Friday, June 15, 2012

Dan Swagger: Death Only Knocks Once - Part 3

Flapper 2 by Hyllna
[background] [Part 1] [Part 2]


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

I had to think about Mary. She was widowed with three hungry mouths to feed. If this dame proved to be a reliable client, I could throw some much-needed cabbage Mary's way, and by the looks of it, this broad wasn't short on cash. I wasn't the type to go around taking wooden nickels, but hell, I didn't have anything else better to do, especially since Jack stood me up. I figured I should at least hear her out.

"Well you're in luck doll. It just so happens you've caught me in good mood," I said, forcing a smile. It was a lie of course. It was more out of desperation than anything else. This broad wasn't the only one who could put up a good front.

"Thank you Mr. Swagger, I was…"

"Uh uh… not so fast doll," I cut her off. "I'm willing to let you punch the bag [1], but on two conditions. First, your name, and second, you remove that squirrel cage so that I can see that pretty puss of yours." I won't lie, I wanted to see if her face matched the rest of her impressive chassis, but that wasn't the only reason. More so, I wanted to see her eyes. You can learn a lot about a person through their eyes. Any dick worth his weight has developed the skill of reading people’s eyes.

She hesitated.

"Hey, I understand you lost someone close to you doll, and for that, you have my sympathy.” Enough years on the force and gumshoeing [2] the street will turn any man callous, but I wasn't completely heartless. "But… you come in on my turf unannounced and unexpected, tossing my name around like we’re familiar, then wanting to talk business when clearly you are dressed with other intentions. I got to tell you, it leaves a man a little uneasy sweetheart."

I wasn't born yesterday either.

"The names Gladys," she said flatly. She was growing tired of my catty nicknames I could tell.

The cage rattling was working.

"Gladys… nice, now we’re getting somewhere. So far, so good," I replied while gesturing towards her face. She hesitated once more, and then slowly removed her dark veil, teasing me like some midnight burlesque show. It was worth the wait.

The first thing that caught my attention was her big blue eyes. They lit up the room like the sun reflecting off pools of crystal clear water. The blood vessels in the whites of her eyes were slightly engorged, as if she had been crying, or boozing, or snorting. I wasn't certain just yet which. Her face was voluptuous and curvy, like the rest of her body. Her lips were full and inviting. Dolled up or not, this was one water-proof [3] dame; dangerously water-proof. I caught myself staring. I'm a professional, but I'm a man first.

"Well, that wasn't so hard now was it…Gladys," I bantered smoothly, trying to regain my composure and lighten the mood. She gave a mock smile and reached for her glamour bag again. I was reserved that time. She pulled out a gasper, and instead of reaching for my peacemaker I reached into my front pocket and pulled out a match and lit her cigarette, then lit one for myself in turn.

"Thank you Mr. Swagger," she said with a more sincere smile this time.

"Dan," I replied, returning one of my own. "So Gladys, what's your story?"

She took a long drag from her choke stick, leaned back and crossed her arms in a relaxed manner. "My husband is dead, Dan. He was murdered, and I want you to find out who killed him."

"Murdered? The police have any leads?" I inquired.

She shook her head no, took another drag from her cigarette, and then tapped it on the edge of the ashtray in front of her. "They aren't investigating. They said it was a suicide," she said, then picked up her glass and took a shallow sip of her tiger’s milk.

"I see. So you want to me to prove them wrong so you can collect on the insurance," I said matter-of-factly, before taking a sip of my own. I made sure my eyes never left hers.

Her eyes widened and she gasped in disbelief, speechless but for a moment. Truly she was taken aback by my boldness, but something told me that I hadn't missed the mark by much.

"I… I can't believe you! Here my husband is dead, murdered no less, and you accuse me of…of… wanting to profit from it! How insulting," she squawked vehemently before taking another long draw from her choke stick and turning her head away.

"You'll have to excuse my manners doll-face, it’s just… well… hell, I've been in this business a long time and there aren't many stories I haven't seen played out," I said calmly. "You claim to be newly widowed, yet your wedding hand bares no handcuff [4]. Your ring finger isn't even discolored where one would have been. Your eyes, though somewhat discolored, do not bear any signs of puffiness or dark circles, as one would expect from someone who has been in mourning for any length of time. Although the black veil and black gloves are a nice touch, they do little to disguise your provocative dress. You come to me in a gin joint instead of approaching me at my place of business, and when you speak of your husband your eyes lack that certain glimmer one would expect… you seem detached. All of these things do not add up to someone who is serious about finding out who killed their husband, their betrothed." My words were stinging, but lacked cruelty or contempt. "So Gladys, if that indeed is your real name, have I misread your intent?"

She just sat there staring at me slack-jawed for a moment. Her face became flush and tears began to well up in her eyes. She bit her lower lip trying to hold them back, but before I could say another word, she hid her face in her hands and began to weep. She cried like someone who hadn't for a very long time but needed too. Finally, I sensed real emotion from this woman.

About this time Lucy came over. "Sparky, is everything okay over here?"

"Yea,” I nodded. “She recently lost her husband is all. She'll be okay," I said with a warm smile and a wink. Lucy didn't say a word. She just nodded knowingly, put her hand on Gladys' shoulder, then walked away.

Gladys finally began to compose herself. She raised her head sniffling and tried unsuccessfully to wipe the tears from her eyes, as dark streaks of makeup stained her light skin. I reached into my front coat pocket and handed her my hanky. She took it begrudgingly and began to clean herself up.

"I'm sorry…," I began to speak before she cut me off, shaking her head.

"No…no, Mr. Swagger you were right in your assessment, but it wasn't always like that," she said sniffling. She held her head low and neglected eye contact. "I did love my husband deeply at one time."

I took the opportunity to wet my gullet and take a deep draw from my gasper, while my eyes danced across that pretty face of hers.

She finally looked me in the eye before continuing. "We were married seventeen years, but after the first seven years, after our children were born, he began to pull away. He wasn't at home much, and when he was it was like he wasn't even there. Eventually I stopped wearing my ring in defiance," she said as she looked down at her vowed hand and started fidgeting with a ring that wasn't there. "I only wore it when he was home, or when I was out in public, which wasn't very often."

"Now you're worried that his mistress will get away with all of his dough," I said with a manner of some concern.

She looked at me through blurred eyes and forced a smile. "You don't miss much do you, Dan?"

I nodded accordingly. "A man who doesn't come home or pay attention to a fine looking gal like yourself must have something going on the side. It only makes sense." She was flattered, I could tell.

"He did… at least one that I'm aware of," she said, taking a full pull on her choke stick. "That's why I need your help Dan. I can't find his will, and I'm afraid his mistress may have something to do with it. If she winds up with the inheritance, the insurance is all I've got left to care for my children."

She reached for her glam bag once more, this time taking it in her lap. "I've managed to put some money away over the years.” She pulled out a stack of lettuce that could choke a horse and placed it on the table in front of me. "I can pay you fifteen dollars a day plus expenses. A hundred and fifty up front and another five hundred to prove his death was a murder."

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[1] Small talk, a tit for tat conversation.
[2] Gumshoe was a slang word used for a detective.
[3] A woman with natural beauty; doesn't require any make-up to look good.
[4] Slang for a wedding ring.



Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination

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