Chinks in the Armor
I got a little turned around finding the public terminal. It was a private booth, which of course smelled like urine, so I called Conner’s Place and asked Papi if there were any messages for Todd Williams.
“Oh, to be sure, I got something for ye.” Papi said in his faux brogue. I could hear over the line the sound of him flipping through his call book while shouting at some rowdy patron to calm down.
“’Ere we go! Todd Williams. ‘We have found a room at a hotel. The kid doesn’t think we were followed, but I can’t really understand him. I would feel safer if you were here.’ An’ thar’s a number.”
I decided not to mention how he completely dropped the accent when reading the note and asked, “No address?”.
“Nay, jus’ the number. Looks like it's for a mobile.”
Finally some good news. Delia wasn’t stupid enough to tell a stranger were she was.
“Give me the number.” I said. I wrote it down on a scrap of paper.
I thanked Papi then hung up. I read the number to myself until I was sure I had committed it to memory. Once that was done, I tore up the scrap and called.
Delia answered after three tones. “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s me.”
“…Me who?” There was a suspicious edge to her voice. On second thought it didn’t seem frightened but rather circumspect.
“Oh god, Nick!” Her voice relaxed then tightened in a different manner. “Where the hell have you been‽ I’ve been going out of my mind.”
“I got held up.” I replied. There was no need to worry her further. I needed to keep her from panicking so that she wouldn't do something stupid. “How are you coping?”
“I could be better. A lot better.”
“You are doing fine. How’s Sifu.”
“He is fine, I suppose. He never says a word, and he comes and goes without notice.”
“Yeah, he does that, but he’ll watch out for you. Is he there now?”
“How does he look?”
“What do you mean?”
Next time, I should try to explain Sifu’s eccentricities to someone before I send them off alone.
“What is his demeanor like?” I asked.
“Good. That's good.”
"Where are you? I tried calling your office but you never answered."
"As I said, I got held up. I haven't been back to the office. But I'm safe. Don't worry about me.
"I'm sorry, I can't help it."
I allowed myself a little smile. "Alright, how much money do you have?"
"I have the credit chip I was going use to pay you. There isn't much on it now after renting the room then buying a change of clothes and some food. I thought I shouldn't use one with my name on it."
"That's smart. Don't do anything to draw attention to yourself. I've got a better idea of who is after you, but I don't like the connections I'm seeing. I'll bring you some more money. For now don't worry about paying me. Is there anything else you need?"
"...Not that I can think of."
"Alright. Tell me where you are."
* * *
The Aton Regency was not what I would have chosen as a place to lay low. Also, I would barely call a four-star amassment of suites and amenities crowning a tower in the Filai district simply a hotel. It was no wonder Delia said she was almost out of money. I knew she had some expensive tastes, but this was a little ridiculous. Fortunately, I still had the better part of forty-five grand to work with.
I didn’t know what would have convinced Sifu to go along with someplace so extravagant as a hidey-hole until I saw the security detail. There is something to be said for gilded cages; they can afford really good guards. Since, I didn’t have a ride to one of the private landing bays, I had to come up an elevator, get out, and then receive the third degree from a nest of PMC hopefuls before I could enter another elevator that would take me to the lobby. Well dressed, alert, and all business, they wouldn’t let me in until they had called up to Delia’s room and confirmed that she was expecting me. Also, I could just tell they didn’t like my hat.
When I knocked on the door to her room, Delia pulled me inside and pressed herself against my chest. She was wearing a terry cloth robe. Her hair was wet. Her eyes were red. She trembled slightly. She had been crying.
”Hey, it’s okay.” I said, resting my hands lightly on her shoulder blades.
”No, it’s not okay, you asshole.” She mumbled at my shirt. “People are trying to kill me, and you left me alone with a mute ten-year-old.”
”I think Sifu is a bit older than that.”
She pushed away and punched me in the shoulder. “Stop joking! It’s not funny.”
It hadn't been much of a punch, but it had feeling. The robe she wore was teal and four sizes too big for her. The jarring movement of her punch managed to flick the fabric around; revealing a little bit of taut thigh and a more than necessary amount of pert unrestricted cleavage.
I turned away, pretending to scan the room, while I scrunched up my face and tried to remember why I had come.
”Where’s Sifu?” I asked.
”He left about half an hour ago. He probably thought that since you were coming, he didn’t need to stay and hover around me”.”
”You just get out of the shower?”
”Oh, yes.” She blushed. She blushed demurely. I wasn’t expecting, or ready, for that. “Excuse me a moment.”
She disappeared into the bathroom off the master bedroom, so I took the time to look around the suite. It was nice and elegant without being gaudy. There was a small silver and glass table with two place settings; a half eaten club sandwich and a bowl of chicken and rice sat forgotten. A peach couch and easy chair sat behind a maple wood coffee table opposite a wall sized screen. There were two bedrooms off the main room; the master bedroom had a few clothes boxes on the queen-sized bed while the other looked as if it hadn’t been touched. If Sifu had slept here it probably had been on the couch. This place even had a goddamn balcony looking out over an artificial park.
Why is it every apartment I’d been to in the last few days made mine look like a shit hole?
The back of my hand was itching the way it did when my body tried to tell me physical action was required. I went out on the balcony and lit up one of the cigarettes I got from the Cat & Mouse and tried to suffocate the looming anxiousness I couldn’t fully identify. It helped calm me down, but the lack of sleep was vying for dominance on my fuzzy brain.
Halfway through the cigarette, I heard the bathroom door open again accompanied by the soft patter of naked feet over hardwood floors.
Without turning around I said, “We didn’t finish our conversation from the other night at the club.”
”Oh?” she said. She sounded calmer, but I couldn’t tell if she had been expecting the question. I needed to focus on her voice so that I wouldn’t get distracted by her face.
I took another drag on the cigarette. ”Simon.” I said. “Tell me about Simon.”
”What do you mean?”
”The name ‘Edward Boston’ mean anything to you?”
”No. Who is he?” Still calm.
”Why did you tell me Simon was your husband?”
”I thought if I pretended to be a distraught wife you would be less likely to dismiss or take advantage of me.” A confident, matter-of-fact, answer. The reasoning seemed odd though.
”The deception wasn’t necessary.” I chided.
”You should have been honest. I would have found out anyway.”
”I’m sorry, alright.” Indignant apology. “I’m single.”. Admittance. Or was that an offering? Damnit, focus!
”But his mother and sister knew you.”
”Yes. We had dinner once. I had to give him some tax forms, but it was late and he was at their place. He invited me to eat with them.” That matched what they told me.
It was time for some harder questions. “Did you know he laundered money for organized crime?”
”…Yes. But not at first.”
”If you knew that, why go to him? Did you not realize how dangerous that would be?” The tension was seeping through in my voice. Frustrated and angry, I was looking for a target. Or an excuse to release my pent up energy.
”Hey, I work in a sleazy night club. I make a living off my looks. Not everyone I meet is going to be a good person.” Defensive with a hint of regret.
”Then why not go to the cops when he disappeared?”
”I just answered that question.”
"How could you be so stupid?"
"I didn't know what else to do!"
I was growling now. "And now you pulled me into your world."
"Isn't this what you do?"
”Did you ever actually go meet Lanford and Steinmeck before coming to me?”
”Of course not! They were stalking me.”
I didn’t know; not after what happened to Stubbs. I didn’t even know why I hadn’t been arrested for it yet. That needed to be my next stop. I had to find Larry and figure out what was going on with him. He was a pawn, but so far I’d gotten more leads out of him. Larry was a slimy little turd, but I dreaded the thought of having to look him in the eye now.
But, damnit, I could barely think straight. Too many things weren't adding up, and the ones that did only made things worse.
”Nick?” Delia asked.
”Why me, Delia?”
”Answer the question!” I barked.
”Nick! Look at me!”
I hesitated. My hand tighten crushing my cigarette. I stamped it out while staring at the artificial vista. There had been too many lies lately. I was desperate for something real. I needed something that wouldn’t come up from behind and kick my legs out from under me.
When I turned to look at Delia, I saw a need in her eyes as well. A differnt need, though I could see it was directed at me. She hadn’t dressed up like I’d seen her before. Her brown hair hung loose with slight, natural, waves. She wasn’t in that slinky dress I last saw her in at the club, rather she wore a modest blouse and skirt, though her alluring figure was undeniably still there. She looked real. She looked safe.
”I was scared.” she said. “I was afraid whoever made Simon disappear would come after me. I don’t know why, but they did. Maybe they thought I could lead them to Simon. I don’t know where he is, or why he’s gone, but I was alone.”
She stepped close to me. Her eyes became misty as she showed me vulnerability.
”Most of the people I know are…bad people.” She paused and bit her lower lip. “But I asked the ones who…didn’t have anything over me. Your name came up.” She shrugged. “Word on the street was that you were a good man.”
Her eyes went to the floor. She stepped even closer. Her hands found rest on my chest. When she looked up into my eyes, my arms enveloped her of their own volition. Her hands grasped for security. My hands grasped for substance.
”I found a good man.” she said whispered, pressing the fullness of her body to mine. “I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
I kissed her. She kissed back. It was sweet and eager. I clutched her trying to coax her essence to fill the emptiness in me that had grown much larger than I had thought. She acquiesced. Her curves welcomed my touch. Her hands comforted the parts of me that had been neglected for so long.
A vicious thought slithered forward in my mind and warned me to leave before I drowned. But when I pulled away, she simply said, “Please stay.”
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