The point is that it's all so brilliant, and I wanted to share something with you all, because you're awesome.
(Warning: Infrequent coarse language and messy violence, including people dying, is in this story)
My fingers drum fast on the shiny, contemporary looking mug of coffee I had been given, and I sip at the beautiful contents unhurriedly. I had said that the man that had rung me, Mr White, better have had a good excuse for waking me up this early. White had only needed to hint at a five digit pay check down the phone line, and I was in the car and down at his office in minutes. As I had been driving, I checked my bank account balance on my Blackberry and sighed- just as I had expected. I had next to no money left. My last real case had been months ago.
I didn't know much about Mr White, but I knew that his staff served excellent coffee. Draining the last of it, I lean back on the couch in the foyer of his enormous building, and reach a hand up to pull my light-brown hat low over my features. No sooner had I closed my eyes to catch up on some sleep did the secretary call my name.
"Mr Reynolds, Mr White is ready to see you now."
I sigh from beneath my hat. "Tell him I'm not ready."
There’s silence from the secretary's desk on the other side of the room and I peek from beneath my hat. The woman is giving me a deathly stare. Not one for jokes, obviously. Oh, well.
I take my hat in hand and marched to Mr White's office. He’s the head of a well-known newspaper in the city, and this being the newspaper headquarters, meant that I have to ride the elevator up thirty-five floors. It only takes me less than a minute, but it’s been forever since I'd needed to wake up early, so I almost fall asleep in it, even when some others step in to use the elevator.
I shake my head to clear the haze from my vision and move confidently into the sea of reporters all dashing across the room. There are cameras everywhere, being held aloft or checked for the best shots. I weave in between them and pull my hat low. I hate photos of me. If I ever was to have a mortal enemy, an arch nemesis, it'd be reporters.
Reaching the large office at the end of the room, I push the door open without hesitating and close it behind me. And then I turn around to the old .45 pistol being stuck in my face.
In my profession, quite a lot of handguns have been aimed at me. Two were being dual wielded by a crazy man I had been chasing. It wasn't easy to get out of these situations.
My shoulders tense up. I could always try talking my way out of it. I observe the man holding the gun. He is Mr White, alright. He wears a crumpled suit, and has a slight stoop. His crinkled brow settles over bloodshot eyes. It’s the eyes and the scent of liquor that stops me from reasoning. The eyes... They are the eyes of someone who has had a sleepless night. And in the morning tried to have a drink to calm themself down.
I casually peer over Mr White's shoulder. Yep, there it is, on his desk. A bottle of gin, the glass stopper and a half full glass next to it.
"Whaddya doing? Who're you?" Mr White asks me, slurring his Australian accent.
"I'm Jacob Reynolds," I answer, shooting my arm up to push his gun hand out the way. There is an ugly ring on my right hand that’s definitely not for looks. Its real purpose is as a sinister step up in most fights.
The sharpened edges of the ring don't break his skin, but it does leave his wrist jarred. He cries out angrily and I slap the gun away with my other hand. It falls, muted on the ground and before Mr White can retaliate, I grip his collar and backhand him. It isn’t a hard slap. But it does knock some sense into him.
He slumps into a chair and hangs his head. I repeat my name, slower, and put the pistol into his desk drawer. I leave the gin where it is.
"Oh god..." he begins. “I’m so sorry. I'm just..."
"Start from the beginning," I tell him firmly. I take the other seat.
"Well, I... My daughter... My daughter, Miranda, is missing."
I slowly raise my right eyebrow at him. Raised eyebrows, I've come to realize, are timeless.
He gives me a pained look and answers the question before I can ask it. "I didn't go to the police because...you know how they'd find her. They would send some amateur to go and interview three street people and then go bumbling back to the police station. Missing people aren't their priority."
"Ok..." I say, flipping out a notepad and pencil. I could use my phone, I know. But where's the fun with that?
I scribble down notes as he talks. "She...she's one for the parties. Every night, she'll be all over the new pubs in the city, and will come back intoxicated as hell. We've talked about her stopping. I don't think she's listened."
"So you woke me up and made me drive here, just so you could point a gun at my face, all because you think your daughter's missing? She could be at a friend’s house, incapacitated 'cos of a hangover."
"I've been distraught," White responds sullenly.
"I couldn't give a rat's hairy ar-"
"The suitcase over there. It’s yours."
Mr White catches me off guard. "...What?"
"The case. Check it."
There was a sudden gleam in the old man's eye. I slowly pick up the case he’s gesturing to, and flip the catches. Inside are row upon row of stacked one hundred dollar bills.
Mr White sits back, almost triumphant. "And you get the other twenty grand when you find my Miranda and bring her back."
I open my mouth to remind him that it probably isn’t anything serious, but then I remember the twenty grand and decide to change tactic. "So, what does Miranda look like?" I ask him instead, and begin to look important by scribbling in my notepad as if I am taking notes. In actual fact, I’m doodling a house made up of $100 bills.
"She's medium sized. Thin. Black hair. Here-" He slides me a photo. She isn’t what you'd call a catch, but she isn’t too dull either. Simple features stretch into a smile on her face, as she poses for a shot in a park.
"Thought you said she was either intoxicated or hung-over all the time. She looks neither here."
Mr White looks away. "This was before she started drinking."
"Well, it's a start. Why'dya think someone would kidnap her?"
He looks around furtively, as if there might be someone else in the office with us. "To get to me," he whispers.
"Riiiiiight..." I say, finishing off my little doodle with a flourish of my pen. Now, there is a stick man 'me' standing outside the money-house, hand resting on a crudely drawn convertible.
"I'm serious!" Mr White insists. "There's this...group, of people...they've been after me for a while now, I don't know why..."
He’s rambling. I try not to visibly sigh and turn a new page on my note book. Through his mutterings I grab pieces of information and scribble them down for later. Rundle Street, the busiest road in Adelaide. Something about the sunset. I flip to the last page and take a quick look at the room. I try not to be too focused, but you never know what you’ll learn in another’s office. I write down a name here, ‘Silver’ or something, an address there. And then I’m back to listening to Mr White’s rambles again.
According to him, the people who are after him seem to dress in weird, 1950's suits with fedora hats to match. Kinda like me. I have an old trenchcoat, real P.I style, given to me from my grandfather when I was younger. I never do a case without it.
"Like the mafia?" I suggest when Mr White goes on and on about the clothing of these people. He glares at me as if I’m a child who was in need of a huge scolding. I grin back.
"Hey, take it easy. I'll find her. Any tips on where I should start- now that I know who to look for."
Mr White sighs himself, and the lines on his face grow even deeper. "Try Rundle. Botanic road, you know. Just follow the line of pubs, and I'm sure you'll find something."
All in all, I don’t have much. I take the photo and pocket it. I have that. I have a name; Miranda White. I have... I have ramblings about the sunset and a crew of noir people who are supposedly out to get the man in front of me. Yeah, I don’t have that much.
I casually touch my brow with two fingers in a salute to the old man as I walk out with the suitcase in hand, and once again launch myself into the sea of reporters. I take the elevator again, and there's an uncomfortably cramped ride of about two minutes. I walk out, smile at the sunny day, and hail a taxi. I know my car's parked somewhere, but I'm feeling like I just want to repeat my instructions to a cabby. It's that kind of day.
A taxi pulls up, but before I can get in, a firm grip tightens onto my shoulder, and a small, metallic cylinder is jabbed above my thighs. The man with the gun hidden by his jacket forces me to keep moving, until we're both in a turn off no-one uses anymore. He pushes me away and raises the pistol into eyesight. It's the second .45 that's been shoved into my face today. Looking past the gun, I see a smartly dressed man, with a nice hat and some black material pulled up around his mouth to obscure it from view. I think of attacking him and knocking the gun from his hands but dismiss the idea in a second. If the man's intentions were to shoot me, he'd have done so already.
The man cocked his head to the side. “Nice coat.”
“Nice suit,” I reply warily.
The man sighs, and nods to something behind me. I go to turn and something hits me in the head, hard.
I awake in familiar surroundings. My apartment floor, trashed with stuff that had been neatly stacked earlier. How nice.
I massage my head and wobble to my feet. Yep, my room has been searched, carelessly. I kick through the shards of plates on the ground, and shoulder my towards my bedroom. Thank God, I think to myself when I reach my bedside table and rest my hands on the small wooden box. I open it on perfect hinges and let a grin spread across my face at the polished Smith and Wesson revolver inside. My hands go to my pocket and I pull out the photo of Miranda’s face. Her face has been crossed out with a large, red ‘X’.
“Well that can’t be good…” I look around and frown when my eyes settle on the briefcase on my bed. It’s the same one from Mr White, and upon further inspection I realise that not a single note is missing. They had held me at gunpoint and trashed my apartment. They had searched my pockets and found the photo, drawing a large, discouraging ‘X’ on it. And yet they hadn’t taken the money.
“Ah-hah…” I mutter, picking up the note on the underside of the briefcase’s lid.
‘Take the money and go. Believe us, this case isn’t worth it.’
It wasn’t even signed. The rudeness of people these days…
I would take the money, alright. But I wasn’t about the give up the case. All the mysterious noir folk had done was make me want to find Miranda even more.
The revolver sits comfortably in its holster under my arm when I walk out of my apartment and onto the street outside. Nod to a passer-by, jog the few metres to my car, and turn the ignition in less than ten seconds. I was sad to see that it was almost night-time; I must have been out for a while. My place wasn’t too far from Rundle Street, and I had nothing better to do, so that’s where I start driving to. The noir-folk are most definitely watching my actions, just waiting to see what I’ll do. I don’t plan on disappointing.
The sun’s starting to set, and I suddenly remember what Mr White said. In one smooth movement I slam my foot onto the brake, turn the wheel and pull the handbrake upwards. There’s the honking or car horns behind me, but I don’t care. My car’s jammed the traffic, I notice when I kick the door open and make my way to the pavement.
I stop in the sidewalk, just as the sun sets. Use your eyes.
I close my eyes. Darkness. I open them. The street looks just as normal as it was before.
And then…I open my eyes again.
I don’t know how. I just…thought about it, and didn’t think about it, all at the same time. Suddenly, I could see them as they slowly detached themselves from the sides of buildings, as they exited their cars and donned their hats, as they finished their meals and stood, simultaneously.
They melt into the crowd of people, but if I look hard enough, I can see them moving in one direction, pushing past people to reach an unseen goal.
No-one notices them. They blend perfectly. Only if you were looking for them, like me, could you see them.
I start running after them.
They’re not easy to follow. You’d think that I could tail them easily, if they’re all wearing the same clothes and moving in the same direction. But as I weave through the masses of city folk, hat pulled low, their forms keep bobbing in and out of my vision, and sometimes disappear completely. They’ve had some practice…
And then they disappear. Completely.
“Shit,” I mutter. I duck around and wonder if they had noticed me. But they don’t reappear. Where am I? Further down Rundle Street. Rundle Mall. Right ahead of me, shining in the gloom, are the two metallic silver orbs, a large metal construction that’s in the middle of Rundle Mall. People laugh and already there’s the hint of music further down the street, but I’m trying to zone it all out of my head and focus on where my quarry is. There’s a multitude of small lanes leading away from Rundle Mall.
“You’re a detective, for God’s sake,” I say to myself and pick one at random. “Act like one!”
The odour of rotting meat hits me like a punch to my stomach, causing me to back up a few steps. The stench is coming from a stall off to my left, just inside the small alleyway. I peek into it, hand over my mouth and eyes watering, and find nothing but a couple of slaughtered animals that were obviously never used or thrown out. The owner is no-where to be seen.
The alley leads back to another main road. There’s nowhere that they could have hidden here.
The next alley is more promising. Along the right side are a couple of parking garages, all locked down. The right side has some brightly lit stores, but none that look like the kind of place I’d find a large group of fedora and bowler hat wearing people.
But further down… I glimpse at a man, black hat pulled low, leaning against the brick wall behind him. Normal guy, nothing suspicious about him. His suit’s grubby in an I-couldn’t-care-less-what-gets-on-my-shirt kind of way. He flips a coin. He’s right handed, I can see.
I walk up to him, and the sounds of Rundle Mall and the traffic die down a bit. I’m mesmerised by the coin. It spins, flipping end over end, before landing perfectly on his thumbnail for him to flip it again. He must have had practice.
Even when I’m less than two metres away, he doesn’t look up. And when I stand before him, arms crossed and glaring, he still doesn’t. A smile spreads under his hat.
“Boom, boom, boom, boom…Gonna shoot you right down.” He whispers quietly in a thick American drawl, just enough so I can hear. “Take ya right offa ya feet..”
“That a threat?” I say, unimpressed. He just chuckles at me, and gives me his full attention, looking at me from head to toe.
“It’s John Lee Hooker, 1961. ‘Boom boom.’” He nods and finishes scrutinizing me. “You’re not getting inside, you know. You may look like us, but you’re not.”
For the first time, I notice the rich brown wooden door behind him. Above it is a lacquered and polished wooden plaque. It reads “The Good Ship”.
Ah. He’s a bouncer. “That where everyone else went? I misplaced the invite, honest.”
“Nice try,” he says. “But I’m not telling, and as far as I can tell, there wasn’t an invite. Now beat it.”
Damn. I put my hands on my hips and look around the alley. It’s empty. The bouncer pulls out his coin and starts flipping it again, apparently uninterested with me once me. I feel the weight of my revolver under my arm and crick my neck restlessly. I can’t shoot him; I’d be arrested for breaking a dozen laws before he hit the ground, and he knows it.
I would have really liked to slip him a bribe, but I didn’t think of taking the suitcase of money with me, and my wallet is bone dry. But now that I think about it, there is something else in my pocket that I could use.
“Just one last thing before I go,” I tell him, and he looks up with a bored expression. My left hand opens my trenchoat up a bit, and pulls the mug shot of Miranda out. I show it to him. “Have you seen this girl?”
There’s a flicker of recognition. If my eyes hadn’t been figuratively boring holes into his head, I wouldn’t have seen the slight change of his features. He fumbles with the coin and it clinks to the ground.
“Uh, no-” he begins. I don’t let him finish, because the butt of my gun smashes into his right hand.
He swings a punch with his uncrippled left hand but because it isn’t his writing hand I grab it easily and fling it away. The butt of my gun connects with his chin and he crumples.
I prop him up against the brick wall and tilt his hat so that it’s covering his face. He’ll be fine, but there’ll be a killer of a headache tomorrow morning.
Through The Good Ship’s wooden door and I’ve stepped into another world. Smoke rises up and obscures the eyes like a thin veil. Over the sound system- no, from the jukebox plays the low voice of, incidentally, John Lee Hooker. All around the sides of the room are booths with cushioned benches. And I’m not talking, retro-70’s red cushioned benches. I’m talking, brown leather, real brown leather cushioning that’s shadowed by the suits that sit on them.
The bar straight across from me has one bartender, lines creasing his snarl as he conjures up all of his hatred for the world and throws it at everyone in the room, as usual. The same old dirty glass and dirtier rag. Greenish-brownish vest and hat on the bench beside him. I make a beeline for him, feeling all the eyes of the noir folk trained on me. So, I found them, my head thinks rapidly. …Now what?
“A glass of your finest,” I say to the barman, putting on my best American accent. But he knows. They all do. I fit right in- my hat, my coat, my gun, everything. Hell, I had even tried the American accent. But there’s a look in the bartender’s eye that I know is mirrored on everyone else’s, a look that says ‘We know who you are, Jacob Reynolds. And we know the bouncer would never let you in- willingly.’
“Of what?” Mr Barman spits at me. Literally. I make a show of wiping it off my face. It doesn’t matter. The barman doesn’t… look like the kind of guy who’d organise my house being trashed and the kidnapping of a drunken girl. So I move on. The entire room is still quiet as the grave, and I can’t shake the feeling that all of these people, who seemed to melt through the crowd as easily as breathing, who, as Mr White thinks, stole his teenage daughter and as I believe, made a mess of my apartment, have all got semi-automatic weapons under their tables or in their jackets. I have a six-shooter under my arm, but six shots isn’t anything against a room full of armed gangsters.
It’s just a hunch, of course. I reach the first table, give all the people there a bright smile, and ask the nearest man for a light. He’s jumpy, and flicks out a personal lighter from his pocket. The flame ignites the cigarette I now clamp between my teeth. And I study his fingers while it does. Nothing new there. Normal, worn down fingers.
When he flips the lid shut and pockets his lighter, the cigarette in my hand suspiciously burns out. “Ah, hell,” I tell them in a loud voice. “It went out! No, don’t you worry; I’ll ask someone else this time- how about you, sir…”
I’ve moved fast to the next table. The man I am talking to just regards me coolly. “Don’t have one. Piss off.”
I flash my smile and move to the man across from him. It’s another jumpy guy who avoids my gaze. “Hey, how’re ya doing? Good? Good! Light, please.”
He obliges without a word, his entire arm wobbling around. The fire from his silver lighter hits the end of my cigarette, and I give my fullest attention to his fingers.
“Say,” I begin, spitting out my cig. “There’s a red smudge on your fingers. Any idea what that’d be from…?”
The entire joint held its breath. “Uhhh…” the man before me murmured. “I, uh, cut myself.”
“Really? Cos it looks like a red Texta to me. Kinda like…this.”
The photo of Miranda with the red Texta cross on her face is in my hand in an instant, and my gun barrel is pressed to his head as well. And in a flash, a dozen gun barrels are trained at me. Looking around, I see that even the bartender has an ancient Tommy gun pointed my way. I’m smiling the entire time.
“I’m sorry, have I offended someone?”
“Everyone.” Says a man near the back. He stands, slowly. “So leave.”
“Not without at least this man- I’m afraid he’ll have to come with me for breaking and entering.” I point at the jumpy man next to me.
The old man at the back just laughed. Loudly. And then the men around the room joined in, until the entire group was laughing at me, their gun barrels waving.
“HAH HAH HAH HAH!” I yell suddenly. “That’s funny! A real cracker! You guys should do stand up!”
That shuts them up. “No, but seriously,” I continue. “What’s so funny?”
The old man straightens his blood red tie. “Because- you have no jurisdiction here. You pull a pair of handcuffs and we’ll pull our triggers, and not no-one in the ‘verse would care.”
“You sure you’re not the Mafia?” I ask him, an idea forming in my head.
“Ah. Well, that’s a shame. You would make a good mobster. You couldn’t keep the American accents, of course. Anyways, we’ll be going now.”
I pull the scared man to his feet and start half dragging him, half leading him to the door. The good thing was that he didn’t resist and weakly walked with me. The bad thing was that the moment I got halfway to the door, five men stood up and barred my way.
The one directly in front looms menacingly above me. His unshaved face and yellowed teeth melted perfectly together and I had no choice but to subconsciously name him Mr Yellow Teeth Beard-Guy.
“S’cuse me,” I told him, pushing past. He was in front of me again in a second, and his friends surrounded me. “Fine! Have it your way!” I dropped the scared man at my feet and whipped out my revolver, lowering it to my side. Mr Yellow Teeth wasn’t looming so menacingly now. I could see the gears in his head slowly moving, working out his chances of living if he decided to make a violent move. Eventually, he gave in and started to step to the side.
But there was a ‘heeeaawk- putt!’ behind me. It was the bartender, coughing bile up from his clogged lungs and depositing it on the bench. He nods to the room at large. “We’re all armed too, actually. We’ll kill you in a second.”
“I know,” I say, and pull the trigger on my gun, blowing off Mr Yellow Teeth’s kneecap.
“Oh my God!” he screeches, collapsing. No-one makes a move. I raise my gun and train it on the next man’s forehead. He scurries back, with his friends.
“You can’t kill all of us!” the bartender spits again. He pulls the mechanism on his Tommy gun and grins wickedly.
“You’re running out of excuses,” I say tiredly. I reach down and pull the jumpy man from before to his feet and drag him to the door again. “If you really wanted to kill me, you would have done it the moment I stepped through the door.”
I step out of the door and it swings shut behind me, and everything’s normal and the sound of traffic returns and industrial smoke is spiralling through the air instead of the smoke of a cigarette. I breathe the air in deeply and pat the head of the man I brought with me as he whimpers. “Don’t worry. The policemen I know are really, really nice people…”
“Where are the bodies?”
“Why do you have a bowler hat and not a fedora?”
“Are you racist against fedoras? Is that what you were doing last Wednesday, killing fedoras?”
“Don’t answer that! What’s pie times five hundred and eighty four?”
“If Holly has five billion dollars, and Rory has eight, how much cocaine do you currently have at your house?”
John and Johnson, the twins, stand in the interrogating room, rapid firing questions at the scared man I had brought in. I watch from the other side of the one way mirror, sipping from some coffee. It’s been only thirty minutes since I exited The Good Ship, and since then I’ve driven to the police station, chucked the scared man in an interrogation room and sat back to enjoy the show.
So far, John and Johnson are doing pretty good. While most interrogators take on the classic ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ routine, these two work a completely different style. More of, ‘Bad Cop, Bad Cop, and be damned if we don’t ask a lot of nonsensical questions’.
Their tactic works well, surprisingly enough. After being confused by the constant barrage of words, the criminal would crack and spill their metaphorical guts all over the table. Suddenly, John and Johnson stand back to review their work. The man in front of them, the one that I had pulled from The Good Ship, is a mess. His once-clean hair is tangled and streaked with dirt, although how, I’m not quite sure. His eyes are wide and he blinks every two seconds, as if he can’t believe what’s happening.
John and Johnson shake their heads in union. “He doesn’t know anything,” John says, turning around and winking at me through the mirror.
“Well, that’s too bad,” Johnson sighs, genuinely sounding sad. “Guess we’ll just have to throw him into jail for a couple of months, see if that’ll loosen his tongue.”
The man handcuffed to his seat now grins. “Hah. You can’t do that; I know how the system works. In fact, you can’t even hold me here. You have no evidence of anything.”
“Ahh, but that’s not entirely true. Y’see, we have a little…agreement of sorts with the local prison.”
Johnson picks up from where John had stopped. “Yeah, the agreement goes like this: We chuck someone in there, and because the criminals there are already in prison, they can’t really do anything worse, can they?”
“So,” Johnson says, and smiles at the new fear in the man’s eyes. “Then, the crims in there have a blank cheque, so to speak, to do whatever they want to whoever we put in there. We’ve had the toughest man in Adelaide thrown in there, to come out a week later with gashes all over his arms and face.”
“He was crying,” John adds.
The man at the table isn’t looking so sure now. He twiddles his fingers worriedly. “You’re kidding.”
“Nope. Why, you alright? You’re looking a little green there.”
Johnson tilts his head. “Actually, I’d say he was a bit orange. Orange, like…the colour of a prisoner’s jumpsuit.”
John picks up the cup of coffee he had taken in with him and goes to walk out. He nods to Johnson. “Oh, and of course, they’ll pick on you instantly. Hone in on you because of your weakness.”
“Ah, indeed. That limp he’s got will make him a sure target.” Johnson makes a little motion above his head, and the camera in the top corner of the room blinks off.
“Limp?” the man frowns. “What li-”
Johnson moves to the man’s side and kicks his leg as hard as possible. I swear from my position that it’s been kicked so that it almost bends the other way.
The man howls in pain and clutches at his leg. Johnson signals to the camera again and it blinks back online. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Johnson tells the man. “You fell. Are you alright now?”
“Alright!” the man screams. “My name is Hamish! Please don’t send me to jail! They’ll kill me!”
John and Johnson are back at the questions in a second. But now, they’ve broken Hamish and are down to the questions that matter.
“Who owns The Good Ship?” John begins.
“How did you become a member of the group?” Johnson follows up.
“Who are the other members? What is it all about?”
“Why meet up at sundown? Are you some crazy band of vampires?”
Hamish lowers his head, hesitating. His leg sends shockwaves of pain running through him every second. His pain clouds his mind and he can’t rid himself of the cloud.
He starts talking.
“Well, that was fun,” Johnson says, waking me up as he walks out of the interrogation room and into the one I had been lounging in. John follows him and they both slap palms, grinning.
“Hey, I was asleep!” My feet hit the ground and I stand up, swaying. “What’d you get from him?”
“Are you kidding?” John asks me, going straight to the coffee machine. “The better question- what didn’t we get from him!”
“He gave us everything, from how much money in his wallet to how many hairs he thinks are on his head. Five billion, in case you want to know.”
“I don’t,” I say, surprised. “What about The Good Ship? What’d he have on that?”
“Well…” John looks at Johnson and the latter shrugs back. “Not a lot. Turns out the guy just recently joined. But, we do know that he was one of the people who trashed your house, and yes, drew a big red cross on the photo of Miranda to try and scare you off. It was all a part of his initiation into the group.”
Johnson picks up and I lean back against the wall, arms folded. “They meet up, every day at sundown, at The Good Ship. Sit down and smoke huge cigars, play poker and drink a lot. No-one bothers them. So they’re left alone in their little bar, reminiscing about days where everyone owned a fedora, dressed smartly and carried a sidearm.”
I’m impressed. I didn’t expect this much good information. But there’s one other thing.
“And Miranda?” I ask. “Surely he must know something about her.”
John grinned. “It’s your lucky day. She’s in one of the cellar rooms, through the door behind the bar. Their boss said not to touch her, too.”
It’s my turn to smile. “Perfect. You guys have outdone yourself, yet again.”
“We know,” they say in unison.
Normally with a client, I’d stop by or ring them up, just to fill them in on all of the details before I take any other steps. It’s much appreciated by most of them. Unfortunately, on this particular case, I never did get Mr White’s number, so after a sleepless night in my still-ruined apartment, I drive up during lunch the next day. It doesn’t matter. I want to see the reaction on his face when I give him the good news, anyhow.
The elevator I take is filled with silence and the quiet music in the background. I realise for the first time in my life that all elevator music is boring. If ever I own an elevator (which I highly doubt) I’ll change the music to the Mission Impossible theme or something just a little faster paced.
The doors open and instead of being hit by a wall of sound, of papers being shuffled and keys being clacked furiously, I’m met with nothing. The entire room is frozen. People are standing and peering at the office at the end of the hall, eyes wide.
“What happened?” I grab the nearest man, who seems to have dropped all of his papers but doesn’t move to pick them up.
“Five guys,” he mutters, still trying to look at the office. “Two guys came up through the elevator, and pushed everyone out the way until they reached Mr White’s office. They haven’t come out since. We heard a noise, a bang. His doors are almost soundproof, so it would have had to be very loud…”
“Did anyone call the police?” I say, angrily. “Didn’t anyone do anything?”
There’s no answer. Once again, I have to clear things up. I have to make things right. I move through the frozen sea of people and reach Mr White’s office, and pause, hand on the door knob. The bang that they heard could be a gunshot. When I go in, I’ll have to act fast, if they’re armed. But I can’t just blow off their kneecaps like I did to the man before. I have some kind of idea that I’d be arrested for something like that, in public…
“Everyone back up,” I whisper behind me, and slowly, the reporters creep behind their cubicle walls. One or two are still peeking over the top, video cameras and iPhones raised. I ignore them, and brace myself for the next few moments. If ever I know that I’m going to jump right into danger, I always have to stop and think for a moment. Think that maybe I’ll be coming out of the office in a body bag. Think that maybe I’ll be coming back with handcuffs around my wrists. And then, thinking over, I have to kick the door in and punch the nearest man in the face.
He falls back, surprised at my sudden entrance, and I quickly swing my head around, eyes and mind working overtime to take everything in at once. The other man is on the other side of the desk, gun in hand but lowered by his side. He looks surprised also. At his feet is a beaten Mr White, who squints at me with his one good eye. The other is purple in colour and closed shut in pain. Everyone, from the man I punched who now is falling to the ground, to me and the man with the gun, seems to move as if through honey, not air. I use the momentum I gained by running into the room to vault over the desk with my left hand. My right hand reaches for the man’s gun, but misses and catches his jacket instead. My feet press firmly into the carpeted ground and I’m spinning, fist swinging in an underarm punch to his gut. He folds, but only slightly, and steps back to give him some elbow room. His gun arm is moving upwards, slowly in my eyes, his finger tight on the sidearm’s trigger. And suddenly it’s level with my face and I can see the determination in his eyes, the glint of anger and the fleck of insanity.
He fires the shot, and even I can’t track the bullet. But I feel it, oh God, I feel it, carving a tiny trench along my left shoulder as it grazes past. I hear the shatter of glass and know it’s broken the window in its path. The pain sets in as my hand closes around the barrel of the pistol, twisting it to the side as he goes to shoot again. I can almost sense the other man is behind me now, and I move as fast as I can to wrestle the gun away and pistol whip its owner’s forehead so that he falls unconscious.
As he starts to fall, my arms swing the gun around and take aim directly at the first man’s head. He freezes, and everything seems to speed up to normal. We’re both breathing heavily and I can feel the burning pain in my shoulder. All of it, from me kicking the door in to grabbing the gun, has only lasted less than maybe fifteen seconds.
The man in front of me is from The Good Ship, or something close to it. He wears the same 50’s suit, same grey hat and smart shoes. His hand is halfway inside his jacket, most likely gripping a pistol as well. But he’s staring squarely at the gun I’m aiming at him, and waits for me to make a move.
“Drop it!” I yell at him. “I have a goddamn bullet wound in my shoulder and I’m in half a mind to shoot you right here and now! Drop it!”
He slowly lowers the pistol to the ground, and straightens his back with raised hands. I reach into my left pocket to find some handcuffs, and he springs into action.
He’s just as fast as me. His forehead slams into mine and I feel myself falling back. I know without a doubt that if I stay on the ground for more than a second, he won’t let me get back up. So I scramble back up and swing the pistol around as hard as I can. There’s a crack and a cry of pain. My vision clears up and I see him cradling his head with one hand and crawling with the other towards the gun he dropped before. With sudden anger, I lift him to his feet and slam his back against the office wall. I raise his friend’s gun and point it right between his eyes, until he registers what it is and is gasping in pain and fear.
“Please…Please, d-don’t…” He whispers, barely audible.
And I smile, that crazy, let’s-find-out-what-colour-your-insides-are smile, the one that promises Hell and witty conversations, that unnerves every person on the planet because only I know what there is to be smiling about.
I move the gun a fraction to my right and pull the trigger again and again, the gunshots ringing in my ears until I can’t hear anything and only feel the slight thump as the bullets bury themselves into the concrete wall beside the man’s head. After five or so shots, the gun clicks empty and the slide sits back. The man’s eyes are larger than dinner plates, and he can’t stop shaking.
“I’m not like you,” I tell him, before I smack the butt of the pistol into his head. He’s snoring before he hits the ground.
Finally, silence. I turn and help Mr White to his feet. He’s speaking, but my hearing still hasn’t returned. I fish his gun out of his draw and clasp it in his hand.
“I know where Miranda is. It’s a small bar off of Rundle Street, called The Good Ship. I’m going there now,” I tell him. It was time to end this.
My trenchcoat protects me from the rain as I stride down the alleyway that holds the building I am after. It had taken me five minutes of driving to realise that my arm was still bleeding. It was the adrenaline, I suppose. I had stumbled into a fast food stop and grabbed the entire box of napkins and some kind of apron lying across the counter, and ran straight out and back to the car. It was all tied up now, but still hurt like hell.
I reach the door and go to push it in, revolver in hand. But through all my anger and pain from the shoulder wound, I hesitate. There’s no bouncer. And the door seems… I don’t know, cold to touch. I shrug and open the door, stepping inside.
But instead of a jump back to the past, to cigar smoke and 50’s suits, there’s just an empty, ransacked bar and the body of the barman dead and slumped over a few spilt drinks. I freeze, and the door closes softly behind me on its own hinges. The entire bar is devoid of people. The occasional hat has been simply left in the booths lining either side of me. I creep forward, gun slightly raised. I’m not sure what exactly happen. Why’s the barman dead? Where the hell is everyone?
There’s a sound, not in the room, but coming from the door behind the bar. I leap to the side and dive into the cover of a deserted booth. Listening intently I hear the door open and two different sets of shoes creak along and stop at the bar. They’re idly chatting, and one even opens a bottle from the bar and starts drinking it.
“…The barman? Nah, I was stacking the liquor in the back. I saw that trenchcoat guy come in before and shoot Hale’s knee almost in two, but when he left, so did I. All I heard was the bartender arguing with the others, and then a gunshot. Then as you know, we get the call to get up and get going, you know.”
Ahhh, I think to myself, trying to breathe as quietly as I can. So obviously, they didn’t like what he was arguing. I wonder what it was?
“Heh, I was there,” the other man says, and takes a swig. “The bartender guy- I can’t even remember his name, I don’t think anyone did- was spitting at everyone that we should chase down that detective, silence him, y’know?” He took another gulp of the drink. “Anyways, next thing I know, Silvio is talking all quiet like asking if the bartender dare to disrespect him. Then, blam! A .45 bullet, right between the eyes. That’s when he told everyone we’re gonna pack up and leave this morning. ‘No-one worries about the PI,’ he says. He’ll deal with it hisself.”
“Yeah, but how?” the first guy says.
“You knows Silvio. That detective’s as good as dead.”
“Not quite,” I say, standing up and grinning at them. They’re frozen, like deer caught in the headlights. The bottle of liquor is half raised to one of their lips and quietly pours onto the floor.
“Um,” the first man says.
“’Um’ indeed,” I tell him, and in a flurry of movement he pushes the barman’s body to the ground and aims the Tommy gun he had been clutching with his dead hands at me. The man squeezes off a shot that thuds into the wall on my left. I hold my ground and ever-so-slowly raise my eyebrow at them. “Nice shot.”
He fires again, holding down the trigger and spewing bullets all over the room. I would be dead if I stayed still, so I spring sideways as the Tommy gun rips up the floorboards beneath me. I heave at the table I’m closest to and flip it on its side to give me more cover as I crouch behind it. I try and bring up everything I’ve learnt in old Noir films. I remember one film with a gun fight in a bar. As far as I remember, everyone died in the end. This doesn’t particularly help me, as the man stops firing and sets his aim better.
“Come out! We don’t want to hurt you!” he calls.
I pick up my hat and slowly raise it out of cover and into his view. A gunshot rings out and it’s whipped from my hand. “You said you wouldn’t hurt me!” I call out, looking sadly at my hat with a bullet hole in it, on the ground by my feet.
“My finger slipped!” the voice calls out. “Come out now, we won’t shoot you, I promise.”
I pick up my hat again and throw it into the air. A volley of gun fire rips it apart and I sigh. Of course they were lying. There’s no way they were going to let me live, and now I’ve wasted my perfectly good hat.
“Bastards!” I yell at them, and leap out of cover, revolver drawn. Too late I see the door behind the bar swinging shut and the distant footsteps. I cuss at everything and leap the bar table, going straight for the door behind it. In their haste they didn’t even bother to lock it, so it swings forward easily at my touch. I’m in a dark, cement hallway with flickering lights further on that cast a bluish façade to everything. There are doors on the side but I don’t bother with their dust-covered handles and keep my focus on catching up with the two men.
The corridor turns sharply left up ahead, so I try not to waste momentum and kick off from the wall, sprinting as soon as both my feet touch the ground again. It has started to slope downwards and I realise that we must be in some sort of underground tunnel. The two men are about thirty metres ahead of me, I think. It’s kind of hard to tell with the dim lighting. One stops and is kicking down a door, and the other turns my way and slams on the Tommy’s trigger.
Bullets spew forth and rip up the wall on my left. The man brings his aim back under control but before he can fire I use my shoulder to bash a door open. I didn’t have much time and wasn’t thinking about the wound in my shoulder that I had gotten back in Mr White’s office. It reopens painfully and I huddle in the dark room as gunfire is still heard.
I try and take in my surroundings quickly. It’s a store room, stacked high with vintage wines and whiskeys. A dusty bottle sits on the ground, three-quarters empty. It’ll do, I think, and pour some directly through my shirt and onto the wound.
The gunfire stops and I smile. Finally, he’s out of ammo. I’m back on my feet, throwing the bottle to the ground and dashing out into the corridor. It’s empty once more. I reach the door they were kicking down and run in, eyes scanning it side to side. This is no storeroom.
Bare, cement walls. A hard metal bed frame on the opposite side of the room. A foul smelling pot under it. It’s some sort of cell. Suddenly, I hear a woman’s scream from the corridor and I have no doubt as to who was staying here.
My legs carry my out into the corridor, through a right turn and another kicked down door, and into the sunlight. It blinds me for a moment and I stumble forward, following the screams. Then my eyes adjust and I’m on Rundle Street again. The tunnel must have been some sort of loop.
Everyday people mill around their business, none stopping to help the girl being dragged into a car by the two men I was chasing. They are twenty metres to my right, but I can still see her face clearly. I don’t even need to check the photo in my pocket to know it is her.
Miranda screams one last time before the door slams shut and the two men get in the front. I look to my left, further down the road. I know my car is there, I recognise this place. But there are too many people between me and it. Too many civilians, eyes locked ahead and ignoring my attempts to get through. Vaguely, I feel myself raise my gun into the air and fire it once, twice to scatter the horde. The gunshots shatter the people’s narrowed paths and they yell in fright and through the chaos I have inadvertently created, I can see I direct route to my car.
My shoulder hits a middle-aged man as I barrel through in my attempt to get to the car. Every sound that comes through my ears is muted as if I’m underwater. The man’s surprised grunt as he crashes to the ground, the gun as I fire it into the air yet again. And distantly, the sound of the other car, rumbling to life and peeling out onto the street.
And then I’m in the car, and the keys leap to my hand without me even thinking. Turn the keys, engine turns over and then roars as my prey begins to escape me. I gun it without removing the hand brake, letting the wheels spin restlessly. And then I yank the wheel to the left and remove the brake, letting the car lurch forward and after the black car ahead.
I don’t care how many laws I have broken in the last few minutes, and still am breaking. The speedometer rockets and I still can’t quite reach them, can’t catch up that last thirty metres to their car. It turns at the last second onto a tiny side street ahead, and the wheels of my car struggle for purchase as I do too. We’re away from Rundle Street now, away from the civilians and security cameras. The road we’re on is little more than an alleyway with sides barely bigger than the width of both our cars. The black car ahead is a bit bigger than mine, however, and the driver more careless. He loses his side review mirrors to a dumpster on one side and the brick wall on the other. I weave in between both with the little manoeuvrability I can manage. A main road is up ahead and my inner map of the city imprinted on my mind after years of living here, names it as Grenfell Street. The black car shoots out into the main road and I rev the engine, getting ready for the chase to be renewed. Just before I exit the alley as well, out of no-where a squad car slams into the black car at eighty kilometres per hour.
My mind is shouting at me to watch out, to swerve to the left, to shoot someone, to buy a new hat… one tiny part of my mind isn’t shouting. It’s speaking calmly and quietly. One word, repeated slowly but a billion times in the space of a second.
Handbrake, it says, and I crunch it backwards, sending the car spinning wildly into the main road.
Cars and buildings and cars and buildings and then whoomf- the sky and clouds, buildings, asphalt, the sky… the car’s tumbling over the road and all I can do is close my eyes and pray.
With the screeching of age-old suspension, it stops rolling. I slowly open my eyes to the shattered glass in front of me. My seatbelt jams as I rip it off and kick open the door and stumbled out, my hands and face finding the asphalt and vomiting there. The first words out of my mouth are “Son of a bitch…” as I turn to face my beautiful, ancient car from the 1950’s that I had had for almost all my life.
It’s ruined. The headlights and every window smashed, the bonnet ripped apart with scratches, dented in every place you could imagine. I just stand there staring at it, knowing that I would never be able to fix it. I wondered if it could still run. I wondered who the hell had been in the squad car that sent me spinning and tumbling.
The sound of doors opening and three gun shots in rapid succession shake me back to life. Miranda still has to be saved.
Turning around, I view the chaos while running head on toward it. The black car has skidded further down the road and has its entire side crumpled inwards beyond repair. The two drivers of the car are using it as cover and taking pot-shots with pistols at the squad car, which is parked to my left. Looking closely, I can see that the police car took almost no damage because of a heavy duty bull-bar fixed to the front of it. There’s only one cop pair that uses that kind of protection.
John and Johnson work in unison after so many years working together. They kick their doors open, pull out their guns and start firing. I run towards them first, anger boiling up because of my destroyed car, which is their fault. Johnson is closest and spots me when I reach him.
“John was driving, I swear!” he yells and leaps over the bonnet. Despite the civilians screaming and the bullets thudding into the asphalt at my feet, I still walk slowly and confidently over to John, who crouches to increase his accuracy with his gun.
My shadow passes over him. He squints and faces my wrath with a smile. “I’ll buy you a new one,” he says, peering around me for a better shot.
That surprises me. I’d forgotten that John and Johnson lived with the bare necessities, never spending a dollar more than they had to. They had been doing this for close to twenty years, and come to think of it, probably had more money than five of the suitcases that Mr White had given me.
“Deal,” I told him, as the munitions still rain. I turn to face the wrecked black car. My revolver jumps into my hand and I raise it and fire, seeing the chamber click and spin once the bullet leaves the barrel. It pings uselessly into the black car’s crumpled hood. Damn. I holster my gun.
I’ve never been a good shot with a gun, but I reason that if I keep shooting, sooner or later I would hit something. John and Johnson, however, are brilliantly accurate. They fire their pistols at the exact same time, and both shooters fall back, clutching their shoulders and groaning. I run to the black car, kick their weapons out the way, and open the back door.
She’s there, huddled on the seat. “It’s ok-” I start to say, when her boot connects with my nose. Reel backwards and collapse on the ground. Curse at all the blood gushing from my face. Get back to my feet and grab uselessly for Miranda as she screams and stumbles away on unsteady feet.
“No, it’s alright,” I choke out. “We’re the police. You’re safe now. You’re safe.”
John and Johnson make it to us, holstering their weapons and pulling out a pair of handcuffs each for the thugs. I reach Miranda and slowly pull her towards the three of us. My hand snaps out and catches one of the thug’s hats, a hand-made wonder that must have cost a fortune for the man. I don it and it fits perfectly.
The street has emptied out now and just as Miranda finally calms down, there’s the screech of tires and two black cars skid around the corner of the street and park twenty metres away. John and Johnson, Miranda and I all stare at the cars, now sitting silently there with tinted windows.
And then the doors are kicked outwards and five men from each car, all wearing smart suits and fedoras, step out of the car and start shooting.
“Cover!” John calls, and him and his twin slid over the bonnet of their police car. I yank Miranda’s arm along as I lead her there too. We all crouch there as the deafening gunshots ring out. Johnson is yelling into his radio, calling for backup.
“You gotta get her out of here,” John tells me. “Get her back to Mr White. We’ll cover you to your car.” He fishes a handheld radio from his pocket and hands it to me. “It’s tuned to the police channel. Now get ready to run.”
I nod to him and his brother. “Don’t do anything stupid now. Being a hero will only get you killed.”
“Unlikely, mum,” Johnson snorts, pulling the riot shotgun from the police car and working the pump action. John reloads his pistol and grins at me. “Backup’ll be here in five minutes, anyway.”
“Hey,” I tell them, gripping John’s arm. “Seriously, though. And I’ll see you when I see you.”
Both twins grinned at the old saying and responded in unison. “Not if we see you first.”
And then I grab Miranda’s arm and we’re running to my car, and John and Johnson are firing like crazy to keep the Noir gang suppressed. Ten metres to go and a couple of them peek their heads out and shoot at us. And then we reach the car and the door’s open and I’m sitting in the driver’s seat with Miranda in the passenger seat. I sit there in my ruined car and hesitate before turning the keys.
“Um… I have no idea if this’ll work now…” I tell Miranda. She’s been silent for the majority of the last few minutes and I wonder how she’s coping. She seems ok. Her eyes are closed and she slowly rocks back and forward on the seat. I don’t think she even heard me.
I click the keys in and the engine turns over, pouting. It roars to life and I grin as we fly down the road. Five minutes pass, and all I hear from the radio is the occasional ‘Where the hell is our backup?!’ from either John or Johnson.
We were nearing the road with Mr White’s newspaper when the police radio crackled to life.
“Officer down, I repeat, we have an officer down!” There was the sound of sobbing and gunshots from the radio, and I tightened my grip on the steering wheel. “Johnson, wake up, man, c’mon, get up... Where the hell is our backup?!”
The newspaper building looms ahead. I’m slowing down, struggling to keep myself under control as John screams his brother’s name. And then there are more gunshots, and a strangled cry, and footsteps crunching closer, closer.
“Hello.” It’s a new voice. Not John’s. Not Johnson’s. But I still recognize it. I brake hard and turn right, spinning the car into a U-turn and into the opposite lane. Cars, people with everyday lives and friends that aren’t dead honk their horns at me, cussing through their windows. I can’t hear them.
“I know you’re listening. Do you remember me?”
Now I do. From way back in The Good Ship. He was the man who stood up from the back, who was the first to tell me to leave.
“I am Silvio. Your friends are dead, detective. You’ve got the girl, but you’re all alone, really. So where are the endless heroic clichés? Where’s that age old feeling of revenge?”
My fingers are cold as I scoop up the radio with my left hand and manage to tighten my grip with my left one. I thumb the transmit button.
“It’s coming,” I tell Silvio.
“Good. Tonight, the centre of Adelaide. I’ll be there. Bring the girl.”
“Why should I? I have her, Mr White has my money. My job’s done.”
“But you won’t do that, will you? These men, these…things…what were their names?” I hear rustling as Silvio goes for their pockets.
“Get away from them,” I mutter down the line, and I know that the venom in my voice has travelled across to the other radio, because the rustling stops.
“Do you see, detective? You cared for them. So I’ll see you at the centre, seven o’clock. Have a good day, detective.”
There’s a click as the handheld switches off. I lower my head and place it on the steering wheel. The cars are still beeping at my sudden stop and Miranda isn’t saying anything. The thing is, Silvio is right. I’ll go tonight. I’ll bring Miranda. All because I need a shot at taking him down.
Miranda, who I haven’t heard speak since I met her, finally speaks up. “You’re not seriously thinking of going, are you?”
I keep my head resting on the wheel. I hadn’t thought about her opinion. “You…You won’t be in danger. All I need is for you to be there in case something goes wrong, call for backup.”
“Didn’t help your friends, did it?” She points out. I hate her.
“Fine!” I sit up, and give her my full attention. “I need you there, because they most likely won’t show unless I have you.”
She sits back, an eyebrow raised. “What? Oh, no, I’m going. Those bastards put me in a locked cellar full of empty bottles of liquor. Not a drop in any of them. They’re gonna pay.”
I stare at her. “It doesn’t just work like that. Things are a lot more complicated than that. You can’t just go in there hoping to shoot everyone.”
“Sure you can. That’s what they do in the movies.”
“I’m not giving you a gun.”
“I’ll kick them. Hard.”
I sighed. “This isn’t your fight, you know. They were my friends. You’re only a part of the job I’m getting paid for.”
She nodded at me. “Alright. Are there any tips you need to give me, anything that could be the difference between life and death?”
I push down on the accelerator and she bashes her forehead against the glove compartment in front of her, groaning. “Seatbelt,” I say.
The hotel room we sit in doesn’t exactly have a five star rating. But it’s cheap, it’s almost an hour’s drive away from the police station, they didn’t question the fake name I gave them and there are two beds, despite them being uncomfortable and smelling strangely of pizza.
I pick the cleaner of the two beds and sit on the edge of it, thinking. Miranda drops into the other one and stares at the ceiling. My phone vibrates for the umpteenth time in my pocket, and I pull it out and check the screen. It’s a call from the police station, of course. I hit the ‘end’ button without answering and go to put it back in my coat pocket. When I pull my hand out again, I’m holding the photo of Miranda and my notebook. I discard the photo and flip the notebook open.
Miranda sits up and goes to sit next to me. “Time,” I tell her without looking up from the notebook. “What is it?”
She picks up my phone as she sits down. “It’s only three in the afternoon. Four hours to go.”
“We should get some rest.”
“We should. What’s your name?”
She catches me off guard. “…it’s Jacob. Jacob Reynolds.”
She grins. “Jake. Jakey-Jake.”
“It’s Jacob. Don’t abbreviate it.”
She laughs and searches the room for something to do. I look back at the notebook.
The first page is the small drawing of the house made of money, with me beside it, leaning on a badly drawn convertible. I don’t even smile at it. I just rip out the page and chuck it behind me. The next page has all of my notes, and I start going over them. There’s nothing of interest. Just the things I already know- the meetings at sundown, Rundle street… Nothing I can use. In frustration I start flipping through the pages, glancing at notes on older cases. I’m almost at the last page when Miranda snaps the T.V on.
I jump as the sound blares through it, and drop my notebook. “Sorry, sorry!” Miranda says, flipping through the channels and turning the sound down at the same time. I glimpse something on the screen, a picture of me, and yell for her to switch it back.
It’s a news channel. The female reporter is standing on Grenfell Street, right next to John and Johnson’s police car.
“As you can see, Michael, dozens of bullet holes mark the ground and the car here-” she gestures to their car “-where the two officers were killed earlier today. CCTV cameras captured the horrific scene where four individuals, the two officers and an unidentified woman and man, engage in a shootout with an unknown gang.” The black and white, crappy resolution video plays on the screen, showing the four of us crouching behind John and Johnson’s car. I see the pixelated figure that must be me turn and exchange silent words with my friends. I grip John’s arm in the picture. See you when I see you, I remember were my last words to them.
“The man here is seen driving away with the woman, and have been missing since. If anyone knows their whereabouts, you can call the Police Help Line at…”
Miranda switches off the T.V. I kick off my shoes and lay back on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Why are things always happening to me?
I awake three and a half hours later, wide eyed and running to the window. The sky is stained a blood red, with flecks of orange. “Oh, shit, shit, shit, shit…” I curse and shove a sleeping Miranda off of the bed. She wakes up when she hits the ground, groggily wiping the sleep from her eyes. I’m already pulling on my shoes, pocketing my fallen notepad, donning my hat and pulling her out of the room by the time she’s fully aware of everything.
“We slept for too long,” I tell her as I gun the engine of my car, honking the horn at the slow traffic. I restlessly drive over to the opposite lane, which is empty, and accelerate through a red light, narrowly missing other cars. I’m surprised that the car is still running, despite all of the crap I’ve put it through.
I take my phone out of my pocket with one hand and groan at the time. Six thirty. Maybe if I hurry, I’ll make it. I pocket the phone again and with my other hand reach for the revolver under my arm. The window on my right is somehow still intact, so I press the barrel to it and pull the trigger, wincing at the sound. It doesn’t shatter straight away but after a couple of well-placed elbows it finally folds and spills onto the road, where it’s whipped from my view. I’m still barrelling down the road at a hundred kilometres per hour, but once I fire the gun out of the window and into the air, other cars get the idea to give me some more space.
“Thank God,” I mutter when I see a turn off for the freeway. And then it’s just concentrating on driving well enough for the next thirty minutes.
We barely make it. My phone reads 7:04pm when I screech to a stop on Rundle Street and jump out of the car. Miranda’s behind me as we race to the large metallic structure in the centre of the city. The entire place is surprisingly not empty of people as I thought it would be. Teenagers from as young as fifteen to adults as old as thirty stroll the path, and more often than not, stray from it. As with every night, music drifts out of a line of pubs and clubs down one way, and laughter from hidden shops and alleyways down the other way. The entire city seems to come alive now, after all of the K-Marts and Targets and Coles have shutdown, and the stalls have been set up in the light of street lamps… It’s beautiful, and through all of it, I can’t see Silvio.
He’s not here. He didn’t show. I shake my head and turn to the metallic art piece. I glimpse at the reflection, just in time to see Miranda running off in the opposite direction. I kick at the pavement and sprint after her.
She’s laughing and spreading her arms by her sides, disappearing into a crowd of people ahead of me. I snag her hand before she’s completely gone and she pulls me through the happy pandemonium outside of the pubs. I only remember a few things in those seconds- the stern look of a bouncer sizing me up, Miranda grabbing a Vodka Cruiser and sculling half of it, then passing it to me. Disgusted, I go to give it someone else, but she’s already parting the crowd again and running with me to the next pub, the next group of party-goers. A man spills his drink and another laughs too loudly to be sober, a fist fight breaks out somewhere to my left and two bouncers rush forward to separate it.
“Miranda, stop!” I tell her urgently.
"Come on, Jakey, Silvio isn’t showing. Have some fun. Here-” she passes me another drink, from where, I don’t know.
“No, that’s enough! He could still be here and watching our every move, finger on the trigger-”
“Just admit it. He’s not coming.”
I go to protest but she’s pulling me underneath the gaze of another bouncer and into a full bar.
The bar is stocked up on loud people and heavy liquor. The music isn’t from a soundtrack of any kind; it’s improvised by a small band in the corner. They seem multi-talented, and with the change of each song they carefully put away one set of instruments and pull out another.
We’re shouldered through the throng of people and arrive in breathing distance of the bartender, a young man with a smile reaching further than a normal face should allow. He slides us a shot each, of what I’m not sure, and Miranda drains hers instantly. I sit staring at mine with annoyance, anger, and most of all, sadness and disappointment.
“What do you know about Silvio?” I ask Miranda. She’s already talking to a guy her age, facing her back to me.
I grip her shoulder and whirl her around to face me properly. “This isn’t just another day for you to hit the pubs and the parties, dammit. Silvio is out there, and he’ll still be looking for you.”
She isn’t even looking at me. Something behind me causes her to scream and out of the corner of my eye I see someone there, with a black suit and black hat…
My elbow rockets backwards and crunches into his nose. I spin and my other arm grabs a handful of the man’s crisp suit and slams him into the ground as hard as I can. The band peters out and I’m looking at just another thug, one of Silvio’s men but not Silvio himself. His nose is bleeding profusely and he moans on the ground.
“Well,” Miranda says, leaning back on the bar and drinking another shot, “that was easy.”
“It’s not Silvio,” I tell her, as the man Miranda had been talking to turns around and smiles at the mention of his own name.
“Sonova-“ he raises a gun to shoot but Miranda turns and sees it at the last moment. She jumps back, frightened and out of his way, when my arm swings around to club the pistol out of Silvio’s hand. It lands on the bar and the bartender scoops it up, still smiling, and pockets it.
“No firearms are allowed in here, sir,” the bartender tells Silvio as I take Miranda’s arm and pull her behind me.
“How did you not know that was Silvio,” I whisper, enraged at Miranda.
“I never saw Silvio at the Good Ship! It was only his cronies, the lower ones…”
“You’re disgusting,” I tell her.
The bartender continues talking to Silvio. “In fact, I’m legally obliged to call the police. Sir.”
Silvio glares at the bartender. “Then why haven’t you?”
“Because. The bar gets boring on some nights. I tell you what- punch the hell out of each other, and I’ll forget all about it.”
Silvio’s no longer glaring. “Ah. Everyone profits.”
Silvio’s no longer glaring. “Ah. Everyone profits.”
“I’m not fist fighting you,” I tell Silvio, but the bartender is already giving a signal to the band in the corner and yelling for a space to be cleared. The band lays down their previous instruments mid-song and pulls out violins. They start playing after a count of four, a fast paced song that reminds me of some kind of cowboy song. Definitely, definitely not my kind of music.
People laugh knowingly at it all and start to press themselves around the sides of the building. I drain the shot before me as Silvio takes his jacket off and folds it neatly on the edge of the bar table. He walks to the middle of the floor, and I realise that it’s a classic dance floor.
Dancing on Tuesday nights, I think as I unwillingly follow him, taking off my trenchcoat and passing it to Miranda. And fist fighting between a murderer and a Private Investigator on Wednesday’s. How the patrons must love this bar…
“Come on, Jake,” Silvio calls out to me, slowly raising his fists as we circle each other. “Let’s see if you can hit m-”
My fist moves so fast that even I don’t think I see it, as it slams into Silvio’s chest and sends him stumbling back. I follow up as fast as I can with a right cross to his head, but he’s catching on now and pushes me out the way. The bar is roaring with laughter and more bets are made.
He feints right and when I’m dodging his fake punch he grabs my shoulder and presses into my bullet-wound. I shout at him and back off. But he gives no mercy and tackles me to the ground, pinning my arms on either side of me with his knees and grinning victoriously above me. He curls a fist and it crashes into my jaw. He raises his other hand and it collides into the other side of my head. And he just keeps on punching.
Miranda watches from the bar, yelling at me to get up and fight. She just keeps saying it. I still hate her.
Two figures creep up behind her and one puts an arm around her mouth to stifle her cry as they begin to drag her backwards. Her hands flail out, trying to gain purchase on the bar. She picks up a glass bottle and twists her legs, swinging herself around to smash it into one of the men pulling her away. He lets go of her mouth but she doesn’t scream. Instead she raises her leg and kicks him as hard as she can in the face. He falls to the ground and doesn’t get up.
The other man pulls out a pistol, and then there are two more, grabbing her arms and pushing through the ground and to the door. Then she screams, and through the haze of pain I hear it and decide it’s time to get up and fight.
Somehow, I dislodge his knee from my arm and raise my hand up to catch his fist before it can connect with my head again. It’s my turn to grin and smile, and I know it must be a gruesome sight with the blood leaking from my torn lips and bruised face, and the bottom tooth that I’m spitting out onto my lapel. He goes to punch with his other fist but I twist my head to the side and it hits into the floor boards.
While he grunts in pain, I twist the arm I hold until he’s howling and then, I kick him completely off of me and stumble to my feet. I let him fall to the ground just in time to see Miranda being taken off through the bar’s main door.
The crowd is still clapping in tune to the fast violins, and I just know that he’s standing behind me, swinging his arm to crash into my head. But I duck and push backwards against his legs, toppling him over me. I grab his lapels and hoist him to his feet, dragging him through the people to the large window at the front of the bar. The people with Miranda are out on the street and see me through the glass. One of them fumbles with a gun and bullets crack into the window, spreading cracks all along it.
“She’s gone,” Silvio mutters, incoherent. He grips my arm. “She’s gone. We win.”
“Not yet,” I tell him, and yell as I swing him into the glass.
It shatters around him as he collides with it and tumbles onto the sidewalk outside. The crowd is no longer clapping now, and the music is stopping once more. I hear the bartender start to come around, shouting, but I pull out my revolver and point it at him, not even looking.
“Back off.” I step through what was left of the window.
I drink it all in. Everything, from the cold night air that burns my lungs to the beautiful sound of crunching glass as I slowly make my way to Silvio, huddled on the ground. Miranda and her captors are thirty metres away, slowly dragging her off. The one with the gun doesn’t dare fire it while Silvio is in his way. Supposedly, them having Miranda is meant to stop me from shooting them. It doesn’t.
I’m standing above Silvio when I aim my revolver and shoot the man with the gun. My next shot rips through one of the other’s leg and Miranda is free, kicking them until they’re senseless.
There’s the sound of more crunching glass and I turn back to the bar. It’s the bartender, with Silvio’s gun, aiming it with shaking hands at us both. “Stop! Put the gun down!”
Silvio isn’t at my feet, I realise, right before he steps out of the shadows and breaks the bartender’s neck. Silvio’s gun is back in its owner’s hand again, and still being aimed at me. “The boy was right,” he says. “Drop the gun.”
My gun’s already pointed at the ground. Slowly, I crouch down and place it on the ground. Miranda’s somewhere behind me.
“Kick it away,” Silvio slurs. His face is bleeding badly, like mine must be. His suit is ripped at every corner, and a few shards of glass stick out of his gun arm. He pulls one out unceremoniously, and grimaces.
I put my foot over my revolver and kick it backwards, sending it skidding alone behind me. Because of his line of sight, I’m guessing he can’t see Miranda.
“Where’s the girl?” He asks, and I’m right.
“I don’t know. I thought your people had her.” I tilt my head to the side, stalling. “Why do you need her, anyway? What has Mr White done that’s pissed you off so badly?”
He laughs, coughing and wheezing. “It’s a long story.”
“I have time.”
“No, detective,” he tells me, regaining his confidence and squeezing the trigger once, twice. “You don’t.”
Blood blossoms on my own chest before I register the sound or the impact. And suddenly I’m falling; landing awkwardly sprawled on my side. I’m not screaming. I’m not grunting. I’m just gasping, gasping at the feeling of hot lead burying itself into my ribcage.
I’m aware of him walking up towards me, taking his time like he’s got more of it than me. Which, I realise with a hacking sound that’s meant to be a laugh, he probably does.
This man… this man, who killed John and Johnson, the bartender, countless others… his thugs ruined my good hat, kidnapped Miranda, and threatened my constantly…
This man... he deserves to die. Not me. Not like this, at the hands of a murder…
The way I’ve fallen, I can now look to my right and see where Miranda is, obscured by shadows. To my right is Silvio, striding forward, reloading his pistol casually. He looks up from his work to a sound, high pitched and wailing over the wind. A siren.
“Ah, well,” he tells me, pulling back the slide on his gun. “Going to have to cut this short, I’m afraid. Can’t have the fuzz after me when I finally find that girl. Goodbye, detective.”
“Goodbye, Silvio,” I croak, smiling. From the shadows to my left, there’s a muffled movement and my revolver comes flying out of the shadows, skidding along the ground and in my hand. I swing it up, don’t aim, just fire.
Silvio gasps. His hand goes to clutch the wound in his neck, for the last few seconds he’s alive. And then he topples backwards, and the darkness starts to close in. I hear the sirens close in, and Miranda running forward and leaning over me, saying my name.
In my head, I can see my friends smiling there. See you when I see you, they tell me.
Not if I see you first, I reply. And then the darkness is everywhere.
White. Everywhere, pure white, all of a sudden. No sound, just the whiteness filling my vision. I turn my head to the side and the white defines into four walls, and the bed I’m sitting on. There’s some kind of incessant beeping noise, and when I look further to my left I see several machines with dials and buttons covering their faces. The door opens, and Miranda walks in.
“Woah,” I say groggily. “Heaven’s got some upgrades…”
She laughs, and unlike anyone in heaven, her laugh is terrible, the one of a drunkard. She sits on the chair beside the bed and grins. “How are you feeling?”
“Just brilliant.” I tell her. I’m not, but what would she care, anyway? I can already smell the tell-tale scent of alcohol on her breath.
“We won, Jakey,” she tells me, giggling. “We won! So, where to from here? What great adventures should we h-” She hiccups and seems to forget what we’re talking about.
“There is no we.” I tell her, genuinely sad. “I’m a Private Eye. I work alone.”
She’s not even listening. She’s counting imaginary dots on the roof of the hospital room. Sighing, I sit up, and a dull pain shoots through my chest. Looking down, I see bandages poking out from under the hospital gown I’ve been given to wear. Looking to my left, someone has washed my clothes and beloved trenchcoat, and folded them neatly in a pile. I sit up, slower this time, and send Miranda out with a flick of my hand. She giggles and stumbles away, out of the room and into the hallway. I get changed slowly so as to not cause myself pain. When I’m admiring myself in the tiny bathroom mirror in my room, I pat down my pockets. They haven’t been emptied. There’s still the photo of Miranda, my notebook, and a couple of bullets for my revolver.
With a pang I remember my gun, and the rest of my memories come rushing back. I sway and sit back onto my seat. That’s when I see the silver suitcase sitting at my feet.
It’s different than the first one that Mr White gave me, I can see that. There’s a tag on the handle, simply marked ‘The second twenty- job well done.’ Inside, I find the neat stacks of cash, and lying on top is my revolver, still in the shoulder holster. Miranda must have had the good sense to hide it when the sirens reached us.
And then probably went back into the bar for a drink, my mind adds negatively. Regardless, I strap it across my chest. I notice two perfect circles cut into the leather, right above the two bullet wounds. I have to say, it was a good shot. I’m surprised that I’m standing here at all.
I pull my coat on to cover it up. I grip the suitcase and grimace on my way out. There wasn’t a hat on the bundle of my clothes, so I make do by flipping the overly large collar on my trenchcoat up. I just hope that no nurse or doctor stop me. I really, really don’t want to have to fully recover here, in this place of death. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the police wanted to know why I shot and killed a man or two in the streets of Adelaide. They’d probably want to know a lot of things.
In the end, I make it out of the hospital without being stopped. My chest feels like it’s being split in two, so I hire a cab instead of looking for my own car. I realise that my car’s probably in some impound garage, or stolen. It was pretty much ruined, anyhow.
I reach home, and sit back in my chair, amidst the ruins of the mess. I don’t even bother to clean it up. I just stare at the ceiling, like I always have, and wait.
It only takes two minutes. And then the phone rings. Smiling, I pick it up and hold it to my ear. Another case to keep me busy.
In half an hour’s time, I’m sitting in another dingy bar, surrounded by messy people spending what little money they have on any drink they can. I’m staring at a shot in front of me when my contact sidles up to the seat to my right. He wordlessly places a small suitcase on the table. Obviously, it won’t be another twenty grand. But any amount of money is good money.
He clears his through and begins to speak. I take out my notebook and start scribbling away. I look him up and down and flip to the back of my notebook to write notes about him as a person. The first word on my mind is shady, and then I see my previous notes on Mr White.
I never did get to check them. Now, my eyes are as wide as they can be when I overlook them. I kick off from the bar and start running, leaving the man and his suitcase far behind. I hail a cab, and sheer determination and anger fills me.
I reach Mr White’s office and push myself into the elevator. It’s cramped but I don’t care. The only thing I care about is Mr White, and the horrific elevator music playing in the background.
I pull my phone out of my pocket and get the song I want, turning the tiny speakers’ sound up to full. The Mission Impossible theme blares out of them, overpowering the elevator music. Everyone stares at the back of my head, and I just chuckle.
When the doors open, I’m striding forward straight away. I reach Mr White’s office just as the song on my phone ends. I push open the door and grab the reporter he’s talking to by the shoulders. I carry him a little way to the door and when he’s flying out of it, I slam the door shut and lock it.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Mr White asks me, outraged. But I can already see the tiniest drop of sweat appearing on his forehead.
“Why were they after you?” I asked him, planting my hands on the desk.
“What do you mean?”
“Answer the question, White.”
“I don’t know what you’re on about. It’s none of your business, anyway.”
“Really?” I ask him, barely containing my rage. “Fine, if you won’t answer, then I will. Because here’s what I think happened- when I walked into your office, you had a report, a folder under a stack of papers with the name ‘Silvio’ on it. There was a newspaper article, not released yet but still being put together, also with his name on it.”
“Don’t be preposterous, I never had anything to do with that!”
“You found out about them, didn’t you?” I ask him, titling my head. His expression tells me everything. “And you tried to do the right thing by putting something in the newspapers, alerting the public to it. Not the police of course, because you never did trust them, did you?”
He says nothing. I continue.
“And then, right before you published the paper about them, they kidnapped your drunken daughter to tell you to back off. They couldn’t just kill you, because you might be useful in the future to them.”
“So what?” Mr White regains his voice. “I don’t see what the fuss is about.”
“You knew them. You knew Silvio; you knew how strong they were. The file said ‘ED’. Extremely Dangerous.”
“You’re completely right, detective,” he sneers. “What do you expect me to say now? ‘And I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you pesky kids’, perhaps? No, Mr Reynolds. This isn’t a TV show, you’re not the flawless hero, and not everyone is as important you think they are. Why they were after me was need to know information, and you didn’t need to k-”
I punch him with all of my hatred and anger and pain, and I swear that I hear the tell-tale click of his jaw dislocating. It’s a good sound.
“DON’T FUCK WITH ME!” I scream at him, inches away from his face. “Two of my friends are dead because of a mistake that YOU made!”
He wipes spittle and blood off of his face and slowly stands up. “Get out of my office.”
Oh, how I would love to shoot him. To see the fear in his eyes as he sees the gun barrel on his forehead. To see him crumple to the ground. Would it be worth it?
Disgusted, with myself and with the man before me, I spit onto the rich carpet at my feet. “With pleasure,” I tell him, holding my middle finger to my brow in a mock salute. I can’t kill him. I’d be just as bad as him then.
With a glare to crush mountains directed at every reporter I see, I leave the building. Only when I’m sitting back in the bar, looking at the same shot, with the same man telling me more details about the new case, do I finally relax my shoulders.
See you when I see you…
Not if I see you first.
Hope you enjoyed it, folks. I'm going to eat. Goodbye, goodnight, and goodluck :) And happy Reaping day...