Nov. 24, 2001
| Another two-fisted tale
from the author of
“My Dun is Quick”
and “The Maltese Flow Chart.”
Dawn snuck in with rosy fingers like an ace second-story man. Light squeezed through the slats in the Venetian blinds. I moved into the bathroom. I stuck a cigarette in my kisser. I dragged a razor across my jaw. I opened my eyes.
I had a job to do.
I put on a gray flannel number and grabbed a tie a harlequin wouldn't be caught dead in. I fixed a piece of toast and washed it down with the dregs of yesterday's coffee. I gathered my tools of the trade. I lit another cigarette.
Last night's neon lights still glistened on the rain-slicked streets as I drove my car toward my payoff. My pulse thrummed like a bass line.
On the car radio, some tipster was yammering about tough times in town. I blew out a long stream of smoke. The tipster blew a lot of smoke, too. I'd had enough tough times for the two of us. But now, things were gonna be different.
The company was in one of those anonymous industrial neighborhoods full of low buildings, the kind where the companies have names jammed together like a car crash. Outside, you couldn't tell if the business was legit or a front for some guys planning a heist. Places like this might be an ace-high royal flush or on the skids. You couldn't even tell by the insides of the joints, or the haberdashery on the bosses. A millionaire might dress like a hobo.
I had to play it cool, down the line.
A big gorilla waited for me inside. "You Eisler?"
I took a drag off my cigarette. "Who wants to know?"
"Don't get smart with me, mister. You're here to do a job and do it like I say."
I nodded. I had my reasons. About five grand worth. I had the big contract.
He beckoned with his meaty paw. "Walk this way."
We passed a bunch of clean rooms and middle management cubes. I checked the execs for sinister motives behind their eyes. I checked the chassises on the dames.
He stopped. "This is where you'll work. You need anything, talk to Jason."
“I thought I was supposed to meet with Mr. Big.”
“Mr. Big’s out.”
“Out of what?”
“Out of town.”
“On the lam?”
The gorilla squinted. I knew he was trying to look tough, but it just came off like he needed bifocals.
“Mr. Big don't like people nosin’ into his business,” the gorilla said.
“So Mr. Big is out of town on business? When's he back?”
“Mr. Big don't like people nosin’ into his business. You need anything, talk to Jason," the gorilla said. Then he vanished.
I was alone in the room. Alone, except for my thoughts.
I smelled a setup.
I tossed my slouch-brim fedora on the desktop. I booted my workstation. I lit a cigarette and leaned back in my ergonomic chair.
A pasty-faced creep came by my cube. “You can't smoke in here.”
“It's OK. I work for Mr. Big.”
“Well, I work for Mr. Big, too, and you can't smoke in here.”
I stubbed out the cigarette. “Now that we've met, who are you?”
“I'm Jason. I'm the network administrator.”
“Great. Now that I'm here, what's Mr. Big need me to do?”
“Uh, that'll have to wait ‘til Mr. Big gets back.”
“Lemme guess. He’s out.”
“What’s the inside dope?”
“You’ll have to wait for Mr. Big to brief you at the next planning session.”
This was going nowhere fast.
“Talk,” I snarled. “Talk, or I’ll beat it outta ya.”
“I’d like to see you try.”
I beat the pasty-faced creep ‘til his face was two toned like a pair of shoes. “I want the codes for full network access.”
“I can't give you that. You don't have an authorization.”
I brandished a roscoe. “This is my authorization.”
Sweat the size of dimes dripped from the creep's face. His fingers flurried across the keyboard. Then he wrote down the access codes and scurried away.
I entered the codes. I got an error message.
I tried again. The computer gave off airs like a maitre d' at a snooty restaurant. I cracked my fist across its bezel. "Don't get fresh with me."
The computer wised up. The computer gave it up like a stool pigeon. Everything was there: times, dates, project plans. Mr. Big was planning to redo the whole works. All the clients would be paying through the nose for his new, improved bundle. I had to admit, it was a pretty moxied-up racket.
A racket like this makes a man thirsty. I made arrangements for after the job.
The evening's watering hole was the kind of dive where riff-raff went when they got swelled heads. The joint looked like it had been decorated with the leftovers of a South Pacific garage sale. You could use the outfits on the waitresses to signal aircraft.
A bunch of brassy dames were waiting for me. The jade princess was there, too.
She gave me a kiss that would linger like the smoke from a four-alarm fire.
We settled in for our drinks.
"How's the action?"
"It's big, baby. Real big."
Her face turned darker than a bloody Mary. "I want a piece."
"I'll see what I can do."
"You done good, Dan. Real good."
"Thanks." I threw down a sawbuck. "This one's on me."
I had that big contract.