A City of Devils
Tuesday, 6:15 pm
I’d worked late, or later than usual, arriving at my favorite watering hole, Harry’s Club 120, in Old Town. Time for a pop. Harry was behind the bar, sleeves rolled up to reveal inky green skull-n-bones in a muscular bicep. At first blush, some might take Harry Rabbani for an ex-con. I knew better. Besides owning the joint, he was my good, if somewhat older friend, and a reliable confidant.
Confidants, like confidence and confidentiality, are the cornerstones of the business, so they say. Sounds good anyway.
I was annoyed to see Alan Shivers parked at my stool at the bar…all six feet six inches of him, hunched over the bar like a praying mantis, sucking on what was probably the sixth beer of the evening, purchased on an over-extended tab. It’s my stool, because I’m there so often, and because it’s in the corner. I can watch what’s going on in front of me without worrying about what’s going on behind me.
I grabbed Shiv in a Vulcan Nerve Pinch and guided him over to the three stools to the left…far enough away that I wouldn’t have to listen to his constant mumbling and so I wouldn’t have to police my change on the bar. Shiv was a thief as well as a mooch.
Harry was pouring me a draft of golden suds when Shiv piped up, louder than usual, “Real sorry to hear about Ritchey, Fitz…real sorry.” I took a drink, not knowing what Shiv was talking about. Shiv was looking at me sideways, as though he expected an answer.
“Okay, I’ll bite, Shiv…what gives with Ritchey?” I asked, knowing he was speaking of my former field agent.
“You know, Fitz…that thing with him in Sierra Grove and all…” Shiv was still at me funny.
“Shiv, quit fucking around and tell me what you’re talking about.”
“Well, shit, Fitz, I was sure youda heard by now…Ritchey was found dead in a motel over in Sierra Grove. Hell, musta been Saturday night or so.”
“Where’d you hear that?” I asked, taking another pull on the suds.
“Was up in the Grove doin’ some banking and I read about it in that little dog-shit newspaper they publish up there.” Harry was wiping the glasses dry with the tail of his apron, looking at Shiv.
“News to me Shiv…” I knew it was true; it had to be. But I wouldn’t be convinced until I talked to the Medical Examiner. Shiv was a crook and bad check artist, but he knew better than to pull my leg.
I dismissed the thought and asked Harry if any mail had arrived for me. Yeah, I have an office, and an apartment, but I do get some mail, important mail, at the Club 120. I make phone calls there too. Harry handed me a couple of envelopes. One was a letter from the Chamber of Commerce, asking me to join. I handed it back to Harry, who filed it in the garbage can behind the bar without asking. The other was addressed to me in care of the Club 120 in Ritchey’s uneducated scrawl. I caught the Shiv trying to read over my shoulder. Did I mention he was obnoxious? “Hose off, ass-eyes…” as I pocketed the letter.
That Ritchey was found stiff in a motel room didn’t surprise me. He was always shacked in some cheap joint, a week at a time, usually with a whore, either professional or amateur, taking life low.
I had another beer, and when Shiv went to the john, I motioned Harry over. “You heard anything about Ritchey?”
“Just what Shiv said, Luke.” Harry had his palms turned up. “But it sounds like Ritchey, motel and that…”
“Yeah, Harry, I know…”
Ritchey had worked for me off and on for ten years. I met him not too long after I left Pinkerton’s. Short, Italian, and from somewhere in the East, Ritchey showed up in my office with some chicken shit resume he’d pecked out on a library typewriter. It was his lucky day. I was shorthanded with too much to do and not enough legs.
He’d graduated from one of those cheesy correspondence courses you see advertised in