Our story so far: There’s a thing that people want. Or maybe it’s a pile of things. Fact is, no one seems to know what the thing is, but it’s big. Big enough to kill for. Big enough to die for. Meredith Baxter just made that choice right in front of Charlie’s eyes. Whatever the thing is, Charles Lowell does not have it, and he really isn’t that interested in having it. That’s what makes him a valuable ally. Now several factions are banking on Lowell to bring them the goods, and he’s not going to be able to please all of them. There is a painting which contains clues as to the location of the treasure, and now Lowell has has the painting – or a least he has a box that everyone assumes contains the painting. He is trapped at the end of a pier after a gangland shootout, and who should turn up but his faithful and plucky assistant Alice…
To read the entire story from the beginning click here. It starts out quite silly, but then settles down. This is all written in brain-dump style, so you get what you paid for it.
From the far end of the pier, the end connected to land and to safety, a search light erupted. At this distance the beam was muted by the fog into a dull glow, and I knew that it was doing little more than lighting up the fog. We were safe for a few more moments.
“You have a boat?” I asked.
“Of course. Come on.” Alice gestured with her gun but didn’t put it away. She hesitated. “What do you think the distance is to that searchlight?”
“You’re thinking about shooting it?”
“It would buy us time.”
It seemed there was a lot I didn’t know about Alice, but there are limits. She was not going to hit her target with her 9mm pistol when she didn’t even know the range. “Yeah, they’ll hold back and send bullets instead. A lot of bullets.”
She nodded. “This way,” she said. I followed to another cold metal ladder vanishing over the edge of the pier. “You first.”
Once more I negotiated a ladder with the package wedged in my sling. At the bottom was a dinghy, deceptively still in the water until I tried to put my foot into it. It swung around and I almost wound up in the drink. If I fell in, which would Alice rescue first, me or the package? I chuckled at my own naivety.
Right then, I might have been able to destroy the painting. Sea water certainly couldn’t have been good for it. I could have taken a dive, gone deep, and cracked open the box. I didn’t.
I pulled the dinghy closer with my foot and managed to fall into it without capsizing it. “What the hell are you doing down there?” Alice hissed.
“I never got the seamanship merit badge,” I grumbled back.
She responded by snapping off four quick shots with her pistol. A second later the spotlight went out and the cops opened up with their own arsenal. By then Alice was halfway down the ladder, her tight polka-dot skirt hiked up to her thighs. With my good arm I steadied the boat against the ladder as she stepped in. Yeah, she had gams all right. She pulled her dress back down with a little shimmy and fixed me with a glare more dangerous that any gun. “Some gentleman you are,” she said. Her anger evaporated and she turned away, suddenly shy. Then just as fast she was all business. “Looks like I’m rowing,” she said. I will never understand dames.
Bullets cracked and snapped throught the air over our heads, digging into the wood of the pier with dull thuds and smashing into the little shed. In the heavy air the reports from the guns seemed dull, like they were happening in someone else’s life. Alice began to row.
I sat in the back of the boat, facing her. She wore a dark number with white polka-dots that seemed to glow on their own in the low light. The pale skin of her arms disappeared into dark gloves which hardly seemed adequate for protecting her soft hands. Her strokes on the oars were smooth and what she lacked in strength she made up for in skill. Occasionally a light would penetrate the pea soup around us and I could tell that we were making good time; the tide was sweeping us right along.
Her hands were full; I had a gun. We both knew that, so there was no need to pull it out.
“Fancy meeting you here,” I said.
She hesitated for a fraction on the oars, then began pulling again. “Does it have to be now?” she asked.
“You lied to me, Alice.”
“No!” She controlled her voice. “Only about small things.”
“You brought Cello to the pier tonight.”
“And now Meredith is dead.”
“I didn’t think—”
“I thought she’d handle it better.”
“Better, huh? Perhaps kill me instead, for selling her out.”
Alice stopped rowing and put her face in her hands. “It was Cello I wanted dead. Sooner or later he was going to kill you. And… I wanted her to take the fall.”
“You got your wish.”
Her sobs were getting louder. “You made me your partner, Charlie. You can’t imagine what that meant to me. You made me your partner.”
“Who do you work for?”
“No one. Not any more.” She took up the oars and began to row again. The splashing as the oars lifted from the water was the only sound for a while. A breeze kissed my cheek; the fog would break up soon. Alice looked tired. She spoke between strokes. “Before… I worked for Vittorio Fanutti. My father.”
That was a dot I wasn’t ready to connect. The eels had barely started on Vic’s carcass when she came to work for me, for peanuts on a good day. And somehow her stepmother had come to me. I’d been on this case much longer than I had realized. Alice had singled me out. I tried to feel fortunate.
“Meredith didn’t know, did she?”
“Of course not. That bitch was ruthless.”
High praise coming from this girl. In the wash of shock one thing became clear. “You good with a rifle?” I asked.
“I prefer low-calibre, high-velocity,” she said.
“I guess I owe you one, then.”
“No,” she said. She smiled and in the dimness I saw the dark gap where her front tooth should have been. “We’re partners.”
Tune in next time for: Clear as Mud!