargo he spent his days loading and unloading from ships falling on his head. He had made a terrible mistake.
Why hadn't he taken the private eye's advice and sat down and talked to Delores? Why hadn't he just kicked her out on her ear? Both seemed like better alternatives compared to what he had set into motion, a mistake he would never be able to take back.
“Delores,” he mumbled, rising to his feet. Maybe it wasn't too late. Maybe there was still time to put a stop to it. He turned and rushed out the door, hoping and praying he could make it to the sleazy motel before the unthinkable happened.
The night clerk at the motel was looking at him like he was some kind of nutcase. Wilson was describing his Delores and the man he'd seen in the photos, demanding to know what room they were in. The clerk said he didn't know what he was talking about as there were a lot of couples who came and went.
Losing his patience, Wilson grabbed the guy by the shirt collar and pulled his face close to his. “They come here all the time,” he grunted. “You know who I'm talking about.”
Everything about the small clerk screamed fear. “Yeah, sure, I know who you mean. They're regulars here but I don't know from nothing. I just do my job and mind my business.”
“I want a room number.”
“112,” the guy said, shaking in his wing tips. “But it won't do you any good. They already came and went.”
“Honest, mister, they been and gone, about an hour ago. They don't never stay too long, just in and do their business, then go.”
The man's words made Wilson squeeze the guys shirt harder around his neck. “You're lying,” he said again.
“Go and see for yourself. I got no reason to lie to you, mister. They don't pay me enough money for something like that. I'm being straight with you.”
Wilson released the man and stormed out of the office, half jogging past rooms, reading off the numbers as he went by them. 109, 110, 111...
He stopped in front of room 112, taking a few moments to gather himself. This was it. This is where he brought her. Wilson knocked.
He knocked again, louder, harder.
Still no answer.
The big man glanced around, checking to see if he was being watched. He backed up three steps, lowered his shoulder and charged at the door. It splintered inside the frame when he hit it, the cheap and brittle wood no match for his hulking frame.
Inside, he stood, breathing heavy, looking around the empty room. It was drab and dark, neon light shinning through the thin curtains. The sheets and covers on the single queen size bed were unmade, pillows scattered about. An image of his wife and the other man entwined in the rumpled bedsheets flashed in his mind but he pushed it away. There was no time for that. He had to find Delores, to figure out what had happened.
Had the stranger showed up? Had he killed them already and disposed of their bodies somewhere else? Had he taken them to another location where he would do away with them without risking being seen?
Wilson searched the room for the signs of a struggle or traces of blood. He found nothing except the ruffled sheets and blankets but he could smell the lingering scent of Delores' perfume in the air and he knew she had been there.
Maybe the stranger had decided against killing them. Maybe he had backed out. Maybe it had all been a scam and he'd been conned out of two hundred dollars by a guy who'd never had any intention of carrying out the crime. He hoped it was the case.
He went to the bar around the corner, the one the private dick had said they hung in. He talked to the bartender and a waitress. It took some doing but he got information out of them. They knew who they were. They came in regular. They had been in earlier.
Wilson spent the next hour walking the streets of Baltimore, a deflated and sad shell of his former self, his mind pondering possibilities. Where was Delores? Was she even still alive or had his rash decision cost his wife her life? Had his beloved bride perished in the arms of her lover at the hands of the dark stranger Wilson had hired? Was she still out there somewhere, oblivious and safe from the harm he'd wanted inflicted on her?
By midnight he found himself in front of his apartment building. He climbed the steps in silence, afraid what he might find in his apartment. If she were there, and still alive, it would mean that she'd returned from spending another night with him. If she weren't it could mean that she was still with him or, worse, it could mean the dark stranger had done good on his promise, that his Delores was gone forever. Neither seemed like a scenario he could bring himself to face.
He inserted the key slowly into the lock, holding his breath as he swung the door open and entered the room. The kitchen light was on but the place was empty and he stood listening, hoping to hear his wife moving around in one of the other rooms. There was only silence.
The reality of what he'd done was beginning to hit him. His wife was gone and it was his fault, as if he'd killed her with his own hands. She would never be returning to their home. There would be no chance for any kind of reconciliation. His Delores was gone forever and he would never have the chance to speak to her again, to tell her how he really felt.
“Delores, what have I done?” he whispered to himself as a tear began to run down his face.
When the door closed behind him it startled him but when he went to turn around something cold and hard poked him in the back of the neck. It was the unmistakable feeling of a gun barrel being held against his flesh.
“Having second thoughts, are you?” a familiar voice asked. It was the stranger from the Rathskeller.
“Is it too late? Can I still stop it?”
“Don't worry, Mack. Your precious little Delores is fine. She's out tonight with some girlfriends establishing an alibi.”
“I don't understand.”
“It's nothing personal, buddy. I'm a professional and I sell my services to the highest bidder. It turns out your own insurance policy is significantly larger than your wife's.”
“What are you saying?”
“I'm saying you were outbid. My payday just got a lot bigger and there's even enough left over for that pretty little wife of yours to start fresh with that friend of hers. Turns out she's been thinking about this for quite awhile.”
“I don't believe you. Delores wouldn't...”
“That wife of yours is a piece of work. You sure know how to pick them. She's got ice in her veins. I was all set to do it, had the gun pointed right between her eyes when she asked me how much you were paying me.
“Never batted an eye when she told me she could top it, said the longshoreman's union gives a pretty nice policy to their members. It's just a simple matter of mathematics.”
“I can get more money,” Wilson tried.
“No, I don't think you can. Your wife was pretty clear on that. Seems this is the best way for everyone involved.”
“Please, mister, I'm begging you.”
“Of course you are. They always do, but not that wife of yours. She's something, that Delores. I'm thinking I might look her up after all this blows over and I have my money.”
“What about Francine? She can link you to my murder.”
“Francine won't say a word. She's still getting her finders fee and that's all she cares about. Like I said, mister, you sure know how to pick them.”
A thousand thoughts raced through Wilson's mind. How did it come to this? Why hadn't he listen to the PI's advice? How could he be so stupid? Did he ever really know the woman he'd been married to for so long?
He heard what sounded like a metallic click behind him and his world went black. He never even heard the gun shot.