A Barstool at Tenth and Main
It was the first day of December in the year 2004, and I decided to try a little experiment with a new genre: this story was the result. Those of you who also read my fanfiction may recognize this story, because it has a twin and a sequel written in the Magnificent Seven fandom with a little dash of something else thrown in to make things interesting.
Usually things getting dark didn’t slow me down much, especially since I’d gotten on a pretty lucky roll pounding the pavement and I still had a handful of leads to run down, but once it started to rain I decided to call it quits and go back to my office. Well, what passed for my office, anyway; the private eye business isn’t always a paying proposition, at least not with anything a fella can bank. That meant no cab tonight either, so I ended up pounding the pavement some more all the way back to Tenth and Main.
Roxy’s wasn’t too busy, never is on Tuesdays – the real crowd won’t be in until Wednesday lookin’ for something to get them over the hump. I went on and grabbed my regular piece of the bar for myself, didn’t bother to do any more than that; Pete’s tendin’ bar tonight and he probably knew I’d come in before I did, that man don’t miss a trick. That’s one of the reasons I like it here, it’s just about the only place in town where I can sit with my back to the door and not have to worry about it. Well, not much, anyway; if Joe Valkosky and his teamsters down Detroit way ever get savvy to the whereabouts of yours truly….but that’s a thought for another night, one when I’m a lot drunker than I can afford to get right now. That’s the problem with being private and broke and running your whole operation off a barstool, you’d better not lean too hard on your tab because if it gets too big you’ll lose your office space in a hurry. Sometimes Pete and I can work it out in trade, though, which is another thing I like about Roxy’s.
I got all settled in and took a look around, but like I said it was a pretty quiet night. Some people not from around here might have thought that was because of the uniform parked at the table in the corner, but anyone who knows the neighborhood knows that Jamie O’Malley is just as likely to start a ruckus as he is to stop one; the man likes to say he’s a lover not a fighter, but sometimes it’s who he loves that causes the problem. A wedding ring won’t slow him down, and I’ve had cause to wonder once or twice if a wedding veil would hold him back either.
Seems strange to see Jamie by his lonesome, though, usually he’s got that rookie kid brother of his hanging off him like fruit off a tree. “Hey, O’Malley,” I call out. “Where’s your shadow?”
“Home sleepin’,” he calls back, raising his mug to me. He’s grinning, but I can see some lingering concern underneath the happy face he puts on to show the world. “Tripped over a hole in the rug this morning and hit his head on a chair, rung his bell good but he’s okay.”
Yeah, obviously – or Jamie wouldn’t be here. Man’s a hen with one chick where that kid’s concerned; Ray’s the only family he’s got from what I understand of it. “Glad to hear it, hate to see how much trouble you’d get into without him holdin’ you back.”
“We’ll likely see that tonight,” Pete mutters from where he’s wiping down the bar. He likes O’Malley but not some of the company he keeps; don’t think he really has a problem with the working girls themselves, but too much of a clientele like that can give a place a bad name. And Pete is just as proud of the Roxy’s reputation as if he still owned her himself.
Damn shame, that; hard to believe that a man’s mother would steal away the bar he named after his dead wife. Or that she’d keep tryin’ to change the name of the place, either, but no matter how many times they bring a new sign around the old one or one just like it is back up by morning. I know he paints ‘em himself even though no one’s ever caught him red-handed to prove it – and that mother of his has tried, too. Pete makes out to anyone who asks that it’s all a big game the two of them play, but I’ve had to wonder a few times if the game they’re playing is a lot more cutthroat than he lets on. That, however, is something it’s best not to wonder out loud about unless he’s drunk. It doesn’t happen often, but there’s been more than one night after a successful game of change the sign that I’ve helped Mike, the bouncer, close the place up at 2am and then pour Pete into his bed upstairs to sleep it off.
Now Mike, he’s a strange duck all the way around. The story goes that he was just wandering through the neighborhood one day with nothing like staying on his mind, and then he somehow runs into Pete and all of a sudden he’s settled in like a stray cat in the alley behind the fish market. I know a little more about him than everyone else – which I should, considering how I pay my bills – but even that it isn’t very much. It’s pretty common knowledge that his daddy was some sort of missionary down in South America and his mama was one of the converted, and it would be hard to miss that Mike used to be in the same business just from the way he talks or that he ain’t anymore from some of the things he says…but I don’t think anyone but me knows that he’s got a married daughter who lives a ways east of here and good reason to keep her a secret. And I ain’t got plans to tell anyone, either, not even Laird if he asks – although some might say that refusin’ to answer a question from Detective Laird is a one way ticket to a world of hurt.
Now don’t get me wrong, Laird’s dangerous, all right, but I’ve seen worse than him comin’ and goin’ and he don’t scare me. Well, not much, anyway, but I won’t be admitting that to the general population, no sir, and I for damn sure won’t be letting him find out, either. Laird and I, we’re on an even keel and I intend to keep it that way. I know he thinks the fire that killed his wife and kids a few years back was set up by the mob, and he knows about Joe Valkosky and the replacement pair of cement galoshes he’d like to fit me for. I trust Laird to watch my back if push comes to shove and he knows the same goes for me, and I figure that’s pretty much all we need between us. And his past life is a can of worms it’s best not even to pick up, I heard once that that lady reporter they have over at the Daily News – and Nelly Bly she ain’t – hit up O’Malley about Laird’s family because she found out they had some history together and Laird threatened to beat his head in if he ever opened his big mouth on the subject again. Heard he went after her, too, and gave her a piece of his mind and it wasn’t the best one…but then I’ve also heard there’s something between the two of them that will eventually add up to a wedding bell. You hear a lot of things, and just because someone can say something doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about.
Well, speak of the devil, here’s the man himself just walking in. I hear Pete groan behind me and I feel for him; Laird may be a damn good detective and when you get down to it he’s a fair man, but off duty he’s a drunk and a mean one at that. O’Malley can pull him back sometimes and sometimes he can’t – and sometimes he just doesn’t bother to, or maybe that’s just when he doesn’t really feel like getting hit. And Laird doesn’t think too much of Pete on the best of days, and after he’s had a few he can get a little loud about it. Not as loud as that orderly Jackson who works over at the laughing academy, but then I can shut Jackson down with a look when I get tired of him; he acts so right now you’d think the Salvation Army would salute when he walks by, but I can tell a fighter when I see one and I know it wasn’t more than two or three years since he was someone’s ‘boy’ and taking naps on the mat when the boss told him he was tired, if you know what I mean. And he knows that I know, and since he wants to leave his past where he left it one hard look from me buttons his lip.
I nod hello to Laird and chuckle into the beer Pete brought me when he makes a beeline for O’Malley and starts grilling him, no doubt about where the kid is. I’m enjoying the show too much to watch the door when it opens again, but Pete leans over the bar and murmurs, “Prospective client, I believe.”
“Hopefully one with cash,” I mutter back, and look out of the corner of my eye to watch the nervous guy who just came in sidle over to where I’m sitting. I wait until he’s real close before I say anything. “Something I can do for you?”
“Are you Taggart?” His eyes dart all over the room like a couple of mosquitoes. “They told me…they told me you were the best private dick in town, said you worked off a barstool at the corner of Tenth and Main.”
“Consider me flattered,” I tell him. I don’t like the look or sound of him already, but if he has a cash and a case I’m prepared not to be annoyed. “Something I can do for you?”
He fidgets around and lowers his voice. “I…my wife, she’s…well, I don’t know where she is…”
I decide to help him out. “She took off and you want me to track her down?”
He colors up a little and starts to deny it, but then he sees the look I’m giving him and gives in. “Well, if you must know, yes. She…left a week ago and no one’s seen her, I just want you to find out where she is so I can bring her home.”
I give him another look. “What if she doesn’t want to come?”
“That won’t happen.” He’s not as sure as he’d like to think he is, though. “She said she wanted a div…but I know, I know she didn’t mean it! Kitty loves me, look here!”
He pulls out his wallet and tugs a picture out of that and slaps it down on the bar. I take a look and just barely hold back a whistle. He must’ve taken her up to the Falls for their honeymoon, and from the looks of her he’s lucky she came back with him; even the dress she was wearing was an open invitation to break the sixth commandment. That light in her eyes might have been the love he wanted me to see, but I’d have almost bet it had more to do with the sailor taking the picture than it did with the husband standing next to her. She was hot enough to fry a steak on and there was no question she knew it; I could even feel a little sizzle myself, just looking. And when he slapped down a twenty on the bar next to the picture…damned if this wasn’t going to be an interesting week in the life of Jack Taggart, private eye.