Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Moontown Palooka: Chapter Five

After dinner, Longstreet headed out of Moontown. He could have taken the train but sometimes the drive let him sort things out. As he wound through the streets, his brain wound through the things he had discovered so far. He didn’t think Hughes was part of the break-in. More items would have been missing from Oscar’s apartment. She could have walked in and claimed them at any time. She seemed to be surprised and off-put by Longstreet’s appearance. He expected if she was behind it, she would have been a bit unbalanced. He had told the rust spirits to keep an eye on her just in case.

That left Ernest, a.k.a. Donny. Longstreet was careful in driving when he did. By the time he hit the construction site that Oscar and Donny were employed at, it would be quitting time. He would observe Donny in his natural habitat and feel him out. If Donny didn’t pan out, he’d hopefully get a better idea on who might be a new suspect. The nap had refreshed him, but sitting behind the wheel had put weights on his arms again. Maybe he’d get a chance to visit his apartment this week.

Magic wasn’t contained in Moontown. Other folks dabbled in it throughout the city but the farther from the neighborhood you got, the more resistant folks were to the notion that magic was here to stay. Most folks still associated crooks and con men with sorcery. Most of the folks that he rubbed elbows with were just regular joes that needed to keep the water bill paid. There were a few bad seeds here and there, but the only major difference between the two was the joes he knew that ordered Bloody Marys at the Sanguine Club weren’t referring to drinks.

Longstreet blamed the Guilds for the stains on the hands of sorcery. After Black Magic Monday, the mobs were the first organization to get into magic. Not everyone that joined up became il mago, as the Guilds called them, but most folks erred on the side of caution when dealing with them. Even if the guy leaning on you for protection didn’t have mojo, there was a good chance his brother or cousin might be able kill you with a few gestures and a few spell components three blocks away. The Italian influence on early sorcerers was still felt, even four years past. Folks that didn’t like Longstreet called him a ‘magoo’, which was born from the term Guild members used for the magic-using members of their families. It had spilled into common, less-polite usage first among squabbling Guild families and then the general public.

As he drove past the site, he heard the whistle blow. The sign near the cast iron skeleton proclaimed this building to be built by “100% living workers”. Longstreet chuckled and felt bad for the living workers that were only 95% living. Packs of them poured across the street and duck into the taverns that dotted Howley Street. Most of the same taverns had existed here even during the rise and fall of Prohibition. They had served the folks that built Chicago and were continuing to do so.

It took an hour of pub crawling before Longstreet set his eyes on Donny. As he entered O’Malley’s Bar, Longstreet sucked in a heady mixture of cigarettes and liquor. The bar was sunk below the street and everything inside seemed to be made from stout oak shipped directly from the motherland. A bar snaked down the left hand side and petered out just in time for the owners to wedge a pool table in back. A thicket of blue collars and gruff laughs grew around the table, masking the clack of the 8-ball. Longstreet eased himself onto a stool toward the middle of the bar. Close enough to observe but far enough to duck out if he got caught.

The barkeep ambled over to him. He was wearing thick glasses and his blond hair was pasted to his forehead with sweat.

“What’ll it be?” he asked.

“Beer,” said Longstreet, giving the bartender a nickel. As the bartender went to fill his order, Longstreet pulled a matchstick out of the box he kept in his coat pocket. The bartender returned with his beer and his change. Longstreet nodded and went to work on the pair of pennies the bartender had returned. He rolled the matchstick between his fingers, whispering a few curse words to anger the small wood spirit inside. The tip of the matchstick ignited on its own, and settled into a glowing orange. Longstreet carefully drew the same symbol on the tails side of both pennies. He blew on the matchstick once, and flipped one of the pennies. He drew a different symbol over the other side of the coin. He took the two coins and put them in his mouth, sucking on them like a penny candy. He wet his fingers and put out the match.

A few minutes passed before one of the workers peeled away from the pack to get a refill. Longstreet stared into his beer and carefully pulled out the penny he had scratched on both sides. He set it on the bar as the bartender pulled the glass away to fill it. The bartender returned shortly and set the drink down. The crowd of worked laughed and the one next to Longstreet turned to see the commotion. Longstreet quickly slid the marked penny along the bar and under the glass. The worker picked up the beer, unaware of the quick flash from under the mug. The sigil he had inscribed on the one side of the penny caused it to attach itself to the glass. As the worker returned to the game, Longstreet took the penny in his mouth and placed it in his ear. He could hear the boys’ conversation just as easily as if he were lying on top of the table. The sigil on the other side was working perfectly.

There were four of them gathered around the table at this point. The ringleader was a man that seemed to share his ancestry with the pool table. He was flanked by a wispy blonde with a severe lack of chin and a curly headed Irishman that had set his drink and his backside on the table. The one with the Listening Penny was the youngest, with a five o’clock shadow that looked like it was running late.

“I’m telling ya,” said Pool Table Shoulders, “everytime she bends down to pick up a paper that flies off the desk I almost rivet Charlie in the head.”

“From what I seen, it would be worth it,” the Irishman said.

“You ever seen her, Donny? The blonde on Forty?” Babyface asked.

Donny No-Chin nodded eagerly, “Oh yeah, oh yeah. She’s the bee’s knees.”

Longstreet frowned. He hadn’t heard that many hisses since the Fourth of July.

“Maybe we should send her some flowers,” suggested the Irishman.

“Maybe we should remodel her office,” suggested Pool Table.

“I got a better idea,” said Donny, his voice trailing into a hissing whisper. Longstreet leaned forward, trying to make it out. He glanced over. The beer glass had been set on the far side of the pool table and the boys had gathered closely. Longstreet strained for a few more seconds before he noticed the shotgun the bartender had leveled at him. Longstreet’s hands hovered over the bar.

“You want a better tip?” he asked.

“You got a piece? Put it on the bar,” the bartender snarled.

Longstreet made a point to show the bartender he was clasping two fingers around the butt of the gun. He eased it out slowly and set in on the bar. He could hear the footsteps coming from the pool table.

“Hey, Donny, frisk him,” the Irishman said from behind him.

“He puts his hands on me and he’ll turn into Minnie two seconds flat,” Longstreet said coolly.

“You got a lot of lead to think you can take four of us and O’Malley not drop you,” Pool Table said.

“If he fires that scattergun, you’re going to get mixed into my stew,” observed Longstreet. Pool Table, Babyface, and the Irishman had taken up positions behind him. Donny was trying to score a look like a kid at a Cubs game.

“We got a message for your Mexican friend,” Donny said. Longstreet lowered his head.

“He told you about me?”

“He said we wasn’t supposed to shove him around no more,” Donny said, his voice arcing higher in triumph. “So I guess we mess with you now.”

“I guess,” Longstreet said. He kicked his legs up against the bar, launching himself backward. He caught the Irishman completely by surprise and knocked him to the ground. Longstreet rolled to his right narrowly avoiding Babyface’s fist that came down in the Irishman’s gut instead. He closed on Donny, whose offense consisted of yelps and squawks. Pool Table wrapped his arm around Longstreet’s torso and shoved him hard into the bar. Before he could react, Donny brought a glass down on Longstreet’s head. The pieces scattered across the bar.

“Nice one, Donny,” Pool Table mused.

“I can’t believe the spic hired a detective to rough us up,” Donny said. His beaming smile melted quickly as the pieces of the glass began to hover off the bar.

“He hired me to keep an eye on you boys,” Longstreet said as he pulled himself off the bar. “Roughing you up is now on my dime.”

The shards whipped out in several directions, cutting Donny in the face and Pool Table across the arm. The biggest chunk hovered a few inches from the bartender’s eyes, keeping his shotgun lowered. The Irishman and Babyface staggered backwards as smaller pieces whirled around them like flies.

“Now that I have your attention,” said Longstreet as he dabbed the blood seeping from his lip, “tell me about why you broke into Oscar’s place, Donny.”

“I got a question, too,” said a voice from the doorway. Longstreet turned to see who it was. He cursed, raised his hands, and lowered the shards to the ground.

The patrolman in the doorway stepped into O’Malley’s Bar.

“What’s a goddamn magoo like you doing so far away from Moontown?” he asked.