The hustle of traffic and the bustle of pedestrians made a clamor on Fillmore Street. Sidewalk vendors bartered with customers, dogs were barking, couples arguing, and rain water made its hasty exit down storm drains. It was typical bedlam in the slum neighborhood known as Old Town. Built in the late 19th century, it was now a neglected wreck of a site. Buildings often lost bricks off the top of their facades, and was received with near apathy by the typical pedestrian.
Neglected and worn out, the residents were in a drifting state. The crime rate was naturally high, but there weren’t exactly any welcome wagons elsewhere. Like many American cities, Old Town was the hand-me-down from the well-to-do long ago, a cast off by the boon of successful businessmen. These stately structures spoke of craft and care few artisans today would ever desire. In recent times, they told tales of neglect and abuse. The frustrations of a population trapped under the thumb of chance, personal mistake, and indifferent leadership were acted out in broken windows, graffiti, and arson. It was like a pet shredding a comfy shirt.
Sig (Sigmund only to his mother) played with his lighter, waiting for something to happen. One-Eyed Jack’s was known to be a problem child among the police, but apparently there was more to it. Spinning the lighter, he took a drink of a flat domestic pilsner. There was wind of suspicious activity, people disappearing to be more precise, going on in the area. He needed to check it out for himself. Being early afternoon, it wasn’t very packed and fairly dull. Fortunately, he brought a book with him. That often caught him flack, but his apartment was a mess and he couldn’t drink a pint at the library. Naturally, he was more at home in a bar.
He started to ply his mind to the pages. It takes a few moments to orient one’s mind to a story, and get in a groove. The characters of the book came back to the forefront and the movie he created started to roll. This wasn’t to last, as he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. It was the bartender nodding to someone. A corpulent man with a comb over, the color of his right eye would suggest that he owned the place. He continued to clean beer mugs with a questionably dirty rag, and not pay any attention to Sig.
“What’cha readin’?” a voice nothing less than nails on a chalkboard inquired behind him. It was a bar fly. Squatty, with a bit of a muffin top, she smiled like used car salesmen. She looked quite young and impressionable, but looks can always be deceiving. The hair dangerously close to being burnt by bleach and her clothes obviously the cream of the thrift shop spoke too much. They were loud, too, but Sig knew this was his foot in the door. She was the “bait” for whatever was going on around there.
“Catcher in the Rye,” Sig replied, “I’m going through the curriculum I never got to read in high school.” He thumbed the pages of the used paperback. Some English student at a uni obviously needed some beer money, and decided to trade it in at his favorite coffee house. A dollar a piece for something so beneficial. If adjusted for inflation, he could only imagine the amount of chatter it would have caused 150 years ago. Coming back to Earth, he knew it was important to look drawn in to the lady.
“Oh, yeah!” She was obviously a bad actor, because there was something else on her mind. “I read that in high school.” Apparently acknowledging the reading level of the book isn’t enough to prevent from people restating it. Sig felt like sighing. He was fighting his ego, and unlucky for him, it was a heavyweight. The temptation was too much.
“So, how much do they pay you?” He said not looking up from his drink.
“I ought to throw this in your face!” She spat after an uneasy pause.
“Not like that,” he looked at the grimy bottles of hooch lining the mirrored shelves. “How much do they pay you for the guys?”
“What guys?!” She was genuinely stupefied. The woman wasn’t the keenest mind in the think tank.
“Really?” Sig thought it high time to throw down some serious cards, if he were to get anywhere with this conversation.
“That hairpin,” he said as his pupils rolled to the upper-right corners of his eyes, “costs $500 uptown and that sapphire ring is easily a grand.”
“When would a woman on this side of the river ever sport such merch?”
She screwed up her face as he flatly continued, “she sports them, when she knows she has protection.” His face slowly pivoted to meet hers, squarely.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Her indignation forced her to fold her arms quickly and neatly under her breasts.
“Really?” He took his largest gamble yet. “You mean to tell me some bar fly doesn’t know about people disappearing in her own haunt? You make a poor liar, ma’am.”
“The name’s Harley. I may be a terrible liar, but that doesn’t mean I have nothin’ to do with nothin’.”
“Oh, yeah?” He chuckled, because the biggest gamble was in the bag. “Who’s the goon in the corner that has been eyeballin’ us ever since you spoke to me? He’s the flagman. Isn’t he? You get your clients drunk. Lead them out to the alleyway, and Mr. No-neck over there calls in his crew. You get money and protection in return.”
Her face sat concreted in disgust. Who did this chippy, fat jerk think he was coming in on her turf and pulling the sheets right off the bed. She—was—furious.
“Is that all they give in return?” He wanted to throw that dart in there, before it was time to boogie. The sting was satisfying.
“YOU ASSHOLE!” She screamed, and the green light came on in his head. Time to fly.
© 2013 by Corvidae in the Fields, all rights reserved