The smell of exhaled cigar smoke invaded my senses. I squinted at my partner, Lucy Duvall; there’s always a first time. She nodded appreciatively – maybe too appreciatively. We weren’t exactly rolling in it. Shit yes, money no.
I wondered how this son of a bitch found us. Sure we were in the yellow pages but the land line had been disconnected. Word of mouth, most likely; namely rat-faced Lincoln, our current bartender who was looking to clear our slate. So we owed a few bucks, who doesn’t? Trouble was, Lincoln wasn’t the only one, but he had a heart – somewhere.
I looked at the client again. Presidential candidate he wasn’t. More cappuccino than espresso. Liked to bubble when he spouted; I figured premature ejaculation. But by this time he had lost interest in me and was studying Lucy’s cleavage. Intently.
There was a time when I had harbored similar thoughts. Lucy had put me right. Looking’s one thing,Philip; getting a slice of the action is another. And she had a .38 pointing at my anatomy when she said it.
‘Admiring the merchandise, mister?’ Cool, husky voice with an undercurrent of hostility; Lucy looked like a cobra waiting to strike. She’s smart – as well as pure class – and sassy with it. ‘It’s not for sale.’ Lucy murmured a final warning. ‘At any price.’
The client chuckled: wrong move. At worse, a client without a dick. And that wouldn’t be good for business.
I coughed. That got a reaction.
He slowly swivelled back into my view. Behind him was the plate glass window that looked out on the tenement block and garbage tip wasteland. We were on the seventh floor out of range of anyone but Spiderman. Not that Spiderman would honour us with his presence; Private Investigators weren’t his targets.
‘You should give up passive smoking, Mr Ivry,’ the client joked, although his face wasn’t crinkled with laughter lines. More Rip Van Winkle, interred.
Asshole. But the five grand in used one hundred bills sitting on top of my desk was definitely smoking - smoking hot. I had counted them.
So had Lucy.
I rolled the picture over where I could see it better under the bare light bulb hanging on a chain from the ceiling. Good-looking, Latina woman, probably in her late twenties – early thirties - with luscious lips sent from above with a blow-job in mind.
Just like Lucy.
We were a strange pair. Ebony and Ivry, Lincoln called us; he was a Stevie Wonder fan. How Lucy and I ever teamed up is still a mystery; it had something to do with community conciliation and a drunken debacle that had five Luther leaders arrested for conspiracy. She kind of got to me that night, moved my ass out of the firing line and put me to bed. On my own, with her sleeping on the couch.
I glanced at Lucy. She was nodding.
‘No deal,’ I said.
One thing Lucy and I have in common, we’re telepathic. That’s what makes us a cut above the dross. I could see her smiling with those lips – just like the lady in the photograph.
There were a few moments of silence – like the world had stopped – it seemed a lifetime of regrets passed through my mind while the client puffed at his Havana. I had fucked up good and proper.
Then he pulled out another bundle of notes from inside his coat. The black leather squeaking as he moved. ‘I heard you were good,’ he said, and casually dumped them on my desk.
I breathed again and fought back the urge to toss the bundle into the air. I put on my Casablanca voice. ‘Your cash is good at the bar.’ He looked puzzled. I explained. ‘You know where to find me … Lincoln’s place.’
He nodded, doffed his fedora at Lucy, and walked out of my life. The next time I saw him was on a slab in the mortuary.
A bullet hole in the middle of his forehead.