Mr. Simmons Goes to Washington - Chapter II

Posted by Whit Barringer , Tuesday, May 20, 2008 3:19 AM


This is a continuation of "Mr. Simmons Goes to Washington - Chapter I." If you haven't read it yet, I suggest you do so or you'll be lost. Enjoy.

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I’ve got my coat on and my fedora. I had to sell my car about six months ago to make the rent, and now I’m back to taking cabs like some Joe Blow off the street. She’s already gone. As soon as we were out of the building, she made sure that nobody thought we were together. I could only watch her walk away knowing I’d see her again. She was going to be the end of me.

There are no cabs on this street this late, so I have to walk. It’ll be a long walk, and possibly a dangerous one. But gin and two month’s rent calls.

As I walk, I’m thinking about what all she’s told me. I’m dissatisfied with what little I know, and how that little I know is scarier than it should be.

I see a late driving cab, hail it, and tell it where to go. The driver’s surprised and asks me why I want to go there, but all I say is, “Family.” It’s true in a way. In the off and on light that is the street lamps, I pull out my notebook and start writing.

Villa comma Benny dash. Tisdale comma Jasper dash. Langley comma William dash. I look at the spaces after and between the names and groan. What a hell of a case this could be. I start filling in what I know. Next to Benny, I write “mafia racketeer” and “murdered Friday, September 22nd.” Then I realize an assumption. Who knows how long the body’s been there? Nancy. I frown.
Next to William and Jasper, I write “FBI.” I make a special note next to William that says “crooked.” Who isn’t? I sigh at the ridiculousness.

I come back to Benny Villa and think as hard as a gin-soaked mind can think. The cab stops before I’ve really started, and I get out, give the driver what little money I still have to make him stay put, and set out for Katz Grocery. I see it and observe that there’s no one else around. I jog a little, but I can’t go very far. I light up a cigarette from my reserves. I know it’s a liability because now I can be found in the dark, but God it’s good.

I see a police car coming my way and I duck into an alley and hide my cigarette. Seeing the car drives home how dangerous this could be, and I’m feeling good. I realize that I’m crazy. I blame it on the war, but I think it was coming on long before.

After the car passes, I run up the street and duck into the alleyway that leads behind Katz. It doesn’t take me very long to find it – and that means it was meant to be found. Sure enough, Benny Villa is bloated and staring back up at me, somehow both slack and rigid. I bend down and give him a good slap in his clean-shaven jaw, which is broken. It’s the least I could do for all the kids he killed by taking them in his gang. I was glad he was dead.

I stand up and survey the situation. He’s in a gray business suit. Benny Villa was notoriously sloppy, and the suit showed it. It was wrinkled and stained. He was so fat the buttons gapped. There were lots of bloody places all over his body. I pull open the holes in his shirt from the wounds. They’re slits. “Stabbed,” I say, the cigarette between my lips bobbing like an Adam’s apple. His high-dollar fedora was about three feet from his head. I unbutton his jacket, which isn’t hard, and look in his pockets. He’s got cigarettes inside his jacket, and I take a look. Chesterfields. I’m a Lucky Strike man, but I take them anyway. The other side of his jacket has a notebook with numbers with dollar signs. The usual. But I catch a name. Tisdale. It’s written with an “X” next to it. Jasper Tisdale. Was he dead?

I search the body for more, a bit more frantically, but I’m not finding much. His wallet has nothing in it. I finally give up looking in his pockets. I check the lining of his jacket and the inside of his belt, but nothing’s stashed away. All I’ve got is a name, but it’s valuable. I get up, about to walk away, when I look at his fedora again. It’s a damn good looking fedora. I take it. The rent’s up, and the gin’s running dry. Gotta take the breaks when I can. Mine was looking pretty old anyway. I make a fast break out of the alley and hail another cab that happens to be driving through. I want to go to my apartment to figure out what the hell has happened, but I know I’ll fall asleep if left alone. I could call Nancy, but the broad probably knows what I know already. I need more information. There’s only one place where a man like me can keep his ear to the ground.

“You know Olivetti’s?”

“You mean Mr. Olivetti’s ehhhh… cigar lounge?” This bastard’s quick.

“Yeah. The cigar lounge.”

“Yeah, I got you.”

“I’ve gotta go see the Yak.” The cabbie nods, and drives on without another word.

_______

Of course, Olivetti’s isn’t a cigar lounge. As the cab pulls up, I can see the darkened neon sign come into view. It says Olivetti’s in bright green and red when it’s lit up, but the real deals go down when the light’s off. The neon sign is left over from the days that this was an up and coming bar, before the church ladies and preachers turned off the taps a few years ago. Prohibition hadn’t choked off everything, though. While Olivetti’s had been able to change it’s front to a cigar lounge, it was still one of the best speakeasies in the whole damn town. Now it made five times the profit, and at all hours of the day.
I walk into the alley beside the doorway and go down a steps leading to the shipment door. I kick the door with my shoe, and a slide on the door at eye level immediately comes open.

“We’re closed.” I can tell this guy’s as big as a Ford by his voice, but I know how to handle it.

“Yeah, but your sister ain’t.” The slider shuts, but I hear the guy laughing as he opens the door.

“Hey, good one, Tony. Welcome back.” I tip my new fedora to the doorman. I pat him on the shoulder even though I can’t remember his name.

“Yeah, thanks.” I walk to the end of a wooden-paneled doorway, but I could have followed the smell of cigars and whiskey just as easy. I hear some girls laughing and a few men drunk enough to sing. I come to the open end of the hall and see about thirty people spread out across the room. I take a look over my shoulder as I walk to the bar. The man I need to see ain’t here. As I look back to the bar, a familiar face is smiling back at me. The bartender, six feet tall, cross-eyed in one eye and lazy in the other, looks at me with one eye turned to my face and the other to my hands.

“Damn, Pete. I don’t know how you can even see with those goddamn eyes.” Pete picks up a glass and starts cleaning it while laughing.

“To hear the sisters down the street tell it, it’s God’s work. But I don’t believe it.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.” He’s filling me up a glass of gin.

“Why not?”

“Because God would be one crazy sonofabitch to come in here.” Pete roars with laughter, and I share a laugh with him and nod. He slides the glass across the bar into my hand and I chug the whole thing down. Pete watches me with one eye.

“Bad night, Tony?” I grimace.

“Yeah. You might say so.” Pete straightens up and towels his hands.

“What are you here for, then?”

“Ain’t it obvious?” I say as I dig my finger around the glass for the last drop. Pete obviously disapproves and frowns at me.

“I’d say it’s the gin you need.” I slam the glass down.

“Hell no. I need to see the Yak about a thing. I didn’t see him when I came in. Where is he?” Pete looks beyond me and nods.

“Right where he usually is.” I turn around and see a slender figure sit down at the piano on a stage at the far end of the room. I pass the glass back to Pete without looking. When his fingers hit the keys, I know the tune. People in the room start laughing and singing along. When his fingers hit the keys, I know the tune.


“She brings her father, her mother,
Her sister and her brother,
Oh I never see Maggie alone!
She brings her uncles and cousins,
She's got 'em by the dozens,
I never see Maggie alone!”

I watch him as he gets into playing, laughing and nodding along with the words that the patrons are nearly shouting at him. It’s a small crowd for a night like this, but they sing like there’s ten times as many here. He keeps playing, his hands flying across the keyboard, putting flourishes in places the recordings don’t.

“I threw the line in
Then I gave a shout
Thought I had a trout
I pulled the line right out
There was her father, her mother,
Her sister and her brother!
Oh I never see Maggie alone.
No, I never see my Maggie alone!"

He finishes with a flourish and the crowd goes crazy, begging him for more. He stands up, smiling, enjoying the attention, and is about to oblige them for an encore when he sees me. He blinks once, and then turns to the crowd.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have other matters to attend to. But if you’re still around when I’m done, I’ll play you another tune.” The women in the crowd plead with him, and even rush up and touch his arms and shoulders, while the men hoot for him to play again. I tilt my new fedora on the back of my head and push my glasses up on my face. He pushes them aside, obviously pained to have to shy out of the limelight, but he gestures to another man off stage, who immediately comes out, slides out on the piano bench, and starts playing before he’s even settled.

Suddenly, someone grabs my arm. I look up and it’s the delivery truck that let me in.

“Tony, he’s waiting for you.” I pull my arm out of his grip.

“I know the drill.” I move away from the bar and move across the room to slide behind the same curtains the acts used. I see a few men in black suits and even better fedoras than mine. I nod to them all and move between them. They don’t stop me.

I go into the back room. It’s dark and I can barely see my hand in front of me. One lone lamp lights the room. I see the ashes of a cigarette glow bright orange and then settle into a dull red color. The wisps of smoke push into the lamplight, and I move for my own cigarettes. I was always a soft man for an addiction.

“Still smoking Strikes?” I don’t answer as I light it. I take a deep drag and nod.

“Yeah. Always.” He chuckles.

“I saw you asking around. What do you want, Anthony?” It’s been a long time since someone used my name and it didn’t make me cringe.

“Yak, Benny Villa’s dead.” There’s a pause.

“I know.” I nearly choke on my cigarette. Maybe it's the gin, but I'm so angry that I can feel the mercury rise up the back of my neck and explode in my brain.

“How the hell do you know? I had some broad come into my office and tell me to investigate this damn murder because of jewelry and the FBI and all sorts of strange shit, and you’re telling me you already know what’s going on? How do you know he’s dead?” I see the cigarette light glow bright orange again and hear him stand. Only his mouth is in the lamplight. He brings up his hand and takes the cigarette between his index and middle finger and flicks it. I can't help but watch the ashes fall to the floor. I realize I can't hear the piano playing anymore, and the silence is almost absolute except for my own wheezing breaths. Suddenly, I know what he's going to say before he says it.

“I know because I had him killed.”


To be continued when I damn well feel like it.


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