It was one of those days, if you know what I mean.
I drop into my chair, kick my feet up on the desk, and yank open a drawer. From inside I grab the neck of a bottle and a cheap glass, plunking them both on the desktop. The day’s last rays of sun stream through the blinds on the window behind me, hitting the bottle and splashing the brown liquid’s color across the desk. This ain’t no high-end liquor, though. I pour a few fingers of the bottom-shelf bilge and take a healthy glug, feeling red hot needles stab my gullet all the way down. That’s the kind of day it’s been.
The telephone on my desk rings its out-of-tune bells. Breathing fire, I answer it. It’s Wendy. “Hey, babe,” she says cheerfully, but I hear the expectation of disappointment. “You comin’ home soon?”
Too many late nights recently. Been lookin’ forward to a quiet evening with her. I’m about to tell her yeah, just gotta finish a case file and then I’m catchin’ the first cab I see, when there’s a knock on my office door. Through the frosted glass I see white clothes and blond hair. “Sorry, sweetheart, another case just came up. I’ll let you know when I’m on my way.”
I hang up, then call out, “Come in!”, dropping my feet back to the floor. Even I gotta look professional with a new client.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but she definitely wasn’t it. The dame that drifts into my office is tall, leggy, wearing the slinkiest, whitest evening dress I’d ever seen. Lips the color of a maraschino cherry part a little as her blue eyes take in her new surroundings. Disappointed? Probably. Disgusted? Possibly. I don’t have a personal maid at work. “If you’re lookin’ for a private eye,” I say casually enough, still sitting, “you found one.”
“Indeed I am,” she says with a voice like honey mixed with cigarette smoke. “I’ve recently been elbowed out of a business arrangement I helped establish. As much as I hate to admit it, I need help taking back what’s mine.”
She doesn’t seem like the damsel-in-distress type to me. She’s all seductive confidence as she lowers herself into a chair across the desk from me, taking a white cigarette holder from her bag and leaning toward me. “I’m all out,” she breathes. “Could you?”
Her luscious lips wrap around the holder as her eyes fix on mine expectantly. The nerve o’ this broad, walking into my office uninvited and then demanding one of my cigs!
I put one in the holder and light it for her. She winks at me, then leans back in the chair. I eye what’s left of the booze I’d poured for myself, think better of it. “Why don’t you, uh, give me some names to start with, miss…?”
“You can call me Fay. My ex-partners’ names are Nicky, Pete, Val, and Jack. They had been running an… operation down by the docks—“
The names are all I need to hear. I hold up a hand. “Say no more,” I tell her with a grin.
She looks confused by my cutting her off. “Do you know them?” she asks.
“I know of them, though I didn’t realize they were still in business. Haven’t heard about them in many years.”
“So you’ll take the case, then?” she says, tempering her obvious eagerness.
I finally stand from behind the desk and grab my holster from the coat rack next to me. “You got yourself a private eye.”
It’s her turn to stay seated. “Do you even know where to find them?” she asks with a skeptical smirk.
“Relax, dollface,” I tell her as I strap my revolver on. “I know a guy.”
O’Malley’s is the greasiest dive this side of the tracks—the wrong side. A ten minute walk from my office, and Fay and I stroll through the entrance like we own the place. I’ve sunk enough cash here that I probably could own the place, but that’s neither here nor there. We cross to the bar, and I take my usual stool, waving the owner over. After drying a glass that could use some more washing, Mickey O’Malley waddles towards us behind the bar. “Good ta see ya,” he grumbles in his brogue, a film of sweat shining on his balding ginger head. “What’ll it be tonight?”
“Answers, Mickey,” I say, keeping my coat on so he knows I’m here on business. “My acquaintance is looking for some deadbeat friends of hers. I think you might know where we can find them.”
Mickey’s eyes narrow, and I swear his forehead gets shinier. “And who might these friends be, then?”
I hold up a hand, palm toward me, fingers splayed. “Nicky,” I say, curling one finger down. “Pete.” Another finger. “Val.” Another. “Jack.”
Mickey stares wide-eyed at the fist now in his face. His head begins to twitch from side to side, his jowls jiggling. “No, no,” he splutters. “I don’t know them.”
He tries to turn away, but I’m faster. I reach over the bar and grab his shirt collar, pulling him toward me. The whole place freezes, everybody watching Mickey and me. But every set of eyes in the place knows me. They know I’m the one to go to for help, because I stop at nothing to get it for them. They just wanna see if Mickey makes it outta this one without too many bruises. “Don’t jerk me around, Mickey,” I growl. “I know you used to run with Nicky back in the day. Used to be his moneyman, keeping his stash safe from prying eyes. Even the boys in blue couldn’t pin anything on you two.”
“Saints preserve me!” Mickey squeaks. “What is it ya want?”
I fight hard to keep a satisfied smile off my face. Mickey’s always been a pushover. “Tell us where to find ‘em, and we won’t trouble you any more tonight.”
“All right, all right. About a week ago they moved into the ol’ Klaus Toy Factory on the other side o’ town.”
Now I smile, lowering Mickey back to the floor and patting his face roughly. The fear drains out of his green eyes. “There you go. That wasn’t so hard, was it?” I hop off the stool and turn to Fay. “Sounds like we got a date with a toymaker.”
She nods, and I note the sudden iciness in her dazzling blue eyes. “They moved a week ago. Just after they pushed me out. They’re trying to keep me from finding them.”
“Hey,” Mickey calls from behind the bar. “How about you not come around here for a while? Give me some time to calm down.”
“No can do. You’re the only place in town that stocks that Irish whiskey I love so much.” I slap a dollar bill on the bar before we turn to leave. “Keep the change, ya filthy animal.”
Fay and I stand across the street from the Klaus Toy Factory, a stiff wind whipping her blond waves close to my face. The place looks completely deserted. If Mickey lied just to get me out of his bar, he’s gonna be real sorry later. “You ready, dollface?”
Her jaw’s clenched so tight, I worry she’ll break a tooth. “I’m ready.”
I look her over again, realizing her entire body is tense. “Hey, why don’t you let me handle things when we’re inside, okay?”
She doesn’t answer, doesn’t even look at me, just starts crossing the street to the factory’s front doors. I hurry to catch up, pulling ahead and waving her back once I reach the building. Revolver in hand, I kick the doors in and storm inside. The room reeks with a strange blend of pipe tobacco, cooking spices, roses, and grass. Through the smoky haze I see four men playing cards at a table under a single ceiling lamp. They all turn and glare at me, slowly rising from their chairs. I try to yell, “Hands up!” but the words stick in my throat. Not from fear; I’ve busted enough heads in my time to know how to stay calm in these situations. No, I’m speechless because I’m now facing four living legends.
Nicky the Saint, a white-haired fat guy with a penchant for cheap red suits, snaps a bunch of leather straps he’s holding. Next to him is Pete Cotton, with his trademark buck teeth, twitching nose, and ridiculously big ears. Then a tiny little speck of a guy, Babyface Val, aims at me with his weapon of choice—a crossbow, the psycho. Fancies himself a matchmaker, but every couple he sets up is miserable within weeks. And finally, Jacko, a man as thin as a scarecrow, gives me a toothy sneer that looks like it was carved into that giant round head of his. I’d heard of them all, just as I’d told Fay, but it’s been years—decades—since I seriously thought about them. To find them here, all in the same place, is sort of like a present, if I can round them all up and haul them in to jail. My inner child giggles with delight.
“So,” Nicky says to Fay, “you got the police to help you find us and get your money back.”
Val hefts his crossbow. “Got news for ya, toots. We own the police.”
I wave my gun at him to get his attention. “I’m no cop,” I bark. “I’m here to make sure the lady gets what she’s owed.”
A brief standoff ensues before Pete hurls a little egg-shaped capsule at my feet. It breaks open, and a noxious green cloud rises from it—my nose immediately fills with the stench of rotten eggs. He lunges across the room at me, tackling me just as Fay snaps her cigarette holder at Val. The sharp end buries itself in the little man’s leg, and he drops his crossbow to clutch at the injury. As I wrestle with Pete on the floor, I see Nicky swipe at Fay with his whips, but she dodges them easily and puts a fist into his midsection. His belly fat jiggles like jelly as he reels backward and collapses on the floor. I kick at Pete’s knee, hearing it crack just before he howls in pain. Then I scramble to my feet and hammer the butt of my pistol into the base of Jacko’s skull as he’s about to wrap his bony hands around Fay’s neck. He drops like a bale of hay; I’ve knocked his lights out.
Fay and I take a moment to make sure none of them can get back to their feet. But before I can even ask what she wants to do with them, she’s suddenly holding a pair of pliers in her hand. She stands over Nicky, straddling him and lowering the open pliers toward his mouth. “Let’s see how you like having something taken from you,” she snarls.
Whatever it is she’s about to do, I want no part of it. I excuse myself and walk back out to the street, lighting a cigarette in the moonlit night and trying my best to ignore the muffled screams coming from inside the factory. When she emerges from the building, her white dress is speckled with blood, and she’s clutching something in one fist. She uncurls her fingers when she reaches me. There are four bloody teeth resting in her hand.
It all makes sense now. “Fay” was just an alias. I know who she really is, and after meeting and beating the other four men in the factory, her identity isn’t so hard to believe. “Thanks for all your help,” she purrs, then leans in, offering her cherry-red lips.
I just manage to stop her from kissing me; for more than one reason, I want nothing to do with her form of gratitude. “All in a day’s work, doll.”
I see a flash of disappointment in her eyes, but she shrugs it off and raises her hand instead. “For your trouble.”
She tucks two shiny quarters in my hand before turning and sauntering off into the night, without so much as a good-bye. That’s dames for you.
I’m dead tired by the time I reach my office again. Collapsing into my chair, I pick up the phone and call home. Wendy sounds tired too; she probably stayed up listening to the radio and waiting for me again. “Sorry I missed dinner again, sweetheart,” I say. “I’m leavin’ now.”
“See you soon,” she yawns. “Oh, by the way, he’s asleep already, but Jimmy Junior wanted me to tell you that he lost another tooth. He was so excited.”
My stomach flips at the news. “Do me a favor, Wendy,” I say flatly. “Let’s make sure all the doors and windows are locked tonight.”
This week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig at Terribleminds.com involved a random-genre mashup. My task was to write a fairy-tale/noir piece. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!