Episode 14: Year of the Rat – Part 1

Note: To read the entire story from the beginning click here.

I hadn’t had a drink since yesterday. I hoped I still remembered how. I shut the door behind me with some trepidation but more relief. If they found us there, there wasn’t much I could do to help anyway. Perhaps I shouldn’t have left those two alone with a gun, though. It’s just too easy to do something you regret with one of those things. Meredith was handy with a piece, no doubt about it, but I had to give Alice the nod in a fair fight. Of course, in an unfair fight she wouldn’t stand a chance.

I made my way out onto the street. It was hotter than the day before, if such a thing was possible. I needed some place dark and quiet to get my head wrapped around the situation, and some whiskey wrapped around my head. None of my regular places was safe anymore, but there are a hundred holes just like Jake’s, lacking only the barman’s gruff charm. I wanted to be very careful of who I ran into.

As I walked I considered. We couldn’t keep running forever. We wouldn’t last more than a few days if we kept playing the game by their rules. I needed to know more about the players.

In this city knowledge is better than money, and those who have it carefully guard it to maintain its value. People like me aren’t popular in this world; we are regarded as thieves since we spend our days finding information without paying the requested price. There are other sorts, however, who are disliked much more intently. Nobody loves the weasel, and the rat is universally despised. I needed a weasel now.

The weasels would tell you they perform a necessary function; if no information ever changed hands the whole system would break. I met one who compared himself to a stockbroker. I suppose the Wall Street weasels probably are just as bad.

The danger of trying to learn anything from a weasel is they are just as happy to sell information about you as they are to sell information to you. And most weasels were part-time rats. A rat I didn’t need. There’s a certain bravery to being a weasel, dancing the fine line of what your clients are willing to tolerate, but the rat lacks the ethic. The rat is looking for one big score and an early retirement. Most of them end up retired at the bottom of the East River with concrete overshoes. But still there are rats.

I thought about the weasels I knew and how I might contrive to run into one. In general weasels want to be found, so the steady weasels, the real pros, keep a fairly regular schedule. I made a choice and changed course.

I was sweating like a dog, damn near panting as well, by the time I had covered the blocks to The Bucket. I stepped into the darkness and groped my way down a flight of stairs and into the bar. It was a nice enough place, dark, quiet, a haze of smoke hanging in the air. You could have switched the line of mugs propped against the bar with the regulars at Jake’s and no one would notice – least of all the regulars themselves. A radio was softly playing mostly static and no one seemed to care.

At the far end of the bar was the man I was looking for. He saw me come in and his eyes got a little round but he didn’t say anything. He just got up and headed for a quiet table in the corner. I approached the bar. “Whiskey,” I said, “and another of whatever was in that glass there.” The barman nodded and had two glasses in front of me in no time. I paid in case I had to leave quickly, then took the juice over to where Jimmy Slick was waiting.

“Can’t say I’m happy to see you, Charlie,” he said.

“Why not?”

“You’re swimming with some big fish. If it weren’t for your friends I wouldn’t talk to you at all.”

“Tell me about my friends.”

He sat back with his gin and looked me over. “I can’t imagine why I possibly would.”

“You could do it as a favor to me.”

He didn’t even bother to laugh. He sat and tossed back the rest of his drink.

“Want another?” I asked.

“You’ll never get me drunk enough to help you.”

“I’m willing to try.”

“Fair enough.”

I went and got another pair of drinks. I had cash and decided to go top-shelf. Not for the booze so much – at least not the gin – but to show I had means and I was willing to use them. Jimmy Slick took a sip and nodded. “I’ve heard you’re on to something hot.”

I put my nose into my glass and smelled the graveyard smell of the highland malt. I took a sip and felt the vapors dance over my tongue. “Not by choice.”

He shrugged. “It’s like the Preakness,” he said.

“How’s that?”

“It’s a race, it’s probably fixed, and there’s a lot of betting. The biggest bettors are hidden behind elaborate smoke screns. Some are betting for you, most against, but most still want you in the race.”

“It didn’t feel like that last night.”

He nodded as if I had confirmed something he had only suspected before. “So what are you getting out of it, Charley?”

It was my turn to be the clam. Nothing’s free, but at least I might have something he wanted, besides just money. Money to a good weasel is just a byproduct. They loved the information itself. Perhaps we could do business. “I’m just trying to help a friend,” I said.

Jimmy laughed. “That’s a good one,” he said. He set his empty glass down, and dutifully I went for another round. I could get used to the good stuff, no doubt about it, and there was no reason to hold back now; either I’d be dead before the money in my pocket ran out or I’d be set. When I got back to the table Jimmy was ready. “What’s in it for me?”

I didn’t have a good answer for that. “There’s a lot of money for the winner,” I said.

“I’m not a gambler, Charley, I’m a trader.”

“I have nothing to offer except gratitude and money.”

“The gratitude of a dead man isn’t worth much.”

“Lots of money.”

“The promises of a dead man aren’t worth much either.”

“Come on, Jimmy. I’m not asking you to sell out your mother.”

“My mother wouldn’t kill me.”

“All right. Fine. I’ll find someone else to deliver my message.”

Jimmy Slick paused. “What message?”

I watched him, stonefaced. “You don’t want to get involved. I respect that. I didn’t want to get involved either. I did it to help a friend.” The scary part was that was true.

“Who to?”

“You know that better than I do.”

“I can deliver a message.”

I shrugged apologetically. “I’ve gotten you into enough trouble already.”

“A message isn’t trouble. I’m not ratting anyone out to deliver a message.”

“You don’t know the message,” I said.

Oh, but he wanted to. “Look Charley, you’re in up to your eyeballs. You say you’re doing it to help a friend. I respect that. Maybe you’re even telling the truth. I’m willing to take a chance.”

I looked over at Jimmy Slick. He was a weasel, and weasels could turn into rats when the moment was right. Still, I needed to know what he had, and the fastest way to his heart was though his curiosity. “All right,” I said, “Here’s the dope.”

Tune in next time for the conclusion of: Year of the Rat!

13 thoughts on “Episode 14: Year of the Rat – Part 1

  1. Pictures would be good, but they’d also be work. That episode took all of an hour and a half to poop out, which is abust as long as I have ever taken. And with that, I haven’t even read what I wrote yet myself. I have a feeling it lacks some of the punch that others may or may not have had.

  2. Jerry,

    Part of me says, yes, let’s keep it simple, stick to turisticky /Cesky, stick to the basics and make this a manageable project and not overwhelm ourselves. Learn a few words to impress the locals with the sense of having tried to meet them partway and be done with the job.

    On the other hand, there are (at last count), five fingers.

    Na druh’ straně/naproti tomu — I do want to communicate with people when we’re in Prague, and slow, broken, tortured, crawling attempts at communication, while amusing and funny sometimes, ultimately are frustrating exercises in Excedrin

    episode enhancement. Velke bolen’ hlavy. So, I’ll at least try to do a little more than a token effort at learning the top 10 phrases.

    Then there’s the picky technical writer/editor side of me —

    even though I’m more in the business of torturing writers than of pretending to be a fountain of glorious prose —

    that believes that there might be such a thing as the _right_ word and that the pursuit of the juste mot is a noble and worthwhile endeavor — that there is a fundamental difference between the lightning (blesk) and the lightning bug (světlu’ka).

    Jak’koliv.

    >

    On Apr 8, 2005, at 7:53 PM, [email protected] wrote:

    Dobry jak,

    I’ve been trying to learn some very basic turisticky /Cesky, but the going isn’t easy.

    For example, you’d think that saying the word for “ticket” wouldn’t be all that hard, and would be a useful word for dealing with transport, museums, et. cetera. Ah — but what kind of ticket?

  3. Then practicalities. If we run over to your place when we’re in Prague, can we walk upstairs to your door and knock, or do we use a buzzer, or do we try to speak with your nerozumin/nemluvim Anglicky landlord?

    If you’re not in at the time we call, what is the most efficient search pattern to ferret (not weasel or rat) you out at Na Sladecku/Craisy Daisy, Pizza Roma, other such places where you hang out? How would you describe the layout of your neighborhood to a first-time visitor and the paths you travel in your daily life?

    In one of your episodes you mentioned She Who Smiles Seldom expecting sto padesat koruna; 148 crowns on the bill + 2 kr tip/round-up. How much pivo can you get at Crazy Daisy for 148 crowns? This is vital data for some people I know.

    Pat

  4. Gerald,

    By your more numerous contributions of late I am suddenly concerned that you may be making the honest yet unfathomably dangerous mistake of holding your uncles Jerry and pL as role models. I respectfully suggest you consider other denizens of this blog as figures living a life (and contributing comments) more worthy of emulation.

    Bob and John spring to mind.

  5. Keith, great advice for Gerald. But what happens if he decides to follow John and ends up as the bass player for Polkacide?

  6. Fear not, Carol Anne. I will use all my nefarious skills to save Gerald from Polkacide. I’ve been the youngest member for eight years, and I’m not about to let my “youthful” status slip from my wizened fingers!

  7. Bad way to start an epidode of FTE, ”

    I hadn’t had a drink since yesterday.” That started me realizing that I hadn’t either. Off to the 7/11! More later.

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