Let’s face it, nobody likes a rat.
If Benny “Dogface” McGinty didn’t have a sister, probably nobody would care that he was missing. And if he hadn’t borrowed two hundred bucks from her before he disappeared I have a feeling she wouldn’t care that much either.
But he did and she does so she hired be to track down the lousy bum.
I agreed to do the job for fifty dollars, I told her that was way below my usual rate and I wish that were true. My last job was beating up some deadbeat dad in exchange for a hot meal and I don’t want to discuss the job before that.
The good news is that everyone seemed to know Benny, the bad news is that nobody who knew him had heard from him recently or had any inclination to speak to me. I had checked with my contacts in the in the local hospital but nobody matching Benny’s description had been admitted with or without a pulse. The information wasn’t all that reliable of course since my hospital contact was an meth head name Drongo who had somehow managed to get a job cleaning floors at St Lukes. I had a hunch that Drongo may also have some mental health issues but he was surprisingly good at keeping an eye on the hospital admissions. At least Drongo liked me. My contact at the police station was my cousin Frank and Frank has hated me since high school for reasons that may be justified. I don’t know why I keep using Frank as a contact as I’m fairly sure that if I just called the front desk and asked for the information I could probably find out what I need to know quicker and with less verbal abuse. The bottom line was that nobody knew or cared where Dogface McGinty was hiding.
I wouldn’t care much either except I wouldn’t get paid unless I found him.
After wandering the streets fruitlessly for four hours I decided that I could justify stopping for something to eat as long as I got a table by the window so that I could watch passers by, that way I felt that I was still on the clock, hoping that Benny would just go wandering by. A glassy eyed waitress took my order for Lemon Meringue pie and a diet coke and moved onto the next table mumbling something that I didn’t catch. I stretched back on the plastic chair and looked out at the well lit street. A friend told me once that it was never truly dark in the city but I new better. If the streetlights and shop-fronts were any brighter I could probably catch a tan out there but there was more beyond the lights. I could see the opening of a dark alley. No streetlights down there, no outwards facing windows. The streets may never go dark in this city but the alleys were as dark as hell and twice as dangerous. I was kidding myself that I would see Benny walk past this window. People like Benny didn’t use these streets, they used the alleys.
The figure in the alleyway was the right size and shape but I wasn’t ready to believe that I was that lucky. The pie was tasty and I wasn’t ready to leave it to chase shadows. I hear the familiar sound of police sirens approach and watched the shadowy figure step back into the darkness but as the cop car hurtled past I caught a glimpse of the ugly visage of Benny McGinty bathed in alternate red and blue light. It was really him. I threw five dollars on the table and ran out the door and into the street. I saw the figure retreat into the alley and gave chase, ignoring the blaring horns and screeching brakes from the cars on the road.
“Benny. Wait!” I called out, dodging garbage cans and discarded boxes, “I’m not with the cops.”
The further I got from the street, the darker the alley got and I had to slow down, the last thing I needed was to trip over something and end up face down in a dirty alley. Again. I fumbled in my pocket for my phone. I could use the screen as a light.
“Benny. Your sister sent me. She just wants to know if you are okay.”
There was a chuckle from the shadows and I spun around trying to pinpoint McGinty’s location.
“Tell Angela to look in the Urn.” A voice called from the shadows.
A gunshot rang out. I dropped to a crouch. Another gunshot. Then silence.
I finally found the app on my phone that turned it into a flashlight. The alley was suddenly bathed in light and I realised that I was at a dead end, a few feet away from a tall wooden fence. McGinty was nowhere to be seen. He must’ve vaulted the fence somehow. Surely he couldn’t have sneaked past me and back out the alley? And what was with the gunshots? I had been shot at before and this felt different. Like the shots were aimed away from me. Some kind of warning shot.
Warning or not, I’d done my job. I had found Benny. It was time to collect my money.
Angela Andrews nee McGinty, Benny’s sister, had done alright for herself. I had expected a rundown apartment but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I pushed open the wrought Iron gate and followed the winding driveway up to the colonial style house. There was an oversized knocker in the shape of a buffalo head and an ornate doorbell. I chose the bell and stepped back. The door was solid, tall and wide and I had a feeling that it probably cost more than a years rent on my apartment. I was starting to feel underdressed. I reached up to straighten my tie, realised that I wasn’t wearing a tie and settled for scraping the crusted mustard off the front of my shirt.
The door swung open and my brain turned to mush. Before me stood one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. Her long red hair cascaded over her shoulders, framing her perfect face and her sparkling green eyes. In my head I was composing poetry that compared her eyes to emeralds, her lips to rubies and was moving to the curves barely hidden by the tight green cocktail dress but all I managed to say was…
“I mean brother. I mean Benny, your brother. I found him.” Smooth. Eloquent. No wonder women swoon before me.
Angela didn’t swoon but she did look relieved.
“Thank god. You must be Adam Malone.” She said, holding out her hand, “Angela Andrews.”
I shook her hand lightly and managed to compose myself.
“Sorry, I was expecting someone…. Older.”
“Benny is my big brother, there was a bit of gap. Where is he?”
“Gone. I chased him. Spoke to him but he got away.”
“Oh.” Her shoulders sagged and she stepped away from the door leaving me space to step into the hallway.
“I was hoping… But I guess you’ve done what you were paid to do. Let me get your money.” She closed the door behind me and wandered back into the house. I wasn’t sure if I was expected to stand in the doorway like a tradesman or if I should follow her. In my defence, I am a detective and should not be expected to stand around when there opportunity was to snoop around. So I followed. She was standing in a large sitting room rifling through her purse.
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t expecting you. I would have had the cash ready.”
“You have a beautiful home.” And by that I meant, I should have charged more than fifty dollars.
“My husband’s family are… I’m very lucky.”
“I think maybe he’s the lucky one.”
She blushed and pushed a strand of red hair behind her ear, “This is all still new to me. I’m used to… I’m not used to this.”
“No. I’ve met your brother.”
“Of course. Benny loves the old neighbourhood, he’ll never escape the streets because he doesn’t want to. But he wanted better for me. He made sure I went to school, he made sure there was money for dresses, for stylists, elocution lessons. And he did whatever he needed to do pay for all those things.”
“What a guy.”
“He’s a good man.”
“Maybe. But he doesn’t fit in around here. What does your husband say?”
“They don’t talk. I think Andrew would prefer just to pretend that Benny doesn’t exist. It’s easier for everyone that way. I’m sorry, I thought I had money in this purse. I’ll get you some from upstairs.” She put her purse down and crossed the room.
“Sure, take your time. Benny gave me a message for you. He said to tell you look in the urn.
She froze and her eyes darted to the large urn on the fireplace.
“Thank you. I’ll get your money.”
“Maybe he meant that urn there.” I walked over to it and leaned against the fireplace.
“No, he means something else. I’ll get your money. Please do not touch anything.”
I followed her to the door and watched as she climbed the stairs, she paused near the top and turned as if to make sure I was still there.
“I won’t be long.”
I nodded and smiled, “I’ll be right here.”
My plan was to wait until she was out of sight then check the urn but I was distracted my a movement at the end of the hall. It was Benny. He saw me and darted into the kitchen. I ran after him. The kitchen was empty but an open door looked like it led down into some kind of basement or cellar. I ran to the door and flipped the switch. At the bottom of the stairs a dim lamp flickered on. I don’t exactly have a licence to carry a gun but that doesn’t stop me when I know there’s a chance I’ll need it. Visiting clients doesn’t usually call for it so my gun was back at home , hidden in a cornflake box. I ran back into the kitchen and grabbed a mean looking knife and followed the stairs into the basement. Before I reached the bottom there were two loud gunshots and I jumped down the last few steps. Swinging the knife wildly I spun around on full alert. The cellar was empty. I checked the walls. No hidden doors. No windows. Was I imagining things? If Imagined seeing Benny here, did I imagine it earlier? If I did then maybe I hadn’t really seen Benny and I didn’t deserve to take the money from his sister. But then again, she could afford it and she really should have offered me more. I returned the knife to the block in the kitchen and made my way back to the sitting room, maybe there was still a chance I could check out the urn.
Angela was already back when I got there. She stood by the window, the furthest spot in the room from the urn.
“I have your money.” She said.
I crossed to the urn.
“About that. How about we renegotiate? What if I go back out there and take another look. I’m sure I could find him and talk him into coming out here to see. Let’s say… two hundred dollars should cover it.” I placed my hand on the urn.
“No, I don’t think that will be necessary. Please take your money and leave.” She held her hand out and even from across the room I could see her hands shake.
“I was thinking about Benny’s message and I can’t get it out of my head that he meant this urn.”
She started to speak but I snatched the lid of the urn and peeked inside. There was nothing but grey dust. It looked like it had been disturbed but I felt that reaching would have been pushing my luck to far.
“Andrew’s father’s ashes. Are you happy now Mr Malone?” there was a quiver in a voice but I couldn’t tell if it was from anger or something else.
I put the lid back on the urn and crossed to take the money from her.
“ Maybe I’ll keep an eye out for Benny anyway, it won’t cost me anything.”
As I plucked the cash from her hand I noticed a grey streak on her wrist. Ash.
“Thank you, Mrs Andrews. It’s been swell.”
My phone buzzed, it was Cousin Frank. It wasn;t like him to call me back, I swiped the screen and listened to what he had to say.
I slipped the phone back into my pocket and turned back to Benny’s sister.
“What was in the urn, Angela?”
“Who was that?”
“It was the police. What was in the urn?”
“You’ve got your money. Please leave.”
“Was it a gun?”
“Get out.” She moved to the doorway.
“A small, snub nosed .38 revolver?”
Her pale complexion tuned white, it emphasised her freckles and made her green eyes pop. I tried to focus.
“I’m a detective. Where’s the gun now, Angela?” Stay calm and use their first name, text book psychology.
Her eyes flicked to her purse on the table but she said nothing.
“You realise that when you took it out of the urn, you got your fingerprints on it. If your husband had any sense he would have wiped gun down so now you are the prime suspect.”
“Wouldn’t what? Shoot his loser brother in law? Let you take the blame? Are you sure?”
Angela moved to the sofa and collapsed into it.
“Who was on the phone?”
“What do they know?”
“They found Benny’s body. He had been shot twice.” Two gunshots.
“But you said that you saw him.”
“I was mistaken.”
I recalled Benny, lit by police lights, running into the alley then again one hundred feet from here, running down into the basement. I remembered his laugh, his words, the two gunshots.
“It must have been my imagination.” I said.
She reached into her purse and I tensed, expecting her to draw the gun. She pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes. Her hands were trmbling.
“How did you know about the urn?”
“I’m a detective remember.” That seemed to land with her. She went silent.
She lit the cigarette and inhaled slowly.
One puff was apparently enough, she crushed the cigarette out on the table. There was no ashtray but she seemed to be beyond caring. She looked at me with hard emerald eyes.
“What happens now.”
“You get yourself a lawyer. Make sure it’s your husband that goes to jail and not you.”
“What if neither of us went?”
I said nothing.
“If I get rid of the gun there’s no evidence.”
“I don’t think I can let you do that.”
“We would make it worth your while.”
“He killed your brother.”
“My brother’s dead, my husband going to jail won’t bring him back. But it will affect me… financially. Right now, I’m rich and I want to help you.”
“Help me how.”
She smiled and crossed her legs, the green dress slipped up her thigh. She knew what she was doing. For the first time, I felt sorry for Andrew Andrews.
“What would you say if I gave you fifty thousand dollars to walk away right now?”
That was more money than I had made in the last four years. I could pay my rent for the year, buy a tie and eat twice a day. I reached into my pocket and emptied the contents on to the table. My phone, six dollars and some coins. The phone was an old model but it still worked fine. I thought back on the lemon meringue pie I had eaten earlier in the evning that was some good pie. And it only cost four dollars. I picked up the phone and clicked on the number for my cousin Frankie.