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This guy is croaking on my doorstep, and he's saying, "Never mind me, I'm a goner, but the ones who did this, my little girl's with them, in the warehouse on 13th and Divine..."
"Which side is she on?"
"Is she on their side?"
"What made you so sure there was a crazy man behind this door?"
"Croak." That one sounded final.
I called the cops. The stairwell was full of people, the detective turned out to be a nasty bastard. "Did he say any last words?"
"No." None that made any sense.
"Did you know him?"
"Yeah, well, no one else seems to know him either. No ID. How do we know you didn't shoot him?"
"If I shot him, would he be trying to get in my door?"
That stopped him for a second. "All right, wise guy, just don't try to leave town."
"Ah - how long do I have to stay in town? I was thinking about getting out in the country, at least for the weekend."
"For a year, asshole," he snapped.
"A year? Suppose I just want to go out to the beach?"
"Call me first."
"You? You're not much fun. Besides, would you be free?"
His face took on a pinched, exhausted look. "I'm never free," he snarled.
Oh. Maybe that's why he's not much fun.
I'd made a third pot of coffee for the people in the hallway, begging them to return my cups, by the time the crowd had thinned down to the janitor mopping up.
"The cops don't know who he was," I told the janitor.
"They don't? Anybody'd recognize him, that was Jack Tinney, the society lawyer."
A lawyer? That sounded ominous.
I was in the kitchen, counting my cups, when it hit me. The girl. At first I thought he was talking about someone about 12 years old, but then I remembered the grey in his hair and started realizing she must be some older than that. And a number popped up. 17. And a chill ran up my spine. Was she Good? Bad? And what exactly was the difference?
And whose side was she on? Damned ambiguous lawyer language, no wonder contracts were so tricky. Was she a prisoner? Or were they feeding her doughnuts and taking turns trying to be charming?
13th and Divine. I happened to know those streets. 13th was all bars and strip joints, Divine was all churches. Exactly where they intersected was a little vague in my mind. Was he talking about Our Lady of the Warehouses, the one with the priest who tapdances? Or that gal who dresses like a nun who strips - what the hell was the name of that place?
A warehouse. He said a warehouse. Was he being metaphoric? And what exactly would that mean, metaphorically speaking? That one drew a blank.
And 13. And Divine. Was this some kind of final shootout between the forces of Good and Evil? And which side was I on? And which side was she on? And what would you wear to something like this?
I had a trenchcoat, light tan color, the wide lapels; it needed a fedora, the brim snapped down. I pulled my old one out from the top of the closet, and dug out my clothes brush. My courage returned as I accessorized.
Of course I had my gun, everybody has a gun, this is America, land of the home and the free and the brave. Courage is a full clip, bravery is a spare.
Which side was she on, again?
I dug around for exact change. This is the city.
On the bus this guy stared at me all the way out to Divine. At first I though he was on the side of Evil, then I began to wonder if he was on the side of Good, and that made me start wondering again which side I was on, and by the time I got off the bus on Divine, I looked both ways. 13th was down the street to my left, and that felt vaguely sinister. 14th was to my right and gave me the feeling of laundromats.
I loitered for a moment there at the bus stop, uncertain. It was drizzling. I looked down. My shoes were shined. A good sign, I was ready.
Our Lady of the Warehouses was on the southeast corner of Divine and 13th, just as I'd remembered. Just where was it that that nun stripped? I shook my head. Business first. And just what was my business here? I couldn't help noticing the warehouse just across Divine from the church. Oh, yeah. There was a taco stand on the other corner, and across from it, a pay parking lot.
I thought about a taco. It was right across 13th from the warehouse, on my way, and it would give me something to do while I came up with a plan. The rain was dripping down all around the brim of my fedora, but I could keep the taco dry if I held it close. If I'd been wearing a cowboy hat I could have supersized it, like the kid suggested, but this way only cost a buck, and a cowboy hat would have been conspicuous.
I stood there munching on it, staring at the warehouse. I could just go over and knock on the front door, but that'd be just what they'd expect me to do. I turned restlessly. The pay-park was empty, except for a big, black, stretch limo. I looked back at the warehouse. Didn't look like there was anybody there.
A movement caught my eye over in front of Our Lady of the Warehouses. Some guy in a fedora, carrying an unopened umbrella, was tapdancing in the rain, around the lamppost on the corner. [/i]Must be that priest,[/i] I thought, sounds like he's singing something.
I stared at the warehouse again, impatiently. The stupidest thing I could do was to go over and knock on that front door. They'd know that. That'd be the last thing they'd expect me to do. A smile curled the corner of my mouth. They wouldn't be expecting me to do that. My gaze drifted back to the big, black, stretch limo parked all by itself in the pay parking lot. Probably some church people, I thought absently. No wonder. That priest really can dance.
I walked across and knocked on the door. It opened, and when I stepped inside, this guy stuck a gun in my face.
"Put your hands up, asshole."
I put them up.
"Whadda you want?"
"Well, I- I- thought I might rent some storage."
"Whata you got to store?"
"Well, ah- you know, there's always stuff piling up in the apartment."
"Well, you know, old clothes, old boom boxes, instruction manuals for TV remotes. You know. Stuff."
"Okay, fourteen bucks."
"Fourteen bucks what?"
"Fourteen bucks for your stuff."
"I haven't got it with me, but-"
"To store your stuff. Fourteen bucks."
I paid him fourteen bucks and got a receipt. It had all this fine print at the bottom, and that worried me, but I couldn't help feeling exhilarated. Now I've got a place to store all my stuff!
But I felt vaguely as if I'd left something unsettled.