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Edge of Midnight Monday: Date With Death

by Azrael

Case One – The Death of Harry Fontaine

Chapter Five – Date With Death

Late Evening, 28th October, 1949

I heard about it weeks before I got given a one-way ticket to the afterlife, but frankly I never had the guts to look into it. I wasn’t sure that I could stand another stab in the guts, another slap in the face, another dead end in my never-ending search for the dame who tore me apart and left me like roadkill.

All the while I knew there was a classy number who matched the description of my Eva dancing in that Eastowne cabaret, I could hold on to the hope, the fantasy that it would be her. We’d be reunited, and she’d fall into my arms, tears of shame and joy smudging her perfect mascara as she begged me to come back to her.

Only it wasn’t her. Although she looked a bit like my Eva in the smoky light of the club, even James could tell it wasn’t her, and he’s never met the real thing.

Hope may spring eternal, but it’s my experience that it’s always falling flat on its face.

Poor James; he went looking for my girl and almost got himself rubbed out by a bunch of Tong goons. It was Eliza who led him into the trap like a Judas goat, but it was the man in white who sicced ‘em on him. Good thing Jake was there in backup, and that he was packing enough lead for everyone.

If the situation out back of the Jade Lotus wasn’t bad enough, Shirley meanwhile was looking in a more and more desperate situation. She was trapped in a coroner’s car with Inich and that creep, Matthew, heading to points unknown for an evening of what Inich calls ‘passion’. I thought dating the guy was a heavy enough price to pay for the information she hoped to get out of him, but now it looked like the price was going to get even worse.

Thank all that’s holy that James has got a sharp pair of eyes, and was keeping ‘em peeled while he and Jake burnt rubber towards Sentinel Island. Now he and Jake are in hot pursuit, at least it looks like Shirley’s going to have some kind of backup at the creep’s place.

Meanwhile Giles has been cooling his heels in the slammer, but he’s up for questioning soon. I sure hope he can keep his cool in the face of what could turn out to be a real witch hunt. At least Ruby’s still supporting him, although right now I got a feeling the best support she can give is a real good lawyer…

My friends are getting close to answers in this case, but the deeper they dig, the darker it gets around them. They’re beginning to stir up trouble like a kid poking a hornet’s nest, and they might start getting some answers soon… if they don’t get stung to death.

Who is the man in white, and why did he order Eliza to take James outside and have him beaten by Tong thugs? Is someone in the coroner’s office as rotten as the corpses in the refrigerators, or was the rapid cremation of my mortal remains just a coincidence? Who planted the bug in Shirley’s office and tried to warn her off the case? Who killed me?

We’ve got enough questions. Now it’s time to start getting some answers.

Before time runs out.

POV: Jake Bullet

Leo shifts gears, the increase in speed pushing me back into my seat hard. The movement reminds me of the recent gunfight as the graze on my arm begins to throb. The rush of combat is slowly receding, leaving behind the pains incurred, the kidnapped tong goon, and the trophies in my jacket pocket.

I sit in silence, internally seething as we follow James in the slow car chase, anticipation building up inside me, ever racing thoughts on what I was going to do when we reached our destination, how I’m going to deal with Inich, trying not to think on what he might be doing to Shirley in the back of that car.

I see James’ brake lights as he rapidly decreases speed, and I break out of my self-imposed silence.

“Pull over here Leo, I think we’re there,” I say quietly, as if speaking louder would interrupt my train of thought. My right hand is already on the door handle, ready to push the door open so I can leap out.

I jump out of the car before it even comes to a full stop, and I just manage to restrain myself from running around the corner. I need to think. What am I going to do? How am I going to do it? My eyes settle on the baseball bat at the back of the car. Opening the back door I heft the bat. I turn… and then turn back, pulling my jacket off, taking the jacket of the unconscious tong goon and wearing that. Now what? My face… I don’t want to be recognised, so I pull the tong’s t-shirt off and tear it up a bit, wrapping it around my face, trying to ignore the deeply ingrained aroma of spices covered with the stench of fear. I check the wing mirror, and my face is hidden while still letting me see what I’m doing.

I’ve already forced myself to wait longer than I wanted to, and I rush to the corner of the street and peer around. I can see the car, and the driver leaning casually against it smoking. He’s facing mostly away from me, so I stalk in his direction; when I’m a few metres away I shift the baseball bat to my shoulder, readying it. Maybe he saw me out the corner of his eye, or maybe he heard me. Either way he’s turning. I’m not put off. I start moving faster. I can see him going for a gun when I bring the bat around hard, smashing it into his shoulder and knocking him back.

I’ve lost the element of surprise. But I more than make up for it with my ruthlessness. I’m going to take him down hard and fast so I can go and find Inich.

If there’s a rule on the street, above all other rules, it’s don’t bring a bat to a gunfight. I drop the bat, drawing my gun in a blink of the eye and from almost point blank range I shoot at the guy’s gun, sending it flying out of his hand to the floor. I try not to laugh with glee as he scrabbles around trying to pick it up as I plug one into his centre mass, a spray of blood rewarding my itchy trigger finger.

Despite the obvious pain, he picks his gun up and returns fire, burning agony piercing my flesh. Less than a metre between us, we stand there, trying to dodge each other as we trade shots, hot lead melting into our flesh and bringing forth gouts of blood. I hear a shout… Leo wanting to know if I need help. I can’t answer back, I can’t break the ruse that I’m a tong, and I know my accent will give me away. I raise a thumb, willing Leo to notice, and notice he does, a crack of gunfire from his direction whizzing past me and sending my opponent reeling.

I don’t know if I’m already off balance from the fight earlier this evening, or if appearances deceive me, but as I trade body blows with this guy it feels as if his bullets are burning through me with more damage than mine through him. I know I can call out, shout for Leo to get closer and join in, but my pride gags me, telling me I can take care of this piece of filth myself.

From the corner of my eye I see movement, coupled with a sudden sinking feeling that this guy has backup. But as Shirley steps into view behind the man I’m fighting, I feel a rush of relief. She crashes into the back of the guy, sending him sprawling, an easy target for my next shot. My ears are ringing, but I can just about hearing her shouting at me, waving her arms at me to chase me off.

I don’t know if she recognises me… surely she must know who I am. I can’t ask or confirm… I need to trust that she knows what’s going on, and so I say the only golden thing I can think of, shouting “Chicken Noodles!!” before I turn and run. I make it to the corner before an explosion rings out, fire lancing through my whole body. I don’t know what it is at first, but as I stumble and fall into my car I feel the pellets burning into me, all down my back down to my thighs. A shotgun. Some bastard shot me with a shotgun.

Leo’s screaming at me that we need to go, but bleeding all over as I am, I manage to grunt that we stay, that we don’t leave until Shirley is safely away.

I see her running in the other direction, and I know James is there. I tell Leo to drive around the long way… to find James’ car.. to follow him… to go to the office. I don’t know if I’m giving contradictory instructions, and I don’t know if I keep consciousness all the way back. But we finally get to the office. As I stagger out of the car it seems to aggravate my wounds; I grit my teeth to not cry out as I feel my shirt soak up more of my blood.

Shirley is there taking one of my arms. I don’t know how she got there before me, Leo was driving so fast. Leo takes my other arm, but I shake my head, “Someone has to stay with him.. someone watch him!”, I say, nodding my head at the car… meaning the tong goon. I hear James saying he’ll watch him. With the responsibility for the prisoner taken off my hands, I feel myself suddenly slumping, and it’s only the firm grip of Shirley and Leo that keeps me upright, leading me down the steps into my office, laying me on my sofa.

I’m half drifting in and out of consciousness, getting flashes of agony blurring my vision, clearing to see James leaning over me digging lead out of my body. I don’t know if I pass out, but the next thing I’m aware of is James bandaging my chest and arm, Rocky and Leo looming over him with concerned expressions, and the sharp clack of high heels entering the room.

I feel my fists clench as Ruby enters the room, forcing myself to relax when I notice that she hasn’t brought Giles with her. She peers down at my torn up body, suggests that for a price she might be able to obtain a doctor. I’m not green, I know that getting a doctor to treat bullet wounds requires absolute trust in the doctor, and if I needed one I know a guy who can get me one. I politely decline her offer, making the excuse that I’m not as bad as I look, and she moves over to talk to Shirley. I ask Rocky and Leo to help me to the back room, the front room getting all too busy for me. I send Leo to watch over everyone while Rocky helps me change what little clothes I have left, and with one side of my body still pocked with buckshot, I get Rocky to place me face-down in bed, cover me with a sheet, and call in James.

When James arrives, I ask him if he’d kindly assist me with the buckshot, making sure Rocky stayed at the back of the room while he worked. Ordinarily laying face down with pellets being plucked out of your buttocks wouldn’t be considered a position of strength, but not wanting to lose ‘face’ I decide this is an appropriate time to mention the unusual events I witnessed in the tong alley, letting James in on my suspicions about him. James hastily explains how he may have magic, but he uses it defensively, and his nerves must be a little on edge as his digging for pellets seems to be a little less elegant than before. I reassure James that as far as I am concerned, what I saw in the alleyway will be forgotten. He finishes pulling lead out of me, my back, buttocks, and thighs feeling like a meat patty, and then Rocky shows James out before covering me with a blanket.

A few moments later Rocky pokes his head back in the room, saying that Ruby wants to speak to me. I groan inwardly, but I get Rocky to help roll me onto my back and pull up the covers. It takes a few moments for the agony to subside, and I compose my face and have him send her in. Ruby glides in, all easy smiles, but her words were keen and precise. She wants me to forget what Giles did the other day, and is prepared to pay. With my brain racing, I know I need to agree, and do so, accepting her offer, but deliberately not negotiating, I think I know someone who’d be better placed to do that, also I want the conversation to be over quickly. There are a few moments of uncomfortable silence, and then Rocky shows her out and helps roll me back onto my front.

I don’t know which hurts more, my back or front, but either way being rolled back and forth just seems to aggravate every wound. I close my eyes, wishing for sleep to bring me the next morning, but there’s another knock on the door. Rocky telling me that Shirley wants to see me. I’m not moving, but I say she can come in, and I lay there listening to her as she shows me the autopsy and ballistics report. I sigh with relief that the entire evening hasn’t been a waste, and there’s more good news as Shirley passes on the news from James about Mr G. Shirley asks me if I know a Mr G, and I say I’ll think about it and let her know. Then she asks to borrow my car to go and deal with the Angeli situation. I ponder a moment, and my answer is in my words to Rocky.

“Rocky, go with Shirley, let her take the car. Look after her and help her out with what she’s going to do. Make sure you bring her back here after, with the car,” I say. Deciding that if I couldn’t look out for her myself this evening, I’d do my best to make sure she was ok.

“When we bring her back, do you want one of us to collect from her, boss?” Rocky asks.

A small smile crosses my lips, “No Rocky, that’s ok. I’ll still be collecting this week”.

I close my eyes again, and ask Rocky to bring in the phone for me before he goes. After he leaves I carefully place a call to Silas, asking him who Mr. G is and letting him know where he’d spent the evening. Silas tells me that it’s useful info, and he lets me know that Mr. G is a known tong torturer. I reveal I have a tong goon in custody, and Silas encourages me to extract information from him. I accept the suggestion, I had planned to, and I also inform Silas that Ruby has offered to buy my silence. This is already in line with my conversation to him earlier about blackmailing her, so I hope he’s impressed with my speed of delivery. I ask him if he’d take on the duties of negotiating payment for me, knowing Ruby would be more likely to be more generous with an unknown Patterson dealing with her than me, and also hoping it would show me to not be doing back-room deals and taking bribes without reporting them up the food chain.

When I hang up, I close my eyes, sleep finally taking hold of me. I don’t know how long I’ve managed to sleep, but the phone wakes me up. I lift the receiver slowly, expecting Silas, but it’s Shirley. She’s worried about the body. It has been located, but she thinks someone else has been there already this evening. There aren’t many people we know about who would have this information, so she’s suspicious this might be part of Ruby’s arrangements to keep witnesses to Giles’ destruction quiet. Shirley wants to know how to deal with the body, how to dispose of it. I can’t think clearly, so I tell her to take some gasoline from the car and burn the body. That should be enough, shouldn’t it? I put the phone down and descend once more into sleep.

My eyes open with a knocking at the door, and I glance at the clock. It’s been a few hours, and I call out to come in. It’s Leo, he tells me that Shirley has gotten back and has asked to stay the night. She’s requested the sofa as she’s scared to go home. Leo points out that this would stop Rocky sleeping on the sofa. He has a good point, and I don’t want to put Rocky out. Add to that, I don’t know how bloodstained I’ve left the sofa, and while I don’t mind Rocky throwing a blanket over it and sleeping there, I probably shouldn’t let Shirley do that.

I look over at Leo and I matter of factly say, “No,” pausing before I continue. “She can join me in the bed for the night.”

I hear Leo return to the front room and inform Shirley, and moments later I see her out of the corner of my eye as she sashays into the room. I’d turn to follow her movements if it wasn’t quite so painful, and so I have to settle for listening to her clothes dropping to the floor before she slips in to the other side of my bed. With my eyes closed, I can see her, as I have so often before, laying her warm supple body down beside mine. Except this time it’s different, I’m not collecting from her. I briefly consider it. But now isn’t a good time. Talk about understatement. Any vigorous movement would probably tear all my injuries open. She’s good… but not so good as to be worth that.

I wake up the next morning, I must have moved in the night because I’m staring at the ceiling. The pain in my back is a dull ache, and I feel a pressure along my side and chest. Looking down I see the source of the pressure, Shirley’s body pressed up against mine, an arm slung over me as she sleeps. I spend a few moments looking down at her. She looks nice there. I could get used to this, and as soon as I think that thought I know that I shouldn’t, this was just a business arrangement. I wince as I move an arm, taking a hold of hers and carefully rolling her over onto her back, onto the other side of the bed. I need to stop staring at the defenceless expression on her face, so I turn her head so that she faces the other way. The covers have slipped down in the night, and I pull them back up over her after only briefly admiring her body. As I press the covers down over her shoulder the movement makes me wince, my hand pressing harder to her than I expected. Maybe it’s my wince of pain, or the touch, but her eyes open, and blinking away sleep she slowly turns and asks me if I need help.

Looking down at her, hearing her offer of help, I contemplate asking her to change my bandages, rather her than Rocky, especially considering the nature of some of my injuries. I’d rather not have to show myself as being that dependant in front of my guys. Thinking back to yesterday i know there’s nothing i can do about the state that they saw me in, the shock of it all probably didn’t give them much time to think. but if I’m helpless today as well, it might just set enough doubts about me in their minds to make them hesitate at some future moment when I’m relying on them not to. I contemplate my injuries, I don’t think I’ll be up and around as if nothing has happened. I need to find some other way to show the boys that the boss can still get business done, even after the serious injuries I’ve taken.

I glance past Shirley at the clock. It’s late enough that one if not both of the boys will be up. The fact that they haven’t tried to wake me up just shows that they’re already making changes to my routine to coddle me. I bring my gaze back to Shirley, and I know what to do. I shake my head at her question.

“I’ve got another way you can ‘help’ me,” I say.

I need her help to change position, but after that I take care of things myself. I let my eyes catch hers, and when they do I mumble a brief apology, saying that it’s necessary. With every movement I feel my wounds bleed as I start taking this week’s payment. I don’t elaborate verbally, but I grit my teeth and fight back against the pain, channeling it into rough forceful actions. I refuse to give in to the pain and cry out, but I work hard to make sure that she does. I want the boys next door to hear her, I don’t just want them to hear the creaks of the bed and muffled moans. I want them to hear her scream. I want them to look at each other and wonder if I’m killing her. By the time I am done, I want them left in no doubt that there’s nothing that can stop the boss. That much lead in him, and he still gets the business done. Anything, any situation, can be turned to an advantage, and so that’s what I do. It doesn’t matter that by the time I fall back to the bed I can barely move. It doesn’t matter that every partly-healed wound, front and back, has torn. It doesn’t matter that I can feel the bedsheets soaking up my blood. The boys will know I can get the job done. Even the fact that I have re-opened my wounds by doing so will only play up my hard-man image. I smile with satisfaction. Time to cash the chips.

“Rocky? Leo? One of you bring in fresh bandages. Shirley needs to re-dress my wounds”.

I remember all too vividly how Shirley looked and felt against me when I awoke. After how I just treated her I don’t know if I want her like that again for my own comfort or hers. Neither would be appropriate, but my reason wouldn’t need to be that obvious. I grimace with pain as I put an arm around her, pulling her against me possessively. She’ll just think it’s yet another demonstration of power. I stare at the door, after what I’ve done I don’t think I can’t look her in the eyes, but I hold her firmly as I await for the door to open so that whichever of the two come in they’ll see the boss is clearly in control.

POV: Shirely Homes

“He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River…”

My red strapless dress had begun to slip down, down like my opinions of Gregor and his morals, although not as low as his intentions obviously were. At least the view he was enjoying distracted him while I took in the view from the front mirror. Having seen James take that U-turn to follow us was the best thing to happen yet. Matthew took a right turn at the end of the McDougal bridge, and headed towards downtown. He looked in the mirror and caught my eye, giving me a nasty grin as he took pleasure in knowing what an uncomfortable predicament I was in. He then gave me a wink and reached down to his jacket, pulling out the corner of a file. He gave me a knowing look and then concentrated on the road.

How had he gotten that file, and was it the file I was searching for? And what did he want in return? Deep down I knew the answer, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it.

Matthew pulled up outside a nice condo block, after we’d been riding with a charged silence in the car. Gregor probably would have called it sexual tension, but I felt like his latest corpse awaiting him on the slab. As I waited for Gregor to come around the car and open my door Matthew turned around to inform me that he would wait to take me anywhere once I’d finished. He stared at me hungrily, obviously not caring that he would be getting Gregor’s leftovers, well in his mind anyway. I stepped out of the car and into Inich’s grasp. He slid his arm around my shoulders, drawing me closer to him, pulling me into his personal space normally reserved for his fetid bouquet. He guided me up the path to the front door, his arm sliding lower and lower as we went, slipping down my shoulders, back, waist… I suddenly stopped and turned to face him, pulling away slightly as I did so. “Gregor…?” I asked, “something’s been bothering me… you remember I stopped by your office earlier?” I had to pause while he inserted the usual stream of compliments regarding how pleasurable that had been, and innuendoes as to what would come soon. Do any women actually like that? Or is it that men do and we pretend to in order to humour their egos? I thanked him before I went on to ask about Harry’s cremation, pointing out that since our meeting I’d discovered that a friend had filed papers to claim the body for burial, and wasn’t it too premature to have gotten rid of a corpse under investigation? He told me he was unaware of the papers, or who had organised the cremation, but that he’d look into it at his office. Another ploy to lure me there… I was really starting to get fed up with these silly games of his, I just wanted some answers! He said that Harry’s case had been closed, so it wasn’t too early. I was surprised at that, it implied the cops weren’t looking for the killer anymore, but at least there were completed forensics and ballistics reports out there somewhere.

Gregor thrust his key into the front door, he was in something of a rush to enter his apartment, and he wasn’t bothering to hide his impatience. We entered into Gregor’s sparse accommodation; he offered a drink, or the chance to go straight upstairs. I asked to see the reports now that we had arrived, which Gregor tried to wheedle out of by offering champagne. I had a way to end this, I suggested getting the champagne while Gregor found the files. He reluctantly agreed so I headed into the kitchen. I opened the large white Smeg fridge humming away innocently by the sink. The first thing I noticed was that there were plenty of bottles, but no food. The second thing was the jar I’d skimmed over. I looked at it closely; were those… fingers? I grabbed a bottle of bubbly, but couldn’t resist another glance at the jar as if to confirm what I’d really seen. “Don’t mind the fingers” Gregor said from right behind me. I spun around to see him dressed in a smoking robe, half open to reveal his portly chest covered in wiry grey hair, with a medallion hanging down to his abdomen. He leaned in to kiss me, but stopped as I raised the bottle neck in the way. He gave it a perturbed glance as I quizzed him further about the fingers. We made small talk about the lab he had here and his larger house, although I couldn’t help but notice how he failed to mention the wife that was waiting for him there.

I also noticed the lack of files, and was becoming less impressed by the minute. I managed not to show my annoyance when I asked after them. However when Gregor pointed out that they weren’t here, and he might have left them at the office or the other house, the only thing that didn’t make me force him to hand them over was the fact that he did appear to look genuinely confused. Maybe Matthew did have something of interest after all… I decided there was no point in me staying longer though, so I started to excuse myself, and went to put the champagne back in the fridge. Gregor took the bottle though and started to unscrew the wire. I put my hand over the top and made different excuses, also reiterating the ones he’d used earlier to get me to leave the salsa club, pointing out it had been a nice evening, and I’d only have to be up early to claim the files from his office. That greasy desperado then had the nerve to suggest that if I didn’t stay for the champagne he wouldn’t hand them over. Inside I was seething, I’d already fulfilled my part of the bargain, and he was still demanding more!

If I hadn’t known that I had back up waiting outside, I probably would have decked him right then and there. Instead I forced myself to smile sweetly; “one glass” I acquiesced.

Suddenly a loud Bang reverberated through the building. I dashed back to the front room to look out to the street where the noise had come from. It looked like Matthew was holding a gun towards a Tong mobster, both facing each other off on either side of Gregor’s car. I didn’t think twice, I grabbed my handbag which was packing serious heat and dashed out of the house and down the stairs to ground level. Behind me I heard Gregor mutter something about this being a good neighbourhood, and going to get his shotgun. He was right about the neighbourhood, and not only that we were a long way from the golden Tong dominated districts of Eastowne. Although I did know some people who had been there earlier, and who should be here now… My mind switched tracks as I ran out of the building and onto the scene.

I’d heard a few more shots and feared the worse given how close the pair had been standing to each other. I didn’t see Matthew at first, but he stood up having retrieved his gun from the floor. I ran towards him, shouting out and asking if he was okay. I was mostly trying to distract him, as well as bring attention to myself at the scene. The former didn’t work as Matthew fired again at the ‘Tong’. This guy must have been tough or Matthew’s shot was off as his target barely flinched. Now I was at the same level I could see that the man wrapped in Tong colours was taller and stockier than Matthew, not your typical Eastern. I just kept on pelting across the path, around the car, and careened straight into Matthew’s back, hoping to knock him down, or off balance enough to end this. I slipped past him as he tried to pull away from my falling form, and keep himself upright. I felt his body wince as another bullet went into him.

As I righted myself I pulled out my piece, not sure which target I should go for for a split second. Both looked worse for wear, and neither looked likely to scare off it they’d taken this much hurt already. I looked at the man dressed in the scarf and recognised the deep set eyes. “Clear off!” I yelled at him, trying to sound threatening as I waved my revolver in his direction. If Matthew heard the concern in my voice I can only hope he assumed it was for him. Why Jake felt the need to yell “Chicken noodles!” as he ran away I have no idea, guess he was having fun in his Tong persona. That was short lived though; I heard a window sash open, and looked up to see Gregor take aim at the fleeing ‘Tong’. I heard a yelp, so he had hit despite the awkward angle against the building. Jake was still limping though, using his baseball bat to aid him, and making his way to safety around the corner.

I turned back to Matthew, “Oh! You’re hurt! Let me have a look at that” I exclaimed reaching up to try and pull his jacket away to look at the wound in his shoulder. He tries to pull back, reassuring me he’s fine, until Gregor calls out from his window, “Matthew are you alright?”. “He’s bleeding badly, Gregor” I reply for him. I insist again that Matthew let me take a look at it. I don’t have any medical skills at all, Matthew is probably more competent than me, but I want to get inside his jacket and to the file. He pulls it out and holds it behind his back while he expects me to minister to the gunshot. I ask for it, a second later Gregor asks what he has there. Despite this Matthew actually offers to give it to me in exchange for a kiss. In another place, and at another time I might actually have conceded, just to get this whole mess over and done with. However, I’ve been wound up too much by Gregor, and I’m not in a generous mood. I ask Matthew if he wants to upset his boss by doing so. He looked doubtful. My patience was wearing thin. Out of Gregor’s view I pushed the barrel of my gun into Matthew’s gut and asked for the file again. Things were getting tense, although the Morgue rat seemed to not notice as he had the gall to suggest that I was playing around. I slowly pulled back the safety, the clicking sounding loud in the unnatural silence after the fire fight.

Gregor broke the silence by asking, “what’s going on down there?” from his window. Matthew glared at me as I reached behind with my other arm and took the file. I backed away a couple of steps. “What do you have there, Shirley?” Gregor called out again. I flicked through the file. Sure enough there was Harry’s forensic and ballistic reports. Relief washed through , the entire fiasco hadn’t been in vain. Matthew muttered, “I’ll take a raincheck on that kiss”, bringing me back to reality. I yelled something up to Gregor, I can’t even remember what, hopefully I was polite enough to thank him for the date, although goodness knows I’d said that enough times up in his flat.

I heard a honking coming from behind me. I dashed around the corner towards it, and there like a beacon, was Petunia. I dashed into it and next to James. Safety, at last, although we weren’t entirely out of the woods yet. “Head to Jake’s office” I suggested to him. He nodded and went to put the car in gear, but those gestures belied how tired and weak he suddenly seemed. “James, are you alright?” I asked. “Just a bit of trouble at the Tong club” he said, if he was trying to reassure me he failed, there weren’t many bruises showing, but perhaps he’d been drugged while in the club. I swapped over with him and reversing away from Gregor’s condo and the two Morgue desperados, drove back to Snoops’ Row.

Petunia was a good old girl, and didn’t give me any trouble behind the wheel. James was quiet the whole ride back, which suited me as I wanted to concentrate on the road. I pulled up to the front of Jake’s office, Leo was right behind me. I headed to his passenger side where Jake was easing himself out of the car. I draped one of his arms over my shoulders and while I waited for Leo to do the same I took stock of his injuries. There was so much blood, but I could see at least a couple of wounds in his chest, plus a deep graze across one bicep. Catching my concerned look his unnaturally pale face slowly formed his usual charming smile, although it was obviously strained. “Got into a bit of trouble at the Tong club” he explained. “The Tong club?” I reiterated, no doubt the boys did get some attention, but Jake’s more severe condition must be from the exchange with Matthew. I smiled to myself as Leo and I helped to shift Jake towards the stairs, trust him to put a brave face and play down what he’d done to help me. It suddenly hit home then; yes we were all doing our part to investigate what had happened to Harry, but Jake had swallowed lead for me tonight. Although I doubt he’d intended to, it was still the bravest thing anyone had done for me.

Just as we were about to head down Jake pointed out the Tong goon in his back seat, James stayed to watch him while Leo and I manoeuvred Jake down the stairs and into his office. The couch was the first comfortable spot I saw and guided him there. He was suddenly all business again, ordering Rocky what to do with the Tong, and his jacket. I wanted to fuss over him, make him comfortable, but he wasn’t having any of it. He passed out for a few minutes which scared me. Looking back at that rationally it shouldn’t, it really shouldn’t… but better the devil you know I guess. I asked Leo if there was a surgeon in the employ of the Pattersons that could help out, but it seemed like we were on our own. I asked him for a first aid kit; I had no idea what I would be doing, apart from applying common sense, but I had to try something. As Leo approached with his arms full of gauze and bandages I looked around to see the imposing figure of Ruby Valentine lording over the office.

“I heard you require a surgeon, I could provide one, no questions asked… for a price,” she stated. I certainly wouldn’t be able to trump up the cash, but who was she to demand money? I doubt the expense would make a dent in that mink lined purse, and Jake had taken the injuries on behalf of her investigation. I was saved from saying anything entirely undiplomatic when James appeared, carrying the first aid kit from his car. He went over to Jake, and seemed to know what he was doing. “Let’s just see how it goes here first,” I replied to Lady Valentine.

While James was tending to Jake I took a moment to look through the files. Private space was at a premium here; the Tong mook had been dumped in the bathtub, Leo and Rocky were admiring the gaunt teeth they’d pulled out of Jake’s jacket pocket and Lady Ruby was taking up the rest of the room by sheer presence. Still, I found a corner and had a read. There were definitely some interesting bits of information here, particularly from the ballistics report, but would we be able to piece together the puzzle from what we each knew?

Eventually James finished suturing and binding and Jake made noises to be moved to the bed in the back room. I moved in to help manoeuvre him with Leo’s assistance, but just as we got to the door Lady Valentine spoke up. “I hope you’re not too injured to take care of business?” she enquired. That woman’s lack of compassion seemingly had no limits. Jake forced his charming smile at her and assured her he’d be fine after a night’s rest, once again belying the extent of his injuries. “Shirley, I’d like a word with you.” She announced. I waited for Rocky to take my share of Jake’s weight and went over to her.

“I’m sure you’ll understand that my employees are expected to have a certain amount of confidentiality” she began, all business. “Of course, Lady Valentine, I wouldn’t expect anything else.” “Good” she replied, her expression implying there would be serious consequences if I didn’t consider myself bound by those rules. “And in particular, the events of last night at the liquor store?” I tried not to let my surprise show, and it wasn’t too hard, being glared down by her haughty expression I had my ‘business’ face on automatically. I said that I’d do my best, which she clearly thought wasn’t good enough. I went on to point out that there were other witnesses to my being there, and I didn’t have a good alibi. Ruby informed me that the other eye-witnesses would be taken care of. Her sinister tone concerned me as to what she had in mind, but I nodded and assured her that I would form an alibi should I be questioned. Why she was suddenly so concerned about covering up for Giles I don’t know. Seeing the two of them together… I hadn’t suspected a personal interest. No doubt Lady Ruby could cover it up if there was, but I knew Giles couldn’t. Maybe Valentine had someone else she wanted to frame for the building’s destruction, either way, as much as I wanted to see justice done, I had my hands held, tied, and shackled behind my back on this one.

James was sent in to deal with the last of the shotgun pellets and bandages. I idly thumbed through Harry’s case book, refreshing the details of the Angeli case in my mind. The book fell open to Eva’s portrait, it was a page that had been opened often. I looked up and asked Leo about what had happened at the club, he told me about the trouble at the back, and mentioned that a dame had led James out to the Tong mooks. I showed him Eva’s sketch and asked if the canary was the same. Leo hadn’t gotten a good look, but James who came out of Jake’s office at that moment had. A closer look than he’d wanted by the sounds of it. He filled me in on his version of events from the evening, I made a mental note to ask Jake about ‘Mr G’, who had a close connection with our Eva look-alike.

After Ruby wondered out of Jake’s back room I went over and knocked. Leo opened the door then turned back to the bed and announced me. Jake must have made some gesture of admittance as the door opened further so I could come in. As I entered I heard Rocky asking, “…do you want one of us to collect from her, boss?” “No Rocky, that’s ok. I’ll still be collecting this week”. Jake replied. The gall of it! I hoped this was just some in-joke between the lads, and not a carrot Jake was dangling over them. I certainly had no intention to put out to either of Jake’s boys, I know I had privileges regarding the protection payments, but a pro-skirt I was not.

My flash of anger passed quickly as I saw Jake lying on his front, the blanket pulled over him, and obviously in a lot of pain. A wave of concern washed over me as I went and perched gently on the side of his bed. The backroom was fairly small, and mostly taken up with the old wooden bed, which being large enough to fit two comfortably didn’t leave much space for the wardrobe and bedside cabinet. He got into a more comfortable position, something far more informal compared to when he was dealing with Lady Ruby. He allowed himself to wince as he did so, he was in obvious discomfort, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt seeing him this way on my account. I thanked him profusely for coming to rescue me, at which point he asked if I’d gotten anything out of Inich. I handed him the file, “the forensics and ballistics reports” I explained. He held it wordlessly, not even looking inside, just enjoying a moment of triumph. We then discussed the Mr G that James had mentioned, although Jake didn’t know him he was going to find out. I wondered if he was connected with Harry’s murder, it seemed like too much of a coincidence otherwise, and was concerned about how much he knew about us. I didn’t voice any of this to Jake though.

I then asked him what I’d been intending to originally, to borrow his car so I can deal with the Angeli case. He agreed, but gestured to Rocky who’d been hovering in the background and instructed him to go with and help me. “Yes, boss” came his simple acknowledgement.

We headed out to the car, Rocky drove to the tip while I mulled over what to do. The body would be old, so it would have to be fairly hidden, but ideally with whatever prop nearby that had caused his death originally… I certainly wasn’t looking forward to dealing with a stiff several weeks old though.

I found the fridge that Sammy had mentioned easily enough, it had been airtight and the smell that emerged was atrocious. Reflexively turning away I gagged, and then noticed that someone else had been here, and not able to hold down their dinner. Now I was looking around I spotted a man’s footprint, a cigarette butt of some classy French brand, and a discarded lens cap. Someone else had been, here, and very recently. Worse, they probably had photographic evidence of what had happened.

The situation had escalated very suddenly and I felt in over my head, the original plan just wasn’t going to work anymore. Several options ran through my head, to discard the body? Hide it somewhere else? Leave it be? That I couldn’t do, as no doubt Sammy would be accused of a murder he had no intention of committing. I needed help on this one, although I didn’t want to do it I called the only person I felt could help; Jake Bullet.

He answered the phone himself, I updated him and we discussed options. He told me to get rid of the body, dump it in the bay if possible. I turned to Rocky and asked if he had bags or something heavy we could use. He replied with his customary, “No, boss”. I’d hoped he’d gotten out of the habit of calling me that, but maybe he thought I was relaying the message straight from Jake. I smiled weakly at him, “Don’t call me that” I told him, “I’m not your boss”. “Oh, alright then…Skirt.” He amended. No doubt one of Jake’s little jokes. I asked him if he had a jerry can of gasoline, which he affirmed. Jake agreed to me torching the set up, leaving no evidence for the cops to find, and they would hopefully assume the photos were faked.

I spread the gas as far and wide as I could, hoping to devastate the scene.

When we returned to Jake’s office I looked out of the car and down Snoops’ Row. A couple of blocks down was my own office, but even thinking about returning there, alone, at this time of night sent a shiver down my spine. I followed Rocky downstairs, he didn’t question it, but let me in. As I arrive the lack of sleep, the prolonged and intense evening suddenly hits. “Rocky, Leo, do you think it’d be okay if I crashed on your couch tonight? I really don’t feel like heading back to mine, what with my phone being bugged, the eye nailed to my door, Mr G…” Leo waved me silent, it was all coming spilling out, I couldn’t believe how many enemies, mostly unseen, I’d made in a couple of days. “Mostly Rocky sleeps on the couch, but I’ll check with the boss.” He stalked over to the back room door and stuck his head round it. “Boss, Shirley wants to stay here tonight, on our couch” he said.

I don’t know if Jake had been asleep, but his voice came through in a clear, authoritative and no-nonsense way. “She can stay, but Rocky gets the couch, she’s in my bed.”

Had it been any other guy I would have protested, or at least try to persuade him to change the arrangements. However something about Jake’s charisma, the fact he gave out orders and was used to them being obeyed… I wasn’t about to say no. Plus, I know I had this weeks payment to make, the poor guy was probably too injured to do more than grope around, but at least I wouldn’t be behind.

I walked in, the near darkness barely enough to see where I was going. I slowly peeled of my dress and shoes, in a mixture of apprehension and uncertainty as to what Jake wanted. No doubt he’d make it clear…

I came to when I felt the covers shift along my body. There was just enough light from the cracks in the painted up window and from over the door to the main room to read the clock on Jake’s bedside table. It had just gone nine. I felt Jake’s hand on my shoulder and I turned to face him, wondering if the movement of the blanket had been Jake stirring in his sleep. He was already awake and had raised himself up slightly off the bed. “Would you like me to help you turn over?” I offered, my voice slow with sleep. “No,” he replied, “that’s not what I’d like at all” he said, moving towards me. I looked puzzled for a moment, “I’ve got another way you can help me” he added, making his intentions clear. In the poor light I began to move carefully, not wanting to disturb his bandages, helping him to move on the bed.

He looked at me with an intent expression, I could tell he was thinking something, but his mumbled apology left me momentarily confused. However when he bit down on my neck, making me yelp in pain, I was more surprised. Rather than his injuries hindering his usual roughness, he just gritted his teeth and acted out completely contrary to them. Certainly I’d seen Jake in a rushed and rough mood, there was never any indication of tenderness in his actions, but this was something entirely different. It was as if he’d been taken over by pure primal lust, animal instinct, untamed passion… or pent up rage. It was as if he had a surge of anger that just couldn’t be quashed… and he was taking it out on me. Where had it suddenly come from? Was he angry at Matthew who had shot him? At Harry’s death? At the whole night which had left him so injured? Or at me… it was through protecting me which was the cause of so much pain after all.

I shut my mind off from the experience as much as I could. I just let the biting and squeezing, pushing and pulling, the over zealous thrusting go on, letting the pain be vocalised without trying to feel it. Surely my cries and whimpers would put him off? But he continued, obviously it’s what he wanted, however by then my body was too sore to do anything but shout out in pain, I couldn’t resist.

Despite my best efforts to block out what was going on, each time he found some new way to violate my I’d involuntarily return to the scene. I tried crying out his name, begging him stop, but to no avail. A particularly painful invasion forced me to involuntarily close my legs, but Jake just pinned them down and apart using his whole weight to do so. I couldn’t move, and I’d never felt to utterly helpless physically. Jake’s stature and build were far larger than mine, but I’d never realised before how vulnerable that made me.

I knew then why those warning klaxons had gone off every time I tried to think about Jake in an intimate way, deep down I’d known him to be uncaring and vicious.

I shut my eyes and just long for it to be over. I don’t know how much time passed, but eventually he moves off me and lies back on the bed. I glance over, he’s a mess, the bandages are leaking, and I can see fresh blood trickling, even running out of them. He breathes deeply a few times, I just lie there, shocked.

He then puts his arm around me, causing him more pain, while he calls out to his boys, demanding fresh bandages. He doesn’t even look at me, and there are a tense few seconds until Rocky comes in. The look on his face says it all, a look of admiration, disbelief, respect… it dawns on me why Jake did what he did, but that doesn’t stop me from shaking slightly.

I try not to let him see me trembling as I redress his wounds.

It’s slow going, I can’t move fast and there are a lot of wounds to tend to. It doesn’t help that my thoughts are intense enough to hinder my concentration. “How can you let him use you like that?” I wonder, which is answered by “he’s let you keep the business for a year, without spending a dime” to which, “yes, but Harry did, and look where it got him” was replied, to be rebutted by, “he must care some for you, otherwise why would he have held out in that fire fight against Matthew for so long?”, “male pride, the same reason he treated you so badly just now…” and so on. We were silent as I manipulated the bandages and gauze, neither one of us could say anything to the other.

I had just finished the last bandage on his arm when there was a knock. I hopped into the bed and under the blanket again before Jake allowed Leo to enter, at least he granted me some modesty. Leo poked his head around the door, and announced that a Silas was here to see Jake. He asked Leo for a description before deciding that it’s a Silas that he knows. I offer to help Jake sit up, wincing mentally as I remember the last time I offered that kind of assistance to him. I also ask if he’d rather I got dressed and left, sheer practice meant I didn’t have a trace of bitterness in my voice, and possibly even managed to sound friendly. Something I had plenty of experience with the previous evening with Gregor…

Whoever this Silas was I guess Jake either had some important business with him, or he was no one he had to impress as he decided he wanted me to leave. I quickly stepped into my shoes and dress, clutching it around me as I headed out of that room without pausing to reach for the awkward zipper.

I can’t bring myself to look at the other room’s occupants as I step out, I close the door behind me with my eyes cast low, and almost walk into the well dressed gent waiting to go in. “Ah, you must be the delightful Shirley Homes” he states. I nod, “and I guess you are Silas?” I guess. “Indeed. A pleasure to meet you” as he replies he takes my right hand and raises it to his lips. I smile at him, my own charm kicking in on autopilot. “I’m sure the pleasure is mine” comes the automatic response. “Ah yes, the private investigator,” he continues, “and the one in which Jake takes payment from in such an… interesting way.” My smile froze. He obviously knew about me, but how? Was he an acquaintance of Jake’s? Most likely, but given how many people knew about and of us recently I was suspicious and kept my guard up. “Well, it seems you have the advantage of me” I told him. “Indeed I do”, he replied. He looked me up and down before smiling lecherously at me. “It seems Jake is keeping the best ‘collections’ to himself…” Without knowing his relationship to Jake I wasn’t sure how to pitch my reply. I feigned confusion and stepped aside to let him through the door to the back room. He nodded at me and went through.

I took a deep breath. I needed a shower, and coffee – time to think and the energy to do so.

Originally authored by: Alice, Azrael, & Skimble

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