Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Moontown Palooka: Chapter Seven

There were no gargoyles perched on the ledges of the Grimaldi Hotel. There were, however, at least two in the lobby. The first was seated facing the revolving doors leading into the hotel. It was dressed as subtly as a quarter-ton walking winged statue could be. It wore a wide brimmed hat tipped over his throbbing green eyes and held a paper in front of its face as if it were reading it. The suit that covered its stony flesh was tailor-made, probably Italian. The pinstripes traced down its thick muscles, leading to the wicked claws that held the paper in front of its face. The gargoyle’s wings spilled over the back of the chair, as if someone had folded a leathery cape over the back. It tipped the paper down for a second as Longstreet passed, enough time for the detective to see it was smoking a Chesterfield.

The other gargoyle leaned leisurely on the wall next to the elevators, filing its claws with an industrial file. Sparks rained down onto the carpet with every stroke of the file. It was also well dressed in a suit that probably cost more money that Longstreet could ever hope to conjure. This one had polished black stones for teeth. Its wings were wrapped around itself like a cloak. It regarded Longstreet and Killberg with a savage grin as they approached. Killberg nodded and the gargoyle pushed the elevator call button.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Onyx,” Killberg said.

“Mr. Killberg,” Onyx said, “how’s tricks?”

“This weather is affecting my wings. The right one always gets sore when it first gets cold.”

Onyx grunted in agreement. “Who’s he?”

“A guest of our employer.”

The gargoyle grinned again and pointed its file at Longstreet.

“You gonna behave yourself?” it asked.

“I have no beef with the Guild,” said Longstreet, “long as it doesn’t have a beef with me.”

The elevator door opened and Killberg drifted through the doors. Longstreet followed and was shoved forward by Mr. Onyx.

“Gotta pat you down,” Onyx said. “Against the wall.”

Longstreet pressed his palms against the back wall of the elevator car and felt Onyx roughly begin his work.

“Couldn’t you have done this where there was more room?” he asked.

“The hotel didn’t like it when we did it in the lobby. Said it was too conspicuous.” Onyx took its time when said the last word, as if it had been carefully tutored to say it. He took Longstreet’s gun from its holster and then opened its palm in front of his face.

“And the glasses too,” Onyx said. Longstreet reluctantly folded them in Onyx’s hand.

“Can I get a receipt?” he asked.

Onyx grunted as a smile curled its lips. “You’ll get these back from Mr. Granite at the front door. If you behave yourself.” The doors opened again, and Longstreet could breathe easy again. He smoothed his suit out as the doors closed and the elevator moved upward.

The Grimaldi Hotel was closer to Moontown but still embedded in the regular city. Longstreet was surprised at such blatant displays of sorcery in the lobby but the Guild had that kind of power. While Moontown was where magic had come home to roost, the Guilds held territory throughout Chicago. Longstreet had the ride over from the station to think about who wanted to talk with him. The lobby had brought things into perspective. There were five families in the Guild. While they presented a united front, each family definitely wanted to be on top. So far, they had kept everything civil but Longstreet knew it was a matter of time. Just like booze, sorcery was a commodity that people would pay for. The Guild had a service to provide and even if respectable folks feared sorcery, they wouldn’t mind a few helpful spells to brighten up their day.

The elevator doors opened directly into the penthouse suite. Someone had moved a pool table in, and there were a trio of hustlers shooting pool. Girls were draped on the couches like boozed up tapestries. Papers, guns, and money were splayed across the mahogany bar. Above the bar, a martini shaker rattled itself to the beat of a jazz record spinning on a hidden turntable. The whole of the main room was dwarfed by an arch of glass stretching from either corner of the room. The window afforded a view of Chicago that made Longstreet question his long-standing avoidance of the Guild. A chair had been moved to the center of the arch facing out. Seated in the chair was the man that had summoned Longstreet from the depths of the precinct, getting a shave from an Italian man that looked all too familiar.

“Eddie Fiore,” breathed Longstreet. Killberg ushered him into the room. The place looked like a sultan’s den but smelled like a pool hall. The air was gauzy with smoke and booze. The air was thickened by the gazes leveled at the detective.

“Mr. Killberg,” said Fiore from the chair, “would you mind?”

Killberg swept toward the bar and plucked the shaker out of the air. He poured the contents into a martini glass and flew it over to Fiore. The Italian paused while Fiore took a sip.

“Harvey still knows how to make a good martini,” Fiore said with a slight turn of his head. Two of the pool players chucked. “You’ve done good, Killberg. Take the rest of the day off.”

The imp’s eyes lit up.

“Don’t do anything to get you in the papers,” said Fiore. The imp’s eyes dimmed slightly and it disappeared with a squeal and a flash of green light. Fiore sipped his drink again.

“If you want anything, Longstreet, the bar’s open.”

“How can I refuse such a generous host?” Longstreet said as he made his way past one of the decorative girls. She smiled and revealed a mouth full of wicked fangs. He nodded back and pulled out a bottle of Scotch.

“I thought you never drank while on a case,” remarked Fiore.

“I do when I’m meeting with a possible client,” replied Longstreet. He poured a decent amount for himself and then added another few fingers for Caligula.

“Already with the detecting?”

“A baker puts a cake in the window. Same principle.”

“The first one’s always free,” said Fiore in an admiring tone. “A principle I agree with.”

“Now that we’re Sunday school chums, what did you have in mind for me?”

“Also not one to mince words. Another wonderful trait. Giuseppe, avanti!”

Giuseppe stepped away from Fiore and began washing his tools. Fiore took the towel from around his neck and swabbed the bits of cream from his face. Giuseppe handed Fiore the same silver mirror and Fiore took a moment to admire his clean shave. He conversed with Giuseppe for a moment in Italian and they laughed. Fiore reached into his vest and pressed a few dollars into the barber’s hand. Giuseppe bowed and stuck the money in his case as Eddie turned to face Longstreet.

Eddie Fiore looked to have the parentage of a stout Italian mother and a great white shark. His pale skin contrasted with his dark eyebrows and dark eyes. He had a wide, flat nose that to Longstreet’s blurry eyes looked as if his nostrils led directly into his face. His teeth were crooked and jagged and fit together in a jigsaw smile. His dark hair was pulled back tightly, leaving a vast expanse of forehead landscaped by his bushy brows. After tossing the rest of the martini back, he joined Longstreet at the bar.

“Another,” he said and put the glass on a clean spot of the bar. Longstreet reached for the gin but Fiore rested his hand on Longstreet’s arm.

“Let Harvey do it,” the mobster said, “it’s why he’s bound there.”

The martini glass raised into midair. The ingredients soon followed.

“It’s not a bad effect,” Longstreet said. “A free sample of your wares.”

“I need you to find something for me,” Fiore said. Longstreet tipped back a bit of Scotch.

“I’m not stealing anything,” he said.

“Or rather, someone,” said Fiore. Longstreet drained his glass.

“And what did someone do to you,” Longstreet said. The martini floated into Fiore’s hand.

“Tore up one of my casinos,” Fiore said and took a sip. “Killed quite a few of my associates.”

“How many have you lost?”

“Six. One mago, four triggers, and one bean splitter.”

Longstreet nodded. He held up his glass and Fiore tipped his head forward. Longstreet poured more Scotch.

“Who was the sorcerer?”

“Johnny Marcosi. He was there mostly to make sure nobody tried to cheat with any talismans or spells. Wasn’t very good with finger music.”

“I’m surprised I didn’t hear about it in ink. ‘Sorcerer’s Den of Sin Singed’ would sell a lot of papers.”

“If the papers want me to fill their papers with gossip and rumors about who’s seen on Lugosi’s Row and what they are partaking in, they must sometimes let their diligence slip.”

“I’ll be frank with you. Staying on the opposite side of the room from you guys is an arrangement I prefer.”

“This is strictly business, Longstreet. I’ll pay you well and expect being treated like any other discreet client. Nothing over your head. To be honest, even the other families in the Guild don’t know about it.”

“It is a bit of an embarrassment.”

Fiore bristled at Longstreet’s observation. “There are those that find my excesses distasteful. Because I am the newest capo, making my bones through sorcery instead of more traditional methods, they look down upon me. They embrace sorcery as any other tool but they look down upon those that flaunt their mastery of that tool.”

“It doesn’t surprise me that some folks in the Guild aren’t excited about Capone’s Way. I’m sure that there are plenty of cold-blooded Catholic killers unwilling to trade their souls for powers beyond mortal ken.”

Fiore smiled grimly. “Then start there.”

“I haven’t accepted yet.”

“Fifty dollars a day. And I’ll keep our recruiters off your back. There are those on the opposite side of the coin that find your brand of sorcery unique and fascinating. You could make some serious money if you came over. That’s the only pitch I’ll make.”

“I’m aware of the rewards, Mr. Fiore, but the risks as well. If they get that anti-sorcery law on the books, I want to be able to slip back into a normal life.”

Fiore laughed. It was harsh, like unexpected cigar smoke. “First off, I think the Feds learned their lesson about banning something people want when they started drinking at our speakeasies. Second, I doubt you could return to a normal life. You speak to spirits as if they were cab drivers or short order cooks. It took me the better part of a week to bind Harvey here in my eternal service. To walk away from such power…”

Fiore sipped and Longstreet shook his head.

“It’s not at easy as it sounds. I ask the spirits favors and I have to pay them back. That’s why I usually keep it small potatoes. I hate owing anything to anybody.”

Longstreet leaned on the last few words to make sure they cut through any gin that might be swirling around Fiore’s brain. Fiore set down the glass, empty again.

“Fifty dollars a day. A bonus if you bring him in alive. I don’t expect you to clear your desk for me, but I would appreciate speed as well as discretion. I would be upset if another one of my businesses was destroyed. I understand not wanting to feel indebted to anyone and I feel the same way. Having said that, if you do this for me, I will feel obligated to you and my favor goes a long way not only with the Guild but with the city of Chicago. While I have enjoyed sharing a drink with you, matters are unfolding that I must take care of. Do you accept my offer or not?”

Longstreet drained his glass again.