It's a noir/masked avenger story that takes place in the world of Lucky Ford, the setting for his novel series, The Secret Files of Lucky Ford."
The Billy Club Bastard in...
The Case of the Smiling Smuggler
An adventure from The World of Lucky Ford by Daniel Baldwin
TUESDAY MORNING, JUNE 11, 1940
YBOR CITY, TAMPA, FLORIDA
Bourbon always looked its foulest when those first sickly pale beams of morning light cut into it through Mickey's half-drawn blinds. Damn, he thought, the sun doesn't come over the rooftops across the street 'til ten, ten-thirty. Means he'd been open for an hour and a half and not even a phone call. Marge, the old bat, was probably halfway through her first little flask of potato vodka by now. Mickey checked his watch. Ten thirty, on the nose. Daytime isn't his main business hours anyway, so what's the big deal? The glass wasn't going to empty itself. The bourbon went down with that old, familiar heat, then cooled down, spreading the dullness through his stomach and into his aching hands. Damn arthritis made it hurt to hold the glass, to hold his Lucky Strike, to hold a sandwich, to hold a razor.
Mickey always said getting old was load of crap. You look like hell and you feel even worse. On a good day, you wake up feeling like a kicked dog. Other days, you just don't even get out of bed 'til Marge has got the java on. Today was one of those good days, one of the boot to the dog ribs days.
Mickey'd never been any kind of dandy, but even he could see that damn-near forty years of knuckles to the nose and bourbon to brain had left his face looking like a fishnet full of old shoe leather and his hands more twisted up than two Studebakers in a head-on collision. Mickey wasn't even that old, he was just aged. He looked at his watch again, but it didn't make him any less mad about the lack of business. Even though most of Mickey's money came in through his moonlighting, he was still riled up that nobody needed a private dick today. Where was all the lousy husbands and corrupt politicians in this damn town? A couple hundred thousand people and not a suspicious wife among them. Just plain despicable.
"Marge!" he yelled through his office door. No answer.
"Margey!" He tried again, a little louder the second time.
Nothing. He could see her just sitting there, back to the big office window, reading some knitting rag. The lady was a crap secretary, half-deaf, and always drinking on the job, but her price was right. Mickey had let the old broad, damn, she must been seventy by now, rent out a room in the building in exchange for being his assistant. Mickey had not ever, not even once, been able to read her chicken scratch notes, and her filing system was hieroglyphics to him, but she brewed coffee that could crush a hangover with a whiff alone, and she was always making cookies or pies for him. Not quite a mom, but not quite anything else.
"Damn it, Marjorie," he mumbled, then looked at his phone. How did you even work that thing? Mickey had tried to figure it out so many times and had never gotten it right. He had been able to assemble his Enfield rifle blindfolded in seconds during the big war and taught himself how to rebuild an engine, but he never got a clue on how to make an out-going call. What really irked him was that Marge, the woman who couldn't even remember to seal envelopes before they hit the mailbox, she could play the phones like grand pianos. Even on a dog morning, Mickey didn't even want to touch the damn contraption, it was just taking up valuable desk space. He hadn't cleaned up in a while, so the space was at a premium.
He had to have his paper, and he always had a place for his tumbler, but everything else looked like a bomb went off in an office supply closet. He fumbled around the mess, tossing papers and files aside, finally locating the last nub of a pencil under his Post. The two inch stub slipped from his own stumpy fingers, and he was almost afraid he wouldn't even be able to pick it up. Sometimes his fingers couldn't even close, the damn arthritis hurt that bad. One last try and it was in his hand then out just as fast, flung across his office and banging off the window right behind Marge's head. The old bird jumped in her chair, then turned to look at the small pile of pens and pencils that had started stacking up at the base of the window since she had last cleaned his office. She smiled and shook her head, knowing that Mickey still hadn't figured out the phone. She got up and poked her head in the door marked Malloy Investigations.
"What can I do for you, Mister Malloy?" It always bothered him when she called him 'mister'. He'd lived with Marge for almost six years now, and had known her since he got back from France in '19. Over twenty years now, almost twenty one. He'd met her at her son's funeral. They'd fought together, and Mickey had held him as he died, just as he had held her as she cried. That funeral was the only time, the only three times, gunshots had made Mickey flinch. Not in the trenches, not over the top, not even deep in that damn castle in Germany when he was with the Office. Not even a blink 'til he heard that final salute. The worst part was that he couldn't even tell Marge what her son had given his life trying to do, couldn't tell anyone. The two of them had joined a top secret British commando unit, and Mickey wasn't even allowed to talk about what they had done even two decades later. Mickey and a lot of other young men had given all of themselves to that war, and now they weren't left with anything for it but the rumbling over the horizon of it all starting again. The Post was all about the speculation, and Roosevelt, the coot, was all about pushing Germany. 'Paris Falls to German Siege!' screamed one headline, while below the fold they ran another of those vigilante stories: 'Billy Club Bastard Breaks the Back of Brook Street Gang!'. Marge saw him glancing at the headline.
"Shame on those Post writers! Such filth on the front page, where anyone could see it." She shook her head and tsk- tsked like the old dame she was.
"I thought it had a nice ring to it..." Mickey mumbled, folding over the paper and trying to remember why he needed her in the first place. He checked his usual requests: his coffee was full, he had his paper and his Lucky Strikes, and his shirt didn't have any especially bad stains or wrinkles. What else would he need her for?
"Oh yeah, Margey, did that check from Cross ever go through?"
"They always do, Mister Malloy, but I can phone the bank if you'd like."
"No, that's fine. He hasn't called yet today, has he?"
"Who, Mister Cross?"
"Yeah, Mister Cross."
"Oh, no Mister Malloy, not yet. I just don't know why he does every day. I don't mean to pry, but you haven't been with the police in seven years. Why does the president of the Police Officers' Union need to talk to you every day?" Marge wasn't usually one for questions, and it made Mickey edgy.
"We were old drinking buddies, Margey. That's why he gets me to consult for him. He knows I got a bum rap." Marge raised an eyebrow. Bum rap isn't the right word for beating a rapist paralyzed, but it's the best word Mickey had. Everyone knew the Lohmann boy had done it. A real sicko. He just had a fast-talking snake-tongued son-of-a-bitch lawyer and a daddy with a gator-skin wallet and six hundred acres of tobacco fields. Not saying it was right what happened to the kid, but it sure as hell wasn't wrong. Luckily the little sicko swung on him first, the only leverage Mickey had to make sure he didn't get locked up like the kid would've been. Cross was the chief who'd had to take his badge. They'd never been drinking buddies, but now that they were both off the force, Cross finally saw Mickey's usefulness.
"I was under the impression that Mister Cross was the one who gave you your bum rap." she said, obviously still not meaning to pry.
"Well he was the chief, he did what he had to do. Can't blame him for it, he could've done a lot worse by me." He'd done good by Mickey enough since then. Bob Cross, the old battleaxe. A merchant marine officer while Mick was hip-deep in trench mud, they'd never gotten along when they found themselves on the force after the war. Mickey had played too hard and loose and fast with the law for Cross' liking, but he could never argue with Mick's results. Not 'til the Lohmann kid got hurt. He just had that look on his face, that entitled, invincible look that ground Mickey's gears. The kid had raped three girls, and had put thirty stitches into the scalp of the third, and he just had this look screaming 'Try me!' at Mickey. And try him Mickey did.
If you like Daniel's work, check out his website at www.UnusualOccurrences.com