Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice:
Title: Night Train Part Six
I shut the office door.
Madeline shouldered past me, heading straight for the liquor cabinet. She ignored the two carafes of homemade stuff on the tray and went inside for a bottle of the good stuff.
The office had been painted red, giving the whole room a rougey glow. They also made the office seem hotter than it actually was. Framed artwork-- hard-scrabble landscapes, mostly-- hung all over the walls, including one massive painting behind the desk.
A sumptuous divan-- probably snatched from a local bordello-- sat next to the wood and glass liquor cabinet.
I moved behind Jack's fine antique oak desk. I forced myself to take a good, long look at the framed photographs of his two daughters, both of them grown women. Like that made any difference.
Madeline poured herself some scotch whiskey, drank it down, then filled up again.
“All right,” I said. “Let's have it.”
She took a sip from her glass, giving me the eye over the rim.
I sighed and dropped myself into Jack's chair. The worn black leather creaked under my weight.
“You know what I am,” I said. “And what I do.”
She glanced at the divan next to the liquor cabinet, then came over and sat on the edge of the desk. I opened the little silver box on the desktop and helped myself to two of Jack's cigarettes, lit them both, then handed one to Madeline.
“I know, chouette,” she replied, taking the cigarette, “I know. I've just never seen you do it.”
I leaned back in the chair. The pain and the sickness and the fatigue curled up in my lap.
“Chouette,” I repeated. “I looked that one up. Little cabbage? You're going to have to explain that to me someday.”
“Perhaps I will. Someday.”
We shared some uncomfortable silence. She smoked. I reloaded the Colt.
The bass and percussion bled through the office door, beating in time with the veins in my temples.
“If something's eating you,” I began, “now's the time.”
She finished her drink, then dropped the cigarette in the glass.
“Did you have to?” she asked. “Was that the only way it could end?”
I looked up, bullet in hand, and made sure to meet her stare.
“No damned man kills me and lives,” I growled.
“Very manly of you,” she smirked.
I loved that smirk, the way her upper lip curled, revealing just a hint of white teeth.
“That's how it is,” I replied.
“I thought you were a dead man the second you got out of the chair.”
“I figured I had even odds on that. The fellas are loyal, but once it gets around a boss doesn't look after his boys... well, loyalty only goes so far.”
She hopped up and returned to the liquor cabinet.
“I'd feel better if you drank with me, Moe,” she said.
I took my time thinking about it.
“Make me a short one,” I said, knowing she'd fill my glass to the top.
“Even odds doesn't sound too good to me,” she said as she poured the drinks.
“Better if I sat and took what I knew was coming. I thought the boys'd come around.”
She walked back to the desk and took a seat in the chair opposite me.
“It sounds a little Julius Caesar to me,” she remarked, crossing her legs.
“Yeah, only Julius Caesar wasn't a two-bit hood from Canarsie.”
She toasted me with her glass.
“If Jack was a two-bit hood, what does that make you?”
I didn't have an answer for her. Didn't even feel like trying.
We sat together, quietly, drinking and smoking, while the band gave 'em hell out in the main room. Madeline's gold-sandaled feet kept the beat. I couldn't help but notice she'd painted her toes to match.
Somebody knocked on the door, then came right in.
Joshua nodded at me-- and smiled at Madeline-- from the doorway.
“O'Shaughnessy's man's in with the sawbones now, boss,” he said. “He wants to see you.”
“That's great,” I replied. “I don't want to see him. Just get his hand patched up and get him out of here. Give him a drink for the road. Something good. Tell him I'll be in touch.”
“You got it, boss.”
“And quit calling me boss!”
“Someone's gotta be the boss, Moe.” He had a serious look on his face. “And from where I'm standin' that someone is you.”
I took a breath deep enough to hurt my bandaged shoulder.
“All right, Josh. I'm the boss. Tonight. We'll see about tomorrow.”
“Good enough for me.”
He turned to leave.
“Josh? Is the Ferret in tonight?”
“I saw him earlier. I'm not sure if he's still here.”
“Send him in if you find him, willya?”
“Sure thing, boss.”
He shut the door behind him.
Madeline stared at me, alarm clouding her big green eyes.
“Moe,” she started, “you're not gonna...”
“Harvey? No way. I'm going to help him write his column.”
She gave me a funny smile.
“What's all this about not being called, 'boss'? Last I heard, you kill the king, you get the throne.”
I smiled back. Kind of.
“You think I want to run this outfit? I'd rather shoot myself in the sack.”
“That's very colorful, Moe.”
“It's also the truth.”
“So what are you gonna do, chouette?”
I picked up my glass, then put it back down.
“I don't know, doll. I'll burn that bridge when I get to it.”
I sat back and closed my eyes. I knew Madeline had more questions but she didn't fire them at me right then.
Another knock on the door broke up another uncomfortable silence.
I let him knock some more.
Madeline stood and moved across the room. She slipped out of her sandals and folded her legs under her, getting comfortable on the divan.
The door opened. Harvey Hendin's small round head peeked into the office, followed by his small, round body. Harvey Hendin. We called him the Ferret because of the dark circles around his beady eyes and a nose and chin that seemed placed too close together. He'd gone bald early in life but nature compensated for his lack of hair by giving him a pair of bushy eyebrows and a five-o-clock shadow that filled in as fast as he shaved it off. His light brown suit looked like he'd slept in it.
“'How are you, Moe?” he squeaked, shutting the door. “Good evening, Mademoiselle Perilloux.” He stopped by the divan to kiss Madeline's proffered hand, then hurried to the desk and took a seat in the chair she'd vacated. “Know anything I should know?”
Harvey Hendin greeted everyone he met with that question, whether he knew you or not. He wrote the society column for the Herald, and while I wouldn't want to insult a generation of reporters by calling him a journalist the man did have a knack for finding a story. A mention in one of his articles, for whatever reason, was a life-changing event.
Everybody ribbed him and most people looked down on him, but I didn't know anyone who didn't read his columns.
He cackled and rubbed his bony hands together.
“After that performance, Moe,” he started in, “I'd guess you know a great deal of things I should know.”
“You might be onto something, Harv,” I replied.
“And you didn't call me in here to share 'em with me, did you?”
“You're going to write this up, aren't you?”
“You kiddin' me, Moe?”
I gave him the tough stare, letting my silence do the talking.
He screwed up his face, looking at me sideways.
“You want me to keep you out of it, am I right?” he asked.
“They don't call you the best in the business for nothing,” I said.
I offered him one of Jack's cigarettes, lit it for him, and watched him enjoy a few drags on it.
“No one's ever called me the best, and you know it, Moe.” He grinned around the cigarette. “But that kind of applesauce gets you plenty. You want your name out of the story? It's out.”
“Swell. How are you going to write it up?”
Harvey waved my question away.
“Let me worry about that, Moe. I gotta ask, though, how you plan to keep all those witnesses from spilling it?”
I smiled through the haze of smoke.
“Let me worry about that.”
The folks who patronized the Santa Fe were under no illusions about who owned the joint. Most of them would say they didn't see a thing and the few who did would think long and deep about talking about it.
“Now, I hate to be mercenary about it, but... what's in this for me?”
“Harv, you fix this up for me and we're square.”
He hopped out of the chair.
“Square? What do you mean, 'square'? I hushed up that thing with Jack and the D.A.'s wife when you asked me to, didn't I?”
“That was for Jack.”
He hit me with the Ferret stare. I could see the intricate filing system he called a brain working it out.
“You aren't forgetting who got your sister into a very nice place to dry out upstate?” I asked. “She's there on my say-so. Anyone else would've been kicked to the bug house.”
I stood and leaned across the desk. Harvey held his ground.
“That's low, Moe,” he hissed. “Even for you.”
The sour look on Madeline's face gave me heartburn.
I kept my trap shut.
Harvey glared at me for another few seconds, then made for the door. He turned back with one hand on the knob.
“I'm gonna play ball on this,” he said, “and not because you threatened my sister.”
I waited for him to finish.
“You owe me, pal. And someday, you're gonna pay up.”
“Now you're on the trolley,” I replied.
He grimaced at me, then slipped out of the office.
When he was gone I went over to sit next to Madeline on the divan. She wouldn't look at me.
“I'm not going to throw Harv's sister out on her can,” I said. “This doesn't concern her.”
She shook her head.
“Harv sure thinks you'd do it.”
“That's the only way this works.”
Finally, she glanced my way.
“You got it all planned out, don't you?
“I'm making this up as I go along.”
“I don't believe you.”
I laughed a little, low and gruff.
“You know me too well.”
“You gonna tell me what you have in mind?”
I placed my hand on her knee. She didn't move away from me.
“On what?”“On whether you're coming with me or not, Madeline.”
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Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.