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Chapter V:

I Try To Have A Nice Evening But…

A few minutes after her performance, Delia came out in a slinky dress and sat with us. By this point I think I had decently managed to regain my composure.

”You, uh…dance. Nice. I liked.”

Ain’t I smooth.

“You’re so sweet.” she said gesturing to Sifu. “Isn’t he a little young to be in here?”

“Boy’s gotta learn sometime.” I quipped. “And you just gave him quite an education.”

“What I do is art.” Delia glared back.

“What I do is expensive.” I said sliding the bill across the table.

Delia picked up the bill and scanned it. “This is…” she flipped it over. “This is written on the back of a Mr. Sill’s Burgers menu!”

“I don’t keep my own letterhead. Reduces costs to the customer.”

“What are these expenses? Consultation…Equipment rental and maintenance…Travel? Where did you go in a day?”

I leaned across the table and locked eyes with Delia. “Noreen and Constance Crabwack.”

Delia’s eyes widened like expanding stars and her mouth gaped like a black hole with ruby red event horizon. And I felt the familiar tingle in my stomach of a man who spends a lot of time looking for distractions from physical urges.

“I can’t believe you did that!” Delia squealed. “You shouldn’t have gone to them. Now they’ll get the police involved!”

“And what’s to stop me involving the police?” I replied gruffly and for some reason now felt guilty for having done so.

Delia started pleading. “They can’t be told about this.”

“Why the lies, Delia, if that is you real name?”

You can always tell I’m flustered when I start talking like a cheesy TV detective.

“What is all this?” I continued, but suddenly felt two meaty hands clasp my shoulders and pull me into the back of my chair.

“Thish,” a lispy voice behind me slurped, “ish ah intwesting situation.”

Lanford and Steinmeck, or Larry and Stubs as most people called them, had now invaded my personal space. Larry was the voice and a crude Puerto Rican man with a ridiculous speech impediment. He couldn’t pass the Police Academy’s entrance exam, so he bribed himself into a Private Investigator’s license instead. Stubbs was born without arms or legs but eventually aquired biomechanical prostheses that gave him a competitive weight lifter’s strength. Official competitions don’t allow prostheses, so Stubs made a living as street muscle until he hooked up with Larry. Now they got by as hired thugs who tried to pass themselves off as legitimate P.I.’s.

I had forgotten all about them. Delia mentioned them when she first came to see me, and I didn’t even write down the connection. She had dropped the clue, and I had missed it. I was hired to deal with them specifically. How could I have been so stupid? I had to think clearly now in order to get Delia and Sifu away from here.

“Larry. Stubs.” I said and felt Stubs’s fingers widen as he moved for a tighter grip. I let out a grunt of submissive encouragement.

“What arw you doing here, Nick?”

“Discussing a case with miss Delia here.” I said tapping the ashes off my cigarette with as much false bravado as I could muster.

“What ah cohincedensh.” Larry slurred, while tapping the fingers of one greasy hand on Sifu’s head. “We hwere going to do theh shame thing.”

“Really? Well, you guys owe me some money. Why don’t you fill me in on what you know and work off some of that debt?”

“Unforchunately it doeshn’t hwork that way. In dish case, you arw going to tell ush hwat you know, and we’ll deshide hwat to do wit theh girl.”

“Hmm.” I said, taking a drag. The cigarette glowed and I flicked off the ashes one more time. “You are forgetting one of the essential rules of sharing.”

“What’s that.” Stubs asked.

“Finders keepers.”

I stabbed the cherry of my cigarette into the tender flesh between the index and middle finger on Stubs’s left hand. He released with a scream like a garbage disposal. Next to me the butt of Sifu’s sheathed sword shot up into Larry’s nose which exploded into a crimson rose. Sifu then snapped the shaft into Stubs’s right elbow. Stubs lost all his grip on me, so I stood and gave him a roundhouse punch to the right temple which sent him crashing into the table next to us.

I wasn’t about to pull out my sidearm because with current laws even if you wound someone in self defense you serve a minimum of six months jail time. Citizens are allowed to have guns but not use them. Guns make us feel safe and powerful, but the law makes us impotent.

I ran around the table and tried to pull Delia up out of her chair, but my hand slipped off the soft, smooth, and apparently lotioned, skin of her upper arm. Once again I was having inappropriate thoughts at an inappropriate moment, and Larry took the opportunity to wrap his arms around my chest under my arms. I jabbed a knuckle down into his…whatever those muscles are between your spine and shoulder blades that are really uncomfortable when you get jabbed in them.

Larry released me, and Sifu swept the lisping lummox's legs out from under him. I got a firm hold of Delia and we ran up onto the stage, around the crooning piano man, and out through the dressing rooms with Sifu trailing behind us.

* * *

We ran through the backrooms and dressing rooms of the club. Mostly they were filled with shelves of food and various restaurant supplies, but there were also rooms without much more than curtained archways withholding sights of partially dressed dancers and hostesses that would have made a lesser man become lost in rampant thoughts of carnal ecstasies and fall victim to the two thugs chasing him with intent to maim, mutilate, and sue for cleaning bills.

I, on the other hand, having better control of myself, stumbled through a rack of costumes and came out the other side with, what I could only assume was some sort of horribly uncomfortable underwear, wrapped around my left hand.

Finally out of The Cat & Mouse's backrooms and into a series of utility corridors that serviced the local shops, we followed the signs to the exterior delivery platform. Once outside, I used the thong to lash the handles of the double doors we had come through.

“Where to now?” Delia said as she looked around frantically and tried not to notice that at the other end of the forty-foot landing platform was a hundred story drop to the street with no railing present for peace of mind. “That’s the only entrance here. This is a dead end!”

I took a moment to survey the surroundings and saw that she was right. Sometimes there would be multiple entrances to the building from these platforms, usually with electronic locks advertising to burglars that they don’t own what’s on the other side, but then not putting up much of a rebuttal when the thief argues the issue.

Sifu tugged on my sleeve and pointed at some thick utility pipes snaking around the corner of the building and made a walking motion with his fingers.

“You sure you know the way?” I asked to which Sifu shrugged a vague response. “Good enough. Get Delia out of here. I’ll stump the chumps.”

“You’ve got to be fucking shitting me!” Delia yelled.

I smiled, because I’m pretty sure this was the first truly honest moment she’d had around me.

“Shit yes, I goddamn fucking am serious.” I said. “Go with Sifu. He’ll watch out for you. When you get settled somewhere safe call Connor’s Place, Sifu knows the number, and leave a message for Todd Williams where to find you.”

“Who the hell is Todd Williams?” Delia exclaimed once again.

“It’s a drop name, Delia. So no one can come in, claiming to be me, and get the message of where you are.”

”But where will you be?”

”Somewhere else obviously. I’m going to try to throw these guys off your trail.”

“Oh. I didn’t think...”

Honestly, all the bartenders at Connor’s Place know me and wouldn’t give out the info to anyone else. I just needed to assure Delia that I knew what I was doing and protect her incase I had overestimated the loyalty of my friendly neighborhood mixologist.

“Now please, just go with Sifu. He knows his way around this city better than anyone.” I try not to dwell on the old meme about assumptions; they cost extra in my line of work.

Delia looked hesitant and scared, but Sifu took her hand in a comforting yet urgent manner. She slipped off her shoes and they were around the corner when the doors started thumping under the weight of heavy blows.

I drew my sidearm and again checked the readout; full clip, no malfunction warnings. Hopefully I wouldn’t have to fire, but it never hurts to threaten I will.

Guns. Short of a bomb, mountain of cash, or tits, nothing motivates better.

The doors bulged out once more and then fell off their hinges. But from the look on Larry and Stubs’ faces when they came through, I peered at my gun and realized that I would have been better off with a pair of tits.

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