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Edge of Midnight Monday: Depth of Deception

by Azrael

Case One – The Death of Harry Fontaine

Chapter Seven – Depth of Deception

Afternoon, 29th October, 1949

I could see that the case was gnawing at Shirley’s innards the way a rat chews on gristle. Sure, we were friends, but her obsession with solving my murder was down to more than that. Every time she thought of my corpse laying in the artificial chill of the morgue, I knew she could see her brother looking back at her out of my own empty eyes. That was the key to her need for answers; she felt like she’d failed her brother and this was her way of atoning.

The problem was, where did she go from here? More importantly, who could she trust?

She thought she knew where she stood with Jake Bullet, thought she could trust him. She knew he was focused on business, but not cruel. That all started to change after he used her like a slab of meat this morning, making her cry out in pain as he took his ‘payment’ just to make himself look strong in the eyes of his goons.

Later on she found out that the bug left in her office is of a type commonly used by the Pattersons, which is hardly going to do help her trust Jake; he’s a Patterson made man after all, and he’s recently had all too much access to Shirley’s office. Did he plant the bug, and if so why? Are all the clues pointing to the Black Chrysanthemums false leads designed to put Shirley and her friends off the scent?

Meanwhile, Jake himself seems pretty conflicted about his relationship with Shirley. He tries to keep it ‘professional’ but there’s something more there. Behind the calm façade he presents to the world Jake’s in turmoil, constantly trying to balance what he’s starting to feel for Shirley against his obligations to the Patterson mob and his need to maintain authority over his employees.

For him, this case has turned into something more important than finding out who killed me so he can show ‘em that the Pattersons’ protection ain’t to be taken lightly. His boss, Silas, has intimated that if Jake can find out who this Tong ‘Mr. G’ is, it might wind up in a promotion for him. Maybe the Pattersons have been laying a false trail to the Tongs and implicating Mr. G so they can follow Shirley right to him and find out who the hell he is.

On top of that, just to mix Jake up even more, Silas Mortimer has requested that Shirley’s next ‘payment’ be made directly to him. Will Jake give her over to his boss, or will he do something to save her that embarrassment? Paying Jake with favours is one thing, but extending the same to his boss would make Shirley a floozy; a cheap floozy, and I don’t like to think what the effect of that would be on Shirley herself.

Meanwhile, James is trying to go through life knowing that he’s been marked for death by the Tong. If the involvement of the BC’s in my death is a Patterson sleight of hand, why would they mark the historian for death ’cause of asking ‘too many questions’? Whatever the reason I can’t imagine that James has got much peace of mind right now. With Golden types lurking near the museum in laundry vans, and arranging to have him summoned to the heart of Eastowne, it looks like the tong has got a bug up their collective ass as far as bringing James to heel is concerned.

Does our mild-mannered historian actually know something that the tong doesn’t want him to? On his visit to the Jade Lotus did he see or hear something he shouldn’t? History may have gone a little skittery in recent years, but that’s nothing to what might become of James’s future if he can’t work out the answers to these questions. Good thing for him that Jake and Shirley are on his side…

Speaking of sides, I gotta wonder where James stands as far as Giles and Ruby are concerned. So far he’s hung around with the widow Valentine quite a bit. Is he carrying a torch for her? As for Giles, the guy’s unstable but he’s a warlock, just like James. Don’t those guys tend to stick together?

Meanwhile, Ruby and Giles have been doing their own investigation since Giles got out of jail on the judge’s whim. When they met up with Jake there was considerable tension, and next time I can only think it’s gonna be worse. Ruby sicced the cop who’d been following her around on Jake as a distraction before driving off; given the state of the Tong kid in Jake’s bath, it could have gone bad for our local Patterson guy if the cop had insisted on looking around. Jake got out of it with a handy bribe, but he’s not going to be happy the next time he meets with Ruby. They arranged a meetup at six, but to me it all smells a bit suspicious.

So far Ruby and Giles have discovered that my body’s already been put through the incinerator, despite Giles’s attempt to put through paperwork claiming me for burial. They also launched a parallel investigation of the Jade Lotus, planning to find out if Eva was really there, not knowing that James had already been there and done that – and apparently got marked for death for doing so.

Giles has got problems of his own right now. His apartment was burnt down by anti-warlock elements in the city, and wherever he’s recognised by people he’s being shunned. Even his own insurance company denied having a policy under his name until Ruby called and threw some weight around. Myra Flannegan of the Crystal Ball Squad is riding hard on his heels, using all the resources available to her to try and find more evidence that Giles was involved in the collapsed building incident.

Given Giles’s recent instability, I can’t help but think that it might not be much longer before he hangs himself with all the rope that Ruby’s provided him by getting him out of jail.

There’s deception everywhere in this case, clinging to the facts like stink. The motivations of the major players; hell, who the major players even are is still in doubt, and it seems quite likely that half the people investigating my death are out to screw the other half over. If Shirley and James want to come out of this case alive, they need to find out who they can and can’t trust, and how deep the deception goes.

POV: Shirley Homes

The overcast sky was looking broody and threatening, and seemed to reflect the turn that Jake had taken toward me. Once he’d realised that neither James nor I were interested in ‘getting information’ from the Tongs in the laundry van Jake decided not to go ahead with his idea. I decided to stick with James to escort him and his new artefact back into the museum.

We got as far as his office without incident, he was just making space for the jar when a gaunt came in. Although he tried to hide it, I knew Jake well enough to spot him tense with loathing. James didn’t seem concerned, and I gathered from their conversation that Bill worked with him. Turned out nothing had happened, although the laundry van had been replaced with an identical one. Jake kept on teasing James with the ‘marked for death’ thing the Tong kid had said. Poor James wasn’t impressed, and wanted to phone the police to see if they could do anything. Now it was Jake’s turn to look uncomfortable. “Go ahead” I suggested, “at the very least it’ll help distract them.” Jake and I tried to look nonchalant while we waited for James to make the call. From hearing his side of the conversation it didn’t seem to be going well. The police were reluctant to do anything, but mentioned that they may send a patrol car over. I had an idea on something to pass the time; “James, I’ve not been to this museum before” I told him, “would you be kind enough to give me a tour?”

He looked slightly surprised at the suggestion, but was quite happy to oblige. Jake decided to tag along, but looked decidedly bored by the end of the tour. I couldn’t blame him, James certainly knew his facts and shared each one with us, although his presentation was somewhat dry. After a couple of hours Jake’s patience gave in and he asked if there was somewhere here he could get a coffee. I must admit, my genuine interest had turned into more of a façade now, and I went along with Jake’s idea.

We got to the staff room, it had clearly seen better days, but was now full with a collection of mismatched furniture and a rattling old urn. James mentioned that Bill knew foreign languages and might enjoy studying the book that Dr Chang had given him. I suggested to James that he should give Bill the book now, before he went home. I wanted to talk to Jake somewhere neutral, but alone, and this seemed like an ideal opportunity. I don’t know whether James got the hint, or just thought it was a good idea, but he went out to find Bill. I turned my attention to the cups for a minute, cleaning them out. I heard Jake moving around behind me, after he settled I turned around to face him. “Jake, do you mind if I ask you something?” “Sure,” came his reply. His voice sounded easy going, but his expression looked like he really wasn’t sure what to expect. “What do you know about Pat ‘the rat’ Malone?” He looked slightly surprised, guess he hadn’t expected such a business like question. “Pat the rat, now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a while. Pat ‘the rat’ Malone…” he mulled. He asked why I wanted to know, when I pointed out that I wanted an answer first he became withdrawn. I’d said it in a teasing way, but I guess he’d taken it more seriously. I thought to myself, “come on Jake – it’s me; Shirley, help me out with this…” The ‘who’s going first’ got banded around, and with neither of us conceding I resorted to an old tactic; leaning back against the wall, my foot sliding up it to give my legs a provocative angle. I looked at him in my way that could distract so many men with lustful thoughts. It was partly out of habit, and partly because I wanted the ‘old’ Jake back, the one who was charming rather than cruel, the one who had saved me from Gregor…

Apparently I’d gone too far as he suggested I lock the door so we could be undisturbed. Had this been a week ago, or even yesterday I would have smiled and gone along with the suggestion. Today however, I couldn’t bring myself to pretend to Jake that this would go anywhere.

I backed off and decided that one of us would have to give in so that we could get somewhere, and Jake’s pride wouldn’t allow it to be him. “Okay,” I concede “Malone’s name came up in Harry’s ballistics report.” It partly worked, Jake told me that Pat ‘the rat’ was a Patterson who had gotten killed. Tell me something I don’t know… “Well who iced him?” I wanted to know. “Someone out to get the Pattersons, I guess” was Jake’s answer. “Why would it be someone against the Pattersons if he was an informant?” I thought out loud. It seemed this was news to Jake, he seemed put out about the fact that I knew more than I had let on, and he only got more angry as I refused to tell him who my sources were. Well, they had to be protected. He kept on insisting until I finally said, “why don’t you ask your Patterson friends? They’re the ones who tapped my phone…”

A heavy silence descended. Jake looked shocked at my revelation. Genuinely so? Or because I’d found out?

He tried to deny it by asking me as to why I thought the Pattersons would want to spy on me, and Harry. I coolly told him that I trusted my source more than the Pattersons, although I could see him getting more angry. Was it put on for my benefit though? He asked again about my informants, this time wanting to know if it was the same person who’d told me about the bug as Pat ‘the rat’. Again I pointed out that I couldn’t tell him, and as I did so I felt an edge come into my voice – I certainly trusted Jacky more than any Patterson mobster, and for helping me he didn’t deserve to have me give his name to Jake. “Why would the Pattersons want to bug you?” Jake asked again. “I don’t know, although it’s not like they haven’t had the opportunity to do so…” The implication hung in the air for barely a moment before Jake demanded to know if I was accusing him. I guess I had had him in mind, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to accept that, let alone admit it. “No, I’m just saying they’ve had the chance…” Jake looked at me, clearly unconvinced, and the coffee continued to percolate, breaking the tense silence.

James then returned, I was silently grateful to him, and took opportunity of the distraction; offering him either tea or coffee. I’m not sure if he noticed the loaded atmosphere, but cut through by saying about how excited Bill was about the book. The book! I suddenly thought back to Harry’s case book, and the missing pages. I turned back to Jake. “That’s another thing! You were in Harry’s office first, did you take anything before the rest of us got there?” His denial was all the more poignant as when he said it he looked straight at me – for the first time all day.

Shortly after James pointed out that the museum was going to close soon so we’d have to head out. Jake wanted a second opinion on the bugs so we went back to Harry’s office to find the one left in his phone. Of course I didn’t trust Jake to not tamper with it, and he certainly could once he’d gotten it out of sight, but well, let him get his own answers. Looking out the front windows of the museum we could see a cop car pulled over next to the laundry van, so we used the distraction to leave. James drove us there in Petunia, the sky was now dark with Autumn’s early night. Dark, like Jake’s mood and my current feelings for him.

Harry’s office was just how we’d last seen it – a mess overlaid with a sharp metallic tang. The police tape over the door hadn’t even been fixed or replaced. I wondered just how long the cops would drag their heels over this case. Jake unscrewed the phone, removing the bug and handing it to James replaced the cover. James reported that it was a generic one from a catalogue, but had a few modifications done specifically to it. It could broadcast far, and pick up conversations on the phone and right next to it. Not helpful in trying to work out who planted it, and for what purpose. Jake took it back so he could give it to one of his contacts. I didn’t know if his mob contact would give him the same info as Jacky had given me, but I wanted James to have a look at the other bug too. The lowering light made the long shadows intertwine with the blood splattered walls in an eerie way, so we headed out into the rain rather than hang around in the creepy office.

James opened up his umbrella and kindly stepped over so I could stand under it too. I smiled and thanked him – guess there are some gents left in the city. Apart from stopping by Jacky’s office there was only one thing I could think to do that evening. I invited the others to accompany me to ‘The Gumshoe’ the bar on Snoops’ Row. I tried to express it to both, but was grateful when only James accepted the offer, Jake mumbled something about returning to his office. Turning up his collar and hunching down from the rain he strode off, his long legs taking him away faster than James and I who followed him as far as my block.

On arriving there we headed straight up to Jacky’s office, but there was no answer. This late on a Sunday I really shouldn’t be surprised, but I really wanted that bug for James to analyse. I decided I was too impatient to wait until Jacky’s return the next day, so pulled out a hair pin and set to fiddling with his lock. I had just heard a ‘snick’ as the last tooth fell into place when James alerted me to a man walking down the hall. I stood by the door, knocking again as if we’d only just arrived. As the man approached us down the hall I noticed it was Jacky, hidden behind a mountain of Golden cuisine take out. “Jackie!” I call out, “just the man I was looking for” I smiled brightly at him. He acknowledged me, I introduced James, although he got a curious look from Jackie. He wanted to know more specifics as to where we’d met after I explained that James was a friend of my brother’s that I’d bumped into. I tried to keep it vague, I was hoping Jackie would think I’d followed his advice and backed off from Harry’s case.

He invited me to share his noodles with him, I’d not tried Golden food before and so declined, besides – I’d only stopped here to get the bug back, which I pointed out to Jackie. He handed me his food boxes while he went to open the door. However, the key didn’t turn right, and he realised that the office was unlocked. He suddenly got very suspicious, I tried to point out that he may have forgotten had he been in a rush while putting on a suggestive smile and letting my voice turn sultry. He didn’t buy it, but I seemed to distract him enough that he didn’t spot my tampering on the lock. He still entered his office cautiously in order to check for an intruder, but finding nothing invited James and I in. He gave me a flat thing which I nibbled on, some crunchy golden snack, while he continued to warn me away from my errant ways. I nodded a half hearted agreement, but I wish he would change the record. His concern was touching at first, but now I feel like he’d rather see me give up the whole PI business, lord only knows why – it’s not like Watts and Homes investigations is any serious competition for him.

I made my farewells and headed to the door, calling my attention he passed the bug to me before I left. Thanking him James and I walked out.

The rain was really coming down in droves, fortunately it wasn’t far to the Gumshoe. I’d forgotten how run down and grey the place was, I’m not sure what added more to the depressing atmosphere; the furnishings or the customers. Being fairly late in the evening it was busy, but there was enough space for me to lean back against the bar while I waited for Charlie the bartender. He soon wandered over, giving me enough time to scope out the patrons. Many I knew by face, having seen them around the street.

“Would you care for some bourbon?” I asked James. When he consented I asked Charlie for a bottle. James was kind enough to pay, although I think the quantity shocked him. Well, if I’ve developed anything at all over the past year as a PI it’s a stomach that can take large amounts of liquor. Not recognising James Charlie enquired about him, wondering if he was a PI too, or interested in buying out my office. I denied it, introducing James as working in the museum. Charlie pointed out that he looked like an academic, to which I couldn’t disagree. I did take the opportunity to ask about any high end private dicks, dropping some of the clues I’d picked up on from near Angeli’s body. Charlie could give me a name straight away; Benton Starkwell.

The only thing that surprised me was that such a high end PI would have dealt with such business himself. He certainly was a big player, owning a whole floor of offices. Charlie informed me that he was dealing with lawyers and high class customers, which is how he’d been able to rake so much in I guess.

James and I took seats in a booth at the back of the bar. He was understandably curious about the detective I’d been asking about, so I updated him about the situation I’d dealt with at the tip. He didn’t seem too concerned, although he seemed to agree that it was to do with keeping Sammy quiet regarding Giles’ trial. The only difference was I wanted to know if Ruby Valentine was behind that, and if she had any more nefarious plans for that evidence. With luck I’d soon have those answers.

Turned out James had been… approached by Ruby along those lines too. “She practically owns the museum…” James told me, the dejected look on his face told me all I needed to know about the consequences should Lady Valentine use her clout. “I wonder how she got to Jake?” I asked, half to myself. James sighed, “bribes, no doubt”. I nodded in agreement, after all Jake had already made it clear he would do anything for enough money.

I continued musing on this for a few moments until James reminded me we had something new to consider. I passed over the bug which Jacky had just returned to me. James got me to confirm that it was the same one which I’d pulled out of my phone before examining it closely himself. He confirmed it was the same as the one out of Harry’s phone, implying that the same outfit had planted both of them. He then reminded me that I’d been reading over the files I’d obtained the previous night and was curious as to if they’d contained anything useful. I told him what I’d found out, and as we continued to drink and relax we discussed what had been found out so far.

James and I sat in an easy silence together, both sipping the bourbon and mulling over what we’d just told each other. A guy in a white tux entered the low ceilinged room and headed confidently over to the bar. His aura of self-assuredness would have made him stand out anywhere, but the crisp bright tux looked incredibly out of place in the dull grey smoky bar, filled with men wearing old, crumpled suits and emanating a depressed, sour mood. “That must be Benton Stockwell” I said, half to myself. I looked over at James with an apologetic look, having to relieve him again. He understood what I meant; “you’ll do better dealing with him without me” he admitted while standing up. He put his hat on, tipping it and smiling slightly at me before he made his way out. I glanced back at Mr Stockwell, and saw him handing over a package to Charlie. He was very overdressed and I realised that he was just passing through. I’d hoped he’d stop a while so I could be more subtle and wait for him to approach me, but I decided to take the opportunity to introduce myself.

I picked up the bottle of bourbon, almost half finished already, and sashayed over to the bar. Sliding onto a stool I looked sideways at Stockwell, raising the corner of my lips as he looked towards me. He caught my eye, then glanced at the bottle in front of me. “I’m having trouble finishing this bottle,” I told him “would you perhaps help me finish it?” After a bit of banter he accepted my invitation. He introduced himself, and I was right – it was Benton Stockwell. I only gave my name as Shirley, but I guess my reputation had reached even his lofty heights as he enquired how I’d been doing since I’d lost Josh. In return I tried to probe him about his recent work, it was an easy move after he told me how long he’d been in the business. He brushed my questions aside with ease, and moved the conversation onto me. He began coming on fairly strongly, something I hadn’t been counting on given my uninvited interruption. Despite talk about my problems and how our jobs give us perspective (my attempt to change the discussion again), he was making it clear just how attracted he was to me. I know I get guys looking me over, and I use my red dress to obtain things that I couldn’t otherwise, but this… this was different somehow.

Maybe it was the bourbon clouding my thoughts, certainly while James had been here I’d been drinking more than my fair share, but the smouldering looks he gave me made me want to melt. Sure, Jake was a charmer, and his easy going grin made women go weak at the knees, but his aura of danger now made me think of a shark grinning – as if it was softening up its prey before going in for the kill.

In the back of my mind I knew that Benton had gotten rich by doing some real dirty work, including the job for Ruby, however the alcoholic fuzz didn’t let me become concerned at the idea when he suggested taking on my office. He’d already told me how green he thought I was, I don’t know why I believed him, but it was a way of getting out of dealing with Jake – which seemed very appealing at the moment. I tried to back out of his offer, but he complimented me again, nothing original though, so I countered; “you must get a dozen like me draping themselves across your desk every week.” He denied it, and it was so easy to believe, or maybe I just wanted to. Either way, when he suggested going back to his apartment I needed little convincing, and let him drape my coat around me and usher me out.

He had a large apartment a few blocks back from Snoops’ Row, to himself – or so he told me. It was comfortably furnished, and it looked like he spent more time here than most gumshoes would have done at home. He poured me some brandy, it was fairly smooth, and warming after having been out in the chill night. I stopped looking around when Benton sat down in front of me, suddenly all business like. “Now Shirley,” he began, “there’s something we need to talk about before we go any further”. My mind leapt to several guesses as to what he was about to say, none of them, it turned out, were correct. “I was employed by Lady Ruby through her lawyer.” He admitted (!) “to get the evidence of Angeli’s body, so that the lawyer could get Sammy’s silence in the Giles case.” I nodded, so far he’d not told me anything I hadn’t suspected. He went to assure me that the evidence had been used and now was safe. “You’re not going to use it to get Sammy accused of something he hasn’t done, are you?” He confirmed he wasn’t. I’m not entirely sure I believed him, or didn’t suspect him of being too literal, but when he then suggested going into the bedroom I was in two minds. Benton suggested that we started our partnership now, I pointed out that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to start a business partnership this way. He replied that he wasn’t going to mix business with pleasure later.

Even if he had no intention of making Watts and Homes an affiliate of his business the idea was a nice one. A practical side chipped in; where else would I stay tonight? My own place was too dangerous, and I certainly wasn’t going to ask Jake again! Jake… why was I even thinking of that trouble boy at a time like this?! I was annoyed at myself for doing so, annoyed at Jake for treating me the way he had this morning, annoyed at him for evading my answers… and for being in the forefront of my mind.

My thoughts were interrupted by Benton, as if he’d been reading them, “Come on Shirley, I’ve got to be better than some low life like Jake Bullet”. Did the whole of snoops’ row know about Jake and me? Ah well, he was probably right. I took his hand and let him lead me though.

An hour later I lay back down on the bed as Benton reached over me to grab a carton of cigarettes. I took the one he offered me, and as we lay there in silence, a haze of smoke gathering over the bed, I began to collect my thoughts.

It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t been with anyone else in this way since Jake and I first began my ‘payment’. I guess trying to keep the business running meant I had little time for a relationship – although I began to wonder if the method by which I was doing so was the cause. Seemed a lot of people knew, or at least suspected about Jake and I… Even if it was only a load of rumours keeping guys at bay why was Benton different? Or had it been me, keeping them at arms length. Certainly a few days ago I never would have found myself here, like this. I didn’t like to admit it, but until this morning I hadn’t wanted anyone else. Sure, he’d never shown me any affection, but neither had I – I’d tried to keep our arrangement professional, as he’d so easily been able to do. However, now that something had changed between us I realised that I was missing something. Is that why I had so easily let myself get seduced by Benton?

I turned to face him as I considered this, he looked over at me and smiled. As I smiled back he leant over and kissed my shoulder before rolling away from me and turning out the light. Taking a final drag I stubbed out the fag.

I smiled to myself; Benton was certainly different from Jake, but not in an unpleasant way. I don’t think I’d admitted to myself until now that I’d gotten to enjoy making payments to Jake… at least until this morning. If he’d been angry at me for getting him injured, added onto that the cold response to my questions earlier, he could be very annoyed at me for this. Most likely he’d show that he didn’t care, and maybe he wouldn’t, but he could make life difficult for both of us. I’d done this to gain some security from Benton, but what if he backed out? What if I did? At least Jake doesn’t try and run my business. Either way I couldn’t let Jake find out, not least because he was my only source for information on the Patterson connection in the case. Or was he…? An idea crossed my mind, and one I’d have to consider in the morning. At least, after daybreak.

I knew the questions, I just needed to get to the answers.

POV: Jake Bullet

I feel up for a bit of a fight. All that time walking around the emporium of oddities has put me on edge. I keep getting a vaguely disturbed feeling when I think back on some of the exhibits. I don’t know why, but there’s something just plain wrong that makes me want to do damage to someone or something. Now I come to think on it, there are some Tong mooks out to get James, and they’re conveniently packaged up in one place. I suggest confronting the laundry-van guys that have been watching the museum, but Shirley goes pale at the idea, and James wants nothing to do with it. These guys have marked him for death, and he has the opportunity to hit first, and he’s refusing it. What a chump!

Well, discretion being the better part of valour, plus it being James’ fight and I don’t intend to fight it for him, I put away the idea. I’m more than happy to help him in a fight if there’s something in it for me. But fight for him while he goes and hides in his office? No chance! So we leave the Black Chrysanthemum mooks where they are and we go around the back of the museum like cowards.

Like the good responsible citizen with far more faith in the system than it deserves, James calls the police. Asking them to do something about the ‘laundry van that has been parked outside all day’ which of course merits no serious response. From his expression I can guess that the person on the other end of the phone is all but laughing at him, and I don’t blame them.

To while away time Shirley asks James for a tour of the museum. With nothing better to do I tag along. There’s always the chance I might spot something valuable. Then if I spot a good way in it could make a good tip off to someone. Ten percent of whatever they make would be a good return on the investment of a few hours now and zero risk later.

Planning a good break-in can only keep me going so long, and after having been shot up quite badly yesterday all the walking around the museum isn’t doing any favours to my wounds. In a bored tone, masking the discomfort, I ask James is there’s anywhere to get a drink. he suggests the staff tea room, which sounds good to me.

I take a seat while Shirley starts making drinks, and James wanders off somewhere saying he’ll be back soon. When I turn my attention back to Shirley she’s leaning against a wall quite close to me, giving me her ‘come and get it’ look. Maybe I shouldn’t feel too bad about this morning, maybe she likes that sort of rough treatment. I don’t know how long James plans to be gone for, but I suggest to Shirley that she ought to lock the door. I think I must have misunderstood her intentions. Her expression drops and she backs off a little, suddenly changing tack – asking me about Pat “the Rat” Malone.

It suddenly dawns on me that she wasn’t showing interest in me, she was trying to roll me for information. That immediately gets my back up, that she thinks she could manipulate me like that. What’s worse is that she’s trying to roll me for information about the way the Patterson organisation operates. It doesn’t end there, she’s insinuating that the Patterson outfit had something to do with Harry’s death, and the bugging of the phones with the Patterson-issue bugs. Maybe it’s my injuries, but my temper seems to be on a short fuse today.

Well I’m not standing for these insulting insinuations. I try to demand the source of her outrageous ‘facts’ but she clams up, not telling me anything, instead demanding I answer her questions. I have to clench my fists to not lash out with anything other than harsh words. She dares to sit there and blatantly accuse me of being mixed up in this. She is all but saying I had Harry killed. That I bugged her phone. She’s doubting my word. I know I could reach out and wrap my hands around her throat again, throw her to the floor and teach her never to dare think such thoughts of me again. I don’t know how I can keep from raising my voice, but James returns and pretty much ends her part of the ‘discussion’ with his presence. Shirley is pretty much back to ignoring me, and now when I look at her that bubble of regret has been replaced with anger. But I’m not letting this drop as easily as she seems to be able to. I insist that if she thinks the Pattersons have planted these bugs, then I’ll show one of them to my contacts and get them to prove that she had been misled.

As any chance of pleasant conversation has been killed by Shirley’s insulting accusations, and the atmosphere is unpleasant, James is more than happy to take us all back to Snoops’ Row where I drop into Harry’s office and recover the bug from the phone.

We head back down to the street, the weather having taken a urn for the worse. The rain is coming down in torrents and, while Shirley and James start discussing their evening plans in a bar, I turn my collar up and stride away from them, heading to my office.

I chat to Rocky and Leo briefly, and then head to my back room for a lie down. I try to think. It’s hard to think, lying there, feeling the ache of my wounds, remembering Shirley this morning, and then again this evening. She’s wrong. Plain wrong. If there was any Patterson business going on here, I’d know about it. I would. Wouldn’t I?

I think back to Silas’ puzzling visit this morning when he tried to take the tong goon off my hands. I think of what Sammy told me about Patterson collectors working for the tongs. Maybe there is some Patterson stuff going down. Some stuff that isn’t sanctioned from up high. These collectors won’t have made these choices on their own. There must be someone else mixed up in it. Their boss, Vito Andretti, almost for certain. Who’s next up the food chain… Silas. It doesn’t necessarily go up that far, but if it does, who would I go to talk to? Silas is my go-to guy. I don’t know anyone above him, or even the same level. That makes things tough.

Still, I’m a resourceful guy. I know what territory the Pattersons hold. There’s a place far enough away to not be under Silas, and still be Patterson territory. All I need to do is cruise around, find a bar, then tell the owner that Jake Bullet wants to meet the man he pays protection to.

A fairly simple plan, and I sit with my back to the corner of the room looking out across the bar. So far, so good. It isn’t more than half an hour before I see a large man walking right towards me. Tall, broad chested, hat covering his face, I can’t get that good a look at him. He lowers himself into a chair, and it’s then that I notice that not only is he a few decades or so older than me, half his face is terribly burned.

I have to be careful what I say. How do I indicate that there might be some traitorous behaviour in Patterson members without being laughed at, without him going right to his superiors and dropping me in it with Silas? I have to be subtle and sneaky, or blunt and honest. I opt for the latter, it’s more my style. Frankly, when all is said and done, I’m a Patterson guy and if there’s someone else who isn’t, I want to find them. If I come across as zealous, over-imaginative, I’ll still come across as loyal. Leastways I hope so.

I tell Mr Burns about the bug, I claim it was found in my own phone. I ask if Mr Burns knows or is able to find out if this is a Patterson made bug, and if it is if he knows why it’s being used in my street. He says he knows a guy, will be able to find out, but he wants to know what is in it for him. I tell him that information is valuable, and I’m willing to share the results of what I finally find out about the origins of the bug. He’s more pragmatic. He wants $50 or half of whatever resulting returns there might be, whichever is highest. Seems acceptable to me, and I make the deal. I give him my phone number then return home to wait.

While I am waiting at home, Mr Burn calls asking me to meet him. I go and meet him and he tells me that there is no Patterson investigation going on in my area, and that this bug was not part of any Patterson investigation. He knows the guy responsible for making the bugs, and the guy has told him that this bug has not been officially planted by a Patterson. If he’s telling me the truth, this means that the bug was not planted by a Patterson, or that a Patterson is working through unofficial channels. Mr Burns advises me to contact Silas about my suspicions into the activities of the Pattersons in the area next to mine.

I pay Mr Burns the $50 I owe him, promising to get in touch if there’s any greater value derived from the information.

I return home wondering what to do.

Originally authored by: Alice, Azrael, & Skimble

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