I lay hardly moving on the floor. I couldn’t see anything; one eye had already swollen shut and I kept the other closed. I couldn’t feel anything except pain; in my head, my arms, my side. It even hurt to breathe, so I tried not to. I could hear though. But all I could hear was the heavy breathing of the man standing over me.
The man moved away. I heard him walk to the table, pull out a chair and sit down. I kept my breathing shallow and fought not to black out. I heard the flick of a lighter and then the noise of the man taking a heavy drag on a cigarette.
“Did’ya think I wouldn’t see ya?” His voice was deep but he couldn’t hide the nervousness behind it. “Who are you anyway?”
“No…one” I wheezed out past possibly broken teeth. I wanted to keep it short, but I knew straight away that that answer would get me another beating so I added, “det…ec…tive”.
“A dick, huh? Well I knew you weren’t no cop otherwise my knuckles would hurt more, heh” his voice hadn’t relaxed even with the joke. “So, why’re you following me Dick?
There were a lot of options available to me here. The truth might help or it could get me more punching. The main thing though, is that it wouldn’t get me paid. So I lied.
“A girl…paid me…follow you”
“A girl?” He sounded confused, “who, what’s her name?”
“She didn’t tell me” I had to get this guy out of my office and preferably with most of my ribs intact. “She…gave me a wad of money and told me to follow you for a couple of days…see where you went and stuff.”
The guy didn’t say anything. I could hear him dragging deep on the cigarette and playing with the lighter. I cracked open my good eye. He wasn’t that big. If he hadn’t jumped me I could’ve taken him.
He caught my eye and held it. “Blonde or Brunette?”
“Redhead, hot one too.” That was stupid. The guy got up walked over and gave me a giant boot. A flare of pain blasted away all of my senses. So much for unbroken ribs.
He leaned in real close. I could smell the smoke on his breath and feel the sweat drip from his face on to mine.
“Here’s what gonna happen, Dick. You’re gonna stop following me and start following the redhead broad, you got me?”
“Good. I’ll be back in a week.” He stood up, finished his cigarette, walked over to the table and crushed it out. He walked to the door and took his jacket of the hook (I hadn’t noticed until now), I figured that he was far enough away to ask.
He looked back across the room at me. I expected anger but he looked humoured instead.
“Pay, yeah ok. $500 should do it right?” I nodded. $500 was twice as much as it would’ve cost; this guy had no idea. “Good, good. You find out where she hangs out and who she’s with, ok? Tidy yourself up a bit first though, heh. Oh and her name is Hannah” He turned and left and I sunk into sleep.
My dreams were fitful. They were filled with images of a redheaded woman whose face I couldn’t see no matter how I tried and then a leering face that stank of cigarettes. I woke up 10 hours later. I stared at the ceiling for a while.
I had made this woman up as a cover, now it turned out she existed and I had to find her.
I sat at the table with a cup of coffee and a bagel. I had to leave the bagel uneaten; my teeth were still busted in. But the coffee was good it smoothed my mind out and I was able to plan.
The guy was Ray Dreyton. Tony “Bones” had paid me $100 to follow him. Tony thought Ray was sleeping with his wife. Tony was wrong. Ray was sleeping with a lot of people’s wives but not Tony’s. This was good for me; I could tell Tony that Ray was clean and then earn even more money looking for the redheaded Dame.
Unfortunately, even though Ray woulda had a dozen girls none of them were redheads. By the look of things he preferred blondes. I had no leads. So I had to go where I always go when I’ve got no leads…the Savoy.
The Savoy isn’t probably what you’re imagining. This is the “North City Savoy”. The Savoy is run by a guy named Tom. Tom bought the bar thinking that this neighbourhood was on the way up, he was very wrong. But all of the waiters still wear tuxedos and it’s’ still the best place for a Martini in the city. It’s not only the best gin joint you ever visited, it’s also the best place for information.
I do work for Tom every now and again without payment, in return he passes on any info I might need. Anyone who’s worth finding will, at some time, pass through the Savoy.
Tom had an office behind the main bar. He was talking to someone when I showed up so I waited outside and had a smoke with the doorman. The door to Tom’s office opened and a harrowed looking little man scurried out. Tom stood in the door and watched him go; he saw me, smiled and motioned me in.
“What can I do for you Gary?” Tom took a seat behind his desk; he was always straight to business. He may have come here as a property investor but he knew how to run a business in this part of the city; “Anything to do with your face?”
“I’m looking for a woman. A redhead named Hannah; she might be associated with Ray Drayton.” When I said Ray’s name, Tom’s face shifted slightly, then he replaced it with a smile.
“A broad did that to you?” He lit a cigarette, “what’d you do? Forget to pay her?”
“Ray did this to me. I was following him for Tony Bones. That job’s finished, now Ray wants me to follow this woman, Hannah. ‘Cept I don’t’ know where she is to even start following her.”
“Ray Drayton huh?” Tom looked at his cigarette for a while and then at my face again. “He came by the other day…he was, ah…”
“That’s ok Tom, I understand how business goes,” and I meant it. Despite the pain I was in I managed a smile. “So you know anything about this redhead?”
Tom leaned back in his chair. “What’d you say her name was? Hannah?” I nodded. Tom took a thoughtful drag on his cigarette. “A woman came in the other night. Redhead. Rich too. I’d never seen her before but a lot of people in the bar obviously knew her.”
“The top guys. A few of them left, and in a hurry, trying to look like they weren’t in a hurry.”
“She sat down and guys started coming over and talking to her. She didn’t say much, just nodding or smiling mainly. Actually now I think about it Ray was there. Yeah, he walked up to her and gave her a piece of paper. She looked at it said something to him and he walked out.”
“What happened after that?”
“She spoke to a couple of other guys and then got up and left.”
“Do you think she was setting up a score?”
“I dunno, she coulda been setting up anything or she coulda just been taking phone numbers.”
“And you’d never seen her before?”
“That’s ok. One last thing though…what’d she drink?”
“Ha! Bellinis. A nice drink that I don’t usually serve, but she said she was happy to wait while I sent one of the kitchenhands to get fresh peaches.”
So I still had basically nothing. Tom’s info was helpful but it still didn’t get me any closer to finding this mystery woman. She was obviously important to a lot of the players in town, but why. Actually that didn’t matter, I just had to find her, Ray didn’t ask for her job description. Then I got lucky.
I went to Tony’s place to tell him about Ray. Tony just handed over my money and was shaking my hand when the back door of his office opened. One of his goons walked in.
“She’s here bo…”
“He knows” a red head strode past the goon. “Tony knows I’m always on time.” It had to be her. She had shoulder length dark red hair and wore a beige suit. She was slender but strode across the room like a prizefighter. This woman was all business, there was no candy coating.
“Hannah”, Tony said, “I was just finishing up with Gary here, he did some work for me”
I tipped my hat. She looked me up and down quickly, taking me in with a single glance before turning back to Tony. All business.
“You also have business with me. The delivery didn’t make it when you said it would.”
“Yeah but I …”
“But it did make it, which means you aren’t in my bad books yet,” she let the last word hang. She turned her head slightly towards me without taking her eyes off a visibly shaken Tony. “Leave.”
My legs reacted before my brain registered the word.
I waited for her outside. Her car was parked in the alleyway so I waited in the street round the corner. She came out of the building and the door of the car opened, a huge figure climbed out of the drivers seat. It was roughly man-shaped but moved wrong; and it looked blurry, my eyes didn’t seem to be able to focus on it. Hannah spoke to the dark figure, briefly and it went inside Tony’s office. Hannah walked towards her car and then looked straight at me.
I should’ve run. I should’ve just taken to my heels and never looked back, never returned. Instead I moved from my hiding place towards her.