Leather Lace and Lead
LEATHER LACE AND LEAD
I stepped into the alley way, spit out the toothpick I was chewing on and watched it lance into a rotten apple laying on the ground then flicked the butt of my cig into a garbage can. A second later I heard something scrape the cobblestone behind me.
Night came like a light bulb burning out, a quick flash of light then thousands of falling stars coming down like rain. It came at two in the Pm, induced, induced with the help of a piece of re-bar slammed into my scull from behind with enough force to K.O. an elephant.
I went down like a rock smashing my head on the cobblestone base around the tree in Pigeon Park. (I'll explain that place sometime, in a story on its own.) Believe me you don't wanna ever go there.
It was the Ids of March. For a few painful seconds I could relate to Caesar. Not the dying part. I didn't die. If I had I wouldn't be reminiscing this story now. It was the betrayal I could relate to. I could not help wonder if the same thoughts went through his head that were going through mine as I plummeted into an abyss of pain, then the void of unconsciousness, wishing, as I have often done, that Roadie and Bosnuggles were with me. If they had been there things would have been different. But I can't always have my hounds at my side.
The name's Rouge. QJ. Rouge. Private Investigator. At least that's what the sign reads on the street door entering my office. Some times I think it should read Knot Head.
In the big city people love to hate me. Some fear me, but when they find themselves up to their ass in trouble and have no where else to turn they come knocking at my door. They know I'll get the job done no matter what bumps and whacks over the head I gotta take, as long as they've got my fee, a week up front and expenses.
It all began in the middle of January. It was the kind of day even the seagulls hate. A cold rain driven by an even colder wind that was coming from the North East, turning the big city into a monster skating rink. There were more cars in the ditch than on the road and pedestrians fool enough to be out in that kind of weather were spending more time on their butts than walking, or doing the slip and slide tango trying to keep from landing on there derrière.
I was sitting in my chair looking out the window at the show, getting a good chuckle out of the theatre of mishaps, wondering how no one was getting hurt.
It was the day I met Alicia More.
It was the day I met the devil posing as a gorgeous, black haired damsel in distress with a touch that could melt the polar ice cap or freeze a volcano instantly. All at the same time. She was sleek, with a body that could make a monk do back flips and pole vault sixteen feet, without a pole.
The street door entering my office opened. I could feel the cold creep all the way into my private office.
Heels clicked across the tile floor, the kind of click made by spikes. Then they stopped and there was a few seconds of silence.
My secretary, Gerty was out for the day because of the weather. I drew my gat and put it on the desk just in case I needed it. There are people in the big city who would like to see me turned into maggot fodder and don't care who does it. Roadie and Bosnuggles went and stood on either side of the door and waited silently.
A few seconds later the clicking heels came to my private office door and it open wide. She stood there akimbo with her eyes fixed on mine. I couldn't help but stare back, mesmerized by her wild, wind blown black hair and eyes, a deep chestnut colour.
She had on a black full length leather coat trimmed out in fur, but slipped out of it like a dancer in strip joint. Underneath she was wearing a white lacy blouse and black skirt that clung to her curves like an eighth layer of skin. Her high heel shoes matched her brown eyes and purse.
She slinked across the room and perched on the corner of my desk like she owned it and me. At that moment maybe she could have.
The curves of her top could have made the ice man drip and she showed enough of it to inspire a fantasy. The bottom curves could have made a blind man see. Her legs were so white they made me crave for a glass of milk. The hem of her skirt slipped half way up her thigh and she left it there as she crossed her legs.
She caught me looking and seemed to read the quick slick dream going on behind my eyes. With a slow, sultry smile she cooed. "They go all the way up with nothing getting in the way."
I had a couple of dozen clever one liners to come back with but instead I replied. "I don't go all the way up unless I can call a dame by name."
She grinned. "Alicia More, Allie to my friends."
I glanced quickly at her left hand. "Well Miss More. What brings you here on a day like this?"
She got a sad look on her face. It did not fit. This dame had never been sad in her life and wasn't very good at faking it, but I didn't caller her on it. I just let her talk.
"It's my brother Mr. Rouge. He is in trouble. He always seems to be in trouble but this time it is serious. The cops have arrested him for murder, a murder he didn't commit."
The name More clicked in. I had read about Ralph More on the third page of the Chronicle, THE CRIME COLUMN. According to the news hounds the cops had him dead to rights. No smoking gun cause the kid used a knife but there were enough witnesses to put together a case and a collar on More.
"What makes you think your brother is innocent?" I kept it all business but I had other thing wrangling round in my mind, the open blouse and............!!!
"My brother is no angel. I know that. He's a thief and a con Mr. Rouge but he is not a violent man, and he is clever, too clever to resort to killing a man for a couple of hundred dollars. He would have picked the guys pocket, not go sticking him with a shiv."
"Maybe things got out of hand."
"No. Ralphy never carried a knife. He never carried any weapon. If you must know he considered himself an artist. He's always said "
"Skip it lady. I get the point. Just tell me what you have in mind."
"I think it is obvious. My brother was set up. Sure he took the guy's money but he didn't kill him. He tried to tell the cops that but they wouldn't listen."
For the first time since Alicia More walked in the room I believed she believed what she was saying. That was my first err.
"Okay. Let say Ralphy didn't stick the guy. If not, who did?"
Miss More shrugged her shoulders. "Who ever wanted to set him up I guess."
"If some one wanted him set up he must have done something. Or maybe Ralphy knows something that somebody don't like that he knows and is afraid he might blab."
"I don't know Mr. Rouge. That's why I need you." She got sultry again,leaned closer and showed me a little more top.
"The cops get real up set when I mess around in their business." I looked out the window at the cold rain and pretended I was taking an even colder shower.
"It was a cop that sent me here. A sergeant out of Central named Gil Langstaff."
More told me more than she knew. If Gil sent her to me it meant he agreed that Ralphy didn't stick the stiff and wanted my help, back door style.
"All right Miss More. Since you've got a good reference I'll look into it. It'll cost you a C-note a day and expenses."
Alicia More took an envelope out of her purse and handed it to me. She leaned forward giving me a birds eye view of the twin hills of West Britany. Will five hundred do for starters?" She cooed then added, "And fringe benefits."
I took the cash and took a rain check on the fringies. It don't pay to play with a client.
Alicia More smiled. It was the kind of smile you see in a dream that says a lot of stuff that would make me blush even to write it down here. Then she walked out of my office and I figured that was the last I would see of her. She wasn't the kind of dame that hung around waiting. I was wrong, but that comes later in the story.
I picked up the phone and connected with Gil Langstaff. He was waiting for my call. It was the second step of this nightmare with a road that went straight to Lucifer's parlour.