Saturday, November 3, 2012

ace of night - 2. another old friend

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by roy dismas and konrad kraus

to begin at the beginning, click here

i walked down the hall from harry's office to the bar. it was dark, just the way it used to be. not a very classy touch. for a guy like harry, who wanted to move up in the world and not be a bum any more.

like i said, harry didn't have a lot of imagination. if i wanted someone to bankroll me, it looked i would have to look elsewhere.

but i didn't want to think about harry. i wanted to think about the dame i was going to meet at the bar.

i went through the door to the bar. it was empty. not even a bartender.

no dame.

hey, maybe i was wrong. like i said, i have been wrong a few times before.

or maybe she just hadn't shown up yet.

either way, i decided to cash in the free drink harry had promised me. if i could find the bartender.

i looked down the bar. "anybody home?" i called down it.

"yeah, hold on." i heard a phone click down around the side of the bar and a bartender in a white shirt and a red bow tie came around to the front and walked down toward me. "you must be the guy getting the free drink."

"that's me."

"first customer all night and you get a free drink."

i didn't have anything to say to that. i didn't like the guy's looks. he was big, but not what you would call a gorilla. more like an elephant - big, but soft. soft. like all the punks you saw these days.

"what'll it be?"

"scotch and soda, no ice. make it a double. i suppose a double counts as one drink , right?"

"sure, pal. if you say so. it's not worth arguing about, is it?"

" i guess not." see what i mean? not worth arguing about - what kind of attitude was that? in my day we looked for things to argue about - and fight about - just to stay sharp. but i didn't say anything to the guy, just let him fix my drink.

maybe i was getting as soft as he was. as all these punks were.


anyway, my thoughts were interrupted by a voice behind me. a voice i would recognize anywhere.

"well, look who's back. if it ain't jewboy jeff josephus. how's it going, jewboy?" and chuckie callahan, the pride of the homicide department, slapped me on the back hard enough to knock me across the bar if he hadn't opened his mouth first and warned me.

"couldn't be better, chuckie." i gave him a quick once over. he hadn't changed a bit since i had seen him four or five years before - a little bit thinner maybe, no better dressed, and looking just as mean and just as dumb as ever. "are you back, too? or maybe you never left?"

"where would i go? this is my home." he sat down on the stool beside me and smiled with his orange and green teeth. "so, hitler didn't get you, huh, jewboy? maybe we should have given him a few more months."

"i was thinking the same about you and the king of england."

the bartender put my drink in front of me. chuckie gave him a look - i could say a mean look, but that was the only kind he had.

"coming right up, detective, coming right up." and the guy went back to get whatever free drink chuckie was entitled to.

"so you never went anywhere, huh, chuck?" i asked, just to keep the friendly conversation going. suddenly i had an overwhelming feeling that i had had this conversation a million times before in a million different lifetimes, but it passed.

"no. but i was involved, you might say. involved. you might be surprised. "

"yeah, i would be."

"there was a lot of spies and fifth columnists around."

"and i bet you shook down every one of them."

"hey, same game, different players."

the bartender came back with chuckie's drink - a bloody mary - a lot faster than he had mine. chuckie gave him another look and he disappeared back to the end of the bar.

"you look a little thin, chuck. you not eating right? maybe you got syphilis? with the war on, you got those sailors coming in from all over the world. you got to watch out for those guys."

"very funny. i see you still got your smart jewboy mouth. but, no kidding, times have been a little tight." he took a sip of his drink. you couldn't tell if he liked it or not. same old chuckie.

"tight, huh?" i answered him. "where i been - "

"jeff, jeff." he held his hand up exactly the same way harry had. "i don't want to hear it." he took another gulp of his bloody mary. "let me guess - you parachuted into hitler's secret hideaway with four hundred pounds of dynamite strapped to your back."

"something like that."

"great. wonderful. but that was then, and today is the first day of the rest of your life." he gave me his extra special mean look, with mustard and onions. "what are you doing here, jeff?"

"just a social call. looking up old friends." i took a sip of my drink - not the most double double i ever had.

"yeah? well, i am here on business."

"always business with you, chuck." i remember years ago i asked chuckie where he got off shaking down everybody in town when he was just a lousy homicide detective and he told me "hey, everybody can kill somebody, right? even if it's by accident. i figure they are just opening an account."

now he said, "i am here on harry's business." he looked around the bar. "which, as you can see, doesn't look too good."

"appearances can be deceiving."

"i wish. just a word to the wise, harry may not the best guy to be palling around with just now. unless things start looking up for him."

"thanks. i appreciate it."

"i hope so." chuckie leaned right into me. "you know, jeff, i am not as unpatriotic as you seem to think. even though i think we were on the wrong side of the war, with the commies and the king of england and all. but in consideration of your service, i am going to let you slide this time - one - one time. "


"now the next time i find you trespassing on my balliwick, i am going to have an itchy palm - maybe a double itchy palm. you understand?"

"you were never hard to understand."

"i mean not to be." he leaned back and sighed. "now i got to check up on harry. poor harry. it doesn't look good for him. "

"does it look good for anybody?"

"you got a point there. where is this great postwar boom i keep hearing about?"

"i couldn't tell you." i shrugged. "maybe you could cut harry a little slack on that account?"

"no, no, that's not how it works. that would set a bad precedent. where is the respect, the respect for the law, if you let punks get by without paying? even an old established punk like harry?"

i didn't have any answer to that. chuckie tossed down the last of his drink and got up and headed down the hall.

leaving me alone with my thoughts. and the empty bar, and my weak double scotch, and the soft punk bartender staring at me from the end of the bar from under his bushy brows.

and still no dame.

3. davenport 7 - 5297

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