Note: To read the entire story from the beginning click here. Continuity issues are nearly certain with this episode.
One way or another. That’s what I’d told Cello and I meant it. There was a war going on, and I was in the middle of it. That’s all right, it’s what I’m paid to do, but now they had Alice, and good secretaries are hard to come by in this town. Lola Fanutti was stewing out in the boondocks and I knew she wouldn’t stay put forever, but I’d deal with that later if either of us were still alive.
My meeting with Bernie the Trigger was brief and businesslike. He was a nice enough guy, and he had once shot someone for my benefit, and soon I had an address. “It’s the Italians,” Bernie said, pronouncing it EYE-talians. “They’ve been coming over from the old country for about thee months now. They’re becoming a problem, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, well, I’m about to be a problem for them.”
“Yeah, well, good luck with that.” Bernie didn’t try to disguise his skepticism.
“Thanks.” I had an extra shot of scotch to steady my shooting hand and stepped back out into the night. It’s supposed to get cooler at night, I thought, but the air was 96% water and held the heat of the day the way a woman retains water after too many pretzels. There was something different about the air that night, however, something pent-up, waiting to explode. A storm was coming. I patted my pocket and was reassured by the weight of my gun.
It was only a few blocks to where the Italians were holed up, but I took my time, sticking to the shadows and trying not to think about rifles taking aim between my shoulder blades.
The two toughs on the doorstep to the apartment building didn’t even bother trying not to look like guards. They’d pumped a lot of cash into the local police retirement fund, and expected to be left alone. Bernie had been disgusted with the cops. “No loyalty, you know?” he said. “They’re your best friends until someone offers them more money. How can you do business with anyone like that? Take away their uniforms and they wouldn’t last a minute.”
There was a curious silence on the street, as if the residents knew that something was brewing and hid away in their apartments, or, more likely, got the hell out of town. I had no idea how to get past these goons, and the others sure to be inside. I had no idea what I would do, even if I did make it inside.
I held my gun in my pocket and walked past the doorway, trying to act casual, hoping the thugs wouldn’t recognize me. They eyed me warily as I approached. I pulled out a cigarette and asked the first one, “Got a light?”
“Beat it,” he said.
At the same moment a voice came from a window upstairs, and echoed up the deserted street. Alice, belligerent frightened. “He’s coming for me, you know.”
“I said, beat it,” said the goon. I started walking.
“For the love of God, shut up,” replied a voice above with a heavy Italian accent.
“Come near me and I’ll bite you again. You think he’s going to come in the front door and say ‘how do you do?’ You think he’s that stupid? Not Mr. Lowell. He’ll find a trap door on the roof or—” It’s lucky my back was to the guards so they couldn’t see my face when I heard the slap echo down the street. “Close the window,” the Italian said. “I don’t care how hot it is.” The window slammed shut with a bang, but not before I didn’t hear Alice crying. A dame who’d cry over a run in her stocking swallowing her teeth without a peep. Sometimes, I guess, you have to light someone on fire to find out what they’re really made of. I decided to go find the trap door before the Italian chose to listen to what she said.
* * *
The top floor was dark and deserted. The next floor had a few people but with patience I managed to look around a bit, springing myself into the rooms along the quiet hallway. One place stood out, furnished lavishly and smelling of the perfume of a dozen dames. This was the lair of the man I was here to meet. I moved an overstuffed chair into the darkest corner of the bedroom and put my gun in my lap.
While I waited I juggled names and faces, trying to make sense of it all. Nobody knew everything, that was obvious, or they’d have the Blood of the Saint by now and the rest of us would just be corpses. But some people knew more than most. My life — Alice’s life — rested in the hope that I knew more than the Italian. Or, at the very least, the Italian thought I knew more than he did.
At the center was one name. Fanutti. One name, two people. One feeding the eels at the bottom of the East River, the other holding the key to fantastic wealth, a treasure beyond imagining. Fanutti. An Italian name.
The outer door opened. There was a patch of low conversation I didn’t catch that ended with, “I am tired. When I wake up in the morning, I expect to hear that you have found him.” He said something else in what I assume was Italian and the outer door closed. The Italian spent some time in the kitchen while I exercised all the will at my disposal to stay put. The greatest advantage goes to the hunter who waits for his prey to come to him.
Finally the Italian’s silhouette was in the doorway to the bedroom. “Don’t even twitch,” I said as he reached for the light switch.
He froze, then slowly moved his hands away from his body, where I could see them clearly. “Mr. Lowell, perhaps?”
“I have been looking forward to speaking with you. My name is Fanutti.”
“Like hell it is. I killed Fanutti myself.”
He chuckled. “Luckily for both of us I know that you are bluffing. I know who killed my brother, Mr. Lowell. If I thought it was you this conversation would be over. My name is Paolo Fanutti, and I am here to recover what rightfully belonged to my brother. I would like to secure your cooperation.”
“Ah-ah-ah!” I said and Fanutti number three lifted his hands back up to an acceptable level. “Abusing my secretary is hardly a way to win my heart.”
“I find that people like you respond much better to threats than to promises.”
“Oh? Well if people like you respond to promises, here’s one for you. For every bruise on her, you get two. For every tooth missing, I knock out three of yours. If you run out of teeth, I’ll start on fingers. That’s a promise. I keep my promises.”
Paolo Fanutti was silent for a moment. “What do you propose? If it is her safety you are concerned about, then you need me.”
I stood. I’m not a small man and I loomed over Fanutti. “I propose a trade.”
“What sort of trade?” His question was just a formality; he already knew the answer.
“I walk out of here tonight with Alice, get her safely away, and I’ll give you Lola Fanutti.”
He made a face. “Don’t call her that. She stains the family name.”
“Stain removal is your department.”
He smiled. “It seems we can do business after all.”
“In the end, it’s all business.” I shrugged. Lola was going to cut him to shreds. I just hoped she left enough so that I could keep my promise.
Tune in next time for: Cold Water!