He sat facing the door of the bar. The bar was typical for this part of town. A couple of regulars were propped up on stools at opposite ends. They drank in silence and consistently. The bartender knew them well enough to keep their drinks topped up without being asked. A mute television above the bar showed the latest sports news. The Mets had collapsed to another defeat. A dog sat by the end of the bar, curled up in a basket. It looked old and mournful and belonged there. The décor was tired. A couple of years ago it had been given a coat of varnish but that had faded to fit in with the worn seat covers and tarnished brass. Gloomy daylight tried to creep in through small smoke-stained windows but failed to illuminate the darkest corners. He felt comfortable. It was his sort of place.
He’d been sat there for two hours. When he had arrived the office workers were in having a drink to unwind, while the dock workers on the late shift were having a drink to brace themselves for the night ahead. Gradually they had all filtered out to go their separate ways. The man he was waiting for should have been there by now. He didn’t like the job. He wondered if he would have taken it on if she hadn’t been such a damn good looking woman.
She breezed in through the door while he was sat screwing up paper and throwing it at the basket on the opposite side of the room, leaning back on his chair with his feet on the desk. She stopped as a ball of paper landed at her feet. She didn’t bother to pick it up.
‘Busy day?’ she said.
‘Thinking time,’ he replied. ‘Can I help you?’
‘Are you the guy who owns this office?’
‘Who wants to know?’
‘I do.’ She had the sort of figure that would turn heads, curves in all the right places and a tailored skirt and suit jacket to show them off. She didn’t need to wear make-up but wore too much. Large brown eyes dominated a soft face. He knew he’d do anything for her.
‘You don’t want to give me a name?’ he asked.
‘I was told that wouldn’t be a problem,’ she replied.
‘Depends on what sort of work you’re looking to get done.’ She eased over to the desk and perched on the corner. He swung his legs down and sat up straight. She sized him up.
‘I was told you take care of problems, no questions asked.’
‘For the right sort of money I’m always happy to help out a lady with a problem.’
‘I’d like you to take care of something for me.’
He made an educated guess.
‘What’s he called?’ A woman who looked like her didn’t search out a guy like him unless it was something she didn’t want the authorities to know about. That sort of problem was usually a relationship problem.
She smiled at him. ‘Jimmy is all you need to know.’
‘And how do I find Jimmy?’
‘Here,’ she said, handing him a folded note. ‘Every evening during the week, he’ll be at this address.’
He unfolded the note. It was the address of a bar downtown. He had heard the name. It was one of a select few bars in town that he couldn’t recall having been in before.
‘You got a description or should I just ask every guy in the place if he’s Jimmy?’
‘He’s easy to spot. He has a scar running down the right side of his face.’ She indicated where by drawing her finger down her face from above the eye to the corner of her mouth. ‘And he walks with a limp.’
He paused and stared at her. It didn’t sound like the sort of guy this woman would be mixed up with.
‘Any reason why you need this Jimmy taken care of?’
‘Do you need a reason?’
‘Again, that depends.’
She pulled another note of paper out of her jacket pocket.
‘Would this be enough to stop you asking anymore questions?’ He took the note from her hand. It was a banker’s cheque. There was a one followed by a line of zeros. He had to count them twice to make sure he had it right.
‘That would do it.’
‘Good,’ she gave him another smile that seemed to make the room glow. ‘Then I don’t need to see you again unless you have a problem.’ She stepped down from the desk and he watched her walk to the door. She didn’t look back as she left and closed the door behind her. He leaned back in his chair again and stared at the banker’s cheque for a while.
The door to the bar opened and a couple came in. He got a good look at the man’s face and there was no scar. They were the only people that had entered in the last hour. He wasn’t going to get anywhere sitting here. He picked up his empty glass and went to the bar. The dog followed him with his eyes. The barman finished serving the newly arrived couple and they took their drinks to a table round the back.
‘Same again?’ the barman asked him.
‘Sure.’ The barman poured him a scotch and placed the glass in front of him. ‘You worked here for long?’
‘Couple of years. I own the place,’ the barman replied.
‘Nice place.’ They both knew he was lying. ‘You work every evening?’
‘Sure.’ The barman started wiping glasses dry. ‘Why d’you want to know?’
‘I’m looking for someone. I was told he would be here.’
The barman eyed him with suspicion.
‘You some sort of cop or something?’
‘Something like that.’
The barman shrugged. He had nothing to hide.
‘Well, Fred and Harry here,’ the barman indicated the two regulars at either end of the bar, ‘are the only guys you’re guaranteed to find in here.’
‘Thanks. It ain’t them.’ He threw a twenty down on the bar. He wouldn’t cash the cheque. The money would’ve been nice, but he’d survive without it. Besides, any reason for that woman to turn up in his office again was no bad thing. It would brighten up any day he was having.
He turned to leave. Halfway to the door it opened and a man entered. No scar, no limp. He passed him.
‘Hey, Billy,’ the new arrival called to the barman and got a grunt in reply. As he opened the door to leave he heard the man speak again.
He turned. The man was bending over and patting the dog on the head. The dog got up and limped round the man. He saw the right hand side of the dog’s face for the first time. There was a bald, pink scar running down his face. Sonovabitch, he thought. He walked back to the bar. He looked at the old dog who stared back at him. He reached into his jacket and brought out his gun.
‘Sorry, old boy,’ he said to the dog, and shot him twice in the front of his head. The silenced bullets made dull thuds. The dog slumped to the ground before anyone in the bar had noticed what had happened. He had no idea about canine anatomy but he was pretty sure that would do it. The barman stared at him, his mouth open.
‘Your dog?’ he asked him. The barman nodded. The others at the bar were experienced enough to turn back to their drinks and mind their own business. He pulled the banker’s cheque out of his coat pocket and tossed it onto the bar. ‘Buy yourself another one, on her.’
He turned and walked out the bar into the night.
This town, he thought.