Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Blog Noir II: Crossing Washington
After Mrs. Schmidt left my office, I decided it might be a good idea to get my head clear. A steady diet of Wild Turkey and Lucky Strikes may keep me relaxed, but it does leave the thought processes a little bit muddled. I figured that if Wally Dinkman's coffee couldn't cut through the cobwebs, I was pretty much done for anyway, so I locked up my office, walked down the back stairs, and cut across the alley towards Washington Street.

Maybe it was dumb of me to go wandering through dark alleys in the middle of the night, or maybe I just have really terrible luck, because I watched two shadows detach themselves from a wall and start moving towards me. Hulking, menacing shadows. I was so busy watching those guys, I didn't even see the guy who kidney-punched me.

A good kidney punch will send even the toughest bruiser to his knees and have him pissing blood like a fountain. This was an excellent punch. I was kissing pavement before you could say "internal bleeding", and that's when the real fun started. These guys were good at what they did, and what they did was kick the shit out of me. Mostly they landed them on my back and legs, but one stomp caught my right hand and made me realize I wouldn't be signing any paperwork for a couple days. And just like that, it was over. One of the goons leaned down and whispered in my ear, "Tommy Fishbone sends his love. Pay up, gumshoe." On his breath I smelled the sweet tang of cloves, and I made a note of it. The sound of footsteps echoed away and I was all alone in a puddle of blood, spit, and whatever pleasant fluids had been making the alley their home before I crashed the party.

I hauled myself up out of the filth of the pavement and wiped my face on the inside of my suit jacket. As I crossed Washington, I nearly lost my balance and slid across the hood of a Hudson Commodore. Two guys in suits gave me a hard look for bleeding on their car, and I staggered into Wally's All-Nite Diner.

"Looks like you seen better days, Les," Wally greeted me as the bell jangled on the door.

"Yeah," I said, "but you've seen me worse." Wally was like that: always willing to help a guy down on his luck, and more than once when work had been scarce, I found myself sweeping up the place with Wally at 4:00 AM. He never called it a handout or charity; he always said things like, "You done such a great thing by helpin' me out, here. Lemme make ya a sandwich or somethin'." I did what I could to steer custom his way, and I always made sure to eat here when I had money, too.

"Ain't that the truth." Wally laughed his rumbling belly laugh, the wheeze of a chronic smoker gurgling underneath it. Good thing I'm not a chronic smoker, I thought as I fished out a Lucky and lit it. "I need a cup of your special stuff, Wally." I bellied up to the counter and let my legs drop from under me, coming to rest on a swivel stool.

Wally had apparently done his service in the Navy, and got out as a CPO. The deckswabbers always had the finest coffee out there, and Wally's special blend was just like he used to brew it aboard ship -- extra strong, a handful of kosher salt in the grounds. It kind of made me wish I hadn't gone Army, but only kind of.

The cup landed in my grateful hands and I sucked it down, letting it scald the hell out of my tongue and throat. "Another, please." He filled the cup and I decided to take my time with this one, to let the caffeine from the first cup get to work on fighting the rotgut in my veins.

Three more cups and a cheeseburger later ("Lookatcha, Les, yer wasting away here. You gotta eat somethin'."), I dropped two dollars on the counter. Wally looked down at the bills, back up at me, and said, "Bill's only 70 cents, Les, you know that."

"Yeah, Wally, but I also know that I'm not the only one who's swept these floors. Let's say it's my way of making sure you can keep letting folks do that." Wally shot me a gap-toothed grin and dropped the cash in the till. I was feeling almost human again, so I made my goodbyes, promised to stop in again when I wasn't bruised and tattered, and stepped out onto Washington to catch a streetcar home.

As I turned right to head south, I noticed that the guys in the Commodore were still sitting there. As I put some distance between us, they started the engine and I saw them hit the headlights. Damn, I thought, some days just can't get any better, can they?

The car slid up along side me and the passenger window rolled down. I knew where this game was going, and I decided to stop. I looked in the window and straight down the barrels of two six guns, like it was 1847 instead of 1947 and we were still in the Old West. "Get in."

I sighed. Two guys with the drop on me and a busted-up shooting hand told me trying to shoot my way out was out of the question, and the burning throb of bruises on the backs of my thighs told me that making this pair chase me down would only ensure that they brought another beating with them. "Looks like I'm out of options," I said, and got in the back seat. We drove off into the foggy night.
Posted by rightshu at 6/27/2006 05:54:00 PM ::

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