Chapter One, Part 2
The blonde settled into the chair to my left, perching on the edge like some exotic bird. She clutched a purse on her knees. It matched her dress, which matched her lips, which matched blood just old enough to tell you the guilty party has long since skipped town. Her hair fell in undulating waves about her face, framing smoldering blue eyes that would knock a guy out of a room. If he wasn’t already.
Her nose quivered and she blinked—pleasantly surprised at the smell, or lack of. I know the quiver-and-blink. They all do it: walk into my office, dreading the kind of large-animal musk that wallops you at the Belmont Stakes. Never crosses their minds that I’ve never actually been in my office.
“Now,” I said, waiting for her flinch at my breath washing over her. Nothing I can do about that. “What can I do for you, Miss—?”
“Baines,” she lied around that flinch. “My name is Mallory Baines.” Her mouth had rehearsed that name too many times; it rolled off the assembly line of her tongue with exaggerated care and a dusting of New York accent acquired from the talkies. What true accent lay behind it I couldn’t quite place, but it was precise, severe—her lips wanted more consonants, her mouth more guttural utterances, than “Mallory Baines” provided.
“All right, Miss Baines. What seems to be the trouble?”
“It’s my husband,” she said, and she might not have been lying about that. She thrust herself forward until I feared she’d spill out of her seat.
I furrowed my brow in a show of concern. “Yes.”
“I’m afraid something—” She caught herself, lay a hand over her breast.
“—Has happened to him.”
“When did you last see him?”
“Two nights ago. He went out to meet—” She fished into her purse, extracted a yellowed clipping from the World. “This man.”
I reached into the room. To her credit, she didn’t seize up as I offered a finger. She placed the clipping on the tip and I brought it—slowly—up to my eye. I’ve gotten good at this by now; you should see me stick a stamp on a letter.
I recognized the mug’s mug: one “Wormsy” Scarpini, heavy hitter for Cesar Lucero. Wormsy had the type of belligerently stupid, buttery face that looks like it would melt under direct sunlight. Never one for the clean stroke, he preferred to spray bullets like the indignant spittle spewed by all the reformers who’d sworn to put him in jail—or under it—for years. The caption beneath his portrait read: Rumored hit-man for Lucero mob acquitted after star witness found dead under mysterious circumstances.
Unless Mallory Baines’s husband chewed up coffin nails and spat out bullets, I could see how him disappearing after going to meet Wormsy would discomfit her.
“Does your husband usually keep company with thugs like Scarpini?”
She pushed out a scandalized gasp. “Oh, no.” I gave her a few more points for showing offense, though she winced when it occurred to her she probably shouldn’t bait a “savage” beast such as myself.
That much works in my favor, at least: the presence of an eight thousand pound gorilla is always the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room.
Check back next week for the continuing saga of King Kong: World’s Biggest Dick!