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Jimmy Slick sat forward, eager. “You’re sure you want to hear this?” I asked.
“As a personal favor to you, I’ll deliver your message,” he said. He knew he was taking a chance, but the urge to know was driving him now. Hidden treasure didn’t matter to him, knowing about hidden treasure did.
“Then tell them, my so-called friends, whoever they are, that I don’t know where the map is, but I know someone who does. I’ll give them the name for a small slice of the pie.” Who’s the rat, now? I asked myself.
“A map, huh? Who has it?” asked Jimmy. I glared at him over the rim of my drink. He shrugged. “I had to try, didn’t I?”
“Just tell them that. By the time you get word to them I may already have the map. The price goes up then.”
“You’re playing with fire, Charley. Better to just come clean and duck out. They’ll still think well of you. Well enough to not kill you, anyway.”
“Now, Jimmy, I wouldn’t want to put you in a tough spot like that. A lot of people want that map, but there are others who don’t want it found at all. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of any of them. Just deliver the message.”
“How should they contact you?”
“Be back here tomorrow – alone – with the answer. If they’re interested in playing nice, my friends, my enemies, I don’t care who as long I get paid and I get my ass out of this mess, if they’re interested you bring your answer back here tomorrow.”
He hesitated, but in the end he knew I already knew he couldn’t promise that. “That may not be my choice.”
“If you are not alone, I will know it, and I will take the map elsewhere.”
“You’ll bring the map tomorrow?”
“No. Tomorrow we talk about the price of the map. I will also be talking to some people who want it destroyed. I have no problem with lighting it on fire and leaving the treasure forever lost. I’m not getting any of it anyway.”
“So there really is treasure.”
I shrugged. “I haven’t seen it.”
“But there is a map.”
“I haven’t seen it.” It would go very badly for me if there was no map.
“But you smell it.”
“Yes.” Rats have a keen sense of smell, and I was the biggest rat of all. But Lola Fanutti hadn’t been particularly forthright either. She was going to hear about this conversation soon enough, and that wouldn’t go well for me. Shooting me would be as easy as blinking for her. She might not have counted on Alice, however. Mrs. Fanutti figured she could manipulate me, but her charms weren’t going to work on Alice. As long as my secretary could prevent her from contacting her people I would have room to work.
Jimmy Slick was watching me. “You do smell it.” He shook his head, trying to figure whether to admire me or pity me.
We sat in silence, sipping our booze, contemplating what the future held for us, if anything. Conversation in the bar ebbed and flowed, the same tired stories that are told in every bar everywhere. “And then I socked him,” one of the interchangeable patrons said. “That’s what I think of your clock!” I never seemed to have stories like that. All my stories are complicated and uncertain. I’d tried spinning a yarn at Jake’s a time or two, but I never got very far. A man getting blotto on gin doesn’t want to hear about your mistakes.
I was enjoying the quiet when Jimmy said, “I think there’s something you should know.” He took another sip, still not sure he was going to tell me. He decided. “A bunch of Europeans showed up recently. They have lots of guns. Cello’s not happy about it.”
“I imagine he wouldn’t be.”
“There’s something else I’ve heard,” he said. He lowered his voice. “I’m not sure if this is true or not. There’s always rumors like this going around, and usually they’re bullshit.”
I nodded. His business was spreading the fertilizer, mine was picking through it.
“Friend of mine said he saw Vittorio Fanutti. Last week. Fanutti was mixed up in this, so watch out for him. And whatever you do stay the hell away from his wife.”
I think I held my poker face. “The Contessa?”
“That’s the one. I don’t know much about her, but everything I have heard is ugly. She was Fanutti’s favorite assassin. If he’s gone then someone else will be pulling her strings. It doesn’t matter; if you see her, run the other way as fast as you can.”
“How would I know it was her?”
Jimmy nodded grimly. “When she slides a knife between your ribs.”
“That’s not very useful.”
He shrugged. “There’s nobody that scares me more. She has no soul at all.”
“She might be offended to hear you say that.”
“Nah. She likes that kind of story to get around. It’s good for business. You can’t buy a reputation like that. You have to earn it. Let’s have another round. On me.”
I held out my hand, palm forward. “I’m buying. You’ve earned it.”
He rocked back in his chair. “Damn, Charlie, you’re not dead yet.”
Tune in next time for: Never on a Sunday!