Nick Mann - Private Eye

in writing •  10 months ago

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Chicago—it's a tough town. I liked it though, as tough as it was. A happenin' town most times with good times to be had with good people. Then along came the Great Depression. You know, the one that turned the financial world on its end? The one that killed all the good times? And I was cotton to those good times. It's only been a few years after the calamity and we were still pulling our own world back together—that included my little corner of it.

Tonight was one of those nights that didn't come often and I'd wish wouldn't come at all. The kind of night where I'm alone, sitting behind a tired desk absent of prospects and unable to fulfill the regular commitments of societies ever-present demands—yeah, that's right, the bills. I was broke as hell and low on ideas.

There I sat, alone in my dimly lit office, the open window offered little relief from the summer night's swelter as the traffic below kept a distant company to my misery. Alone and contemplating as I dulled the pain with a fifth of my best hooch and a cheap stogie hoping Lady Luck would grace me one more time before all was hopeless and lost. In these times it ain't easy bein' a private dick. Don't get me wrong; it's temporary but an unwelcome break nonetheless.

Sure, I had cases but they were already paid for an I'd spent the clams—why rush things.

Seems Lady Luck was listening and was about to change my luck—from bad to worse. Almost as if on cue, as I held my head low and began to contemplate drastic measures like delving into the undesirable side of business—business I'd done before but seemed more trouble than it was worth. Always lookin' over my shoulder—that kind of business, when the door opened and in walked what one could only describe as impending and certain trouble. I'm no soothsayer or nothin' like that but I knew it was trouble as it was the one person where trouble inevitably followed. Yeah—a beautiful dame—a knock-out. It didn't matter what she wanted, I knew she'd be hard to refuse. I guess you could say Lady Luck chose the worst luck she could. Like I said, it was one of those nights.

From the moment she entered my office this woman acted like she owned the place. For all I knew, she might have. This tack of superiority comes easy to some and others have to work at it. Been around enough to know between the innate and the practiced and this woman was a natural. Confidence and certainty of movement with an air of superior breeding. Kinda gives one a feeling of relief that someone is willing to take the ball and run with it—that's the attitude anyway. But I've seen this kind of woman before. You know, outwardly strong and confident until you strip away the jewels and designer threads and throw question to that smug nonsense they flaunt and you have a frightened little girl desperate to get her way. As everyone knows, desperation is just one wrong turn onto a rough road. If you want to see the real person, put 'em on that road and take away their superficial social crutch and their emotions crumble like a tenement under a wrecking ball. Yeah, a real tragedy when it happens. It's my business to know people and I've seen them at their best, worst and in-between. This lady looked her best but was hiding the worst—I could smell a hint of desperation behind the allure of her expensive French perfume.

My unsolicited appointment carried herself well. She was a younger woman; just the other side of twenty-five I'd say. Dressed to the nines in a tight, black, silk, formfitting dress that hugged the curves in all the right ways. Her coiffure of expertly formed long blonde tresses could only have been performed by one of the local styling masters—at a hefty cost no doubt; and diamonds adorned various parts of her form as she expertly sauntered across the room on five inch stilettos. If I didn't know better I'd say she was lost—couldn't find her way to the latest soirée for the rich and was comin' to me for directions. Yeah, this was class—this was breeding—this was trouble.

Everything I knew; all my experience told me to refuse the forthcoming plea. Every man has vices, weaknesses, and I'm known for mine, too well really, and any man will tell you—beautiful dames rate top of the heap in the weakness category. What could I do? When it comes to a hot dish, I'm a sucker. I'd taken the case before she'd closed the door behind her.

No amount of posturing or moxie could hide what was obvious to a pro like me. Before she uttered one word I could tell she hid a fair amount of nervous under that persona as she puffed on her lucky strike giving the smoke stacks in the production area of the industrial chemical quadrant a run for their money. This was her tell—and it was a big one. Yeah, this broad was hiding something—I was dubious, yet willing.

I stood as she approached. Figured I might as well put my best foot forward. Couldn't hurt. I motioned her to have a seat and she acquiesced revealing a nice set of gams. I was impressed and distracted but business is business so I kept my place. She had ruby red, pouty lips and a smooth even tone of complexion and spoke before I had a chance. "You Mann?" she asked rather blunt in a sweet, sensuous tone. I liked that. Straight forward—straight to the point. "Sure, what can I do ya for, doll?"

"My name is Sherry—Sherry Blossum. You can call me Cherry. Most people do."

The joke was obvious and I felt the need to press as I'm sure it was nothing new to her. "Your parents had quite a sense of humor." I couldn't help myself.

"Yes, as a teener I decided to just surrender to the name and make the best of it. It's a comfortable familiarity now." She looked my way and I was momentarily entranced by her smokey blue-grey eyes. She held her composure well but, as my eye was trained for such things, I noticed many discrepancies. The tapping of her forefinger on the arm of her chair. The occasional shift in posture. A truly comfortable person would make no such movements. And, of course, the chain-smoking—dead giveaway. "I would like to hire you, Mr. Mann, to find someone for me—my brother, Frankie. He's been missing going on a week now. He ran with some questionables and now he's gone missing. I need him found. Family matters need attending you understand."

This woman tried to keep it low-key and professional but yeah, I understood. She wasn't looking for her brother, she was lookin' for his signature or something similar. I get all kinds in here with taylor-made stories. It's rarely what it seems. Regardless, a job is a job and and I needed the cabbage and, quite frankly, the distraction of a challenging case wouldn't hurt either. Don't really mind where it comes from. I decided to get the particulars. "What was his last whereabouts?" I queried knowing the answer.

"In the managed district, by the wharf. I think you know the area."

I knew it. Anyone remotely involved in crime knew it. The managed district, meaning Mafia controlled. Or as they refer to themselves within their circles; Cosa Nostra, which means our thing. Since Capone was nabbed they've been rather careful in their advertisement of business. Hiding like cockroaches when the lights come on. "Yeah, I'm familiar. You say one week, huh? No word at all from him?" As I dug she knew where I was leading. He's probably got a new pair of shoes—cement ones was my guess.

With her head hung I could tell she knew where I was goin' as a gloved hand pulled a silk kerchief from her clutch and dabbed the corners of her weepers. "No, nothing. I know I sounded a little curt when I came in but I really do want to find him. We had a fight earlier and I said things; things I shouldn't have. It got pretty heated and he was furious. He's my baby brother and we may be at odds right now but I want him safe—if that's still possible."

It was a good story. Cherry was lookin' for a soft spot and almost found it. As quickly as she went into her sob she came out just as fast then continued her rapid inhalation of tobacco as her gaze wandered my office. I could tell she was sizing me up—for what I couldn't figure. It was obvious she wasn't used to these surroundings. My office was a little dirty but I got a feeling this woman was even dirtier—and not in a good way. Something didn't sit right and I had a gut feelin' as her story wasn't adding up to kosher. "I'll do what I can. Give me a few days and I'll have something for you."

"Thank you Mr. Mann. I know you'll have luck with this. You have a reputation for getting the job done."

She was right on this. I did have a reputation for getting the job done. I made it a habit to never quit until the job was done. I also made it a habit to squash, as best I could, my other reputations. They're less profitable and not as socially acceptable in most company. Getting a little dirty sometimes is the only way to keep the acceptable reputation of gettin' the job done intact.

I wrote down her brother's detailed description on my notepad for later.

Other than a few sawbucks up front I didn't bother with financial details as I was in no frame of mind to haggle a rate. I figured if I came through with what she wanted she'd pay what she thought it was worth. If I didn't agree to what she offered we'd work something out—always a way to fair compensation.

That night I headed to the best place for information I could think of—the Rough 'n' Tumble night club. It was the one I knew best as I've been goin' there for years and had a lot of pull with the staff. It wasn't the most legit of clubs but what club was around here? Don't let the name fool ya. It was a classy joint. All the big wigs went there to relax. It started as a local dive and soon became quite the establishment. Amazing what a few payoffs and connections will get ya these days. All the shows and entertainment were up front but the real juice was in the back and not open to the general public. That's where the real fun was. A full casino and all the extracurricular activities you could handle—or afford, that is.

I walked in the front entrance to get a feel for the night they were havin' and to see who was making themselves known to the locals before they headed to the back. Nothin' to write home about so I made my way to the rear. I walked past the local goons and entered the casino.

It was a hoppin' night and the din of enjoyment was invigorating. The room was filled with pinstripes, girls and the smell of sin. Yeah, my kinda joint.

As soon as I entered I was spotted by one of the entertainers—Toddy.

"Hey! There's my big Nicky! I missed you, honey. Where you been, doll?"

She always called me big Nicky—don't know why. She was more flirty, that one. Of course, that was part of her job. But still, more so than the other house girls. I liked her.

Toddy was named after the drink, hot toddy. Seemed appropriate for her. I never knew her real name. A real looker she was. Had a smile so inviting it'd make any honest man into a liar. Been at the club a little over a year now. I remember the day she started; she'd just turned eighteen and was lookin' for a real leg-up in the world so she came here. It was better than a canhouse, I guess. Funny how things turn out. Yeah, we've had our fun and she always offered a little more than what was agreed upon. I think she liked me too, in the real sense. Good kid that Toddy. Nice disposition—real friendly and knows a good time.

I moved in close—the kinda close only used when a confidence in conversation is required. "I'm lookin' for a man," I said.

She was quick with a reply: "What a coincidence, me too!"

A real card Toddy was. But there was no time for a mind joust. I needed answers so I pressed. "The name's Frankie Blossum. Ever heard of him?"

She took my cue and gave it serious attention as she bowed her head in thought. "Hm, sounds a li'l familiar, Frankie. What's he look like?"

"Hold on." I pulled my notepad from my pocket and read his description. All pretty common with the height, weight and hair but Frankie had a unique distinguishing feature—like his sister he had blue-grey eyes.

As soon as I gave the description of his eye color Toddy's memory came alive. "Yeah, yeah! I do remember a guy like dat! I think it was last week is when he was here. He was handsome too—oh boy was he handsome. Couldn't hold a candle to you though, my big Frankie," she winked.

"You notice anything strange about his behavior or anything out of the ordinary?"

"Well, let me sees, he was quite the gambler. I mean he really liked the wheel. He played it a bunch. Didn't seem too interested in anythin' else neither—not even us girls! Couldn't none of us catch his eye. And boy we tried, lemme tell ya. He looked to be greased too. He was throwin' all kindsa dough at that wheel."

Sounded like the man I was lookin' for. I slipped her a fin for her trouble. "Thanks, doll, I appreciate the help. Any chance you know where he went from here?"

"Well he was talkin' a lot about The Deuce over there near the wharf. He seemed to really like that place and sounded like he was goin' there after he was done losin' here." She then referenced the five dollar bill; "You know yous can get a lot more than information with this, honey. Watta ya say, got some time—big Nicky?" she said as she leered with a wicked smile.

"Rain check on that, doll. Got a job to do," I said before turning and heading out the back entrance.

I needed to find out more about this joint called The Deuce. I'd heard about it but never been there as it was heavily controlled by the Mob. Don't get me wrong, any and every business was involved one way or another with the "Family" but The Deuce was invitation only and I'm not even a distant relative to be considered. I worked hard to keep it that way too. I decided to look up an old friend who I could pump for information about the inner workings at The Deuce.

A few minutes later I pulled up to a dilapidated tenement in one of many abandoned pockets of the city. One thing you could definitely say about the windy city—nothing is as it seems. It was dark and quiet. All the lower windows were broken or missing completely. The trim was rotting and disheveled. The building was brick so it was holding just fine.

I climbed the crumbling concrete steps and entered the darkened foyer and was greeted by two heavily armed private guards.

"I'm here to see Mickey," I announced.

The biggest one looked me up and down. "Name?"

"Just tell him Nick is here to collect."

He grunted, turned and disappeared into the dark hall. Moments later he returned and gave me the subtle "follow me" head shift.

We walked down the dark hall and it was a difficult negotiation as my eyes had not adjusted to the darkness.

The hall ended and we faced a dirty wall that had smears and obvious signs of years of wear and tear throughout. He rapped a code with his knuckles and the wall opened revealing a plush and inviting living quarters. There was classical music wafting through the room and a faint scent of Cuban cigar.

I approached the two thickly upholstered, winged-backed chairs that faced the enormous fireplace complete with roaring fire.

The chair to my right was occupied by a short, pudgy man that was dressed immaculate in a fine silk taylor-made suit. He was caressing his snifter of imported brandy. This was Mickey Malone, the most connected man in Chicago and probably farther east to the Big Apple. He wasn't "Family", technically, but when things got messy no one really cared about technicalities. He's made a life working both sides of the tracks and acted like a padrone in manner and lifestyle but wasn't. The Mafia would like no better than to hang him from a yardarm in public. But they needed him. The coppers wouldn't hesitate to put him in a lonely, dark cell and throw away the key. But they needed him. Mickey was a man without a country and was dirty on both sides but managed to walk the fine line and keep both parties satisfied. From what I hear the line got so thin sometimes it was hard for either side to tell where it was. How this was done is above my pay grade but he must know what he's doin' as he's still alive. And this time, I needed him.

As I told his goon, I was here to collect on a favor. It so happened I was in the right place at the wrong time one night and did something that was out of character—I gave a damn. When the coppers and the Family were workin' each other over with lead, Mickey was caught in the middle and it was obvious either side wouldn't hesitate a clear shot at Mickey would go wasted. I gathered him up from his crouched position behind a shipping crate and we made our way from the scene and I got him to safety. If I hadn't he'd be fertilizer.

You may wonder why I'd waste such a favor on some punk rich kid that's probably no longer casting shadows on the street? Clout, that's why. This Cherry dame is connected in some way and if I can give her some kind of resolution to this problem of hers I can gain a little notoriety in her pampered little world. Also, if I let Mickey know there's some activity with regard to this girl and her brother and the Family he may want to know and show his appreciation in the future. It's a dirty life but a life nonetheless.

He looked at me and grimaced. "I hear you wanta cash-in on our little debt. That right?"

"That's right."

"So, waddaya got for me?"

"info on some activity around the Family. some skirt and her brother got mixed-in deep. i'm lookin' to get 'em out."

"Goin' the distance for the client, eh? I can respect that. So's what can I do to square it between us, Nick?"

"Need the skinny on The Deuce. Its players, ins and outs so I can get in, get the job done and get out in one piece."

"What's ya lookin' to do, wipe 'em clean."

"No, nothin' like that. I need to find a boy lost in the wind. The client wants him back and I intend to deliver or get the dope on his demise."

"Oh, I see. Important he is to this client, eh?" He was diggin' for as much as he could get outta me.

"Couldn't say. Just bein' paid for a job, that's all." I wasn't about to offer more info than he needed.

"Must be a mighty important client if you're a lookin' to square up. No small thing you did there, Nick. I'ma hard pressed to make it right too. Don't like no debts you see. What's the boy's name?"

"Frankie Blossum."

Mickey's demeanor changed from smug to serious. He turned and leaned toward me as he placed his snifter on the table beside him. His eyes were all business and I knew this look and knew to pay very close attention to every word that would follow. "Your client is lookin' for Frankie Blossum?"

"That about sums it."

He sat back in his chair and seemed to pause for contemplation of his forthcoming response.

I knew this man to a degree and he did nothing without proper preparation and study of all the angles. He said nothing without the same attention to details as to present and future outcomes. And game theorized even casual conversation. Mickey left very little to chance. It was his calling one could say and he was very good at it. He spoke after what had seemed many minutes. "Frankie Blossum is very much alive and should be left to his own devices and his own fate. He leads a double life and one that cannot be untangled easily or hastily. Nor should be, for the answers that come forthwith will not be palatable for all and will lead to conclusions that are final. One would do well to let sleeping dogs lie, Nick."

The change in tone and manner of calculated and cryptic delivery of his message was, to say the least, ominous and I'm sure the wisdom contained therein was spot-on and good advice I should heed. But a job is a job and I intended to see this one through like all the others.

I stood and only stared into his eyes while saying nothing. Mickey read my resolve and knew I wasn't going to follow his sage advice.

"Very well, Nick," he said as he lifted his snifter and resumed his character prior to the mention of Frankie's name. I will tell you what you need to know so's you can dive as deep into the fire as you want." He took a sip of brandy and settled in his chair. "That kid, Frankie Blossum, has been turnin' the Family upside down as of late. He's got their confidence but he likes to do things his way all the time. See, he knows his way around the law."

"He's a lip? "

"Best I've seen in this town I tell ya. Probably even give those boys in the Apple a run for their money too. Yeah, he's a mouthpiece—Harvard Law no less. Snot-nosed punk too. He ain't even twenty five yet and he's cockier 'an hell."

"But there's more to it than that. Kid's got a secret—a secret that carries a lot of weight—a game changer. If it ever got out there'd be a helluva backlash in this town I'm tellin' ya." Mickey gave a slight pause for introspection. "Now I know what you're thinkin' and it ain't gonna happen. I ain't tellin' ya the secret. I'll square the debt but not that way. It'd be my ass too." That is what was on my mind. Everyone wants to know a secret.

Mickey filled me in on the layout and personnel of the joint along with a warning of what to expect. No matter how you sliced it the inevitable was going to happen—it was likely someone wouldn't be leavin' the place in one piece.

As I walked the dark hall back to the entrance I was beginning to wonder if I wanted to take a dive into the deep end. These were not your local goons. These men lived a life on the edge and played for keeps—for blood. Kicking a hornets nest was nothing new to me but the hornets nest was a little different. But a job is a job. If I'd wanted a safe life I'd be pushin' papers across a nice, boring desk.

The night was sweltering from the heat as I sat in my old Buick outside Mickey's building deep in thought and trying to make a decision on whether to continue this dangerous endeavor. It was hot but my bottle of whiskey kept my thoughts off the heat and on the problem. After one last swig I decided I was going for it. I fired-up the old heap and headed home. This job required a little preparation. To go in half-cocked would only accomplish the fact that I would be the one leaving The Deuce in more than one piece.

My apartment was small and rather stale. As I stood there I was reminded of the stark difference between Mickey's opulence and my, cut just above squalor, living situation which was a bit jarring to my senses. I do the best I can and I guess this is what my best gets me.

After a few minutes of lamenting my situation I removed my jacket and lay it on my bed and headed for the bathroom. A splash of cold water would help to put things in perspective.

I returned to the kitchen where Mickey's sketch of The Deuce covered my kitchen table with a few notes of a rudimentary plan beside it. This would have to do as I couldn't continue with a half bottle of whisky in me and a long day behind me. It was time to retire as tomorrow would probably be much longer and a little more dangerous.

As I lie prone on the bed a soft knock on the door broke my quiet slumber. It was eleven-thirty and not a time for a normal social call. I rose and shuffled to the door. I swung it open wide and fast so as to slightly startle the visitor.

Cherry! This was the last person I expected to to see on my doorstep at this hour. In fact, I wouldn't expect to see her in the neighborhood at any hour!

She stood cloaked in a long, white mink coat. "I hope it's not too late. May I come in?" Still a little groggy, I stepped aside and motioned for her to enter. She sauntered past me and made her way to the bed then turned to face me. "There was something I needed to see you about before you continued on the case. It's of a personal nature."

I figured it must be something rather important to bring her here at this hour. "What's on your mind, Miss Blossum?" I kept it professional.

"First off, you can call me Cherry," she said as she gradually approached. "Like I said earlier in your office, Nick, you have a reputation for getting the job done." Her gloved hands began to gingerly unbutton her coat as the distance between us closed. I was enjoying this unexpected show when she graciously parted her coat revealing her naked body. Staring into my eyes she said, "Is this job good enough for you, detective?"

Now, I'm not one to draw a line between the profession and the personal. In fact, I think they can work quite well together as past experience has taught me. Any normal man wouldn't hesitate at this opportunity and I consider myself squarely in the normal man category. "You leave all the work to me, Mis- Cherry," I said sly.

I awoke to the morning sun streaming into the room. Cherry was gone. I reached for my watch on the nightstand and discovered a stack of cash accompanied by a note that read: Payment for the first job well done. I placed the cash in the drawer and headed for the shower. A job is a job. Some are just more pleasant than others.

The morning afforded me more time for planning my job at The Deuce as it was better to appear in the afternoon when fewer people are there. Mickey let on that Frankie does some business there during those times as well. Who knows, I might get lucky. I used what little time I had wisely and planned properly.

Late afternoon I arrived at The Deuce and parked around back behind the warehouse. I knew going in the front entrance and asking for Frankie wouldn't get me passed the front door.

I entered the back loading dock that was filled with barrels of whiskey and crates of bottled whiskey. It was bustling with help as the local establishments would be needing their liquor for the coming weekend. Booze was a big hit since the abolishment of the prohibition laws. Prohibition is what put organized crime on top and now they own a major cut of the sales and distribution of alcohol.

Moving into the warehouse I walked about freely. There were crates throughout the warehouse stacked to the rafters. Business was good. I was soon spotted and confronted by a foreman. He looked agitated as he hurried over. "Hey, who you dare? Yo, c'mere."

As I paced toward him I noticed he had a thirty-eight tucked in the waist of his trousers. "Watcha doin' hea fella, huh?"

"Oh, I was just lookin' for someone." I played as dumb as I could.

"Jus' lookin' for someone, eh? Well, who's ya lookin' for?"

"The name's Frankie Blossum."

The foreman's face went blank. I could see he wasn't sure how to react. He didn't know if I was a friend of Frankie or someone out for him; lookin' to cause him harm. "Yeah? What's yer business with dis Frankie fella?"

He was smart. He wasn't letting on he knew who Frankie was. "I'm a friend of the family and I need to deliver a message."

"Friends of da family ya say. Who wassit sent ya?"

I looked him dead in the eyes, "It's a family matter. You just tell Frankie I have a message for him."

"Why don'tcha follow me dis way—say what's yer name in case we find dis Frankie fella?"

"The name's Nick."

"Well, Nick, ya jus' come dis way and I'll bring ya to da waitin' room."

The waiting room. That's Mafia code for interrogation and pain. Or at least a very rough time. I had no choice. I was in now and there ain't no turnin' back.

I followed him to a door that led to a small, unfurnished office. Basically a room with a few chairs and table with, what looked like, a standard tool box. To say I was uneasy would be an understatement.

There were a couple goons with Tommy guns and revolvers in their waist bands waiting for us. "Why don't ya have a seat right dare and I'll see if I can't find dis Frankie fella for ya."

I sat in trepidation as he exited the room and left me with the well-armed goons. They scowled as they looked me over. "Hey Joey, dis guy look scary to you?" said the tall, ugly one.

"Nah, not wit dat mug he ain't scary" said the short, uglier one named Joey.

"Say, maybe I's can make 'im more scary. Watcha tink? Make 'im look scarier?"

The tall, ugly one rubbed his chin and gave an expression of thinking the situation over. "Oh, I don't know dare, Joey. I thinks maybe we should wait fer da boss. He might not like us takin' charge like dat."

"Yeah, yeah, I's guess so. But I's gets dibbs on 'im when we do gets a chance, right?"

"Sure, sure, Joey, anyting you say dare, buddy."

Resisting the urge to flee I stayed seated and sweating. I know these guys were trying to rile me but I also knew they would do just what they said if given the chance. I liked my mug the way it was and would do whatever it took to keep it that way.

After what must have been hours, the door to the office finally opened and the foreman entered followed by a young, thin, well groomed and impeccably dressed man. It was Frankie. "Why is this man not bound?" he barked.

The guards abandoned their card game. "Oh, sorry boss. We didn't know yous wanted dat," the tall, ugly one said as he scrambled for some cord to tie my hands and feet.

After a few minutes of the goon cutting circulation to my extremities Frankie approached. In one swift motion he back-handed my face. "Who are you?"

"The name's Nick Mann. You must be Frankie."

He backhanded me again. "You a gumshoe?"

"That's right," I said as I spit blood from my mouth.

"Who sent you?"

"Your sister, Cherry. She hired me to find you and give you a message."

Frankie looked a little aggitated. "What's the message?"

"She wants to see you. Wants you to come home."

A burst of laughter came from all parties in the room. "She wants to see me, you say. I'll bet she does!" he continued with a hearty laugh as did the others. He approached and put his arm around my shoulders. "Nick, you have no idea what my big sister has gotten you into. You're a patsy! You're her patsy, Nick." He moved in close to my ear. "I'll bet she was very convincing—wasn't she, Nick?"

"You could say that," I said as Frankie laughed yet again.

He leaned in front of me to match my eye level. "So tell me gumshoe, wha-"

Just then the sound of a Tommy gun rang out. The foreman ran out the door, gun in hand as Frankie followed. My two goon guards looked confused not knowing to join them or stay here and guard me.

More shots rang out. There was commotion and yelling throughout the warehouse. My guards looked more apprehensive. I looked at the tall, ugly one. "You may want to help your boss out. I'm not going anywhere," I said as I struggled in an animated fashion to show I was tied-up tight. The two looked at each other and rushed from the room.

The commotion and noise level increased as I sat and pondered my predicament. Obviously some rival gang had decided this was a good moment to move in on this position. While Frankie was here acting as boss, he was not the boss. Well, the big boss, anyway. The big boss was Antonio 'Gabby' Gabrielli. He controlled many districts and was a powerful influence in the local political scene. Needless to say, he had to constantly watch his back for the next challenger of his position.

Taking advantage of my time alone I struggled to loosen my bindings. I could feel the blood trickle down my hands and drip from my fingertips as the cord tore into my flesh. The knots remained snug and effective. I wasn't going anywhere.

A few of the goons from the other faction entered and pointed their canons right at me. I squirmed the best I could in a futile gesture. I was a sittin' duck.

To my amazement they lowered their guns. One of them popped his head out the door and and yelled, "Got 'im!" I was dumbfounded and it must've come through the expression on my face as they all chuckled.

The firefight continued in the warehouse yet these guys just stood there. Like they were waiting for something. Moments later I had a new visitor; Cherry!

She strolled in with as much grace and confidence as she did that day she first entered my office. The look on my face must have been that of surprise as her smile grew as she approached. "You seem to be in a bit of a bind, Nick." she chuckled at her own bad joke. She then leaned-in close to my ear. "Would you like me to help you out of that, honey? After all, you did bring Frankie here for me," she whispered and began to untie the knots. As she worked she leaned-in once more and, in an erotic manner, licked the trickle of blood running down my cheek. "I love a man in trouble," she quipped. I must admit, I didn't know who scared me more, Cherry or her brother. She had a coldness about her.

Free of my bindings, two goons escorted me to the warehouse where more goons stood around Frankie who was held captive and awaiting his sister.

We approached with Cherry leading the way. She motioned to the closest goon for a piece. He handed her a revolver and in one swift move she pointed at her brother's leg and pulled the trigger. The bullet exploded his knee and Frankie collapsed to the floor. Cherry returned the piece and moved toward her brother. She lowered herself down and lay beside him partially lying upon his body. She reached out and began to lovingly caress his face. "Frankie, why?" she said softly. Frankie had fear in his eyes as sweat began to seep from his pores and his body began to shiver from shock as his sister fawned. She leaned-in and gently kissed him on the lips and with her right hand unsheathed a dagger that was strapped to her inner thigh. She slowly inserted the blade into Frankie's abdomen. Her lips remained on his until Frankie's struggling ceased and he drew his final breath.

Cherry was ruthless in her actions as I watched the scene unfold. This was a dangerous woman and from what I could tell, now that Frankie was dead, she has made a new place for herself in the Family.

She stood and turned toward me. I figured I was next as I was an outsider along with being the only witness and, after all, I was just a patsy, as Frankie pointed out. If the way she dispatched her own brother was any indication, I was not looking forward to my last minutes.

At that moment it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was her patsy. The memories of the past couple days flooded my mind. She'd played me from day one. Her hidden nervous manner in my office, the chain smoking, the subtle body twitches and movements. The unexpected visit last night—all a sham! All designed to pull me in, throw me off. This was a cold, calculating woman who had a master plan and executed it with precision. But what plan? It had to be something big and it was obvious she had a small army. I had to know before the lights went out for good.

My apprehension grew as she moved closer. My thoughts raced and I couldn't think straight. I had no plan of escape. The way I saw it; there was no escape possible.

She stood before me. Her hand caressed my face, much as she did her recent victim. "I'm sorry you had to see that, Nick. This is a dirty business, but I think you know that already, don't you?"

"Yep," was all my mind could conjure as it contemplated the inevitable.

She then kissed me and I could all but feel the dagger in my gut. But that's not what happened. Her hand moved down my back and she grabbed my ass then pulled away.

A little dumbfounded and always the detective, I queried: "Why this elaborate scheme? Just to off your brother? Couldn't a contract on him do the same with less mess?" It was obvious she had the money and connections for such a thing.

"Oh, my dear Nick," she said with an air of superiority and condescension. "My brother's demise was the last piece, not the only piece. I didn't do all this to remove my brother. All you have seen was the final action. Gabby was the big piece of the puzzle. And now he's dead. I made him suffer long and painful like he couldn't imagine. His way of business was old and outdated. It was time for a change. And I am that change." She then became more animated in her delivery. "I am now padrone! Everything you see is mine—all of south Chicago is mine! And I'm entitled! My brother and me were not just some rich kids that were connected. While our last name is Blossum, our true father was Antonio Gabrielli. We were his dirty little secret! You see, daddy let Frankie in and let him do as he pleased. He showed him the business and groomed him for the day when he would be padrone. I, on the other hand, was shunned and non-existent as far as he was concerned. I had no value to him or his empire. Now I am the empire!"

Her demeanor was chilling. Not from what she had done but how drunk she had become with her new realized power. This is a person who would do as she pleased in this city—just like her predecessor. In other words; nothing had changed. This was a scenario I wanted to avoid for myself. I preferred to stay as far away from the Family as possible. Now I was practically a first cousin!

There were only a few goons around including the one on the blower in the office. The rest must have other orders and left after the everything settled down. But one thing was sure; they knew who their new boss was and they were completely loyal to her. I guess that included me too. "So what now?" The question still burned.

"What now? Now we go to work. Now we take the rest of what's rightfully mine. This is my town—all of it. Right boys?" she addressed the goons. They shouted in unison to the affirmative.

"And me? What's your plans for me, Cherry?" I was curt.

A goon disapproved of my tone and stepped in. "I tells ya what yer plans are. Yer plans are what eva she say yer plans are. You got dat ya low-life snooper?" he said shaking his gun at me as if it were his index finger to make his point.

"That's right, Nick. I have plans for you—lots of plans."

"Yeah, what kinda plans? Your little house boy? Your litttle patsy?" I said with disdain as I pushed the point. The goon came back over and pistol whipped me. I collapsed to the ground. A gun to the head hurts like hell. But I was about tired of this situation and was nobody's fool. Especially a crazy one. I uncoiled and tackled the goon. I pinned him down and began my own kinda whipping—with my fists. Goons quickly pulled me from my retaliation and I was held before our new padrone.

She addressed me with those cold, blue-grey eyes. She cupped my chin in her hand and squeezed my jowels. "I like you, Nick. I really do. But you must know your place. And you know what place that is?"

"Let me guess, any place you tell me."

She, once again, caressed my face and kissed me. "Now you're getting it." Then addressed the goons. "Make sure he understands."

The goons commenced their beating as Cherry headed for the office. I fought as best I could but four on one is a little hard to overcome. I got a few good shots in though. Even managed to grab a heater for a brief moment. It was recovered and I was beaten harder. It was worth it. Goons—they're named appropriately.

I lie bleeding and exhausted as two goons stood guard over me. The others were disposing of bodies and evidence. I heard the roar of engines and tires squealing. More shots rang out from outside the warehouse. Then a lone shot from the office. I managed to raise my head and noticed my guards were gone. Lifting myself from the floor I managed to stand and made my way to the office. Maybe I could get a call out before they finished me off. I entered the office and there on the floor was Cherry with the back of her head blown-out. She had been shot in the face. That must've been the lone shot I heard. Now that I think about it, the man on the blower earlier must have put in a call to a rival clan. I guess they saw their chance to move in as the new guard was being established. Fickle loyalties and many spies in this business.

Looking around, I noticed the place was deserted. There was definitely a flatfoot that would wander in eventually. Probably on the payroll but a flatfoot nonetheless. After all, it was well past two in the a.m. and the club was not far away. While this place was somewhat secluded and it was rather late, someone had to have heard a few shots anyway. I had the presence of mind to look around the office before I scrammed. This was a Family office and that meant cash was somewhere here. I was hoping it wasn't in the safe. I looked around and found nothing. Then I spotted a table with scratch marks on the floor. That table is moved often meaning there was something behind it. I slid the table and discovered a false panel in the wall. I opened it knowing there was probably a locked safe there. To my surprise there was no safe! Only a black leather bag. I removed it and noticed it had some heft to it. I looked inside—cash! Lots of it! There were stacks and stacks in there. No need to stick around now so I hoofed it out as best I could in my condition and stayed in the shadows until I reached my car.

It was three in the a.m. as I drove down the main thoroughfare. I like this time of night. Get a real sense of the city in it's eerily quiet.

Even though I was in pain I still wanted to carry out my pleasurable ritual. I like to look into the clubs after they've shooed their public away for the night.

I drove past the Rough 'n' Tumble. It was real quiet. Only the help cleaning the place after the club cleaned-out their customers.

Up ahead I saw a woman walking alone. This was not the time to be a woman alone in the city. I pulled to the curb and rolled down my window. The woman walked to the passenger door and leaned in. "Well hey there, big Nicky!"

It was Toddy. "You just gettin' off work?" I asked knowin' the answer but just makin' small talk.

"Yeah. I'm beat." She paused and her expression displayed concern as she noticed the swelling and marks on my face. "You okay, Nicky? You look like yous been through the meat grinder, honey." She opened the door and climbed in.

"I'm fine, doll. Guess you could say I'm beat too." I chuckled as I tried to smile without wincing.

She leaned over and gently touched my left cheek with her finger tips and lightly kissed my right. Her perfume was sweet-smelling and I liked the attention. Normally I wouldn't care much for it but we've been around each other enough I welcomed her attention and, above all, she was one of the few people in this town I trusted. "I think you should come home with me so's I can attend to those bruises and whatever else is goin' on." She sat back and leaned against the door facing me. "You wanna come home with me, Nicky?" she asked with a sense of longing.

I know a proposition when I hear one. "I'm a little spent, doll. Maybe some other time."

She expressed a bit of confusion as she searched for meaning in my response. "Oh no, Nicky, that ain't what I mean. I want you to come home with me so's I can give yous whatever you want and treat you right. I wanna takes care of you. And I'll make it so's you never wanna leave." She looked in my eyes and smiled her inviting smile. The same smile that keeps clientele coming back. I noticed something a little different this time in that inviting smile; it wasn't forced or unnatural like I've seen on the floor in the club. No, this was a real smile—a sincere smile. And it wasn't just a smile with her mouth. She smiled with her eyes. This was a different proposition—a more permanent kinda proposition.

Toddy was goin' for broke and was puttin' herself out there. Real naked-like with her emotions. I consider all dames a bit on the crazy side, hell, we all are, and don't get in too deep as some turn out to be a bad kinda crazy—a scary kinda crazy. As recently witnessed with Cherry. And Toddy was no different. She had a crazy side. She'd have to in her kinda work. But I've seen her kinda crazy and it was a lot like my kinda crazy. I guess that's why we got along so well. I looked at her and smiled as best I could though my swollen and bruised face. "I'd like that, Toddy."

Her eyes sparkled as she smiled once more. "My real name is Melissa," she said as she moved close and leaned her head on my shoulder. "Don't you worry none. I'll takes good care of my big Nicky—forever."

I popped the clutch and we headed for home and a new life. Yeah, that's right, a new and better life.

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The end

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