Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dan Swagger: Death Only Knocks Once - Part 2

1920s Photo Shoot3 by Jun TAN
[background] [Part 1]

1927 - Chicago – West Side – Late Evening [continued...]

"Thanks doll-face," I said to Lucy, lifting my empty glass in a mock-toasting manner.

"Don't thank me Sparky, I ain't the one trying to swoon you," she quipped.

"And why the hell not?"

"A girl gots to have her standards," she returned with a sly grin and a tilt of her head.

"Ah hell Lucy, you really know how to charm a fella don't `cha?"

Truth be told, I wasn't looking my best that night. Oh sure, I had my on my regulars – a grey suit and black tie, white cotton shirt pressed with heavy starch, and a pair of black patent leather walkers – but I was looking rough. My suit was in need of pressing and cleaning, and my shoes lacked the shine and luster their quality and make demanded. Not to mention I was in desperate need of a bath and a shave; even more reason to be cautious of this broad.

I put out my already smoldering choke stick, grabbed up my newly acquired swill, and sauntered over to the damper-doll, keeping my eyes focused on her getaway sticks. I figured a dame willing to lay down a fair amount of cabbage for a drink for a man ought to buy her a moment of his time at least. Besides, I wanted to find out what this dame was all about. Perhaps my luck was about to change for the better.

"Have a seat Mr. Swagger," the kitten purred as I approached. Her voice was low, raspy, and sexy. Her dark hair was neatly tucked under a red hat, draped with a black veil covering her face. Her fancy dress matched her fancy shoes: scarlet red. A pair of black silk gloves and a sparkling black pocketbook lay on the table beside her glass, which was full and without a trace of lipstick or fingerprints.

Her ashtray was empty too. This told me she had not been there long. I didn't recognize her voice, and even though the veil concealed her facial features, somehow she seemed familiar to me. This immediately put me on guard, more so than I already was. I took a seat on the bench across from her and sat my drink down without tasting it.

Cutting a glance at my glass I said, "I'm sorry, this stiff hooker must be playing tricks with my eyes. Do I know you doll?" It was difficult to discern her reaction through the veil, and the dim lighting wasn't helping much either, but I could have sworn she cut a smile.

"That all depends on who your friends are Mr. Swagger," she said coolly as she reached for her pocketbook.

Without thought my gun hand slid surreptitiously to my piece concealed under my jacket. A man in my business made more enemies than friends; at least the good ones did. Let’s just say I didn't have many friends.

She let out a hushed laugh diluted with sarcasm while unlatching her purse.

"No worries Mr. Swagger. I don't plan on killing you." She pulled out a dainty mirror and some lipstick. Then, uncapping the lipstick she added, "Least, not yet."

Her hands were steady and her manner was relaxed and cool as she brought the mirror to her face and began applying the bright red lipstick under her veil with ease. Her calm demeanor assured me that she wasn't there to kill me. Then again Belle Starr [1] was a dapper dresser known for having a steady hand, and she was a ruthless killer. It made me wonder, however, how she could have seen well enough to perform such a delicate maneuver in this dim lighting, but I suppose a dame like her had plenty of practice and could have probably dolled herself up in her sleep if the need arose.

"Well that's reassuring," I said. "Then I suppose you want to get me liquored up and have your way with me first? I've seen this dance before doll."

She casually put her glam tools away and said, "You got me all figured out, don't you Mr. Swagger? I suppose that's why you're the best."

A quick glance at her vowed hand told me she wasn't married. Perhaps I was going to get lucky after all.

"Has Lucy been braggin' on me again? And they say ladies don't kiss and tell," I said, flashing a winning smile.

"Who said I was a lady Mr. Swagger? You should know better than anyone not to believe all what your eyes do see," she remarked unflappably.

"So what you're sayin' is that you're really a worker in roundheels [2] disguised as a lady in glad rags?" I jeered. "Damn, and all this time I thought you were just crazy about my handsome good looks and charm." I knew full well this dish was no street worker, but sometimes you've got to rattle the cage to get the canary to talk.

"I'm afraid you have misinterpreted my words. I was referring to your professional skills as an investigator, Mr. Swagger, not your frail liquor-engorged… ego," she taunted, cutting a glance at my midsection.

Her tongue was as sharp as her wit. By then I knew this cat was no kitten. I had the tiger by the tail and she was crouched low and ready to strike at a moment’s notice. I must admit it was arousing.

"My apologies ma'am," I said, tipping a hat that wasn't there in her direction. "But in my defense it's difficult to read you with your face covered up as it is. What are you trying to hide? What gives doll-face?"

"I'm not trying to hide anything," she was quick to respond. "I am…I'm in mourning."

You didn't need to be a top snooper to see something just wasn't adding up.

"Well that answers that question. That leaves who are you and what do you want?" The lighthearted tone in my voice was all but absent. It was time to rattle the cage some more.

"For now all you need to know is that I am newly widowed, and I need your help Mr. Swagger," she said demurely. "I will gladly share more of me once I know I am in your confidence."

I noted the change in her approach, and the absence of self-assurance and sharpness in her tone.

She was good, damn good.

I'm not a man who likes to mix business with pleasure and the fact that she knew where to find me, coupled with her roguish approach had me on edge like a whore in church. I was already in a sour mood as it was, and to have this dumped in my lap was like adding lemons to prune juice.

I was hoping Frank would walk through that door at any moment and give me an excuse to leave. Then again, if this turned out to be a legit job I might be able to catch up on some bills.

There was Mary to consider.


[1] Belle Starr was born in 1848 and had a long lustrous criminal career tied to some of the world's most famous outlaws of the day, like Jesse James and the Younger brothers. Fittingly, she was also a direct descendant of the Hatfield family (her mother was a Hatfield), whom were infamously linked to feuding with the McCoys during that period in time. Belle was known for being a sharpshooter who liked to dress in the latest fashions as she rode sidesaddle blasting away with a pair of pistols at her side.

[2] Roundheel was a derogatory term often used to describe a woman who was short on virtues and was quick to lay down with any man who came along. The meaning behind the term implied that the heels of her feet were so rounded that she couldn't stay upright. It was also used to describe boxers who were known for having a glass jaw or couldn't take a punch.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination

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