Waiting Canals – 8

The only maid working in the kitchen at that time had stopped slicing potatoes to stuff some pulled pork and some shreds of cabbage between two pieces of hardened bread, and placed the improvised food in front of Walters, without a plate, directly on the table still wet with the sticky juice of recently sliced potatoes. Crumbs scattered around him every time that Walters managed to put his mouth around the brick of bread and take a bite. Large bites filling up his mouth. The maid came back with a glass of milk, which he also consumed as if devouring was the only line of action, nothing in the immediate future beyond that. After swallowing his last mouthful, he let out a pleasant sigh, all of a sudden he experienced a very positive feeling of hope. This feeling dissipated soon, but gradually, without him noticing.

“Have you seen any blue boxes?” he asked, turning on his chair and facing the maid, who was standing at the back of the kitchen, pretending to dry a porcelain jar with her apron, looking at him with the intensity born from fear.

“No,” she said. “What are they?” She added, glancing at the door that Jameson had closed on his way out some minutes ago.

“Well, you know, blue foxes,” Walters said. “They run around town, and they disappear, like dreams  after you wake up, I guess, and they have blue eyes for the most part, you see.”

She shook her head and, in a habitual but thoughtless motion, found her pendant with her fingers, the blue cross of the methodists, and caressed the borders, her thumb rubbing in circular motions the pentagonal relief in the center of the cross. She knew somehow that this strange man was not a methodist. He didn’t even look like a baptist, this man, and that was weird to her, it was even worse than being in the presence of a baptist. A Southerner, but not from here, not from Memphis, an outsider, he couldn’t possibly understand the tension in Memphis, the fear of some, although her priest kept saying that these were the days that would be remembered, the days in which a purer Memphis would raise from the filth of yore, from the lies of our enemies; finally, because our own shadows had been wrapped over our shoulders for too long. She liked the sound of “would raise,” like birds hiding in the reeds suddenly exploding and flying into the air. Raising. Raising, raising.

“Can I have some more milk, please?” Walters asked, holding up his empty glass.

While she was pouring the milk, Walters noticed that the maid was looking at his neck. It itched, his neck, but he was not going to scratch it again, at some point he had to stop, relax, have a deep breath and just focus on the surroundings, on the drops of milk on the sides of the glass, the color of her eyes, brown, the garlic braid hanging from a hook, only seven bulbs left… Three, four, five, six, seven, the regular pattern of the bricks, and the window over the sink, overlooking a small yard, if the window were smaller and round it would be like a porthole, with tiny fish swimming on the other side, silvery, vivacious, he trapped under the rubble, his right leg possibly smashed, the motion of his arms limited to his hands and wrists, his face right in front of the porthole, almost forced to look at those silvery fish, waiting for some other creature to sail by behind that round piece of glass, waiting until his air would run out and he would die, but then such creature appeared, first a cloud coming out from the darkness, wavering, then the two masses of hair stepping forward, framing a disgusted face, the eyes behind the diving mask full of resolution.

“You ain’t from Memphis, right?” the maid asked.

He was going to answer that no, not really, not yet in any case, but the door was opened with a sonorous snap and Jameson came into the kitchen followed by an old servant in an impeccable suit.

“Dr. Pomme is waiting, are you ready?” Jameson asked.

Walters nodded and stood up. He was still very unsure about why he was there, but he followed Jameson and the old servant, grabbing an apple from a basket by the door in his way out, leaving the kitchen and entering into the entrails of a blue fox, he thought.

Waiting Canals – 7

When they reached the waterfront Jameson turned to the right and headed towards the best-looking boat along the dock, a four-seat runabout, coated with a resplendent, dark mahogany, with three lines of darker wood veneered on the top half. Not even a scratch, and recently polished, named “The Savior.”

Walters had lingered behind, still at the verge of the park, at first contemplating one of the benches, then the undulating water in the center of the Cross Pool. Only two small boats were traversing the Pool now, one behind the other, marching slowly in their way towards downtown, possibly to the river.

Jameson turned his head and saw Walters standing by a bench, looking at the distance. Instead of yelling at him, this time he waited by the runabout for a minute. He also looked towards the area that Walters was fixated upon. There was nothing of interest there that he could identify, but he enjoyed the shining surface, he thought how nice it could be not worrying about the enemies he didn’t know in the city these days, all the random disappearances people kept talking about.

When Walters snapped out of his trance and started to walk towards him, Jameson untied one of the two ropes securing the runabout to the dock and threw the bundled mass of rope inside the boat. He was going to deal with the second rope, but Walters, in a swift and effortless move, untied the rope and, as he stepped in the runabout, rolled the rope and secured it neatly into what Jameson thought that could be the appropriate spot. Jameson almost felt inclined to compliment him, but he just jumped in and turned the engine on. Seeing that Walters was already seated next to him, waiting, Jameson engaged the forward gears, pushed the throttles only a few inches and, without having to turn the wheel too much, slowly directed the boat in a semicircle towards the center of the Pool and then accelerated into the main canal that run towards the East, away from the Mississippi, in direction to the university district, an area in which impoverished, middle-class and affluent blocks were all mixed together in a chaotic and constantly surprising mosaic. Even further to the East, the last tendrils of the canal system reached to their ends and Memphis proper transitioned into soulless house developments separated by marshy fields where only alien brambles seemed able to grow.

“Would you mind if I ask you what’s your religious inclination?” Jameson asked after a few minutes of silence between them.

“What?”

“Your religious inclination, your faction?”

Walters shook his head with an unclear motion, then pulled out his notebook and placed it on his thigh.

“Not a religious man?” Jameson insisted.

“Not really,” Walters answered.

“That’s an interesting strategy, isn’t it?” Jameson said. “That way you are not a direct enemy of the other faction.”

“I guess,” Walters said.

“Although both factions can see you as the enemy,” Jameson continued.

“I don’t have enemies. I think,” Walters said.

“I am not sure that’s something you can decide.”

“What do you mean?” Walters added without any interest, already looking at the water, deriving into an state of absent-mindedness, of waiting.

“Well, it’s your enemies that decide that for you, right?”

Walters didn’t reply. He looked at a seagull standing on the first step out of the water of a bricked flight of stairs that went into the canal, and a few seconds later they passed by a man in a rickety boat, bucketing water from inside the boat back into the canal.

Not having a clear idea of where they were by now, Walters had the impulse to ask Jameson about their location. He decided to wait, at some point he should see some canalsign, hanging from a chain stretched between buildings or bolted on a canal wall at an intersection, maybe with a canal name he would recognize. In the meantime, he opened his notebook and reread the last pages.

“What’s the name of your employer again?” he asked.

“Doctor Harry Pomme,” Jameson replied. “That’s P-O-M-M-E,” he added when he saw that Walters was writing in his notebook.

“I’m very suspicious about this job,” Walters said after putting his notebook away.

“I cannot say I blame you,” Jameson said, looking ahead at a series of stopped boats blocking the way further ahead. He couldn’t determine the reason of the blockade. Some of the smallest boats were trying to squeeze between the larger boats, an impatience that possibly meant they had been waiting for a long time. Jameson turned his head to see what the situation was behind them, and not seeing any boats approaching, decelerated while turning the wheel to the left, entering into a smaller side canal. Some blocks later, Jameson turned to the right, proceeding slowly along a narrow canal that seemed to run parallel to the main canal that had been blocked by the traffic jam. After two more turns, they were back into a main canal. They progressed at the slow speed mandated by oversized signs hanging over the canal from ropes stretched between buildings. Walters pulled his notebook out again and wrote “Willow Canal. Intersection with Bonfire Way. Some old mansions. Occupied but some low levels seem flooded. Rotten boards covering some canal entrances, shouldn’t reach bottom.”

Walters had never been in this section of the city, although he had some idea about where to start looking in a map. As they advanced, the number of mansions and other buildings with more than two stories increased. Most of the side canals were now private, some blocked by wooden doors, others with signs hanging from a chain stating the names of the properties at the end of those service canals. Walters paid more attention to the few public side canals that interconnected the main canals or ended in now neglected parking lots at the fringes of the city. He told himself again that he had never been here before. He wanted to come back, explore with time. There were many possibilities, forgotten secrets covered under meters of water and undisturbed silt, there should be flooded rooms to be prospected; melting drawers to be opened; plates, lacquered boxes, glass tables, and knick knacks layered by the sediment, a light brush with the fingertips and the intense whiteness of the torch rescuing them back to human eyes before the muck and darkness muttered them again. Walters saw the stopping signs for several lines of water buses, so this could easily become his new working area. As lately, the docks had turned out to be disappointing as far as net profit, although he still enjoyed his challenging times negotiating with the steamboats, the motorboats and the unpredictable currents of the Mississippi.

Seeing the blue sign of a chop-suey restaurant, Walters remembered a recent glimpse of a blue fox in some alleyway downtown, a skinny fox suddenly disappearing as if flying into the darkening sky. Did that happen recently? Did it even happen? Perhaps something he imagined, that evening. He seemed to be imagining more things these days. Like swimming into a cabin in a submerged shipwreck, fifty meters under water, no bodies, a cloud of minuscule fish and plankton throbbing between him and the bunk beds, a chest in a corner. Again and again, there, looking at that chest, until he found himself crossing the curtain of plankton, the hand trying to reach the chest, a desire to turn around and swim as fast as possible out of the ship before it keeled over, but the hand had to open the chest.

Walters blotted his forehead with a hand that he then dried on his T-shirt. They were approaching now a gothic, weed-covered church, the past grandeur of most windows dulled with wood planks nailed from the inside to cover the broken pieces of glass. There were two side canals running along both sides of the church. As with most churches in Memphis, these two side canals were likely to meet at the back of the building, the church standing in its own island, more often than not an islet of a ridiculously small size. The front door, black and white but otherwise unassuming, was closed and chains hang across it. The seven steps that led from the frothy waters of the canal to the closed door, built with long blocks of granite, were carpeted by a variety of mosses and short flowering plants. Several buttresses emerged from the front walls and plunged directly into the canal. Between two of these buttresses, a pallet with the logo of the Down Brewery woodburned into the sides had been lodged for days, creating a platform over the water, with pieces of trash and plant material accumulating between the pallet and the church wall. There were three dogfrogs over the pallet. Walters had seen the dogfrogs at some distance as they approached the church. He found them as fascinating as the blue foxes. The sun was hitting a section of the pallet and the three dogfrogs were huddling together, basking, immobile but with their eyes wide open. This was the first time that Walters had seen any of them out of the water. He could only remember, although vividly, two other instances in which he had seen these creatures, so typically Memphian, even if rare, only found in Memphis and in the surrounding swamps. In those two occasions Walters had thought how inadequate their local name was, no resemblance whatsoever with a dog; or a frog, for that matter. Maybe they barked or run like dogs when out of the water. The first time, soon after arriving to Memphis, a dogfrog, under a docked boat, had its head buried in the mud, shaking its body as if trying to dislodge a gigantic bone (like a dog, actually, he thought), pieces of algae and a succession of clouds of silt blowing up around the agitated body. Months later, he was having a breather under a fishing dock, sitting on a mass of decaying reeds, and he saw two of them floating on the surface in the center of the canal, only the top of their heads with their bulgy eyes and part of their backs out of the water, being dragged by the low current, their large eyes seeming to follow the movements of passersby walking along the narrow canalsides. Walters sunk underwater again, stretched his body and dived towards the center of the canal, turning his face up to observe the creatures, now at the reach of his fingers. The underbodies of the two dogfrogs were grayish with blue spots lined by black circles. Their duck-like legs were tucked under skin folds, their flat and short tails constantly vibrating. From underneath one could appreciate the massive proportion of their heads, almost the same size as their bodies, the two parts connected by a thick and stubby neck. The lower jaw was shorter than the top one, so Walters could see their ample grimaces, from one side of the neck to the other, circling the outline of the head, sharp teeth sticking out in all directions.

“I was baptized in that church,” Jameson said. Walters moved his attention from the dogfrogs to the chained door of the church that was already behind them, then faced Jameson. “I’m hungry,” he said.

Waiting Canals – 6

The park was a long succession of unattended squares of land packed with oak, beech and walnut trees, with narrow and shady paths that connected the street on one side and a docking area on the other side. Walters used to cross the park and sit down on one of the wooden benches at the waterfront, right under the trees, ignoring the passersby along the quay and the boats tied to the dock. He would look at the water, at the ripples endlessly disarranging the surface, the reflection of the sun creating dancing sparkles. He liked the fact that four canals met at this point, at the Cross Pool, creating one of the largest bodies of water in this section of Memphis. One of those four canals was the one that flowed under his balcony, the one that he saw every morning while sipping his coffee. When he didn’t feel like going to other sections of the city, but he still had the urge to dive, he would slip from his balcony into the water and dive to the Cross Pool, where he would wander very close to the bottom, leisurely, with no goal or destination, parting the overgrown algae here and there hoping to discover something memorable that would have been waiting for him.

But there were also those days in which diving wasn’t going to be the answer, the remedy, and he would leave the house and roam in any direction, normally ending up on one of those benches overlooking the Cross Pool. From any of the benches he couldn’t see beyond the opaque surface, one had to stand directly over the water to even see anything within the top three feet.

From the bench, he would survey the water for a while, like a gull flying in circles searching for a fish close to the surface. Eventually, he would concentrate his gaze on a particular spot. It could be where a buoy or a plastic bottle was bobbing in place on the surface, or where a gull had finally descended and poked the water, or where the visible end of a fishing line thrown from the other side of the Cross Pool was silently waiting. Then Walters would close his eyes and dive from that same spot on the surface to the bottom. Only then, when he was under water, was he able to remember with total clarity the last time that he had been down there, he saw again the beer bottle lying on a bed of brown algae, and a school of tiny fish scurrying away, then returning and passing through him. He would move five feet in the direction of the feeble current, and there was the decaying plank of wood. He had carefully turned the plank over and seen a layer of pink eggs attached to the underside. After slowly replacing the plank to the same position in which it had been before, he proceeded towards the closest wall. He knew where it was, even if he couldn’t see it yet. The most interesting findings were always along the walls. His light started to flicker, but with a couple of energetic shakes the flickering stopped. Most waterways were murky, loaded with sediments and even during sunny days he needed to use a light. There were some shallow canals in the touristic sections of the city that were relatively clean and you could effortlessly see the shining green of the wavery algae blanketing the bottom and you could even tell apart the dimes and pennies from the foreign coins. Walters avoided those canals, although in a few occasions, after midnight and with a muffled light, he had, coin after coin, collected a tiny treasure, more emotional than financial: every coin that he placed in his pouch triggered an electric déjà vu that he couldn’t decipher. Later, in one of those occasions, he wrote in his notebook “I cannot remember what it was, although I’m sure that this has happened before [check previous notebooks]. Picking each coin was a fleeting rattling of a door that remained closed but that during that instant could have slammed open.” His entries tended to be succinct and dry, but at that time he felt that the importance of that slippery remembrance required a door as a metaphor, something physical he could obsessed about from then on.

He reached one of the walls at the Cross Pool, mussels and red algae clinging to the bricks and to the thick rope dangling from the nearby boat. Clasping the rope with both hands, he propeled himself to the surface. Walters opened his eyes and saw that the spot where he would have broken the surface was now occupied by a small sail boat with the sail awfully rolled and tied to the mast. Very close to this boat and to the left there was a blue gondola with deep scratches on the sides. Walters closed his eyes again and, from where the gondola bow was, he went directly to the bottom. It was two feet away from the wall and there was a  bike tire, with all the spokes already colonized. Even farther from the wall, a catfish was reposing half buried below algae. Walters got closer to pet it but the catfish waggled sideways, trying to dig itself under the sediment, so he desisted and swam backwards a little. He stayed there, floating in place, studying the catfish stillness, until he noticed a motorboat coming his way. Instead of dropping to the bottom and possibly scaring the catfish he shifted several feet to the left and then descended, swimming for a while without disturbing the sediment but caressing the algae.

He would stop then, and just to evaluate his memory he would go up and emerge while opening his eyes, still on the bench, and yes, he was proudly sure about where that emerging point would have been in the Cross Pool. At some distance, four ducks had landed on the water. Walters would choose one of them and from there plunge to the bottom and indulge once again in the memory of the most irrelevant details.

Waiting Canals – 5

The two men had started walking shoulder by shoulder along the center of the cobbled street. After a few yards, Walters slowed his pace but Jameson didn’t. Having Walters walking behind him didn’t seem to bother Jameson. Walters, however, felt much more at ease following Jameson, counting his steps.

From the street one couldn’t see the canals that run on the other side of the two lines of houses, even if you tried to do so by looking through the open windows and all the way throughout the inside of the houses. No one else was in sight along the street, as usual. There were several cheap cars parked on the curbs. They belonged to the people living in the adjacent houses, since only residents ever made it to this street. One of those cars had been set on fire months ago. Its burnout skeleton was likely to remain on the same spot for many more months to come. Anytime Walters walked by this burned car he would run his finger against one of the deformed doors and then rub the ash on the palm of his other hand, drawing a circle.

Walters was surprised when Jameson didn’t seem to notice the burned vehicle as he passed by it. He started to move closer to the car with the intention of collecting some soot on his finger, but he stopped three feet away from his target. A blue fox with black eyes was sitting on the remains of the back seat, looking straight at him. Several patches of its back and sides were blackened and grimy, but the intense sky-blue fur shined in many spots. Its black eyes kept holding Walters gaze in a tranquil stare. Walters wasn’t sure, but he thought that he had seen that same fox in several places across town. Maybe the fox recognized him? He couldn’t remember if all foxes were so blue. What would happen if he tried to pet the fox on his head, right behind his ears? Her ears, perhaps? Yes, Walters though, she looked like a mother. He thought about getting closer and having a better look inside the car and maybe spot a cub, but the mother was unlikely to like that.

“What are you doing?” Jameson yelled down the street.

Walters didn’t reply but got in his way again. He repeated “blue fox” in his mind several times, but his attention soon faded and forgot all about it. He liked the intense green of the grass growing between the cobblestones, the sad red of the building bricks, the dangling pennants left from a forgotten party and discolored by many suns, the smooth surface of the cobblestones. He liked to whistle no particular song. He looked up and saw no seagulls. He didn’t think about it, but he loved the shrilling shrieks of seagulls fighting for a piece of fish. And so many cobblestones when one thought about it!

“Are you ok?” Jameson asked when Walters got to him.

Walters looked up, recognized Jameson and nodded. They kept walking, side by side for a while. After turning to the right, they stepped onto the sidewalk, which soon led to a large park.

Waiting Canals – 4

Walters started scratching his thigh and realized that he didn’t have any trousers on, just a pair of boxers, and not precisely his best pair. Maybe the man outside hadn’t noticed, Walters thought, while grabbing the jeans from the floor. After shaking them up a couple of times, he put the jeans on. He sniffed his right underarm and considered whether the same T-shirt would do for another day. Maybe not. He took off his T-shirt, threw it under the bed and chose from the clean clothes piled on a bookshelf a green T-shirt with an infantile-looking drawing stamped on the front: A bloated shark piloting a ridiculously small ship.

He patted the back right pocket on his jeans and found it empty. An immediate rush of anxiety traversed his body, mixed with a warm sweat and a terrible itchiness on his scalp and upper back. Walters searched each one of his pockets several times, until he turned his head around and saw the notebook on the bed. He ran the three steps that separated him from his notebook, grasped the notebook and stuck it in his back right pocket. He felt safer after taking several deep breaths, and decided against walking to the bookshelf and having a couple of gulps of bourbon. Instead, he pulled from under the bed the blue, ragged bag that he would normally take with him when he went to prospect the basement of abandoned buildings. He placed the bag on the table and looked at the items inside the bag without focusing his attention on any particular one. Unconsciously, he picked up with two fingers a fragment of seaweed from the back of the diving regulator and flung it over the table towards a corner of the house.

“We should be leaving soon,” Jameson yelled outside after knocking the door three times.

“Yes, yes, almost done,” Walters yelled back. He took the large dive light with the pistol grip out of the bag and chose instead a much smaller dive light that he had been repairing the previous night. He also checked the pressure gauge lodged at the top of the small diving tank and decided that half a tank should suffice. He then stepped out into the balcony to grab the wetsuit that had been drying overnight, stretched out over two clotheslines hanging between the two short sides of the rusty railing.

The balcony was completely filled with two chairs, a wooden crate that served as a table, and some sacks that Walters had piled on the right side of the balcony when he moved in and that he would have to open and prospect to recall their contents. Walters gave a quick look at the contiguous balconies, and nobody was there, as he would have anticipated. All the houses on this side of the canal had their back walls aligned with the wall of the canal, and the balconies, all of them more or less of the same size, and separated from each other by less than an arm length, hung over the canal, one foot above the water. Walters had freedived under all of them in many occasions, catching air between dives in the spaces left between the water and the bottom of the balconies. On the other side of the canal there was a bricked wall topped with blackened hardwire, and some factory buildings beyond the wall.

Walters considered the sky and found it quite pleasant, just a few clouds here and there, the slight breeze barely caressing the surface of the canal. A perfect day for being down there, he thought, while scratching his cheeks. He poured a handful of seeds into the bird feeder and went back inside the house, stuffing the wetsuit into the bag. He broke a chunk of bread from the baguette on the table and shoved it into his mouth. The bag’s zipper didn’t work, so he simply pulled both ends of the bag together, flung the strap over his shoulder, and went and opened the front door.

“I think I’m ready,” Walters muttered, still chewing the bread.

Jameson remained impassible for a while, looking straight at Walters’ face, and then noted, with a helpful voice, “You are not wearing any shoes.”

Walters had to look down and check. “Yeah,” he agreed. He went back in, found his pair of leather boots under the bed, and put them on without any socks. Still sitting on the bed, he combed his hair back with his fingers and looked around the room for a while, like being in a second-hand bookshop for the first time, just perusing so many unknown volumes, hoping to find something he would recognize. He got up, went to the table and snatched another chunk of bread while still looking around the room.

“I think I’m ready,” he said, stepping out of the house and closing the door.

“Very well, then. This way, please,” Jameson said, very elegantly pointing down the street, as if Walters had never been there before.

Waiting Canals – 3

The knocking resumed and this time Walters woke up from his nap. He got up slowly, unintentionally kicking a paper container with lo-mein stuck to the bottom across the room, pulled his hair back, closed his eyes for a few seconds until the last tendrils of his dream faded away and then went to open the door.

As soon as he saw the man standing outside, Walters awoke completely, a strike of alertness traversing through him. It was just the one man, too dressed up by Walters standards, and especially for this section of the city. Walters felt that the jacket was too impeccably ironed, the face so carefully shaven that seemed feminine, the blank face either too well composed or that of a psychopath.

There was a hint of lavender in the air, but that could just be coming from the vacant lot across the street, overtaken by all sorts of plants encumbering the old rubble of a house that had burned to the ground without affecting the adjoining buildings.

Walters glimpsed down one side of the cobblestoned street and then down the other side. Nobody else. No traffic.

“Paul Walters?” the man asked. Nothing for a few seconds, then a flare of fear as soon as Walters was hit by the upsetting realization that this seemingly upper-class person knew his full name and where he lived. Walters closed his eyes shut and tried to remember whether any big event during the last days could have made him noticed to others. Just a whitish blur in his mind, no details, no defined information. What the fuck had he done? He would have to check his current notebook, all the notes from the last days.

“Are you Paul Walters or not?”

Walters opened his eyes again. That last question had sounded more pleading than demanding, adding a pleasant echo to the voice.

“Yes, yes, what’s the matter? Are you alone?”

“Yes, of course I’m alone. My name is Peter Jameson. I work for Doctor Harry Pomme and he’s interested in using your scuba diving services. He needs someone to prospect the canal adjacent to his property and he has heard about your… qualifications.”

The veering of the conversation towards scuba diving loosened Walters up a bit. He looked mesmerized at the shiny lines on Jameson’s tie. You had your eyes on a particular line and suddenly your eyes had jumped to a contiguous line without you noticing. He then studied Jameson’s head and face, his perfectly parted hair and his smooth skin and the faint smell of lavender. Definitely coming from him. ”I’m going to forget your face as soon as you leave,” Walters thought with pessimism, and he forced himself to remember the blue eyes, the pointy nose, the marked muscles on the neck, that hint of lavender that, after some consideration, he decided was unpleasant, reminiscent of something he had had nightmares about.

“What type of prospecting are we talking about?”

“Doctor Pomme would inform you about the details, but I can tell you that the work should be minimal.” He looked inside Walters’ house while adding, “It should be easy money.”

“Do you want to come inside and tell me all about it?” Walters said, a little unsure why he was offering, but somehow it felt more secure to have this man inside his place than outside, where his plausible connections to others seemed more real.

“No, as I said, Doctor Pomme will fill you in with all the details about the job. I’ll wait for you to gather your gear and we’ll take my boat. It’s not too far away, on the docking area that direction,” Jameson said, pointing down the street to his right.”

“My gear…? What, now, you want me to go now?”

“Yes, unless you are extremely busy at this time,” Jameson said with a mischievous smile while glancing again inside the house for a second just to make his point.

“But I don’t know what gear to bring unless I know what the job might be,” Walters lied.

“Just take whatever you need to get into the water and search for something around a small area.”

“Something like a ring?” Walters inquired.

“Something much larger,” Jameson replied without thinking too much about it. “It should be obvious whether it’s in there or not.”

“OK, OK, give me like ten minutes to gather my stuff and get ready. You can wait inside or outside on the balcony, if you want to.”

“I’ll wait out here, thank you.”

Walters closed the door, went to the bed and sat down, grabbing the notebook that had been resting on the stool by the head of the bed. It was a waterproof notebook, small enough to fit in any of his pockets. Walters opened it where a pencil was serving as a bookmark and read the last entry: “25Aug. Store: coke, bourbon, bread, PB, oranges, choc. Took boat 63, promising buildings Poplar/McLean & Poplar/Cooper, basement likely underwater. Natural History Museum. Burger out. Run back. Shower. Chinese: h&s soup, lo mein.” He immediately started a new paragraph with “26Aug” and then stopped, not being too sure how to summarize what had happened during the last minutes, chewing the end of the pencil, stressing out about totally forgetting, at any point now, the name of the man outside and all the rest, so he hastily wrote, “Peter Jameson, works for Dr _______ Pomme, job about finding something in canal, dead body? 1st impression: say no, run. Accepted. Going with Peter now. 12:10p.”

Waiting Canals – 2

This was going to be his first paid job since he arrived to Memphis five months ago. Walters had no idea what the job was or who was really interested in his services. He hadn’t been searching for a job and he didn’t really know anyone in Memphis, so it wasn’t clear to him who could have referred him and to whom. He still had some money left and preferred to spend his days scuba diving through the hundreds of miles of canals that crisscrossed the city, always with the hope of finally finding something he could call a treasure. The idea of a job wasn’t too appealing; more a nuisance, an interruption of his routines, than a needed challenge.

One hour ago someone knocked at his door. Walters was renting a one-room house in Midtown, in a run-down but relatively safe area, nicely ridden with lots of canals, some of them possibly the oldest in Memphis. His house was crammed into a line of similarly minuscule and attached houses. From the non-canal side, where all the entrance doors were located, it seemed that more houses that could fit into the available space had been wedged into it, some walls and roofs being contorted in the process. The house that Walters was renting was roughly in the center of that line of dwelling holes. The door opened to a single room, with the bed to the left and the kitchen area to the right. A small bathroom was hidden behind a drawn curtain. The back wall consisted mostly of two large windows and a glass-panel door that gave to a small, hanging balcony by a canal that didn’t see too much traffic these days.

Waiting Canals – 1

The dead body flew into the air in an expected parabola and landed on the top of the pile. An impactful meter of cadavers thrown in and piled without any respect. Somewhere underground, somewhere under Memphis. The two men waited a few seconds to make sure that that last body stayed in place. Blood was still pouring from the bullet holes on the chest and the neck, oozing down the arm, slowly reaching the dangling fingertips, falling on the white dress that covered another body. To some, that pile would be a match that would ignite the rivers underneath, a fire that would catch up across Memphis and blackened the sky, all the canals would burn as if they only carried oil, and in hours of purification a new Memphis would be born.