I wiped the steam from the mirror after draping myself in a towel. Consequently, I was shocked at image looking back at me. It appears that a hot bath cured my ailments except for my incessant need for a shave. Honestly, I didn’t care anymore, but I hadn’t given up on my clientele, not even the cat lovers. This shave would be strictly for business.
As I exited, successfully clean-shaven, I felt smart for having a bathtub put in the office bathroom. I remember Linda was furious when I got it. She warned me that we might not have months as successful as that and I should save my money. Instead, I bought a leather couch, the bathtub, a crystal drinking set, and a new M1911 pistol. I was always a terrible shot with a gun and never even fired one during the war. Since I can’t carry a rifle around the city, I opted for one because I figured that I would need the extra ammo, eight shots are better than six after all. If she knew that I had given up my apartment, she might forgive me the bathtub; I doubt it, though.
Speaking of Linda, I noticed a fresh suit hanging from the coat rack in the corner. I hadn’t noticed it before, but I was a bit preoccupied climbing from the inside out of a bottle last night. Not to mention, I was hit on the head, punched in the face, and nearly incinerated while dodging some rather sinister lumber as well. By dodging I mean the right side of my head avoided while the left side absorbed the blow. By the time I was done coming up with excuses, I was fully dressed and looked credible at least, to the untrained eye.
Since I had been on a tear the last few days, I decided to do a quick inventory of my desk. Luckily, I found my gun, my watch, and a current copy of the books, thanks to Linda of course. She was my wife, big sister, and mother all rolled into one. Just as I thought, there was no sign of whiskey inside my desk, and I was pondering whether that was good news or bad when I heard a knock at the door.
I quickly rushed to the door and, upon opening it, I was rather surprised. I was expecting my new friend Link but was greeted by the postman.
“Good morning, Chet. You’ve got to sign for this letter,” he said.
Our postman was always friendly, which made me feel bad for never remembering his name. “Thanks,” I replied as I signed a form. He handed me the letter, and I quickly inspected it. It was addressed to Chet Darby and Associates; it had been typed rather than hand written. Upon opening, I discovered only a check for fifty dollars, enough to pay my rent, also made out to Chet Darby and Associates. Emily Black signed it, presumably the same woman who hired and ambushed me. I can only assume the money was for Linda. Criminals this classy typically fly around town atop unicorns.
As soon as I sat down behind my desk, there was another knock at the door. I angrily walked back to the door but got it out of my system by the time I got there. As I expected, it was Link, returning as he said he would.
“You look pretty good considering what happened last night,” he said as he walked through the door at my invitation.
“I thought the same thing when I looked in the mirror,” I agreed. Link turned around after walking only a few paces. Last night, I either did not or could not get a good look at him. Link was below average height, but not short, and above average build, but not muscular. He appeared to have a strong jaw; it was prominent and angular, and his eyes were large and somewhat far apart. Also, one of his eyes was blue, and the other one was gray, which was rare to see. His hair was blonde and mostly shaved on the sides and back of his head. He wore long sleeves and pants but some small burn scars, old ones, were barely noticeable above his collar.
“Is now a good time to talk about that favor?” he asked getting straight to the point. A man in my line of work always appreciates that.
I thought about the fact that I had recently paid my rent and just received another payment that would easily cover next month. Now was the best possible time to return a favor, a nonpaying one I assume. “Like I said, I owe you,” I replied confidently.
He shook his head positively. “I need your help finding someone, a woman. Her name is Emily Black,” he announced.
I did my best to keep my composure. It appears Emily shellacked me yet again. “Okay, what can you tell me about her?” I asked as nonchalantly as I could.
“Well, she is very fair-skinned, and she has red hair. She’s so beautiful that you can’t help but notice her,” Link described, much to my horror. Truthfully, I was hoping it was a coincidence, and he would describe a different woman altogether.
“Can you tell me the last place you saw her, places she frequents, or her known associates?” I asked, but he just stared at me.
“I’m sorry, but I have already exhausted everything I know. That’s why I’m asking you now,” Link replied and headed for the door. “Look, I have somewhere to be. Can you help me?” he asked while standing in my doorway.
I sighed and threw up my hands. Normally, I wouldn’t do that in front of a client, but normalcy was nowhere in sight lately. “You haven’t given me much to go on, but I will give it a shot,” I responded. At least, he hadn’t filled me full of false information. However, I couldn’t be so sure he hadn’t lied by omission. Then again, I never can when it comes to clients.
He walked a few steps towards me and shook my hand firmly. “I’ll be in touch,” he said. He pointed at me and smiled before closing the door behind him.
I had previously put my holster on under my suit jacket, so I retrieved my gun, checking the chamber and magazine before I holstered it. Then, I grabbed my hat, overcoat, and cigarettes. I don’t smoke much, drinking is my thing, but they have value when gaining the trust of others. I paused for a second and patted the inside pocket of my jacket. My flask was gone. How could I have missed it? Since I was out of whiskey, I assumed the flask would be empty too. But what if it wasn’t? Just then, I imagined tearing my office apart to find it, as I had done before. Instead, I calmly walked over to my desk and stood in front of the center drawer. As I slowly opened the drawer, it sounded as if I was dragging the entire desk across the floor, the legs scraping and screeching hideously across the floor. I’d swear the flask sparkled at me with some unknown source of reflection. I slowly reached for it and then frantically snatched it up. Upon shaking it, I discovered it was empty. I crumbled into my chair, took some refreshingly deep breaths, and noticed my heart beat slowing down, though I don’t recall it speeding up.
Once I began to think clearly, I slipped my flask into my jacket pocket and gathered my coat and hat yet again. I locked up the office and turned around. Apparently, the elevator was back in service. I only use it when I’m too drunk to walk up the stairs since I’m only on the second floor. I started for the stairs, but the echoes didn’t come, which brought a smile to my face.
As I exited the building, I planned on hailing a cab and, as luck would have it, one was driving towards me from up the block. I whistled and waved, and the cab slowed down and pulled over towards me. Boy, I love it when things fall like dominos. Now I just need to remember not to shoot the cabby. I certainly hope I don’t develop a fear of cabbies like some folks have with clowns.
“Where can I take you?” the cabby asked.
I had my own plan since Link was useless as a compass. “Take me to your headquarters or base of operations. I don’t know what you lot call it,” I said with a tinge of disdain.
“Which one?” he asked, and I didn’t have an answer. “There’s the main place and the maintenance depot,” he clarified.
“What’s the difference?” I asked even though I was pretty sure that I knew. Long ago, I figured out that making people feel smarter than you can be a useful tactic to gain information.
“Well, the base, as we call it, is where we all go daily to change cabs and check in. The depot is where they take cabs to be serviced. There’s a lot fewer guys there,” he explained.
If I need information, there are more cabbies to speak to at the base. On the other hand, if someone wanted to take a cab that nobody would miss for a few hours, it would be much easier to take it from the depot. “Should we flip a coin?” I joked. He only stared into his rearview mirror with his droopy face and dead eyes. “Take me to the depot,” I said, and he nodded.
“We’re here,” he announced. As we stopped, I looked out the window and saw the same cabby that punched me in the face walking into the depot. I ducked down into the seat hoping he wouldn’t notice me. “The meter is still running,” the cabby reminded me. He seemed completely unfazed by my actions.
Suddenly, the door to the cab opened, and someone sat down beside me. I was petrified and vulnerable. I thought finding my cabby was another domino falling into place, but I hesitated to see whether I was to be the next domino. People often say that luck runs out, but I don’t believe that. Luck turns good, or it turns bad. When I turn my head towards my unwanted passenger, my luck turns with it. The question is, which way will it go?
Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.
“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”