MADDIE - JASON CHIREVAS
City like any other. I rolled into town on Friday with a thing to do. I had an address and a time. The address was round the corner, the time was not yet. I ducked into Dick’s Tap between second and third.
“What do ya have?”
She’d definitely been around the block, but there was still something left behind all the bad sex and light 100s. Her body hadn’t gone too far downhill. I gave her a smile and grabbed a fistful of peanuts. “Just these for now.”
“Suit yourself, but you’re taking up a lot of my bar.” She moved to a guy who looked like his golden parachute tore halfway to the street.
I gave her another smile. She paid it back halfway and took the golden shlub's order. I crushed the shells in my fist and dropped the mess on the bar. Looked at myself in the mirror over the backboard as I snacked. She was right; I was two stools wide, at least. Used to be I was muscle from elbow to elbow. Now, not as much.
Shells never stood a chance, though.
I used the mirror to take in the scene behind me. The bar looked like the place everybody used to go. More empty tables by half. Old jukebox was dusty and unplugged. I shared the bar with the shlub, two off-duty hookers down the far end, and a guy looked like he’d been there since the flood slumped over near the can. Couple ceiling fans moved dust and mumbly chatter around the room. Depressing.
“Know what you want?” She was in front of me again. “Or do I have to move the peanuts and call the bouncer?”
Unless the pile of sorry dude near the can was the bouncer, I was pretty sure she was kidding. And flirting. “Scotch and soda.”
“You got it.” She smiled, hand wandered under the bar. “Didn’t think I’d have that? I run a high class joint here.”
So high class there’s only one brand of Scotch. I showed her my palms. “Just doing what I’m told, ma’am.”
She flicked me my drink with the backs of four fingers. I downed it and nodded she hit me again. She did. I gulped it down and nodded over my shoulder. “Busy night?”
“Actually, yeah.” She raised the bottle, but I covered my glass. “This’s the Friday night rush these days.”
“Sorry to hear that.” I winked and got another smile. She’d be a good lay I thought, in that kind of used, broken-in way.
I glanced at my watch. She cocked an eyebrow. “Got somewhere to be?”
“Yeah.” I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. High class joint with no napkins. “But not yet.”
“Ah.” She pulled my peanut shells to the floor with a rag from over her shoulder.
I folded my hands on the bar. “So, you got a name?” I nodded at the fluttering neon sign over her shoulder. “You don’t look like a Dick.”
Another smile, a giggle too. “Cute. Dick kicked. I never met him. I’m Madelyn. Maddie.”
“My pleasure, Maddie.” I offered my hand and we shook. I got a good look at her tits when she bent over. Decent. Her hand told me she was about thirty-five. I’d guessed older.
Two sets of footsteps entered Dick’s Tap. Guys, one pretty big. The steps came straight for the bar. I glanced at the backboard mirror. The big one was younger, the other guy skinny and gray. Big wrapped tight in an overcoat, hands stuffed in his pockets. Skinny wore a blue suit. Standard mob protection team.
They were right next to the golden shlub, between him and me. At the register, Maddie watched the backboard mirror through her eyebrows. She knew them. I traced a fingertip round the rim of my empty glass.
Skinny slapped the bar, his fat ring made more noise than his bony hand. “Oh! Wake up, darlin’. We come about the thing.”
Maddie slammed the register drawer shut and turned to face them, hips against the backboard, hands on it. Her eyes darted to me for a fraction before she spoke. “I know why you come. I don’t have it yet.”
“I don’t like hearin’ that.” Skinny ran his hand along the bar, the fat ring rolling between his knuckles. He looked up at his partner. “You like hearing that?”
Big answered out the side of his mouth. “Nope.”
“Yeah, see.” Skinny pointed at Big. “When he don’t like what he hears, we got problems. We don’t want problems. Give us the thing.”
“I told you.” Maddie’s eyes were hard, but so was her swallow. “I don’t have it yet. I need more time.”
Behind me, chair legs scraped the floorboards. Seems the clientele knew a protection racket when they saw one. The whores down the end of the bar were wise too, but sticking it out. The pile of pickled dude near the can remained motionless.
A little air went out of me when the golden shlub raised a trembling hand. “Eh-excuse me, miss. Can I just have my bill?”
Skinny cooked the shlub with a slow burn. His hand rested on the bar, but he pointed at Maddie. “We’re talking to the lady, pal. Wait your turn.”
The golden shlub found his voice, but his eyes never left Maddie’s beltline. “I know, I’m sorry. I just want...”
Skinny’s fat ring ripped into the golden shlub’s cheek. The impact of the backhand slap knocked him off his stool. The shlub went down like a tranqed buffalo. His comb-over flopped open, one shirttail out exposing his pale gut. The shlub lay in the grime, holding his cheek and whimpering.
“My father bothering you fellas?” I kept my eyes on my empty glass.
They turned to me, Skinny craning his neck round his partner. “How’s that?”
“My dad.” I folded my hands on the bar. “He givin’ you boys a hard time?”
I watched them in the backboard mirror through my eyebrows. Skinny looked from me to the shlub, back to me. “Your father? He don’t look any older than you.”
“My cousin, then.” I looked at them for the first time. “He bothering you?”
Big stared at me with a bit of a smirk. Skinny stepped round him. “What’re you doing, friend? Gettin’ involved?”
I swiveled to face him, hands still folded, elbow on the bar. “I just wondered why you’re giving my cousin a hard time when it’s his birthday today.”
Skinny glanced at Big and smiled. “His birthday?”
“Yep.” I waved a finger between my empty glass and the shlub’s. “We were having a drink to celebrate.” I refolded my hands.
Skinny, grinning, leaned on the bar. “Why ain’t you sittin’ together?”
I looked him up and down. I didn’t look at Big. “Don’t want to look like a couple of fags, do we?”
They took a step apart.
The hookers down the end laughed. Maddie pressed a fist to her lips.
Skinny regained his grin and wagged a finger at me. “Good one, pal. Now mind your business, hah?” He turned back to Maddie.
Big hadn’t taken his eyes off me. “I ain’t no fag.”
As soon as he spoke, Skinny’s head dropped and his eyes closed for an instant.
I let my eyes slide to Big for the first time. “No?”
Big’s tongue flicked round his lips. “No.”
He was a bulky kid. Twenty-four or so, probably someone’s nephew. Pretty wide through the shoulders, but his trench strained round his middle. Soft belly or a beer gut under there. Ex-jock. I tilted my head toward the bar and puckered my lower lip. “Coulda fooled me.”
He was in my face. Skinny tried to stop him, but the kid walked right through him. Big stood over me with his hands still in his pockets, lots of movement in the left one. “Get up and say that.”
I carry a gun. Big one. Make your dick shrivel just looking at it. It’s thick, it’s nickel-plated, and I’ve never used it as a civilian.
Big’s charge left me looking at a button on his overcoat. I let my eyes wander up to his. “No need to get up. I see you just fine from here.”
“You think you’re somebody, old man?” He talked to my mouth. “Get up.”
I turned back to my empty glass. “You don’t want that.”
“Fuck I don’t.” He nudged my right arm with his left. “Get up.”
On my feet. Game face. “Alright, so I’m up. Now what, flower pot? Think high school football and a couple date rapes stack up to where I been?”
He took two steps back before I finished talking. I was a head taller than him and twice as wide in the best places. “Fuck you.” The pudge in his cheeks and under his chin quivered.
His left arm tensed, hand shaking in his pocket. I closed the gap between us to half an inch. “Go ahead, jerk it. Or I’ll make you jerk me.”
By this time, Skinny had pulled the golden shlub back onto his stool and dropped a few crunched bills on the bar. Big looked to Maddie for an escape. “You got two more days, bitch.”
I wrapped my hand round Big’s jaw with room to spare. I forced his eyes to mine. “Don’t turn away from a man when he talks to you, baby fat.” I gouged my thumb into the meat behind his jawbone. “It’s not ladylike.” His hands came out of his pockets to slap at my grip. I love pressure points. “Clear?”
Tears streamed down Big’s face as he whined something in a high pitch. I reached into his left trench pocket, pulled his piece, a lousy .38, and flipped it onto the bar in front of Maddie. “That’s the lady’s gun now. You’re not woman enough to carry it.”
Big, up on tiptoe, only shrieked and wriggled. I let him go and he fell backward to his ass. I returned to my stool, traced a finger round the rim of my glass, and caught Skinny’s eye in the backboard mirror. “You and your best girl walk out of here. On your knees.”
Maddie plucked the .38 from the bar and pocketed it without so much as a once-over. She planted her palms a yard apart in front of me. “That was interesting.”
I glanced up at her through a cocked eyebrow. “Was it?”
“I’d say so.” She tilted her head. “No charge for the shots, obviously.”
“Tell you what.” I checked my watch and slid my glass to her with a finger. “Those two, or anyone further up the food chain, ever come back here, you gimme a call.” I pressed my card to the bar with a thumb.
“Thanks.” She slipped it into her pocket.
“See you around.” I headed for the door.
“Yeah. See you around.”
Took me twenty minutes to go around the corner and do the job I came to town to do. I went back to Dick’s Tap to look in on Maddie, but the place was locked up and dark. I checked my watch. Eleven fourteen. Early last call for a struggling joint.
Light from a basement window in the alley. I crept to it and peeked inside.
A guy in filthy clothes dragged the two hookers from the bar into the room by their hair. They were naked, squirming, faces all twisted up. The guy was the pile of dude from in front of the can.
Maddie stood in the center of the room, pointing to a spot I couldn’t see. I stepped to the other side of the window to get that angle.
The wall was lined with cages. There were nude, smudged, young women in all but one.
The guy dragged the hookers into the cell Maddie pointed to, the empty one, and tossed them in. I couldn’t hear anything through the glass, but one collapsed and lay crying on her side. The other screamed, struggled with the bars. Her big, floppy tits pinwheeled.
The guy said something to Maddie, but his back was to me. I couldn’t hear her answer, but I read lips.
Yeah, they’re OK, she said. But we still need a slope with her cherry for those guys.
They walked out of view and the lights went out in the room.
Maddie never called.
BIO: Jason’s work can be found in Hardboiled, Pulp and Dagger, and a CyberPulp horror anthology.
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