Noir Like Coffee
If the city had ever seen a darker storm, nobody told me about it. The sky was smooth with gray clouds more worn than the back wheel of a poor man’s model A. Rain slammed into the ground, coming down in thick sheets. The rhythm was perfect, like a bongo drum or a funeral march. The march would’ve been my choice. Everyone knows that a funeral might’ve meant a mystery, and a mystery means work.
He walked into my office with all the ease of a tiger on the prowl, looking slick in that dark suit of his. The snap-brimmed fedora on his head was as fine as any bootlegger’s. His eyes were cast in shadow, shiny like pitch. He had an easy strut that gave him the look of a starved royal, but his loafers were caked in mud. There was no air of politeness about him. He was a hard-talking palooka with danger carved on the bottom of his click-healed shoes.
I took a long drink of cold joe from my mug. “Something you wanna say, wise guy?”
Wise Guy grinned at me like a shark does at a minnow. I was no minnow. A girl doesn’t keep a trench coat on for no good reason. She wears it to cover up her shoulder holster and her semiautomatic.
“Yeah.” His voice was a quiet mutter that had a threat in every syllable. “You know anything about Hymie Weiss?”
I leaned back in my chair. “You’re in a PI’s office, chum. What do you think?”
A silence hung over the office, and the rain howled outside. Somebody might as well have opened a window.
The guy cast his gaze about the room. The paint on the walls was peeling, revealing the stained concrete below. My dented metal desk was the only piece of furniture to speak of. Well, that and the chair.
“So...You ain’t the secretary?” The incredulity made his voice thick.
“I’m as much a secretary as you are.” The semiautomatic was weighing hard on my shoulder.
“I know it, doll.” The Wise Guy said with a chuckle. His eyes went tar-black again.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Cat got your tongue?”
The guy said nothing. Maybe he was still stuck on the secretary thing.
“Look, I’m a busy woman. Cut to the chase or scram.”
“Hymie Weiss has been plugged full of lead.”
The words sounded like sweet danger to my ears, full of car chases and expensive bourbon. It was almost too good to be true. I wondered if the guy was telling the truth.
“I knew Hymie.” I said after a moment. My words held no emotion. The kid needed to be put in his place.
“Don’t I know it.” Said the stranger for the second time that night. “I need somebody to take a closer look. Maybe give me the scoop on his death.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Scoop? You a reporter?”
Wise Guy shook his head, and a smirk played at the corners of his mouth. “Just a concerned friend.”
“Why me, then?” I said accusingly.
“I tried the coppers already.” He said. “They don’t want to help. I’ve got a hunch they’re happy about all this. The point is, I need somebody who knows this town. Gloria Denton, you’re it.”
“What makes you so sure?”
Wise Guy put on that damnable smirk of his again. “I’ve done my research.”
My heart hammered in my chest, but I somehow managed to keep the grin off my face. I liked to make them work for it. “I don’t know. Seems risky, messing with a fellow like Hymie. The man made a lot of enemies in his day.”
“I can pay half up front.” These words normally came out desperate, but not tonight. They didn’t leak out of the side of this guy’s mouth. No, he spat them like tobacco.
I tried to get a bead on him, but his face was totally blank. I sighed and put my hand out. “Shake on it.”
He hesitated for a moment, and then shook.
“Then we have a deal.” I said. “Give me a week, and try to keep it out of the press for a while.”
He nodded taciturnly. “No promises. After all, it is Hymie fucking Weiss.”
“Get out.” I snapped. “I need to make a few calls.”
“Whatever you say, babe.” His monotone voice was punctuated by the clack of his shoes on the sidewalk and the thrum of the pouring rain.
I picked up the phone. My fingers dialed the right number reflexively. “Listen, Frank.” I spoke into the receiver. “Meet me down at the docks. South end. I’ve got a spicy new case you won’t want to miss.”