Bank Square Books, Books, Harlot's Fire, Harlot's grace, Live music, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Savoy Bookshop & Cafe, Shop Local, Suspense, Writing

Chapter Two Preview – Harlot’s fire

 Urine and tobacco made sense. Every alleyway in every city possessed this stank. Yet the soft, faint haze of a Cuban cigar threw the entire scene off. That and the directions in his hand. Go to The Alley of Whores. There will be a sign.

Before venturing out, he searched city maps on Google along with the bureau’s database. No such street existed in New Haven, Connecticut. He glanced back into the mirrored windows for anyone suspicious who may be following. His feet marched in cadence along the main drag.

And there it was, not a street sign in the traditional sense, just a photograph of Harlot Grace, the stripper from Hartford, tacked up on a brick wall, alongside posters that advertised a Kung Fu and The Meadows Brothers Band show at a famous music hall a few blocks over.

He turned into the alleyway—junkies scattered in the shadows. Moans rose into the harmonies of a drunk acapella choir. A melody of desperation filled the air. Along with his handwritten directions, he clutched an 8.5 x 11” manilla envelope so tight, sweat from his palms soaked through to the pages.

The pages of his new retirement plan. Screw his pittance of a government pension.

The walls stopped at a soft glow in the middle. Intelligible voices weaved within the junkie’s chorus. A hint of marijuana and ammonia tangled with the smell of burning wood filled in the distance to an old Airstream covered with the faded graffiti of Picasso-esque palm trees and rolling waves. Outlines of humans appeared in the curtained windows next to the trailer’s entrance.

He counted four heads yet knew there could be more out of view. The false bravado held by a service revolver tucked in his waistband started to fade. The human waste around the fire acknowledged his approach with faint interest. The door opened before he could knock, temporarily causing blindness.

“Come in, comrade, come in.” A solid hand covered with scars grasped his shoulder to move his body inside a fog of cigar smoke. “How good of you to make it. This is—”

“No names, please,” Morris Webb interrupted.

“—my friend, no names, please. For tonight, we call him Judas,” the leader smiled in his direction, “okay?” A small nod from the visitor returned the slight. “Okay, good. What have you got for me?” The well-built man who opened the door removed the envelope from his hand. With a similar build, another male reached over the table to accept the container before transferring the package to a wiry man in the center. Without even a nod, he opened the envelope.

“The deposit—” Webb started to say.

“Will be made when we verify this information,” the wiry man scowled.

“That wasn’t—” a rod slipped against his back. The stale smell of ammonia crept over his neck. “that will be fine,” Webb replied, adding, “To the Cayman account, please.” The please came out more of a habit than of politeness.

The man at the table mumbled something incoherent as those around him nodded. “When can we get our Harlot Grace back?”

“All of that is in the file. She was shot—”

“That isn’t what I asked,” Yarok Yarokov’s voice remained steady, yet eyes turned dark. Although physically more imposing, the men at the table leaned away from their leader.

“She is under a 24-hour watch at the hospital. Armed guards—” Webb’s voice rose an octave.

“Who is in charge of this—” Yarokov barked back.

“I guess I am—”

“You guess?” Yarokov leaned forward on the table. “You get me time. We will take care of the rest.”

“There can be no violence,” Webb wagged his finger for emphasis. “I mean it. Enough people—”

“Comrade Webb, if you gave a damn about other people,” Yarokov held the envelope up, “then this would not be in my hand, no?” Webb returned a slight nod. “Good. You call my friend here with time, and we will escort my Harlot Grace out of your hands. Okay?” Another slight move of Webb’s head followed to affirm. “Now, here is a little something for your troubles, okay?”

The greeter handed Webb a small package. The plain brown wrapper gave zero indication of the contents. The phrase, a pound of twenties, whispered as Webb’s lips rose into a full grin. He butchered, “Blagodaryu vas,” thank you in their native language. At the same time, he fell back out the door. His hand tapped the package, nestled safely in one breast pocket, while his other, out of sight, clutched the handle of his service revolver.

His business was completed. He walked with purpose through the mixed smoke, passed the concert of addicts’ hum, to slip back on to the crowded streets of New Haven.

Copyright L.M. Pampuro 2021

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