Sunday, 8 June 2014

Between the Streetlights (part 2)

The smoke from my cigarette climbed lazily to join the haze that lingered in the room, hanging over the tables like a promise unfulfilled. I swallowed the last remnants of my drink, maybe the forth or fifth empty glass of the evening, maybe more. My world paused, tension building.

Phyllis was curled on the seat opposite me, I had draped my coat over her when finally her fatigue had overtaken her. She murmured something in her troubled sleep and I longed to stroke her sleek hair and offer her comfort, but I could not lie to her, things were not about to get better.

I tried to tune out the soporific jazz, but in MacAddam's the music inhabited the walls, the building moved to the vibrations of the quartet on the stage. Armageddon could come and they would play on, the bar's back room was its own universe, no windows, no clocks, forever three o'clock on a Sunday morning.

Doreen brought me another, sensing my need and ignoring Jim behind the bar; he looked on with a scowl, calculating my tab and the likelihood of payment. She placed a well-manicured hand on my shoulder and followed my gaze. The dim light left most of Phyllis's face in tantalizing shadow.

“Oh, Donny, she's far too fine for the likes of you, certainly too fine for a dump like this.” Nature had graced Doreen with a face that would forever be lost in the background of the scene, but her voice could lift you away from the dusty tables and haphazard jazz.

“Places fine enough for a girl like Phyllis don't take my credit any more.” We had nearly been an item once, Doreen and I, but she had ended up in the arms of a policeman. It had not ended up all that well, Doreen and I were both unlucky that way.

“Still waiting for things to turn around, eh?” She placed my empty glass on her tray. “Does she know that, or are you running up a tab with her, too?”

“She's had a rough night and I didn't want to leave her alone.” I considered the truth of my statement, I did not want to leave her.

“Talking of rough nights, look what's hauled its sorry ass onto my doorstep.” Doreen straightened herself and glared towards the door. A missed note from the band signalled a change in the atmosphere, a breath held collectively by the bar's denizens. It did not take a frosted glass office door embossed with my name followed by the letters P and I to work out what kind of person had just entered the room.

A shadow loomed over me, reducing the poor quality of the light even further. A hand was placed on the table, the nails clean and neatly trimmed. A throat was cleared. Unperturbed, I took a sip of my drink.

“Winterton.” The voice was clear and had the polished mahogany of education but the dirt of the city had taken the sheen off. Henry Fuller had been a good man once, but his job had taken him into the dark, seedy corners of the city and a certain corrosion had set in.

“Detective Fuller, I did not know you were a jazz lover.” Phyllis's eyes opened, she appraised the situation in a flash of verdant green and sat up demurely.

“If I were then I would give this place a wide birth.” I glanced around, Doreen's face was set in stone, but her eyes held the far away look of summer meadows and a missed opportunity. By the door a mound of muscle poured into a suit was Fuller's back-up. Fuller himself was cast in iron, hard, unbending and bereft of sympathy “I'm here to ask you about Clancy Burton.”

“Clancy is an old friend, we go back a long way, he'll tell you that.” I could not risk looking at Phyllis, did not dare suffer accusation in her gaze.

“You still have friends, Donald? Word is you pawned those long ago.” My cigarette burnt its last and I ground the remains in the already full ashtray. “Someone put three point thirty-eight rounds in him at close range tonight, know anything about that?” Phyllis twitched, but Fuller's attention was on me and it went unnoticed.

“Clancy? He...” I withered, suddenly feeling the weight of a grief the drink was supposed to have lifted.

“Yes, you met with him earlier and now you can answer some questions for me down at the station.” There was no way of saving myself, but I could spare Phyllis.

“Doreen, would you mind being an absolute doll and take Phyllis home? I don't think she wants to be left alone.” I put the surety and suave nonchalance borrowed from another day into my voice, that day was long ago.

“Johnson,” Fuller called across to his man-gorilla. “Take the car and escort the ladies home, maybe the walk to the station will sober mister Winterton up a little.”

Jim the barman did not even look in my direction as I was hustled out. The other customers kept their heads down and their hands on their glasses. The band played on, another mangled jazz favorite. Another night at MacAddam's, another of the bar's rats caught in the trap, they had seen it all before. Pour me another, Jim.

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