The doorknob rattled violently, the blind above it shaking in time to the beat. Someone was in a hurry and didn’t have a key. I did, and I wasn’t. Waiting patiently for events to unfold was a big part of a PI’s life, running away wasn’t. At least not this time. I knew what to expect, and how to expect it, so I sat back in my chair, picked up my forty-five, and waited for said events to unfold.
She’d wandered in a few times before, always late at night, and always in the same tight red number. Took a pew at the bar, lit up a long and narrow one, and ordered a tall glass of something with ice. Drank like a fish, laughed up a storm, and let on that she was everybody’s party girl. Which she was until it was actually time for the party. At that point she’d blow them all a lot of kisses and be out the door and gone.
Not that this was anything so unusual. From where I was sitting, I’d seen it all before. You didn’t miss much from the back of the bar, my usual haunt. I was a wharf rat born and raised. Watched my old man get killed bringing in a union, even walked a beat here for a time before going the PI route. To me, this was home, and she was just another tourist.
But a tourist with a difference. She had those eyes, the deep and mysterious kind that came alive every time the light caught them. Angel eyes I called them. Eyes with a look that you knew was only meant for you, even though the place thick with cigarette smoke and jammed to the rafters with warm bodies.
And I never missed getting that look. I caught it at least once or twice a week, whenever she was in. Yeah, I knew it wasn’t meant for me, but somehow it seemed to round out my day. Even started looking forward to it, although I’d only admit that to myself and my scotch.
The navy was in town tonight, every bar for miles full of sailor boys and their fancy white uniforms. That meant the usual fights and stabbings which kept the locals busy. Me, I stayed out of it as much as I could. Not that I couldn’t take care of myself, but a PI had to be more like the Shadow than Robin Hood. I didn’t go looking for trouble unless someone paid me to. I figured the forest could take care of itself.
And playing the forest tonight was my red honey pot, perched on a barstool not a peanut’s toss from me. I couldn’t see all that much of the action but I sure could hear it. Hi how are ya sailor where ya been all my life buy a poor girl a drink sure baby what’s your pleasure not where that hand’s going bozo shove off aw c’mon honey I haven’t seen a dame in six months yeah well it’s gonna be seven months if you don’t let go so what’s your name dollface…… for what seemed like an eternity.
And then she was gone, a red cork in a sea of white. One second the life of the party, and the next, she was the party. It was moving on, and she had been invited, whether she wanted to be or not. I raised my glass to her as she sailed out the door. You’re a braver man than I am Gunga Din.
The glass weighed heavily in my hand as I contemplated downing the whole thing and calling it day. The show was over and the crowd was thinning out but I just couldn’t get that face out of my mind. I’d gotten the look alright, but a look with a difference. Instead of liquid magic it had been one of pure panic.
I’d kinda gotten used to seeing her around. Maybe I liked her, maybe I was ready for my own party, maybe I just wanted to buy her drink and hear more of her life story. But for whatever reason, something inside me wouldn’t let me sit there any longer. Unpleasant things were about to happen, and I didn’t know if I liked that or not. Just felt different somehow. More personal.
I shot back my scotch in one gulp, tossed a bill on the table, and wandered out the way I’d come in. Her way. My instincts, drunk as they were, proved to be right. The second I hit the street, I could hear a lot of yelling and cheering close at hand, mixed in with a smaller amount of screaming and unladylike cursing.
I rounded the corner into the alley and found that the party had started without me. A circle of about ten swabbies filled the alley about halfway down, under the one working streetlamp. They were hooting and hollering to beat the band, and shouting encouragement to some unseen pal of theirs. But from what I could hear and see, the friend didn’t seem to be too impressed by all the attention. Whoever it was right in the middle, and pleading for her life.
A step or two closer and I could see what I could hear. She was having the party of her life, but not the one she’d had in mind. She no longer had her red dress on, and from what I could tell was about to lose what was left, and whatever else they wanted from her. She was drunk, she was terrified, and she was being passed from sailor to sailor like a football in a scrimmage.
It was reflex. My piece came out, I snapped a round into the chamber, and lurched over to where the action was. At first they didn’t notice me, my hey you’s lost in sea of cheers and tears. It was the slug that I fired into the night that got their attention. One look at me waving my hardware around and they all took off. Next think I knew I had a warm body pressed up tight against me, tears pouring down shirt front, and more kisses raining down on me than a Rockettes farewell.
What could I say. Wasn’t it was every man’s dream to be hugged by a cute brunette in a slip in the middle of the night.
“Friends of yours?”
I peeled the head away from my shoulder and looked down at her intently. Those big brown eyes, running with tears that were smearing her makeup, reached up and grabbed me like never before.
“You sure? They didn’t…”
“No. They were going to though. They kept saying what a piece I was and how they were going to enjoy getting a piece each. I tried to run away, I really did, but there were too many of them, and then they took my dress off, and then……” The tears started to flow again, and I clutched her even more closely to me,
“Yeah I know, and then… But it won’t happen now I promise. OK? Come on, let’s get you inside and all fixed up.”
She was cold and shivering by then. I guess a slip doesn’t offer much protection, even on a warm summers night. I whipped off my jacket and hung it over her shoulders, which she acknowledged with a grateful smile and a good solid sniff. I fished the hanky out of the breast pocket and handed it to her as any gentleman would for a lady. We were neither, the two of us, but we had found each other in this darkest of moments, and it was going to get better. I promised.
With my arm around her, I steered her back up the alley towards the street and to life. Along the way I picked up her little red number and purse, both tossed aside like they didn’t count for nothing. Well, they counted for me.
We didn’t go back into the bar we’d just left. That would have been asking for more trouble. Instead we wandered over to a place I knew of that wouldn’t ask too many questions, or give us any trouble. My lady and I were going to have a quiet drink together and then I was going to see her home. And maybe see her again, if this was going to work out the way I was hoping.
It was dark and smoky, like any good bar should be at 2 am, so it wasn’t difficult to get in, get a table in the back, and send her off to the powder room. When she came back, she didn’t look like a million bucks anymore, but it was close enough for me.
We sat around for a while, had a few drinks, shared a few laughs, and then she had to go. But this time she wasn’t getting away. I had her by the wrist and yanked her close, those big brown eyes of hers wide open in surprise. I fished my card out my pocket and tucked it gently into her cleavage. A wink, a slap on the butt when she turned to leave, and it was all over. A wink from her spoke volumes. I was hers.
It wasn’t even a day later when the phone rang. I was getting ready for my nightly prowl, although I was hoping it would end up as more of a date. I was determined to walk up to her this time, buy her drink, and dinner or something afterwards. Our little escapade of the night before had been playing on my heartstrings all day. And it had been music to my ears. I wanted more of this, and of her. But I was going to do it right this time. Step by step.
“Freddie? It’s me Doris. You know, from last night.”
“Hey doll face. Glad you called. I was just thinking about…”
“Freddie I gotta see ya right away. I’m scared, Freddie, really scared, he saw us last night.”
“What do you mean. Who saw us last night……”
“Johnny B, and he’s really steamed about it. I never saw him get so mad before. He knows about us. He’s gonna do something stupid, I just know it. You gotta help me, Freddie, you just gotta.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, honey, help is on the way. But look, what’s Johnny B got to do with any of this. All we had was a coupla drinks, and coupla laughs. What’s he so pissed about. It’s not like you’re his girl or anything. Hell, I pulled you off the street myself , and I didn’t see one of his goons anywhere.”
“Yeah I know, but I took off on him last night. I gotta to get away from him once in awhile, you know. A girl’s gotta get out and do things only he won’t let me. That’s why I go to that same bar all the time, I figured it would be safe. It’s miles from where I work but a coupla his guys saw us last night. They were in there. You know, the place you took me to. And they saw us and now he’s out to get me, and you. You don’t know what he’s like when he gets like this.”
“Are you kiddin? Half the town knows what he’s like, and that’s the half he doesn’t own. But I still don’t get how he make the connection. I’m a nobody to him.”
“He was so mad he ripped up my purse. All my stuff, it was all over the place, and he started jumping on my things and…….
“Your purse? You mean…..oh man, don’t tell me.”
“Look, I got no more time to explain. I gotta go. Just wait for me, okay? Promise? I’m leaving right now. Oh my god he’s here…..” And the line went dead.
So, what had started out to be the beginning of a hot little time with a hot little number was all of a sudden gonna end with a hot little bullet in my hot little brain. And not in my pants where it should have been. And all I did was buy a dame a drink.
Figures. The one woman I really fall for is the one who sets me up for it. I’ve had dames offer me everything but the kitchen sink to get them out of one sweat or another. And I gotta say I didn’t turn them all down, but Doris was special. At least that’s what it had felt like. Something popped the first time I’d laid eyes on her, and I couldn’t get her out of my mind after that. That’s why I’d kept going to the bar every night, long after my case was over. All I needed was a second alone with her and my life would have been over. Well I gotten my second, and I’d told her my life story, but this wasn’t the ending I’d had in mind.
The doorknob rattled violently, the blind above it shaking in time to the beat. Someone was in a hurry but didn’t have a key. I did, and I wasn’t. Waiting patiently for events to unfold was a big part of a PI’s life, running away wasn’t. At least not this time. I knew what to expect, and how to expect it, so I sat back in my chair, picked up my forty-five, and waited for this event to unfold.