Monthly Archives: October 2013

Fairies and Flappers: Chapters 2 and 3

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I recently submitted this novel to Strange Chemistry Books’ unagented manuscript search. Here’s the next two chapters, which were included in my package.

 

Chapter 2: Tony Arrives in Montreal

April 4, 1924 – Evening

I stepped off the train at Windsor Station and was buffeted by an immediate gust of cold air. I practically ran inside the glassed-in promenade. A crush of people were gathered inside. Couples embracing, mothers chasing their children like ducklings, groups of gentlemen and ladies renewing their acquaintances. Here and there, by the walls and pillars, stood more somber signs: older men, dressed in patched military uniforms, holding tin cups and caps. Most were missing at least one limb. I pulled my gaze away from them to search for my suitcase.

My case, which I’d thoughtfully wrapped with easily-to-locate red ribbon, sat near the bottom of a pile two bellhops were sorting. I had little to do but watch as they gradually sorted through the luggage. Someone at a distance started playing a merry tune on a tin whistle, which while somewhat annoying at least managed to pass the time.

“Miss, do you drive motorcars?” came a voice beside me. I turned to face what was perhaps the most handsome man I’d ever laid eyes on. I consider myself a rational woman, but I believe I did momentarily experience what cheap serial novels describe as, “the vapours”.

The man, who had perhaps twenty years on him, had sharp features of breathtaking symmetry. His eyes were of an unusual shade somewhere between blue and green. His skin was fair and his blond hair was tied back quite neatly. The look on his face was one of friendly expectation.

“I can, sir, but I haven’t one here” I answered, trying to be as accurate as possible. I then immediately rethought my deference: The youth’s plaid sporting jacket was worn at the lapels, and his green trouser bottoms daubed with mud. I tightened my grip on my purse as I wondered if he were not a rogue or pickpocket. But then I noticed his shoes: They looked to be made of very fine leather, with tiny stitching. Shoes were always a tell, and in this case they told me that this fellow was richer than he pretended to be. “But you probably have one,” I added, trying to make the statement as leading as possible.

The Apollo laughed. “Aye, that I do,” he said in a lilting accent, “but also not here. T’is on the other side of the ocean.”

“In Ireland, perhaps?” I asked, still trying to put a finger on what made this man look so distinctive. Freshness, I decided. He looked nothing like the tired and rumpled travellers who crowded the walkway. Instead, with his bright eyes and relaxed demeanor, he might have just finished a walk in the countryside.

“The Free Republic, to be precise,” before shaking his head. “But I dislike politics intensely, nothing ruins an evening faster than talk of them.”

I nodded, curious about this man’s intentions. “They bore me, personally. But why did you ask if I drove?”

“Oh, simply because we might share a taxi. A fine girl such as yourself might be heading to one of the better hotels in the city, would she not? Perhaps the Saint James?”

I smiled, but not for the reason the man thought. I had to admit, he was an amusing mooch. “Actually, I’m staying at a plain enough place. And unless you’re heading north of Saint Zotique, I’m afraid you won’t find it.”  

“Oh, up in the Italian ghetto is it?” he said. “Good hardworking folk there up at that end of the Main. Far more savory than the places I frequent, I must admit. Teal Thirdoak, by the way.”

Mr. Thirdoak, if that was indeed his real name, offered a hand in my direction. I shook it and replied, “Antoinette Lapierre, private investigator.”

The young man raised an eyebrow. “Well, Miss Lapierre, should I have need of such a professional I will certainly give you a call. Ah, here’s my bag,” he added, picking up a battered guitar case.

My mind clicked and hummed for a moment, and I decided to turn this odd encounter into an opportunity. “I might require someone of your profession, however. Do you know a drummer named Raymond Evans?”

Mr. Thirdoak looked thoughtful for a moment. “I can’t say I’ve heard the name,” he said. “But there are thousands of musicians in this city, Miss Lapierre. And, while I cannot presume to speak for all of us, we aren’t always easy to keep track of.”

“That’s quite alright,” I said. “It was just a shot in the dark.” I turned to one side as I saw a bellboy approach with my suitcase. I waved and handed him my claim ticket, then hoisted the heavy case away from him.

“Tell you what, Miss Lapierre,” said Mr. Thirdoak. “I know someone at the Saint James, a bartender by the name of Silver. And while he says he doesn’t, I believe he knows every person in this city. You might look him up, if you care to.”

“Thanks for that advice, Mr. Thirdoak. Whimsical name, by the way. Is it a very old one?”

The handsome guitarist smiled. “Someday, I will tell you the tales of Daggesmoor, and of my family and their deeds. But for now I will merely say that yes, it is a very old name. It dates back before most people needed second names at all.”

“Then perhaps I will find you through your bartender friend, Mr. Thirdoak. Good evening, sir,” I said, nodding. Part of me wanted to remain a while longer and chat, but I figured that the evening would get colder and taxis rarer as it wore on.

“Oh, don’t be surprised if Silver calls me far different names than friend, Miss Lapierre. But good evening, and good luck in your investigations,” said Mr. Thirdoak. With that, he bowed and turned away, leaving me with a good view of the ponytail reaching halfway down his back.

A blond Indian Irishman, I thought to myself. I wouldn’t have been more surprised if there’d been feathers woven into his coif. As I walked away towards an exit, the tin whistle tune grew fainter and the air grew colder. I pushed my way out of the station and chose a waiting taxi, hoping I’d have little trouble with the fare.

* * * * *

At my request, the taxi driver took Saint Lawrence Boulevard, also called The Main. It was quite literally an illuminating experience; I had not seen so many electric lights along one strip of road since my visits to New York City. We passed what seemed to be dozens of nightclubs: “The Tropicana,” “Paradise Lounge,” “Chez Lola,” “Ballatou”. The sidewalks outside the establishments were busy with people promenading in fine clothes. Men wore sharp suits and bowler hats, though a few were wearing that new style, the fedora. Women wore furs and high heels with little in between. Occasionally a bit of fringe peeked out from under coats short enough to be jackets, but overall the effect was shocking. I thought of my proper wardrobe and wondered if I might need to outfit myself with something more avant garde to blend in. My curiosity was piqued, and I wondered if my investigation might take me past their colorfully-painted doors.

Nightlife gave way to industry and workers’ row houses. For a block, there seemed to be nothing but poultry shops. Then there were cobblers and dressmakers. At one point, an overwhelming odor of tomato wafted through the car. “Ketchup factory,” said the driver.

We finally pulled off Saint Lawrence and, a few turns later, arrived at the Capital Hotel. I gasped, realizing that it certainly did not live up to its name. I’d found the place in a travel magazine, where it was advertised with a lovely engraving and glowing reviews. Even at this late hour, I could tell that this building before me made that advertisement into a farce. Rag-like curtains and an alley piled high with garbage adorned the front. Worst of all, what I could only imagine were women of ill-repute were sitting on the stairs, legs splayed despite impossibly short skirts.

“Eight-five cents, miss,” said the driver, turning to me and indicating his meter. Perhaps noting my expression, he added, “It’s not so bad, nobody’s been killed there in over a year. And it’s cheap!”  

Despite my trepidation, I paid the man and stepped out of the taxi. As he brought my suitcase out of the trunk, I steeled my resolve. I was searching for a missing drummer, perhaps with dissolute motives. Possibilities included infidelity, kidnapping, and even murder. I would have to lower myself to this underbelly, albeit temporarily. I took my suitcase from the driver, thanked him, and stepped towards the hotel.

A dark shape darted over my shoes. Involuntarily, I let out a scream. The ladies on the steps looked up at me in surprise. Then one laughed.

“C’est un rat! La princesse a surement jamais vu un de sa vie!”

The other women joined in her ruckus. Fortunately, my French lessons came into play and I could understand most of what they were saying.

“She’s so young, she must be new to the business!”  said a woman in blond curls and a black feather boa.

A brunette in very heavy makeup took a long drag off a cigarette and said, “Maybe she became a whore yesterday!”

“I am not a whore,” I answered calmly. They looked at me with very large eyes. I was about to describe my profession, then suddenly realized it could put me in great danger with such reckless women. “I’m a student,” I improvised.

“And what do you study, fashion?” asked the brunette, looking me up and down with another puff of her cigarette. “Or are you entering the convent?”

“Chemistry,” I said, walking towards the stairs.

Oh, that I know!” said another woman in an enormous felt hat. The purple feathers decorating it bobbed as she nodded. “We’re made of chemicals. They’re what make men love women!”

“So what makes women love men?” asked the blonde.

“Money,” replied the smoking woman.

I took advantage of their moment laughing together to slide past them into the front door of the hotel. A stern-looking olive-skinned woman waited behind an iron grate. “Excuse me,” I said, returning to English in case the trollops outside were listening. Part of me didn’t much care what they heard, but another part worried they might have some sport at my expense.

“Need a room?” asked the matron.

“I have a reservation,” I said. “Antoinette Lapierre, from New York.”

“Ah, the American girl,” she said, opening a dog-eared notebook. “Number 33, by the week, seven dollars.”

I couldn’t believe such a rat-trap was charging so much, but I felt I had little choice at this moment but to settle for that amount. I made it a high priority to find somewhere better, quickly. I must have been mentally calculating options for some time because the woman was staring at me.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

“In advance,” she said.

I tried not to sigh aloud as I fished through my purse for the money. As I did so, the woman turned to the side and fished a key off a board. I handed the money through the bars and she almost handed the key to me.

“When is your husband arriving?” she asked, peering at me with her dark brown eyes.

“My, husband?” I asked, genuinely confused.

“Yeah, we usually only rent long-term to couples and families. Can’t have undesirables setting up shop permanently, you know? Cops don’t like that one bit.”

And setting up temporarily is alright? I thought to myself. “He’ll be here in a couple of weeks,” I said, figuring I’d be long gone by then.

The woman positively snorted as she handed over the key. “Laundry service is in the lobby, five cents a basket. Leave your things by eight to pick them up at six.” The “lobby” to which she gestured was a postage-stamp sized bit of floor past the vestibule but before the stairs. Sure enough, a full laundry basket sat in the corner. The articles looked neatly folded, but a pair of red underthings was decked on top like a Christmas ornament. I whispered a quiet thank you and headed up the creaking stairs.

Chapter 3: Tony Has a Drink

When I finally found my room down the dim, threadbare corridor, I opened and shut the door immediately. I shut it because a woman was lying on the bed. I checked the door number again, took a deep breath, then stepped inside. I was tired, and fleabag hotel or not, I was going to have my rest.

I felt around for a light switch, as I could hardly see anything beyond silhouettes in the room. I couldn’t find one, and instead waited as my eyes adjusted to the dark. Meanwhile, the woman on the bed lay motionless. I looked at her intently and realized that she was completely, inhumanly motionless. I felt a sudden pang of terror and very nearly screamed. Then I realized something that reassured me, though I doubt it would reassure anyone else: This woman was not only dead, but long dead. I laughed once with relief, then gently jostled the edge of the bed.

The ghost on the bed sat straight up. I could now see a slight glow emanating from her alabaster skin. She was flawless, as many ghosts were. I wondered at that moment if she could communicate with the living. Ghosts sophisticated enough to talk could usually be reasoned with, though the “reasoning” might be compared to reasoning with an obstinate child. Convincing a ghost to go away could be difficult; convincing one that it was dead was often impossible. However, they also tended to see themselves as their ideal, which made them highly susceptible to flattery.  In my limited experience, ghosts were trapped in either the most or least pleasant experience of their lives, and relived a few minutes for eternity. Accepting the truth of their existence allowed them to move on to another stage, though I was not entirely certain what that was. I had no particular belief in paradise, but the existence of these ethereal beings did exceed what current science could explain.

“Please miss, this is my room, it’s time to leave,” I said as calmly as possible.

“Is that you, Alan?” she asked in a monotone. Well, at least she can communicate, I thought.

“Alan isn’t here, miss. You’re safe, but you shouldn’t be here. You should go home.”

The woman’s eye sockets flickered where her eyes should have been. “Home… No, I left home. Alan, don’t make me go home. I want to stay with you.”

I steeled myself to continue the conversation. Some ghosts were so worn out by an emotional episode that they could no longer express the emotion. “Go home, miss,” I said firmly. “Your family misses you.” So long as most religious systems used a home metaphor for the afterlife, I’d keep trying to convince ghosts to go there. I really wasn’t sure what awaited them, but that wasn’t my problem. It was simply being practical.

“My family,” pronounced the ghost, looking a shade less substantial. She continued to fade as she repeated the two words. “My family, my family.” I was relieved to have triggered her passing-on so quickly, though of course I knew other methods. She was almost completely translucent when her words changed.

“I’ve seen the graveyard, Alan,” the ghost whispered. “All the little graves next to the red roof. You can’t send me there. No, no, no.” I hesitated while she repeated “no” several more times. Those weren’t the words of a peaceful death. But then again, what could I do? No one here was likely to participate in an investigation, especially for an anonymous rooming-house guest. I tried to formulate a question, but then the spirit was gone. I opened the window and shook out the sheet, more unsettled than ever.

* * * * *

April 5, 1924

I spent a very restless night in my bed at the Capital. No, that would be inaccurate. I actually spent most of it walking between my bed, the radiator, the tiny water closet, and the door. My brain could not stop thinking about the night’s ghostly guest. Then the multitude of mundane noises, from creaking bedsprings to cries of passion, kept me far from Somnus’ arms. I quite clearly remember the dawn that morning, and the thought that whatever I did that day, I must get out.

I bathed myself with a sinkful of water and a handkerchief (because the towel provided was simply too discouraging) and dressed warmly. Then I made my bed and laid out a map I’d purchased by mail order from the same magazine I’d found the hotel listed in. Hopefully, the geography was more accurate than the advertising.

I ran my finger down the long arteries that could take me downtown. Fortunately, this was a tourist map, with many attractions listed. Sure enough, the Saint James hotel made an appearance. Perhaps I could be so fortunate as to procure a room there, though I could hardly imagine the price. As for the bartender, well, any hint, even one from a sketchy blond, was worth following up on. Actually, any hint was good enough to get me out of this wretched room. I packed up my purse, locked my suitcase, and left for the day.

I ate some scrambled eggs and a cup of coffee at a small diner nearby. The coffee was surprisingly tasty, though I wondered if my cumulative lack of sleep made any stimulation welcome. Thus refreshed, I waited a few minutes in the faint springtime sun for the tram. It arrived, I paid my nickel, and enjoyed a pleasant ride downtown.

The city looked cleaner during the day, and populated by an altogether different class of people. It was as Mr. Thirdoak had mentioned: This was a neighborhood of hardworking people. Women hung laundry, carried groceries, and tended to children. Here and there an older man mended brooms or shone shoes. I couldn’t tell if these were small businesses or just household chores, but industry was certainly present.

As we travelled south, some grand buildings came into view. I caught glimpses of some that must have been ten stories high. I remembered reading that Morgan’s department store had just opened an expansion eight stories high in this city, and wondered what manner of goods could possibly fill it all.

I hopped off at Saint James Street and looked around for its eponymous hotel. I soon found its red-carpeted entrance, flanked by a top-hat clad valet. He tipped said hat and greeted me with a cheerful, “Good morning!” I nodded at him as he opened the door. This, I thought, was more like it. Perhaps someday, when my business was more successful, I could meet clients in places like this. The lobby of this place certainly looked promising: comfortable-looking velvet-lined chairs and sofas in a lovely shade of crimson were spread over a tastefully-decorated room. Portraits of men with voluminous whiskers and women in bonnets adorned the walls. I walked towards the front desk, feeling largely at ease.

“Good morning, madam, how are you today?” asked a white-haired gentleman with whiskers almost as bushy as those century-old portraits. The brass buckles on his scarlet uniform positively gleamed. He had a trace of a Highlands accent, and the broad chest of a caber-tosser.

“Very well, sir. Might I ask if you offer longer-term accommodations here, perhaps by the week?”

The fellow looked genuinely disappointed. “I’m sorry, madam, but all our suites are spoken for at the moment. There’s many bankers staying here for the start of the financial year, you understand.”

The thought had not even occurred to me, and I wondered if the guitarist I’d met had faced the same obstacle. “I see,” I said. “In that case, I should at least say hello to someone here.”

“A guest, madam?” asked the clerk. He had a slight look of suspicion on his face, but to his benefit did try to conceal it.

“No, an employee. A bartender named Mr. Silver. Though,” I added, realizing an obvious fact a moment too late, “I suppose your bar isn’t open yet.” I really wasn’t familiar with the schedules of the demi-monde.

The clerk shook his head. “Our bar opens at noon, but Mister Silver is our night bartender. He won’t be on shift until six.” Then he lowered his voice and ducked closer to me. “But, I must warn you, this man is not one with which young women of any reputation should be associating.”

“But whysoever not,” I said, putting on my best impression of unabashed innocence. I may have even fluttered my eyelashes.

“Well, madam, to put it bluntly, he’s something of a notorious rake. And if you do insist on meeting him, feel free to tell him that Alex Macintosh said so himself.”

“Thank you for the advice, Mr. Macintosh. I’m afraid I may disregard it, but I will certainly keep my guard up.”

“As you wish, madam,” said the white-haired man. I took my leave of him and exited the hotel. In the hours ahead of me, I hoped to find a room, and perhaps some lunch. I might even get to Morgan’s.

* * * * *

At six-thirty Monday evening, I returned to the Saint James Hotel. I was glad to have made my afternoon excursion: Morgan’s had a sale on stockings to replace mine that were already wearing out from all this walking. The hotel’s lobby was much livelier than it had been that morning. Several gentlemen and ladies, both staid and fashionable, sat around chatting. A few men in scarlet uniforms stood behind the counter, but the elderly gentleman I’d met was not present. Double-doors to the left were swung open, revealing the entrance to what I could now see was the hotel bar. I’d never actually been in one of these watering-holes, so I gathered my courage before stepping inside.

This place was most clearly the domain of moneyed gentlemen. Many groups of what appeared to be bankers and accountants chatted about facts and figures. A few women sat and took notes on stenographers’ pads. A few others merely seemed to laugh at their escorts’ jokes. One of my inspirations in creating my own business was to avoid just this situation, and as I walked through the room to the bar, I tried to ignore the stares pointed my way.

As I approached the bar, I could hear what I believed was ragtime music playing faintly in the background. The bar itself, which took up a quarter of the room, was a work of beauty and craftsmanship. Honey-tinted wood gleamed along with brass fixtures. Rows of plain and exotic bottles were arranged on shelves in back, while racks of glasses hung from above. Eight stools sat in front of the counter, with two portly gentlemen at one end and one tall, thin fellow at the other. I took a seat near the middle, prompting looks from the two men at my left. I ignored them and tried to read the yellow label on a bottle of clear liquor on a high shelf. I was so intent upon identifying and understanding the language I barely noticed a slender hand reaching for the bottle.

“It’s Dutch Jenever,” said a refined voice that startled me out of my concentration. “Care for a taste?”

Embarrassed, I looked up. An unusual yet handsome man met my gaze. While he appeared to be in his late twenties, his slicked-back hair was completely silvery-gray. His eyes were a soft shade of brown. He had rolled up the sleeves of his perfectly-tailored white shirt, and his black apron was spotless. If this man were a notorious rake, he was certainly a well-groomed one.

“I suppose I do,” I said hesitantly. I’d had a few glasses of wine in my young life, but hard liquor was completely unknown to me.

“May I make a few pretentious guesses?” asked the bartender. His English accent, at least to my ears, sounded genuinely upper-crust. A skilled impression, perhaps, given the man’s occupation.

“Go ahead,” I said.

The young man rested his elbows on the bar and lowered his head to the level of mine. I noticed his cologne, lavender and sandalwood. It was pleasantly subdued. “From your practical choice of garments, considerable handbag, and independent demeanour, I take it you’re a traveller. From your accent and, again, independent nature, I’d guess you’re an American. From your face, I’d guess you were merely a child when Prohibition took effect. If at least most of this is correct, this is likely the first time you’ve sat down in a bar and probably the first time you’ve ever had a proper drink at one. Am I at least somewhat in the ballpark, as your countrymen might say?”

I couldn’t help but smile. I admired this man’s boldness, and how he managed to couch it in wit. Perhaps he would be a very useful source of information. “Sir, you are a right detective,” I said.

“I’m only a bartender,” said the man with a wry smile, “and you may dispense with the Sir. Call me Silver. As for the drink, are you fond of lemonade?”

“Yes, although I hope you don’t think the less of me for it,” I answered. “And I’m Antoinette.”

“No I won’t, and no you’re not,” said the fellow before ducking below the bar. He emerged with a lemon and a cutting board. I grew genuinely excited, not having seen one of those fruits since Christmas. He then pulled a bottle off a rear shelf, and another off a counter behind him.

“What do you mean I’m not?” I asked, trying to keep one step ahead in this conversation.

Silver deftly sliced the lemon in half. With surprisingly wiry hands he squeezed it into a tall glass. “You hesitated, meaning you thought of telling me one name when your true name is another.”

I thought the man put an odd stress on the phrase “true name”, but I could not think of a good reason to call him on it. Instead, I tried to explain honestly. “I suppose I prefer being called Tony. My father calls me that, and most people who know me well do so too.”

“Tony, then. Much better,” said Silver, stirring different liquids into the glass with a long glass wand. “And speaking of better, here is an improvement on lemonade. It’s called a Dutch Trade Wind; I hope you enjoy it.”

Silver set down a napkin in front of me and placed the pale yellow drink on it. I lifted it and took a cautious sip. It was citrusy and herbal at the same time, and made me think of our summer holidays on Cape Cod. “Delicious,” I said, in all honesty.

“Thank you,” said the bartender, with a smile and a nod. He turned away for a moment to top up the glasses of the men to my left, and say a few encouraging words to the one on the right. That fellow slipped Silver some money and left the bar. Silver seemed to count it up at a glance and then turned back to me.

“So, Tony, what brings you here?” he asked. His tone seemed slightly more serious at that point, though it returned to its previous joviality. “As much as I’d like to think it’s my alchemical skills, I suppose there must be some other reason.”

“It’s true that a steady hand like yours would be good in a laboratory,” I said, hoping to keep him off guard. “But really, I’m here for information. You see, I’m a private investigator.”

Silver’s eyes narrowed and for a moment, I felt genuine hatred behind his fixed expression. My investigative brain cells flashed into action. Someone here has something to hide, and it isn’t me. “Your friend Teal sent me,” I added, hoping to regain his trust.

The bartender’s dark look shifted from anger to shock. This man must be terrible at cards, I thought, somewhat relieved to detect an Achilles’ heel. Silver took a deep breath and smiled insincerely. “Oh, is that all,” he said in a tone somewhere between sarcasm and relief. “So, when did that ne’er-do-well get back in town? And more importantly, why did he send you as a herald?”

I took a long sip of the drink while I thought of how to respond. The unvarnished truth seemed like the prudent approach. “I met Mr. Thirdoak in the train station. He struck up a conversation with me. When I mentioned that a fellow musician was part of my investigation, he suggested I come see you. Apparently, you know everybody in this city.”

“Everybody worth knowing,” the bartender sighed. There was a long moment of silence populated only by the jazz notes swirling in the background. “Teal’s… from a small town,” Silver finally said. “He tends to overestimate my importance within the local populace. However,” he added, directly staring at me, “that’s not to say I can’t be of importance to you.”

I leaned forward and tried not to smile. I so wanted this moment to last. It was the delicious feeling of being taken seriously. I savored it as much as the strong lemonade. “So you might know something about a missing musician?” I asked.

“I might, or I might know someone who might. I make it a point to maintain useful connections.”

“Am I one of those?”

Silver smiled. “I hope you will become one,” he said. “Where are you staying? No woman staying here would possibly be hauling around that carpetbag when she could have left it in her room.”

“It’s not a carpetbag,” I answered reflexively. “And at the moment, I’m staying at the Capital.”

The bartender looked me up and down. “And no, I didn’t know the vocation of the place when I booked my lodgings,” I added.

“Ah, then you’ve met your charming neighbors?” Silver asked. “I occasionally send our guests there, when they have particular tastes… and limited funds.”

I shuddered as I recalled my dingy room. “You wouldn’t happen to have a way to get a bed in this place?” I asked.

“Sorry, mine’s occupied,” he said with a smirk. I took a few sips of my drink to cover my blushing complexion.

“However,” Silver said, with the tone of a salesman setting up an offer, “I do know someone who has a room of much better quality for rent. It’s upstairs from one of the busiest nightclubs in town, which I dare say makes it the ideal place for a private investigator looking for a musician. Besides, you will be working nights, won’t you?”

“Well, if the music’s as pleasant as what you play here, I suppose I could deal with it,” I said. At this point, any louse-free port in a storm would suit me.

“The music… Oh, it’s far better.” For a moment, I thought Silver looked very confused. “Who knows, you could even audition yourself if you’ve any talent in that area.”

“Oh, none whatsoever,” I said. “And I think I will go visit your landlord or lady. To whom should I present myself?”

“Go to the Oleander and ask for Tippy,” he said. “She’ll take care of you. Oh, but don’t you dare arrive before noon, or both our heads will roll.”

“Thanks for the tip. Speaking of which, how much do I owe you for the drink?”

“For the drink? Nothing, I’m putting it on Teal’s tab. For advice… Well, we can negotiate that later.”

“Do I dare tell you who I’m looking for? I might not be able to afford your rates,” I said, hoping I was pre-negotiating correctly. I really didn’t want to increase my expenses for an already pro-bono case.

“All I ask for is your availability,” Silver said, smiling coolly. “I have my reasons for keeping a private investigator in my back pocket.”

“I don’t stay in anyone’s pocket, Silver,” I said. “However, I can consider you as a client of choice.”

“Then I accept the privilege,” said the bartender. “What is the subject’s name?”

“Raymond Evans. He’s a drummer, jazz mostly.”

Silver answered instantly. “Never heard of him. However, if I were you, I’d ask Tippy, considering that she has probably auditioned every jazz musician in this town.”

“Then all this fits together very well,” I said. “I suppose I’ll see you around, Silver.”

“Like a bad penny,” he said, “I will always turn up. Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe my other customers are getting impatient.”

 

 

I finished the drink as quickly as I could. It didn’t taste like there were much alcohol in it at all, so I supposed that the other ingredients besides the Jeniver and lemon must have merely been flavorings. I got off the barstool, minding the hem of my skirt, and walked out of the bar without so much as a backwards glance. I wanted this curious bartender to think he’d gotten the better part of the bargain.

* * * * *

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